Today [30th April] is International Jazz Day, the perfect excuse (not that we need one!) to celebrate the man who gave not only his name but gave so much to our charity – the great Roy Castle.
There was no end to Roy’s talents as an entertainer. He was a singer, dancer, actor, presenter, comedian, and an accomplished jazz musician. Some might say he was a jack of all trades, but unusually, he was master of them all.
From performing on both stage and screen, to breaking multiple world records – anything Roy turned his hand to, his dedication shone through. And he remained that way right up until his passing from lung cancer in 1994.
Back in October 2020, just as the country was going back into lockdown 2.0 – we were treated to a very special clip of Roy Castle going viral on Twitter, shared by actor Michael Warburton.
As we neared the end of that unprecedented year, we all needed a lift in our spirits – this video trending on Twitter did just that, and more besides. In the excerpt from ITV’s Parkinson in 1982, 10 years before his lung cancer diagnosis, we see Roy among true jazz legends – Buddy Rich and Sammy Davis Jr. – giving an impromptu performance of the classic ‘’Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’.
The whole performance oozes pure joy, and thanks to the power of the internet, that joy spread right across the country.
This clip shows just how highly Roy was esteemed by the jazz community, and in fact, the whole entertainment industry.
Like father, like son
People often say that ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’, well, that’s definitely the case with Roy’s children, and in particular, his son, Ben Castle.
From an early age, his father encouraged him to play – starting out with the clarinet and later moving onto the saxophone. He’s now an award-winning composer, arranger, songwriter and producer, and has played and/or recorded with the likes of Radiohead, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Cliff Richard and many more. We were lucky enough to talk to Ben about growing up surrounded by jazz and that viral Parkinson clip!
“I was always aware of music around the house, and loved listening to Dad play, as well as my older siblings. I don’t remember a particular moment I became aware of Dad’s talent, but I was always mesmerised by it.
“He also had lots of records. I got introduced to Frank Sinatra and a lot of fantastic jazz musicians through listening to his collection, particularly the amazing trumpet player Clifford Brown, who was a huge influence on me. Dad was in his element working with jazz and big band musicians. He would always come back buzzing after those gigs!
“It was so good to see the Parkinson clip again. I remember when he recorded it (I would have been 9 years old), I was more impressed that he was on the same bill as Kenny Everett and probably hadn’t even heard of Buddy Rich or Sammy Davis Jr.
“In those days, Parkinson was filmed live. Sammy had heard that his very good friend Buddy was going to be on the show and wanted to surprise him. Sammy was running late so Dad was asked to distract Buddy until Sammy arrived, so it was all improvised.”
I couldn’t believe that Dad was the top trend on Twitter and that the clip went viral, he would have found that very funny. My whole family were overwhelmed with the lovely comments and stories that came from people watching it. It’s good to know he’s so well remembered all these years on.
Roy stayed dedicated to his craft right throughout his illness, so much so that he even performed with Ben when he was a guest on Bruce Forsyth’s Guest Night during the later stages of his lung cancer diagnosis.
Ben recalls being asked to appear on the show –
“I remember getting a phone call from the show’s producer, asking me if I would appear on the programme. Bruce was a big jazz fan and had heard that I played, so thought it would be nice to do a duet. I was 17 and wasn’t sure if it was a hoax or not. It turned out it was real!
“Dad often talked about how performers can be feeling really ill, but when it’s time to go and perform, they suddenly feel fine. He used to call it ‘Dr Footlights’.
“He was quite ill at the time, so we rehearsed versions of the routine with and without him. It was looking unlikely that Dad was going to be well enough, but in typical Dad style, a few hours before we were due to film, he decided he was going to join us no matter how he was feeling.”
Frank Sinatra signed Roy to Reprise records, and he then recorded and released three LPs in the 1960s. Ben kindly shared these recordings online in 2012 for all to enjoy in honour of what would have been his dad’s 80th birthday.
On the album ‘Castlewise’, Roy recorded a version of the jazz standard ‘If I can help somebody’. This gorgeous recording of the classic sees Roy sing the famous line:
If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.
Listening to this recording almost 30 years after his passing got us thinking about how many people Roy has helped and continues to help.
On the Tour of Hope, Roy memorably said “This is not for me, this is for our children and our children’s children”. Roy expected better for lung cancer patients and he expected better for future generations – every day we work to honour this legacy.
Thanks to Roy’s dedication to lung cancer awareness raising, we became the first charity in the UK dedicated to supporting people affected by lung cancer. We have funded over £30 million in lung cancer research, built the first lung cancer research centre in the UK, and laid the groundwork for a national lung cancer screening programme.
We simply wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for Roy. Thanks to his dedication, every day, research is being done so that more people are detected earlier, more people are treated earlier, and life lengthening treatments are being developed so that more people can live well for longer with lung cancer.
It is safe to say that Roy, you sure did help a lot of people, and your living definitely wasn’t in vain.