This week saw the passing of probably one of the finest variety entertainers the UK has ever produced. So mystified was I at the extraordinary initial lack of main media coverage, I decided to dedicate this week’s offering to his memory.
I’m talking of the great, now sadly lamented, Joe Longthorne MBE. Joe was world class. Unfortunately, over the years, those who managed his career and well-being were not. Consequently, even after appearances in Las Vegas and success on TV, this multi-talented vocal impressionist, never maintained the world accolades he so richly deserved. Nevertheless, his UK theatre tours, club dates and charity functions were always sold out and he never failed his thousands of adoring fans.
Throughout his long battle with cancer, Joe continued to follow the profession he loved, and only recently pulled out of his latest tour when the disease simply became too overwhelming. Although I hadn’t seen Joe for some years, I have followed him closely on social media and have often related the circumstances surrounding my first meeting with this highly amusing and lovable entertainer. It was back in the late 70’s.
I had been engaging in an ultimately disastrous business enterprise to bring live entertainment to the expats working in Saudi Arabia. We had brought in a few shows and decided in the light of somewhat limited success, to ‘up the ante’ and import a rather more upmarket group of acts.
Joe, then relatively unknown, was one of the artists we selected. On the bill we also engaged a band, which comprised of five young musicians who worked under the name of ‘Coaster’ – a title which by sheer coincidence happened to be the name of the model of local buses in Jeddah at the time. The cast duly arrived and after a couple of days, decided they wanted to visit the local Souk.
Now Jeddah, in those days, was not exactly conducive to tourism and ‘Westerners’ were looked on with no small amount of apprehension and suspicion. Instructing the boys to be as inconspicuous as possible, I told our Yemeni chauffer to drive them to the local market. They promised to be back for tea – they weren’t! A nail biting hour or so later, the door flew open and the driver rushed in. In a complete panic he told me the band had been arrested!
Apparently the boys, including Joe, had seen what they thought was a dumping ground for crashed cars and buses and had been trying to prise off one of the chrome ‘Coaster’ emblems as a keepsake. In fact the site was actually the local police pound! I hurried down, my thoughts a turmoil of possible deportations, lashings and Lord knows what. I needn’t have bothered. As I approached the circle of police surrounding the group, I realised they were all laughing!
There in the centre was Joe. Notwithstanding a total language barrier, he had the whole bunch of them in peals of laughter. They actually escorted us all home. That was Joe Longthorne, a truly unique international artist of the very first order. RIP Joe. Far more deserving of a knighthood than others I could mention!
Keep the faith