Tag Archives: Tommy Steele

Colin Copperfield (1st of 3) – Behind the quirky scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar

“Oozing energy… sheer delightful naughtiness”

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is a wildly entertaining autobiography by Colin Copperfield. 

Colin started in showbiz aged 14 and has spent his life as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter – including 25 years in the vocal group Wall Street Crash.

He spent 3 years on cruise ships, 6 years on shows in London’s West End, including Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy, and he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries.

He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles.

He told me: “I’ve recently finished composing the musical Paradise Lane, fingers and eyes crossed coming to a theatre near you soon.”

He was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

“I had a bit of a tough upbringing. I’m 72 now… Now I write songs for other artists and I’m a dance teacher specialising in tap, modern and ballet. I also work as personal fitness trainer.”

Obviously I had to talk to him.

Colin in his Wall Street Crash days…


JOHN: So… Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End.

COLIN: It was just one of those flukes of showbusiness. I was around 28. I was doing singing telegrams to pay the rent.

Superstar needed rock singers for the stage production.

They couldn’t make rock singers out of the traditional people in showbusiness – they were all My Boy Bill singers. They needed rock singers so, when they started, they auditioned people who sang in bands, like I did. But most of the people who sang in bands had no theatre discipline. They could sing on television but couldn’t do theatre.

There was a big problem getting enough good suitable singers. So we very often used to do Jesus Christ Superstar – this is a top West End show remember – with seven disciples. 

We had lots of Japanese tourists coming in and you could see them looking confused. Surely there were 12 disciples???

We – truly – sometimes used to dress the girls with short hair up as boys to sit round the Last Supper table, because you really HAD to have 12 disciples at the Last Supper.

At some points we were all round the table and we’d all link up hands and have to stretch a bit: different arm lengths.

JOHN: It must almost be relaxing performing in a successful, long-running West End show, though…

COLIN: Well, when I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was really busy. I was also working at the Stork Club in Piccadilly Circus – doing the midnight show and the 2 o’clock in the morning show. And I was also doing a television show at Teddington Studios with Tommy Steele.

I was doing the Tommy Steele show all day, which was really hard; we were tap-dancing down this staircase all day. Guys were breaking their legs going up and down. I only got the gig because of one of my friends, who was a proper dancer. I went along and it was quite a long rehearsal period – a 2-month rehearsal period –  and then we filmed at Teddington.

I was doing that during the day and Jesus Christ Superstar at night and then I was working at the Stork Club after that. So I was a bit tired. I was getting about 2 or 3 hours kip a night.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane

Anyway, one night I’d been tap-dancing during the day in Teddington and then I got to Superstar in the West End.

It was a Saturday night performance – I was knackered.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane – everyone’s asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus sings this very long song.

It went on for about eight minutes about how he was going to be denied and all that.

At the end of it, Jesus sings (COLIN SINGS) “…before I change my mind…” – then BLACKOUT.

So, there’s a blackout and we all clear the stage – Interval – the audience buy their ice creams. Then, at the beginning of the second half – BLACKOUT – we all come back into our sleeping positions – Jesus is standing there.

So, at the end of the first half, I had got onto the floor; it was a really warm floor; perspex squares; I’m slunk down; Jesus is singing; I’ve fallen asleep. BLACKOUT. Peter and John have gone. Jesus has gone. 

But I’m still fast asleep on the stage. 

They were about to lower the iron curtain; all the lights are up and somebody saw me lying there, more or less under the iron curtain.

“Colin! Colin! Colin!!!”… 

They had to send the stage hands on to wake me up.

All the audience have seen this. So, at the beginning of the Second Act… BLACKOUT… and, as the lights came up, the whole audience stands up and starts clapping and shouting “Bravo!” just as Jesus is about to be denied. Literally, a standing ovation.

I was in Jesus Christ Superstar for three years. I was in it three times. 

JOHN: Three times?

COLIN: I had been in Superstar for about a year, then left to do a show at the Ambassadors Theatre – Let The Good Stones Roll, about the Rolling Stones. I played Keith Richards. That was on for about 8 months.

After Heaven, an unexpected encounter

Then I went to do another show called Leave Him to Heaven at the New London Theatre with Anita Dobson. That came off and I was meeting a mate of mine in town for a drink near the Palace Theatre where Jesus Christ Superstar was still on.

As I passed the Palace Theatre, suddenly Peter Gardner, the company manager, appeared out of nowhere and rushed over: 

“Colin! Colin! You gotta come over, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter and Simon Zealotes!”

“Peter,” I said, “I’m going to meet my mate for a drink. I haven’t been in this show for a year.”

“Darling! You’ll remember it, darling! You’ll remember it! Come in! Come in! Go up to the wardrobe department!”

I went in. I went up. New people. Nobody I knew. 

So I go on stage. It’s the Saturday Matinee and I’m on stage with this cast of 35 people I’ve never met in my life. They are all thinking: Who is this bloke?

I was on stage, singing all the relevant songs. And, at the end of it, bless their hearts, the whole company did the Who’s Best and the whole company turned to  me. I didn’t know ANYbody.

I never ever took time off when I was in the West End but, another night, I got Hong Kong flu. Loads of people were off sick. I think some theatres even went dark. I was living in Islington (north London), lying there ‘dying’ in my bed and Peter Gardner phones up: 

“Treas, treas” – he called everybody ‘treas’ as in ‘treasure’ – “you gotta come in, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter, Simon or Herod and…”

I said: “Peter, I’ve got a temperature of 104, otherwise I’d be in there. You know that.”

“No, darling, you gotta come in…”

“Anyway,” I said, “I can’t play four parts, because they overlap!”

He said: “Oh, no no no. We’ll work round that, darling.”

JOHN: We’ll kill Jesus early?

COLIN: “We’ll change the story a bit… We’ll send a car for you. You’ve got to come in, darling. We’re in terrible trouble.”

So I get in this car and I really was feeling like I’m dying. 

I got to the theatre and they put me in the first costume and threw me on to the stage. Then they put me into the next costume to play Herod. Then off into the next one… And I have very little memory of the whole thing. I was nearly dead when I did it! Four roles! They had a cab waiting to take me home and I slept maybe for three days.

JOHN: They were able to change your face by putting on different wigs?

COLIN: All of that, but I don’t think it was fooling anybody: Hold on, that short bloke was just playing Herod… Why is he playing the High Priest now? I guess people thought it must have some deep theatrical meaning.

Anyway, one night I played four parts in the same play in the West End, with a temperature of 104.

…CONTINUED HERE..
with the dustman, the buskers and Dean Martin

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Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

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