Dummies are props not people

Paul Zerdin likes to think he’s showing the world that - contrary to common perceptions - not all ventriloquists are bonkers.

Some are, though. He met them at a ventriloquists’ convention in the United States.

Paul is quite clear: his own dummies are props which get put away once he’s off stage.

At the convention, however, there were plenty of ventriloquists walking around with their dummies on their arms all the time, ventriloquists quite happy to wander in a hotel and let their dummy book the room for them.

As Paul concedes, it’s just a short step or two from the classic Michael Redgrave film Dead Of Night.

“Michael Redgrave’s dummy wants to leave him for this other ventriloquist,” Paul explains. “In the end, Michael Redgrave goes bonkers and kicks the hell out of his dummy!”

Not necessarily a good advertisement for ventriloquists. But things have moved on a little since then; in fact, ventriloquists are making a comeback at the moment, in this country at least.

Last year, Paul was one of three ventriloquists - the others being an American and Nina Conti - totally sold out at the Edinburgh Festival, for Paul a happy return to the scene of his career-changing success the year before.

In 2009, Paul gained a coveted five-star review in The Scotsman, and that was that: “A five-star review guarantees you a sell-out for the rest of the run.”

On the back of it he appeared in the Royal Variety Performance: “And the Royal Variety Show enabled me to take the show on tour which I did last year.”

Great reward after 21 years in the business, during which he learnt his craft: “I was working in the holiday clubs and in the men’s working clubs. You learn how to do it, you learn how to get better and better.”

And the learning continues. This year, Paul takes his show to the seaside resorts - including Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre, on Friday, August 19 at 7.45pm.

“I realised having done 25-30 dates that there are still so many theatres in the country. Rather than retire the show, I thought I would carry on touring. But it is still very much a work in progress.”