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The Golden Jubilee 1952-2002

It's our working jubilee too!

Val Proudfoot
Les Henry
David Conn
Jim Kerr
Jack Shirvell
Tom Griffith
Lesley Eke
Audrey Hawkin
Dai Owen
Jim Dade
Sadie Jefferson
James Finlay
Les Henry
Les Henry was born in 1920 and has been in showbusiness since he was 19.

He started playing the harmonica after seeing the legendary musician Larry Adler in performance.

"My mother was deaf in one ear, and I got a mouth organ and used to blow a little song in her ear. The song was terrible, but she'd say, 'Oh, that's lovely.'"

In 1938, Les was presented with a harmonica by Larry Adler for winning first prize in the solo harmonica championship at Butlins holiday camp in Clacton.

"He shook my hand and that was one of the greatest thrills I had," says Henry.

Brush with the Goons

During World War II, he served as a motorcycle dispatch rider but also toured with the Combined Services Entertainments, sharing the stage with stars including Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan.

Les won many competitions playing his harmonica
"I did a show in the army hospital in Naples where one bloke laughed so much he split his stitches," Les recalls.

After the war, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan asked Les to join them on a new radio show, which was to become The Goons. Les turned them down as he had already agreed to form a harmonica act – the Three Monarchs - with Eric York and Jimmy Prescott.

The trio's show really took off when they introduced comedy into their act.

Royal performance

"I did no more than my funny walk, and silly things, and it was an instantaneous success - it's as though God smiled on us".

The Three Monarchs performed for the Queen 50 years ago
It was with the Three Monarchs that Les starred in the first ever Royal Command performance at the London Palladium, taking centre stage with big names such as Vera Lynn, Norman Wisdom, Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock and Gracie Fields.

He remembers Gracie Fields accidentally singing the wrong words during the rehearsal of the finale of the Royal Command performance, "God save our gracious King…er…Queen", much to the hilarity of those watching.

Luckily she didn't make the same mistake on the night.

Les's show business career has taken him to more than 30 countries.

No "knickers" on the BBC

"I played Las Vegas. When I took over from this singer, I said to my wife 'He's an ugly looking so and so but he can't half sing' - and that was Tony Bennett".

Les is not too keen on contemporary comedians. "The subject matter the comics use is vile, and all the swearing I don't go for at all".

When Les was a young performer, there were tight restrictions on what they could say. "You couldn't say 'knickers' on the BBC - the producer would come up to you at rehearsal and say, 'You can't say that.'"

At 82 he is still performing, under the name of Cedric Monarch. He also continues to add to the 17,000 jokes he has stored on his computer, at his home in Milton Keynes.

Love of laughter

"I just get a kick out of making people happy, it's as simple as that. There's a wonderful feeling when you work on a gag and you try it on an audience and you hear them laughing."

Despite suffering a heart attack in 1995 and having been fitted with a pacemaker, Les is still going strong. He has officially retired but has no plans to stop performing altogether. "I keep going in the business because I've never died on stage."

And he is still in demand - forthcoming engagements include a gig at the Battersea Arts Centre and a pantomime appearance in Maidstone later this year.

"I've got a gimmick, I work cheap," Les quips.

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