The young entertainer
In the late 'fifties Roger performed a routine he called 'The Musical Instrument Factory'. He told a story, with wild exaggerated mimed actions, about a young man working very hard testing outsize musical instruments. They included a trombone (which necessitated flinging his right arm in the air), a guitar (expansive 'air-guitar' movements), other daft things I can't recall and, finally, cymbals strapped to the inside of his knees (walking about eccentrically, flapping his knees together wildly). He would pause, grin, cry out, "And, ooh, he was having a lovely time!" and start again, beaming, flinging himself about the stage. I was Roger's twelve-year-old assistant in the wings operating his reel-to-reel tape recorder: we had pre-recorded the sound effects (I loved that), carefully counting the steps he would take, co-ordinating sound and zany movement. The cymbal effect was produced banging together two butter-dish lids from the sideboard in the front room at home.
In The Musical Instrument Factory story, the tester becomes obsessed with his work, unable to stop the gesticulation, throwing his arms, legs and hips around, even when he was on the bus going home, having his tea and going to bed - without the instruments. He worried that he could not stop. Then - inspiration! - "Why not put his afflictions to use!" I then played back our edited recording of the opening and closing bars of 'Jailhouse Rock' by Elvis (The Pelvis) Presley and Roger would lip-sync his untamed impersonation. Great fun.
Roger was twenty-one when he signed the contract for his first summer season as juvenile lead in a company playing twice a day in the theatre on Torquay pier. On Saturday mornings, he ran a children's show. Throughout that hardworking season, he applied his widening range of skills, took part in sketches and learned on the job about band parts, stage management, lighting and sound systems.
From then on, he was becoming well known in the business, was in regular work, in demand and earning a good income.
He was becoming an accurate and sensitive vocal musician. Unerringly a thorough professional, Roger demanded only the best of himself and expected no less of those with whom he worked. He ensured his musical arrangements were of top quality: his collaborators included Johnny Todd and, later, Eddie Harvey.
He wrote his own material, for point numbers and patter.
His impersonations were "comedy impressions", including an uncanny and sickly Frankie Vaughan, which Vaughan admired.
He did an inflated, histrionic Shirley Bassey, poised dramatically, arms flailing, in a roll of lino up to his armpits. When he was MC for a show in which Bassey was top of the bill, she wanted him to drop the routine. He kept it in. One night, he lost his balance, fell over and rolled about the stage out of control. The audience loved it, unaware he had broken his arm.
Taking a stand
At an Equity union meeting, during which Roger was eager to vote in favour of action to support chorus dancers' claims for better wages, hours and conditions, he was angered to hear opposition from influential well-paid star names who traded on their humble origins.
He endorsed wholeheartedly the Equity boycott of apartheid South Africa. Roger declined potentially lucrative offers to appear there.
Roger Deacon's first panto
In 1958 Roger appeared in his first Christmas pantomime. He played Muddles, the juvenile lead in 'Goody Two-Shoes' at the Theatre Royal, Hanley. Comedians Reg 'Confidentially' Dixon and Tommy Fields (Gracie's brother) shared top billing. Roger loved panto. He was in his element, singing, dancing, fooling around, ad-libbing and encouraging audience participation. Oh yes he was!
There he met and, by the end of the season had teamed up with, Duggie Dean, another young, talented and experienced professional.
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