Sad news received today at IBY. Ronne Coyles, superb Pantomime Dame and “Mr Show Business” for so many Summer Seasons passed away a few days ago.
Here are some memories of Ronne and a list of his pantomimes (compiled by Vivyan Ellacott)
As tributes are received we will add them to the bottom of this article.Please scroll down.
Ronne was a firecracker of a dame- short in stature and high on energy. An amazing Tap Dancer, he brought all his skills from Variety and Pantomime to each Dame role that he played. Barbara Windsor said to him of his role as Dame- “You know what Ronne, I like you because you’re not camp!” and Ronne said of himself “I go on as myself but in character, as a man dressed as a woman.”
Ronne was this country’s longest serving Pantomime Dame. He appeared in over sixty pantomimes from his early days as a child performer until his retirement.
He was a wonderful Dame to watch- I am so grateful to have witnessed his strip- a piece of Panto Magic, and totally unique to Ronne. Back in the ‘Seventies he and I shared digs. Ronne was in Panto at the New Theatre Cardiff, and I was at the Sherman.
Those were magic times when we’d both return from our shows and Ronne would tell me about the Pantomimes he’d known as a kid. we also solved a mystery- every time we got in the gas fires in our rooms (on meters of course) were slightly warm, but the meter was empty!. The TV had a slight warmth too. It was Ronne discovered while we were in panto the landlady would go from room to room basking in the gas fire’s glow till the money ran out!
With Stan Stennet, and Eddie & Eileen “The Falcons” Swansea.
Ronne will also be remembered for giving the best impersonation of Bette Davis apart from Bette Davis herself! It would creep into a panto at some point and crack both audience and cast up!
This amazing man had a career revival when a fan- Harry Hill, invited him onto his Television show, and he bacame a favourite. Keith Harris would employ his mate Ronne whenever possible to play Dame, and Keith and I would recall his brilliance years later when we worked together.
Here is a short piece from the archive about Ronne and his career.We’ll be adding tributes to Ronne to this piece over the next few days.
RONNE COYLES A LIFE:
Ronne, who was born in Blyth, Northumberland, started in showbiz at the age of 14 as a boy soprano.
He began performing at 14 as a boy soprano, going on to appear in over 66 pantomimes, most notably as the dame.Diminutive in statue, but towering in performance, Ronné Coyles has been a perennial Pantomime Dame since he first donned the skirts in the early 1970’s.
A seasoned pantomime and cabaret performer, Ronné began his career at an early age in concert parties. As a young man he was on the bill with Bud Flanagan at the Bristol Hippodrome, singing one of the Flanagan and Allen songs in his act. This led to him appearing with “The Crazy Gang” at the Victoria Palace, and making several films including “Here comes the Sun” with them. During his career has been a trapeze artist, acrobatic dancer, singer and tap dancer.
As Dame his dancing skills were often called upon- one of the fastest “tappers” in the “business”, he incorporated these skills into his unique “Strip” routine, when as Dame he would begin to remove his clothing, only to be interrupted- hide behind a small screen, and almost impossibly change into full 1920’s “flapper” gear, and dance a frenetic Charleston before collapsing into a laundry basket- it still remains one of the most creative “strip routines” I have seen on stage to date!
Ronné was featured in one of the first documentaries about Pantomime for BBC2’s “Man Alive”, which dealt with the life of a pantomime performer. A firm favourite in Summer seasons at Morecambe and around the country, he appeared as Dame in “Humpty Dumpty” at London’s Dominion Theatre, a lavish production starring Keith Harris that was presented in several other cities during the next few years.
Ronne came to Morecambe in 1965 and his season at the Ocean Room was such a success he was invited back the following year In 1972 Sybil Sheldon, the owner of the Palace Theatre on the Battery Promenade, asked Ronne to top the bill at a new variety revue show.
“I was there for 10 glorious years and it was wonderful,” he says.
At its peak the Palace would run three shows a week, all hosted by Ronne, called: ‘This is Showbusiness’, ‘This is Music Hall’ and ‘This is Command Performance’.
He later teamed up again with Keith Harris in pantomimes at the Fernham Hall in Fareham, where Keith presented panto from 2001 to 2007- he appeared as Dame Tilly Trott in Goldilocks, as Sarah The Cook in Dick Whittington, and as Baron in “Cinderella” when the Lavelle Twins played Sisters.
He achieved Television fame in 2001 when he joined Harry Hill in the Children’s series “TV Burp” which ran until 2004.
Vivyan Ellacott writes:
I first met Ronné Coyles in “Robinson Crusoe” at the Swansea Grand in 1969. He was very different from the Dames I’d worked with in the past: there was nothing “Mumsy” about his style – he was incredibly slick, fast-moving and zippy, and boy! – could he tap!
He was also a genuinely friendly person, with a great store of fun stories about the “old” days. He wasn’t quite 40 years old, but his “old” days really did stretch back. It seems he had appeared as a child performer in ten or so pantos before being selected to appear in a couple of films in the 1940s.
He appeared in his first film in 1947, in the part of a 14 year old boy. He would actually have been 17, but, being rather small in build, he easily got away with it. By the time he was 20 he was appearing as a singer, dancer and impressionist, sharing a bill with Adelaide Hall at Collin’s in 1950, with his own bill-matter “Juvenile film star”! His professional panto career started around that time.
Few panto performers, if any, can have had such a long and successful career, starting as Ugly Sister, and thereafter, almost always, Dame. A full list of his pantomimes is difficult to achieve: in addition to the ten or so that he appeared in as a juvenile, an article in the Lancaster Guardian says he appeared in pantos at the Morecambe Palace (his eventual home town) on five separate occasions, working alongside Morecambe dance choreographer, Joyce Warrington.
At the time of his last pantomime he was 78 years old, and, according to The Stage review for that show, he was appearing in his 66th pantomime. He worked consistently throughout his career, but finally retired at the age of 78, because “his heart went out of it” after the death of his life-long partner and manager, Bob Pettigrew.
He suffered a stroke at the beginning of December 2016, and on January 20th, just days before he was due to move from hospital in Morecambe into care at Brinsworth, he died. He was 86 years old. Ronné is survived by his brother Jack and sisters Hilda, Glennis and Vivian.
The known dates are:
1952-53 Cinderella – Hastings White Rock (Sister) with Tony Claren
1953-54 Cinderella – Westcliff Palace (Sister) with Tony Claren
1954-5 No panto due to late cancellation?
1955-6 Cinderella – Hulme Hippodrome (Sister) with Gus Aubrey
1956-65 Nine missing years. No panto details.
1965-66 Cinderella – Scunthorpe Essoldo (Sister) with Dave Peters
1966-67 Cinderella – Salford Victoria (Sister) with Roy Rolland
1967-68 Jack & Beanstalk – Salford Victoria
1968-69 Babes in the Wood – Salford Victoria
1969-70 Robinson Crusoe – Swansea Grand
1970-71 Wolverhampton Grand
1971-72 Red Riding Hood – Wolverhampton Grand
1972-73 Goldilocks – Cardiff New (Humphrey the Handyman- NOT Dame)
1973-74 Robinson Crusoe – Cardiff New
1974-75 Aladdin – Cardiff New
1975-76 Jack & Beanstalk – Bournemouth Pavilion
1976-77 Aladdin – Bradford Alhambra
1977-78 Aladdin – Plymouth Hoe
1978-79 Dick Whittington – Manchester Opera House
1979-80 Robinson Crusoe – Plymouth Palace
1980-81 Jack & Beanstalk – Newcastle T.R.
1981-82 Cinderella – Cardiff New (Sister) with Geoffrey Brightman
1982-83 Aladdin – Bournemouth Pavilion
1983-84 Humpty Dumpty – Cardiff New
1984-85 Humpty Dumpty – Dominion
1985-86 Jack & Beanstalk – Dartford Orchard
1986-87 Humpty Dumpty – Sunderland Empire
1987-88 Humpty Dumpty – Hull, New
1988-89 Humpty Dumpty – Nottingham T.R.
1989-90 Humpty Dumpty – Oxford Apollo
1990-91 Jack & Beanstalk – Bradford Alhambra
1991-92 Jack & Beanstalk – Bournemouth Pavilion
1992-93 Mother Goose – Rhyl New Pavilion
1993-94 Aladdin – High Wycombe
1994-95 Dick Whittington – Southport
1995-96 Aladdin – Preston Charter
1996-97 Jack & Beanstalk – Weston-super-Mare Playhouse
1997-98 Jack & Beanstalk – Dorking Halls
1998-99 Billy & Bonzo meet the Babes in the Wood – South Wales tour
1999-00 Red Riding Hood – Southport
2000-01 Jack & Beanstalk – Hull New
2002-03 Goldilocks, Billingham
2003-04 Dick Whittington – Fareham
2004-05 Goldilocks – Bolton Octagon
2005-06 Goldilocks – Fareham
2006-07 Aladdin – Fareham
2007-08 Cinderella – Fareham (Baron Hardup )
2008-09 Dick Whittington – Fareham
Barrie Stacey remembers:
Ronne was a true pro. We first met and worked at The Coffee House Haymarket many years ago and with Poppy Cooper he was a great success – apart from the splendid food available! His ‘Dame’ was delightful and his talent universal. Barrie Stacey
Here are Ronne’s thoughts on his Harry Hill appearances from an Interview he gave at the time:
PANTOMIME Dame extraordinaire Ronne Coyles has swapped his outrageous make-up and wig for the equally outrageous alternative comedy of The Harry Hill Show.
The versatile entertainer, who has lived in Morecambe for over 35 years, has just finished filming a series of comic sketches for Harry Hill’s new ITV series to be shown in the new year. When Ronne returned home after recording the shows in London, he received a letter of thanks from Harry himself, which said: “Hope to see you next year for series two!”
Ronne, who has starred in 62 pantomimes during a showbiz career which began in the early 1940s, worked on the show alongside celebrities such as Dale Winton, Dora Bryan, Nigel Havers, Lee Chapman and Leslie Ash, and Neil and Christine Hamilton.
“But I don’t want to give too much away about the show, because I don’t want to spoil it!” he says.
Ronne has made the odd TV appearance in the past like on ‘The Michael Barrymore Show’ and the ‘Man Alive’ BBC2 documentary about the life of a pantomime dame.
And although he is best-known for his stage career, he says he adapted well to the challenge of the small screen. “On the show Harry wanted me to tap dance for him, so we did this routine and the audience reaction was amazing because they hadn’t seen it before,” he says.
“It’s like the old song goes, ‘Everything old is new again’. Things have changed because in the old days you were constantly working everywhere in the theatre so TV didn’t really come in to it.”
“In 1983 I was at the New Theatre in Cardiff with Keith Harris and Bobby Crush and Princess Margaret was there,” he remembers.
“We were all being introduced to her. I was playing the Queen of Hearts and I had this wig on which was about a mile high.
“As she was getting nearer I said to Keith Harris and Bobby Crush: “I’m the dame, should I bow or curtsey?’
“I took her hand and I bowed but I forgot about the wig. It fell off and nearly hit her.
“As she screamed two detectives rushed forward because they thought I was attacking her.
“But I managed to get the wig back on and the place erupted in laughter!”
He says the secret to being a good dame is “being yourself”.
Ronne was one of this businesses longest serving Panto Stars.He will be sadly missed.
I worked with Ronnie in Dick Whittington at The Southport Theatre 1994-1995 he was a true professional and a real gentleman I loved him to bits. Also that panto was with Keith Harris who has also left us he was also a true professional both lovely men. RIP
Ronne worked with my late father in the 1947 film Nothing Venture directed by John Baxter.we met Ronne at the Hull New Theatre in 2001 and was in touch with him until a few years ago. He was a true gentleman with a huge knowledge of the theatre. It was a pleasure to have met him and to chat about the films he made with my dad. A master of his craft who will be sorely missed.RIP.
We remember Rpnne with great fondness in the late 80, s when he stayed with us during panto in Southport. A lovely man with with a fantastic career. RIP.
I worked with Ronne on many occasions a true showbiz gent. Taught me lots and was responsible for my entry into equity and gave me my stage name. Remembered always .RIP