I am given to understand that Orville, friend of the late, lamented ventriloquist Keith Harris, is about to go under the auctioneer’s hammer. It is widely expected that The Duck will be sold for between £8000
and £10,000. Which is a hell of a lot of duck food.
I fear I am not in a position to make a bid for Orville but I do have some very personal memories of
him. I have doubtless shared these before on the Daily Blog but, in the interests of newer readers (and those with failing memories), I would like to repeat them here.
Some years ago, when I was working in the Public Relations department of a major County Council, I was given the task of organising the publicity for the opening of a new building at a local special school. The powers that be would like to have engaged
the services of the local MP or - at the very least - an important County Councillor. The head teacher, however, stuck to his guns and said it was imperative that the opening ceremony be performed by someone the pupils would know and be excited by. I really
admired him for that. So - enter Keith Harris and Orville.
An early task of mine was to gain agreement to the wording on a commemorative plaque to mark the historic
occasion. Back and forth I went between the head teacher, education officers and the design unit. The “High Ups” wanted: “This building was opened by Keith Harris” ( considering, I think, that this was the best of a bad job); the head
teacher felt the plaque should indicate that Orville had done the honours. The Design Unit, in desperation, after several attempts to reach a concensus, sent me what they described as their very last effort: “This building was opened by Keith Harris
and his Bloody Duck.” I wish I had had the courage to sign off on it there and then - but I needed that job...
Come the Big Day and Keith Harris and Orville
are on the stage, before an audience of invited guests and over-excited pupils. The head teacher, called away on presumably urgent business, attempts to leave the stage without drawing too much notice to himself. Cue Orville, in the loudest of stage whispers:
“I expect he needs a wee....” The dignitaries in the front row sit in po-faced horror, their worst fears having materialised. The children howl with unrestrained laughter. I loved Keith Harris and Orville at that moment.
I loved them even more a little later as they visited the children in their classrooms. Not once did Keith Harris slip Orville off his arm for even a minute; it was important, essential even, that
the littl’uns never saw a lifeless puppet but always Orville in all his glorious tomfoolery.
In the room where the most seriously disabled children lay on
mats, where dedicated teachers were helping them to follow with their eyes the lights on the ceiling above them, Keith Harris refused to allow any cameras, any publicity, as he bent down beside each of the children and let Orville rest alongside them.
Dear Orville, I love you but I can’t afford you. You are just too pricey for me.
My memories, on the other hand, are - quite simply - priceless...