Hackney ventriloquist Len Belmont on a career in working men’s clubs – and TFI Friday
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 February 2017
Copyright Peter Gettins
Entertainer Len Belmont tells us how life as one of the country’s top ventriloquist and magic acts landed him a job on C4 show TFI Friday.
You don’t see entertainers like Len Belmont much these days.
He’s a part of the old school. He performs magic without requiring huge glass cages and he does a double act without the need for a second human being.
And though he is now in his 80s, Len, of Richmond Road, Hackney, is the president of the British Association of Ventriloquism – and still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
“I still do the odd show,” he explains. “But I can’t understand modern comedy – it’s different from what we did. Some of it is alright but they don’t have the same patter and jokes that we used to use.”
Len grew up in 1930s Hackney and aged eight became interested in puppets through his love of studying arts and crafts at school. He used to spend time in the library making paper mache and clay models but things really took off when somebody bought him a magic box for Christmas.
“I started entertaining my friends and family and playing about,” he says. “I did a couple of little parties when I was a child but then I got work as an apprentice printer.”
But that didn’t last long. After touring London’s theatres to learn the tricks of the entertainment trade, he was soon taking on the tough crowds in the smoke-filled working men’s clubs of the Midlands: “tough going,” he says.
He continues: “Sometimes it went alright, some times it didn’t. But I was always aiming to go into TV and theatre so just did them.”
He did his national service in the army, as the party planner and performer. On his return he started doing end of the pier shows.
“You don’t see it any more but I wish you did,” says a wistful Len. “I got into TV through that. I’ve worked with lots of people.”
He’s appeared in The Avengers, Baby Baby and dozens of adverts, though he admits you can’t actually see him in most of them because he’s got his hand in a puppet.
His renaissance came when Chris Evans asked him to perform on his new show called TFI Friday. Cast your mind back and you may remember Len, or Len the Vent as he was known.
“I used to come on through a puff of smoke and introduce what was on the show,” he said. “It was all such a rush because it was live. Very different from the pier.s.”
I can’t understand modern comedy – it’s different from what we did. Some of it is alright but they don’t have the same patter and jokes
‘Len the Vent’, as he was known on TFI Friday, performing at a children’s party.Pictures: Peter Gettins