Lionel Blair: Veteran entertainer and dancer inspired by Fred Astaire dies aged 92

Entertainment world left shocked by death of ‘generous, compassionate and gifted’ performer

Clémence Michallon,Liam James
Friday 05 November 2021 06:50
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Showbiz veteran Lionel Blair dies aged 92

Entertainer, choreographer and dancer Lionel Blair has died surrounded by his family at the age of 92, his agent said – ending a decades-long stage and television career.

A fixture of show business for decades, Blair was a talent from the old school of variety shows who could turn his hand to almost anything.

He worked as an actor, tap dancer, presenter and choreographer, and was a prominent figure on British television in the latter half of the 20th century – best known for being captain of the men’s team on game show Give Us a Clue.

In recent years, he made appearances on shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and The Real Marigold Hotel.

Tributes flooded in from the worlds of entertainment and broadcasting as news broke of Blair’s death.

Blair on ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’ with Suzanne Danielle

Actor Bonnie Langford tweeted a picture of herself dancing with Blair, adding: “Dear Lionel. Privileged to have been your dance partner.”

Singer Michael Ball said he was “funny, kind, generous, compassionate and gifted”.

“So sad for his family and for our business. A total one off. RIP lovely man,” he tweeted.

Piers Morgan tweeted: “RIP Lionel Blair, 92. A wonderful all-round entertainer & lovely man. Sad news.”

Blair always remained coy over his true age, saying famously on one occasion: “I am 59 plus VAT.”

Blair on the set of ‘Give Us A Clue’ with Michael Parkinson and Liza Goddard in the 1980s

Whatever the date, Blair was born Henry Lionel Ogus in Canada before moving to Britain at the age of two.

He grew up in the Stamford Hill area of north London and was evacuated to Oxford when the Second World War broke out, with his sister Joyce and mother Deborah.

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The family returned to London after witnessing a German plane crash. The event prompted his father, Myer, to call them back to the capital.

“If that can happen there, what’s the point of being in the country away from each other?” Blair said his father told him.

The young Blair got a glimpse of show business by watching the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple at the cinema.

Blair was 13 when his father died after going in for surgery. “It changed everything,” Blair said. “It was the first time I’d ever thought, ‘I’m never going to see him again.’ It was so awful and I don’t think I've ever experienced a loss like it.”

Blair with his younger sister Joyce, an actress, and Sammy Davis Jr at Heathrow Airport in 1966

The entertainer said he had to grow up “artificially fast” following the death of his father.

He began making a name for himself as an actor in the fifties and sixties.

In the West End, he played the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, and had roles in Lady Be Good, Mr Cinders, and Pageant.

He choreographed and appeared in TV shows with stars such as Anthony Newley, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Liza Minnelli, as well as a Royal Variety performance with Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr.

Blair with his wife, Susan, and their son, David in 1969

He and the singer became good friends and Blair selected the singer for an episode of Great Lives on BBC Radio Four in 2010.

Blair also appeared in the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night as a choreographer. However, he is best known for being captain of the men's team on Give Us a Clue, the ITV game show.

He reprised the role in a 2011 Comic Relief special and was back on screens for Celebrity Big Brother in 2014. He spent 15 days in the house, exiting third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.

Blair married his wife Susan in March 1967. He once said the secret to a successful marriage is memories.

He died in the early hours on Thursday morning, his agent said, and is survived by Susan and their three children and three grandchildren.

Additional reporting by agencies

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