Vera's Later Life (1)

1951

By April 1951 Vera was appearing without Tex in a variety show at the Kingston Empire using the name Vera Cody. 'The Stage' managed to get the names of her dog 'Corin' and horse 'Bracken' the wrong way round.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 5 April 1951 [10]

In August Vera was working as part of a show called 'Crazy Capers', presented by impresario Cecil Buckingham. The show had completed a run at the Herne Bay Pavilion; Buckingham was advertising for other venues. He may have been struggling as nobody on that bill could be regarded as a 'star act'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 16 August 1951 [10]

In November there was an announcement in 'The Stage' that Vera would be appearing in another Buckingham show, to be called 'Seaside Showboat' at Ramsgate the following summer. Other artistes due to appear at the theatre the same year included Arthur Lucan in his stage act of 'Old Mother Riley', which I saw a few times on film at Saturday morning cinema performances for children, and 30 year-old Betty Driver - then a singer - but who would later become famous in the role of 'Betty Turpin' - the 'Rover's Return' barmaid in the TV programme, 'Coronation Street' that she played for 40 years.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 15 November 1951 [10]

Lucan made a series of 17 films in the role of 'Old Mother Riley', with his wife Kitty McShane playing the part of his daughter. Lucan is considered to have been the inspiration for Brendan O'Carroll's TV programme, 'Mrs Brown's Boys' - though Lucan was an original, and much funnier than O'Carroll in my opinion.

Photo
Photo of Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane [97]
Photo
Photo of Betty Driver [1]

1952

The show at Ramsgate went ahead and Vera pulled in various other venues. By July 1952 she was high up the list of supporting acts in the Minster and Monkton Flower Show with her two dogs plus her own assistant, Julie Bettridge.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The East Kent Times and Mail' 19 July 1952 [13]

In September Vera was invited to lead the Carnival parade at Ramsgate - followed by 'three scarlet-clad drum majors'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The East Kent Times and Mail' 10 September 1952 [13]

Vera continued to tour through 1952, including performances at the Pleasure Gardens, Folkestone in November, and the Chelsea Palace in December.

1953

In January there was an advertisement in 'The Stage' about an appearance at the Mansfield Palace - this time under the direction of Barney Lando. By February Vera was back in a Cecil Buckingham show called 'Crazy Week' at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, which moved on to the Tonypandy Empire and the Bournemouth New Royal in March, The Empire, Chatham and the Colchester Playhouse in April, the New Theatre, Northampton, Ramsgate Pavilion, Ritz, Weymouth, and the Folkestone Pleasure Gardens in June.


A new show entitled 'Crazy Zanies' saw Vera at the Wood Green Empire in September with a pleasant write-up in 'The Stage'. The cutting mentions Vera's 'little black dog Domino' for the first time and remarks on the way she presents her animals.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 17 September 1953 [10]

The show moved on to the Bradford Alhambra and The Empress, Brixton in October. Later the same month Vera is described as a 'Guest Artist' at a new Cecil Buckingham show called 'Round the Moulin Rouge' at the Queen's Theatre in Poplar.

In November Vera was appearing at The Leeds Empire, the Nottingham Empire and the Liverpool Empire. Harry Secombe was also on the bill of the Liverpool show. He was a singer, but also one of the stars of 'The Goon Show', together with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. It was one of the most popular radio shows of the time and mainly scripted by Spike Milligan (not a relative of Vera as far as I am aware). It is considered to be one of the most influential comedy programmes of the 20th century. Although rather painful to listen to now, it was anarchic and surreal, and a source of inspiration for later shows such as Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Young Ones, Vic Reeves Big Night Out, The League of Gentlemen and Brass Eye.

Harry Secombe
Photo of Harry Secombe [1]

Vera came across Harry Secombe some time later at the Horse of the Year Show at the Empire Stadium, Wembley. She greeted him but he didn't remember her. After reminding him, he had remembered her horse, asking 'Oh yes, how's Bracken?'.

December saw Vera end the year with an appearance at the Sutton Granada.

1954

By 1954 Vera was 42 years old and continued her performances at the Finsbury Park Empire in January in the pantomime 'Dick Whittington'. Terry-Thomas also featured in this show. Born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens, he had made his stage debut back in 1930 and only adopted his stage name in 1947. I have to confess that I had never noticed the hyphen in his stage name until researching this item. He said he was concerned that people were mistaking him for a relative of Dame Ellen Terry. Quite how Vera's horse and dogs fitted into the plot escapes me but this is pantomime so I suppose anything goes.

Terry-Thomas
Photo of Terry-Thomas [1]

Scanning just one page of 'The Stage' for 14 January 1954 it is clear that animal acts were popular at the time. While Vera was at the Finsbury Park Empire, 'Coll's Chimpanzees' and 'Truzzi's Dogs' were appearing at the Brighton Grand, 'Douglas George's Tiny Ponies' at the Slough Adelphi, 'Bayer's Dogs' at the Hulme Hippodrome, 'Hans Petersen's Three Live Bears' at the Swansea Grand, 'K. G. Grasby's Shetland Ponies' at the Mansfield Palace, and 'Gandy's Trained Sheep' at the Huddersfield Palace.


On 28 January 1954 Vera featured at the Tooting Granada, billed with her dogs Corin and Domino.


The 18 February 1954 edition of 'The Stage' is interesting as it has separate entries for Tex McLeod and Vera just a few lines apart. Tex is billed at the Cheltenham Opera House, alongside 'Frederica's Dogs and Cats' amongst other acts, while Vera was appearing at the East Ham Granada with her horse and dogs. I could find nothing about Rene Maritz, shown topping the bill; the King Brothers were a three-brother singing group from Essex who have been described as 'the first Boy Band'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 18 February 1954 [10]

Later in February we find the first mention of 'Goldie the Conga-dancing Horse' as part of Vera's act at the East Ham Granada. We heard of Goldie in the introduction to this material and will hear more of him later on.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 25 February 1954 [10]

Vera's 1954 appearances included the 'Lone Star Show' at the Halifax Palace in February. The star of this show was an Englishman named Roy Green who had a stage persona of 'Cowboy Steve Larrabee'. He apparently also had popular radio shows, though I can't recall them myself, and promoted various 'Wild West' toys and other merchandise manufactured by the 'Lone Star' company of Hatfield.

Roy Green was an ex-miner who dreamed of showbusiness and made a decent living from it until the enthusiasm for Westerns waned in the late 1950s. He went to America and worked in rodeos, then magic shows, and died in Glendale near Los Angeles in 2005.

Cutting
Cutting showing photo of Steve Larrabee [102]
Photo
Photo of Vera Cody with Steve Larrabee and clown Don Saunders [150]
Photo
Photo of Steve Larrabee handing out gifts to children [150]

Vera's next appearance was at the West Bromwich Plaza in March - still with Larrabee. They went on to the Liverpool Pavilion in April where 'Scott's Educated Sealions' also appeared, then to the Huddersfield Palace. The same show moved to Blackpool Queen's Theatre, owned by James Brennan, who I had not heard of - another inhabitant of my hometown Lytham St. Annes. The Queen's Theatre was demolished to make way for an ugly shopping centre. Next the show progressed to the Hulme Hippodrome and Wigan Hippodrome in May, and then the Glasgow Empire - though apparently without Larrabee.


From 5 July, Vera was appearing at the Empire Theatre, Cleethorpes supporting comedians Jack Watson and Leslie Randall - both of whom would go on to become actors.

Poster
Poster from the Empire Theatre, Cleethorpes [126]

Later in July Vera appeared at the Birmingham Hippodrome as a supporting act to Billy Cotton and his Band with 'The Birmingham Daily Post' saying Vera Cody has a nice-looking horse that dances to various rhythms and some assorted dogs that appear to enjoy showing off their tricks.

Billy Cotton Band
Photo of Billy Cotton and his Band [1]

Next it was on to the Coventry Hippodrome at the beginning of August as a supporting act to highly popular, and good looking, singer Guy Mitchell, who I just learned was the son of Croatian immigrants to America. Mitchell's most famous song, "Singing the Blues", wasn't recorded until two years later.

Guy Mitchell
Photo of Guy Mitchell [1]

Vera moved on with Mitchell to appear at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool later in the month, then to the Cardiff New Theatre and the Stockton Globe in September. She was then back performing in Billy Cotton's show at the Dudley Hippodrome. On this occasion the comedian Arthur Haynes was on the bill. Haynes had Nicholas Parsons (1923-2020) as his 'straight man' for about 10 years in the 1950s and 60s. Parsons went on to compere the popular radio show 'Just a Minute' from 1967 until 2018 by which time he was 94. He kept his sharp wit until the end of his life.

Haynes and Parsons
Photo showing from left to right Patricia Hayes, Arthur Haynes and Nicholas Parsons from The Arthur Haynes TV programme [1]

In early October Vera was back with Guy Mitchell performing in a show called 'My Truly Fair' at the Empire, Leeds; the show was named after his latest song. The George Mitchell Singers were also on the bill. In 1957 George would go on to found the long-lasting, but ultimately politically unacceptable, 'blackface' Black and White Minstrel Show. The show moved on to the Empire, Nottingham (without George Mitchell).

Guy Mitchell
Poster from Empire Theatre, Leeds 1954 [106]

Vera's next appearance was as a supporting act to American wisecracking comedian Bob Hope at the Empire Liverpool from 25-28 October 1954.

Bob Hope
Photo of Bob Hope [1]

Further shows with Guy Mitchell took place in early November at the Derby Hippodrome, the Manchester Hippodrome and the Bristol Hippodrome. What must have been a very successful year was rounded off by an appearance in the pantomime 'Jack and the Beanstalk', with singer Frankie Vaughan at the Globe Theatre, Stockton.

Frankie Vaughan
Photo of Frankie Vaughan [1]

1955

Appearances in 1955 started with the pantomime 'Jack and the Beanstalk' at the Edinburgh Empire, though without any 'headline' names that I recognise. Vera was back with Billy Cotton and his band at the beginning of February with a show at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, then on to the Peterborough Embassy.


March found Vera at the Hackney Empire with a show featuring the singer Joan Regan; other recognisable names on the bill on this occasion are Jimmy Wheeler, Harry Worth and Norman Vaughan. Later in March she was in a variety show at the Bristol Hippodrome starring Ruby Murray and featuring Morecambe and Wise, Jimmy Wheeler, magician David Berglas (who was still alive and aged 94 when I was writing this) and Norman Vaughan.

David Berglas
Photo of David Berglas [1]

The next show was at the Blackpool Palace Theatre in early April and starred Irish tenor Joseph McLaughlin. It is said that impresario Jack Hylton gave him his stage name of Josef Locke as his full name would not fit on advertisements, but I don't find that very convincing. Also in the show was Terry Scott - an actor/comedian who started in showbusiness at Butlin's Skegness with Bill Maynard, and went on to perform in several 'Carry On' films and his own TV series. Next came a show at the East Ham Granada called 'The Hal Monty Show' which starred Hal Monty, another comedian unknown to me but who had made a few films.

Terry Scott
Photo of Terry Scott [98]

Later in April Vera appeared at the bottom of the bill for a show at the Leicester Palace Theatre that starred singer Joan Regan and comedian Jimmy Logan.

Joan Regan
Photo of Joan Regan [1]

This was followed by an appearance at the Sunderland Empire, with singer Ronnie Hilton, then a return to the Finsbury Park Empire with singer Alma Cogan, who lived in Kensington and entertained, amongst others, Princess Margaret, Noël Coward, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth and Roger Moore. Cogan is even rumoured to have had an affair with John Lennon in the 1960s.

Alma Cogan
Photo of Alma Cogan [103]

May saw a show at the Granada Tooting with Don Peters - a singer managed by Lew and Leslie Grade but unknown to me. He had appeared a number of times on Ted Ray's radio programmes. Towards the end of May Vera appeared in a show at the Newcastle Empire starring Ruby Murray with Stan Stennett and Chic Murray.

A backing act at several of these shows was an acrobatic group calling themselves 'The Skylons'.

The Skylons
Skylons - signed photo [1]

The Skylons took their name from the cigar-shaped structure that had featured in the 1951 Festival of Britain, clearly visible in the photo below, and designed to appear to be suspended in the air - as were the performers. The Festival was held on the South Bank of the Thames in London and I remember being taken there one evening as a 4 year-old. Our legacy from the 1951 Festival includes the concert halls on the South Bank; there are a number of short films about the Festival of Britain on YouTube.

Festival of Britain
Festival of Britain site at night [127]

Vera travelled with Ruby Murray's show to the Liverpool Empire in June and, later in the month, she was appearing with a different group of entertainers at the Swansea Empire - 'Dr. Crock and His Crackpots'. Harry Hines had formed the act back in 1947 as a British version of the American act 'Spike Jones and his City Slickers'. I don't recall seeing Dr. Crock, but there are some (sound only) clips of the act on YouTube and they were similar to 'Sid Millward and his Nitwits' already mentioned.

Doctor Crock
Doctor Crock and His Crackpots posing at Belle View, Manchester [104]

The fare at the Birmingham Hippodrome at the beginning of July was quite different. The Vancouver Boys Band, or to give them their proper name, The Kitsilano Boys Band, was top of the bill. The band had been founded in Vancouver in 1928 by Arthur W. Delamont and he was with them on their tour of the UK. They had made several visits to the UK in the 1930s and had played at the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 1937. A visit in 1939 had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of WW2 but they toured the UK in 1950 and 1953 and kept going until 1978. From the photos online they seem to have been a brass band and they played 'The William Tell Overture' but also swing tunes. Like all variety shows of the time there were comedians and acrobats in addition to Vera and her animals.

Kitsilarno Boys Band
Photo of the Kitsilano Boys Band [1]

Mid-July brought a show at the Sheffield Empire, with Terry-Thomas topping the bill and the usual acts. Next was the Morecambe Winter Gardens with Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan, Max Geldray playing harmonica, and singer and impersonator Janet Brown. Janet appeared in a number of films and TV series and was married to actor Peter Butterworth who appeared in many 'Carry On' films. She became famous in the 1970s and 1980s for her impersonations of Margaret Thatcher.

Janet Brown
Photo of Janet Brown impersonating Margaret Thatcher [168]

In late July Vera was appearing with Billy Cotton again in his 'Wakey! Wakey!' show at the New Theatre Oxford and, at the end of the month, in a show at the Chiswick Empire, where the only other names I can recognise are Dennis Lotis - a South African born British singer (who, as I write this, is 95 years old and living in Norfolk), and Ken Morris and Joan Savage - a singing double act. Ken died relatively young but Joan, who was from Blackpool, featured in several episodes of The Arthur Haynes Show on TV in 1957 and 1962, an episode of Dad's Army called 'Soldier's Farewell' in which she plays the part of Greta Garbo, and in Coronation Street in 2000 when she played the part of Celeste Parker in a storyline about a ballroom dancer.

Joan Savage and Ken Morris
Photo of Joan Savage and Ken Morris [1]

September brought a booking at the Brixton Empress, with Terry-Thomas topping the bill and a selection of the usual range of variety acts. A review in 'The Stage' of 22 September 1955 gives a favourable account of Vera but is maybe less enthusiastic about some of the other acts.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 22 September 1955 [10]
Vera and Goldie
Vera Cody McLeod performing on stage with her Palomino Goldie. Date and venue not known [159]

In late November Vera appeared at the Nottingham Empire, with singer Dickie Valentine topping the bill. Later in the month 'The Stage' carried an advertisement for a Christmas show - 'The Frieda Hall Show' - opening on December 26th. Frieda was another performer I had never heard of but she was an accomplished player of the theatre organ, who had been born in Sheffield in 1913 to a musical family and made a number of recordings in addition to her stage appearances.

Frieda Hall
Photo of Frieda Hall [1]

The next page continues the story of Vera's later life.