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Never Judge a Book by its Cover... Or a Friend by Their Shoes

I'm not sure if this saying is something I've seen or heard somewhere before, or if its something that I've just made up. Either way it's perfect for what I'm about to write (and what you're about to read).

This is my friend's Mum.


My friend is called Bryan. His Mum is called, well, Mum. I didn't know her as anything else.


She was born about a month before HM Queen Elizabeth II and sadly died in April of this year (2022) aged 96 about 5-months before the death of the Queen.


Bryan's Mum was born to a Chinese immigrant father and an English mother. He never learnt to speak English and she never learnt to speak Chinese. The secret of the perfect marriage? Who knows, that's not what our story is about. Our story is about Bryan's Mum.


In fact, our story is about Bryan's Mum and her sister; his Aunty Toyah.


Because before boyfriends, husbands, children, and mortgages Bryan's Mum and Aunty Toyah were acrobats.


They were a double act between the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. And they toured theatres throughout the UK.


This was when show business was proper show business.


When dancers, jugglers, magicians, singers, comedians, and of course acrobats would tour from town to town, theatre to theatre, entertaining everyone from royalty to road sweepers.


For our younger readers it should be pointed out that TV in the UK didn't really take off until the Queen's coronation in 1953. Moving pictures at the cinema were only decades old and live cabaret was everywhere.


With me being a professional juggler and Jester, Mum saw me as part of her extended show biz family and so I got to know her quite well during the last 10-years or so of her life. I knew she'd worked as an acrobat, but it wasn't until I was sat with Bryan - him drinking his uber-sugary latte and me with a black filter coffee - that I realised quite what she had done during those years travelling around the country on a steam train with her sister as an acrobatic double act.

A publicity shot: Bryan's Mum


"So the only reason Morecambe and Wise didn't come to Aunty Toyah's wedding is they didn't like Ray."


"What?"


"Yea. They were invited to the wedding because they were friends with Mum and Aunty Toyah, but they didn't like Ray the guy she was marrying so they didn't go to the wedding. I don't know why they didn't like him, but they didn't."


This wasn't the direction I was expecting our conversation to go. We'd just been chatting about Manchester Tarts (the cake) and how I'd never had one (the cake).


But it turns out that Mum and Aunty Toyah were pretty good friends with Morecambe and Wise before they started making TV shows that were watched by 10s of millions of people every week.


And it didn't stop there.


Bruce Forsythe was another name they'd worked with when Brucey was a song and dance man who was so far down the bill he rarely got mentioned as being on the bill.


They also worked alongside, and became friends with, many of the names of the time who have now sadly been all but forgotten.


"Have you ever heard of The Great Murray?"


"The escapologist? Yea I heard of him."


"He was really good friends with Aunty Toyah when she lived in Blackpool. Murray owned a magic shop there in the 70s and 80s."


For those that don't know Murray; he was an Australian escapologist and illusionist who would bill himself as The Last Britisher Out of Occupied Germany (Australia was still part of the British Empire and so Murray classed himself as British). He'd been performing in Germany in 1939 (Hitler in the audience) just before war broke out. He managed to escape the country, and certain internment, by cycling to Denmark! Murray was the headline act of his day and was essentially the British Houdini.


Another was Billy Dainty.


Billy was a comedian, dancer, pantomime and, later, a television star.


 

From left to right: Billy Dainty, Bryan's Dad, Bryan's Mum, and Bryan (baby).


 

"Billy is in the dressing gown. Dad, me and Mum. Billy offered to buy me for 10 shillings."


A great story. But what's this got to do with anything?


As Templars we are custodians of an ancient Order that has little to no written history. All we really know about them comes from stories, myths, and heresay.


And so, as Templars, we know just how important it is to keep a story alive. To tell and retell it so that it continues to get told for many more years to come.


In this modern era it's very easy to look at someone as they are now and only see them as they are now. We rarely ask about what they did and who they were before they became the person we see before us.


Now of course not everyone has a story like Bryan's Mum, or indeed the Order of Knights Templar. But everyone does have a story, and its a story that deserves to be told.


These stories need to be shared and cherished, because for as long as we keep telling these stories the people in them continue to live. Only when our story is no longer told do we truly wither in to nothingness.

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