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Wilson, Keppel and Betty by Des Kerins

 

There are some Variety acts which fade from memory with the passing of time but there is one in particular which is still very clear in my mind and, I’m sure, in the memories of many people.

I first saw Wilson, Keppel & Betty in the early 1950’s in the Theatre Royal in Dublin. On first viewing I was absolutely gobsmacked with the skill and sheer simplicity of their act. What a great act where they simply scattered some sand on the stage and danced. Of course Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel were the main dancers but Betty also contributed some skillful steps. Can you imagine touring without having to take cumbersome props or a troupe of dogs or performing pigeons from town to town? That was a stroke of genius. Just turn up, borrow a bucket of sand and away you go.

Right - Wilson Keppel & Betty in their staircase routine and then Wilson and Kepple in the Sand Dance in a film shot in 1934.

Jack Wilson was born in Liverpool in 1894 and began dancing on stage at the age of 15 years. After the 1st World War Wilson moved to Australia and there he met up with Joe Keppel [born 1895]. They linked up and put together a tap dancing act making their debut in New York in 1919.

It was in 1928 that they decided to take in a female partner and selected Betty Knox who was Jack Benny’s partner. They soon developed a new sand-dancing act and became very successful in New York. In August 1932 they were signed to play at the London Palladium. They were sensational. Following their debut in London they decided to settle in England and continued to appear in theatres all over the United Kingdom for the next 30 years.

They also played in theatres all over Europe and managed to squeeze in 3 appearances at The Royal Command Performances in 1934, 1945 and 1947. During the lifetime of their wonderful act there were 8 different Bettys. The original Betty left in 1941 to become a war correspondent, her daughter took her place in the act.

Retirement came in 1963 and Joe Keppel returned to Cork in Ireland where he had been born. He died there in 1977 aged 82. Jack Wilson moved to Brinsworth House in Twickenham [a retirement home for stage actors] and died there on August 24th 1970.

The above article on Wilson Keppel & Betty was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by Des Kerins May 2011.

 

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