Roy Castle was born 31st August 1932, in Holmfirth, near Huddersfield. His mum had always wanted to go into show business and saw Roy as her second chance by proxy. At the age of three, he was singing in concerts. When he was twelve, he toured with a variety group, and at one venue, was paid in marmite sandwhiches. At fourteen, he did regular bookings at The Queen’s Theatre, Cleveleys, near Blackpool.
Impressed by Frank Sinatra, Roy became a ballad singer. He joined a musical trio, playing trumpet and high hat cymbal with the Ramble Band Wagon.
After that, doors began to open and he was offered a spot in a two week variety bill at the Prince Of Wales Theatre in the West End. Soon he was mixing with the cream of the British entertainment industry of the time, including Eartha Kitt, Pat Boone, Harry Seacombe, Bruce Forsyth, Max Bygraves and Norman Wisdom.
His impressions of Elvis’s three chord trick along with gyrating hips, made the Duke of Edinburgh laugh out loud. He said that this was the moment which catapulted him to the big time. He was asked to do an encore, to The Queen, The Duke and the audience. He was besieged by journalists afterwards, and by Eartha Kitt, who planted a kiss on his cheek.
He was booked for another T.V series and revue show, also for a summer season with Tommy Cooper and panto with Harry Seacombe. He got an invitation to go to New York and guest on the Garry Moore Show, ‘playing trumpet with a little bit of comedy.’ He was to appear on the show forty two times.
Back home, Eric Morecambe, set him up on a date with a young lady called Fiona, who was to become his wife. He began his family. First up, a son called Daniel, with Eric Morecambe as godfather.
He spend the next few years, booked up with dates, either in England, or the U.S.A, from nightclubs near Sheffield, to nine weeks on Broadway starring in Pickwick.
Fiona had two more children and Roy starred in his one and only ‘Carry On Film’, ‘Carry On Up the Kyber‘
He took bookings on cruise ships, and after another child, Fiona battled with post natal depression. Roy was working away so much, which led to problems within the marriage. He developed a drinking problem and the couple were close to splitting up but they became Christians and they found that their marriage was also saved.
Roy said, ‘I have met people who say, ‘I’ve been too wicked, too stupid. God would never accept me. Wrong.’
‘A genuine desire to turn away from evil and selfishness, and all the other garbage on offer, is accepted with open arms.’
Fiona and Roy got back on track and harmony returned to the family. He battled the booze for a while but was finally able to give it up. He said, ‘I can now identify with all the other people who found themselves struggling with addiction and sympathize with anyone going through the trauma of drying out.’
His career meanwhile went from strength to strength. He was on Blue Peter regulary and claims to be the only person on a live show, to have been bitten by Shep, during the performance.
At that time, Alan Russell was looking for a presenter for a new show for Children’s T.V. Someone who was a jack of all trades and didn’t mind looking a fool. He instantly turned to Roy. His words, not mine!
In 1972, the first ever Guinness Book of Records aired. Roy experienced many strange record breakers in this series, including someone singing in a bath in Times Square for hours on end, to cherry spitting championships. He broke several records on his own show, including one at Blackpool Tower.
Daniel, his eldest son, suffered a serious fall off a cliff when he was fifteen, and fell into a coma. Roy prayed with his church fervently and held night vigils. Daniel came out of his coma and made a full recovery. What Roy hadn’t known beforehand, was that a huge Christian gathering called Greenbelt, sixteen thousand in all, had prayed for Daniel.
Roy appeared in a play at the Shaftesbury Theatre in a play called ‘Big Bad Mouse’, replacing Eric Sykes, while also doing panto and summer season at the Palladium. He also replaced Michael Crawford, taking over the lead in ‘Billy’ at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Then onto starring in a musical called Mr. Polly in 1977. Roy also performed in ‘Singing in the Rain’ at the Palladium, alongside Tommy Steele, notching up 896 performances over two years.
In January 1992, Roy started to get terrible migraines and felt like he was suffocating. He was given a brain scan. After a battery of tests, he saw a radiologist and had a chest x ray. The doctor asked him if he smoked. ‘Never,’ Roy replied, but he had worked most of his life, in a lot of very smoky atmospheres. Then the doctor muttered, ‘Big in America now, passive smoking.’ After a bronchoscopy, it was revealed there were extremely virulent cancer cells known as oat cells in his lungs. The doctor concluded that he had a classic example of what was known as passive smoking, an inhalation of other people’s smoke.
When he wasn’t ill from the chemotherapy, Roy kept doing charity work, and in June 1992, he was voted ‘Man Of The Year’ receiving an award from the institute of entertainment and Arts Management for ‘Outstanding Service to the Entertainment Industry’. Also, there was an award from ASH and the British Heart Foundation for his ‘Outstanding Achievement in the Campaign Against Smoking’
The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation were holding their ‘People of the Year Award’ and Roy was a nominee but he had a bit of a dilemma. Baroness Thatcher would be at the event and she had signed with Philip Morris, the tobacco magnates, for which she would receive a great deal of money. Roy didn’t want to meet her, in his current circumstances, and he thought a confrontation would be selfish and spoil the event, so when it came time to meet and greet with the former Prime Minister, he ducked out of the line and lost himself in the crowd.
The headlines the next day screamed, ‘Roy Castle Snubs Margaret Thatcher’
He received an OBE from the Queen the following February.
He was baptized on Sunday 20th March, under duress! He said he didn’t like rituals just to please other people and felt that he and God ‘had a perfectly good understanding without making a public display’, but the baptism turned out to be ‘beautifully simple’.
And just to reiterate, because it’s important, ‘What do you want out of life? What is success? The answer’s are much clearer once you are told life’s just about over. The simple, loving, caring things then score heavily, and the greed, selfishness and ego become millstones.’
Roy had an amazing sense of humour and was self depreciating. He said, ‘They say that when you’re dying, your life flashes by in front of your eyes. I’ve had to rewind mine three times. I feel I’m taking longer to die then James Cagney on the cathedral steps.’
Roy didn’t live long enough to see his autobiography published.
In January 1994, Roy lent his name to an appeal to raise funds for the world’s first centre of Excellence to research lung cancer. His widow, Fiona, took up where he left off, in order that future generations should not suffer the effects of this terrible disease. She said his final words on the BBC TV programme ‘Fighting Back’ will continue to ring in her ears. ‘Don’t whine-laugh!’
- Facts and quotes sourced from Roy Castle – An Autobiography.