For the second leg of the Beyond The Title Live season, I returned to my hometown of Cowes Isle of Wight, specifically Gurnard Pines alongside my resident mc Phil Reid and a bonafide Variety stalwart for what promised to be another memorable evening of entertainment. Ventriloquist Steve Hewlett has been entertaining live audiences throughout the world since reaching the final of Britain’s Got Talent in 2013. Yet this was just one of the many triumphs that the acclaimed entertainer has enjoyed in a career spanning over a quarter of a century. Unlike other former contestants on reality talent shows, Steve was very much part of the business before gracing the Britain’s Got Talent stage with a cv to prove it.
Press play, below, to listen to the live show recording
Witnessing the ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley on the grand final of ITV’s New Faces in 1987, gave Steve an epiphany and from then on he was determined to follow his dream. Persuaded by his school friend, Steve discovered that Mr Tamley lived in the surrounding area from his hometown and one day after school, he tracked him down and knocked on his door to seek his advice. As the old saying goes, persistence is key and Steve politely maintained contact with Jimmy until he agreed to mentor him. This elevated Steve’s passion for this ancient art and put him on the road to success.
Unlike most entertainment disciplines, there’s a lot of physical precision in the art of ventriloquism which takes years to perform. Throwing one’s voice is incredibly difficult to perfect and can take years to develop. Steve insists that a simple method for beginners is to attempt the alphabet as you shape your fist into a mouth and say every other letter via the mouth in your fist. It’s only here that any novice ventriloquists can establish if they in fact have what is required. Hearing Steve recite the alphabet in this unique way is a tidy reminder that he has earned the title as one of Britain’s leading ventriloquists.
Despite being an unrivalled master of ventriloquism, as a Variety historian, Steve has a significant reverence for the pioneers of television variety and it would have been wrong not to give him the opportunity to celebrate his heroes. As a teenager, while his peers were obsessing over girls and music, the young Steve Hewlett had more pressing passions. Discovering that his hero Ken Dodd was performing at the Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, with his parents unknowing, he took a train to the coast in the hope of meeting the legendary comedian. Unbeknownst to him, Steve would have to wait until the end of the show to be in with a chance of meeting the great man. However, he hadn’t accounted for Doddy’s notoriously long shows and by the time it was over he had missed his train home. Sleeping on a stationary train until it made its first journey of the morning and then creeping into his house to avoid wakening suspicion from his parents was a sacrifice that Steve was willing to make in order to meet the Liverpudlian comedy institution. It was here that he realised his great passion for all things entertainment which has since dominated his career.
Amazingly over twenty years later, Steve found himself on tour with the great Ken Dodd who was able to teach him so much about entertainment. It’s part of comedy folklore that Ken’s shows were notoriously lengthy and would last for hours upon end. It was only this time spent working with him that the young entertainer realised just how hard Ken worked. To perform for five hours is a difficult task for any entertainer, yet one who was well into his eighties was incredible and Steve was in awe of his craft. Over the next few years, Steve was lucky enough to befriend his comedy hero and discovered that Ken Dodd wasn’t just a prolific comedian but an extraordinary ventriloquist in his own right. The touching segments in his stage show between Ken and his loyal dummy Dickie Mint weren’t just devices to give the audience a break from his surreal one liners. They were actually routines of an extremely accomplished ventriloquist. As soon as Steve realised this, it made him love Ken even more.
Despite this love of Doddy, Steve had failed to acknowledge his contribution to the art of ventriloquism. After all, Ken Dodd was known for his cheeky joyous stand up material, heartfelt songs and comedy catchphrases, his ventriloquism always acted as an embellishment of his act instead of dominating it. Therefore when he started to pen his latest book Ventriloquest, he failed to consider Ken as a pivotal figure within the art. As soon as he realised, Steve became determined to put this right and dedicated his book to the forgotten ventriloquist and leader of the Diddymen. In addition to this, Steve commissioned his dummy creator to design a”Diddy Doddy” so Steve could take a slice of Ken on tour. Therefore Ken Dodd might be gone but for as long as Steve Hewlett is entertaining audiences, the spirit of the comedy legend remains very much alive.
Now a podcaster in his own right with the hugely successful Eyes and Teeth on which he interviews his heroes of Variety, Steve remains one of the busiest entertainers on the circuit. With a passion for both the history and the future of Light Entertainment, Steve is a remarkable entertainer with an unrivalled knowledge of the entertainment landscape past, present and future. This, combined with his enormous talent as an entertainer and ventriloquist makes him the perfect candidate for a live podcast show and I’m so grateful that he accepted my invitation. It was a great pleasure to have this great Steve Hewlett as the subject of Beyond The Title’s second live show and looking forward to working with him again soon.