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Retiring back stage; He has entertained thousands of youngsters across Tyneside and now Granddad Keith Chaston has become a puppeteer to the stars. REBEKAH BICKERTON finds out more.


TO the hundreds of Tyneside youngsters whose birthday bashes he has graced, he is Mr Olly.

Now, after 40 years of putting a smile on the faces of pint-sized partygoers, he has turned to the art of prop making.

And it's as Keith Chaston that he is building a reputation as a puppet maker to the stars.

Clients include David Mitchell and Robert Webb, of the BBC comedy Mitchell and Webb Show and veteran actor Martin Shaw star of George Gently.

Funnyman Freddie Starr ordered a puppet with arms and legs that fall off simultaneously while Matthew Kelly bought one of Keith's puppets, a girl ventriloquist dummy. The 57-year-old's passion for puppetry and entertaining began when he was given an Archie Andrew ventriloquist dummy for his seventh birthday.

He recalls: "I was very lucky to find something as a child that I absolutely loved and knew I could do it for the rest of my life.

"I used to love making up my own tricks and own ideas. I would spend ages and ages in my dad's shed making wonderful little things to put in my show."

At the age of 18, he applied for a job as a children's entertainer with Butlins and was taken on as a Red Coat for the Christmas and New Year season at the Brighton holiday camp.

There, Keith, of Rosebery Avenue, North Shields, was given the name of Uncle Holly. He stuck with the name when he was he taken on for the following summer season in Margate, but children rarely pronounced the H, and so he became known as Uncle Olly.

He soon switched to Mr Olly and used the name as he then travelled to Jersey, and later to Tunisia and Corfu, where he performed his magic for holiday audiences from all over the world. At the age of 30, he settled down in the North-East and started a family, and he became a wellknown party entertainer, delighting youngsters across Tyneside with his magic tricks, puppet shows and balloon extravaganzas.

Keith, who has a daughter Haley, 25 and two grandchildren Leisel, four, and Blake, three, says: "I learnt very early on that it was the fun things and the humour the kids loved.

"It was about making them laugh and enjoy themselves. It was more like being a comedian for children and the magic was an extra part of my shows, but it isn't the key to why people love entertainers."

Keith retired from the children's entertaining business when he was 56 and is now making puppets and ventriloquist dummies professionally, and has built up a celebrity clientele. He also makes sets and backdrops for theatres.

"Puppeteer Ron Wood is a very good customer who has bought many backdrops and themed theatre shows," says Keith.

These include a pirate ship and an 8ft medieval castle, and Lyric Theatre in London bought a number of backdrops and puppets for the show The Comedians.

Keith's larger puppets include an elephant and a 10ft dragon, made for school and leisure centre shows. He also sells puppets and ventriloquist dummies - for learners and professionals - on his website.

"I have had the best 40 years," says the granddad-oftwo.

I got into the business at the right time and got out at the right time, when things were beginning to change."

"I wish every child could find something, as I did, that they love doing and then go for it. So many people these days don't enjoy what they do.

"I have been very lucky and have had such a good life."


MAGIC AL Keith Chaston from North Shields who was a childr en''s entertainer for 40 years and now makes puppets. MAKE 'EM LAUGH From left: Keith as a Butlins red coat, working for Pontins and as a children's puppet entertainer
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 16, 2011
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