Four Poofs and a Piano pays tribute to Larry Grayson
One quarter of the memorably named music group Four Poofs and a Piano is returning to his native South Yorkshire with a tribute to iconic gay TV comedian Larry Grayson.
Sheffielder Ian Parkin is starring as the Generation Game host in the play Three Days and Three Minutes with Larry Grayson at Rotherham Civic.
He said: “It’s looking at the build-up to what was his final performance on the 1994 Royal Variety Show.
“The story is told by having a psychic healer as the ‘everyman’ character. He was very interested in psychic mediums and healers and consulted them quite a lot,.
“This psychic is there to help him put his three-minute slot at the Royal Variety Show together. During the course of that they chat about Larry’s life.
“We get to hear stuff about the beginning of his career.”
The show uses a lot of Larry’s best material, including his comic monologues featuring his famous characters, such as Slack Alice and Everard. Ian said that Larry’s success was surprising as he began performing in an era when homosexuality was still illegal.
He said: “The club audiences loved him. He used to do drag and moved into stand-up. In those tough clubs they just accepted him. He made them laugh. Their attitude was, ‘If you can make us laugh, you’re alright’. I can’t think there were many camp and effeminate acts during that time.”
Ian, who said he was a huge fan of Larry’s, met him once when he was a young performer in a seaside summer season in Bournemouth, where Larry was performing a Sunday concert with Generation Game co-host Isla St Clair.
“I went back to say hello and he was utterly delightful. He spent about an hour to an hour and a half signing fans’ programmes. He didn’t go until the last one had been done.”
So was the Larry TV persona just an act? Ian said: “Everyone I’ve met since who knew him always says what you saw was what you got. Maybe he was a little louder!
“He was warm and liked people and really appreciated his audience and was funny.”
He added: “I can’t think he was wanting people to laugh at his effeminacy. I don’t think that played a part in his thought processes.
“But because he was effeminate he was even funnier, with those looks to the side and that sweep of the head.”
Ian was born on the Manor in Sheffield and went to Prince Edward Junior School and Hurlfield. When he was 14 his father became caretaker of the Central United Reformed Church - opposite the Crucible stage door.
Inspired by his drama teacher Meg Jepson, who went on to become the director of Sheffield Youth Theatre, he got an after-school job working front of house and backstage at the city theatres.
Then he went on to drama school and spent 20 years as a dancer in musical theatre before moving into singing roles.
Ian said: “I met up with the other boys in Four Poofs and and we started that going.”
The group became TV stars when they performed regularly on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross from 2000 to 2010, as well as Britain’s Got More Talent and the Alan Titchmarsh Show. After 12 years Ian decided he wanted to move on to new challenges and the group split. They have got back together for special shows.
Three Days and Three Minutes with Larry Grayson is at Rotherham Civic on Monday. Box office: call 01709 823621 or go online at Rotherham Theatres