‘He was a big part of Yarmouth’s history’ - Circus chief pays tribute to Freddie Starr
PUBLISHED: 16:11 10 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:44 12 May 2019
When the comedian Freddie Starr was performing in Great Yarmouth in the early 1980s he told local circus impresario Peter Jay to buy the Royalty Theatre.
"Buy that and I'll do a season for you," the performer said.
It was 1984, Mr Jay recalls, when his family bought the theatre - and the madcap entertainer, who has died in Spain aged 76, sold out night after night that summer.
Over four decades, beginning in the 1970s, Mr Starr performed multiple summer seasons in the seaside town.
"He is a big part of Yarmouth's history," Mr Jay said.
He remembers watching the comedian at the Royalty every night during that 1984 season.
"It was hypnotic," he said.
"He was a king of comedy really, a comedy icon of the 20th century, an unbelievable guy."
Mr Jay first got to know Mr Starr in 1974, when the comedian was appearing at the ABC Theatre, now replaced by the Market Gates shopping centre, for the summer season.
Mr Jay had asked him to come down to The Windmill Theatre - now the Adventure Golf - to put his hands in the concrete outside. But while he was there Mr Jay was informed that Billy Fury was not well and would not be able to perform in the Sunday concert that night at The Windmill with Marty Wilde.
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So Mr Starr said he would take to the stage instead - and he subsequently sang all of Billy Fury's hit songs.
"He was an incredible impersonator and did all of Billy Fury's show, he sang perfectly, and saved a riot," Mr Jay said.
Before Mr Starr's comedy career took off, he was a singer and his band, Freddie Starr and the Midnighters, once supported the Beatles at a 1963 show in the ABC.
Most of his fans remember him for his eccentric and often unpredictable behaviour - in 1997 he triggered outrage by hurling live chickens into an audience at the Britannia Theatre - but Mr Jay also remembers the celebrity's private side.
"Unlike his madcap presence on stage, off stage he was a quiet guy," he said.
"He used to come to my house and we'd sit and talk.
"He was a different person off stage. People expect him to be crazy like on stage, but he was quite introverted and low-key."
Mr Jay said he is devastated by news of the death.
"He'd been a friend of ours for a long time," he said. "I was shocked when I heard about it. Gradually we are losing all the icons.
"We've had all the greats in Yarmouth.
"Freddie is up there with those people."