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Ann Montini's Variety Days

A Chat with Sir Roger Moore - Neil Sean Meets Ann Montini

A Chat with Sir Roger Moore

Ann Montini with Sir Roger Moore at the Westminster Live Studios in London - Courtesy Maycon Productions.

Above - Ann Montini with Sir Roger Moore at the Westminster Live Studios in London - Courtesy Maycon Productions.

Ann MontiniHi everyone, I'm Ann Montini – I am a former Variety artiste, singer, producer and, like all in showbiz, reinvention is the key, am I right? At this stage of my career I have become a widely read writer, TV make up artist and interviewer too – You cannot have too many strings to your bow – a lesson I learned when starting out as a mere three year old way back in… well long before mobile phones had been invented, but seriously I did start out at three with a concert party which played all manor of venues from professional Theatres, church halls and amazing Town Halls which lead to me working with so many of the greats of the golden era of variety.

I figured it may be fun to share with you many I have been lucky to meet and get to know along the way and remember this is totally exclusive to the Arthur Lloyd Website.

The person I want to share with you now maybe not be considered a variety artiste as such, but he was there thanks to his association and later wife of one of the all-time greats this country has produced, Miss Dorothy Squires.

I met Sir Roger Moore at Westminster Live Studios in London where he was invited to record what turned out to be a very revealing chat and I was there that day as the makeup artiste booked to make up the boy from Stockwell.

Sir Roger was everything you could and would imagine, sophisticated, debonair and truly a gentleman who regaled me and the host with some wonderful tales about his stint in the world of variety theatre.

Sir Roger explained that as a child he was a regular at the Variety Theatres in London and loved going to see the greats on the halls that came around South London never dreaming one day that he himself would have a go at comedy and starring in pantomime in Brixton, or as he says "not quite starring but merely being there and having a go."

Sir Roger had met and fallen in love with one of the biggest stars of that era, Dorothy Squires, who was the singing sensation of the Fifties and Sixties, and even 30 years ago this talented but difficult star was a regular feature of the headlines thanks to offstage dramas and scandals. Now though she decided Sir Roger should join her in her latest variety tour in the early 50s firstly as a front cloth comic, Sir Roger revealed "I always had hopes that I could be as funny as say Max Miller who I loved plus Bob Hope and well in the madness of youth and more so needing a job Dot persuaded me that given they loved her they would also love me."

Ann Montini with Sir Roger Moore at the Westminster Live Studios in London - Courtesy Maycon Productions."However," Sir Roger added, "I recall vividly one dire rainy matinee and we were in the middle of Wales with a not too full house at the local Regal and I was asked to go on and start the show." Roger had also decided on a dog tooth jacket and a cigar as, "I know I could use it for timing and all that." But sadly Roger failed to ignite the crowd as he openly admitted had happened on a few other occasions. "The thing was Dot was having none of it and in quite full language she was getting rather angry with the crowd as she stood in the wings," he added, "Now for me I thought plough on get off and hopefully they wont remember me but she burst onto the stage and let out a few expletives along the lines of "Give him a chance." Well even at my age I knew comics were not given a chance of course but she was just protecting me and I admired her for that but it made me rethink my time, as a new Tommy Trinder or Max Miller was not quite going to plan."

Sir Roger also revealed that thanks to Ms Squires and her many variety friends he got to meet so many greats but as he admitted, "We were all so young back then so I had no idea what legends they would become," Stars like Frankie Vaughn, Gracie Fields, and even Laurel & Hardy, "they were touring the halls here and they were also a fan of Dot's so I was so lucky to meet them and of course was in awe when I think back because they were you know legends. You only got to see them on the big screen."

A Twice Nightly Variety programme for the Empress Theatre, Brixton for the week commencing October 17th 1955.Sir Roger then attempted a stint in pantomime where he admitted "I loved it but not with me in it." The venue was the Brixton Empress and he was a chorus boy in the Brixton Empress pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk as he admitted "I was rather pretty so I knew I had been given the role on that merit, not on my acting's skills, but panto is an art form and I was far too much 'actor'. I did feel for the gang who were stuck with me so basically after the pantomime and with no work on offer as a comedian I decided acting was a great way of making a living.

Right - A Twice Nightly Variety programme for the Empress Theatre, Brixton for the week commencing October 17th 1955.

Sir Roger also told me that he loved the old-fashioned beauty contests that would take place at various seaside venues across the UK through the late 50s and 60s where he met his comedy heroes like Ken Platt, Norman Evans and so forth, "To me these were real heroes as they went out alone nightly on stage and created huge waves of laughter. I was always in awe of comedians and singers wishing secretly that I could do it of course." He added that "I think when you look at the crowds that attended these contests in Morecambe and Blackpool were huge and all the comics were there not chatting up the girls but drumming up business for their shows on the Piers and Theatres as they knew the value of the crowd and worked it to make sure they had a successful season. I learned a lot from those variety comics when promoting my shows in the US. No audience too small, or venue," he chuckled.

Sir Roger told me that his stint in variety helped him become a success in film years later as "I did not take anything seriously, I mean many people looked aghast when I would say go on and turn the illuminations on at Morecambe in 1965 or appear with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise on stage with Millicent Martin at the Palladium Show in London in 1968. Why? because to me the roar of the crowd was amazing, and I always believed that you should surround yourself with talent and what a way to appear on the world-famous Palladium with all those greats."

The London Hippodrome's wonderful Frank Matcham auditorium - London Metropolitan Archives.Sir Roger fondly recalled his time on tour with Dot telling me "Moss Empires was a huge organisation and we had no idea just how powerful but I loved so many of their Theatres from the Birmingham Hippodrome, Leeds Empire and the Hippodrome in London, they were truly palaces of mirth and talent but I never truly understood why so many were left to be pulled down. It was a wonderful period in my life truly and I got to rub shoulders with so many people like Dickie Valentine, Dave King, The Goons, all starting out on this great road to showbiz, but I don't think we will ever see the likes of what happened in that period again because like everything times change."

Left - The London Hippodrome's wonderful Frank Matcham auditorium - London Metropolitan Archives.

Sir Roger did indeed become a global star thanks to Bond and of course starring in the mega hit show "The Saint, but as he told me, "I do still wish I could have had a stint as a comic in variety too."

It was such a pleasure meeting Sir Roger Moore and I do hope you enjoyed his variety days. Back soon, Ann.

Maycon ProductionsThis Article was written by Ann Montini and very kindly sent in for exclusive publication on www.arthurlloyd.co.uk and may not be copied or otherwise distributed without prior consent. Images Courtesy Maycon Productions and the Arthur Lloyd Archive.

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