Carmell Jones
Cedar Walton: Interview 1

Carole MacGrath

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Interviewer: Well what it is we’re doing interviews as part of a project looking at how – it’s really a celebration I suppose of the communities that developed around Jazz – a lot of sort of Jazz history has been discussed in terms of the principal performers, and one of the things we’re trying to do is look at some of the Jazz clubs that developed, dance troops, people who put together journals, magazines, fan club material, so it’s all about those kind of support mechanisms if you like for the music, which is why we’re particularly interested in your background with the Bluebell girls.

Carole: Right, because I spoke to Nicky and I said ‘Tell me more about this man.’ She said ‘I don’t know anything’.

Interviewer: [laughs].

Carole: She said ‘He just came and we do talks here, there and everywhere’. She said ‘He came along just like that.’ I said, because I told her I was meeting you today, and I said ‘I know nothing about this Jazz whatever it is’.

Interviewer: Oh OK, it’s the National Jazz Archive. I’m just one of its trustees, basically.

Carole: So I mean you say is it going to a magazine or it’s going into what?

Interviewer: No, we’re just collecting Interviews that researchers will hopefully be able to use. I mean I saw for example, there is one biography, of Margaret Kelly. I’m quite sure that at some point in the future somebody will want to do more research on the Bluebells girls…

Carole: Oh I see.

Interviewer: And this interview will form part of the erm,

Carole: Because you did see the series on television didn’t you?

Interviewer: I think there was a series in about 1986 or so was there? Yeah.

Carole: We did the whole story and it was even for me being here it was an eye opener because she was there all during the war.

Interviewer: Yeah, absolutely.

Carole: It’s only because she had an Irish passport that she was allowed to stay there

Interviewer: Ah yes really, cause she was born in Ireland but actually brought up in Liverpool, that’s’ right.

Carole: By her Aunt. We never ever heard her discuss her parents or anything like this so what happened to her parents I don’t know.

Interviewer: Really?

Carole: She married Leibovici he was Hungarian, Hungarian or Romanian and of course when the Germans moved in, he was put in prison camp.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carole: And he had a little diary that he wrote everything down.

Interviewer: Oh, OK.

Carole: He showed us it. He used to hide it underneath the toilet seat [laughs]. And then of course, he escaped and she had a friend looking after him in Paris, not knowing she was also working for the Germans, but because Bluebell paid her more, she kept quiet about Leibo and carried on her terrible ways of betraying everybody else, but that’s the only reason Leibo escaped going back to prison is because Bluebell didn’t know about this and just paid more for him to be hidden away.

Interviewer: Really? How fascinating. Now, I saw and I don’t how correct it is – the film - the last - it’ll come to me in a minute, anyway,

Carole: You know what it’s called? Age.

Interviewer: [laughs] that’s right you’re absolutely right.

Carole: Don’t worry cause I’m exactly the same.

Interviewer: It’ll come back to me. Anyway to go back to the beginning of your kind of involvement, let’s start right at the beginning.

Carole: With Bluebell?

Interviewer: Well with you actually, you’re from Romford originally, is that right?

Carole: Yes I was born in the hospital in Stratford in Queen Mary’s in Stratford cause my parents were Londoners, right. And in those days you had your baby nearest your grandmother, so that’s why I was born up there. But no, Romford was my home, I was there during the war. I had rheumatic fever courtesy of Hitler, cause the shelters were so damp. I had an Indian doctor.

Interviewer: So you were still quite young in the war, were you or?

Carole: I was 6 months when it started.

Interviewer: Oh, right.

Carole: So all I ever knew was the war. And when I was about 2 I had the rheumatic fever. My doctor saved my life. My Indian doctor saved my life. I remember pain in my legs, they were bent right up, and he used to come every day, and make me walk around a table. And I remember holding by my fingertips with my bent legs walking round the table, screaming in agony but because of him, he used to massage my legs, my legs became straight. After some time he said ‘She mustn’t swim, she mustn’t get damp, she must dance. Because of her heart and because of her muscles. So that’s how I started dancing at the age of 2, 2 ½, 3. And I went to the local dancing school and eventually ended up at Bush Davis, which is Romford, the biggest - the best dance school in the Country as my local school, so I went to school in Romford, straight to Bush Davis after school – 4 O’clock - arrived home at 7, half past 7. And my parents had a shop in Victoria Road they had a ‘Do It Yourself’ shop. And to help them I used to have to work there on a Saturday selling screws, dolls house fittings, ‘Hold this lump of wood while I saw it’, and gradually this is how I went in to pantomime with friends at Eastham And Hackney Empire, that was my first pantomime and that was ‘Dick Whittington’, and the following hear I was up with Norman Evans and two of my friends up at Newcastle, meanwhile I came back to Bush, and I like teaching as well so I was teaching the younger students, and there was a phone call, ‘Carole, there’s a man on the phone for you’ So ‘Hello Carole, is it true your measurements are 36 24 36?’. ‘Yes’.

Interviewer: That’s a good opening line [laughs].

Carole: And you know ‘aah’ like who is looking at me? And it turned out to be Peter Baker from the agent of Bluebell, but my aunt had seen in the paper that Kenneth Hall wanted dancers for his television show that he was going to produce and he realised I was too tall - Kenneth Hall - and sent all my measurements and everything to Peter Baker. So this is hence I got a phone call and that’s how I joined the Bluebells.

Interviewer: Cause there was a sort of height restriction I think I’m right in saying with the Bluebells is that right?

Carole: Yes, you had to be 5 foot 8 1/2, 5 foot 9 and over. I was 5 foot 9 so I was alright and you had to have long legs and short body so several of my friends who I hoped would be with me didn’t get in because they either didn’t have long legs or they didn’t fit in, they weren’t the right height, and this is how I joined the Bluebells.

Interviewer: So it was the other way round then with the other dance troops was it with sort of Ballet and things like that actually generally they wanted smaller women was that?

Carole: Bluebell was wonderful as she realised if you put tall girls in costumes, they look wonderful. If you put shorter girls in the costumes, they don’t look the same. So it’s the long legs and the high cut costumes and the feathers, and we used to look about 7 foot tall, along with 5” heels. So I was just very, very lucky. I got there. Eventually I was supposed to be going to America, my parents, wouldn’t let me go cause I fell in love with an American. They got in touch with Bluebell and said ‘She’s not going’. So I was back in Paris, stayed there for a couple of years, and Miss Davis, Bush Davis got in touch with me, I think my parents had had a word because being an only child, they missed me terribly, and she said ‘If you want a job when you come back, come and teach at Bush Davis’. So I joined, eventually, I mean I did television with Bluebell, I did films, I met everybody who was everybody, but this is part of life, like some people have banker friends and the banks all keep together, entertainers do, and it was just the way of life.

Interviewer: So did you have to audition or were you just accepted on your recommendation, with Bluebell?

Carole: With Bluebell? I went up after I had that phone call from Peter. I had the phone call with him and he said ‘I want you to come and meet me’. He said ‘I want you to come up to Soho.’ And I my reaction was. ‘Only if my father can come as well’. ‘Yes, darling. Old Compton Street, Greek street?’ My father was the most loving, down to earth person. Show business wasn’t in his life at all, and going up to London was – ‘Going to London?’ I mean he was used to going to his wholesalers in Hackney and getting everything he needed for the shop but ‘Go to London? Trains?’, and walking through from Greek street to Compton Street to Peter’s office, there was the ladies of the night. And my father looked like this as we went past the door, you know to see these girls, women standing trying to encourage people in. My father was very, very good looking, he was very similar to Rock Hudson. But he didn’t realise this, as you can imagine all the girls and the women going – and I suddenly think ‘Good, gracious, my father’s a man.’

We went upstairs to the office in Old Greek Street. And there's a large desk and behind this desk is this old man, dark hair, grey temples, all of 40 – Peter Baker. But for me at 17 he was an old man. So Dad and I went in and Peter started discussing the Bluebells and he said to me ‘Would I go in to the room’, and it was just a little office and ‘get changed’ and when I came out ‘Will you do hitch kicks, will you do splits, will you do this, will you do a spin.’ And it was only a tiny little office, which I did, and he seemed to be pleased. And then another man came in and his name was John Smith. And he stopped and saw what I was doing, and said to Peter, ‘I want her.’ And he said ‘No, she’s going to go to Bluebell’. ‘But I want her’. He was doing the - you know they have up in Scotland, they have this once a year- Edinburgh – they have a show. He said ‘I want her up there.’ And Peter said ‘No you can’t have her, I want her, she’s going to go to Bluebell’. And this is the first thing I knew about ‘I’m going to Bluebell?’ and then out came the programme and I saw the Bluebells.

Interviewer: Did you know anything about the Bluebells before?

Carole: [noise to denote No]. No. I mean I loved the films, the dancing films. Gene Kelly– wonderful, you know and to see these girls in these costumes and my father looked at the costume and looked at me, and thought ‘My daughter is gonna be one of those?’ and me thinking ‘Good, God, that’s what I’m going to be?’ and so it was kind of a – you lived your life then in the clouds – ‘What’s it all about?’ nothing sunk in. You know I’m going to London with dad, going on the underground, the ladies of the night, this is a completely new world to me and he said ‘But the one thing you’ve got to do,’ he said ‘You’ve got to go on the banana and milk diet’ - this is Peter Baker. ‘Banana and Milk?’ I didn’t know it but he did this to everybody. ‘And what I want you to do is you can drink as many pints of milk as you like, you can have as many bananas as you like but that’s all you can have for 48 hours’. – ‘Doesn’t sound too bad’. I preferred Mum’s steak and everything else and he said ‘Also I want you to go to ‘Boots’ and he said ‘I want you to get 3 bags, 7 lb. bags of Epsom salts. ‘Epsom salts? ‘And he saw the horror look on my face and he said ‘You haven’t got to drink it, it’s alright, I want you to get in to the bath, run a bath as hot as you can, pour in 1 bag and then get in, as hot as you can.’ Well eventually, yes I did, and the idea is it’s like the saunas, you perspire and get rid of all the impurities from the skin and things like this, but when you stood up, you’re crimson from your chin all the way down, you slept the night away so easily.

And I used to arrive at Bush with my pints of milk, my bunches of bananas, all the girls went on it as well. And eventually I got a phone call ‘Will you please come up again, I want you to meet Leibovici, Bluebell’s husband, he’s coming over.’ So up I went, I met this gorgeous looking blond – Mary, and she was auditioning for a nude, and she was in the tiniest, tiniest bikini. Now our audition was to see Leibo,, we went in to the bowels of Old Compton Street, one of the old clubs, and the smell of beer and the tables all around and centre floor, and Mary was walking backwards and forwards in her bikini, and Peter said ‘ would you go and get changed’, and I could see the back of this man looking like a toad, because he looked very much like Yul Brunner, he was completely bald, biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen, immaculate suit, jewellery, leather shoes. He was absolutely – gave me the creeps you know but as I said he was Bluebell’s husband so I went in to the dressing room but though the crack of the door I could see what was going on, and I watched my father watch and there was Mary twisting and turning and Leib told her to go to the back of the stage, to the back of the floor which she did, and he took her bra off her, and started feeling her boobs. Well I could also see my father’s face ‘What?’ you know and I thought ‘dad is a normal man’,

Interviewer: [laughs]

Carole: Because my father as far as I was concerned - was dad. He wasn’t interested in nudes or anything like this but to suddenly see and he suddenly thought ‘Good God, this is not going to happen to my daughter!’ So anyway I came back in, and they were talking, and dad was just watching and listening, and I was asked to do several steps for Leibo but I had my clothes on but he said ‘Right’ he said to Mary ‘You’re going to Paris on Saturday, Carole you’re going on Sunday’. ‘Right, OK, Paris – me?’ Dad looked again and that was the beginning of me going out to join Bluebell. Mary became a very, very good friend of mine. I caught the plane, I mean all the family came down and saw me off, I mean I felt like the queen and this is my aunts, cousins, everybody. And I got on a plane, I’d been on a plane once before, but ‘Going to Paris? Me?’ and I was very, very nervous wondering exactly what was going on, though I’d seen the programme of the Lido. You know it didn’t register it was real, you see things in books and you think ‘Yes. ‘And Mary met me with somebody else at the airport, it was a girl we called ‘Kidneys’ cause she always going ‘Oh, my kidneys hurt.’ And we were taken then to Leibo’s home, just off the Champs Elyse. Bluebell wasn’t the motherly type, she was just like ‘Hello’. I had to take a large bag of tea over as well because it was so expensive over in Paris. Her daughter Florence was there who was then about 9 or 10 watching television. Bluebell spoke to us for about quarter of an hour, 20 minutes, and then we were taken by the taxi driver to a guesthouse type hotel just off the Champs Elyse, and that’s where I met several of the girls.

Interviewer: Yeah absolutely.

Carole: But you can imagine it was a world I’d never seen before, and Mary said ‘Oh you’ll love the show, it’s wonderful, I watched it last night.’ And she said ‘I’m going on tonight’ and I thought but ‘You only arrived the day before me’. She said ‘You’re seeing the show tonight and you’re going on tomorrow’. ‘What?’ You know it was…,

Interviewer: So this wasn’t rigorous rehearsals before you?

Carole: Well,

Interviewer: Or was it?

Carole: It was just a complete shock.

Interviewer: Yeah,

Carole: And as I said I met the rest of the girls, some were staying in hotels, some had their own flats who had been there with Bluebell for a long time. One thing with Bluebell you weren’t allowed to go out with any members of the cast. Apart from the girls, you weren’t allowed to go out with any of the waiters or anybody. Couple of them did, couple of them were married to the waiters but that was strict with her, there was no way, she knew exactly where you were, what you were doing, she had all her spies. Cause if you think about it all these girls she was responsible for.

Interviewer: Was there also a male troop as well – Kelly’s boys or something?

Carole: They hadn’t started yet. There were boy dancers but later on. There were Kelly’s boys. I’ll show you the programme, and we were walking down from the hotel, down the Champs Elyse and I was used to talking to my friends down here you know ‘chat, chat, chat’ and I turned around to chat, and of course these girls were as tall as me, and they were up here and suddenly shoulders went back, head went up, and you’re talking away, and all you could hear going down the Champs Elyse were the audience, the crowd saying ‘They’re the Bluebells’, ‘They’re the Bluebells’ and I thought ‘I’m gonna be a Bluebell, I’m one of them’. It was such a – you were celebrities, because you were all tall, you had your hair up, and down the Champs Elyse you would go, into the Lido Arcade, I followed the girls in, and there was a row of dustbins, and I went to go on the opposite side, where people were going in in their furs, and everything and I was grabbed as our stage door was behind the dustbins, so I was dragged in there, down the flights of stairs because the Lido itself is underground, completely underground, so you had a long walk down the stairs past the stage door, and you could smell water, you could hear water running, cold, because I’d rather have spent more time looking over the side, they were actually getting fireworks ready, freezing up the ice rink, and they had another lot with fountains in, and it looked absolutely fascinating, and they were working on all this, got down to the bottom, went to go to the left, there’s piles and piles of lemonade, coke - they were for us, we could have as many as we wanted to. Enter the little tiny dressing rooms and there is about 5 or 6 to a dressing room because there were 8-12 nudes and 16 dancers all here, there and everywhere, and I sat down beside the costumes, and the girls are putting their make up on - like the Hollywood films with the bulbs all the way round, everybody chatting to you, ‘Where are you from?’ – ‘England’ you know. ‘What part of England, what dancing school?’ Watching the girls get dressed in these tiny little pants, they were just elastic and then in to the tights, the costume, the 5“ heels.

And then John Louis would come in, and John Louis was the hairdresser, checking everybody’s hair was up, he’d have his wet lump of cotton wool that he would sweep up and pin any elusive hair that was out. The dressers were there dressing everybody – ‘Breathe in', getting hold and squeezing in and in and in until it’d meet. The costumes inside were canvas, so they could put it in and you had about 9 rows of hooks and eyes, and there’d probably be about 2 or 3 dressers, 1 pushing from the front and the sides, closing it right up, they were for the dancers so in other words where you were 5 foot 8, 5 foot 9, 5 foot - you virtually were 6 foot. And along would come Johnny once your hair was up and put the crown on with the feathers, you had your high heels on so therefore you were 6 foot plus, and there was I watching all this thinking ‘Good, God is this really happening?’ and then Bluebell came in and she was about 5 foot 5, and she spoke with a lisp and nodded to everybody and she said to me ‘You’ve got rehearsals at 12 o’clock tomorrow with Val because you’re taking her place.’ I didn’t know that Val had gone over as a' Swing girl', now a 'Swing girl', is a girl that takes the place of anyone that’s on holiday.

Interviewer: Oh I see.

Carole: So this is why I was going to have to learn with Val. Not only was I going to learn from her, I was going to wear her costumes as well. So if you imagine, some have got high boobs, some have got low boobs, so the dressers had a job trying to get everything ready for the following day, anyway eventually we went in to the auditorium, and the people – first of all dancing, having food, they kind of looked at me cause I was standing underneath the spotlight where Bluebell had told me to stand, and then suddenly, ‘Please will everybody clear the floor and then the lights went low and dark – black and I’m grabbing hold of something to hold on to cause really you couldn’t see and suddenly there was a blast of noise, curtains open, the colour of gold, lights everywhere. The girls all came tumbling on to the stage, all doing their different routines, the nudes were there, half costumes, the boys, there were about half a dozen of the boys, and you’re kind of, it was, I can’t really put in to words, cause even now I keep thinking it was just lights! Music! Girls! And every time the girls passed me they smiled, so in the end the people that were watching, thinking ‘Oh what’s she doing?’ you know. ‘They're acknowledging her’ and one number after another, there were fireworks, there were fountains. You name it, that was it.

Bluebell came for me during the break and said ‘Come back’ and the girls said ‘What do you think?’ and I said ‘I don’t know what to say’. They said ‘It’s alright, we all felt like this’, and then I went out and watched the second half, and the second half they used to – the ‘Nitwits’ were in it, have you heard of the ‘Nitwits’?

Interviewer: Yes.

Carole: They were in it, there were conjurers - you name it. Then of course night time came and we all had a taxi back to our hotel. The following morning I had to phone down but I didn’t know the word for breakfast so I waited until about half past 12, 1 O’clock and one of the girls poked her head round – ‘you alright?’ I said ‘I don’t know what breakfast is’. So in the end I had a petite dish and off to rehearsal I went. Stop it for a moment.

Interviewer: That’s alright.

Interviewer: I was just gonna ask you. When you did rehearsals, did you do that with the full band or was it just somebody at piano or somebody clapping time or?

Carole: No. That was the terrifying thing cause I thought you know we’d have music and there was I – I tried the costume on and then the dressers were set to work on it but Valerie and I started working on a routine. Now if you imagine, there’s 16 girls, you’re gonna be one of them and Val was trying to teach me my routine. I hadn’t got the faintest idea, and I had to imagine - we worked in a block a lot of the time because you’ve got the audience on three sides and different routines were different, but the first one I learnt was the opening in a block: forward, back, side, side and I had to learn the steps, I had to learn the head movement, I had to learn absolutely everything to – ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8’ knowing not what music really, not knowing what costume, it really was a nightmare. Quite truthfully I wanted to cry but you don’t do that sort of thing because when you’re teaching dancing, you get down to the nitty gritty and you at least know the tempo, and you know the rhythm but with this, with Val, and she was a terrible teacher, oh she was awful. I had to do about 5 numbers; I had to learn 5 numbers for that night and about 5 different costumes. So from there I went home, and I said to the girls ‘I’m not doing it’, they said ‘You will’. I said ‘I won’t do it. I can’t remember the tunes or anything like this’. They were all kind of well familiar tunes, and trying to get the costumes on and do quick changes, well that night came – I did it but I felt terrible, and the girls were wonderful they’d say ‘hup 2, 3, 4, turn, 2, 3, 4, right, 2, 3, 4, left, 2, 3, 4’ and they were saying it to me all the time, and that was my first night. I had a week of rehearsing with Val, trying to get all the routines and all the costumes. Once I knew what I was doing, I was fine but it was a nightmare, it really was, an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

Interviewer: You were staying in a hotel to begin with, was that throughout or?

Carole: It was like a hotel, it was like a guest house. I had a room to myself and we all had a room to our self, and there was about 4 or 5 of us staying in the same place. And we’d go out and have something to eat together, and go in to each other’s rooms and learn

Interviewer: And this was organised by the troop, you didn’t have to organise it yourself or anything like that, the accommodation?

Carole: No, no, this was organised by Bluebell – where you stayed.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carole: But the girls and had all been in the same business, some had been with Bluebell for years, and this is my first week, gradually I settled down but it was frightening, it was a complete nightmare. I mean I was used to pantomime you know, where you knew all the work, it was so simple. I didn’t meet him at the time but the choreographer was American – Don Arden and he had - the choreography was fantastic but nothing I’d seen on films, nothing I knew anything of and it was – I felt as though I was in a nightmare you know because when you know what you’re doing, and you know the people around you – that’s fine but when you don’t- and you don’t want to let them down, and you knew Blue would be out there watching, and if you put a foot wrong. Also you had the audience, it’s not as if like had like the stage, you worked on the square with the audience, I mean an audience – someone could have grabbed your foot you know. I mean, later on, when we were dancing, the men would go ‘Aaah’ like this and you’d look at them and the wife would go - [laughs] and she appreciated it because we were somebody’s dream, we were somebody’s fantasy and the thing that made us what we were, were the costumes, the height we were, and how we could dance, we were lucky, and you’d see the loving wife who’s been working with her husband, looking after the children in Paris, and there is the husband ogling these most wonderful things, and you’re thinking you want to say to them ‘It’s only make up’ because it was only make up.

Interviewer: So this was what – 1957 was it - when you were first with them was it?

Carole: I’ll tell you. Are you feeling strong? You did ask me to bring them.

Interviewer: I did indeed. What I have before me just for the tape is what I can’t really describe as a scrapbook; you must have a better word for it than that because it’s beautifully presented.

Carole: One of this, one of my mothers, cause I taught dancing after that, one of my mothers, said ‘Give me your photographs, I’ll sort it out or you’ and she did this,

Interviewer: So we’ve got a wonderful book of photographs and…

Carole: But you’ll find the date, that’s the Lido programme.

Interviewer: The Lido programme is the first entry,

Carole: That’s when I was there.

Interviewer: So this is, is there a date on that?

Carole: If you turn over,

Interviewer: Yep.

Carole: Right, that photograph there was 1958. And that was the one that Bluebell got sent, so that’s why I said check the date.

Interviewer: Ok, so ’58, it was a year later than I thought, yeah OK, and of course at the time your name was Saunders. Yeah?

Carole: Yes, and that was the publicity photographs we used to have to send for auditions and everything.

Interviewer: And at the time was there just the one Bluebell troop, because I think there were periods where there were…?

Carole: She had a touring troop, ones who were a wee bit shorter were the touring troop and they were doing France, Italy and eventually later on in the 60’s they went to the States but no, she had the…

Interviewer: Was there, I mean obviously this would take quite a bit of organising I would have thought. Was there a sort of team of people who did all the sort of administration or whatever?

Carole: No,

Interviewer: Or was it all just done by Bluebell and her husband?

Carole: Bluebell and her husband? Yes, yes. She was a remarkable woman. There is a story about her when she was - during the war, and she was cycling down the Champs Elyse and there was a battle between one side of the Champs Elyse and the other, and she just picked her feet up and put them on the handlebars, put her head down and shot down the Champs Elyse, between the battle going on, she was a right – you know – how can I say, we were scared of her.

Interviewer: I was gonna say what was the relationship like with her and the troop?

Carole: Oh yes, yes, you see she was 5 foot 5, they all tried to say Bluebell was tall but she wasn’t, she was 5 foot 5. She was out there in Paris when the war started, working as a dancer, realised that tall girls looked ten times better in the costumes and so she started us with tall dancers, and of course it caught on like wildfire

Interviewer: And mostly English dancers I think?

Carole: English dancers were the best dancers.

Interviewer: That was the reason was it? Yeah.

Carole: We were the best dancers, there were a couple of, French were, Paulette was French but she wasn’t a patch on the rest of them, and a lot of the nudes were French or German. There was a couple of German girls in our troop - a lot of fun but the majority of us were English, and we would have 6 weeks holiday a year but not in one lump sum, we could have 3 weeks or 2 weeks and then 2 weeks. This is why she wanted – us to take over everybody’s part.

Interviewer: So you were on a full time contract basically was it yeah?

Carole: Yes.

Interviewer: Just looking at a few more photographs here.

Carole: What Janine did.

Interviewer: And we’ve got a photograph here of a number of women –boarding a Pan Am aeroplane?

Carole: They are the ones that were going off to Las Vegas - the American tour.

Interviewer: Oh OK so this is the troop that yep,

Carole: I wasn’t allowed to go. Now in the next photograph…

Interviewer: This was of course because of your father wasn’t happy with you going? Did he ever find that he had ever second thoughts as it were? It must’ve been you know,

Carole: He missed me like anything. He had the shop but we had the caravan and boat down at Hullbridge and I’d be there with my parents every weekend, and being the only child suddenly I wasn’t there and I was doing something that he wanted me to do but he wanted me in two places. He was ill a couple of times. Mum didn’t tell me but he was pining for me. Gradually got over it. Now you can see the difference in height of Bluebell.

Interviewer: So you've got Bluebell in the middle there and…

Carole: That’s my nose under your finger; I’m on the corner there,

Interviewer: Oh right, again that’s from 1958.

Carole: That’s one of my Bluebell ones. One of the stage hands took that.

Interviewer: Ok a photograph there,

Carole: We did a number of sword fighting.

Interviewer: And we’ve got a newspaper cutting about Margaret Kelly.

Carole: Yes.

Interviewer: Miss Bluebell herself. This is a later cutting from 1967. Cause how many years where you with the troop?

Carole: 3 years.

Interviewer: 3 years. So you left what 60/61 something like that. I understand there was a kind of reunion of the Bluebell girls a few years ago, now probably about 10 years ago now. Where you involved in that for her 100th birthday? No? Or what would’ve been 100th birthday I think she died before that didn’t she - Margaret Kelly.

Carole: Yes.

Interviewer: And, another photograph of Margaret Kelly

Carole: And the girls,

Interviewer: Yes, and then we’ve got,

Carole: The audience… you see like everybody used to watch the dancers; we use to look for stars. I mean I remember coming off the stage one time and saying ‘There’s a beautiful blond I mean she’s absolutely gorgeous, have you seen her?’ and they started giggling, I said ‘What’s wrong?’ they said ‘Carole, that’s Bambi’ ‘Well what’s Bambi?’ ‘From the Crazy Horse, it’s not a her it’s a him’, and absolutely gorgeous. I mean alright there was Esther Williams and her husband Ben Cage, there was Johnny Ray - he fell for one of the girls. And he was nearly under the table going ‘Oeaay’ every time she came on. Her father was editor of Evening Standard I think, she was always in the paper, but she came from Redbridge, or Wanstead, she was lovely – she was a lovely dancer but Johnny Ray was completely besotted by her. They watched us. We watched them. ‘Can you see who’s in tonight, can you see those diamonds?’ you know, we met all the stars that way, and then there would be parties. There would suddenly be - ‘There’s a party at xyz, there’ll be a taxi’, so after the show which would be about 2 o’clock in the morning, about 2 /3 o’clock in the morning, we’d go off to a party, get back and it’s a wonder we didn’t all have panda eyes, but as I said to you we – show business people stick together and it didn’t matter. Yes I met Elvis lots of times but he was over there doing his national service in Germany, and he’d come up and he liked one of the twins, and we all just mixed in – Frank Sinatra – what’s his name? Dean and my favourite, his singer with him - Sammy Davis Junior.

Interviewer: Oh OK.

Carole: You know we’d all just go to the party, dance around together and have fun.

Interviewer: Must’ve been an interesting time for you cause you’ve got that cross-over period where Jazz is on the way out, Rock n’ Roll is coming in.

Carole: Well Elvis,

Interviewer: Of course the British thing, well Elvis is still doing his national service then as you say.

Carole: Yes and who is it – Jim Dale, was our Rock n’ Roll singer in England cause we used to say ‘Ha, ha, ha’ to him, ‘we’ve got Jim Dale’ but he’s not a real Rock singer. Anyway, teasing but it was – they respected us, we respected them. The one thing we weren’t allowed to do, Bluebell used to say – ‘You’re not to ask them for their autograph’. ‘Fair enough’. If ever she found out that anybody had got their autograph, she’d be furious because she believed that they should relax like everybody else. Just because they’re stars doesn’t mean to say – alright you respected them but don’t worry them.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carole: Let them relax like you relax. Yes they’re, I mean the one thing I found very hard was Rock n’ Roll, learning to do Rock n’ Roll, because to me I was used to ‘slow, slow, quick, quick, slow’, and that’s where I really learnt to Rock n’ Roll over in Paris, at parties.

Interviewer: I was gonna say, you’d dance socially as well on the stage.

Carole: Oh yes. Only, there was one of Frank Sinatra’s carer’s that liked me, and I wasn’t interested in him, I really wasn’t, and I was walking past him and he started singing ‘The one that got away’, and I looked down and he looked and he just grinned cause I wasn’t interested in his carer at all, and I got away. So that’s the sort of life we had.

Interviewer: And were you based at the Lido all the time that you were there or was there any other venues that?

Carole: No because I was gonna go on the American tour and Dad wouldn’t let me go; and she’d had my name down for it, I came away from - she crossed me off the Lido, and she was putting a troop in to the Moulin Rouge, so I went in the Moulin Rouge which wasn’t a patch– I mean it’s very good now but it wasn’t a patch to how the Lido, it really wasn’t. But then I danced for the ‘Can Can girls’ and that was fun because they were all French, their costumes were original, original costumes and they respected us because we did every type of dance and at the same time that’s when we did the film. We did several films and one of them was [laughs] ‘Nudes of the world’, a film that came out and thank goodness – it was Bluebell’s as well – I went to see it at the cinema one time when I got home and I am thinking, ‘Thank goodness I didn’t become a nude’, because there were lots of my friends – you know who were in the film in the background – nude, and there was me in my dancer’s costume but one – I told you about the girl called Kidneys, who met me off the plane, well she didn’t – the nudes kept on saying to us ‘You’re daft – you work so hard as dancers, why don’t you switch to becoming a nude?’ Because all they did was walk round there in the [inaudible]. Anyway I wouldn’t. I used to say ‘No, I’m English I keep my clothes on’. But this girl didn’t, she didn’t tell her parents. Her parents came over with a group of friends, they were all sitting at the table you know watching the show, and their daughter came on as a nude – she was on the next plane home. Her father didn’t mind sitting watching everybody else in the nude,

Interviewer: [laughs] yeah sure. Everybody’s daughter.

Carole: But he wasn’t going to have his daughter, so…

Interviewer: Cause I think I’m right in saying the Bluebells at least are believed to have pioneered the topless routines – is that how it was? Yeah.

Carole: That was after I’d come away.

Interviewer: Oh it was after your period was it?

Carole: I mean I went over with a couple of friends, got free tickets, to see the show and I spoke to Bluebell, lots of the girls, the Bluebells were dancing nude, and I said ‘I couldn’t have done that’ so she said ‘A lot of girls didn’t want to do that’, and they had a different choreographer, and I said ‘It’s not as good as it used to be and she said ‘No’. The standard kind of dropped when it became more of a burlesque rather than fantastic dancers, costumes, it was more ‘Look at your tits and things like this’ which…

Interviewer: This is what, sort of early 60’s presumably when it changed over was it or a bit later?

Carole: Later than that because as I say I went over with a couple of my friends to see it and,

Interviewer: Yeah, no I’m alright.

Carole: No I said to her ‘The choreographer is not the same’ the choreography was halved. What would happen, they had 2 shows – 1, 2. They would last a year. The first show would become the second show, and they’d bring in another first show. So if anybody came over to Paris the following year, there was still a show for them to see. The one that they discarded, they’re the ones that they put costumes in for girls that were touring round but what would happen was, we’d finish the show - 2,3 o’clock in the morning, then it would start, we’d have something to eat, Don would come, and we would start rehearsing new routines, new costumes, everything for the next show, and then we would just curl up on settees or whatever there was around in the Lido to have a nap, before we would carry on working. So in other words, we were virtually doing a 24-hour day but we had to get the second show, the second show, had to go. The new show had to come in so the first, second and the other one had to go, so we had to learn new choreography all the time – that was exhausting because if things didn’t, I know we’d finish one number and we’d go ‘ohh, it’s the Russian number, thank God for that’ and Blue and myself went up to Don and said ‘I don’t like it’. So he said ‘Nor do I, right cancel that one, we’ll start again’. And we had to have a new set of costumes made and we had to learn another complete routine because that was perfection in her eyes and Don’s eyes. He was very, very good but it was hard work. But when you’ve got something - people didn’t just come to see the stars that were at the Lido, they came to see the Bluebells, the Nudes, because it was the top show around, and we were English, we were the best dancers, and we were very proud of that but that was exhausting, and sometimes we had television work to do as well as that you know – French television - but the thing that was strange was, we were the first troop that did Eurovision.

Interviewer: Oh, OK.

Carole: It was strange that we were in France and Richard Dimbleby and that lot were watching us rehearse and giving us correction from England over the speakers, and it was lovely for my parents cause my parents couldn’t leave the shop, or anything like this, and all my relatives were watching televise seeing me, just as one expects dancing on television, and they thought that was fascinating, and the following day I came home and I remember my cousin: ‘But I saw you on television last night and here you are.’

Interviewer: Do you know if a video of that survives at all?

Carole: I don’t know but that was Eurovision.

Interviewer: Probably a bit early.

Carole: It was with Georges Guetary and he was the one in London that did ‘Bless the Bride’ you know the musical ‘Bless the Bride’? And he was the lead in that and he was singing while we were dancing but no that was strange but the majority of it became life – boring as well, like anything you get used to it but…

Interviewer: As time went by did you find yourself teaching other newcomers to take over your routines?

Carole: Ah, yes now you see I found that easier, I’m a natural teacher, I can teach anybody anything. The one thing people can’t do - I can’t work out computers, I can’t work out mobile phones, I can’t work them – right? But once I know something, I can teach anybody anything, and I love it, and when I came back to Bush, a couple of the girls I taught - Mary Anne went out to- she became one of the ‘Tiller girls’ and then when I started my own school someone went out to the Moulin Rouge – there’s a photograph of Vicky at the back, they went out - just flick through these, I just… these are the German twins - absolutely beautiful looking and Elvis fell for one of these.

Interviewer: Oh yes. Ellen and Alice.

Carole: Ellen and Alice. But as I said, I love teaching. Vicky went out and she joined the Moulin Rouge, not with Bluebell, she wasn’t tall enough for Bluebell, she joined the Doris dancers but she knew the work cause she got it from me and I had her from when he was 8, and it was lovely going over to Paris and seeing Vicky dancing and thinking ‘I taught her that’. ‘The Nitwits’.

Now this - we were all on discs which lit up, see how we are in the heights and that was a swine of a number as we had to come off there, and we had to work in a block ‘h’up 2,3,4’, down 2,3‘, and at the end 2 cradles would come down over the heads of the audience. One group would go over one side, one over the other, and we would stand and there were just metal struts and they were all fighting to get our finger or thumb steady because it would rock, and suddenly the fireworks would go off and they’d come shooting out and we’d suddenly [she sniffs] ‘Oh my God’, and our feathers would singe and the audience are looking at us and we’re going [she sniffs] - but it used to ‘swaay’.

Interviewer: Amazing costumes.

Carole: £500 each these costumes. Real fox fur. That was the - remember I was telling you about, that’s the cradle we were in and these are struts and we’d be fighting to get our thumbs round or our back thumb round so we didn’t fall over.

Interviewer: I wonder actually if it would be possible to get a copy of this? I’m quite sure you don’t want to part with the original.

Carole: Oh I won’t let it go.

Interviewer: [laughs] no, but whether or not it would be possible to get a copy of this just for research purposes for the Archive.

Carole: Oh I don’t know I’d have to think about it.

Interviewer: Oh it’s OK, I will leave you to think on it. There is wonderful material here, beautiful photographs.

Carole: This is the swimming pool. The girls are swimming, the nudes were swimming. There’s the pool.

Interviewer: Yeah, so actually you've got sort of a tub with a glass front. Is that what basically I am looking at? With them swimming in it?

Carole: No, you’re looking down on it, there’s a huge mirror back here and it’s reflecting.

Interviewer: Oh I see, right.

Carole: There are the nudes. The ice rink, skaters. Four of the boys.

Interviewer: So you had an ice rink as well in the Lido, it’s an amazing stage set up you’ve got, rotating floors, swimming pools,

Carole: Marge and Michael, Mike. Now Bruce was wonderful because one time,

Interviewer: Bruce Cartwright OK?

Carole: You could talk to him about anything and one time I had the ‘curse’ and Bluebell was really sitting on me and he said to Bluebell, ‘Leave her alone’, and for once, she did, anyway I was talking to him one time and I said, cause he was queer, ‘Bruce, why are you like it?’ and he said ‘ Carole, why have you got brown eyes?’ so I said ‘I was born like it’ and that said everything, and they were great, and really they all had to be queer, because the places that they put their hands on these, no red blooded males.

Interviewer: These are all the male dancers yeah?

Carole: Yes. He was American, he was Italian, so was he – Rene – he went to Hollywood afterwards because sometimes I’ve seen films and at the title at the end, I’ve seen his name.

Interviewer: So that’s Rene Sartoris.

Carole: Now you see I didn’t know anything about queers.

Interviewer: Manalo.

Carole: Manola

Interviewer: I don’t know how to pronounce that – Rolta is that?

Carole: I don’t know, it just,

Interviewer: Yeah. Edvard Fleming.

Carole: He was Swedish. That’s just,

Interviewer: And some more programmes and advertising material from the Lido.

Carole: Oh that’s when I got married.

Interviewer: Now this is your wedding. Now we’ve got newspaper cuttings from Carole’s Wedding. So what year are we in now? Is this after your time with,

Carole: ’61.

Interviewer: So you left the Bluebells and got married pretty much straight away as it were?

Carole: I’d known him since I was 8.

Interviewer: Aha, yeah. Was that sort of generally the way that most of the Bluebells weren't married or?

Carole: Toni was married, [Inaudible] was married, she was married to the cook. There was about 2 or 3. Val whose place I took she was living with one of the members of the orchestra. But the majority of us weren’t married.

Interviewer: So I’ve got an article from the Evening Echo from 1991. October 17, with Carole talking about her Bluebell girls’ days to the Evening Echo.

Carole: To Chris Lee.

Interviewer: There’s a more recent article isn’t there? That I found somewhere.

Carole: That’s in there.

Interviewer: Yeah there’s another one from January 3 1996. Have you stayed in touch with any of the other Bluebell girls or?

Carole: These are my children I taught.

Interviewer: Oh, OK.

Carole: How can I put it? You saw my husband there, well I didn’t know it at the time, the girls used to write to me, we moved to Thundersley when we got married, and it wasn’t until years later that I found that he - girls used to write to me, and he used to send them back – ‘We’ve gone away.’

Interviewer: Oh.

Carole: What does that tell you?

Interviewer: Well we will assume he didn’t want you to stay in contact with them, yeah.

Carole: I only found out about 4 or 5 years ago, someone said to me ‘Oh you know why did you send, why did my letter come back?’ ‘Well it shouldn’t have come back’, but I found out that my ex was doing it. But that’s another story.

Interviewer: Ok, so we’ve now got the Guardian obituary for Bluebell herself.

Carole: Bluebell.

Interviewer: Margaret Kelly.

Carole: You should get a copy of that from..,

Interviewer: Yes I think we, I’m sure we can somehow,

Carole: You have probably got one somewhere? I didn’t know they were gonna take - I wasn’t ready for a photograph they did ‘Would I do a write up? And I said ‘Yes’ And they took me out there and took a photo. ‘No I haven’t got anything ready’,

Interviewer: [laughs]

Carole: So that’s it ‘warts and all’.

Interviewer: This is the Evening Echo again this is the - I think this is the article, I did find online when I was looking, so. Title - ‘I lived the high life as a girl’ ‘Who I danced for’.

Carole: I nearly killed him.

Interviewer: [laughs] Dance with Sinatra and Elvis or Dance for Sinatra and Elvis.

Carole: Yeah we did not ‘for’, it was ‘with’.

Interviewer: [laughs] Yes.

Carole: That was my school there, I had it in the Palace Hotel. That’s the school there.

Interviewer: Ok, so when you came back you got married, you then went straight in to teaching?

Carole: Teaching at Bush Davis. When Brian and I divorced, I started my own school.

Interviewer: Oh I see.

Carole: And that’s where I was. I was at St Augustine’s in Thorpe Bay and Palace Hotel. So these are my ones I taught. This is the Russian group that came here. They’re my dancers. I was asked if I would just bring some dancers along, and I did and he said ‘Now do the choreography’ I said ‘I don’t know the music’, and he said ‘Nor do I’, so I had to kind of make up something, again without any music, and I had to say to Charlotte - one of them ‘Take over when the music starts, do these rough link steps, I don’t know what it is.’ And they did very, very well, she is now a Doctor as well.

Interviewer: So this is sort of theatrical dance is it rather than sort of social dancing that you were teaching, do you think things have changed much over the years in terms of the way that?

Carole: The standard of work?

Interviewer: The standard of work, the type of dancing.

Carole: Well, I mean they are doing things now, when watched something on television they were doing a lot of isolations. Well we would do that sometimes but now they’re making much more of it on television. Somebody said ‘Did you see all those isolations.’ and I said ‘But we did those years and years ago’.

Interviewer: Isolations - You’ll have to explain that to me as a non-dancer.

Carole: Right, isolation is a movement, a movement, a moment? A movement so you are isolating, all the arm movements, feet movements instead of flowing in to things, you completely isolate.

Interviewer: Ah I see so it’s more jerky kind of,

Carole: Yes and that’s what they are doing on television at the moment, and I look at it and think ‘Done it.’ Got some very nice dancers that are around but it’s just mixture. This is what they did, it was here, turned on and they had the opera, and all that he said ‘Can you supply me with 6 or 8 dancers’. So I said ‘Yes.’ Thinking they were gonna be a crowd scene, and he said ‘Well, give them something to do’ - this is the producer, ‘What’s the music? Oh I can’t put that on – don’t know’, so I had to make up something not knowing what it was, and say to Charlotte ‘Right, basically this I what it is, all follow Charlotte once you get on.’, and she’s now a fantastic doctor. That’s two of my ladies, I used to teach Tap.

Interviewer: Oh you taught Tap dancing as well?

Carole: Everything, Ballet, Tap, Modern, Jazz. I did the, you know the - you see people sitting down doing exercises sitting on chairs? I made that up 25 years ago – I had a group at St Augustine’s of Ladies who were there in their 60’s and we did all exercises sitting in chairs, and now the hospitals do it. And it was me. Cause I did it with Bluebell, and I got home and someone couldn’t do something and I said ‘let’s do it sitting in chairs’ and then it just grew and then I couldn’t have the hall, and everybody else seems to have taken over and, they’re doing it

Interviewer: Did you ever do anything in conjunction with Will Gaines, cause he was local of course here in Southend, no?

Carole: I tell you who I did do it - this is when we were at Bush – Eileen Fowler you know the Keep fit? Eileen Fowler.

Interviewer: I don’t but please tell me about it.

Carole: She was the one who started Keep Fit, down here, she was worldwide Eileen Fowler, I worked with her because she came up and tried all the exercises on us when we were students up at Bush. We weren’t very nice to her because to us they’re kind of baby exercises, and it was wrong of us but this is how we felt, we were given all these exercises,

Interviewer: I was gonna say, did you, did you have to keep your fitness up doing anything above and beyond dance or was the dance enough to do it.

Carole: Dance was enough. I’m after doing something at the moment and I mentioned it to my doctor and she said ‘That’s a good idea’ and that is - not for you to preach please, I want to start Tap for people who are confined to chairs, not to put Tap shoes on or anything like this but to do all the movements we do in Tap. We could put some Jazz music on or whatever it is, and they can learn to tap that way sitting down. That’s what I’m trying to set up now, but I don’t know whether it will take – well I know it will take off once I kind of get the right connection, I’m hoping - I was gonna call them ‘Help the Aged’ - you know who I mean?

Interviewer: Age UK?

Carole: Age UK? Yes I’d like to start with them because there are a lot of people confined to wheel chairs, confined to chairs but if you can give them movement – clap - movement – clap, that gets – gives them exercise, no one’s thought of it yet, I thought of it the other day and I was,

Interviewer: Of course Music Therapy has become quite a big sort of interest I think, and certainly another angle on it would no doubt, be good.

Carole: That was on my ladies Tap class.

Interviewer: I’ve got some lovely photographs here of your Tap dancers and what looks like an old photograph but I’m starting to think,

Carole: It’s not.

Interviewer: It possibly isn’t, exactly.

Carole: It’s one of the shows one of the girls and Tom was in, and they gave it to me.

Interviewer: It’s because it’s a black and white photograph, and they’ve got a lot of young children in, I guess,

Carole: Victorian

Interviewer: Yes I was gonna say Victorian-type costume, yes makes it look that way. And that very much looks like Wizard of Oz to me.

Carole: Yes, that was, Jen was the Judy Garland part. One of my pupils.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carole: She’s now teaching yoga up in Forest Gate.

Interviewer: Ok, so you’ve taught the next generation to be teachers as well [laughs].

Carole: Oh yes. We have an All England competition of all dancers and if you get through, you do it at the Scala, and we came fourth at the Scala. Jen was professional, she turned professional.

Interviewer: Are there the working opportunities these days do you think for young dancers that were available in the 50’s?

Carole: I don’t think so – different type of show. And I think it’s very hard for them to get into the London shows. I mean the first audition we had, Miss Davis sent us up to an audition and we all had to - leotard, tights, and all do a ‘stand up’ you know stand in a line, and producer would take the names, ‘The rest of you can go’, and we watched because we were told we weren’t wanted and then later on we found that the ones that, they’d chosen were all office girls who couldn’t dance but they looked good. But they didn't realise they thought they were all dancers as well, and they’d signed these girls up to the contract to be in a London show of course we thought it was absolutely hilarious cause we were dancers and these girls weren’t, they’d just come on their lunch break, and they were chosen and as I say we thought it was hilarious.

There still Wizard of Oz.

Interviewer: That’s Wizard of Oz right,

Carole: And they did, they did - she is the most fantastic doctor (sic), she was on television she did a lot of dancing, she is now a director of Disney. Disney ships.

Interviewer: OK.

Carole: She went over as a dancer, then as a choreographer, and now she’s in charge of one of the ships, in fact she is second to the captain. She comes from Great Wakering.

Interviewer: She’s working on the cruise ship.

Carole: Yep.

Interviewer: Very nice.

Carole: But to be a director,

Interviewer: Yeah.

Carole: That’s part of the number for the, what do you call it? The All England. There she is, she turned professional, so did she but she’s got a youngster now and she’s back in this Country. I had them from 8 years old.

Interviewer: Yeah. Sure.

Carole: They all had to take their Ballet exams like everybody else, that’s Jane again she just got married.

Interviewer: Some more lovely photographs of young dancers. And more photographs, this time you’ve got some White Christmas,

Carole: Yep Jen was in on the touring one of White Christmas. The touring show.

Interviewer: And also from ‘Annie’.

Carole: Now that was Jen again. That’s the one who is the captain, one of the directors. Vic was one of my pupils but she joined the Moulin Rouge, couldn’t join Bluebell because she wasn’t tall enough.

And that’s what I did for Age Concern.

Interviewer: OK that’s of course when we first met, when you were at Age Concern.

Carole: Yep and they said would I do a feature, and I did.

Interviewer: So we’ve got a short article, just,

Carole: How I started.

Interviewer: Describing many of the things we’ve talked about today.

Carole: The End.

Interviewer: That’s the article. Well is it the end? Do you still have some ambitions dance wise?

Carole: [laughs] I take an advanced Tap class on a Wednesday.

Interviewer: And you wanna do more with this dance therapy?

Carole: People, cause I think it would only be fair, to get them to enjoy and to keep them moving. If they can hear a piece of music they hear at home you know, they could start tapping and it’s exercising their arms and legs, that’s what they need.

Interviewer: Yeah. Well I think it’s a fascinating story, and I hope if we do find that people, particular researchers, are interested in delving into this more deeply there might have an opportunity in the future to talk some more.

Carole: I do talks for women’s institutes.

Interviewer: Yeah, so it’s absolutely fascinating and certainly I’d ask you to consider if at some point we could make a copy of this.

Carole: [laughs]

Interviewer: But I’ll leave you to think on that, but thank you very much for that.

Carole: That’s alright.