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Perhaps better remembered as the producer, director, choreographer and creator of some of the most memorable musical comedy for The Morecambe and Wise Show, Ernest Maxin enjoyed a long and successful career in show business and had produced in excess of 200 TV variety shows by 1960, when ABC asked him to host his own music and variety series, Make A Date.
Maxin produced the series behind-the-scenes but also stepped in front of the camera to act, sing, dance, conduct a 42-piece orchestra and play host to a number of popular guest stars including Charlie Drake, Petula Clark, Craig Douglas, Adam Faith, Alma Cogan, Dave King and Anna Neagle.
Born on 22 August 1923 in Upton Park, East London, at the age of five Maxin visited his grandmother who ran a boarding house in Leeds. Through her, the Maxin family became friends of a well-known theatrical comedy act called Scott and Whaley.
Young Ernest immediately got the showbiz bug and left school, deciding not to follow in his father’s footsteps and work in the family gown shop.
Instead, he answered an advertisement he saw in a theatrical variety paper for a juvenile lead. He was 14 years old, but big for his age and equipped with a pair of broad shoulders that had developed as a useful amateur boxer.
“I applied for that job,” said Maxin, “and with the only 3s 6d (about 17p in today’s money) I had in the world I bought myself a trilby hat to make myself look older. I told the woman who interviewed me that I was 19 years old and a song and dance man. She seemed to doubt both statements. I kept my hat on while I talked to her. She told me to take it off. But I felt I would look too young without my trilby, and I said it was too cold – even though it was summer”.
“She probably thought I was crazy, but she listened when I began to sing I’ll String Along With You. Halfway through, my voice broke. She turned me down as a singer, but she let me dance and gave me a job on the strict understanding that I did not sing! I was to open at Ryde, Isle of Wight. I had stars in my eyes and began wondering how I would be billed – ‘Ernest Maxin in . . .’ or ‘Starring Ernest Maxin’?”
“My parents didn’t want me to go, but agreed at last. When I got to Ryde I was looking for posters, theatre signs and my picture. Instead, I saw four elderly people waiting. They were my co-stars. When I asked where I would be opening, one of them pointed to the sand and said: ‘There. On the beach, on Monday morning.”
Nearly in tears, young Ernest decided that even if it wasn’t Broadway it was show business.
He remembered his first performance for all the wrong reasons. First, a beach ball hit him in the face and toy boomerangs whizzed round his head. Distraught, young Ernest got straight on the phone to his father begging him to come and take him home.
His dad responded: “You wanted to go – now you’re going to stick with it for a fortnight. I’ll collect you then and maybe we won’t hear so much about show business in the future.”
Clearly Ernest Maxin had other plans.
Cedrik Monarch Dancers