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Lionel Blair: a showbiz phenomenon with all the right moves | Lionel Blair

Lionel Blair, who has died aged 92, was that fashionable phenomenon: the all-round entertainer. That meant he may flip up as a stage or movie actor, choreographer or star performer on a TV present similar to Give Us a Clue. However all-rounders, as any cricket-lover will inform you, need to shine in a single explicit self-discipline and, in Blair’s case, it was as a dancer.

In order for you proof, you have got solely to take a look at a clip of him doing a aggressive faucet routine with Sammy Davis Jr in a 1961 Royal Variety Show. The joke is that they’re each enjoying bowler-hatted English gents vying for supremacy. Davis performs with his regular elan and departs saying “Toodle-pip”. He leaves the stage clear for Blair who, with his slim body and galvanised class, if something outdoes the grasp. Dancing was clearly Blair’s forte, which is why he fashioned his personal troupe – who frequently adorned stage and TV selection exhibits.

I first noticed Blair on stage in a 1968 revival of a George and Ira Gershwin’s 20s musical, Woman, Be Good! The unique London manufacturing had starred Fred and Adele Astaire as a brother-sister act that had fallen on arduous instances and, though the revival failed to attract the city, it confirmed that Blair may evoke recollections of the nimble ft of his legendary predecessor.

Comedy act … Blair with Kenneth Williams on the game show Give Us a Clue.
Comedy act … Blair with Kenneth Williams on the recreation present Give Us a Clue. {Photograph}: TV Instances/Future Publishing/Getty Photos

The large shock got here in 1987 when Blair turned up as the Participant in a West Finish revival of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Useless. I’d categorized Blair as a gifted hoofer and amiable TV host however right here he confirmed he may wrap his tongue round such quintessential Stoppardian concepts as the subjectivity of reality. As I wrote at the time, he additionally invested the position with “the right contact of seediness as if he had been the Elizabethan equal of a purveyor of filthy postcards”.

Stoppard actually demanded extra of him than his final position on the London stage. It got here in 2000 in a present referred to as Pageant wherein he acted as compere to an all-male magnificence contest. In a sense the present was a forerunner to RuPaul’s Drag Race, in that the males had been all in skirts: it lacked, nonetheless, the slickness of the RuPaul present and Blair, with his spangled hair and salmon-pink dinner jacket, appeared all too complicit with the night’s air of faux glitter.

Joyce and Lionel Blair, 1972.
Household duo … Blair with his sister Joyce in 1972. {Photograph}: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Blair was nothing if not versatile and scored a common triumph as a staff captain, alongside Una Stubbs, in Give Us a Clue. The present relied on the two stars’ capacity to encapsulate the title of a play, movie or e-book via energetic mime. It additionally was a operating gag on a BBC radio present, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, the place I can nonetheless recall Humphrey Lyttelton paying tribute to Blair’s capacity to drag off Twelve Offended Males in 30 seconds. It says a lot for Blair – a fortunately married man with three kids – that he by no means complained about the programme’s portrayal of him as a camp icon. However, whereas Blair had one thing of Bruce Forsyth’s capability to be a showbiz chameleon, it’s as a dancer that he was at his appreciable greatest.

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