The well-known show business writer Roger Holmes writes exclusively for UK Cabaret on the subject of nostalgia.
The finest act I ever saw on the stages of my local clubs was Roland Roy and Jackie Toaduff. Theirs is a remarkable story. In the 1950’s Roland Roy was a very popular artiste in South Yorkshire with a big following. A tailor by trade, he was always immaculately dressed on stage and his big rich baritone voice had helped him to win The Big Fame Game on T.V. I never saw him work but remember seeing the posters for the Roland Roy Road Show.
Jackie Toaduff came from a poor mining family in Stanley, County Durham. From an early age dancing fascinated him. His family couldn’t afford lessons for him, but generous friends helped out. He never missed an opportunity to perform. Jackie learned clog dancing as well as tap. Like all the young men in the village, as soon as he left school at 14 he was expected to work at the pit. Luckily the colliery manager was understanding and allowed him time off work. He was Junior Clog Dancing Champion for Northumberland and Durham in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Under the auspices of the English Folk Dance Society he appeared 16 times as a soloist at the Royal Albert Hall, following that with tours of Denmark and South Africa. When his father became too ill to work he became the breadwinner for the family, and started a Concert Party which toured the local clubs.
In 1957 he went on holiday to Blackpool with his mates, but they began to run out of cash. They talked him into entering Peter Webster’s Talent Contest on the Central Pier. He was outright winner, earning the prize of £30. England and Manchester City goalkeeper Frank Swift saw him there and on his recommendation he was invited to appear in the 1959 Clubland Command Performance in the Winter Gardens. In his digs he met up with Roland Roy and Roland’s manager and accompanist Colin Edwards. Both their spots went well and the pair of them astounded to learn that Jackie would be down the pit the very next morning. They invited him over to Jersey and to stay with them for his holiday next summer. Roland was in the show at Tam’s nightclub and Colin offered to try and get Jackie an audition there. This he did and Jackie got a contract for four months work the following summer, when he would be free to leave the pit after 11 years, and Colin agreed to be his manager too. Meanwhile Jackie was invited to entertain at a ball in honour of Princess Margaret. She asked him to dance with her and photos of them made the front pages of every newspaper in the country.
After Jersey Colin fixed club dates for them, often on the same show, but the insisted they were two separate acts, not a duo. Then along came an offer for an 8 week season at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre with comedian Jack Milroy, but the contract stated that they should appear together as a double act. The money was so good they couldn’t refuse. This began a series of seasons in Scotland, working with various comedians, including the legendary Lex McClean (Sexy Lexy). They were in Jersey too, and between contracts returned to clubland. In 1961 they appeared again in the Clubland Command Show, this time as a double act. In 1964 they came to the attention of C.S.E. and travelled the world entertaining the troops.
1969 saw them starting to work on the cruise ships, recommended by Geraldo, which they did for the next 20 years for various companies, but they were favourites of Cunard, and worked on the QE2 for 10 years. They met dozens of the rich and famous, film starts and “Celebrities”. They bought The Chantry in Dronfield 1970 with two partners and ran it as an hotel, but relied on loyal staff when there were away on the ships, and it became popular and successful with many of the friends they had made on their travels coming to stay. But eventually Roy decided he’d had enough travelling and wanted to retire and settle down. He said Jackie should go out solo, but he said it wasn’t on and so he retired with him.