Comedian, Broadcast Artist
1887 – 1975
Who was Gillie Potter?
Potter was born in Bedford to Reverend Brignal Peel, a Wesleyan minister, and Elizabeth Stimson. He was educated at Bedford Modern School and for a time at Worcester College, Oxford. He first performed in E. M. Royle's The White Man at the Lyric Theatre in London before touring. In 1915 he was George Robey's understudy at the Alhambra. During the Great War Potter served as a lieutenant in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary before returning to music hall once the war was over. Potter cultivated an individual style and persona, wearing a straw boater, wide grey flannel trousers, an 'Old Borstolian' blazer and carrying a notebook with a rolled umbrella. James Agate described him as "that sham Harrovian who bears upon his blazer the broad arrows of a blameful life".
Potter spoke to his audience in "deadpan tones on unlikely and esoteric themes peppered with literary, historical, and linguistic allusion. Though a classical education was needed fully to appreciate his act, it was widely popular: in 1930 he appeared in the Royal Variety Performance, and the following year made his radio début". He became one of the most popular radio entertainers in Britain, with his famous opening lines: "Good evening England. This is Gillie Potter speaking to you in English". Potter's humour had echoes of Punch and ‘Beachcomber’ and various times included the adventures of "my brother who was educated at Borstal", burlesques of "society snippets", and parodies of Who's Who entries. His most famous act were his tales of the mythical English village of Hogsnorton, named after the Oxfordshire village where "pigs play on the organ". Potter's combination of "mock erudition, absurdity, and nostalgia struck a chord with inter-war audiences and made him a household name". Just before the Second World War the BBC evacuated most of its staff to Wood Norton Hall, near Evesham; this new base became known as Hogsnorton.
- Good evening England. This is Gillie Potter speaking to you in English.
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