Bidding a sad farewell to Joy Beverley
by Jeremy Miles
I was saddened to hear of the death of Joy Beverley. She may have been 91-years-old and she certainly enjoyed a proverbial “good innings” but I suspect she would have liked to have hung on for a while more. I speak as someone who until a few short years ago used to often spend happy afternoons chatting to the Beverley Sisters. That stopped you in your tracks didn’t it! I’ll explain. During my years as arts and entertainments editor on the Daily Echo in Bournemouth I had occasion to interview Joy and her sisters, the twins Babs and Teddie, a number of times.
It was that sort of job. One minute I’d be with John Mayall talking about the British blues boom or hanging out in a bar with former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. The next I’d be lamenting the death of variety with Cannon and Ball, interviewing Ken Dodd sitting backstage somewhere in his vest and pants or…talking to the Beverley Sisters. The inimitable harmony trio made a career out of being fresh-faced innocents who sang ever-so slightly bawdy songs. Identically dressed and loved by a fan-base that crossed the generations, they were acutely aware of their image and, perhaps even more importantly, their strength as a trio. Unlike many who work together for decades but eventually fall out, The Beverley Sister really were incredibly close. They even all shared the same birthday. Joy was born on 5th May 1924 and Babs and Teddie followed exactly four years to the day later. Irving Berlin may have written Sisters, the song that became their unofficial signature tune, for the movie White Christmas but it could have been penned specially for Joy, Babs and Teddie. The opening lyric ‘Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters’ tells it exactly as it was.
Meeting them was a delight helped no end by the fact that as soon as they discovered that I shared a surname with their mother Victoria, whose maiden name had been Miles, the Bevs took a distinct liking to me. “How interesting!,” squealed Babs when I first introduced myself. “Maybe we’re related?” Just a cursory glance at either of our family trees would have blown that theory right out of the water but it was certainly an ice-breaker. Within minutes all three sisters were talking nineteen to the dozen about there early lives, their parents George and Victoria who performed as the music hall duo Coram and Miles and of course their extraordinary showbusiness career which made them one of the most enduring harmony trios of the post war years.
What a great story it was. Brought up in the East End, their singing talents were first noticed when they were chosen as models for a wartime Ovaltine poster and the photographer heard them singing for the local troops. He recommended them to a BBC producer friend who re-christened them Beverley Sisters and found them a gig on Variety Band Box. They were on their way and in a few short years were massively popular. They played their first Royal Variety Performance in 1952 and recorded a string of hit records. Over the next decade they became not only a mainstays of British TV but also the highest paid female act of the time reputedly earning the equivalent of £10,000-a-week. Their chart hits included I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, The Little Drummer Boy, Bye Bye Love and The Little Donkey but there were also longtime favourite performance numbers like How Much Is That Doggie In The Window? and of course the aforementioned Sisters.
Joy helped seal the Beverley Sisters fame in 1958 when she married the golden boy of football Wolves and England captain Billy Wright. The undisputed soccer superstar of his day, Wright led England as captain 90 times and became the first footballer to notch up 100 caps for his country. Together Joy and Billy were the ultimate celebrity couple, the Posh and Becks of the late 1950s. Their wedding – which took place at Poole Register Office during a day-off from a Beverley Sisters summer season in Bournemouth – was mobbed by literally tens of thousands of fans.
Joy and Billy remained happily married until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2004. The last time I actually met The Bevs was when they appeared as special guests in their friend Max Bygrave’s retirement concert. It had been Max – who I got to know well during my time at the Bournemouth Echo – who had originally introduced us. The retirement show in November 2003 came just before Max and his wife Blossom left their beautiful Bournemouth cliff-top home after more than 30 years and headed for a new life in Australia. It was a bizarre but happy evening during which Max, always canny with money, had attempted to sell his massive collection of ties in the foyer for £10 each. It was a bright idea he’d hatched while clearing out unwanted possessions prior to the Australia move, “Everyone always sends me a tie,” he explained. “I’ve got hundreds of them.” I expect he made a few quid but as business schemes went this was hardly on a par with the ultra shrewd investment he’d made back in the early sixties when he bought the rights to Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! for £350.
Joy, Babs and Teddie were an essential ingredient in that retirement show. They had shared countless variety bills with Max for more than 50 years. He would have hated doing the show without them. Though they were well, into their 70s the Bevs would have done anything to be there. They apparently made a rather striking arrival at the town’s Pavilion Theatre that afternoon having managed to get stopped by the police for driving the wrong way along Westover Road. Fortunately their misunderstanding was forgiven and a rather splendid anecdote had been born. To this day I smile at the thought of a hapless traffic policeman pulling over their car and being greeted by the sight of the Beverley Sisters beaming out at him.
After that show. The Bevs occasionally continued to regale me with stories over the phone from their adjoining houses in North London but not for long. Their own retirement soon beckoned. I’ll treasure the memories though of the three of them jabbering happily away on the conference line that they routinely used for interviews. The sisters had been so close for so long that they had a positively telepathic understanding of each others thought processes. They frequently finished each others sentences,even when the conversation had gone off at some crazy tangent. It was often impossible to tell who was saying what but it really didn’t matter. They effectively spoke as one and they never lost the ability to deliver a useful soundbite. A quote you could use. For instance when, in the 1980s, the Bevs suddenly found themselves with a new gay following they took to it as only three ladies with penchant for wearing pink could. Astonished by the strobes, stage-smoke and flashing lights that greeted them as a super-camp crowd delivered ear-shattering ‘bow-wows’ to accompany How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?, they observed that it was “Just like being back in the Blitz”. The media loved that one and they loved the Bevs too. They were friendly, fun and they knew how to play the showbiz game. I’ll miss Joy and know that Babs and Teddie, now 88, will be devastated by her death. I hope they’re OK.