Not Now Arthur!
Feature from 2009
It was one of the many catch phrases used by Morecambe and Wise that cut dead the hopes of harmonica player from finally getting to show his skills as he rushed on mid-way through another sketch, or between segments in the show.
Young arthur with Eric
The man with the harmonica really was called Arthur, and he could really play, extremely well in fact. He was often introduced as Britain’s best harmonica player, but from the late 60s onwards, his variety act was to follow so many other talented performers with the advent of television.
Arthur John Stone Tolcher, or just Arthur Tolcher, was born in Bloxwich, Staffordshire in 1922 and like so many music hall acts during that time, he started young.
He came from a theatrical family, his mother was a soubrette and his father, Charlie, was a well know comic. He went with them on tour all over the country and soon caught the bug.
He was a normal boy, with a strange taste in hobbies. He collected Buggies and cacti, and even bread newts. He didn’t read music, instead he memorised a complete and huge repertoire, being able to play any of them on request.
For many years he would stay in the midlands, taking parts in pantomimes and turning his hand to any role, as long as he could play a tune now and then.
His act was to play various sizes and types of mouth organ, finishing with a one inch baby harmonica that had just eight notes. Fitting it in his mouth, and with a string of gags such as pretending to swallow it, he would play it as his final tune.
His reputation soon grew and if anyone in the business wanted a harmonica player, they called for Arthur. He even found himself playing for people like Frank Ifield during tours and on records.
The running gag of ‘Not now Arthur’ started life in Bryan Mitchie’s touring youth show, Youth Takes a Bow. Another artist, a trumpet player, would walk onto the stage with various props and turn to look off stage saying.. “Now? Now..?.. Not now!”
Eric and Ern were there at the time as part of the show and remembered this routine. Years later they would use it to bring Arthur back, albeit in way that never saw him play very much. They toured a lot together in the early days and became good friends, often sharing the same bill.
As Eric and Ernie’s fame increased, Arthurs dropped; no one seemed interested in a harmonica player. Arthur’s mother, from 1938 onwards, pestered the BBC to give him work, but again, variety was a dying art. The BBC even put out an internal memo to the effect that she was a nuisance and her son had little talent.
Arthur approached Morecambe and Wise and they were only too happy to find something for him. It was only a small part, but a part very well remembered.
Arthur was never top of the bill, a journey man that held 3rd or 4th billing, but was a genuine talent and guaranteed performer.
Although playing on many records, he never actually made any of his own. He had plans to release a Christmas comedy song on the back of the Morecambe and Wise publicity, obviously called Not Now Arthur. Sadly, another comedian, Arthur Mullard, beat him to it with a record of exactly the same name.
Arthur left the Morecambe and Wise Show, his running gag had run its course and it was time to move on. Further work was not so high profile, but as a true professional, he soldiered on.
Arthur died in March 1987, not so much publicity as Eric had, it was only reported in a local paper, and even then they got his age wrong.
Arthur never made the dizzy heights of Morecambe and Wise, but he will always be there, in the wings, ready to rush on with great enthusiasm, making us smile.
And the song he always tried to play? That came from another love of his, bull fighting, and the song was Spanish Gypsy Dance. A strange love, as he would never hurt a living thing.
© morecambeandwise.com 2009