This week 60 years ago: Hackney Gazette editor and famous ventriloquist Fred Russell dies aged 95
PUBLISHED: 15:38 20 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 October 2017
The former editor of the Gazette - who was also a famous ventriloquist - died aged 95.
Thomas Frederick Parnell OBE, also known as Fred Russell and “Father of Variety” had started his career as a journalist aged 20 and was editor from 1884 to 1896 when he left to start his career on the music hall stage.
One of his first professional performances was at the Palace Theatre, where his “unusual technique” in ventriloquism, and the appeal of his dummy, Coster Joe, helped secure a 20-month engagement.
His popularity grew and he was soon embarking on world tours at a time when it was “still an achievement to travel around the world”.
His career saw him go on to found The Performer, the music hall profession’s own weekly paper.
Just three years before he died he had re-visited the Hackney Gazette in the course of what he described as a “sentimental journey” to his old Hackney haunts.
He thanked the then-owners of the Gazette, the Potter family, for their help while he made up his mind about taking the “risky switch” as he saw it at the time from journalism into a career on the variety stage.
Mr J C Bucher, the then editor of the Gazette remembered: “For a well established nonagenarian, his memory then was astonishingly alert and his bearing almost incredibly young. His good spirits simply bubbled over.”
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