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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 15:49 GMT
The show goes on for retired stars
By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Pat Perry
Pat is famous for playing Madge Allsop, Dame Edna's bridesmaid

There is, so the saying goes, no business like show business. But when the time comes for the final curtain call, what then?

The luckier ones, perhaps, will end up at Brinsworth House, a retirement home in Twickenham, south-west London, for former members of the entertainment industry.

The last home of such notable entertainers as Dame Thora Hird, Alan "Fluff" Freeman and Charlie Drake, this brown-brick building sits back off a main road, belying the fact that it is actually set within an acre of land.

One of Brinsworth's newest residents is Emily Perry, known as Pat, who is better still famed for portraying Madge Allsop, the long-suffering best friend and bridesmaid to Dame Edna Everage.

Sheila Gould, Brinsworth's matron, organises an introduction, speaking into Pat's hearing tube, a sort of kitchen-roll innard covered in black tape.

"You'll have to speak into my tube, I'm deaf as a post," explains Pat.

Happy to pose

Frail but immaculate in a blouse and trousers and with a twinkle in her eye, Pat says that Barry Humphries, the man behind the global phenomenon that is Dame Edna, recommended that she come to Brinsworth as she had failed to settle in other homes.

Pat Perry, Ozzy Osbourne and Dame Edna Everage
Pat's career with Dame Edna saw her meet stars like Ozzy Osbourne

"I'm 100 in June," says Pat. "You know, my memory's gone. I've been all around the world with Barry, and I can't remember a thing."

Pat is happy to have her picture taken and perks up at the sight of a camera, gleefully posing with her hearing tube and blowing kisses to the delight of the others sat around the lounge area.

This, like the rest of the premises, is spotless, tastefully furnished and clearly well-vacuumed.

Mrs Gould, who runs the place with a kindly but firm hand, oversees 56 staff, including 12 registered nurses, who look after 34 residents.

A veteran of 19 years at the home, Mrs Gould speaks fondly of her "Rogues' Gallery" of former residents - a row of photographs in an upstairs corridor.

"We're more for light entertainers and those who were in variety, but we do take actors," she says, revealing how proof has to be provided that a potential resident was once a professional performer.

Human cannonball

She remembers with ease the names and details about those who have come and gone while pointing out pictures, telling memorable anecdotes about people who had led rather remarkable lives before retiring here.

I saw this name, Bruce Forsyth, and suddenly there were green flashing lights and I knew this was the man I was going to marry
Penny Forsyth

There was the former resident sold as a baby and who used to run strip clubs in Soho, of another who "had fantastic legs, right up until the end of her life" and of a current resident who was known as "Leicester's midget" and shot out of a cannon.

The rooms are named after famous people who pay a sponsorship fee to have titles such as "The Norman Wisdom Room" or "The Brian Conley Room" painted on doors.

Each interior is immaculate and betrays a link to the colourful past of their occupants. A peek inside one, for example, reveals piles of books and copious newspaper cuttings clinging to walls and a wardrobe.

Fittingly this room belongs to a former critic.

Staying at Brinsworth costs 600 per week for a residential room and 750 for nursing care.

The place costs 1.25m a year to run, and funding comes from several sources, most famously the Royal Variety Performance, for which Brinsworth House acts as the box office.

From left: Vera Hindin, Penny Forsyth, Reg Brigden
Vera Hindin (left), Penny Forsyth and Reg Brigden tell many stories

Downstairs, waiting patiently in the bar which is lined with many photographs of famous faces, are three former entertainers.

Penny Forsyth, all beaming smiles and perfect hair, offers anecdotes from her time as the wife of one of the UK's most legendary entertainers before her divorce from Bruce Forsyth.

"I was a young woman, performing at a theatre, and saw a list on the wall of names of people who were appearing there in future.

"I saw this name, Bruce Forsyth, and suddenly there were green flashing lights in front of my eyes and I knew this was the man I was going to marry."

Penny is very specific about these green flashing lights, mentioning them twice. "I did tell Bruce after we were married but I don't think he believed me."

The couple were a singing and dancing double act for a time, before Penny fell pregnant with the first of their three daughters.

"My children recommended I come here after I had a bad stroke. It's a wonderful place and we've all got something in common here."

'Wonderful place'

Vera Hindin, aged 80, is keen to mention her late husband Philip, who devised famous television shows such as Beat The Clock and Call My Bluff.

This former can-can dancer has plenty to say and is a bundle of good cheer, despite having had both her lower legs amputated.

Sheila Gould
Sheila Gould has fond memories of previous Brinsworth residents

That does not stop her, however, and now she whizzes around in a motorised wheelchair.

"My husband and I were on the committee for Brinsworth House and when he died in 2003 I thought how I couldn't not see the place again.

"So I decided to come and live here myself. It's like being at home, it's wonderful."

Fellow resident Reg Brigden, aged 85, long had an interest in magic, and took it up full time when he retired at 57.

He later became a children's entertainer and explains how he was commissioned to perform at parties with rather exclusive clients.

"I did parties at embassies and for royalty, including the two young princes," he says, referring to Harry and William.

When asked what the boy princes were like, he shrugs. "Just normal, just like anybody else.

"The only difference was that the nannies would all be yakking out the back and I'd be left alone to face all the kids."




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