Ventriloquism in Scotland
Some eighteenth-century references to ventriloquism in Scotland can be found in the Edinburgh Evening Courant from 1797, where we can see a number of advertisements for the performances of Thomas Garbutt and James Rannie. Stage ventriloquists at this time generally did not use dolls or figures in their act, but instead made their voice appear to come from other parts of the room, such as from a trunk, a cabinet, from under a table, or from behind a closed door.
Some ventriloquists in the early to mid 1800s would hire a hall, or a large room, in which they would present their entertainment, which would often include imitation bird song, and various other vocal illusions. Some performers from this period include Mr Matthews, H Hall, Alexandre, Mr Charles, William Meikle, Mr Bennet, Mr Love.
It is not generally considered till much later in the century that ventriloquists began to use one or more figures, usually with mouth movement. Some ventriloquists used an array of such figures often operated by pneumatic means.
Later, knee-figures became the norm, and rather than make his or her voice appear to come from another part of the room, the ventriloquist would give the effect of the doll or figure being alive. This arguably made for a much more personable performance, as a skilled ventriloquist could create depth in the figure’s character – often with the figure being cheeky. It is possible that some figures would get away with saying things that a human would not. This was, and remains, a very popular type of act.
Many respected ventriloquists such as Ray Alan, Shari Lewis, Albert Saveen and Peter Brough performed on the international stage. In Scotland, there was a mixture of many touring performers plus quite a number of Scots who took up ventriloquism, sometimes to add to an existing act possibly with conjuring, marionettes, or Punch and Judy.
A selection of these ventriloquists would include John Christie, JM Glass, Grieve, George Hardie, William Hilton, Harry Kidd, Andre Letta, Bruce Macloud, Duncan MacMillan, Ken Swan, William Watson and many others. Although perhaps less common today, there are still fine ventriloquists to be seen.