Popular Norfolk entertainer taking final bow at age of 83
- Credit: Danielle Booden
When entertainer Mike Wallis walked and hitch-hiked from England to India in 1959, his main objective was to see the Taj Mahal - not the front of the building, but the back.
"I'd seen photos," says the showman, now 82-years-old and living in Great Yarmouth. "But only ever of the front. I'd never seen a picture of the back.
His first sight of the white marble mausoleum was by moonlight. "It was far better than I'd ever imagined. And yes it did have two sides."
Mr Wallis was 21-years-old when he made the eight-month, 5,000 mile trip. By that time he'd already been in show business for ten years, having started performing in working men's clubs at the age of 11.
"I grew up in greasepaint," he says. "My grandfather started me on magic tricks, and I loved them. We used to go to music halls. I loved the magicians and jugglers and I wanted to be a conjurer. That's where it began."
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The difficulty of surviving solely on a magician's earnings meant Mr Wallis took any offers he got - playing the pantomime villain, acting in farces, producing variety shows, touring an illusion act, and Punch and Judy.
"As you get on, there isn't always work, so you do other things, but I survived. The only thing I've never done is juggle," he says.
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In 1972, Mr Wallis, who was born in Lancashire and brought up in Slough, moved to Great Yarmouth, led there by a chain of events including his father's death, relocation to Wales, and divorcing his first wife.
"One night, I was going on stage with an act I knew backwards, but my father had died a week or two before, and I got on stage and I couldn't remember my words," he says.
He fled the stage and went home.
"My father had always wanted to retire to Wales so I said I'm going to buy a house there, which I did."
He moved with his wife and three children to a five-bedroom farmhouse south of Aberystwyth, where he got a job as a herdsman, rearing and milking cows on a government-run farm.
"But one day I was walking through Aberystwyth and someone came up to me and said, 'Didn't you used to be Mike Wallis?'. I said I still am and he asked me to do a comedy evening."
After that, Mr Wallis was back on stage. He got a contract on a cruise ship, meaning he wouldn't see his family for nine months.
Divorce from his wife forced him to move back in with his mother in Slough until he was was offered a job at California Cliffs in Scratby.
'"By this time I had met the lady who was to become my second wife. We went there and we worked together, and we liked it so much, we stayed," he says.
After a career spanning seven decades, Mr Wallis has now decided to put away the greasepaint and props - but not before a final show this summer at St George's Theatre.
'An Evening with Mike Wallis and Friends', scheduled for June 26, will see him talk about his showbiz life, with support from Norfolk cabaret star Olly Day, ventriloquist Paul Henri and magicians Tracy Trickstar and Sam Christian. Surprise guests will also be waiting in the wings.
“The show is about the magic of the theatre, and the magic of this theatre in particular," Mr Wallis said.
"I’ve been performing here since the early 1980s and it holds a special place in my heart. It seems like a very good place to take my final bow.
“I’ve done everything in show business that doesn’t require talent,” he said, although the length and variety of his theatrical calling suggests otherwise.
“The show has been postponed twice because of coronavirus but I’m confident this will be third time lucky. I can’t thank my entertainer friends enough for their support and I can promise the audience a magical evening in an enchanting theatre,” he said.
All proceeds from the show will go to the theatre.
Debbie Thompson, theatre director at St. George’s, said: “Mike Wallis is an absolute legend and I know that he and his friends will put on a thoroughly entertaining family show, with a strong emphasis on magic and comedy.”
Tickets for An Evening with Mike Wallis and Friends can be booked via the St George’s Theatre website – www.stgeorgestheatre.com.