Unwin was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1911 since his parents had emigrated there in the early 1900s. But his father died in 1914 and Unwin and his mother returned to the UK.
By 1919, Unwin had been sent to the National Children’s Home at Congleton in Cheshire. In the late 1920s, he studied radio, television and languages at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.
He got a job as a BBC engineer and was stationed at the Borough Hill transmitting station in Daventry and he moved to nearby Long Buckby with his wife and young daughter.
It was for his children that he developed his ‘Unwinese‘, a mangled version of English with the odd intelligible word that gave the listener a vague understanding of the meaning and it might have gone no further than a way of enlivening bedtime stories, but for a chance broadcast.
Unwin was working for the BBC in Birmingham and while testing some equipment he joined in a spoof commentary about an imaginary sport called ‘Fasche’. The recording was played back to two BBC producers, who added some sound effects.
The recording was eventually broadcast on the Mirror of the Month programme and after receiving a good response led to another sketch in which Unwin was interviewed as a man from Atlantis being asked about life in the sunken city.
Unwin appeared with many of the comedy greats of the time, including Frankie Howerd, Ted Ray, June Whitfield and Kenneth Connor and he would pop up on all sorts of programmes in my youth.
As Wikipedia explains: ‘Unwinese, also known as “Basic Engly Twenty Fido”, was a special, ornamented and mangled form of English in which many of the words were corrupted in a playful and humorous way. Unwin’s performances could be hilarious yet disorienting although the meaning and context were always conveyed in a disguised and picturesque style.’
Unwin performed regularly until the early 1990s when his appearances became less frequent and he died in 2002. He had prepared his own valediction which read:
‘Goodly Byelode loyal peeploders! Now all gatherymost to amuse it and have a tilty elbow or a nice cuffle-oteedee – Oh Yes!’
There is more evidence of his ‘Unwinese‘ to be found on his gravestone above and below is a sample of Unwin and his Unwinese from 1983.