‘Roy made a huge impression on everyone he met because he loved life’
For many people, their most enduring memory of Roy Castle was as the genial host of BBC children’s show Record Breakers.
While presenting the smash-hit series, he broke nine world records himself; from playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes, to recording the fastest ever tap dance, a record that still stands today.
Even in the last few months of his remarkable life, before he succumbed to lung cancer, his 1,200-mile Tour of Hope – when it was clear the 61-year-old musician, actor and presenter had little time left – attracted worldwide sympathy and support.
Roy’s widow Fiona, who has spent many years since his death campaigning against passive smoking, is coming to Clitheroe Grand Theatre tomorrow night to speak about her life with the extraordinary TV star.
“It does surprise and amaze me that people remember Roy, but he was such an ordinary, humble man – not a celebrity in that sense at all – and he made a huge impression on everybody he met because he loved life,” said Roy’s widow Fiona.
“There’s a new generation who wouldn’t have a clue who he was, yet people constantly want to talk to me about Roy, nearly 20 years after he died.
“People often bring pictures and letters that Roy had written to show me, and even though Record Breakers made him a huge star he never changed.”
A gifted trumpeter, a doctor had told non-smoker Castle that his illness was probably caused by passive smoking during years of playing in jazz clubs.
Fiona says: “Roy was incredibly brave, the way he fought his illness with such courage and dignity.
“He nearly died in Glasgow on the Tour Of Hope, and his nurse said to me she didn’t think he would make it through the night, but he battled on. It gives me great comfort, as well as raising the profile of the illness, that he was able to help so many people during his life.
“The fact that we have become smoke-free in public areas has made people aware of the health problems of smoking, and Roy helped achieve that.”
Fiona, who will share how she coped with her loss, alongside some hilarious insights into Roy’s life at the Grand Theatre next month, was introduced to Castle by comedian and friend Eric Morecambe.
She remembers: “Eric was a lovely man, a very kind person, who had a very sharp mind too.
“Like Roy, he was a true entertainer with incredible talent, and he was very good to me.”
When he started out, Castle lived in Cleveleys, near Blackpool, turning professional as a stooge for Jimmy Clitheroe and Jimmy James.
After starring in the Royal Variety Show, he won television and film roles, including Dr Who and the Daleks and Carry on up the Khyber.
In the 1970s, though, there wasn’t the celebrity-driven madness that drives today’s TV ratings. Fiona said: “It’s drummed into us every day, these horrible celebrity programmes, makeover shows about our bodies, our clothes, our houses – everything isn’t it? The whole thing is very depressing.
“Roy worked for many years on the theatre circuit before getting a break, but what troubles me most is that people who haven’t done that are getting recognition without the hard work first.
“It is like a marathon runner doing 10 minutes training a week and expecting to win the race.”
l An Evening with Fiona Castle is at Clitheroe Grand Theatre tomorrow. Tickets are £5 on 01200 421599.