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Marti Caine

(Image: IMDb)

It’s been a while since we had a look at some of those people with Sheffield connections. Today, the lady once considered to be Britain’s premier comedienne and the clown queen of TV comedy.

Like America’s Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller, she paved the way for women working in light entertainment, whether it was the tough world of northern clubs or hosting her own television specials.

Born in 1945 at Sheffield, Lynne Denise Shepherd worked as a model, petrol pump attendant and a croupier. She’s better known to us as Marti Caine, her first professional performance aged 18 at a working men’s club in Rotherham, which led to more than 12 years playing the northern cabaret circuit.

Professionally she wasn’t Marti Caine then, or even Lynne Stringer. She was Sunny Smith for all of three weeks, followed by a spell as Zoe Bond. Unhappy with both, she scoured a gardening book for inspiration. Her husband Malcolm Stringer tinkered with tomato cane and came up with Marta Cane. The club she was playing misheard and billed her as Marti Caine.

She became an overnight star at the age of 30 on the TV talent show New Faces. Viewers took to her gawky, but highly glamorous looks and quickfire timing and she soon became a household name on television and starred on her own show, Marti Caine, on BBC2 from the early 1980s.

Marti starred in Funny Girl, in 1989, playing the lead as Fanny Brice, at the Crucible Theatre.

Marti Caine found fame by appearing in the television talent show New Faces. (Image: Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock)

During the last ten years of her life she combined an outstanding career in light entertainment with that of one on the stage and undertook tours including a notable performance in Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings. In 1986 she presented her own one woman show, An Evening with Marti, at the Donmar Warehouse in London.

For three years from 1986 Caine hosted ITV’s New Faces, where she was noted for her friendliness and encouragement to young performers appearing on television for the first time.

In 1992 she toured Britain to record BBC’s Joker in the Pack and later completed another series, Your Best Shot, also for the BBC.

Pantomime was one of her first loves and for many years she made the character of the Red Queen a special part in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which played in Cambridge, Bath, Bournemouth and in London’s West End at the Strand Theatre.

She talked about her TV image as if she were an acquaintance, someone she didn’t particularly like, but had grown to accept.

“She drives too fast, smokes too much, her language is a bit choice and she is very ambitious. I am an emotional coward. I don’t like being the centre of attention. When Marti Caine is out under the spotlight, I’m in the wings throwing up with nervousness.”

In 1988, it was made publicly known that she was suffering from cancer of the lymphoid cells which prompted her to ask her doctor “Does this mean I am a lymphomaniac?”

She was given two years to live but refused to stop working and fought against the disease for seven years.

Marti died aged 50 at her home in Oxfordshire in November 1995, her second husband, Kenneth Ives, by her side. A funeral service was held at Sheffield Cathedral. It was attended by showbusiness personalities and a public address system was set up outside to relay the service to those unable to get inside.

“Remember me with a smile. I don’t want any weeping and wailing when I’ve gone. I want people to dance in the aisles.”

The 2017 film, Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake, tells the story of a female comedian playing working- men’s clubs in the 1970s and is said to be loosely based on Caine’s story.

Caine appearing in Funny Girl at the Crucible Theatre in 1984. (Image: Kevin Holt/ANL/REX/Shutterstock)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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Julian Ovenden

Photograph by imdb

Back to those with connections to Sheffield, although this one remembers little about our city, and was brought up in very different circumstances to most of us.

Julian Mark Ovenden, actor and singer. Born Sheffield in 1975, the son of Rev. Canon John Ovenden, who was a vicar in these parts for two years. He moved away as a baby when his father took up a position at Ely, Cambridgeshire, and ended up living in North London after his father was appointed Chaplain to the Queen at Windsor Castle.

He knows the Queen, and when Julian wanted to research Noel Coward for a school project, he popped around to see the Queen Mother to discuss her love of Coward’s music. He ended up playing the piano, she sang.

As a youngster, Julian sang in St. Paul’s Choir and received a music scholarship to Eton College before reading music at New College, Oxford.

We know him for appearing in five series of Foyle’s War (as Andrew, the RAF fighter pilot son of Christopher  Foyle) and in two seasons of Downton Abbey. In America, he’s appeared in Person of Interest.

Away from TV, Julian regularly appears in leading roles in the West End and Broadway, including Merrily We Roll Along, Finding Neverland and All About Eve. He’s also appeared at the Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall.

“I don’t really have any memories, sadly, of Sheffield. I do feel, when I come back up north, at home here, and I do love the people. But it would be stretching it to say I feel a northerner or a true Sheffield native. It’s a great city and culturally it’s thriving.”

He’s married to opera singer Kate Royal and has two children, Johnny Beau and Audrey.

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Stainless Stephen

Photograph by HistoryForSale

Here’s a Sheffield worthy that I bet you’ve never heard of.

Arthur Clifford Baynes (1892-1971) was a comedian from Sheffield, who performed under the stage name of Stainless Stephen, making his debut at the Palace, Luton, in 1921.

His London debut was at the Victoria Palace in 1930.

You would be forgiven for not knowing his name, for Stainless Stephen never quite made it as a top music hall comedian. He appeared on stage dressed in a smart tuxedo, a bowler hat with a steel band around it, a rotating bow tie, and a stainless steel vest, made in his home city.

He never gave up his day job, as an English teacher at Crookes Endowed School which he joined in 1922 after demobilisation from the Sheffield City Battalion, which he served during World War One, and wounded twice. His job meant he could only appear on stage at weekends and during school holidays.

Legend has it that Stainless’ lessons on Friday were always a bit light on the ground, as he spent most of the time leaving his classes to it whilst he wrote his radio material for the weekend! It was said that he based his routine on a radio course he took while on military service.

Stainless Stephen with a microphone and a record and a bowl of Hot Tripe. A special comedy record produced for United Cattle Products. Photograph by Gavin/Arkhonia

His speciality was that during his deadpan monologue, he would interrupt the flow by supplying punctuation, thus:

“Somebody once said, inverted commas, comedians are born not made, full stop. Well, slight pause to heighten dramatic effect, let me tell my dense public innuendo that I was born of honest but disappointed parents in anno domini eighteen ninety something, full stop. Owing to my female fan following, the final two digits must be left to the imagination, end of paragraph and fresh line.”

And.

“What a wonderful year 1930 was, semi-colon, said Stainless Stephen, semi-conscious. Thousands of new motorists took to the road, comma, and as a result thousands of pedestrians took to the pavements.”

As well as.

This is Stainless aimless brainless Stephen, semi-colon, broadcasting semi-conscious at the microphone semi-frantic.”

Closing a broadcast in March 1941, he said:

“And so, countrymen, semi-colon, all shoulders to the wheel, semi-quaver, we’ll carry on till we get the Axis semi-circle, and Hitler asks us for a full stop!”

Photograph by HistoryForSale

In 1932, he was voted the most popular radio artist in a newspaper poll, appeared in the all-star extravaganza, Radio Parade (1933), a film of music hall acts, and supported Will Hay at the Victoria Palace in 1944. Throughout World War Two he toured Europe and the Far East and appeared at the London Palladium’s Royal Command Performance in 1945.

Famous radio stars entertain the RAF during World War Two. From left to right are: Stainless Stephen, Eve Beck, Eddie Pola, Renee Houston, Donald Stuart, Shirley Houston, and Frank Baron.
Vera Lynn and comedian Stainless Stephen riding in a rickshaw pulled by Lynn’s pianist Len Edwards, during an ENSA tour of India to entertain British troops, Calcutta, India, 1944. Photograph by Getty Images.

Stainless Stephen also appeared as a guest on This Is Your Life, celebrating the life of broadcaster Stuart Hibberd, in 1957, and in Frost on Saturday in 1969, an edition dedicated to the history of British broadcasting to mark the first evening of colour transmissions on ITV.

Stainless Stephen retired in 1952 describing himself as “stainless, painless, brainless, shameless, aimless, semi-conscious and approaching semi dotage.” He ran a 125-acre farm with his son, Ian, at Chiddingstone Causeway, Kent, where he died in 1971.

Arthur Clifford Baynes, who gained fame as comedian Stainless Stephen, inspects a crop of winter oats at his farm in Chiddingstone, Kent, in 1957. Photograph by Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Julia Bradbury

Returning to our profiles of people with Sheffield connections. Julia Bradbury (born 1970), television presenter, specialising in documentaries and consumer affairs.

Best known for co-presenting BBC1’s Countryfile with Matt Baker from 2009 until 2014. She also presented Watchdog, Planet Earth Live, Take on the Twisters, The Wonder of Britain and Britain’s Best Walks.

These days, she’s making a living out of walking documentaries (just about everywhere) and has unfortunately been nicknamed the “Walking Man’s Totty.”

Born in Dublin, but growing up in Sheffield, she attended acting classes, and took part as a child in the Crucible Theatre’s production of Peter Pan, starring Joanne Whalley and Paula Wilcox.

“My family moved to Sheffield and I went to King Edward VII School, which had just turned into a mixed comprehensive. My father worked in the steel industry, hence Sheffield, and my mother, who was in the fashion business, opened her first shop.”

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Judy Parfitt

Judy Catherine Claire Parfitt, born in Sheffield in 1935 to Lawrence and Catherine Parfitt, and attended Notre Dame High School for Girls.

She later trained at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts (RADA, darling), graduating in 1953. She made her stage debut the following year with ‘Fools Rush In’ and since then it has been one long flood of theatre, film and television appearances on both sides of the Atlantic.

‘Of regal bearing and imposing stance,’ she hit TV heights with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1980), ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ (1984) and (he says tongue-in-cheek) that stuck-fast classic of ITV3 scheduling, ‘Murder She Wrote’ (1989).

Known to a new generation as Sister Monica Joan, an elderly nun, in the BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’ since 2012.

In her own words, she is an “old tart gainfully employed.”

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Alastair Burnet

Sir James William Alexander Burnet (1928-2012) was born in Sheffield, the son of a Scottish engineer.

He was educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read history.

To many of a generation he was simply Alastair Burnet, the suave ITV news reader once described as “the booster rocket that put ITN into orbit.”

He joined ITN in 1963 as its political editor, but left after two years to become editor of The Economist and later the Daily Express.

On July 3 1967, with Andrew Gardiner sitting beside him, he launched the first ‘News at Ten’ bulletin with the words “Good evening. The railway freight strike has been called off.”

It was the beginning of a television institution.

He retired in 1991, disappeared from our screens, and died seven years ago at a nursing home in Kensington.