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Castle, Roy (1932-1994)

Presenter, Actor, Musician

Main image of Castle, Roy (1932-1994)

His talent disguised by his unassuming Yorkshire demeanour, Roy Castle was a singer, dancer, comedian, actor and multi-instrumentalist for whom the term 'all-round entertainer' might have been created.

Born in Huddersfield in 1932, Roy's father was a railway porter; his mother a hairdresser. Roy sang tenor in Sunday School pantomimes, and was tap dancing by the age of eight. Leaving school at 15, he became a variety entertainer. "We went round all the music-halls in the North - and once got as far south as Salford," he later recalled, with customary dryness. Puberty robbed Roy of his angelic voice, so he turned to the trumpet, buying his instrument with money earned cutting hair in the RAF; once discharged, he played summer seasons in Blackpool as part of a musical trio, or performed solo.

An effective stooge in Jimmy James' legendary comedy act for a while, he was overheard singing backstage by Dickie Valentine, who showcased him on ITV's Saturday Spectacular (1956-61) in 1957. Roy remembered: "I played the trumpet, then did a rock 'n' roll spoof with the guitar, a Jerry Lewis impression incorporating a tap-dance and I finally teamed up with Dickie to sing a duet about clowns." Afterwards he was booked for the Royal Variety Performance, and subsequently described by the TV Times as "the unknown entertainer who stopped the show". But producers struggled to adapt his talents to scripted television comedy: "we fell between about twelve stools. I reckoned that had finished it."

His film debut was in Hello London (d. Sidney Smith, 1958), which combined ice spectacular, travelogue and variety show, but, keen to widen his appeal, he appeared in a relatively straight role in Amicus' Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (d. Freddie Francis, 1964), playing a jazz musician haunted by a witch doctor after he steals some notation from a voodoo ceremony. But Amicus producer Milton Subotsky liked Castle's comic touch: he was invited back for Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), a child-friendly adaptation of the BBC series, to play Ian, accident prone boyfriend of the Doctor's granddaughter.

More comedy followed. On stage in the US, he was Sam Weller to Harry Secombe's Pickwick. On screen in England he appeared in The Plank (d. Eric Sykes, 1967) and Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968), and played the lead role in Freddie Francis's The Intrepid Mr. Twigg (1968), but serious parts eluded him. Castle blamed his diminutive stature: "an actor so small is never considered for romantic roles." All the same, his versatility, combined with his unprepossessing, genial demeanour, ensured that he remained a familiar face, presenting numerous television programmes over the next quarter century.

Most notable of these was Record Breakers (BBC, 1972-2001), a children's series based around feats documented in the Guinness Book of Records. Setting his own record in the first edition by playing an arrangement of 'Whistle While You Work' on forty instruments in four minutes (the first of several records he set on the show), Castle's indomitable have-a-go persona was ideally suited to this long-running programme, which he presented until shortly before his death from lung cancer in 1994. Never a smoker, he blamed his disease on passive smoking (from years spent playing trumpet in smoky clubs). In his last years, Castle became a determined fundraiser for cancer charities, and remains fondly remembered by the British public.

Vic Pratt

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Thumbnail image of Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968)Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968)

Highly entertaining Empire spoof from the usual team

Thumbnail image of Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

Feature film spin-off from the TV series, with Technicolor Daleks!

Thumbnail image of Now and Then: Roy Castle (1968)Now and Then: Roy Castle (1968)

Bernard Braden interviews the actor, entertainer and TV presenter

Thumbnail image of Record Breakers (1972-2001)Record Breakers (1972-2001)

The tallest, the shortest, the fastest, the slowest...

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