Obituary: Roy Castle

Roy Castle, comedian, musician, dancer, television presenter, charity campaigner: born Huddersfield 31 August 1932; married 1964 Fiona Dickson (two sons, two daughters); died Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire 2 September 1994.

SELF-DEPRECATION is scarcely an asset in show business. Yet Roy Castle was loved and admired as much for his modesty as for his prodigious talents. An accomplished musician, singer, dancer, actor, comedian and, more recently, television frontman, Castle had all the ingredients for international stardom but for an inflated ego and the need to be loved by millions. Indeed, in the early 1960s, having already made a big splash on British television, he performed in a series of American television shows, co-starred with Harry Secombe on Broadway, and played Las Vegas, where he was admired by everyone from Sinatra downwards.

A tailor-made Broadway vehicle was promised, along with a lucrative series of television commercials. He and his wife, Fiona, booked into a smart apartment in Manhattan, anticipating fame and fortune, only to learn that the musical had been shelved, the commercials cancelled.

Devastating as it must have been, this experience brought home the fragile nature of celebrity, and helped Castle to sort out his priorities. Looking round at the broken marriages and estranged children of showbiz cronies, he resolved thenceforward to put his family first. He still remained one of Britain's most popular entertainers, but forsaking international recognition was the price he was prepared to pay.

Roy Castle was born and brought up in Huddersfield, where his father was an insurance salesman and his mother a ladies' hairdresser. An only child, Roy had an early introduction to music with the Huddersfield Choral Society, of which his mother was a keen member, and, from the age of eight, Roy gave amateur concerts as a boy tenor. At 10 he was sent for tap-dancing lessons which, being the only boy, he loathed. He left school at 15, and toured music halls in the north as a song and dance prodigy. He once described himself as 'a Yorkshire Jimmy Osmond'. In 1950, aged 18, he entered the RAF for his National Service, glad to be put in an environment where sport - his first love - took precedence over show business.

By the time he had completed his National Service, Castle had mastered a mean jazz trumpet, and in 1964 he was summoned to London by the producer Val Parnell. Work was scarce, however, and he finished up playing Dick Whittington's cat in pantomime. In the mid-Fifties he was stooge to the veteran comic Jimmy James, wearing an outsize overcoat and a hat rammed down over his ears in a character reminiscent of Stan Laurel. Later, when he worked with Harry Secombe, Castle took to impersonating Laurel, with Secombe well-fitted to play Hardy.

By the start of the 1960s, he had his own radio show, Castle's On the Air, and shortly afterwards his almost whimsical affability found a place in the affections of the British viewing public. For the next 15 years or so he was seldom off the small screen.

When in the last two decades of his career there was less demand for a happy-go-lucky song-and- dance man, Roy Castle - 'Mr Versatility' - cleverly refashioned himself as a television presenter, fronting 16 series of The Record Breakers, based on The Guinness Book of Records. There he won two entries of his own - the first for tap-dancing in 1985 (completing one million taps in 23 hours and 44 minutes) and the second for wing walking (three hours and 23 minutes) on a flight from Gatwick to Paris in 1990. Castle would have preferred to re-emerge as an actor in the way the 1950s television comedians Dave King and Bill Maynard had done, but the opportunities did not come along. His realisation in the 1970s that his time had passed must have been hard to handle, and perhaps led to the well-publicised problems in the Castles' previously harmonious marriage.

Fiona Castle's solution was to find God. Roy and their four children followed suit. God and show business are not the happiest of travelling companions, which might explain Roy Castle's infrequent appearances in recent years. The deeper his commitment to Christianity, the less he needed the transient joys of celebrity.

After he was diagnosed as having lung cancer in 1992 Roy Castle devoted much of his time to warning people of the dangers of passive smoking (he had never been a smoker himself) and to launching a pounds 12m appeal to build a centre for lung cancer research in Liverpool. Only two months ago he undertook a 1,200-mile nationwide 'Tour of Hope' roadshow to raise money for the cause. He also found time to write his autobiography, Roy Castle Now and Then, which is due to be published this autumn, and to release a Christian jazz album with his musician son Ben.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect