Most people would have heard of the O’Gorman Brothers, Dave and Joe, in their day. They were giants in the lost world of variety.
They had the skills, they had the experience and they made their name – one Joe’s son Brian O’Gorman keeps alive (in slightly-altered form) in his new book, Roundabout Paramount.
In it, Brian, who lives in Westergate, offers a slice of faction – a fictionalised account, which is largely fact, of the brothers’ experiences in the United States in the 1930s.
Brian changes their surname, but otherwise it’s his father and his uncle in a tale from an era of entertainment which has long since passed.
“My father Joe was a comedian in the great days of variety from the 1920s into the 1950s, with his brother Dave. His life was Liverpool one week, Edinburgh the next. They toured around. They had started as children dancing in their stepmother’s act. They would have been about 12 to 13. Their father was a comedian as well.”
For young Brian, his father’s life was all he knew: “My earliest memories are seeing him on stage, me watching from the side of the stage. I realised that man being funny on stage was quite different to the man who was my dad. When he came off, he was dad. When he was on stage, he was the comedian, and that’s a very fine form of professionalism. He would not hang around show business parties in the West End. That wasn’t him. He moved down to Sussex in the 1930s with the money he had made in America.”
Joe moved to East Preston, the first of the show business fraternity to move to the area. Plenty of others followed, and when they did, Joe moved to Barnham. Not that he didn’t like his showbiz colleagues. He just wanted his own space.
“In the 1930s, the saloon car was becoming very much more reliable. He could play the theatre in London, drive down to home, have some fresh air to make sure he didn’t lose his voice, and then drive back up. There were many weeks of work in London at that time. I suppose in 1938, there would have been 30 weeks’ work a year in London.
“They had started out learning the business from their father – dancing, singing, elocution,” says Brian. Originally they were a dance act with a few songs and some gags, but the act moved forward when it was suggested they focus on the comedy. Brian’s uncle Dave became the straight man; his father Joe was the funny man; and cross-talk became their speciality.
“The way it would get started was for one to interrupt the other. One is trying to do something serious – like with Morecambe and Wise and the piano. In one of their acts, Dave was trying to say some Shakespeare, and he is interrupted by Joe coming in.”
Joe lived in West Sussex from 1934 until he moved to London in 1963. Dave died in 1964 and Joe in 1974. His passing brought to an end an era in which the family had occupied a central position in the world of variety.
Roundabout Paramount is available directly from Brian on 01243 544097.