Lionel Blair is a showbusiness legend. Still going strong at 81, he recently filmed an advert and game show for Freeview in which he appears alongside a group of animated, unloved toys. Here he talks about filming the ad, who he thinks should win this year’s Strictly Come Dancing and why he’d love a role in EastEnders
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH FREEVIEW
When they told me about it, I didn’t understand it. They said I was working with puppets and I thought, what do they mean? But when I got there, it was just so lovely. There’s a certain place where there’s nothing there and you have to pretend and perform to that. But as the day went on, you kind of got used to it, and you felt that there really was something there. I don’t know if you know that play Harvey, where he imagines there’s a giant rabbit, well it was a bit like that! The game was wonderful. They could turn it into a proper mainstream game because it was such a good idea.
YOU’VE HAD A LONG CAREER... WHAT DO YOU REGARD AS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?
60 years! That’s a long time! I say this to people and they go, ‘Ooh!’ My best friend was Sammy Davis Jr. I don’t know if you’ve seen the show I did with him on YouTube. It’s the 1961 Royal Command Performance. Look it up. You’ll enjoy it.
YOU WORKED WITH THE BEATLES, INCLUDING ON A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. HOW DID YOU GET THAT GIG?
Well it’s funny, we were in a restaurant. There used to be a theatre called the Scala, and that’s where we filmed the sequence I did in the film. It was supposed to be the Palladium. I’d done quite a few television shows with the Beatles, such as Blackpool Night Out. I remember John Lennon saying [affects Liverpudlian accent], ‘We’ll come and do it if Lionel does a routine to our new record’. Well their new record was Help, which isn’t an easy song to dance to! But I invented a new dance called The Kick, and Brian Epstein liked it so much he did a tour called The Kick Tour, with the Everly Brothers and Billy J Kramer - and Lionel Blair and his dancers.
LOTS OF PEOPLE GREW UP WATCHING YOU ON GIVE US A CLUE...
Ahhh... That was wonderful. Twelve years and over a thousand shows. But I really wanted to be an actor. I was the breadwinner after my father died when we were quite young, and I got into a musical, became well known and stayed in musicals. But really I want to be in EastEnders.
ARE YOU WATCHING STRICTLY THIS YEAR?
Oh, I love it!
WHO SHOULD WIN?
I’ve got to say - only because we met last year - Pixie Lott. Don’t you think Pixie and her fella look like Barbie and Ken? They’re so pretty.
lLionel stars as the host in Freeview’s TV game show alongside an ensemble of singing toys from Freeview’s new TV advert. Play at www.freeview.co.uk