The Prescotian Webzine

Brian Blades [Jean Sargeant, Friday October 10, 2003, The Guardian]
When the dancer and actor Brian Blades, who has died aged 84, won the all-England stage dancing championship as a 14-year-old, he beat into second place a Miss Peggy Hookham, better known later as Dame Margot Fonteyn. He had taken dancing and drama lessons from an early age at the studio school of dance and dramatic art in Liverpool, initially because dancing was considered good exercise for a delicate child.

Born into a middle-class family in Prescot, Lancashire, Brian was educated at Prescot grammar school. In his first professional appearance, aged 13, he danced in The Miracle, starring Diana Manners (Lady Diana Duff Cooper). He also took child parts at the Liverpool Playhouse, at a time when Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson were in the company.

In London, he appeared in a revival of The Geisha (Garrick, 1934) and in Andrť Charlot's 1936 Sleeping Beauty at the Vaudeville. He also danced at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden. When the second world war broke out, Brian joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and served in the north African desert. His love of acting once led him to evade an officers' training course in favour of an army revue. "You're a soldier first and an actor second," his commanding officer rebuked him. After the war, he returned to the theatre, where his versatility meant he was never short of work, whether in West End revues such as Oranges And Lemons (Globe, 1948) or acting in musicals, including NoŽl Coward's Ace of Clubs (Cambridge, 1950). In 1957, he joined the cast of The Boy Friend, playing Percival Browne for the latter part of the run at Wyndham's. He also danced in films choreographed by Agnes de Mille, Michael Kidd and Jack Cole, among which were Where's Charlie (1952) and Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955).

His versatility also meant he became a choreographer and writer, when he worked in the 1960s at the Players Theatre, which specialised in Victorian music hall. Then, aged nearly 50, Brian decided on a complete career change, and moved to a more secure job at the Bank of England, where he worked in the economic intelligence department until his retirement in 1984. But he did not let his theatrical skills go rusty. He wrote a musical, Music Hall 1870, for the 1970 Thomas Becket festival in Canterbury.

At the age of 76, he performed in 50 Years Of The British Musical, during the 1995 VE-Day commemorations at Hyde Park. Brian's other commitments included strong support for the Labour party. He liked to recall that in prewar days, the Tory MP Thelma Cazalet had engaged him to teach her how to tap-dance; but when she suggested a duet tap dance in front of the then prime minister Neville Chamberlain, Brian politely declined. He is survived by his brother and sister, and two nephews. ∑

Brian Blades, actor and dancer, born July 15 1919; died August 4 2003

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