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Byline: peter chambers

PETER CHAMBERS looks back at one of Coventry's most fondly-remembered all-round entertainers.

REG DIXON was a "northern" comedian in style but definitely a Coventry kid born and bred.

Reg (not to be confused with Blackpool Tower organist Reginald Dixon) would take some time before he moved into showbusiness - it was a constant source of amusement to him that he was sacked from 30 different factories in the area between the ages of 14 and 16!

Not just factories, mind, he tried everything - butcher, hairdresser, watchmaker, panel sprayer and body builder (the car variety).

Born in 1914, he was the youngest of seven children. None had theatrical aspirations except Reg who began singing with local dance band The Sunshine Serenaders on Sunday nights for 7/6d.

From there he tried his hand in a touring circus, but when war broke out he joined the RAF and became part of its Gang Show.

After being demobbed he joined Ralph Reader's Gang Show and made his radio debut on Henry Hall's Guest Night. This was to be the artistic catalyst that saw him become a household name along with Frankie Howerd on the hugely popular Variety Bandbox Radio Show.

He was to become a radio star for more than two decades.

Although he had a distinctive mellow voice it was as a comedian and pantomime dame that he would become best known.

Playing (and selling out) at every major UK venue, including the Coventry Hippodrome, he was famous for his catchphrase "I'm not well, I'm proper poorly" and his unfeasibly small trilby hat perched precariously on his 6ft, 16-stone frame.

A popular part of his act involved borrowing a (supposedly) prize violin from the musical director in the orchestra pit, then destroying it in an attempt to play the gypsy violin waltz.

With the two parts of the instrument held together only by the strings, he would confess to the hapless director that he had "scratched it".

When informed the violin was more than 100 years old, Reg would reply "good job it wasn't a new one!"

He was a master of the stage, be it as a singer, a dame or a comic. But he never forgot his Coventry roots.

I recently managed to trace Reg's stepson, Anton Mayer, who lives in Austria.

Anton recalls how Reg was "a wonderful man" and how much he loved his own town, even writing a song about it (the words are printed left).

The song featured on ABC television's Hometown and in Reg's 1953 appearance in Dick Whittington at the Coventry Hippodrome.

He was famous for his signature tune the catchy Confidentially, which he wrote and was a No 2 hit in the sheet music charts in 1949.

The song was also recorded by the likes of the Beverley Sisters, Max Bygraves, Geraldo and his Orchestra and Danny Kaye.

In 1951 when George Formby suffered a heart attack, Reg took over from him in the stage musical Zip Goes a Million. Despite it being ostensibly Formby's baby, Reg took it, ran with it and made it his own, bringing it to the Coventry Hippodrome in September 1951 for a two-week run.

He was to enjoy more hit parade success with the song Ordinary People that came from the Zip Goes a Million musical.

He also featured in the films No Smoking (1955), Channel Nine (1955) and Love in Pawn (1953).

In 1976 he made a guest appearance in the TV sitcom Are You Being Served? (in the season four episode No Sale), no doubt on the recommendation of another well-know pantomime dame, John Inman.

Reg semi-retired to his 70-acre Brock Hill Farm near Fillongley in the 1970s, but tax problems eventually forced him to sell.

He carried on working, off and on, until the early 1980s, moving to Bournemouth where he died of kidney failure in 1983.

He left a daughter, Josephine (from his first marriage), who is now a teacher, and his Austrian wife Liza and stepson Anton. Liza died in 2003, aged 89.

REG'S TRIBUTE TO HIS HOME CITY "You can send me to Coventry, my home town.

Send me where the spires,

One, two, three,

Seem to ring a welcome just for me.

You can send me to Coventry and I won't frown,

For there's a lady there to greet me named Godiva,

Down in my home town." (Copyright Brockhall Music) REG DIXON TRIVIA HENRY McGEE (best known for being Benny Hill's nemesis) first got his break on Reg's TV show.

REG received more fan mail at the BBC than any other artist, except Arthur Askey.

REG'S farm had a herd of Ayrshire pedigree pigs, 500 chickens, seven cats and a Scots collie called Laddie.

REG was the first comedian to sign to ITV.

HE owned the rights to the song I'm Shy Mary Ellen.

HE appeared in two Royal Variety Performances.


RADIO STAR: Reg Dixon and his second wife Liza (above) on their farm near Fillongley and (right) the comedian in his trademark small trilby
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 25, 2005
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