Ray was born Charles Alden in Wigan, Lancashire, England. His parents moved to Liverpool within days of his birth, and Liverpudlians regard him as a local. While he was a boy his parents changed their name to Olden. As a comedian of the 1940s and 1950s he demonstrated his ad-libbing skills in his weekly radio show Ray's A Laugh from 1949 until 1961. A music hall comedian, Ray usually played violin badly as part of his act - first as Hugh Neek, then "Nedlo the Gypsy Violinist". He also played comedy roles in several British films—notably as the headmaster in Carry On Teacher. He is best remembered for the Sunday lunchtime radio show Ray's a Laugh, a domestic comedy in which Kitty Bluett played his wife. Other actors and actresses who featured on the show included Peter Sellers, Fred Yule, Patricia Hayes, Kenneth Connor, Pat Coombs and Graham Stark; Sellers' earliest appearances predated The Goon Show by a couple of years. In 1940 and 1950 Ray was King Rat of the Grand Order of Water Rats.
Ray was an accomplished golfer, frequently playing with professional sportsmen. Later in his career he appeared with Jimmy Edwards, Arthur Askey and Cyril Fletcher in the comedy radio panel game Does the Team Think?
Ted Ray appeared on television reading on Jackanory (a children's programme) in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1974, he presented a radio show on BBC Radio 2, The Betty Witherspoon Show, with Kenneth Williams, Miriam Margolyes and Nigel Rees. He was also involved in Jokers Wild, an ITV celebrity comedy game show (1971–74) which was chaired by Barry Cryer. Arthur Askey was another regular on the show.
He married showgirl Dorothy (née Sibil) and the couple had two sons: Robin Ray, a well-known television personality in the 1960s and 1970s, who initiated Call My Bluff and specialist classical music shows, and Andrew Ray, a child star of the 1950s who had a long career on stage, film and television.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in October 1955 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre, and in February 1975, when Andrews surprised him on the doorstep of his Southgate home.
In 1975, returning home from a day of golfing and alcohol, two of his favourite passions, Ray was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. The injuries sustained had a physically debilitating effect and left him dependent on crutches.
In 1977 he recorded a half-hour interview, talking about his life. This was repeated on Radio 4 Extra's "It's a Funny Business" series on 3 November 2013. On 8 November 1977 he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Nedlo, the Gypsy Violinist, started his own show in 1949 and made a success of it. Ray's a Laugh did not include Nedlo's name in the credits, nor indeed that of Charlie Olden (Ray's real name). Nedlo/Olden was, by 1949, calling himself Ted Ray (after the golfer) – and that was how he billed himself for his radio series.
Ray's a Laugh was a domestic comedy. Ray's wife was played by Kitty Bluett. Fred Yule played his brother-in-law. Patricia Hayes appeared, as did Kenneth Connor as Sidney Mincing. In later series Ray had left the Cannon Enquiry Agency and joined the Daily Bugle as a reporter. Jack Watson and Charles Leno joined the cast and new characters included Mrs Dipper and Roger Curfew, the paying guest with songs by John Hanson and the King's Men.
Another early member was Peter Sellers, then 23 and billing himself as an impressionist. He appeared as Soppy, a small boy criticised by the nation's watchdogs for his catchphrase, "Just like your big red conk!" Another of his characters was a strange woman, Crystal Jollibottom ("Stop it you saucebox!" he would cry in a crazy falsetto). Laidman Browne, as Ray's boss Mr Trumble, Pat Coombs as Ursula Prune, Charles Leno and Graham Stark were also present. Percy Edwards, the animal impersonator, played Gregory the chicken.
There was the glamour girl who would do anything, but "Not until after six-o'clock!" Songs came from the Beaux and the Belles and Bob and Alf Pearson provided the musical interlude—"We bring you melodies from out of the sky, my brother and I!" Bob also played the little girl Jennifer who, asked her name, would coyly reply: "Jen-ni-fer!"
The show was no real departure from tradition, even in its catch-phrases. There was Ivy's (Ted Ray) devotion to Mrs Hoskins, for instance: "You're a lovely woman, Mrs Hoskins!" And it was she to whom Mrs Hoskins would remark weakly: "It was agony, Ivy!" And whenever Ivy felt poorly, Mrs Hoskins would say, "I'll have to send for young Dr Hardcastle" to which Ivy would reply, "He's lovely, Mrs Hoskins, He's loooooovely!"
There was the adenoidal "If you haven't been to Manchester, you haven't lived." from Kenneth Connor.
Ray's a Laugh ran from 1949 until January 1961, eventually dropping the musical items. Ray also showed his skill at ad-libbing (together with Jimmy Edwards, Arthur Askey and Cyril Fletcher) in Does the Team Think?
The first series accented variety, with international guests; the second and third series had greater emphasis on stand-up comedy; the fourth featured domestic routines (with Diane Hart as Ted Ray's wife and Kenneth Connor as "that interfering brother-in-law"); the fifth and six—with new writers—concentrated on sketch comedy and were branded 'New Edition' and '1959 Edition' to underline the difference.Ted Ray
Kenneth Connor – (series 4)
Diane Hart – (series 4)
Sid Colin – Writer (series 1–4)
Talbot Rothwell – Writer (series 1–4)
George Wadmore – Writer (series 1–4)
John Junkin – Writer (series 5 & 6 and special)
Terry Nation – Writer (series 5 & 6 and special)
Dave Freeman – Additional Material (3 shows)
George Inns – Producer (series 1–5)
Bill Ward – Producer (2 shows)
Ernest Maxin – Producer (1 show)
Barry Lupino – Producer (1 show)
Number of episodes: 29 Length: 28 x 60 mins • 1 x short special
Series One (4) 21 May – 13 Aug 1955 • monthly Saturday mostly 9.15pm
Series Two (4) 28 Apr – 21 July 1956 • monthly Saturday mostly 9.15pm
Series Three (8) 19 Jan – 3 Aug 1957 • monthly Saturday mostly 8pm
Series Four (5) 25 Jan – 10 May 1958 • monthly Saturday 8pm
Series Five (3) 27 Sep – 22 Nov 1958 • monthly Saturday 8pm
Short special • part of Christmas Night with the Stars 25 Dec 1958 • Thu 6.25pm
Series Six (4) 31 Jan – 2 May 1959 • monthly Saturday mostly 7.30pm
Meet Me Tonight (1952)
Escape by Night (1953)
My Wife's Family (1956)
Please Turn Over (1959)
The Crowning Touch (1959)
Carry On Teacher (1959)