Lionel Blair was born in 1931 in Montreal. His family came to England where he was an infant. His films include “The World of Suzy Wong” in 1960 with William Holden and Nancy Kwan. His sister was the actress Joyce Blair.
“Guardian” interview in 2013:
I was born in 1932 and we grew up in Stamford Hill, north London. When the war began we were evacuated to Oxford – just me and my sister and my mother – while my dad stayed in London working. I remember playing in the garden with my younger sister, Joyce, and we saw a German plane crash. My father said, “If that can happen there, what’s the point of being in the country away from each other?” So we came home to Stamford Hill.
My father’s parents were Russian and he was the archetypal north London barber – “Something for the weekend, sir?” and all that. From an early age Joyce and I were taken to the pictures, – it was always Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Shirley Temple. We used to go home and try to copy them. That’s how we learned to tap dance.
We were Jewish but not orthodox. During the war, Dad brought bacon home and we’ve eaten it ever since. I think that was frowned upon by certain people in the community when they got a sniff of our bacon sandwich. But every Friday we had chicken and my mother would light candles.
My father died when I was 13. He had a hernia and thought he’d cured it but he hadn’t and it became strangulated and he had a duodenal ulcer as well. He went into an operating theatre and came out dead. It was a huge shock for the whole family. It changed everything. It was the first time I’d ever thought, I’m never going to see him again. It was so awful and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a loss like it.
After Dad died, I had to grow up artificially fast. We had no money so I had to work. I’d started work as a boy actor and my dad had been thrilled about that, but I became too old for little boy parts and too young for grown-up parts. I could dance so I got into musicals and started performing with Joyce. But just as we were becoming well known on television, my mother died and so we were orphans. Then Joyce met her first husband, Eddie, so I was on my own.
I will have been married to Susan for 46 years in March. The secret of a successful marriage is memories. You must have memories together. That’s why my dad insisted that we went everywhere together, so we could talk about things. I’m so lucky to have a wife who is a nest builder. Her nest is the most important thing in the world to her.
When my first son was born I was driving home and I suddenly said to Susan, “We’ve got another life in our family,” and it was just wonderful. My children are 43, 40 and 30 and the youngest is still at home. We’ve got three grandchildren too and it’s heaven. I love them to distraction.
My children didn’t like seeing me on the telly. When they first started going to school – a state school – having a famous father was not the best thing in the world. They were teased because I was a dancer and my persona didn’t help. Then we sent them to Italia Conti [Academy of Theatre Arts], which was a different sort of thing altogether and there were kids there who were almost jealous because they had a famous father. We’ve got a very, very normal family, and for me everything comes back to family. If they’re sad, I’m sad. I want them to be happy all the time.
• Lionel Blair performs a one-man show at London’s Hippodrome Casino on 23 March, hippodromecasino.com. Box office: 020-7769 8866
The above “Guardian” interview can also be accessed online here.