Wednesday 25 July 2018

Double Acts with Dame Barbara Windsor on BBC Radio 2

Barbara Windsor returns to the BBC airwaves this evening as the host of the first episode of a new series looking at famous comedy double acts. Dame Barbara, who made headlines earlier in the year when she went public with her Alzheimer's diagnosis, has vowed to Carry On and long may she continue to do so. This from the BBC Radio 2 website:

Dame Barbara Windsor tells the tragicomic story of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, America's most popular double act during the 1930s, 40s and early 50s on Radio, TV, Stage and Screen. Bud, the lean, mean straight man and Lou the roly-poly comic, their quick-fire verbal dexterity propelled them to the pinnacle of show business.

They won the hearts of audiences everywhere...from Burlesque, Vaudeville, Broadway and Nightclubs to Hollywood, Radio and TV, they conquered it all!

Bud was born into show business whilst Lou had dreams of Hollywood and when they met on the Burlesque circuit in 1934, they knew that they were right for each other and a partnership was forged that would last for 26 years.

When Burlesque was banished by New York City in 1937, Bud and Lou moved over to Vaudeville which led to weekly appearances on 'The Kate Smith Hour', a hugely popular radio show.

Next stop was the Broadway show 'Streets Of Paris' where Abbott and Costello were spotted by Hollywood talent scouts and they signed to Universal for just one picture, 'One Night In The Tropics'. Bud and Lou stole the movie with their comedy routines and a long-term contract was signed. In the first 24 months of their Universal contract, an incredible ten Abbott and Costello films were released.

By 1942, Bud and Lou ranked as the No. 1 Box Office attraction in America and in October of that year, The Abbott And Costello Radio Show was launched featuring some of the biggest names in show business as the duo's special guest stars.

Bud and Lou were actually very good friends, a rarity amongst double acts, but they were also fiercely competitive; if Bud built a pool, Lou's would have to be bigger...similarly with cars, boats and homes and their between-takes card games on the movie sets were legendary with thousands of dollars passing across the table.

In November 1943, tragedy befell the Costello family when Lou's baby son, just short of his 1st birthday, drowned in the family swimming pool. That night, Bud and Lou began a new series of their radio show and Lou bravely went on, despite his heartbreak. The audience only learned of the terrible accident when Bud announced it over the air at the end of the show.

In the early 50s, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were investigated by the US government's Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The payments and fines that they incurred were crippling; a bitter blow for the popular duo who had volunteered their time so generously, selling millions of dollars worth of War Bonds all over America, during World War 2.

The movie hits continued through the 1950s and the new medium of television brought even greater success to Bud and Lou. Their partnership ended in 1957 after a falling out in Las Vegas and the boys went their separate ways. In 1959, Lou Costello was felled by a heart attack and died aged just 52. When Bud Abbott heard the news, he said, "My heart is broken. I've lost the best pal anyone ever had".

Bud Abbott died in 1974 aged 78. Groucho Marx said of Bud Abbott that he was "the greatest straight man ever".

Double Acts, hosted by the fabulous Dame Barbara Windsor, airs on BBC Radio 2 tonight at 9pm.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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