Vera's Later Life (2)

1956

The 1956 season for Vera started in Portsmouth in January. Top of the bill was Edna Savage - a singer from Warrington who was very popular in the 1950s - mainly with cover versions. Her most successful song was 'Arrivederci Darling', originally recorded by Anne Shelton. Edna was married briefly to a pop idol of the day named Terry Dene - one of the first pop stars to be crucified by the press. I can only vaguely remember the pair of them.

 Edna Savage
Photo of Edna Savage [1]

Later in January it was reported that Vera's horse 'Goldie' had walked on stage at Southend during the act of another performer to listen to her playing the organ. This was described as an 'unrehearsed' incident but I have my doubts! Good publicity though.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 19 January 1956 [10]

April found Vera in Dudley supporting singer Dickie Valentine, then on to Sheffield in May to support Joan Regan again. Valentine had a very successful Christmas song called 'Christmas Alphabet' that my parents had on a 78rpm disk. His career was cut short in 1971 when he was killed in a car crash at the age of 41.

Dickie Valentine
Photo of Dickie Valentine [97]

September brought an appearance in the 'Davy Crockett Cowboy and Indian Show' at Southsea Common. The interest in cowboys was still going strong in the 50s and 60s - aided by the many TV programmes.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Hampshire Telegraph' 21 September 1956 [63]

Disney created a series about Crockett starring Fess Parker which had been shown the previous year.

Advert
Advert for the Disney film Davy Crockett 'King of the Wild Frontier' [97]

The real Crockett was an American politician who represented Tennessee from 1827 to 1831 and became a folk hero. He opposed President Andrew Jackson's relocation of 'Indians' resulting in him losing office, after which he is reputed to have said You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.

This was perhaps not a wise move, as he was present at the famous 'Battle of the Alamo', and killed by Mexicans. Had he been present at the show, Crockett would have liked Vera and her palomino horse Golden Chieftain, and possibly been amused by the trick cyclists and trapeze artists. I suspect he would have been less amused by the way the Alamo Mission near San Antonio, where he died, has been transformed into a secular shrine and tourist destination.

The Alamo
Photo of the Alamo Mission in 2006 [130]

November found Vera at the Finsbury Park Empire for a variety show with the usual mixed act and the first appearance that I have noticed of Roy Castle. It was the very early stages of Castle's career, up to which point, he had been a stooge to Jimmy Clitheroe and Jimmy James. He later hosted a long-running TV show called 'Record Breakers'. Sadly he developed lung cancer, despite being a non-smoker, which was probably caused by his time working as a musician in smoky jazz clubs. He raised awareness of the dangers of smoking and set up the 'Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation' that is dedicated to defeating lung cancer. The Finsbury Park show was Vera's last engagement for 1956.

Roy Castle
Photo of Roy Castle [26]

1957

Vera's year started with an appearance in the panto 'Robin Hood' at Southport. It seems to have been a bit of a hotch-potch production mixing performers on ice skates, characters from Robin Hood, a ventriloquist who was a robber, and a conjurer. Once again the producers managed to work Vera and her horse into the plot somehow. Vera's agent placed an advert in 'The Stage' seeking further engagements - see the second cutting below.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 3 January 1957 [10]
Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 10 January 1957 [10]

Vera was at the Birmingham Hippodrome in March, then on to Liverpool where Roy Castle was on the bill again. 'The Liverpool Echo' interviewed Vera. She claimed that her horse Goldie and dog Corin were more intelligent than some humans. I think we can all sympathise with that view.


In April Vera was at the Chiswick Empire with David Whitfield at the top of the bill, followed by Morecambe and Wise. Whitfield was a tenor from Hull and became the first British artiste to have a No.1 single in both the UK and United States with the song 'Cara Mia', featuring Mantovani and his Orchestra. My parents also had this on a 78rpm record which we played on our old wind-up gramophone; he certainly had a powerful tenor voice which I liked - though I had no idea what a 'tenor voice' was at the time. The show got a very positive review in 'The Stage'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 11 April 1957 [10]
David Whitfield
Photo of David Whitfield [1]

Vera's next show in April was an appearance at the Brighton Hippodrome, then on to the Bristol Hippodrome with Dickie Valentine and the comedian Jimmy Wheeler, followed by the Manchester Palace with Dickie Valentine and Bill Maynard.


The month of May started at the Stockton Globe, then the Newcastle Empire supporting The Platters - a popular black American singing group originally from Los Angeles. They had 40 chart singles including four at No. 1 in the US charts between 1955 and 1967.

The Platters
Photo of The Platters [97]

Next was the Glasgow Empire with Howard Keel - a singer and actor who had starred in many musicals - the most recent of which (at that time) had been 'Show Boat', 'Calamity Jane' opposite Doris Day - incidentally a film still worth watching, and 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'. Next it was the Coventry Theatre supporting an American act called 'The Teenagers' that I can barely remember, apart from their hit songs 'Why do Fools Fall in Love' and 'I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent'.

Howard Keel
Howard Keel on advert for the musical Annie Get Your Gun [97]

June included a show at the Great Yarmouth Regal and in August came a spot on the Hughie Green TV show 'Saturday Spectacular' with Shirley Bassey and, rather oddly, Ian Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford. Russell had inherited Woburn Abbey along with enormous debts but managed to keep his estate by opening the Abbey to the public and later established Woburn Safari Park. It sounds like he would have been an interesting person to meet.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Coventry Evening Telegraph' 3 August 1957 [65]
Russell
Photo of Ian Russell, Duke of Bedford [1]

The last engagement for the year was at Oxford in September with Billy Cotton and his Band plus Bill Waddington.

1958

Vera's only press notice for 1958 was an appearance in September with her horse Golden Firefly (possibly Goldie under an assumed equine name) at Rhyl in 'Prince's International Circus'.

1958 seems to be the year when Vera started withdrawing from personal appearances in shows, and focused on providing highly trained horses for the stage performances of others.

It was around this time that the young Margot Rodda, who appeared right at the beginning of the story, wandered up to Vera's house near Crowborough in Sussex and asked to see her horse. Margot has been trying to pinpoint the house using Google Street View but it is difficult to be certain after such a long time, and with houses changing so much over the years. Margot was staying at Greenway Lodge on Hurtis Hill, which she remembers as a lovely house, 'stacked to the rafters with antiques', and she is pretty sure that Vera's house was on High Broom Road. The most likely location was the present Brook Farm, but it has not been possible to confirm this from the contemporary Electoral Register. Vera was listed as living at nearby Alderbrook Farm in 1959 and 1960, though this may just be a quirk of the way the register was constructed.

Greenway Lodge
Greenway Lodge from Google Street View 2021 [2]
Greenway Lodge
Old photo showing the rear of Greenway Lodge taken from the back garden [54]
Brook Farm
Brook Farm from Google Street View 2021 [2]

The view of Brook Farm below from Google Earth shows the main house with a stable block beside it and a paddock at the rear.

Brook Farm
Brook Farm from Google Earth 2021 [2]

1959

There were no personal appearances by Vera in 1959 but Goldie was at the London Palladium being ridden by Max Bygraves. Vera rode him to the theatre each night from stables near Marble Arch - it must have been no mean feat riding a horse through London's congested traffic.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 23 July 1959 [10]

To my amazement, on checking, I found that there are still several stables close to Marble Arch, the nearest probably being Hyde Park Stables in Bathurst Mews and shown below. Presumably they are used by rich owners who exercise their horses in Hyde Park.

Stables
Hyde Park Stables in 2021 as seen on Google Street View [2]

Bygraves later wrote the following: [100]

One Sunday I was asked to play in a Pro-Am tournament at Leatherhead Golf Club. There were many well-known personalities playing. It suited me because my house was near the course, so there was no travelling to be done. All I needed was my studded shoes, which I took to the locker room to change into. I was appearing at the Palladium at the time and on the previous night, I had had a mishap.

I made my entrance on a horse, a big wonderful creature named Goldie. He was a circus horse, trained by Vera Cody. By touching him in different places and giving him different words of command, he would perform. When I dismounted, I would bring him to the front of the stage and ask him questions; then by tickling him in the right spot and rewarding him with a few lumps of sugar, he would appear to the audience to be talking back to me. Actually, what happened was an offstage microphone was used, with a man faking a voice for Goldie. After the chat, I would mount him again, and the band would play a 'Tea for Two Cha-Cha'. Goldie would swing his bottom in time to the music - and exit to tumultuous applause.

The night before the golf tournament, Goldie had trodden on my toe. As I wore soft shoes, the pain was excruciating. What's more, he didn't move once he was on my foot - unless you've had a ton of horsemeat on your toes, you won't appreciate how painful it can be. Now it was the morning after. I was in the locker room inspecting my bruised toes, when one of the players walked up behind me and said, 'Hello, old boy, how are you?'

Without looking up, I said, 'Not so good - I've got a bad toe. I'm just wondering if I can get round eighteen holes.' He snorted and said, 'Bloody sorry about that, old chap', then he walked off, clanking as he went. I looked back - I still shudder with embarrassment each time I think of it - and saw that the man I had been complaining to was Douglas Bader, the legless pilot, hero of the Second World War, the man who had known more pain with his lost legs than any man living. Yet here I was, beefing about a couple of bruised toes! I made a vow never to complain about my lot again. I don't know whether I have stuck to it but I meant to.

Margot, who knows about horses told me Generally, if a horse steps on you, he immediately moves his foot and secondly, no way did Goldie weigh a ton. Show condition Shire horses might weigh a ton but Goldie was not a big horse - beautiful but definitely not big at 15hh (hands high)!

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Guardian' 1 September 2012 showing Max Bygraves sitting on Goldie on the 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium' show in 1961 [122]

Variations on the name Goldie seem to have been popular for performing horses. Joan Rosaire was another well-known performer who also provided horses for stage acts like Vera. She provided a horse for Bygraves to ride in another show - possibly at the Victoria Palace in the early 70s. Joan had this to say in her book Joan Rosaire, Lady of the Circus, co-written with Ken Porter [133].

Goldy, with Max Bygraves sitting on him, would just stand, pull a face and look away from the audience. Joan made it clear to Max that she had to be in the wings as the horse would only work for her. However, there was an occasion when Joan was not there and her cousin, Cicily, deputised for her. Max slapped Goldy with the reins on both sides of the neck, like the cowboys do and, surprisingly, found himself on the floor. He would not go near Joan for a few days and, when he did, Joan said, 'I know what you did'. He did take her for a drink.

The photo below of Vera and Goldie, taken by Frank of Darlington at an unknown venue, was purchased recently by Margot on eBay. I have only seen a small number of photos of Vera and agree with Margot that she looks sad or serious in all of them. Despite her appearance in photographs, both Sue and Richard Viner remarked that Vera was very mischievious and always up for a laugh. Richard mentioned that he had been driving behind her one day, going into a car park with a lifting barrier. Vera was in her little split-windscreen Morris Minor and drove straight through the barrier without stopping!

Vera and Goldie
Signed photo of Vera dated 1959 [54]

1960-1969

In February 1960 Goldie featured in the show "Meet Me on the Corner" in Glasgow starring Max Bygraves and Sid Millward. The show went on to Liverpool and on to Birmingham in April. Goldie got his own review in 'The Stage' on this occasion.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 3 March 1960 [10]

In July 1960 Vera and Goldie gave an exhibition of 'high-school riding' in a field at the Highlands Hotel, Crowborough, East Sussex.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Kent and Sussex Courier' 22 July 1960 [66]


I could find no further press coverage through to the end of 1969. Whether Vera had gone into retirement, or just had a lower profile, I don't know; she would have been 59 years old in 1970.

1970-1979

In September 1970 Vera and Virginia Willey led the procession at the Crowborough Carnival in unkind weather. The reporter notes Vera as 'of Alderbrook Farm' and that she was riding a 'high-stepping' horse called Sorrel. Virginia's horse was named Simba.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Kent and Sussex Courier' 18 September 1970 [66]

There was nothing about Vera under the names Milligen, Cody or McLeod in the press until 1972 when 'The Kent and Sussex Courier' mentioned that her horse would feature in a fete at the Robertsbridge British Legion.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Kent and Sussex Courier' 2 June 1972 [66]

Vera McLeod on "Out of Town"

Out of Town was a long-running and popular TV series created by Southern Television in the UK that began in 1963 and ran for 25 years. The topic of the series was rural life and how it had changed over the years. The presenter was Jack Hargreaves, whose relaxed style comes across well in the episode 'High School Horse' which featured Vera and was first broadcast 1 January 1970. Judging by the narrative, Jack had known Vera for some time. Jack's main point in this particular item was to show how Vera's patience, kindness and skill enabled her to train an 'untrainable' horse called Sorrel to carry out complex dance moves.

Sorrel was a skewbald - meaning she had brown and white patches. The American name for this is a 'pinto' horse. Hargreaves states in the programme that Sorrel's previous owner couldn't handle her and that the horse had 'a mouth like iron'. Vera offered to buy Sorrel but the owner handed her over free of charge. Margot noticed that Sorrel was quite feisty in the film and doing a lot of tail-swishing, which can be indicative of back pain and may have been part of the problem.

The quote below is an excerpt from an article by Vet Magan Graham [175]:

The appearance of a horse’s tail, both at rest and during exercise, can tell us much about his general health and well-being. The tail should hang straight down and be carried in a relaxed manner. When viewed from behind, it should swing gently from side to side as the horse moves.

... Some horses have a very active tail during exercise, swishing excessively, especially while being ridden. While this may be normal for some horses, I recommend having your horse evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out common causes for this behavior. Tail-swishing indicates tension in the horse, often from back pain or other orthopedic issues. Checking saddle fit and back health is a good place to start. Another common cause of tension under saddle is equine gastric ulcer syndrome.

In his introductory chat, Jack says this:

I am going to tell you the story of Mrs. Mac and the dancing horse.

Mrs. Mac was a remarkable old lady who, having been brought up as a tiny girl in a big English country house surrounded by horses and ponies, managed to run away when she was at a high school, and joined the Bertram Mills circus at Olympia. Not only did she marry an American circus cowboy with a famous rope-spinning act, she ended up as the head horse-trainer at the Bertram Mills circus, and in her old age came to live in a cottage near us.

I would be more convinced about the story of Vera 'running away to join the circus' if she had told it herself, but it seems more likely that Jack was exaggerating to make the tale more interesting.

There is an intriguing item in the Heathfield School Magazine for 1936 which says "By special invitation the School went to see Miss Patricia Bourne's lions at Bertram Mills' Winter Quarters". [17]. The circus is known to have encouraged contact with local schools and hospitals, and Vera could well have been involved in an earlier visit.

Bertram Mills Circus had its Winter quarters in Kings Ride, Ascot - adjacent to the former Ascot West station and less than a mile from Heathfield School as can be seen on the map below. If Vera had run away from school to join the circus as Hargreaves claimed, she wouldn't have had far to run, and could have been home in good time for tea. Would Bertram Mills, who could have the pick of circus artistes from around the world, have taken on a girl attending a posh local boarding school as a trainer? I find this extremely unlikely. One way or another, Vera acquired advanced riding and training skills - we just don't know where.

Map
Extract from Ordnance Survey map circa 1937 showing Heathfield School and (bottom right) the circus Winter Quarters between King's Ride and the railway line. [46]

In fact, after 1938, the circus staff include the high school riders Baptista Schreiber, Roberto de Vasconcellos, Jean and Marcelle Houcke, and Fredy Knie; the equestrians May Wirth and the Wirth family; Mabel Stark with her "parachute horse", Jupiter; The Hanneford Family; Alphonse Rancy’s horses; the Cirkus Orlando's horses; and the huge stud of horses and ponies of Cirkus Schumann.

During WW2, the circus Winter Quarters was first converted into a camp for internees, and in 1943 became a Prisoner of War camp for Germans and Italians. After the war, the circus returned until its demise in 1967.

The old Winter Quarters site is now a building site with 'luxury two bedroom apartments' but an aerial view on Google Earth suggests that the old layout has not changed much. I wonder how many of the new residents are aware of the history of the site?

Map
Building work on the site of the old circus winter quarters in 2021 [2]

Vera was still keeping at least a token presence in the world of entertainment as she placed an advertisement in 'The Stage' in May 1978 to carry out displays with her 'dancing horse' Sorrel. The address given was 'Little Foxes, Charlwood Road, Ifield, Crawley, Sussex. The building, which is pretty close to Gatwick Airport that had opened in 1958, is now a hotel.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 25 May 1978 [10]
Street View
Little Foxes Hotel 2021 from Google Street View [2]

In 1978 the BBC produced a TV series for children called 'The Moon Stallion'. The horse playing the starring role was an Andalusian stallion named Tabu owned by Richard Viner. Richard had seen the Jack Hargreaves programme mentioned above and tracked Vera down to ask for her help with training. Richard played the part of 'The Dark Rider' in the series and mentioned that no bridle or tack was used in filming. He can be seen riding Tabu and wearing a gold headband in the last-but-one 'still' shown further down the page.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Kent and Sussex Courier' 1 December 1978 [66]

Richard told Margot Blackah that he had purchased Tabu, an Andalusian stallion, for £160.

Tabu
Tabu 'The Moon Stallion' [177]
Richard Viner
Richard Viner in Ring Master's outfit on his horse Chanson [177]

In the six-part BBC series, Sarah Sutton played a blind girl named Diana.

Moon Stallion Moon Stallion Moon Stallion Moon Stallion Moon Stallion Moon Stallion
Stills from The Moon Stallion [107]

Jack Hargreaves said Vera had gone to Spain to train horses after the series had been made but, given her age and health, this seems rather unlikely.

1980-1983

One viewer from Scotland, presumably watching a repeat of the Hargreaves programme, sent a very appreciative letter to 'The Aberdeen Evening Express'.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Aberdeen Evening Express' 11 October 1980 [67]

Sorrel appeared in the 7 November 1982 episode 'Carnival Time' of the long-running BBC TV programme 'Hi-de-Hi!', written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, about life in a fictional holiday camp. She can be seen in the image below with Su Pollard and Felix Bowness.

Hi-Di-Hi
Still from 'Hi-de-Hi' Felix Bowness and Su Pollard with Sorrel [107]

The very last press notice I found mentioning Vera Cody was for a country music festival at Great Yarmouth in 1983. Circus artiste Joan Rosaire appeared with 'Goldie the Wonder Horse' and Vera put on an equestrian presentation.

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 14 April 1983 [10]

Max Bygraves was also appearing at the festival - but I suspect he kept well away from the horses!

Last Years and Death

Once Vera stopped performing, she disappeared off the radar as far as information available on the Internet is concerned, so I really know nothing of her last years. Tex had died in 1973 and it is unlikely that she had contact with him after they separated.

Vera's last address is recorded as 61 Tally Ho Road, Kingsmouth and her death is recorded at Kingsmouth, Ashford, Kent on 27 July 1987 at the age of 74. In fact the entry is incorrect and the address was actually Kingsnorth. Vera left an estate valued at not exceeding £70,000 - approximately £210k at 2020 values. I have been unable to find an obituary notice for her either.

Street View
61 Tally Ho Road, Kingsnorth, Ashford [2]

Richard Viner sent me the following dedication to Vera:

I met Vera McLeod when I was running my own riding school in Sussex. I saw a TV programme back in the mid 70s called “Out of Town”, with Jack Hargreaves, interviewing Vera McLeod and her High School horse Sorrel. I was so inspired by her work that I made a point of getting in touch to meet her. We became great friends and she helped me to train my high school horse, Chanson. I wanted my horse to entertain people rather than go into competitions so I then left my riding school to work in circus! She also helped me to train my horse Tabu, which took the title role of the Moon Stallion for the BBC series. Her own horse Sorrel was also in the programme. For me Vera McLeod was one of the greatest horse trainers that’s ever been and I owe so much to her.

Postscript 1996

There was an interesting article in 'The Stage' in 1996 by Margaret Madison, who was reminiscing about her time in showbusiness and who had been staying at a 'digs' in Leeds with Vera. She says "Vera was in bed, with all five of her dogs in bed with her, eating their suppers - The horse in a horsebox outside". It certainly doesn't paint a picture of luxury living!

Cutting
Cutting from 'The Stage' 11 April 1996 [10]

The next and final page is an epilogue.