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Ann Montini's Variety Days

Introduction - 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 below to jump to them directly.

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 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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