19th August 2017
First Picture: Dennis Spicer and James Green
Second Picture: Backstage at His Majesty’s theatre 1964
Third Picture: Arthur Worsley at the Royal Variety Performance
Fourth Picture: Another Vent act at the time Savene and Daisy May
Now here is a name from the variety stage, an act that was around for many of our teenage years
In the graveyard of St. Mary’s church in South Mimms is the Dennis Spicer Memorial Plaque carefully maintained by Robert Freeman its custodian a role which he carries out on behalf of The Magic Circle London. At the time of his death he was living nearby in Brookmans Park, in fact the family were in the process of moving to Hertford when he died.
For those who do not remember him Dennis George Spicer was a ventriloquist. He was born in 1935 Hillingdon County Hospital in Middlesex but he grew up mainly in Coventry. He had two sisters June and Rose.He started ventriloquism at the age of eight and got he got his first booking at the Railway Club in Coventry when he was just 10 years old. He worked the clubs and cabaret circuit with his dummies: mainly James Green and Maxwell Monkey, but also Sexy Rexy the Wolf, Puppy Doll the Poodle, Rikki Tikki the Tiger, the Ugly Duckling and Russian Bear. However there was a downside to the ability to throw his voice and he often got into trouble at school for being disruptive. In 1954 he was booked as a member of the Resident Revue Company at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Filey.
He married June in October 1955 in Newcastle upon Tyne– his regular ventriloquists dummy, James Green, was best man and made a speech at the reception! In the same year he signed an exclusive contract with BBC Television and numerous television appearances followed over the next few years including a regular appearance on Vera Lynn’s fortnightly BBC show.
In America he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and twice he toured Australia. As well as television appearances he was also kept busy with live stage work where he met and became firm friends with Ken Dodd in fact in 1964 he was one of the acts in the November 1964 Royal Variety Performance. The reviews named him as one of the hits of the show and one of the Queen’s personal favourites. In that show he used a corgi as a dummy and Kenny Baker as a vent dummy which comes to life. In fact the Queen told Dennis that really liked the Corgi jokes!
Tragically, two weeks after the Royal Variety Performance, Dennis was killed in a road crash on the A1 near Stamford Lincolnshire while he was driving his TVR Sports Car leaving his wife June and son Robin. He was returning home after a charity performance. He was just 29 at the time of his death. His funeral was held at St Mary’s in 1964 and was a national news items. Many ‘show biz’ personalities attended including Tommy Cooper, Jimmy Tarbuck, Eddie Calvert and Ken Dodd. The Queen also sent a tribute.
Dennis’s grave was, for many years unmarked as June, his widow did not believe in headstones but in 2001, with the help of Revd Terry Ranson, the plot was identified and, in a simple ceremony, a plaque was unveiled. This was under the Magic Circle’s Memorial Initiative which seeks out, attends and honours graves of past magicians and those in allied arts like ventriloquism.
News and Views:
On this day 19th August 1960-1965
On 19/08/1960 the number one single was Please Don't Tease - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Rawhide (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was First UK motorway service station opens.
On 19/08/1961 the number one single was You Don't Know - Helen Shapiro and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Harpers West One (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 19/08/1962 the number one single was I Remember You - Frank Ifield and the number one album was West Side Story Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 19/08/1963 the number one single was Sweets For My Sweet - Searchers and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 19/08/1964 the number one single was Do Wah Diddy Diddy - Manfred Mann and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 19/08/1965 the number one single was Help - The Beatles and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Riviera Police (AR) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Beatles play Shea Stadium in New York.