Wal Kent Biographies

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Wal Kent Biographies

Postby James » 09 Feb 2012, 10:05

The following have been very kindly uploaded by S Milverton - http://www.flickr.com/photos/punchpuppets/

His Punch and Judy dolls have won him fame. Mr and Mrs Wal Kent have a golden anniversary


He was in a pierrot show on the Ayr seafront. She was the auburn-haired Highland lassie who sang Scottish ballads in full national costume at another entertainment in the town.
They saw one another's shows and were attracted to each other.
After a brief seperation when their professional paths diverged at the end of the season, they married and formed a "domestic double-act" which will have lasted 50 years on Monday.
Celebrating their golden wedding on that day will be Mr. Wal Kent and his wife Annie, of 29 Brunswick Road, Gravesend, who between them have an inexhaustable stock of memories of the entertainment world round about the first world war.
Mr. Wal Kent, who lives in the same road in which he was born 77 years ago, started entertaining as an amateur when a youngster. His first professional booking was at the Criteron, Sheerness. After that he had a hand in every branch of entertainment possible.
He played in stock companies with a different drama every night, in concert parties, as a performer, producer and manager, appeared in a variety, pantomime, toured the music halls. He knew the heartbreak that often went with the glamour behind the footlights.
After their marriage Wal and Annie Kent were known all over the country for their serio-comical sketches with titles such as "Fresh Air Craze" and and "Rags." When their family was born they toured in variety in winter time. In the summer Wal went off with concert parties by the sea, and Annie stayed home to look after the children. Several times they appeared at the Old Grand Theatre, Gravesend, the first occasion being in 1910.
Then during the frst world war, with scores of theatres being comandeared by the Army and one booking being cancelled after another, they both went into war work, Wal being unfit for military service. During this period Wal turned his hand to song writing and writing scripts for other performers including that great comic, Billy Bennett.
After the war show business changed vastly, with the new attraction of the cinema round the corner, and the Kents settled down to a less hectic life in Gravesend. But in 1939 Wal felt the old urge to entertain again and he had a Punch and Judy show at Sheerness. But the second world war cut that short and he spent the next five years as a full time warden and later a G.P.O. postman.
When peace came he started a new gambit - making puppets, marionettes and most important of all, dolls for Punch and Judy shows. This has kept him busy - and Annie too, for she makes the dresses. Whenever one sees a Punch and Judy drama in progress on the sands, there is a fair chance that Wal and Annie Kent made the performers.
They are beautiful pieces of work. Punch's head, which takes plenty of hard knocks in the course of his appearance, has to have a nose, ears and chin of oak because of the wear and tear.
Punch and Judy dolls have gone all over the world from Brunswick Road,Gravesend. Some of them are in a museum in Czechoslovakia as an example of English entertainments. One set in Kenya fascinates the native population, the adults as well as the children.
A year ago Mr. Kent was awarded a gold and topaz tiepin which once belonged to Lord Lonsdale, by the show business magazine "World's Fair," for being the performer with the most varied experience in the entertainment world.
In recent years Mr. Kent has helped organise a number of old time variety shows in Gravesend and district. He has twice been heard on the radio, in "In Town Tonight" and choosing records for a "disc jockey" programme, and has also appeared on TV.
Mr. and Mrs. Kent have two sons, a daughter, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
One son and daughter have settled in the United States.
Although he is always known as Wal Kent, his real name is William King. He changed the name for professional purposes when he first took to the stage, because there was already one or two "Will Kings" in the business.


Wal Kent has 60 years of memories - in show business



Repertory, it is freely conceded, is hard going for any actor or actress. Play one part while you learn a new one - that's the way of things in the different-show-each-week world of this hard school of the lower paid "pro."
But I talked this week with a man and wife team whose stage memories of the turn of the century make "rep" as we know it today seem like semi-retirement. These real old troupers of the days of the rumbustious music hall and alfresco concert parties, are Mr. Wal Kent, still remarkably fit and active for all his 80 years, and his wife Annie, four years his junior, who live at 29, Brunswick road.
Remarkable is the only word to describe Wal Kent, the fed-up plumber’s mate who launched himself into show business about 60 years ago and is still going strong. He has run the whole gamut of the entertainment world from the old-time portable theatre and concert party, to composing, writing some of the devastating monologues with which comedian Billy Bennett convulsed audiences not so long ago, and the skillful fashioning of puppets and doll figures, in which he and his wife are still actively engaged. It is an extraordinary fact that in travels that have taken him all over the country, Wal has still spent the greater part of his life in the road in which he first saw the light of day.
He was born at No.11 Brunswick-road, and for the past 40-years or so, he and his wife have lived at No.29. One of a family of six boys and two girls, he attended St. John's Roman Catholic School, and was then apprentice to the plumbing trade.
It was whilst working in the dockyard at Sheerness, that Wal, who had a little experience with an amateur dramatic society, obtained his first professional engagement. It was at the Criterion Theatre, Sheerness. He did odd jobs both off and on the stage, and was paid the princely sum of between 20s. to 30s. a week. Later he tried his hand as part of a musical act, and also learnt to master the essentials of a number of dance routines. There followed quite a period of engagements with portable theatres - where the performers carried the rough, prefab building around in sections with them from place to place rather like circus folk.
There was no weekly change of programme for these people - it changed nightly. As Wal observed this week "You had to write out and learn your part for the following night before you went to bed. What lines you didn't know someone else usually did." He recalls that once during his travels, he saw the great Charlie Chaplin playing a small part in a music hall sketch.
From the stage he graduated to summer season concert parties, but not the accepted type of concert party that visits pier pavilions today. Often, at busy times, performers were called upon to give as many as eight different shows each day. Some of the pioneer shows he was with for seasons were the famous Catlin's Pierrots, Tom Johnson's "Yachtsmen" and Ellinson's Entertainers. All were household names at the time, and holidaymakers never missed going to see these troupes when they paid their annual visit to the seaside.
One day, when he was appearing at Ayr, Wal wandered along to see the "opposition" show which included a bonnie lass from Edinburgh, called Annie Morrison, singing the ballads of her native Scotland. Annie - she had previously played with the great Harry Lauder - and Wal met socially. Before that summer season had ended they were married. For a while, because of their work, they had to separate, but eventually they were able to team up as a double act. They tackled variety and toured the halls up and down the country, including the Grand Theatre, Gravesend. They prospered to the extent of earning a booking for South Africa in 1914, but this was cancelled on the outbreak of war.
Throughout the conflict, Wal and Annie worked in munitions factories - she at Dartford and he at Crayford. For a short while afterwards they returned to stage life before quitting to raise a family in Gravesend. But neither was destined to stay completely outside show business for very long.
One day Wal was asked to help in entertaining local children. He rounded up some other entertainers and the performance included the operation of marionettes. Those marionettes set Wal and Annie off in a new branch of "theatre." More or less a hobby at first, Wal began to make puppets at home.
One day when comedian Billy Day failed to find a set of Punch and Judy figures after a search of London it was Wal Kent who stepped in and made them for him. With the help and encouragement of marionette expert, Mr. Fred Tickner, of Gravesend - who made Muffin the Mule for the B.B.C. television series - Wal steadily gained more and more skill in his new craft.
While he shaped and moulded the puppets, Annie made the clothes for them. Soon they were regarded as being among the top experts in the country. At the British puppet exhibition of 1951 they won the Davidson trophey for a Punch glove puppet.
Wal has appeared in television and on the radio to tell the world of his unusual occupation. Puppets that he and Annie have made have found their way round the world. Two are in a museum, and another in Czechoslovakia.
Keeping up the family entertainment tradition, one of their two sons is first trumpet in the Walker dance orchestra in Grimsby, and their daughter was once a concert artist in Manchester.
Their youngest son is an engineer in California.
Arnott's Gowns for Clowns, Est 1985
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