BORN LONDON, JULY 14, 1926. DIED LONDON, OCTOBER 4, 2008, AGED 82.
GUARANTEED TO fill the house before bringing it down, Alf Fogel wrote and starred in a series of inspired and original musical parodies from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. Titles included Mine Fair Sadie (1960), East of the Pump (1962), Takeover (1964), The Teitlebaum File (1966) and Morry of Arabia (1968). They were put on in West End theatres on Sundays and the money raised always went solely to charity.
Alf wrote the lines, lyrics and music, and played the lead. He was aided by a loyal and talented band of fellow-Jewish players, who formed the long-running Charities Theatre Group in 1959.
Stepney-born Alf was the second youngest of seven children of Nathan and Malka Fogel, who came from a village in Poland. Nathan arrived in England in 1910, to be joined by his wife. They also brought up three other children from their village.
Alf’s education in Stoke Newington, where he lived and later worked, was ended by the outbreak of the Second World War. A month earlier he had been addressed at his barmitzvah by Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld at the Adath Yisrael Burma Road shul.
Eager for self-reliance, he delivered papers for WH Smith. With the £5 he saved up in his first three months he bought his first musical instrument, a George Formby banjo. At 14 he began entertaining for family and friends. During the blitz he and his brother, Leslie, put on shows in air raid shelters.
Soon he was working for his father’s clothing factory in Albion Road but after it was bombed out, the family went into scrap metal. At 16, Alf was given almost full responsibility when his father became ill and died three years later.
Some of the characters he had to deal with were extremely dodgy, if not outright villains. As normal business resumed after the war, he returned to the Albion Road factory and eventually became a director of N Fogel and Sons, making children’s clothing.
Joining St John’s Wood Jewish Youth Club, he played in its football team in 1951. The club started a weekly in-house cabaret and Alf took part in its first show, Sauce Chutzpah, in 1954. It was so successful that they put on a benefit performance at the Whitehall Theatre.
Alf developed the concept and put on Old Time Chutzpah at the Fortune Theatre in 1958, launching his alternative career and a series of characters: Reuben Hood, Grob Roy, Sinbad the Tailor and Captain Lawnmower.
He then picked up his pen and wrote 14 songs and the entire book of Mine Fair Sadie, which ran for a succession of Sundays at Wyndham’s Theatre before transferring to the Royalty, Kingsway.
In 1967, following Israel’s Six-Day War, he made a whirlwind tour of military bases around Israel. The highlight of the tour was entertaining 500 Israeli soldiers in King Hussein of Jordan’s palace in East Jerusalem.
Beneficiaries of his shows included the forerunners of both Jewish Care and World Jewish Relief, Ravenswood (now part of Norwood), Norwood itself, the London Children’s Hospital under Barts, Imperial Cancer Research, National Heart Hospital and, later, the Jewish Association for the Mentally Ill.
He appeared at fundraisers at the London Palladium, Victoria Palace and Prince of Wales. Although often asked and sometimes tempted to turn professional, he kept the day job. As he said after his daughter was born, her first words were: “I’ve got nothing to wear,” and he wanted to supply her needs.
More recently he gathered his old troupe together to make a CD, Sherlock Hyams, to benefit Jewish Care in 2003, and The Strudel Prince in 2005.
He married Stephanie Michaels in 1969. He is survived by her, his daughter Samantha, son Robert, and two grandchildren.
Alf Fogel: raising hundreds of thousands for charity through his shows