David Kear is one of the most unique voices in British comedy. His principle character of Charlie Chuck is an unpredictable powder-keg of visceral joy. Often putting a dark twirl on commonplace Northern activities, his unhinged persona found laughs from discomfort years before better-known contemporaries. In the early 90’s, Kear began to accrue more mainstream fame through television. He first appeared to a wider audience, as Chuck, on Sky Star Search (in 1990), an odd little show fronted by James Whale.
Just three years later, Kear became one of the few recurring characters on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. Performing alongside two of the UK’s most exciting and influential comedians of the time, he seemed a fated match. While playing a pitch perfect rendition of his well-established Chuck persona, the show would rename him Uncle Peter. Indeed, it seems there’s simply no controlling the honed madness of Kear’s craft. It was through Uncle Peter that a juvenile me would come to love his routines. After delving into his outside performances, it’s incredible to see how much Reeves and Mortimer allowed him free reign.
However, it’s not all that surprising. Despite the idiot savant styling of Chuck, Kear himself has steeped his act in comedy history and pedigree. After all, he’s a deeply intelligent man with far wider interests than simply smashing drum-kits to hilarious effect. With a rich background in music, that probably helped to inform the rhythms and structure of his on-stage persona. In fact, Kear once toured with the Small Faces. Even that’s just the tip of a fascinatingly elusive iceberg. Delving deep into obscure British music, Kear’s likely to pop up more than once.
While I did come to know Kear through his work as Uncle Peter, he’s a talent who fascinated me well beyond his “breakthrough” roles. As such, it was a true honour to speak to him; if only briefly. Talking me through his early days in music, right up to a more recent performance at the Montreal Comedy Festival, I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the man behind Chuck. Considering its length, I thought it best to label this as a bonus, or extra, for our podcast’s second season. Nonetheless, Kear is able to pack heaps into our twelve-or-so minutes of dialogue.
It’s worth mentioning that, initially, I wasn’t sure whether I was speaking to Chuck or Kear himself. I had been told to prepare for Chuck, and I believe that’s the tone he started in. However, things quickly switched to us talking more down-to-earth about his career. It became more clear that I was, in actuality, speaking to Kear. I consider that a rare opportunity, and i’m incredibly grateful to Kear for allowing me to hear this insight personally. Here’s the recording of our chat in full:
See below for transcripts, and all relevant links. Within the transcripts I’ve tried my hardest to replicate Kear’s distinctive accent.
On Adult Babies:
How are you today, Charlie?
I’m a huge fan of yours, and just wanted to have a chat with you basically!
Okay then. Yes. Chat to me!
Gladly! What have you been up to recently?
Is that some kind of documentary? Or are you acting in that?
No, it’s a horror film. There’s a lotta Chuck in it!
A lot of your flavours in there then?
Yeah. I would have said that, yes! It’s based on facts really; if y’know what I mean.
Based on facts?
Well, they have to exist, don’t they? Adult babies, ’cause they wanna be [treated] like babies!
They’ve got to be somewhere, that’s for sure.
There were a documentary about it a while back, about a year ago.
Where does the horror come from?
Oh well, I can’t really say too much about it actually! But if you look it up yourself, if you look up either Dominic (Paddy, out of Emmerdale!) or look [for] Adult Babies, it’ll be there. Y’know what I mean?
Yeah definitely, i’ll have links all over the place!
So I’ve been doing that, like. I did a commercial for me daughter.
On getting older, destroying drum-kits and breakthrough appearances:
Have you been doing much live work?
Not really, no. I’ve been taking a rest. I’m getting older! I’m steady away though, y’know what I mean? I keep doing things, y’know?
Do you think you can still destroy a drum-kit?
Oh, I can still destroy a drum-kit, yeah!
Is that a daily occurrence for you?
Well not a daily occurrence; every now and again.
Yeah, that would be costly, I guess!
It were costly, yeah, but it were all worth it, y’know?
Oh absolutely! Looking back on it all, how do you feel about your career retrospectively?
Well, it’s been a good do! I’ve enjoyed meself; I’ve had a right laugh!
You certainly have, and you’ve had influence on more generations than you might have thought.
‘Ave I?! That’s interesting then, yeah!
Well, I’m only in my twenties!
You’re in your twenties now?
Right, well I think I cacked it on television in ’92-’93. The James Whale show. I did eight years with James Whale, and then I did all that Sky Star Search as you know, and Vic & Bob, and then I produced and directed [John Laurie, Frazer and I] up at Edinburgh. I’ve played Scrooge up there… do y’know what I mean?
Of course, you’ve actually had this really huge career.
Yeah, not bad really; toured with the Small Faces and all that lot!
On his musical origins:
I was interested to ask how things went down with the Small Faces. Most places just label you as having played with them for a “stint”.
Yeah, well I toured Scotland with them; I was about nineteen. I was with lots of bands in them days. Y’know, Alan Price, who made Dancing Bear and all that lot; Sounds Incorporated. And then I was on with Bill Haley & His Comets at the Storyville Club in Frankfurt, Germany (when I were nineteen). So I’ve been with some… y’know, Ronettes, I’ve done all that lot in bands.
So what came first for you, music or comedy?
Well, I’ve always been a bit nuts so i’ll say comedy, but in actual fact it were music. I learnt drums, when I were fifteen, off a chap called Bert Pearson. I was in the upholstery business when I were fifteen years old and Bert Pearson had been to America with Fred Karno‘s Opera, and he went with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel; when they were relatively unknown!
So, it didn’t happen for Bert Pearson, and he worked in the canvas room, as a pensioner almost, and they put me with him. He taught me about pratfalls and monologues; told me to get with the Cosmopolitan Players (at the Leeds Civic Theatre). So I did that, and he said, “Learn to play an instrument”, which I did; the drums. So he, really, set me on the road. So, at fifteen, I was in bands, and then professional at nineteen. Professional!
That was probably really important in building up your abilities to perform.
Well, what made me turn professional is… We did a gig, the band I was in (Mama’s Little Children), at Battersea Park; a News of the World thing. [It was] when all the 60’s… all the bands like Freddie and the Dreamers, Merseybeats and the Searchers; they were all there and we were relatively unknown. We were on with the Troggs!
The Troggs weren’t known by then, they were just an up-and-coming band like we were. What happened… we were in three enclosures, and I was in the main enclosure. I was sat with the Carry On team, and there was James Mason there, Roger Moore, the Bonanza team (if you remember ’em, Ben Cartwright and all that lot) and Pretty Things.
So, I was sat with all these celebrity people. These are going back early 60’s! At that time, I have to tell ya, I were a dustbin man.
I strained meself, ’cause I became a road sweeper and I were pickin’ up dead dogs, right? So, if you can imagine me, Monday to Friday, pickin’ up dead dogs, with two dustbins and a transistor radio on me left hand side (and me flask on the other)… I went down there on Friday night. On Monday morning, I realised I didn’t want to be a dustbin man anymore.
I turned professional, went straight to Germany and, within three months, I was on with Bill Haley!
I had no idea that’s how it started out for you. That’s a really fascinating beginning!
From thereon-in, I’ve been professional all me life. That’s how it happened!
Has music been in the background for you as you’ve continued on, then?
Yeah well, I learnt to play organ, so I could do singalongs. I did all kind of things like that but, because I was in a psychedelic band, that’s where the drums came in.
On Montreal Comedy Festival:
Would you say you have some quite traditional roots in what you do?
Yeah! I’ve done all sorts, really. I did the Montreal Comedy Festival. If you want a really good story… I played a piano, but upside down and it went thirty feet in t’air! Get all this. Eleven acts from all over the world… It were more like an Andrew Lloyd Webber thing. It were massive!
Now, what it were, Jean Lapointe is a Canadian senator. He was also a pianist and comedian and that routine that I did, where the piano goes up in t’air, were ‘is routine! He was eighty years old and he picked me out to do his routine in Canada. D’you follow me?
Yeah, of course!
I played Moonlight Sonata, but I do it similar t’drums because, if you imagine… There were a magician called Arturo Brachetti, and he’s still on t’go. He’s [a] French-Canadian magician; quick clothes, quick change man! He introduced me from this massive stage, about four stories high, and he said, “Maestro, Charlie Chuck!”.
As I come walking down, i’m snappin’ at young girls that’re in awe of me and, as I approach the piano, I then knock these ducks away (me Chuck and me ducks, yeah?), and flowers… I knock ’em outta the way and a young girl puts the flowers back up.
Five-thousand people in the audience! So, as I get to sit down, I play In the Mood, y’know? [Hums In the Mood] So I do that, and I do it for about… not long; seconds. I stand up and I play ‘ell wit’ piano! I sit back down, and I go into The Happy Wanderer (“I love to go wanderin’!“).
Then I stop, again, and say summat t’piano again; threatenin’ the piano, and it were a grand piano! But, as I do that next time, the stage then turns ’round so a big moon comes out. So Charlie Chuck says to himself, “Aye aye, Moonlight Sonata!”.
I then sit down to play Moonlight Sonata but, as I start to play, I sneeze. The sheet-music goes three-quarters across the grand piano. So, therefore, that’s done by Arturo Brachetti, that pulls it on a piece o’ cotton!
So then, I carry on doing the arpeggio, get on me stool, take me shoes off, lay across the piano, keep playin’ this arpeggio all the time, hutch it up, hutch the music until I get hold of it, and then I drop it on t’floor so it drops below the piano stool.
I then get back down, and i’m still playing one-handed, and I reach over me shoulder to get the music. Then I go underneath; so i’m under the piano now, still playin’, pickin’ this music up.
As I get it, and I put it down again, Arturo Brachetti comes up behind me [and] locks me in in me back, on this stool that’s attached to the grand piano, and, as I sit down, I lock meself in at the front. I start to play Moonlight Sonata. I’d rehearsed it for about three months; climbing piano and all that. So, pretty strenuous!
As I start playing Moonlight Sonata, the piano starts to rise. It were on a thirty-foot cannon with hydraulics as big as a kitchen, d’you follow me?
Yeah, bloody hell!
But you can’t see that. You can only see t’piano goin’ up. As it goes up it tips upside down, because i’m strapped to it. It lands and, as it lands, I get off me stool, like I used to do with me drums, and just walk off not givin’ a monkey. So that’s what I did in Canada!
And how did that actually go down?
It were alright, yeah! It were alright. If you look up Jean Lapointe, the Canadian senator, you’ll see that same routine.
I’ve heard a lot about British acts bombing at that festival, so it’s fantastic to hear you were able to resonate.
That’s right, I can still do it!
I mean, Chuck’s… it’s visual int’it? It’s not offensive. There’s no politics, no sexist stuff… It’s just, Tommy Cooper! Just daft stuff.