It’s remarkable that Sheffield has never officially paid tribute to Marti Caine. However, there is a sculpture at the top of Howard Street, near Sheffield Hallam University, that is named after her.
Marti Caine grew up in Shiregreen and her vocal talents, wit and engaging personality made her a mainstay of the northern club circuit before she leapt to national prominence by winning the TV talent show New Faces in 1975 – a programme she went on to present with great success.
In her later years, she campaigned tirelessly on behalf of cancer charities before succumbing to lymphatic cancer on November 4, 1995, aged 50, after a long illness.
Marti was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University in recognition of her contribution to the world of entertainment, and the film Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake, was loosely based on her compelling life story.
The gritstone and stainless steel sculpture dedicated to her, originally called Sheen, is often referred to simply as ‘Marti’, one of the pieces made for the Stone City Symposium of 1995. It was commissioned by Sheffield Hallam University and was to have been revealed by Marti Caine, who died two weeks before the opening; it was decided to dedicate the sculpture to her instead.
The stainless steel was intended to reflect the changing weather and reflect passing traffic which flicker across the inset steel squares on the Arundel Gate side of the sculpture.
Describing his work at the time, Mick Farrell, its creator said: “Using stainless steel and stone I hope to set up a contradiction within the nature of both materials. This architectural piece would act both as a landmark and a point to view from.”
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.
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.