Seeing a lovely photo of Fiona Castle in ENCORE reminded me of her multi-talented husband. Roy was a rare example of a great entertainer who attracted fans of all ages. Adults appreciated his acting, singing, dancing and ability to play many musical instruments. Children appreciated these talents, too, but also his friendly, infectious enthusiasm presenting BBC’s RECORD BREAKERS.
In the Seventies I was lucky enough to appear with him in several of the annual RECORD BREAKERS CHRISTMAS SHOWS, in which we children’s presenters were allowed to let our hair down in a programme produced NOT by the Children’s Department, but by Light Entertainment. This meant we were paid more too! BLUE PETER presenters and PLAYSCHOOL presenters (I represented PLAY AWAY) joined up with luminaries like Johnny Morris and Bernard Cribbins, supporting Roy in sketches and potted musicals like SCROOGE and HANS ANDERSEN. Great fun.
In another of Roy’s spin-off BBC children’s series I found myself playing one of the members of the Pickwick Club, alongside Kenneth Williams and Lance Pervical. Roy played Pickwick, and the role of Sam Weller (played on Broadway by Roy opposite Harry Secombe’s Pickwick) was taken by Joe Brown. Roy would often arrive at rehearsal having driven through half the night following a grown-up gig the night before. But he was always the most courteous and generous of stars and, though often short of sleep, never seemed short of energy or good humour. After rehearsal, as we all went home to put our feet up, Roy would set off up the M1 to do another grown-up cabaret. A real grafter.
My first meeting with Roy, in the early Seventies, was when Philips Records kindly produced a starry LP of my musical play THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT WENT TO SEE… Johnny Franz, the legendary A and R man, secured the services of the aforementioned Harry Secombe (Roy and Harry were great friends) as Narrator and Quangle Wangle, Hattie Jacques as Pussycat, West Country comedian Billy Burden as Pig, a young Christopher Biggins as Head Jumbly, yours truly as the Turkey and, as the shy, heroic Owl ….. Roy Castle. A huge orchestra accompanied my songs in a studio near Marble Arch. For me it was a magical couple of days working with such talent. At one point, Harry and Roy decided to treat everyone to drinks. I accompanied them to an off licence on the Edgware Road, and basked in their glory as passers-by did double-takes and smiled and waved, and lorry drivers and taxi drivers hooted and shouted out greetings. They were both instantly recognisable and universally loved. And my abiding memory is of Roy giving up his lunch hour to help Harry, who couldn’t read music, learn a song. Patiently he bashed out the notes on a piano for a grateful Harry.
Roy was a truly kind and gentle giant of showbiz. Much missed.
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