Consummate host and all-round mensch Lenny Beige has been entertaining the good folk of London since Moses was in shorts. Or maybe it was long trousers. Either way, Beige is one of the closest things the capital has to a flesh-and-blood cabaret institution.
Next month, he pays fulsome tribute to both his own long career and the man he calls his “surrogate father”, Anthony Newley. You can see Beige explain their relationship on 24 April at St James Theatre but, before then, here are the top ten facts about Beige himself that will amaze, astound and keep you entertained while you studiously avoid eye contact with chuggers. Oh yes you do.
10. My mother Sadie Beigeowitz is the Kosher Chicken Giblet Queen of Whitechapel
My mother is old. So old in fact that she was a waitress at the Last Supper. Years ago in London’s East End, she was famed for her salty broth which was flavoured by boiling poultry giblets. During the war, she used to sell the liquor door to door to women, children and cowards. Her recipe was such a closely guarded secret that she once punched Delia Smith in the throat for attempting to steal it.
9. I still have an old tap shoe that Frankie Vaughan gave to me backstage at the Hackney Empire in the late 1950s
June 1958, my mother and Aunt Myrtle took me to see Frankie Vaughan. This wasn’t unusual – we went to see him more than any other artiste due to the fact Myrtle was what one would now term a ‘stalker’. On this occasion she dragged us to his dressing room and he gave me an old worn out tap shoe. I treasured it. I now know it was used as a bribe to get her out of his room.
8. I won the Talented Tots Competition in Lowestoft in 1961
Talent shows are nothing new. Long before the public were stuffing their faces at Cowell’s dreary entertainment buffet, seaside resorts were always staging talent shows for much the same reasons; they were cheap and it was an acceptable excuse to laugh at the more unfortunate members of society. When I took the stage to perform Bat Out Of Hell in a Noel Coward style dressed in my sailors outfit, no one was laughing. I came first, naturally.
7. Robbie William’s hit Let Me Entertain You was inspired by Beige and the Regency Rooms Club
In 1997, big-haired keyboard player and writer/producer Guy Chambers was my musical director at the Regency Rooms Club at Talk of London. This was the same time he bagged the gig co-writing with ex-Take That singer Robbie Williams. Let Me Entertain You was a song written to perform at my club night; exciting, vibrant, cock-sure, and uplifiting – all the things the club (and its) host was.
6. I appeared 13 times on Celebrity Squares
For younger readers this will mean nothing. This is a shame. Celebrity Squares is arguably one of the greatest entertainment formats for a show: 9 celebs in a grid formation are asked questions by 2 members of the public in a giant Naughts and Crosses game. If you were good you were in the middle square. I was. 8 of my 13 appearances. A record beaten only by Bernard Manning and Tom O’Connor and Ray Allen & Lord Charles.
5. I have the UK’s largest collection of Tony Hart originals
Anyone who knows anything about anything will tell you that investing in art is a wise move. If you purchase works from a rising star you could strike it lucky and make a mint. If you have cash and you can buy a work by an already great name a picture won’t lose its value. Well you can keep your Banksys and your Chapman Brothers because I have been investing in one of the country’s greatest artists of the late 20th Century, Mr Tony Hart. I have also commissioned many pieces, most notably my huge mural Great Jews in History, which starts with Moses and ends with me!
4. I still have a controlling interest in Club Sucki Fucki in Manila
After the rather gauche business with the tax man in 2001 I needed to get away from the United Kingdom for a while. The clubs were sold off to pay off huge debts accrued thanks to my brother’s gross mismanagement of the Beige Empire. One of my wisest decisions was to live for a while in The Phillipines where I helped revamp the now legendary Club Sucki Fucki which still brings me in a healthy income.
3. The seaside town of St Leonards is now my country seat
On returning from South East Asia I couldn’t settle back on the East Anglian Riviera. My country house had been converted into a secure mental hospital and so I needed a new seaside resort to call my own. I threw open my doe-skin bound RAC Road Atlas and there it was: St Leonards, right next to Hastings. St Lenny’s, how fitting. I have a modest 12 bedroom baronial pile that looks out to sea and 8 foot security fencing and CCTV.
2. I stood for Parliament in 1997
1997 was an exciting time; London was swinging, my club The Regency Rooms really was THE place to go out in town, and we were all excited about the dawn of New Labour. Well most of us. I felt I too had something to say politically. I can’t remember the exact policies of the Happiness Stans Freedom to Party Party but I know we were riding the ‘have a good time all the time’ ticket. I stood in Putney against David Mellor and James Goldsmith. It was an extraordinary night where, not only did I garner 101 votes, I also had a photo-call with James Goldsmith and an Action Man that I presented to him which was altered to look exactly like him. Those were strange but wonderful nights.
1. British entertainment legend Anthony Newley was my surrogate father.
It is true. My mother Sadie and Newley’s mother Gracie were both very close friends who lived in Oswald Street near the Hackney Marshes. When my father Hymie, the Gusset king of Bow passed on, Newley, who was 20 years my senior, became the father figure in my life. Even as his star rose and rose he would write to me regularly always advising me, helping me, and loving me. WIthout his love and talents I would not have become the man, the rennaissance man, that I am today. It is for this reason that I am staging my Lenny Beige Tribute to Anthony Newley. It is my way of saying ‘thank you.’
Lenny Beige’s tribute to Anthony Newley takes place on 24 April at St James Theatre.
Image credit: Mel Bagshaw