Book captures yorkshire girl’s almost 60 years in showbiz working with some of the greats.
When Pat Stewart posed on the railings of Blackpool promenade on a blustery day in 1951, little did she know the resulting photograph would become an iconic image of the twentieth century. It was also one that would follow her throughout her 56 years in show business. For Pat, a dancer, performed alongside some of the greatest names in show business, including Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill and the Beverley Sisters.
Now her story has been told in a new book co-authored by Doncaster writer and SYN columnist Veronica Clark.
“I worked alongside them all,” Pat recalls. “Most of them were charming. I often found the bigger the star, the nicer they were.”
The daughter of a Yorkshire miner, Pat’s mother picked peas in a field to put her only daughter through dance school. At 16, Pat sneaked off to audition for a panto in Leeds, and from there joined the prestigious Tiller girls. It was summer 1951, when Pat was called to the stage door along with fellow dancer Wendy Clarke. Two men from the Picture Post magazine were waiting to speak to them.
“We couldn’t stop giggling. We joked we’d been spotted by someone from Hollywood!”
It was the golden age of entertainment when dancers were epitome of glamour...Pat Stewart
The magazine was launching a competition and its photographer, Bert Hardy, wanted to take the girls picture. They posed on railings, but at the precise moment Bert pressed the shutter Pat’s spotty dress lifted up in the breeze, exposing both her legs and bathing suit.
“It was four years before Marilyn Monroe’s dress had fluttered up in the Seven Year Itch film, so, in many ways, me and my spotty dress beat Marilyn to it!” She laughs.
The picture became an iconic image that was reproduced on posters, adverts, tea towels and mugs.
Pat continued to high-kick her way at the end of Blackpool’s North Pier. It was a time of charabancs, kiss-me-quick hats, and fish ‘n’ chips on deckchairs by the sea. It was also a golden age of entertainment when theatres and dancers were considered the epitome of glitz and glamour. Pat formed a duo with a male dancer called Nick, and together they performed in some of the best and worst theatres in the country. Together they travelled to West Germany to dance for the American soldiers. It was Pat’s first time abroad, but she was struck by the fact that as England lay in ruins, Germany had pretty much rebuilt itself. The dance duo travelled to Africa, where the show had to be cancelled because the tickets were too expensive. With no money and no show, Pat and the rest of the troupe were stranded. They ended up dancing for their supper at a nearby hotel until their return flight home.
Over the years, Pat went on to befriend some of the greatest stars of our time, including Oliver Hardy, who gave her a signed photograph. She also met British bombshell Diana Dors, who persuaded her to bleach her hair platinum blonde. A few years later, Pat was principle dancer in a show in Weymouth where she met a stand-up comedian called Johnny Stewart, who wooed her both on and off stage.
“He was supposed to give me a stage kiss, but every time he’d asked me out for dinner I’d said no. He decided to get his own back and give me a real smacker in front of a packed audience.”
The couple were married six-weeks later, but not before Johnny’s decree nisi arrived at the theatre by post the morning of their registry office wedding. Together, the couple toured the world. Pat became a theatrical agent. She’d settled in Wales when the Aberfan disaster struck, killing 144 people, including 116 children. She knew she had to do something, so she formed a committee, and staged a fundraising show. Afterwards, Pat was sat in the bar when a group of suave looking men walked in.
“I noticed two of the men looked almost identical, but their jackets were bulging around the breast pocket.”
It was the Kray twins.
“I didn’t have a clue who they were.” Pat admits. “But my friend went as white as a sheet and slid down in her chair as soon as she spotted them.”
The Krays asked if they could represent Johnny, who felt obliged to give them his home telephone number.
“Soon afterwards, the Krays were arrested. They were later jailed for life at the Old Bailey , so we never did get the call. I think Johnny was relieved.” Pat adds.
Pat’s spotty dress made an appearance years later when a woman appeared on BBC’s The One Show, claiming to be the girl in the photograph. But Pat still had the contact sheets from the original shoot so she was able to prove once and for all that she was the girl in the spotty dress.
* The Girl in the Spotty Dress, by Pat Stewart with Veronica Clark, published by John Blake, is available from all good bookshops priced £7.99.