Memories of Danny La Rue
PUBLISHED: 15:25 11 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:08 03 July 2010
THE death earlier this month of star entertainer Danny La Rue rekindled memories of the summer of 1981 when he spent the season in Great Yarmouth, topping the bill at the ABC Theatre.
THE death earlier this month of star entertainer Danny La Rue rekindled memories of the summer of 1981 when he spent the season in Great Yarmouth, topping the bill at the ABC Theatre. It was a box office success for the artist, famed for the extravagant gowns he wore as a female impersonator, but it would linger long in his thoughts for the wrong reason.
Danny La Rue, who was 81 when he succumbed to cancer, had been at the top of his profession for decades, attracting sell-out audiences in stage shows, cabaret, variety, pantomime and clubs, and he had a huge following both in the UK and abroad. His self-mockery, and insistence that he was not naturally effeminate but was “a fella in a frock”, endeared him to his fans.
In 1981 Mrs Peggotty and I were in the opening night audience in the ABC because I was reviewing the production for the Mercury's sister newspapers, the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News. As we awaited the curtain rising, a group of impeccably dressed young men within earshot were excitedly speculating about the gown the star would wear for the opening number, one hoping it would be the blue while another preferred the flamingo pink.
It was a super show, La Rue being naughty at times but never vulgar, always likeable. The women in the audience gasped as gown followed gown.
As soon as the final curtain fell after the encores, we hurried back to my Regent Street office so could file my report for the next morning's newspaper. The urgency was not just to meet an edition deadline but also because we had been invited to the after-show party, not held in the ABC's upper foyer bar as usual but in a private room at the Star Hotel on Hall Quay where Danny La Rue was picking up the bill.
Just as we were leaving my office our daughter, at home minding our other children, telephoned to say that one was suffering an asthma attack and could hardly breathe, so we rushed home, missing the glamorous party and the chance to observe and mix with the beautiful people.
The summer run was still in its infancy when I was tipped off one Sunday afternoon that the police were scouring the Marine Parade area of Gorleston (close to Peggotty's Hut at that time) for Danny La Rue who, allegedly, had fled from his car after two accidents in 15 minutes.
Nobody was hurt, but three cars were damaged, including his powerful Datsun sports model (index number 3DLR). The theory was that he had gone to ground somewhere in the vicinity, and although there were conflicting tales later, it seemed as though police found him secreted in a Marine Parade resident's garden shed, and arrested and breathalysed him.
After two hours at Yarmouth police station, he was released on bail, returning to his rented accommodation in Burgh Road, Bradwell. He was back on stage 24 hours later.
One damaged car, a 14-year-old Austin Cambridge belonging to elderly visitors Edward and Sylvia Miller, was parked outside their Scroby House holiday flat on Marine Parade. They had planned to see the Danny La Rue show a few days later but in angry protest, cancelled their seats and demanded their money back!
But they had not reckoned with the determination of the entertainer to ensure their holiday was not ruined. As compensation, he provided them with the loan of a nearly-new Austin Maxi with full tank of petrol while their car was repaired ready for their return home. Also, he sent Mrs Miller a huge bouquet, offered a refund on their ABC tickets but invited them to the show anyway, and said he would pay for them to stay in Gorleston for a second week's holiday.
As they had to return home after the one week, he promised to treat them to a week in Cromer later that summer.
The other damaged car was a 1973 Ford Cortina owned by their landlady, Mrs Margaret Killick who ran the Scroby House flats; she was given the use of a replacement car.
Later that summer, Danny La Rue - summoned in his absence under his real name of Daniel Patrick Carroll, aged 54 - admitted at the borough magistrates' court driving both inconsiderately and carelessly on Gorleston Marine Parade, and was fined £60 for each of the two offences. His driving licence was endorsed twice, and he was ordered to pay £77 costs.
It was not the happiest of times for the star, but worse was to follow when he invested £500,000 in a country house hotel in Warwickshire but became involved in a deal with two Canadian alleged investors...who fleeced him of £1 million!
Years earlier, Danny La Rue was also inadvertently responsible for my chief reporter, the late Joe Harrison, giving me a severe reprimand when I wrote a Through the Porthole column about the entertainer. Joe wrote the anonymous Peggotty feature every night in the Eastern Evening News, and a colleague and I took over the mantle when he was on holiday.
Struggling for a topic one night, and having recently read that Irishman Danny La Rue had just received a prestigious variety artistes national award, I recalled that I had seen him perform under his real name of Danny Carroll at the Regal (later renamed ABC) in Yarmouth in the post-war era when numerous all-male shows composed mainly of demobbed ex-servicemen toured the variety theatres.
Joe Harrison, who liked classical music, birdwatching and sport but loathed the razzmatazz showbiz side of Yarmouth, read his so-called recollection (that was actually mine) and was furious at me for suggesting to those readers who knew he was the somewhat prim Peggotty that years later, he still remembered that one minor “chorus girl” in a drag show with a title like Soldiers in Skirts or Forces in Petticoats...
BIRTHDAY BOY! Danny La Rue holds his birthday cake before his 1997 performance at the Wellington Pier Pavilion in Great Yarmouth.
Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY
PARTY PLACE...the Star Hotel in Yarmouth where Danny La Rue's opening night celebration of his summer season in 1981 was unfortunately missed by Peggotty.
Picture: MIKE KING COLLECTION
OVER-THE-TOP - Danny La Rue dressed as his fans loved him.