DANNY La Rue will be honoured at the Wyvern Theatre later this week to mark what would have been his 87th birthday.
For decades the star, who died of cancer at 81 in 2009, was the country’s best known female impersonator and one of our highest paid entertainers.
In his heyday he could command audiences of thousands at West End Theatres and tens of millions on television, but he was also a down-to-earth man who happily toured provincial venues and talked with fans.
One of those venues was the Wyvern, which is planning to exhibit one of his most extravagant costumes from Friday until Monday, as well as placing a photograph of him on permanent display.
The image honours the naming of a dressing room in Danny’s honour in 1984, after he performed to two packed houses.
A Wyvern spokesman told us at the time: “A performer of this magnitude doesn’t often perform at provincial theatres.
“Danny La Rue is a household name and a great entertainer, so we decided it was fitting to honour him by naming the dressing room after him.”
Born in Ireland to a family who moved to London when he was a child, Danny, pictured, developed an interest in female impersonation when he joined a drama group in Devon, where the family moved to escape the Blitz.
Later, after a stint in the Royal Navy, he returned to showbusiness and developed impersonations of major stars including Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor. As well as appearing on stage, he made several films.
He was interviewed a number of times by the Adver, usually in connection with a Wyvern appearance.
In 1998 he revealed he loved returning to Swindon because it brought back happy memories of old friends such as Diana Dors. Two years earlier, he had attended the golden wedding celebrations of dance school kingpins Mollie and John Tanner.
“Pollyann – their daughter – was in Hello Dolly! with me at the Prince of Wales,” said Danny.
“It is lovely to meet old friends and I have already had letters from Swindon fans saying they are looking forward to the show.”
Danny recalled some of the other stars he’d mingled with during 50 years in the business, including Bob Hope, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra.
He said: “I was at Winston’s Nightclub with Ava Gardner in 1951 when she gave Frank Sinatra the fare to get him to an audition for his first film.
“He had only just arrived and had £1 in his pocket.”
In 2000, ahead of another Wyvern show, we asked him why he his shows remained so popular.
He said: “I think it is because we are bringing laughter and fun. It is a happy evening out in a world of mayhem and murder.
“There is too much violence in this world. People suffer enough in their everyday lives, and they come to our show for release and fun.”