The story so far:
I am born into a middle class French family who live in England. Aged 14 I find my mother in bed with the lodger and learn that my father is not my biological father.
I am sent to a public school, the army, a slaughter house in France to learn the family catering business. I sing in a casino night club and lose my virginity in a brothel.
In March 1950 I returned home to Pangbourne to live with my father who wasn’t ( Eddy ) my mother who was
( Simone ) and her lover (Pierre ) My sister had got married to an Italian industrial spy and disappeared somewhere abroad. In my twentieth year I decided not to take life too seriously but bide my time working in the food trade till an opportunity to escape and go on stage came my way.
The opportunity came earlier than expected.
One day the landlord of ‘The Swan’, the neighbouring riverside pub which I frequented regularly, asked me if would do a little turn at a party as he and his wife were celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. I had occasionally thumped away at the piano accompanying friends who liked bawling out rugger songs and they hoped I would join in a cabaret of local talent they were organizing.
On the night, removing my glasses and wearing a straw hat I slipped into an imitation of Maurice Chevalier, then a stupid little sketch with an imagined performing flea which I killed by mistake, put in a matchbox and cried over while playing a funeral march. It was quite funny if you’d had a few drinks. I got a satisfactory round of applause but to my surprise an elderly man asked me if we could talk somewhere quietly. It was important.
I followed him out to the terrace and he introduced himself as Arthur Waters, brother of Jack Warner and Elsie and Doris Waters.
Jack Warner was a very famous radio and musichall comedian at the time, who starred in several films, his sisters were an equally famous musichall act known by their stage names of ‘Gert and Daisy’.
‘I’ve been watching you most of this evening, 'Arthur Waters said,' and I think you have quite a lot of talent and a certain youthful charisma. I’d like to introduce you to my brother’s agent. He could get you some cabaret work if you were willing to follow his suggestions and advice.'
An amazing offer out of the blue.
The following week I went to Jack Warner’s West End flat, met the great man himself, was introduced to his agent and nervously went through a cabaret routine at the piano. It wasn’t too original, nor that brilliant. I simply did my Chevalier number, sang a Charles Trenet song in French, and followed that with the flea business.
‘I can get you a gig next Thursday at a Freemason’s Ladie's Night ' the agent said. ‘We’ll have to work on it a bit, tidy it up, but it would be a good experience for you.'
I rehearsed the act with him in a room above a Soho pub for three nights before the booking, then met him in the anteroom of one of the banqueting halls at the Café Royal on the appointed night.
I had told no one about what I was doing. I was nervous enough at the thought of appearing professionally in front of a London audience, but to be doing so at the Café Royal where my father had serious business connections was sailing close to a wind which could turn stormy.
Through a gap in the curtain behind a small stage I watched the freemasons, their wives and guests in all their finery finish their dinner, and became more and more tense as endless speeches were made. The musicians took their places on the little rostrum, I was the opening number to be followed by a tenor who would sing Victorian ballads, after which Elsie and Doris Waters would top the bill.
End of speeches. Roll of drums. Announcement from the Master of Ceremonies.
'Worshipful Master, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen...tonight....for the very first time in London and fresh from his native Paris, a young rising star..André Lior !'
My new name had been thought up ten minutes before.
I went on, guts knotted so tight that they held back any risk of me being sick or worse. I got through it somehow. Without my glasses I never saw the audience, hardly saw the piano keys, just sang through Trenet’s Boom and Chevalier’s Louise wearing the straw hat, was startled when the band joined in at the end, then did my stupid performing flea act, played the funeral march and got a standing ovation.
I couldn’t believe it. They laughed, dug each other in the ribs, clapped their hands. I took a bemused bow, walked off, dazed, not understanding why I was so successful and, backstage Elsie Waters slapped me on the back
'Lousy performance, but great idea.,' she said.
I stared at her confused.
'The death of a flea and the funeral, the matchbox, all that. Perfect for this audience.'
I looked even more puzzled.
'It’s a funeral director’s Lodge deary, didn’t you know? Our brother, Arthur, is a funeral director.' And, turning to her sister, 'Doris, Arthur didn’t tell him. He can be such a shit sometimes. 'Then back to me 'Never mind love, they enjoyed it, but if I were you I wouldn’t go on stage again, you’re not made for it. Just try writing stuff for others. You’ll be good at that.'
The tenor went on, Gert and Daisy went on. I sat in a corner of the ante room with the straw hat on my knees going over what had just been said.
Lousy performance.....Not made for it....
The evening ended, the band packed up their instruments, the tenor left for another gig, so did Gert and Daisy. Jack Warner’s agent handed me a fiver and patted me on the head. ‘Well done sonny. That wasn’t too bad. Don’t call us we’ll call you,' or something similar.
I had been laughed at because I had been conned into doing a silly act to amuse a funeral director’s Lodge, that was all.
I wasn’t made for the stage. I wouldn’t stand a chance professionally.
Gert and Daisy and further down Jack Warner.