Kings of Camp

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Larry Grayson

1923 - 1995


Larry Grayson
Born William White in Banbury, England on the 31st. August 1923, he was fostered ten days later by a mining family in a very poor area of Nuneaton. Here the homes had outside toilets and wash houses where the laundry was boiled in large "coppers". At six years old his foster mother died and it was left to his two foster sisters, May and Fan, to raise him.

Always one to "show off" (he often used to 'perform' to neighbours' children in the wash house) he was heard singing by the Club Artists living next door and given informal tuition.

Leaving school at fourteen, his career as a sales assistant in a shoe shop lasted just two days. However, before long he was singing professionally at the Fife Street Working Men's Club. Later he toured small towns and villages in Devon and Cornwall with a show called "Four Blue Pages" where he dragged up 'La Cage au Folles' style. He appeared in Ralph Reader's "Gang Show" in the thirties, and later in "Journey's End" (London), with the stage name of Billy Breen. For more than thirty years he toured Clubs and Music Halls, mostly in the North, doing his drag act.

In January 1971, Larry Grayson (his agent had advised the change of name) got his "break". Contracted for just three (four minute) appearances on ATV's "Saturday Variety" (compulsive viewing in that era) his contract was extended to six appearances. Then twelve. Then sixteen. Also appearing on the popular "Leslie Crowther Show" at that time, he was spotted by Lew Grade who was so impressed he gave him his own show, "Shut That Door". Voted TV Times' Funniest Man of the Year, he later topped the bill at the London Palladium.

In 1973 the press reported the engagement between Larry and his close friend Noele Gordon, star of the original "Crossroads". Of course, it was a hoax; but one that the two of them continued playing successfully for many years.

Moving over to BBC in 1978, Larry took on "The Generation Game" pushing the ratings to over eighteen million. His earnings rocketed to £100,000 a year and the show was re-named "Larry Grayson's Generation Game". He left the show when it was at its peak in 1981.

Many considered his hosting Anglia TV's "Sweethearts" in 1987 a failed attempt to make a come-back. It wasn't. Larry didn't need to make a come-back. He was still up there, still very much a star, but taking it easier with fewer TV and Radio exposures. His stage appearances still packed them in, and he was now a very wealthy man whose health was unfortunately failing him fast. Larry's final public appearance was on the Royal Variety Performance in November 1994.

With all his success, Larry never forgot his humble beginnings. Making his home a modest bungalow close to his friends in Nuneaton, he loved fish and chips, and would even keep salt and vinegar in the glove compartment of his white Rolls Royce so he could enjoy his meal (out of the paper, apparently) on the way home after a performance.


Larry's Characters:
Shut That Door!
Everard, Slack Alice, Pop it in Pete the postman, Self Raising Fred the baker, Apricot Lil, Non-Stick Nell, Once a week Nora.

Catch-Phrases:
"Shut that door", "What a gay day.", "Seems like a nice boy.", "I'm sure he's got my brooch.", "Look at the muck on 'ere.", "What's the scores on the doors, Isla?", "She's as common as muck!", "Ooh, I've come over all limp."

Who but Larry could remove his glasses, allowing them to dangle around his neck, whilst sniffing, incessantly playing with his nose, inspect his fingers, then look sideways at the audience proclaiming, "Worms!"

Larry Grayson never came out publicly as gay. He always managed to avoid the issue and few but his closest friends ever knew. His audiences took his camp innuendos to be purely an act. His millions of admirers, when he was at the top of his career, were mostly oblivious to his earlier hard working drag years. To them he was an over-night success.

On one occasion gay activists demonstrated outside the Shepherd's Bush Studios where Larry was recording the "Generation Game". They were unhappy with his stereotypical portrayal of gay people.

Times and attitudes change. In 1993, to celebrate Larry's 70th Birthday, a tribute to him was mounted at the Museum of the Moving Image in London as part of the gay and lesbian television season.

Larry's long career was based on "camp". He could take the most innocent of phrases and inject his own personal sexual innuendo into it, hammering it firmly home with an arched eyebrow, a pursed lip, or a kick of the heels. He was a master of his craft.

Performance:
Saturday Variety, 1971 TV Appearances.
Leslie Crowther Show, 1971 TV Appearances.
Shut That Door!, 1972/3 TV Show Host.
Crossroads, 1973 TV Soap Guest Appearance.
Larry Grayson Hour Of Stars, 1974 TV Show Host.
Look Who's Talking, 1974/5 TV Show Host.
Crossroads, 1975 TV Soap Guest Appearance.
Generation Game, 1978/81 TV Game Show Host.
At Home With Larry Grayson, 1983 TV Show Host.
Late Night Larry, 1983 Radio Music Show Host.
Sweethearts, 1987 TV Panel Game Host.

In 1999 the museum in Larry Grayson's home town of Nuneaton honoured his memory with an Exhibition entitled, "Shut That Door" which was possibly the star's best loved catch-phrase.

A TV stage set dominated by a life size cut-out of Larry greeted visitors. Various doors on the set could be opened to reveal items from his long career including some rare photographs from his early "drag" years. Also on show were: The "This Is Your Life" Red Book; the TV Times Award for being TV Personality Of The Year; and The Grand Order Of Water Rats Award.

 

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Reproduced under Creative Commons license: Public Domain

Our thanks to: Internet Archive - visit for more!

 

Larry Grayson's Last Performance

Sadly we lost Larry on the 7th January 1995 - just a few weeks after this Royal Variety Performance.

 

Our Camp Contenders:

Kings of Camp.

JOHN INMAN.     LARRY GRAYSON.     PAUL O'GRADY     JULIAN CLARY.

KENNETH WILLIAMS.     DALE WINTON.     GRAHAM NORTON.     CHARLES HAWTREY.

 

 

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AstaBGay - The Blackpool Gay Scene Guide.

 

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