Jill Glenn meets Terry Cryer and Jackie Hockridge – the newly reformed Taylor Maids.
They’re classic best friends, closer than sisters. They finish each other’s sentences; they answer questions jointly, as if one single thought flows through them. They’re impeccably polite, but rather impenetrable, owing perhaps to the longevity of their relationship and their instinctive sense of performing. They each have a wicked twinkle in their eye, though…
Terry and Jackie – or Mrs Barry Cryer and Mrs Edmund Hockridge, as they also like to be known – go back a long way. Now 78 and 77 respectively, they met as nine-year-olds, at a convent school in Brighton. They loathed each other on sight. It’s an unlikely start for a showbiz career that has encompassed countless pantomimes, cabarets, revues and variety shows, culminating in several dates at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and an invitation to go back next year.
The show they took to the Fringe (to the prestigious Gilded Balloon, no less) and are now performing locally, recalls their life as a double act ‘with songs, anecdotes and laughter’. And synchronised walking sticks.
They started in pantomime at 16, before touring together in Bless The Bride for two years. It must have been a startling experience for a pair of convent girls? They laugh. “We were so innocent,” one says, and the other nods agreement. They are like this throughout our meeting; they start by answering me, and before you know it, there they are deep in conversation with each other, reminiscing. They’re sharp, though. The dates, the places, the memories are all intact. And what memories! They’re throwing show titles and musical numbers at me faster than I can write them down.
After Bless The Bride there was another tour – Carousel – during which Jackie met her husband-to-be, Canadian heart-throb Edmund Hockridge who was playing the lead. Edmund was already married, with a son, and he and Jackie conducted a discreet affair for an incredible nine years while he was waiting to divorce his wife. All Jackie will say is that it was “a difficult time”, and that Terry was “a great support”. While life might have been troubled offstage for Jackie, onstage she and Terry were conquering the 1950s: together they were in The Pyjama Game at the Coliseum, London; separately, Jackie went into Bells Are Ringing and Wedding in Paris, Terry into Wonderful Town and Damn Yankees – a rollcall of some of the great musicals of the first full decade after the war. It wasn’t all glamour, though. There were lean times, too. Terry recalls cleaning and washing-up in a pub opposite the Coliseum, and inadvertently throwing away the Irish barman’s bottle of holy water. Jackie roars. “You’ve never told me that!”. There can’t be many such unshared anecdotes left.
In younger days…
Then came The Taylor Maids, a double act formed by our intrepid pair in 1957. The name, they think, was a pun on ‘tailor-made’. “We had glamorous outfits, you know,” Terry explains. “Shirley Bassey’s dressmaker made some of them.” It was a short-lived but successful song and dance act, which they performed on television (The Tommy Trinder Show) and in cabaret around the country, even travelling as far afield as Wiesbaden in Germany to entertain the American Forces. In variety they performed with Shirley Bassey, Des O’Connor, Joe Loss And His Orchestra and The Billy Cotton Band Show.
It came to an end in 1960, when Edmund Hockridge was finally able to make an honest woman of Jackie. “Didn’t you miss the stage, the excitement?” I ask. “I couldn’t have done both,” she says, “I was glad to give it up for him.” She looks very wistful. Edmund and Jackie went on to have two sons of their own, and to foster another. They were together for 58 years, and it was in the wake of his death that Terry suggested reviving The Taylor Maids, a full 50 years since they had put it to bed. “She knew I needed something to do,” says Jackie.
Once Jackie had ‘retired’ (although she did return to the stage later with her husband and sons in The Hockridge Family Show) Terry went back into pantomime. She was the Principal Boy, Lonnie Donegan was Buttons and Danny La Rue was an Ugly Sister. It must have been a hoot – and it led, indirectly, to Terry’s own marriage and retirement from the stage. Danny La Rue invited her to sing at his club, Winstons, off Bond Street… where one Barry Cryer was writing and performing. La Rue himself claimed credit for the match. Jackie and Terry are falling over their words telling me about this… “and then you met Barry… “that’s right, and then Danny introduced Ronnie – Corbett – to his wife too…” “Quite a matchmaker, Danny La Rue…”. It’s pure nostalgia, but it’s a heady drug; they both – despite the hip replacements that necessitate those walking sticks – look well on it.
The new show weaves together the stories of their separate and shared lives, interspersed with appropriate songs: The Man I Love… Too Darned Hot… To Know, Know, Know Him… Two Lost Souls…
“If there’s an encore,” says one – “And there usually is,” says the other” – “we do Cole Porter: Friendship…”
…you wouldn’t expect anything else, really.
See www.thetaylormaids.co.uk for details of local appearances.