Late entertainer honed his skills in wartime Lincolnshire
SHOWBUSINESS legend Max Bygraves was a national institution before his death in Australia recently.
He earned applause just about everywhere, from Bournemouth to Brisbane and Llandudno to Las Vegas, but he freely admitted that he learned some of his trade in Lincolnshire while he was with the RAF working on Spitfires by day and starting his career as an entertainer by night.
He particularly remembered his time in North Coates.
Bernard Bale wrote Max Bygraves' autobiography and also worked with him on various other projects, including his later tours in the UK and recalls Max talking about his time at North Coates.When Bernard's son was born Max was touring in Australia but still arranged a huge bouquet and card to be sent to Bernard's wife and the new arrival.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
Max Bygraves entertained us for around 50 years and still filled theatres when in his early 80s.
His gentle style of entertainment never lost its appeal and he changed very little over the years.
His showbusiness story is like a trip through London's theatreland and the celebrated Broadway of America at the same time. Indeed he starred in both showbusiness kingdoms.
"Things really began when I was in the RAF," he said. "I was moved about a bit but I did spend some time at RAF North Coates. I was stationed there as a fitter in 1943 for about eight months. One thing you could guarantee in Lincolnshire was that you never ran out of food even during the worst of the rationing.
"When we had a night off we used to get a lift to Grimsby to sample the night life. There was plenty of life in Grimsby even during those bleak years. On Friday nights we used to go to the Palace theatre in Grimsby. I appeared there later. We used to go to the dances and finish up with a bag of chips before trying to work out how we were going to get back to the base without getting on a charge for being late. Sometimes we would get a lift but I've walked it a few times, I can tell you.
"When we were not out for the evening we used to make our own entertainment and everyone that could do anything would have a go. I used to do Max Miller impersonations – now that is a funny thing. They even started calling me Max although my name was Walter. That was how it all began really."
Max loved to reminisce and was fascinating to listen to. He met and worked with many legends of entertainment and always said: "It is a great pity they are not with us any more because generations have missed out on their wonderful talent. I'm talking about people like Judy Garland whom I appeared with at the London Palladium.
"She personally asked me to do repeat performances in her show on Broadway and I was delighted to accept. Of course she had her problems as we all do, but what a star. I met Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Sophie Tucker, Jack Benny and countless others. It was an autograph hunter's dream, but these people were my friends and fellow entertainers. They were all unique people."
Despite his lifetime with such legends and regular invitations from the Royal Family, Max remained essentially the same guy who was born into poor circumstances in Rotherhithe, East London in October 1922. The large family squeezed into a couple of rooms in a tenement block shared by 200 families.
"To give you some idea what it was like," Max used to joke, "If one person sneezed the whole population of the block would say 'Bless you!'. You couldn't swing a rat, let alone a cat and there were plenty of rats to be swung. We were near the docks and that meant we were near the river and part of our playground was one of the murkiest bits of the Thames.
"We used to sit and throw stones at the debris as it passed – driftwood, rubbish, dead pets. They tell me you can actually fish there now but when I was a kid you could have walked across the river on the rubbish that was floating in it. No wonder I liked it when I was later posted to North Coates in lovely Lincolnshire."
Max's father worked in the London docks, but since actual work was on a casual basis he earned a bit of extra cash as a prize-fighter sometimes fighting twice in a day for about £1.50 a time. Max was one of six children so plenty of fights were needed and if there was any steak available it did not go on black eyes.
Max used to sing when he was a child and found himself in a choir. He never really thought about a profession in showbusiness although it always interested him. He started work as a messenger with an advertising agency. The office was near the old Holborn Empire theatre and Max used to sometimes get in to see one of the early evening performances. He saw many of the great stars of the day and became spellbound by the magic of the theatre.
"It was not until I joined the RAF and won a couple of talent shows with my Max Miller impersonation that I started to think seriously about a career in showbusiness," Max revealed. "Things just took over from then on and when the war was over and I left the RAF I started getting some theatre engagements, a few films and the job with Educating Archie on the radio. That was the turning point really. I suddenly found myself getting top billing and all kinds of offers and I never really looked back."
Throughout his career his wife Blossom was at his side until her death a couple of years ago. They met and were married when they were both serving in the RAF.
As well as countless showbusiness awards and appearances in Royal Variety Shows Max had one of the largest collections of platinum, gold and silver discs in the business. His recordings did not just sell the moment they were released but went on selling for years although Max always maintained that it was not because of his popularity.
"It's nothing to do with me, it's the songs themselves," he always told interviewers. "I have recorded hundreds of them but they are all nice songs and they all mean something. They are the sort of songs people like to hear at anniversary parties and when they are trying to express themselves. I'm not saying there are no good songs now, there are some very beautiful songs, but the old ones have proved their staying power. I am still asked to sing things like Tulips From Amsterdam and You Need Hands but I am also always asked to sing songs from the 1940s and 1950s that just go on living. Can you imagine me singing some of the Spice Girls songs? And I'd like to hear them sing I'm A Blue Toothbrush, You're A Pink Toothbrush and get away with it.
"Just think about it, if I had not been posted to North Coates and encouraged to be an entertainer there, the world might never have heard that song!"