|Born||William Hooper Frank John Dainty
February 22, 1927
Dudley, Worcestershire, England
|Died||November 18, 1986
'Cobblers', Godalming, Surrey
Dainty was born at Wolverhampton Street, Dudley, Worcestershire. His father kept a shop at the front of the family home. He made his stage debut as the only boy dancer in a troupe of girls. Later, his family moved to London, where the young Billy received tap-dancing lessons from the American-born hoofer Buddy Bradley. He then won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he trained as a comedian. From childhood he had the ambition to be a professional dancer, but he became well known for the funny walks which formed part of his well-loved comedy act.
In 1942 at the age of 15, he made his stage debut in the pantomime Mother Goose, starring Norman Evans and Patricia Burke, where he played the back end of a dancing pantomime donkey called "Asbestos". His next part was as a chorus boy in Strike a New Note at the Prince of Wales Theatre, with Sid Field and Jerry Desmonde, along with the newly formed pairing of Morecambe and Wise.
Called up for national service in 1945, he toured the Far East with the Stars in Battledress for two years. His first work after the war was in a show called Gaytime in Torquay. He spent the next two decades in variety theatre, before getting his TV break on Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the late 1950s.
Dainty's repertoire of silly walks was unrivalled at the time. He could travel down the stage on his left foot, with his right leg raised throughout. He was also known for his impersonations of fellow stars, including parodies of Shirley Bassey, Fred Astaire, and a ballet dancer, whom he called Rudolph Nearenough, based loosely on Rudolph Nureyev. He embodied the authentic, original and exuberant spirit of the old style music hall tradition; the theatre was his domain – although he also successfully moved into television. He was notably successful in Royal Variety Shows and was reputed to be a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Although he was described[by whom?] as looking like a 'plumber's mate', he was in fact an extraordinarily skilled dancer; his nimble footwork and bursts of physical activity always surprised and delighted his audience.
After appearing in over a dozen pantomimes, often in unremarkable or unfulfilling roles, Dainty was finally persuaded, in 1964, to play the Pantomime dame opposite Harry Worth's Old King Cole at the Bristol Hippodrome, where he was hailed a huge success. He also played the dame at the London Palladium in Dick Whittington with the then rising star Tommy Steele. He was proclaimed as "one of the last of the genuine music-hall performers" and as "one of the outstanding artists of his generation".
In 1975, he had his own Thames Television series Billy Dainty, Esq. Between 1975 and 1980 he starred with Rod Hull and Emu, in Emu's Broadcasting Company on BBC1. Dainty also had a large following of radio listeners, who tuned-in to his shows, including Stick a Geranium in Your Hat.
On 14 January 1979, Dainty taped a guest spot on Star Turn, a BBC children's programme, on which one of the other guests was Kenneth Williams. In that day's entry in The Kenneth Williams Diaries, Dainty is referred to as "a terrible provincial comic". Ironically, after reading Dainty's obituary in the newspaper following his death, Williams said: "He was a delight. A warm and kind-hearted man with humour and an extraordinary gift for the delicate and deft touch in comedy".
He died, aged 59, at his home Cobblers in Godalming, Surrey on 19 November 1986. His talent, versatility and professionalism had made him a family favourite for more than 30 years. Dainty had been married and had one son.
- Local history article on Billy Dainty
- BBC Comedy Guide on Billy Dainty
- "EBC1: Emu's Broadcasting Company" (1975)
- The Kenneth Williams Diaries, edited by Russell Davies, published 1993 by Harper Collins