Bert Bernard, best known as one of the Bernard Brothers – one of the most popular comedy acts to appear in British variety theatres during the late forties and early fifties – has died at the age of 85. Billed as ‘Off the Record’, the Bernard Brothers’ speciality was miming and dancing to records. Headliners in America, they topped bills at the London Palladium and appeared with Danny Kaye in the 1948 Royal Variety Performance.
Bert Bernard was born Herbert James Maxwell in Boston, USA, on June 29, 1918. He found fame as a juvenile dancer, playing the American vaudeville circuits, and in musical comedy before teaming up with George Bernard in 1932.
Originally the pair worked as a dancing act with a ballet motif. Appearing as the Bernard Dancers they performed burlesque ballet routines. The act played all over North and South America and several seasons in Europe. In 1938 they were top of the bill at the Folies Bergeres in Paris and the same year they made their London debut in cabaret at the Dorchester Hotel.
During the Second World War, Bernard served in the US Air Force where he served in combat duty in various theatres of war and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. George carried on as a single act and played for several years entertaining American and Allied troops.
Their miming to gramaphone records routine began as a joke at a party in Chicago and quickly became the staple part of their act. Comedy mime acts were then a novelty and the Bernard Brothers were an instant success with their parodies of the Andrew Sisters and other vocal groups of the era.
There was a third – and unseen to the audience – member of the act, George Pierce, who controlled and manipulated the records backstage.
In 1946, the Bernard Brothers appeared at the Lido in Paris for ten months and the following year topped the bill at the London Casino (now the Prince Edward Theatre).
Popular in the provinces in variety, they appeared at the London Palladium on numerous occasions and were instrumental in paving the way for American artists to star at the famous theatre during the postwar years.
In 1948 they topped the bill in Val Parnell’s first Palladium pantomime, Cinderella, and throughout the early fifties returned to the theatre on variety bills. Equally popular in cabaret in Paris they regarded the Lido as a second home.
Their miming act, like many others, came to a sudden halt when record companies refused permission to use their records. The Bernards continued to work as comic dancers until George’s death in 1968, aged 56. Their photograph is still on display in the London Palladium Hall of Fame next to the theatre foyer.
Bert Bernard died on February 23.