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Ann Montini's Variety Days

Introduction - Mario Lanza - Jimmy James - Jimmy Perry - Sooty and Harry Corbett - Sir Michael Grade - Duggie Brown - The Osmonds - Jim Bowen - Lionel Blair - Joan Hinde - Johnnie Hamp - David Jason - Anthony Bygraves, son of the legendary star Max Bygraves - Lindford Hudson and the London Palladium - A Chat with Sir Roger Moore - Neil Sean Meets Ann Montini

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.

Scroll down the page to see all of Ann's articles or click the Links above to jump to them directly.

Mario Lanza – Ann Montini recalls a True Great in an interview with his daughter Ellisa Lanza Bregman

Ann Montini with Ellisa Lanza Bregman - © Maycon Pictures.

Above - Ann Montini with Ellisa Lanza Bregman - © Maycon Pictures.

As a child clutching my golden ticket to see Opera Super star Mario Lanza at St Georges Hall in Bradford, I could not quite believe my luck. My mother had treated me to this wonderful night of opera, within my mind one of the very best voices ever. But then tragedy struck, and the tour and shows were cancelled as he returned back to Rome.

Prior to that, I was an avid reader of his arrival knowing that he stayed in London at his former MGM co star Lana Turner's home in London, and that the tour had been organised by the brilliant Grade Organisation, of which there would be trouble ahead, but at that time, Mario was effectively a variety star travelling up and down the country playing to packed houses from The Royal Albert Hall to the world famous London Palladium.

His records sold by the million, his films packed out picture houses, and he was one of the great pin-ups of his day.

And despite the fact he died tragically young at only 38, after starring in just three Hollywood movies, Mario's fame is still such that a new documentary has just been released almost 60 years later.

Can you then imagine my excitement when I was asked to help co produce a video recording of a tribute to him and not only that, finally get to meet and chat to his daughter, the lovely Ellisa Lanza Bregman. She told me "It's really wonderful. But he was, and is unique, he had a great talent, and people still appreciate it after all these years. Everyone's heard of Mario Lanza. Everyone starts out with rock 'n' roll — including myself, my sister and my brothers! — but the wonderful thing about my father was, that he was able to sing opera and he also sang popular music, something for everybody."

"I lost my father at nine and the fact he's still so popular means his career was not in vain — it didn't die with him." She added he was the real triple threat because "He could act, he could sing, and he was handsome, so he was, what would you call it, just talented?"

"His movies are what really helped him be introduced to the young tenors, and sopranos, and people who really love opera, so even people like Luciano Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo, queued up to praise him. What they praised most is the voice of Alfred Cocozza, who took the stage name Mario Lanza, after his mother's maiden name Maria Lanza. Well, you could say I'm biased in this respect, but I truly believe when I hear him, that it could be only him — his voice is so unique," says Ellisa. "Elvis Presley appreciated him. I know that they met, and Elvis and his fiancée at the time, when he was stationed in Germany — Priscilla — would listen to his music, so he did influence Elvis which was amazing really, when you think about. Also, Frank Sinatra and my father became friends, and appreciated each other's music."

Ellisa though revealed that despite his huge success, he was terrified of coming to tour the UK, and that he suffered from stage fright. "Every time he went out, he was nervous, but he always wanted to give the audience his best, and once he got out there, he had complete command." She told me, that he loved England and people were very warm to him here, simply because back in those days people appreciated you more for coming to their local town, and agreeing to perform there which was wonderful when you look back at it.

Mario's fame meant his children — Colleen, Ellisa, Damon and Marc — had a very different upbringing to most. "We were very fortunate," Ellisa says. "We didn't know we led a different life; we were just fortunate, he always had his family with him. So, when he was in Europe, we travelled with him". Say he was on a long movie shoot in Italy or Germany? "It was an interesting childhood," she agreed.

The London Palladium whilst celebrating it's 100th anniversary in December 2010 - Photo M.L.A great story that emerges and I recall was this, when Mario was asked to appear at the world-famous London Palladium, an honour to anyone who loves showbiz. In 1957 Mario Lanza was appearing by arrangement with showbiz brothers Lew and Leslie Grade. Working for them at the time was a young agent named Peter Pritchard, who thirty years on, became not only one of the leading agents in the profession back in 1957, however, Peter was entrusted by the agency with looking after stars like Mario Lanza.

Right - The London Palladium whilst celebrating it's 100th anniversary in December 2010 - Photo M.L.

Arriving at the Five-star deluxe Dorchester Hotel in London, where they were booked in for the weekend, Peter Pritchard, was detailed not to let his charge out of his sight, since Mario Lanza was very on edge at the prospect of appearing before a live audience on stage.

To make him feel more at home, arrangements were made so that he could rehearse at the Palladium alone with the orchestra. The other artists were asked to remain in their dressing rooms, and the theatre was cleared of all, but a skeleton staff. Indeed, Peter made every effort to ensure Mario Lanza the privacy he has asked for. What he hadn't bargained for was a photographer who suddenly appeared in the dressing room and began to take pictures.

This was too much for the already highly wrought star, and this long-suffering agent was rewarded with a punch on the nose. Justifiably aggrieved at this, Peter nevertheless assented to Val Parnell's entreaty to stick with the temperamental Mr Lanza, and not to mention the incident to anyone until after the show the following day.

However, word must have slipped out from some other source, and in an attempt to confirm what had happened, the press rang Peter's home, where his grandmother, who knew nothing of what had happened at the Palladium, took the call. In one of the most memorable quotes in the long history of the Royal Variety Performance, she answered the question as to whether Peter had been in a fight, with the comment, 'Oh, very likely, He's always getting into trouble with the kids around here.' Peter told me this story years later, but also agreed that Mario was indeed a huge star, and so talented, but he "should have punched him back for sure."

Mario Lanza is today not as remembered as he should be, but as another variety turn told me, Tommy Steele no less, who shared the bill with him on the Royal Variety show, "He was marvellous, but so nervous which is odd, as he had a great voice, and the crowd truly loved him, and once he had appeared he was warm and friendly to everyone, and wanting to be part of the gang ,which was odd as we were so in awe of his great talent, and well, I was just starting out so you can imagine how in awe I was of this great man."

It appears that Mario left such a great mark on many people, and for that he deserves to be remembered as a showman and a Royal Variety Great.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini remembers the wonderful comedian Jimmy James

Two early photographs showing Alan Scott and Jimmy James during their Act - Courtesy Ann Montini.

Above - Two early photographs showing Alan Scott and Jimmy James during their Act - Courtesy Ann Montini.

Jimmy James was known as the comedian's comedian. Famous for his quips, sour faced looks, and impeccable timing with his cigarette. Unlike a lot of the comedians of the day, Jimmy seems to have been overlooked. However, I was lucky enough to interview his son James Casey on my radio show. Although Jimmy appeared on stage as a lovable drunk, often with a cigar or a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, he was in fact a non-smoker, and non-drinker. James though however lead a troubled life in many respects. He was declared bankrupt three times, and had a bit of a weakness for the bookies. He was also Eric Morecambe's favourite comedian. Eric told me "he was simply one of the greats, he sometimes would talk to the audience directly which none of us was doing at that point, but you could not help but be transfixed by him as he slowly won the audience over with his brilliant gags."

Alan Scott with Bernard Manning - Courtesy Ann Montini.It was in the 1940s that James really became a huge star. He'd already appeared at the London Palladium in the 1930s, where he was earning over £100 a week, a huge amount of money back in that time. Naturally radio called, and in 1952 he had his own comedy series called "Don't Spare the Horses". The radio shows were a huge success, but as my good friend Bernard Manning said, it was on stage where he was most at home.

Right - Alan Scott with Bernard Manning - Courtesy Ann Montini.

Bernard recalled "he was such a good friend to me. He was a helpful person, and it was down to him, that I owe the start of my career." Bernard added "I was at the catholic club in South Yorkshire and he suggested an agent that might be useful, which in turn got me a job as a singer with a big band." Bernard goes on to say "They talk about alternative comedians, but Jimmy was already alternative, while others were doing 'my wife said to me' jokes. He truly was a one off and really deserves to be remembered, as he did so much, for so many."

Jimmy also had success in movies. First starring with Norman Evans, AKA Fanny Fairbottom, in the 1950 movie "Over the Garden Wall" where Jimmy played Fanny's wife. The movie was a huge success in the north, but not so much in the south, but that didn't stop Jimmy having another go at a movie called "Those People Next Door" which proved to be even more popular. Jimmy was also picked to appear in the Coronation year's Royal Variety performance in front of the Queen in 1953, where he launched his "Chips" routine which stole the show. By this time, his star was well and truly at its peak and Jimmy went on to appear in TV series like "Home James", "Meet the Champ" as well as more established shows such as "The Billy Cotton Band Show" and "Saturday Band Box."

A Ticket for James Casey's BBC Radio Recording of Ken Dodd at the Hulme Playhouse in May 1976 - Courtesy Alfred Mason.His son, James Casey became a huge entertainment producer for the BBC in which he produced for many years the hit radio show "The Clitheroe Kid" alongside other hit shows like "Ken Dodd, and Les Dawson." James was a real gentleman with a very sharp comedy mind who knew exactly what the public wanted, hence the reason for his continued radio success. (More information on BBC Producer James Casey can be seen here.)

Left - A Ticket for James Casey's BBC Radio Recording of Ken Dodd at the Hulme Playhouse in May 1976 - Courtesy Alfred Mason.

The comedian Alan Scott, seen here in these two exclusive pictures, was possibly the only comic allowed to mimic the act while James was still alive himself. Alan was lucky enough to meet Jimmy backstage on the central pier in the late 50s, where he told him, he did not mind people copying his act as long as it got laughs. Alan assured him it did, and so a friendship developed, however just like Jimmy, Alan struggled to find a gormless looking actor to take on the role similarly played by the late great Roy Castle in the 1950s. Roy also told me that Jimmy was one of the easiest people to work with, simply because he didn't mind if you didn't necessarily stick to the script, as long as you eventually found your way back, and hit the punch line. Roy told me, he enjoyed some of the happiest days on the stage with Jimmy touring the UK. We sadly lost Jimmy over 50 years ago, but it is nice to see new people remembering his great comedy talent, and for comedians today who are starting out, it would be wise to study and watch Jimmy on film, to see exactly what comic timing is all about.

Ann Montini and Bernie Clifton - Courtesy Ann Monitini.A good friend of mine Bernie Clifton, shown left, with Jim Casey and Eli Woods together recreated some magical Jimmy James sketches to great effect a few years back in Blackpool, proving that great comedy never dies really, it's just people rediscover it.

Right - Ann Montini and Bernie Clifton - Courtesy Ann Monitini.

And as Bernie told me "He was amazing really because he did not tell jokes as such, but had a routine and people knew it backwards, but they did not care as well, they loved it, and he could just shrug his shoulders on stage and people would howl with laughter. He was one of them, really in the audience and people knew it, so that really is where his success came from, I believe.

Jimmy James himself admitted that his big break came when he took over from a young Max Miller, who had walked out of a show after having an argument, and so Jimmy took the opportunity. Oddly unlike Max ,Jimmy remained friends with him, and the two got along very well, but Jimmy admitted in later life that he wondered if he would have continued with his comedy career if that situation had not happened… Thanks Max for walking out, as we may never have seen the great stage comedy talent of Jimmy James.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini remembers the great comedy writer and actor Jimmy Perry

Ann Montini with 'Dad's Army', 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', and 'Hi-de-Hi' writer Jimmy Perry.

Above - Ann Montini with 'Dad's Army', 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', and 'Hi-de-Hi' writer Jimmy Perry.

Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring in the final series of the BBC's 'Dad's Army' - From the Birmingham Post, October 1st 1977.Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, and Hi-de-Hi, writer Jimmy Perry has co-created such comic gems that we all still love and adore today. Who, out of all of us who love traditional British comedy, have not enjoyed the delights of Ian Lavender being a "stupid boy" while lining up in the church hall of Dad's Army? Likewise we all so wished that Su Pollard would, and could, become a yellow coat at Maplins, but as Jimmy told me, this comedy gold came from life experiences. "I think that is the best place to start really, as you know it and have lived it, so the writing and ideas come naturally which hopefully people enjoy."

Right - Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring in the final series of the BBC's 'Dad's Army' - From the Birmingham Post, October 1st 1977.

Arnold Ridley as Private Godfrey in the BBC's 'Dad's Army' - From the Cheshire Observer, September 19th 1975.Even now on BBC2 regular Saturday nights, while much of the nation divides its attention between all-screaming, all-dancing talent shows, a loyal platoon looks elsewhere for its entertainment. The well-intentioned failures of a group of old soldiers. And the fact that more than two million tune in for a 46-year-old show is nothing less than astonishing, which amazed Jimmy himself. "I don't think we had any idea, but let me tell you this, there's never a week goes by that an amateur production of Dad's Army isn't done – all over the country, amazing really."

Left - Arnold Ridley as Private Godfrey in the BBC's 'Dad's Army' - From the Cheshire Observer, September 19th 1975.

Jimmy's love of showbusiness began in his youth. He was Born in 1923, and was educated at independent schools in Hammersmith, West London. "The masters were all terrible derelicts from the Trench warfare. I always say, rather than do my school days again, I'd go through the war again – with exceptions. And there is nothing more unpleasant than 12-year-old boys. Especially middle-class ones. Because I had such a bad time at school my father and I would go to the Chiswick Empire, the Chelsea Palace, Hammersmith Palace, Shepherd's Bush Empire… My mother wasn't too keen. She liked the straight theatre. But I loved Variety, and all the greats like Rob Wilton and Max Miller, but geniuses of comedy when I think about it now."

"I was only 14 when I was doing stand-up myself. I used to say to the audience, don't applaud, just throw petrol coupons. My billing was 'Jimmy Perry: not very funny, but a lot of charm!" he laughed.

Jimmy joined Watford Home Guard at the age of 16 – he subsequently based the character of Private Frank Pike on himself. "Your stupid boy", the put-down Pike often found himself on the wrong end of, is what Perry's father said to him when he declared his ambition was to be an actor or comedian. But he loved his time with the Home Guard, when he was taught by First World War veterans, and later joined the Royal Artillery. "They were great days because when you're young, you just soak everything up and that is what is great about youth, it all comes in later and so much of it did for me." A chance meeting with Ann Callender was to prove most helpful to Jimmy 's career, as well as becoming Perry's agent, she married David Croft, a TV producer. "She used to drag him along to see me sing in some musical or other. I don't know if it was out of sympathy, but I got into a series called Hugh and I." This was a comedy starring Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd, that Croft produced for the BBC.

Jimmy recalls also that David Attenborough was controller of BBC2 at the time Dad's Army came together. "I was in his office one day. He said, 'Jimmy I've had enough of this, I must get back to the field.' And he loved being in the jungle. He is without a doubt the nicest person I ever met in my life. He's not smarmy, just a genuine guy."

The Cast of Dad's Army from an article about the end of the BBC's long running television show - From the Daily Mirror of the 14th of November 1977.

Above - The Cast of Dad's Army from an article about the end of the BBC's long running television show - From the Daily Mirror of the 14th of November 1977.

Jimmy also remembers the wonderful John Laurie [Private Frazer] who used to say, 'You know, James, you're illiterate!' I loved him but he never stopped insulting me. And he had it in for Arthur. We were so privileged to have John in our team, reinforcing it. He said, 'I've had a wonderful career, I've worked at the Old Vic with Ralph Richardson, I've played Hamlet, I've done everything, I've made 100 films and I have to wait till the age of 73 to become famous playing in this crap.' But he loved the work and knew what was expected of him. they were all grumpy in many ways, but then again getting on a bit, so now at my age I totally understand."

Jimmy admits that of writing TV comedy, Perry and Croft would set up a tape recorder on a table to record their discussions, and they took it in turns to write them up. "We always wrote by hand, easier and gives the time for the idea to build and flow."

"We had a rule, that if I wanted something he didn't like, I wouldn't push it. And if he wanted something that I didn't like, he didn't push it." And the key ingredient was basing the action on fact. "I don't understand why other comedy writers don't do what David and I did. What do young writers do, who haven't done any living?" He laughed.

A Google StreetView Image of the Watford Palace Theatre - Click to Interact.With help from a musician friend he wrote the theme tunes to all his hit series (Dad's Army won an Ivor Novello Award), and in the 1990s he wrote a stage musical called 'That's Showbiz', for which he tried to multi-task. "It was at the Wimbledon Theatre for a week, and lost me a lot of money. But that was my ego – I never did that again – to try and do everything." And prior to Dad's Army he ran the Palace Theatre Watford, and had his own company, which included a young Glenda Jackson. "I think you have to try your hand at many things, after all showbiz is a huge gamble, far worse than the lottery when you think about it."

Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Watford Palace Theatre - Click to Interact.

Jimmy's favourite work of his own is not 'Dad's Army' but 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum', based on his experiences in the regular Army. "I was a sergeant in the Artillery in the Far East, stationed in India. I was then moved to Burma, and ended up in a Forces concert party. My time in India was amazing, I really enjoyed it and such fun looking back."

Although upset at the BBC's denial to repeat the show, which ran for seven years and attracted 15 million at its peak, he dismisses suggestions the sitcom is politically incorrect. It courted controversy for employing an English actor, Michael Bates, to play an ethnic character (Rangi Ram) with the aid of make-up, a common practice in the 1970s. In fact, Bates was born in India and spoke fluent Urdu. Perry is sad the series faylls foul of modern sensibilities, and that the show he considers the funniest is the one he can't talk about. "You might as well be in Russia. You can't upset anyone," he laughs.

Meeting and spending time with Jimmy was a joy as he truly did create comedy greats along with David Croft and if proof were needed, then why are we still all watching them today?"

Thank you, Jimmy & David, for all the many laughs you gave us and continue to do so to this day.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini remembers the time she starred with Sooty and Harry Corbett on stage in Bradford

Ann Montini, Sooty, and his new keeper Richard Cadell backstage at London's Duchess Theatre.

Above - Ann Montini, Sooty, and his new keeper Richard Cadell backstage at London's Duchess Theatre.

Harry Corbett with Sooty and Sweep - From The Stage Newspaper, August 1960.When Harry Corbett bought a bear glove puppet on Blackpool's North Pier in 1948 to entertain his children, he could surely not have realised he was teaming up with a future TV icon. Sooty cost the then engineer 7s 6d (about 37p in today's money) but proved a bargain, as he grew from those humble beginnings into a star of stage and screen, delighting generations of children on both the BBC and ITV.

Right - Harry Corbett with Sooty and Sweep - From The Stage Newspaper, August 1960.

Although he whispers into his co-star's ears, the rest of us have never heard him speak a word, as he prefers to let his wand and water pistol do the talking. And yet the "magical" bear has still managed to have a catchphrase - "Izzy whizzy, let's get busy" - which his human companions have uttered to accompany his tricks.

Harry Corbett, Sooty, and Sweep in a message to their fans - From the Stage Newspaper, January 1963.Sooty shot to fame four years after he and Corbett teamed up in the Lancashire resort, winning the BBC's Talent Night programme in 1952 and bagging themselves a series shortly after.

TV also gave Sooty his black ears and nose, as Corbett decided to cover them with soot so they would show up on black and white transmissions - the colouring also gave the bear his name.

And he's taken all his antics on to the stage too, appearing in pantomimes and Christmas shows for decades.

Left - Harry Corbett, Sooty, and Sweep in a message to their fans - From the Stage Newspaper, January 1963.

However, by the time I got to meet and work with Sooty, I myself had been a performer for sometime, starting at the age of three, but there is something special about that wonderful bear, and I was no different when I met up with him many years ago at a special concert - the support act was Bradford's Policeman's Choir. I had been asked to appear at the concert, or rather my mother had, by the famous TV producer Barney Colehan MBE, better known for the brilliant 'Good Old Days' TV show.

Now meeting up again with Sooty and his new owner / handler brought all the memories back – You see this was just prior to Harry hitting fame on BBC TV with his own series. He had of course appeared on TV by then, but like so many of us who could simply not afford one, after all radio was king, well Sooty who never speaks would not of course have been much use on radio would he?

Bradford's Eastbrook Hall from a Postcard - Courtesy Ann Montini.The show itself was held at the huge complex Eastbrook Hall, shown right, which is no longer with us (luxury flats now), and I had been asked, because of my age, and being in tune with the many children in the audience, to sing.

Right - Bradford's Eastbrook Hall from a Postcard - Courtesy Ann Montini.

Now back in those days I was singing every weekend with various shows, and our own concert party, 'The Gay Sparklers', in which both my mother and father were acts, and so appearing in front of a few hundred children one Saturday afternoon (evening) really held no fear for me – I was of course more in awe of the uniformed policeman that were all around, and who, despite their day jobs, seemed a tad nervous.

Meeting Mr Corbett, who told me to call him Harry, was a delight, as he was everything you wanted him to be, kind, and gentle, plus he knew I was a professional, so he reminded me not to tell the other children that, Sooty in fact was a glove puppet, which any child would have thought a bit daft, as after all it was obvious, right? Now many of the younger children believed that Sooty was indeed a real pal, and I was not going to spoil it.

The show was a huge success, and this really led to all kinds of offers and things for Mr Corbett, and me, including radio and TV, then making records. Harry was a kind man, and a fellow Bradford resident along with his relative, of the Harry Ramsden Fish and Chip Shop chain. Appearing with him really helped my career, and so we became good friends. The show I recall just had Sooty in it and no Sweep or Sue, but the children loved it, and Sooty got up to all his usual antics, and having everyone laughing, and enjoying the show. Mr Corbett decided to personally thank me backstage after the show, having assisted his act with Sooty by passing him various props. Oh, the fee, well that turned out to be a small bunch of sweets, that Harry selected from his pocket. No great fees in those days, and actually sweets were still a treat. It did stun me to see Sooty later wrapped up in a bag in a suitcase, shattering the illusion as such, but that also happened when I worked and met up with another puppet legend Basil Brush, but more on that later.

Alan Scott, Sooty, and Connie Creighton - Courtesy Ann Montini.I think we all owe Harry such a debt simply because he created an iconic role with the Sooty act, and many years later my husband Alan Scott, who was also a co producer on the shows we took around the country, 'Variety Express', got to work with Sooty, and the wonderful assistant to Matthew Corbett, Ms Connie Creighton.

Left - Alan Scott, Sooty, and Connie Creighton - Courtesy Ann Montini.

Connie Creighton hosted summer seasons for many years in the resort of Southport, at the famous Floral Hall & Gardens, when we presented the show at the Little Theatre in the town, to huge success, and yes Sooty managed to squirt Alan on stage with his famous pistol.

Meeting up with Sooty's new keeper Richard Cadell was so nice, as he too has a passion for the brand, and with news on a big screen movie looming sometime soon, it won't be long before Sooty could even be at the Oscars.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini meets Sir Michael Grade ( Baron Grade of Yarmouth)

Ann Montini with Kelsey Grammer at the London Coliseum - © Maycon Pictures.The foyer in the Frank Matcham gem, the London Coliseum, was buzzing with excitement, after all it was a press night starring a huge American star in the shape of Kelsey Grammer who was appearing in 'The Man from La Mancha'.

Right - Ann Montini with Kelsey Grammer at the London Coliseum - © Maycon Pictures.

Many other stars passed me as I waited at the fabled press desk to collect tickets, and after show party invites, which included BBC Radio 2 broadcaster Graham Norton, the ever delightful Susan Hampshire, and Tom Parker Bowles landing a Royal endorsement, but it was one good friend who caught my eye residing by the box office looking like all producers do on an opening night... worried.

Ann Montini with Sir Michael Grade at the London Coliseum - © Maycon Pictures.Now anyone who loves the theatre will know how fraught these nights can be, simply because if you don't get it right the critics can ruin all your hard work, and that of the cast and production team, all the while you have to stand there and smile, talk, and even give them free drinks just to turn up, so, looking directly into the eyes of the legendary Lord Michael Grade, and as a theatre producer myself, I felt such empathy.

Left - Ann Montini with Sir Michael Grade at the London Coliseum - © Maycon Pictures.

Born: March 1943. Father: Leslie, a theatrical agent. Uncles: impresarios Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont. Career: Daily Mirror journalist 1964-66; theatrical agent 1966-73; London Weekend Television 1973-81, director of programmes; independent producer in Hollywood 1981-84; controller of BBC1 1984-86; Channel 4 chief executive 1987-97; BBC chairman 2004-06; ITV executive chairman 2007-2009. Personal life: Married. Three children.

Sir Michael as you can see has done literally everything in the glittering world of showbiz, and he loves it still today – We got speaking as old pals do in the foyer, and I asked him if he still got nervous, of which he replied, "Of course I do, but that is half the fun, and you know, looking at what is expected of you and the whole show."

Michael is a genius when it comes to predicting what the public likes, after all this is a man who gave us EastEnders, and the brilliant fun of Neighbours on TV daily while he was top man at the BBC. His stories about the golden days of variety are superb, and he really loves the business, he added, "I think of course we are all slightly mad in many ways, after all who could want to travel up and down the country, and of course stay in the dreaded boarding house, plus beg an audience, first house on a Monday in Crewe, to like you, and after all that, call it a career?" he laughed.

Michael though helped create many of the wonderful comics we love like TV icons today, including the likes of such greats as Dick Emery who Michael adored, "Such a clever man and truly way ahead of his time," like Benny Hill, the TV cameras loved them, and because of that we loved the amazing characters they made too.

The Talk of The Town at the London Hippodrome in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry AtkinsMichael also was involved in the brilliant night spot The Talk of the Town in London, which hosted such greats as Danny La Rue, Vince Hill, and finally the wonderful Joe Longthorne, to name but a few, but he also was there when the great MGM star Judy Garland made her final ever London appearance there in 1969, which is now being turned into a film starring Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger. "I think it was a troubled time for Judy who was great when she was great, no doubt about it, but I know my uncle Bernie had a hard time in many respects, because she was of course having troubles, and I do hope they are faithful to her memory as she was a superb performer, and we have nothing like that now in terms of sheer star power."

Right - The Talk of The Town at the London Hippodrome in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.

Michael though thoroughly enjoyed the recent movie "Stan and Ollie" which featured his Uncle Bernie too, after all it was he who brought Hollywood's great comedy double act to London time and time again to huge success. I wondered how Michael thought about his Uncle Bernie up there on the big screen, "I think he would have adored it, after all he was a great showman and he knew what sold and what the public wanted, so for me it was great seeing his image and his character up there on the big screen." I then mentioned his fabled Uncle Lew Grade, who was the king of showbiz for many decades.

In the early 1920's a new dance craze, the Charleston, which had taken America by storm, had made its way across the Atlantic to Britain's shores. The furiously paced dance had originated in South Carolina at the turn of the century, and could be danced with a partner, in a group, or solo. As the craze swept across England, dance halls began to hold Charleston competitions, offering silver cups, and cash prizes for whomever they considered the best dancer. Young Louis, who had been taught the acrobatic Cossack style of dancing by his father, found that the steps of the Charleston came quite naturally to him, and he entered a competition at the Ilford Hippodrome. In spite of facing stiff competition from a duo that had just returned from Paris, where they had won the European Charleston Championship, Louis was awarded the first prize of £25.00, and with it, the title of Charleston Champion of London.

A postcard showing the Ilford Hippodrome Theatre

Above - A postcard showing the Ilford Hippodrome Theatre.

It was in 1930 Lew returned to England, and began touring the music hall circuit. For the next four years, he rarely found himself without work, but by 1934 he was ready to change direction once again. The huge dance routines that he performed anything up to four times a day were beginning to take their toll on him. He now suffered from water on the knee and would sometimes come off the stage at the end of his act in excruciating pain. Lew had become friendly with a booking agent called Joe Collins (the father of actress Joan and authoress Jackie), and had recommended several acts to Joe, that he had seen whilst travelling through Europe. Every act that Lew recommended, Joe hired. Now Lew decided it was time to start booking acts himself, and this decision was to change his, and the world of showbiz, forever.

The Moss-Thornton-Stoll Circuit list from around 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.With his contacts within the business, his knowledge of Europe's leading speciality acts, and his innate talent for business, Lew Grade began to build up quite a reputation for himself. It wasn't all plain sailing, and there were times when he almost went broke, but eventually word got around that he was putting on good shows all around the country. By 1936 Lew had the nucleus of an agency, although he still wasn't able to book directly with any of the major circuits such as Stoll Theatres, Moss Empires and General Theatres Corporation. But Joe Collins, who had been impressed by the speed in which Lew was learning the business, offered him a partnership.

Right - The Moss-Thornton-Stoll Circuit list from around 1905 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Michael smiled and told me, "He broke the mould, I mean he was wonderful to watch at work, and of course created not only huge TV stars and theatre stars, but also the way we all watch TV." Michael admitted that he was in awe of him as a professional, "I think his style was magical, I mean no contracts, just his word, and that was it, but he stuck to it and people respected him because of that."

The Auditorium of the London Coliseum in July 2017 Sir Roger Moore, who I was also lucky enough to get to know, confirmed this and admitted, "Lew asked me to make more series of The Saint, which I was not that keen to do at that time, however," he added, "Look I have already told them yes, and the Queen needs the exports, plus your fans will want you too." I mentioned a raise, and Lew simply patted one of his huge cigars into my pocket and told me not to discuss such trivial things, and that was the last of that. I made many more shows for him as he was simply the best."

Left - The Auditorium of the London Coliseum in July 2017.

Now the foyer is almost empty, and the curtain once again is about to rise. As Lord Grade takes my hand, and helps me into the Grand Circle, you notice just how powerful he remains with all staff members nodding and looking in admiration at this man, who once again is putting his reputation on the line in a show right back in the West End, here his Uncles had both enjoyed huge success. The lights fade and the wonderful 36-piece orchestra strikes up on yet another winning and box office smash for Michael Grade, and I for one was so thrilled for him when the whole house gave him and the cast a standing ovation.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini meets legendary Comedian and Actor Duggie Brown

Ann Montini with Duggie Brown and Johnnie Hamp - © Maycon Pictures.

Above - Ann Montini with Duggie Brown and Johnnie Hamp - © Maycon Pictures.

Can you believe it's over 45 years ago since the brilliant TV show 'The Comedians' aired on TV, yet people still ask funny man and actor Duggie Brown to tell his epic parrot joke. Duggie can be now seen in a huge variety of TV ads from Aldi to Waitrose, but people also forget that Duggie was an actor long before he found fame in the world of comedy. Remember 'Kes' the 1969 movie?

Duggie Brown won't let a thing like age stop him – looking years younger than his actual age the comic tells me about how he became a household name, why he wanted to leave comedy behind, and why he's embraced it back into his life now with the recently released 'The Comedians' 40th anniversary show DVD. I can tell you Duggie and the rest of the gang, that hit ratings highs in the world of TV long before the world of digital, have a very funny product on their hands, but that is simply because they are something different today and that is funny, and I mean laugh out loud funny. Duggie told me that the origins of the DVD saw the gang getting back together for a series of shows performing at the beautiful Blackpool Grand Theatre.

The Auditorium of the Blackpool Grand Theatre in 2002 - Courtesy Ted Bottle

Above - The Auditorium of the Blackpool Grand Theatre in 2002 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

"It was filmed in two lots," Duggie says. "We did six Sunday concerts at the Grand, Paul Boardman organised it and I think it's been slightly revamped from the original one. It was lovely and the people who're in Blackpool at that time of year all remember The Comedians, so it became a really successful show."

After so long apart, I wanted to know if getting back with the gang was a barrel of laughs, or a fight of long-polished egos.

"It was lovely, but also slightly upsetting. From the original days of recording I think I'm the only one left. Stan Boardman, Roy Walker and Mick Miller, they all joined five or six years later. So, from the original days of recording I think I'm the only one left. And the producer Johnnie Hamp of course. It was all down to him that we all became whatever we became, because he's such a good editor."

Duggie performed his comedy on various other entertainment shows, including 'The Good Old Days', where he made appearances spanning 1971–1980.

Duggie has also acted on stage in several productions. In 1999, he played 'The Fool' in Shakespeare's 'King Lear' for the Northern Broadsides Theatre Company nationwide tour. In 2013, he took the role of Mr. Boo in Little Voice.

Duggie tells me that he now gets stopped by very young fans in the street following his new role as "older sex symbol" as he puts it in the various TV ads he has appeared in and admits - "It's great work because they have proper storyboards, and you know you do get to create a character, so what is not to like."

Duggie has appeared with many greats in his time including the cult film 'For the Love of Ada' starring Irene Handel, and another Yorkshire legend Wilfred Pickles. "It was a great fun time and I learned so much from these people, and Wilfred was, well, a true Yorkshireman, if you know what I mean."

LYNNE PERRIE sings "YOU NEEDED ME"
LYNNE PERRIE sings "YOU NEEDED ME"

Many fans will know that Duggie has an equally famous sister called Lynne Perrie who was a brilliant singer back in the 1960s boom beat, and toured with The Beatles, but also better known thanks to her TV work in Coronation Street as Ivy Tilsley. Duggie tells me "I do miss her naturally, but she was a great character and people ask me about her all the time which is really nice. she created something special within the soap, I know that."

An image from the 1969 film 'Kes' - From the Kensington Post, 3rd of July 1970.Since the early 1970s, Brown has had a successful acting career in television and film, one of his early roles being in the Ken Loach's film 'Kes' (1969), based on a novel by Barry Hines, in which he played a milkman, his sister Lynne Perrie, also starred as the lead character's mother.

Left - An image from the 1969 film 'Kes' - From the Kensington Post, 3rd of July 1970.

He appeared in Jack Rosenthal's Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. which was part of Granada Television's Sunday Night Theatre series. He worked alongside his sister (Perrie) again, in Colin Welland's factory drama 'Leeds United' in the BBC's Play For Today series He also appeared in another Play For Today, The Price of Coal, again directed by Ken Loach.

He then starred in the 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' film as a foreign reporter.

Brown starred in the short-lived Granada Television comedy series 'Take My Wife', and in the same period also presented the short-lived Saturday morning children's programme 'The Mersey Pirate'. He had a regular role as laboratory technician Phil Strong in the popular detective series 'The Enigma Files'.

From 1980 to 1982, he played in the 13-episode comedy series 'The Glamour Girls'. Brown had a role in the highly acclaimed BBC Drama series 'House of Cards'. (In 1994, he briefly joined the cast of Channel 4's soap opera 'Brookside' as Ray Piper.

In 1997, he played George Freeman in Coronation Street, and again in 2004, this time playing Honor Blackman's husband Bernie. The same year he appeared in the long-running ITV drama series 'Fat Friends', and the film 'Between Two Women'.

Duggie tells me that the secret to his success is simple this - "I really enjoy what I do, and I like to keep it varied, but above all else you have to keep looking at new avenues and seeing new directions as the business changes all the time."

Duggie says that appearing with the Comedians in Blackpool and then at that world-famous London Palladium was something he will never forget, "You never think as a kid from Rotherham, that you will end up on stages like that do you Ann?" Duggie admits that they all owe a huge debt to the producer of the Comedians Johnnie Hamp. "Johnnie was a genius, and I mean that because he tapped into what the public wanted and gave it to them big time, plus he was such a kind hearted man with us all too and knew how to keep us all in line, he was always The Boss without a doubt."

All credit to Granada Producer Johnny Hamp and his 'Comedians' - From The Daily Mirror, 9th October 1971.

Above - All credit to Granada Producer Johnny Hamp and his 'Comedians' - From The Daily Mirror, 9th October 1971.

Duggie has a brand new book out soon and tells me that he is glad he has written it as - "I had honestly forgotten so much until you sit down and work it all out." Comedians like Duggie Brown are rare, and even more so in today's world as Duggie has appeared and played every Major Theatre in the land, but what makes him different from so many is this... he is genuinely funny.

Until next time Best Wishes 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.

Ann Montini meets The Osmonds

Ann Montini with The Osmonds backstage at St George's Hall, Bradford - Courtesy Maycon Pictures.

Above - Ann Montini with The Osmonds backstage at St George's Hall, Bradford - Courtesy Maycon Pictures.

Following the breakout success of the Jackson 5 in 1970, it was practically inevitable that a pre-existing quintet of brothers, who had already enjoyed almost a decade in the national spotlight, would follow them to teen idol superstardom. With dynamic youngest brother Donny as a focal point, (much like Michael was for the Jacksons), The Osmonds did exactly that, enjoying a run of massive popularity during 1971-1972. While their success as a unit began to wane, and had flickered out by the end of 1974, The Osmonds spun off a long-lasting show business career for Donny, (as well as sister Marie), and the other members of the group even enjoyed a successful comeback as country artists.

Andy Williams caught their act, and recommended them to his son. Five days before Christmas in 1962, The Osmonds made their national television debut on The Andy Williams Show, on which they would continue to appear regularly until its cancellation in 1967. About a year after that initial appearance, younger brother Donny officially joined the group as well, and The Osmonds soon began to broaden their musical range with clean-cut pop songs.

An article from the Stage Newspaper of May 1985 on the 'Osmond Brothers - Today!' Album.MGM president Mike Curb signed The Osmonds, and sent them to work for famed R&B producer Rick Hall. Hall's staff songwriter George Jackson had penned a sure-fire hit titled 'One Bad Apple (Don't Spoil the Whole Bunch),' which appeared on the group's debut album for MGM entitled 'Osmonds'. Released as a single at the very beginning of 1971, 'One Bad Apple' shot up the charts and landed in the top spot for five weeks, finally establishing The Osmonds as recording stars after nearly a decade in the public eye. A steady stream of hits continued unabated through 1972, including 'Double Lovin', the Top Five hits 'Yo-Yo' and 'Down by the Lazy River,' 'Hold Her Tight,' and 'Crazy Horses.' Their albums sold well too; 'Osmonds' went gold, as did its four followers: 1971's 'Homemade' and the 1972 triumvirate of 'Phase-III,' 'The Osmonds Live,' and 'Crazy Horses.' What's more, Donny's concurrent solo career was in full swing as well, with 'Go Away Little Girl' topping the singles charts in 1971.

Right - An article from the Stage Newspaper of May 1985 on the 'Osmond Brothers - Today!' Country Music Album.

Now the boys tell me that, like their rival Michael Jackson, they plan to take on West End success with a musical all about their early days on TV and pop hits.

The project is the brainchild of middle Osmond brother Jay, who has relocated from America to Chester. He and second wife, Karen, moved to the UK to collaborate with a group of English scriptwriters. "It will be part Bohemian Rhapsody, part Jersey Boys," says Jay, the group's drummer. "Without the swearing, of course. The story as it's been told before has been too sugary. I wanted to tell how hard it was."

Called 'He's My Brother,' the play is due to open next year in the West End. The play will include a cast of famous faces who helped The Osmonds become The Osmonds, including Walt Disney, Andy Williams, Elvis and Jerry Lewis. The Osmonds were especially popular in Britain with a string of hit records and Donny Osmond, becoming a major teen idol. Youngest brother Jimmy, 55, who also had solo success with 'Long Haired Lover from Liverpool,' is still recovering from a stroke he suffered in panto in Birmingham in December.

Jay tells me "I think we owe it to the fans to put this kind of show together and we have been asked many times before, but this time we want the story to be correct and our version and not the label of the bio version", he added.

Jimmy though has been the mastermind of the group for the last few years now and managed to raise the profile of the band no end – Jimmy told me he did this by appearing on many reality TV shows like 'I'm a Celebrity' and 'MasterChef.' "We all live in world of showbiz where they say it's so different and you cant get seen, but I believe you have to reinvent yourself all the time to stay in vogue, and relevant, which is hard as showbiz is for younger people in many ways. I should know, I started at six and had a hit record by the age of nine plus appearing on 'Top of The Pops'."

Jimmy though also admitted that he likes the idea of the brothers working together again, and its happened because many of the band has famous fans. "It's true Ann, what happens is whoever is, say, tops now, their mother or grandmother, dare I say, bought our records, and that in turn propels our music back into the limelight because they discuss it."

Jimmy is a clever man, and admits that he loves starring in pantomime now here in the UK, first he told me "I got the cute roles, and, you know Buttons with the smile and all that, but now I am a shade older, I love playing the baddie roles and being evil on stage, which I might add I am not in real life, so that works out really well for me." Jimmy also tours many Variety Theatres, firstly to huge success with his 'Juke Box show' and more recently his tribute to his great pal and mentor the late great Andy Williams .

"Andy was a huge inspiration to all of us," adds Jimmy, "We owe him so much because he put us in front of America, on his TV show that everyone watched, and people forget just how big that show was, but Andy was also a great host, a lot of fun, and such a wonderful singer, so of course we lapped up what we could from him."

Jimmy says the reason the boys want to launch their planned musical here in Great Britain is "The fans have stayed loyal, and I mean loyal, so we want to give something back, and I think they will be surprised at just what we have in store for them for sure, but it will all be with love and heart too."

Check out The Osmonds' websites for more details as it happens.

Until next time,

Best Wishes Ann Montini.

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.

Ann Montini Remembers the wonderful comedian and former teacher, Bullseye's Jim Bowen

You can't beat a bit of Bowen - From an article in the Liverpool Echo, 9th of September 1992.

Above - You can't beat a bit of Bowen - From an article in the Liverpool Echo, 9th of September 1992.

Ann Montini with Jim Bowen - Courtesy Ann Montini.He entertained millions on the darts game show that became an institution, which he hosted from 1981 to 1995, and remained unrepentantly politically incorrect, which he told me was simply "Comedy should not offend, but if it does, it's that you have struck a chord with someone, so I just go for the funny Ann and hope for the best."

Right - Ann Montini with Jim Bowen - Courtesy Ann Montini.

With that wonderful Lancashire accent of his, "Super, smashing, great" was the catchphrase that made primetime TV in the 1980s – on an early Sunday evening in any case when it was shown on my regional channel.

Along with "You can't beat a bit of Bully" and "Look at what you could have won", it was one of old-school stand-up comedians Jim Bowen's ways of encouraging the contestants on ITV's Bullseye, the game show that made him a household name.

Jim was such a good comic, and playing well with the contestants so that people adored him, and of course he was cheeky with them too, simply because some people could win a yacht, but as he quipped to one couple who lived in a tower block in Leeds "just where do you think you will store it love" and so made everyone know he knew just how daft the prizes on the show were.

Jim was born Peter Williams in Heswall, Cheshire, Bowen was adopted by Joe and Annie Whittaker of Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire, who named him James. Having attended Accrington Grammar School, where he left with just one O level, Jim took the glamorous job of dustman, but as he told me "You learned a lot about people, and what they chuck away in their bins, plus it's all material and real life stuff too that appealed to me, and it all came in, in the end ". However, while doing his national service, he enrolled in a physical training course that led to him gaining a place at Chester Diocesan Training College, where he studied to teach PE.

Jim then became a keen member of local am-dram groups, "I never thought I was much of an actor, but it was in the period of all those kitchen sink drama movies, and of course people who actually spoke like me were up in the big screen, so again I thought well I will give that a bash."

Jim though honed his talent for comedy in various working men's clubs, "they were tough places, but a great training ground simply because if they liked you, they let you live, so yes tough but happy times too". Then one day inspired by Ken Dodd, he decided to try to make a living from stand-up. He said: "I'd always been a fan of comedy, but it was watching Ken Dodd have two houses of 3,500 people eating out of his hand on a single night in Blackpool, that made my mind up. I wanted some of that." Jim though knew that working men's clubs and theatres, or as he called them "Posh places that people have actually paid to come and see someone," were far tougher than he had first thought, "but I was told I was funny, so that helped and people believed in me so again no matter how bad things are, don't give up was always my mantra."

At this point Jim had landed the job of deputy headmaster of Caton Primary School near Lancaster, but he had grown thoroughly disillusioned with teaching. "I was a good teacher, very dedicated, but I left instead of nailing the little ones to the desks," he said.

Jim decided to try his luck and soon afterwards, he made his first television appearance on 'The Comedians' for super producer Johnnie Hamp, "The Comedians was a huge show at that time, and so good for your profile when you think of the greats that starred in it, from the wonderful Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, and so many more, but yes I was nervous but I also knew in a funny way that if I did well, then I was on my way really."

His TV debut was followed by small roles in shows such as Last of The Summer Wine, "I know a Lancs man in a gentle Yorkshire comedy, but I loved the show and people loved it because it was so gentle and kind, plus we all knew a Nora and Compo in a way, and you know what a treat to be appearing with such a great cast I never fail to be amazed at the opportunities that moving to comedy has given me and the people that helped along the way." Jim then became a regular on Thames Television's children's comedy sketch show 'You Must Be Joking'.

Fame's the game for Jim Bowen - From the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26th March 1994.

Above - Fame's the game for Jim Bowen - From the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26th March 1994.

However, it was in 1981 that Bowen truly became a household name as the host of 'Bullseye', a darts-based quiz shows in which three pairs of contestants – comprising a "knower", who answered general knowledge questions, and a "thrower", who threw darts – competed for prizes ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. From ballpoint pens to speedboats.

Speaking of the early episodes of the show, Jim said: "I was so poor at the game show game. I'd say, 'What do you do for a living?' They'd reply: 'I've been unemployed for two years.' And I'd say: 'Smashing!' It was just a word to give me a chance to think. While everyone remembers "Super, smashing, great" as the catchphrase everyone remembers, Jim told me that he never actually said the three words together. Bullseye did however spawn a whole host of catchphrases to which Jim did lay claim. He always asked losing contestants to "look at what you could have won" before offering them their "BFH" (bus fare home).

At the height of its popularity, Bullseye drew 19 million viewers every week, but the show was not without its oddities. Jim told me of an incident in which a wheelchair-user contestant was on course for winning. The show's producer panicked because the grand prize was a three-piece suite. The second prize was a holiday – but sadly it was a skiing holiday. "It was unbelievable," said Jim, "and you know you want the fella to win, but you truly thought I hope he does not think we are taking the mick out of him."

Jim presented Bullseye for the whole of its initial run to huge success, which ended in 1995. "I was sad but for a comic it was a great profile page to use every week, and I did enjoy a wonderful time on it, but it could not go on forever as people wanted more from their quiz shows, and we were seen as old fashioned yet still pulling in great ratings." Afterwards he went on to present a show on BBC Radio Lancashire.

Jim said of the show that made his name, "I always said the game was the star. It was downmarket, but not to me, but accessible also. Joe Public could identify with my lack of charm and style on the show. Game shows today are too high tech with a £1m prize. The nice thing about us was they were excited if they won a toaster. But that was years ago when not every household had a toaster. People lose sight of that."

Jim carried on working to great acclaim after the show ended appearing in variety shows, one night stands, and teaching the new younger crowd how to make people laugh in a comedy club. "I think variety shows are great fun, but the greats to me were people like Laurel and Hardy, Ken Dodd, Cooper, and genuine real funny people that could just walk on the stage and you would be laughing at nothing really." He had further TV appearances in Muck and Brass, Phoenix Nights, and Jonathan Creek. Jim also had a long-running role as a barman in adverts for Tetley's bitter.

Jim is sadly missed in the world of comedy, and I know people will always remember him with great affection, but as he told me on our last meeting: "I know one thing that people will always remember me for and that of course is been upstaged by a bull on TV"

Best wishes 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.

Ann Montini meets a true showbusiness legend - Mr Lionel Blair

Ann Montini with Lionel Blair - © Maycon Pictures.

Above - Ann Montini with Lionel Blair - © Maycon Pictures.

An advertisement for Granada TV's 'Give us a Clue' featuring Lionel Blair - From the Liverpool Echo, 20th of September 1983.Dancer, choreographer, actor and all-round cheerful TV legend and personality, Lionel Blair is associated as much with the popular celebrity charades game, 'Give Us a Clue' as he is with his dance routines across the world and working with so many huge variety names.

Right - An advertisement for Granada TV's 'Give us a Clue' featuring Lionel Blair - From the Liverpool Echo, 20th of September 1983.

Lionel tells me that he began his career in showbiz at the age of 13 and has never stopped since really as, "I truly love the business I mean it has its up and downs, but to be paid for doing something you love is just wonderful really, I have never not wanted to do it." Lionel admits that he was very much a product of early TV variety shows, demonstrating an ebullient verve and showbiz smile that suited the period. "People say that, but what do you do, go on and be glum. You're there to entertain basically, and make people happy."

Huge crowds outside the London Pavilion for the Premier of the Beatle's film 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964.Lionel is known of course as a brilliant dancer and for running his own troupe, who also appeared in all the major shows throughout the 60s and 70s, but Lionel is also something of a movie star too, appearing in 'Jazz Boat', 'The World of Suzie Wong', 'The Cool Mikado', 'Contest Girl', and of course starring with The Beatles in 'A Hard Days Night' of which Lionel remembers, "I think they really had no idea of what was to come, because now we see them you know as this legend pop group, but back then, although they were the biggest thing in the world pop wise, it was to get bigger and I was so happy to be a part of that time, I really was."

Left - Huge crowds outside the London Pavilion for the Premier of the Beatle's film 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964.

Lionel has created headlines many times over the years but none stranger then, when while walking down Blackpool North Pier he had to save someone. Alan Carr and Lionel saved a man from throwing himself off Blackpool North Pier. That was the headline as Lionel recalls, "We had had just completed filming a pilot programme of Carr's 'End of the Pier Show' in the North Pier's Sun Lounge, when news broke of a man attempting to throw himself off the end of the pier." Both performers rushed to the scene, and talked the man out of his bid.

"He was hanging by his fingertips and just said, 'I don't want to live anymore'," explained Carr, "Then someone said, 'That's Lionel Blair off the TV', and he did a double take," added Lionel. "I just thought, oh my God, and reached out to him. He grabbed hold of us both and we pulled him up. It was the most extraordinary thing. I couldn't believe it was really happening."

The Entrance to the North Pier Theatre, Blackpool in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Entrance to the North Pier Theatre, Blackpool in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Carr said that at first, he thought it was a wind-up. "We'd finished filming the show, and I thought someone was taking the mickey and trying to add a bit to it, but when we got to the real end of the pier it was scary – he was really ready to jump until we pulled him back." He continued, "We must have looked like two angels peering over the end of the pier. He certainly didn't expect us to be there. When he heard it was Lionel Blair, he just did a double take."

That is, Lionel reveals, what his showbiz life is really all about, the totally unexpected.

Lionel was born in Montreal, Quebec on 12 December 1931, but came to Britain a year later. At first he joined the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford to take up acting but, inspired by the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, he decided to become a dancer. "I just loved everything about him and Ginger, they were so good, and I went to the cinema all the time to watch how he danced. There was no video back then, so you had to remember and try and recreate the steps from memory, but I saw the films so many times it was easy in many ways."

Lionel Blair and His Dancers were a staple of many hit Saturday variety shows of the 60s and 70s, but Lionel has fond memories of working with England's answer to Elvis, Billy Fury, on the movie 'Play It Cool', which also featured Helen Shapiro, Bernie Winters, and of course Lionel and his dancers.

An Advertisement for the film 'Play It Cool' - From the Daily Mirror, July 20th 1962.

Above - An Advertisement for the film 'Play It Cool' - From the Daily Mirror, July 20th 1962.

"It was a great movie to be associated with, because Billy was at his height, he was truly magical on stage, and what a performer too" Lionel says the movies from the period are basically a pop video with a loose story built around the singer and star, but they were such great fun, and very successful at the box office plus as Lionel adds, "The director was none other than Michael Winner, who of course was at the start of his career."

A Programme for the ABC Blackpool - Courtesy Martin Clark. Lionel also remembers the brilliance of his good pals Mike and Bernie Winters who were a comedy duo to rival Morecambe and Wise back in the heyday of variety. Lionel loved his time working with the duo, and remembers that - "Joe Collins offered them a three-year stage and TV contract to include the Russ Conway TV show. Russ decided not to go ahead, which was a huge shame, but producer Philip Jones persuaded ABC to star them in a series instead."

Right - A Programme Cover featuring Mike & Bernie Winters at Blackpool's ABC Theatre in the 1970s - Courtesy Martin Clark.

"The show was called 'Big Night Out' and was recorded in Manchester. It featured top-flight guests and was a big hit, especially up north where it made the top five ratings. 'Big Night Out' was followed by 'Blackpool Night Out' which the boys also hosted, and by the time it had finished they were a big hit. Bernie played the clown and became familiar in his bowler hat with his soppy toothy grin, his head tilted to one side as he pulled the more serious Mike's cheek and call him 'choochy face'." As Lionel recalls, "The Blackpool shows were huge, I mean this was the heyday of the British Holiday, so people flocked to watch and remember their week beside the seaside."

A Review of 'Blackpool Night Out' - From the Stage Newspaper, July 16th, 1964.

Above - A Review of 'Blackpool Night Out' - From the Stage Newspaper, July 16th, 1964.

Lionel's distinguished career included a dance-off against Sammy Davis Junior at the Royal Variety Command Performance in 1961. "He was the greatest, and my best friend – We stole the show together, and he truly was a one off, I mean he really could do everything, and people just loved him too." Lionel admitted that - "I was so nervous too, as he was to me the greatest, but he was so kind and giving, and you never really forget that in a performer, as they work with you and make sure you both look your very best."

Lionel has starred in everything from Panto to variety shows and TV spectaculars, but would, he says, still love to do something dramatic, "I quite like the idea of playing a baddie in film as no one expects that really, but I think someone sinister would be great, but its convincing the casting people that Lionel can be bad," he laughs.

An appearance in the Beatles film 'A Hard Day's Night' for Lionel enhanced his reputation, and he also choreographed other films such as 'The Magic Christian'. On TV he choreographed, and often appeared in, popular shows such as 'The Mike and Bernie Show', 'The Tommy Cooper Hour', and the 'Jimmy Tarbuck Show'. He moved away from dancing when he became a judge on ITV's 'X-Factor' forerunner 'New Faces', and then really earned popular affection opposite Una Stubbs in the long running 'Give Us a Clue'.

Tommy Cooper - From The Stage Newspaper, 24th of November 1977.Lionel fondly remembers the brilliant comedian Tommy Cooper, "Tommy was a real one off, and could hold and audience in the palm of his hand. He really only had to just stand there, and people would burst out laughing. He used to have me backstage in stitches and you do realise that these greats are total one offs."

Left - Tommy Cooper - From The Stage Newspaper, 24th of November 1977.

Although Lionel has worked with virtually everybody in showbusiness, he himself believes the key to success is reinvention. "I've done so many things in my career from Broadway to reality television, some things some may look down on, but it's what's happening now, you have to go with what's in vogue, if you want to keep working."

A Photograph of Alma Cogan - From the Stage Newspaper 13th of June 1957.Lionel also admits that the words 'star' and 'celebrity' are banded around all too easily today. As Lionel recalls, "My great friend, Alma Cogan oozed star quality. She really was a total one off and left us at a far too early age, and it's a shame, unlike other stars, that she's only remembered by a small few in today's generation, yet in her time, she was the hottest thing on the planet, and so many great stars including Sinatra respected her, and I often wonder whether she is up there looking down, knowing that people are still listening to her music and she makes them so happy, even today."

Right - A Photograph of Alma Cogan - From the Stage Newspaper 13th of June 1957.

Although Lionel recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and looks far younger, he has no plans to retire, telling me - "what would I do with myself? It's the only thing I've known, and I consider all offers of work. People are shocked when I appear in an advert for home delivery of food, but why not? It gets your face out there, and reminds people you're available!" Lionel would simply like to be remembered making people happy through his work. He says, "It's genuinely the reason we all do it in the end." And with that, Lionel taps out of the studio.

Until next time, 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.

Ann Montini remembers the trumpet virtuoso and star of variety Miss Joan Hinde

Ann Montini and Joan Hinde at a café in the seaside resort of Cleveleys in Lancs.

Above - Ann Montini and Joan Hinde at a café in the seaside resort of Cleveleys in Lancs.

The last time I saw the brilliant Joan Hinde I was sat in a café in the seaside resort of Cleveleys in Lancs – Joan, who belted out my name so loudly it could have blown the froth off a Horlicks four tables away, announced to the café without a doubt that we were in the presence of a true star – And that is how it always was with this great lady – We worked together, and she was a regular on my many radio shows, plus was very supportive in my touring production of "Variety Express" which was often crossed over with dates and theatres crisscrossing the UK. Joan though, was a huge star and such a kind lady who had a unique talent, which I don't think we will witness again in a lifetime. So lets take time to recall a true variety great.

The wonderfully talented Joan Hinde was a trumpet virtuoso and comedy trouper, who started out on the BBC hit show Variety Band Box on the radio, and enjoyed a long and varied career in variety, who famously toured the country with the late Ken Dodd in his not to be missed one-night "Happiness" shows.

Joan Hinde and other performers in 'Youth Takes the Stand at the Town Hall, West Hartlepool in 1949 - From the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail,8th February 1949.

Above - Joan Hinde and other performers in 'Youth Takes the Stand at the Town Hall, West Hartlepool in 1949 - From the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail,8th February 1949. The accompanying article to this photo says of Joan Hinde - 'The only "non-Hartlepudlian" in the show, Miss Joan Hinde, of Sheffield, was none-the-less welcome. Few performers of her age have attained such a high standard of performance. Her cornet solos "Zanette" and variations on the theme "Pretty Jane" brought a warm response from the Audience.'

However, Joan Hinde's showbusiness career started when she was still a child, when she performed on the BBC radio programme Children's Hour in the early 1940s. Joan told me - "It was a such a big deal back then, because you know radio was king and all the family gathered around to listen in, and well at that point I was a local celebrity, but it was such a different time. I don't think I remember being nervous at all, I just enjoyed the whole experience, but I think, looking back again, I am sure my parents were a bit."

Joan told me she made her first stage appearance at the Chesterfield Hippodrome aged 14, "That was a huge date, and a wonderful theatre you know, and I felt even at that age that I had arrived, but I loved it, the whole experience was just wonderful, and you never forget the kindness of a full house do you?" In the 1940s and 1950s Joan continued to perform regularly, both on Variety Band Box, and Children's Hour. Joan also told me that on stage during the 1940s she was billed as "The Glamour Girl Trumpeter" when she performed for holidaymakers at Butlin's camps around the country. I think I was looking back, but we girls are our own worst critics, but yes, I brought a bit of glamour I now think into post war lives, and people loved it." Joan though loved the Butlins circuit, "They were great crowds who wanted to have so much fun and enjoy the holiday they were on, so you really got such a thrill from performing there, and people went again and again. Plus, they looked after you so well, looking back and straight after the war that was a good thing."

Details of Joan Hinde and the plethora of other performers who could be seen performing at Butlins Holiday Camps in 1977 - From the Stage Newspaper, 23rd June 1977.

Above - Details of Joan Hinde and the plethora of other performers who could be seen performing at Butlins Holiday Camps in 1977 - From the Stage Newspaper, 23rd June 1977.

An article on Joan Hinde From the Stage Newspaper, 22nd May 1958.One huge fan of Joan was the late Sir Harry Secombe, with whom Joan travelled around the world entertaining British servicemen, which included the Falkland Islands, Sir Harry told me on my radio show that "Joan was not only a fine comedienne, who never complained about the sparse conditions in which they often had to perform, but she could also play the trumpet 'like the Archangel Gabriel himself'." She could hold her own against professional male trumpet players, and while most of her playing fell into the category "light", until relatively recently, she was the only female trumpeter in the world to have broadcast Haydn's Trumpet Concerto, when she famously performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra in 1951. Sir Harry was very impressed indeed, and did not Goon about when speaking of Joan.

Right - An article on Joan Hinde From the Stage Newspaper, 22nd May 1958.

When many variety artistes were looking at the new medium of television, Joan Hinde told me she "never did, possibly because of poor management". Although Joan did make occasional guest appearances on television, but she told me, "I don't think it was the right time in many ways, because although I was rare in that respect, TV at the start wanted comics, and while I did the patter, female comics back then were very rarely seen at all on TV, because making people laugh was felt in many ways to be a man's job, unless you were in a radio comedy as part of a team."

Joan enjoyed though most of her career as a radio, theatre and cabaret artiste, a medium she loved. "I think music travelled so well through radio, and could take you any place, plus people did not care what you looked like, just the sound you were making, and making them happy really."

Joan Hinde was born at Eckington, Derbyshire, and as a child she learned the cornet from her uncle, who conducted a local brass band - "He was great fun and for some reason, I just took to the instrument which I never really knew why, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing it, so yes I am so thankful to my uncle as he gave me such a great career, and well, who knows where I would have been without it."

In Joan's mega long career, she appeared alongside many of Britain's best-known variety stars. "You did not think of them as icons, or people like that simply because we were all young and starting out together, and were having fun, getting paid to stand on a stage for a few minutes and entertain them, so now of course looking back, you think wow I did get to work and know them so very well, but that is the wisdom of old age right?"

Joan Hinde photographed, whilst playing support in the Ken Dodd Show at the Embassy Centre, Skegness - From the Stage Newspaper, 15th August 1991. Joan also performed in the Black and White Minstrels' national stage debut in April 1960, which she says was such a wonderful glamorous show - "I adored being in it and the costumes and glamour were just brilliant looking back, plus it was a huge production and so much hard work was put into that show."

Left - Joan Hinde photographed, whilst playing support in the Ken Dodd Show at the Embassy Centre, Skegness - From the Stage Newspaper, 15th August 1991.

As well as working with Sir Ken Dodd and Sir Harry Secombe, Joan made many appearances with Max Bygraves, playing medleys of classical trumpet showpieces. "Max was great and the audiences adored him, simply because he was one of them, and knew what an audience wanted. People forget we are only there because people request it, and keep requesting it with their tickets and record sales, but yes Max was a one off and could do so many things. a talented man."

An article on Joan Hinde performing aboard the Vistafjord Cruise Ship - From The Stage, 10th December 1987.Joan also spent many years touring the Moss Empires circuit - "Great days and wonderful theatres. A hard working team, but you know like part of a huge family and yes the stories are true, if you got on well with the booker Ms Williams or Cissie as I was allowed to call her, well then you were made and I enjoyed a great career with Moss".

Right and Below - Joan Hinde performing aboard the Vistafjord Cruise Ship - From The Stage, 10th December 1987. And the much loved QEII - From The Stage, 23rd October 1969.

Joan performed on luxury cruise liners too in a later part of her career, and found a brand new younger audience who were spellbound at her talent on board every night. "We went to some great places with wonderful food and brilliant audiences Ann, we were very lucky and in fact thinking back I and my career have been very lucky to have had such a fun time."

Joan Hinde performing aboard the much loved QEII - From The Stage, 23rd October 1969.If like me you're a fan of Joan's talent you can still find her CD's readily available online, and well worth a listen indeed – Joan was a great friend, and a true variety great, who I know will be thrilled that you took the time to remember her and have a brief look at what really was a great variety career.

Until next time, 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.

Ann Montini Meets Granada TV Producer Johnnie Hamp

Ann Montini with Johnnie Hamp.

Above - Ann Montini with Johnnie Hamp.

Above - Ann Montini with Johnnie Hamp.A south London boy who became Manchester's Mr. Show Business, Johnnie Hamp devised and produced more than 2,000 television programmes for Granada TV. These included music and variety shows, and such comedy hit series as 'The Comedians' and 'Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club'.

Right - Ann Montini with Johnnie Hamp.

But did you know that Johnnie started out as a variety act and then was given the wonderful opportunity of shining a light and sound when the legend of Frank Sinatra himself came to one of the many cinemas that Johnnie oversaw for the huge Granada chain back in the 50s? "Frank was not quite the legend he became but what a professional and he made everyone feel so welcome and he loved his audience, but we had quite a few empty seats which is odd when you think about it now. Frank was not the Hollywood star he became but he had a loyal fan base at the time and he did us proud at the cinema and really was no trouble at all – He was used to playing those kind of venues and joints as he called them but our cinemas at that time were glorious and he was aware of that also." Johnnie added, "I know they contacted him about my 'This is your Life' which is not a bad connection is it?

Johnnie is without doubt a king of showbiz but as he told me - "I think looking back you had so many opportunities then and we had the talent of course but there is still great talent today but its different. Back then everyone sat around the TV to watch a great show or a variety act or better still went out to the music hall or variety theatre to see the people we had heard about. Times change but there will always be variety in one guise or another."

Johnnie Hamp was the first TV Producer to recognise The Beatles talent and potential. He was the first to secure their TV appearance and booked them regular for Granada TV. Johnnie first saw The Beatles whilst talent spotting with agent and entrepreneur Don Arden in Hamburg. He spied the group there in the Top Ten Club and remembered: "They were scruffy characters, but they had a beat in their music which I liked. Don Arden took a definite shine and interest in The Beatles and I've often wondered what would have happened if he ended up managing the group."

Cleaner Frau Rosa on The Beatles at the 'Top Ten Club', Hamburg - From The Daily Mirror, 11th November 1969.

Above - Cleaner Frau Rosa on The Beatles at the 'Top Ten Club', Hamburg - From The Daily Mirror, 11th November 1969.

As far as show business trends are concerned Johnnie has always seemed to have been in the right place at the right time. As a lad he was touring the Variety theatres with all the great Music hall names and was on the spot when the big American stars appeared in the West End in the late forties. During the fifties he was presenting one-night stands - first with the new record super stars like Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine - and later with the rockers like Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and Gene Vincent. He was at the opening of the famous 2i's coffee bar and his office window looked straight down Carnaby Street. Johnnie describes that time as: "magical, as we were on the cusp of something totally different and I was just about the right age to take full use of that emerging talent. We did not know that these stars would endure for so long as people just thought it was throw away rock and roll you know."

Johnnie told me that he was stage-struck from an early age and as a child would assist in his father's magic act before treading the boards himself, shortly after leaving school. Once he had completed his national service a change of career beckoned, as he joined the Granada Theatre group as assistant manager at the Granada Kingston.

An Advertisement looking for Talent for the Granada TV Network - From The Stage Newspaper, 7th November 1957.After some years in the theatre business Johnnie was given the chance to become a television producer in 1960. And during the next three decades he would produce many different shows at Granada, working with some of the biggest names in show business.

Right - An Advertisement looking for Talent for the Granada TV Network - From The Stage Newspaper, 7th November 1957.

One of my favourite people to interview was the late great Bernard Manning whom Johnnie made a star thanks to the mega hit show 'The Comedians'. Johnnie explains - "The format was simple, as are all good shows really, but we got the best comedians that I had seen on the circuit at that time and then got them to do their act before a live audience and then edit it down to TV time." Bernard was, as Johnnie admitted, a totally different character off stage and was like all comics a good natured soul who did so much for his local area and for all denominations too." But Johnnie helped Bernard become a star, so much so the entire gang were a huge sell out at the famous London Palladium for over six months and then also on the North Pier Blackpool but as Johnnie explains - "No great secret really, people like a laugh, and Bernard and Co., just give you buckets of it."

All credit to Granada Producer Johnny Hamp and his 'Comedians' - From The Daily Mirror, 9th October 1971.

Above - All credit to Granada Producer Johnny Hamp and his 'Comedians' - From The Daily Mirror, 9th October 1971.

Eve Boswell thanks Johnny Hamp for her appearance on Granada TV's 'Wheeltappers and Shunters social Club' - From the Stage Newspaper, 11th April 1974.The show also starred the wonderful Frank Caron and Colin Crompton who then, along with Bernard, went on to to star in another mega successful Johnnie Hamp production: 'Wheeltappers and Shunters social Club', long before Peter Kay came with his 'Phoenix Nights'.

Right - Eve Boswell thanks Johnny Hamp for her appearance on Granada TV's 'Wheeltappers and Shunters social Club' - From the Stage Newspaper, 11th April 1974.

Johnnie told me - "Lots of fans believed it was a real pub or social club and not a studio at Granada, but the set people were wonderful and we did, you know that one of the barmaids in the show was the actress Liz Dawn, who went onto to become a soap legend in Coronation Street." The eye for detail and talent with Johnnie is unique in that he gave the company one Hit after another with shows like 'The Video Entertainers' and many more. Johnnie though had a real love of variety shows and became an act at a young age in which he mimed to his all-time favourite star Hollywood legend Danny Kaye - "I thought he was wonderful in all those films and things he did on screen so I devised an act and that really got me going. It's hard to imagine now as many acts mime on live TV but back then it was a novelty and of course people loved it which was an added bonus too." Johnnie added - "Bryan Michie was a leading show business impresario, who specialized in finding juvenile talent, which he would feature in one of his variety shows, so after winning that competition I did shows with him which was wonderful as you felt you really were in showbiz and he of course worked Jack Hylton too who was a huge name in that time and could make or break a career."

Johnnie has helped so many famous names but one who adored him was the ever so funny Graham Grumbelweed who was a great friend and told me this: "Johnnie was a genius really because he simply knew what the public wanted in terms of fun and laughter – He really did help us become what we were and we all owe him such a great deal in terms of career." Graham added, "What was great is that no idea was daft enough and he really embraced all ideas, that is why comics really enjoyed working with him".

Best Wishes Ann Montini, January 2019.

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.

Ann Montini meets Sir David Jason

Ann Montini with Sir David Jason.

Above - Ann Montini with Sir David Jason.

Sir David Jason may not seem the kind of actor we would feature so much in a theatre website such as this, simply because he may be better known for his outstanding television roles on television in such classic shows as "Only Fools and Horses" which is a gem of a show and loved by millions.

An advertisement for David Jason and Bobby Thompson in 'Cinderella' at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 1979/80 - From The Newcastle Journal, 14 December 1979.Sir David though, who I was lucky enough to spend time with on many occasions, told me of his love of theatre and variety acts like Bobby Thompson, who Sir David appeared with in his one and only pantomime in Newcastle in 1979 /80 season, for those that don't know about the brilliant Bobby, he was without doubt a genius of a comedian, but like the South's Max Miller really only translated in his home area.

Bobby Thompson, 'The Little Waster', held audiences in the palm of his hand, speaking in a dialect virtually incomprehensible outside the North East. He was a star in the 1950s, but a disastrous TV series killed his career in the early 60s. But as Sir David recalled - "He was a comedy genius, and in that area I mean loved him would not be the word, they adored him and he knew it too, but the brilliant thing for me was actually learning from him on that stage nightly... You can't buy experience like that, really can you?"

Sir David himself though was destined for stardom even though, as he told me - "I just wanted to be on stage and entertaining people, I loved it and the buzz from it, I played Brian Runnicles in No Sex Please, We're British for 18 months, starting in 1973. Just before we opened, the company manager took me outside and told me I should take a photo for my memories. I was very touched by his thoughtfulness. It struck me - I've arrived! And it was a brilliant idea, plus rather shocking back then with such a title you know, but also a great success."

The Stage Newspaper reports on David Jason in November 18th 1965."My first big job, I was 25 and was to play the tiny role of a butler in [Noël Coward's] South Sea Bubble. But it was in a proper theatre - the New Theatre in Bromley, and I'll never forget arriving for the first day of rehearsals. That moment when I entered the foyer, pushed open the doors to the auditorium, walked down the central aisle towards the huge stage and met the rest of the cast was so exciting. – I think that now when I see young actors say coming onto the set for the first time, how exciting for them, but you do wonder if it does hold that kind of magic, because of course times change so much "

Left - The Stage Newspaper reports on David Jason in November 18th 1965.

"I think why actors like me love and admire variety acts so much, is so much dependent on your strength as an act and nerves really, I mean looking at it it's brave to go on stage with no script, props or whatever, and stand there and try to make people laugh. I truly admire them, and people of course I was lucky enough to work with like Ronnie Barker, who with The Two Ronnie's had a serial called 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town'. I'd worked with Ronnie in the past, and was very proud and thrilled to be asked to provide the rasping sounds... profound stuff. Ronnie was a good friend and a gentleman. Truly a one off. We were both also in Porridge and, of course, Open All Hours, and I learned so much from him. He had creativity and a way with words that made him a talent beyond all others. I think though again, that is why theatre is so important, simply because you can't get that level of experience just from TV its so important."

The Two Ronnies on stage at the Southampton Gaumont in the 1970s."Growing up I adored all the radio comics like Ted Ray, Tommy Trinder, and Max Miller, but again some were considered racy, and yet when you think about it today totally harmless but what was considered shocking then. I do recall going to the variety theatres because again this is in an age before TV really had kicked in, and I admired people so much from these shows."

Right - The Two Ronnies on stage at the Southampton Gaumont in the 1970s. Click to see the whole programme.

Sir David also told me that he could have been in another classic comedy show that is still being repeated today 'Dad's Army' – "Yes Ann that is correct I did a test and the writers of Perry and Croft liked it which was wonderful to say the least, as they were such a brilliant team, but I lost out to Clive Dunn who played an older character and the DG of the BBC Bill Cotton said he preferred him, so yes that as they say is showbiz, but it was all in the destiny because maybe my greatest success with Del Boy would not have come along had I not been free, or indeed remembered from such a great show like Dads Army."

Sir David is also vocal about the use of bad language on TV today - "On Frost. It was a big success and we never had any strong language. I have never, ever had one person ever come up to me and say, 'I didn't like that Frost because you didn't swear,' but I have had several people say, 'I don't like that programme because they swear a lot.' If you tell a story well enough and entertain, you don't need it. But you try telling that to the modern producers they say its real life, but who needs that, you want to be entertained don't you?"

Sir David tells me that he always remembers what Ronnie Barker said to him once: 'Aren't we lucky we're getting paid for making ourselves laugh?' and that still resonates. But the well loved actor who has appeared in everything from panto to Crossroads admits he has no plans to retire - "For me I do think there is still one big role that I could do, just not sure what it is yet, but I am healthy and enjoying the work so much, so yes if it came along I would be more than happy."

Best Wishes Ann Montini, 2018.

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.

Ann Montini meets Anthony Bygraves, son of the legendary star Max Bygraves

The Album Cover for 'The World of Max Bygraves', and Ann Montini with Max's son Anthony Bygraves.

Above - The Album Cover for 'The World of Max Bygraves', and Ann Montini with Max's son Anthony Bygraves.

The opening Variety Programme for the London Palladium on the 26th of December 1910 - Courtesy Chris Woodward - Click to see Entire Programme. Anthony's first stage appearance was aged four alongside his father, Max, in pantomime at the world-famous London Palladium. At just seven years old, he appeared in the motion picture 'Charlie Moon', again with his father, and then aged 11 he worked with Eddie Fisher in a TV special. As well as acting he showed keen interest in music and writing. Leaving school to play drums for his father on a world tour, he appeared in a Royal Command Performance aged just 16, but like his father, Anthony knows his story, he's showbiz through and through.

Max Bygraves was a genius of British entertainment for more than 50 years, the entertainer whose catch phrase was 'I wanna tell you a story...' and who enjoyed enormous success as a singer, comedian, film star, and quiz show host, emigrated to Australia from Bournemouth hoping the warmer climate would help his wife Blossom overcome her health problems. His son, the talented Anthony Bygraves, I was lucky enough to meet backstage at the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth and so like his father is he!

Anthony told me "Growing up was such a privilege, having dad not just as a real entertainer, but he was such a wonderful father, and gifted in so many ways. People forget though that he was so multi-talented and starred in films, and so many other things too, but I know people loved his singalong albums which were so successful, but baffled record bosses, but Max gave the public what they really wanted, and that was pure fun and entertainment."

A Poster for Max Miller at the Palace Theatre, Leicester - Courtesy David Garratt He was born Walter Bygraves on October 16, 1922, in Rotherhithe, South-East London, he later changed his name to Max in honour of his comedy hero Max Miller.

Max Bygraves was the son of a docker and one of nine children. To earn pocket money, he would drag the River Thames for driftwood – before realising he could make more cash by exploiting his talent for music and boy was Max talented.

After he was demobbed from wartime service in the RAF, he began touring the club circuit, and was a huge success, but by 1950 he was second on the bill to Judy Garland at the London Palladium. Anthony remembers "this was really a turning point for dad, I mean not just the Palladium, but a true Hollywood star, and Judy loved him so much she invited him over to Broadway, and he appeared there too in her show. Thanks to the success of that show, and of course staying at the glitzy Ritz on Park Avenue, he really was well and truly on his way."

Radio was a big hit for Max too by starring in Educating Archie, and starred in the films 'Charlie Moon', 'A Cry from The Streets', and 'Spare the Rod'. Max was considered a great actor and won much praise for his roles, but it was in variety that he truly came into his own.

A Souvenir Programme for the first Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre, 1st July 1912Max topped the bill at the Royal Variety Performance, a record 17 times and was a huge favourite with the Royal Family, and sold millions of records around the world, including his Singalongamax albums. By 1956 such was Max Bygraves star power, he was earning £1,000 a week, worth around £20,000 in today's money. But everyone wanted him, something that Anthony recalls "He was so busy and working on so many areas, like films and pantomime, and then recording, touring. But he did love the business too, so that was no hardship really. His albums sold over 6.5 million copies, earning 31 gold discs.

Max also bought quite a few Rolls-Royces, with the registration MB 1 — which he liked to change every year. He was a hit in the 1950s radio comedy Educating Archie - with his catchphrase 'That's a good idea, son' - and had TV series like 'Singalongamax', 'Max Rolls On', 'Side by Side', and the game show 'Family Fortunes'. Max turned his hand to writing very successfully in 1976 with his aptly-named autobiography 'I Wanna Tell You A Story', and his novel 'The Milkman's on His Way'. Later, in 2002, he was to have another book published, 'Stars in My Eyes', which he described as 'about name-dropping, the laughter moments'. Max was also awarded an OBE in 1983, but stated that he was 'Just an ordinary cockney bloke who made it'.

The auditorium of the London Palladium in a photograph taken in May 2011 - Courtesy Philip Marshall.Anthony though was thrilled when his father was added to the brand new 'Wall of Fame' at the famous London Palladium recently. "He would have been over the moon and the event actually happened on his birthday too, but dad loved the Palladium as many performers do, it holds such a special place for stars and for him to be back up there again in 2018 really does bring a tear to the eyes."

It's hard to find anyone who was not a fan of Max's simply because he crossed all borders of people, but Anthony says that "I think it comes across that he loved the business, and wanted people to enjoy his performance and shows, plus he was well loved by his peers and that shone through really. I miss him every day, and think about him also – I truly was his greatest fan."

Best Wishes Ann Montini, 2018.

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.

Ann Montini on Lindford Hudson always hitting the spot at The London Palladium

Ann Montini with Lindford Hudson at the London Palladium.

Above - Ann Montini with Lindford Hudson at the London Palladium.

The London Palladium whilst celebrating it's 100th anniversary in December 2010 - Photo M.L.He is known as Mr Follow Spot, but Lindford Hudson spent the best part of 50 years making sure the world's biggest stars enjoy their time in the spotlight. On that very famous Palladium Stage. We first met Lindford while sat outside the old stage door, enjoying a drink with his friends when one of them told me "You know who this is don't you?" From that moment on we become good friends, so much so, when he retired we organised a very special 'Audience with' at his beloved theatre, which saw so many major people turn out to pay their respects to a man they all adored – Lindford had spent time shining the light on many others, but now was he ready to have the light shone on him?

Right - The London Palladium whilst celebrating it's 100th anniversary in December 2010, during the run of 'Sister Act', which was Lindford Hudson's last show at the London Palladium, he had begun working there on 'Swing Along' way back in May 1963 - Photo M.L.

Lindford told me he landed the job at the famous theatre after his father spotted an ad in the London Evening Standard in the early 60s, and from that moment onwards he adds "showbiz was in my blood. I can honestly say I loved every day at that theatre, and so much, I do miss it now, but things change, and times move on you know."

Hudson's very first Palladium show was way back in May 1963, a show of course he remembers so well, It was, a production called Swing Along, starring the brilliant comedian Tony Hancock. Lindford's last show was another smash, Sister Act, which began in 2009. Along the way he's created the lighting, on such greats as Sammy Davis Junior, a true great who became a friend, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Tommy Cooper, Sarah Vaughan... it's the who's who of showbiz, plus legends such as Josephine Baker, Bette Davis and Ella Fitzgerald, we all know everyone who has graced the stage, but he truly has shone on the lot of them, yet remains shy, and oh so sweet when you speak with him. And he has stories about most of them, many of the stars he met and lit adore him, simply because we all know that a lighting man, along with sound is truly your best friend on a stage.

Lindford has the honour of lighting 41 Royal Variety performances, plus he also lit Princess Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey, and oversees the lights for the BBC's hit comedy series Live at the Apollo television series.

A room filled with posters and photographs of the stars that have performed at the London Palladium.

Above - A room filled with posters and photographs of the stars that have performed at the London Palladium.

As we walk around the famous theatre, we arrive at the room where all the great old posters are on the walls, with those brilliant dressing room light bulbs (shown above). "All these shows I have done, Lena Horne, Julie Andrews, Ginger Rogers, Carmen Miranda, Carrie Fisher. I've had a wonderful time. I do remember when Frank Sinatra came in with his boys, and gave me a big tip. He was what you imagine him to be, simply because his reputation went before him, but he was kind and oh so polite you know." Lindford adds that Sammy Davis Jr starred in the smash show 'Golden Boy' in 1968, "and what a wonderful time I had, I met all his bodyguards. We went to the Famous Playboy Club. Sammy was very generous. He spent money like water. But he gave you such a good time. He had parties here at the theatre for all the crew. 'Golden Boy' was a hit musical show. He was here four days a week. So, when he was here it was fun. He was living in the Playboy Club, can you imagine that? And after the show, we'd hit the town. You don't forget times like that do you?" Lindford added with a twinkle in his eyes.

The auditorium of the London Palladium in a photograph taken in May 2011 - Courtesy Philip Marshall."I loved Harry Secombe who was a brilliant person, and so very talented, I mean he was such a great singer, yet people sometimes forget that don't they?" Lindford also enjoyed the company of Mr Moonlight himself, "Mr Frankie Vaughan, who was a gentleman, he was class you know, dressed well and all that, but always had time for the fans which was nice, and they packed the place to see him which I know he appreciated."

Right - The auditorium of the London Palladium in a photograph taken in May 2011 - Courtesy Philip Marshall.

"I met a lot of different people, man. The multi-talented Roy Castle never stopped smiling. I never met the wonderful Judy Garland, but I did shine the light on that very famous TV special she starred in with her daughter Liza," he chuckles, "I did, Plus I did meet her daughters, Liza Minnelli, and Lorna Luft, both were wonderful, when Miss Liza was on stage, that was an experience. When she finished singing she was on her way to the hotel, but the audience wouldn't leave, she really had that magical star power."

Lindford never holds back, and told me that "I met some 'less than cheerful' people, too, like Charlie Drake, and Tommy Steele. But Tommy Steele was a professional person. What he said was right. We were friends, but he was sometimes not too cheerful. Charlie Drake," he added was, "well not a happy person, but then you find that with a lot of comics don't you really?"

The auditorium and stage at the London Palladium in a photograph taken in May 2011 - Courtesy Philip Marshall.Lindford let slip that his favourite ever star was in fact a U.S. diva in the shape of the Divine Ms M, "Bette Midler was a sensation, and you know she was quite unknown at that time, but boy did she light up the stage, and to me there was no one quite like her, you know, wonderful."

Left - The auditorium and stage at the London Palladium in a photograph taken in May 2011 - Courtesy Philip Marshall.

Lindford may have now left his beloved London Palladium, but assured me that "I'm not going to retire, I've never missed a show. And I don't make mistakes. I've done so many wonderful shows. I enjoy them all because it gives me a such good living, and besides that I love showbiz, I mean don't tell anyone, but I think I would even do this job for nothing if asked."

Your secret is safe with us Lindford.

Best Wishes Ann Montini, 2018.

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.

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 MontiniThe person I want to share with you today may not be considered a variety artiste as such, but he was there thanks to his association with, 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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