I was rehearsing my first television show at the BBC when I first met Lena -she arrived directly from Contis Theatre School in her school uniform-she was shy if bubbly and had an immediate rapport with the boy dancers and me being the youngest and shortest we immediately struck up a friendship. She seemed a little intimidated by the slim and seemingly more sophisticated girl dancers. We were being rehearsed by the Dominating Giant of producers Stewart Morris and Nasty Nigel Lythgoe as choreographer and this didn’t seem to faze Lena at all..She got on with the job in hand and sang confidently as always. In all the years I worked with her I never saw her nervous.
6 months later I was rehearsing with the Young Generation for A New Years Eve TV Special “ Jubilee of Music “(again at the BBC) In came Lena to join Vera Lynn, Cliff Richard, Gladys Knight, John Miles, Lulu among others and being beside these Giants of British television - once she started singing she warranted her position among them.
Because of her limited performances allowed because of her young age her manager Dorothy Solomon arranged to make a video of the new Lena Zavaroni single “Air Love”..?This was long before Michael Jackson made his videos and was groundbreaking, though recently ignored as such. We were to video the song with boy dancers at Bray Studios and a last minute glitch when they discovered that the rest of the young Gen dancers were not Equity members .I was allowed to do it as I was a member having been in West End shows since I was a kid. The choreographer again..Nasty Nigel had to take part as one of the dancers to fill in the space. Dorothy was a powerful agent and always glamourously dressed and she was always charming to us dancers and guided Lena through her career. She asked if I could appear with Lena at the London Palladium and this was exciting not only for Lena but for me too. Lena and I were now chatting regularly and she told me she was so excited as she was dedicating a song to her Mum and Dad which had been “their “song when they first met...”The more I see you” she adored her Dad and was so thrilled they could be there.During this period Lena was made to go to school each morning and we could only get her for rehearsals in the afternoons..and even this was limited.2 months later I started rehearsals for a Dickie Hurran Spectacular at Congress Eastbourne and Lena was one of the stars. along with Janet Brown, the Tiller Girls Billy Dainty and Francis van Dyke.Lena lived next door to my digs and was being chaperoned by a German lady who seemed to intimidate Lena and cooked her German food which Lena couldn’t get on with at all ....so she would come to the flat which I shared with Colin Lane another dancer and his girl friend and we would sneak out for tea and cakes and hamburgers..We had great fun doing her makeup, which she loved and doing her hair in Carmen rollers which made her feel adult...
The next time was a series “Lena and her music” which Dougie Squires directed and choreographed for the BBC -it was a weekly show and I have such fond memories of working so hard and now Lena was much thinner-But we had such fun and she was amazing learning all the dance routines and so many different types of music and fronting this successful series .The nation had now taken Lena well into their hearts and she was not going to let them down. Recently seeing clips of this series confirmed how good it was and what an exciting time this was for TV and how she was on top form .Nothing fazed her- learning new dance routines each week -costume fittings- press meetings -learning songs -band calls and still school every morning .
We then did summer season at Hastings and Bridlington we spent quite a bit of time together during the season. The dancers of the 2nd Generation included Michele Nunn Rosemarie Ford Jane Ann Lowes Janet Lloyd Joanne???Grahame Bickley, Paul Mundy, Andrew Rothwell ,Mike Capri, Jane Arden,Cathy Peters.Kathy Kordez,Robert Grimsby,Wayne Fowkes and Mark /Hutchinson..She would love the gossip and we took great pleasure in swapping stories.
In August 77 she stopped in the middle of her act to announce to the audience that Elvis had just died and dedicated a song to him..She had a new chaperone who she really liked, but her eating problems were now pretty evident so I would organise a weekly tea party and insist everyone dressed up. I was going through a period of wearing very strange clothes Top hats and long nightshirts and so many weird outfits and Lena would love borrowing my outfits and I think it inspired in her a love of clothes and she would appear each night in the shows in a different outfit from her TV wardrobe. She ate along with all of us but I fear she was beginning to be bulimic...One of the girl dancers was anorexic and also diabetic and we would find her vomiting in the wings...for a time this affected Lena and she started to eat more sensibly.We had great fun in these summer seasons and as she matured and was allowed to work freely she began to enjoy life and was great fun though..... Always shy. Everybody who worked with her loved her and was protective of her
Our paths separated for a time...i met her at This is Your Life for Bonnie Langford and we had a great laugh.I also met her at a Barbra Striesand concert ...we both were such big fans and over the years had listened to all of Streisands recordings and films ..She was with a new group of friends and was dressed in a very sharp outfit and wearing little lace gloves and she had BIG hair which made her seem even more petite. She told me she just wanted to sing and didn’t want to dance any more! .With Dorothy’s prompting I asked her to join us in seeing Five Guys called Mo a musical which we knew she would have loved but on the night she didn’t turn up..
After a few years she came back into my life when Dorothy who was a great friend of my agent and friend Jamie Phillips brought her to his office to ask if he could produce her in a show .At that time Dougie and Jamie produced big shows for the Kings Glasgow and thought it would be great for her to make a comeback in her home Scotland..So negotiations began and a lot of effort was put into it but the insurance companies wouldn’t insure her as the stories of her anorexia were now well known so sadly the comeback never did happen.
One of the tragedies of our business was poor Lena’s story and it is so sad that such a sweet girl and exceptionally talented performer didn’t continue to a full career and life.
Thank you Ant for this lovely tribute, I felt very touched while reading this, an amazing tribute!