When slapstick Chislehurst sisters met comedy legends
PUBLISHED: 13:35 31 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:37 31 January 2013
Shimmying around the activity room of a Sidcup nursing home, residents would have little idea that their twin dance teachers had once shared a stage with comedy legends Laurel and Hardy and Dame Shirley Bassey.
Known as the Bensaid Twins throughout the 1930s and 1940s, sisters Molly and Peggy Bensaid, from Chislehurst, were regular faces in theatres across England during the aftermath of the Second World War.
Dancing and singing up and down the country, initially in military bases, the pair would meet many famous faces – including a 15-year-old future Strictly Come Dancing presenter.
It was on one such occasion in the late 1940s that Molly was called, last-minute, to perform at London’s Coliseum.
When she arrived, she was amazed to be told she’d be sharing a stage with comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Molly revelled in the performance, but her only regret is not getting their autographs.
“Laurel and Hardy were so nice. They thought we were all wonderful, I’m just annoyed I didn’t get their autographs.”
Performing with Laurel and Hardy was matched later on in their careers when the pair crossed paths with one of the nation’s greatest singers during her debut stage performance.
Peggy said: “We worked alongside Shirley Bassey in her first ever stage show.”
The future Goldfinger singer turned up completely unprepared for a variety performance where the twins were performing in a separate act.
Peggy added: “In variety you have your band music which you give to the orchestra to rehearse before you go on.
“Shirley Bassey arrived with one piece of sheet music and no band music.
“A couple of guys quickly wrote some for Shirley. After they heard her sing they knew she’d go a long way.”
Eventually their act evolved into clowning around but before they found their calling as slapstick stars they considered adding a teenage Bruce Forsyth to their act.
Impressed by his tap dancing ability, they arranged to audition Brucie – though they had to go through his mother.
“We had been two for so long we thought ‘let’s get a third person and you can do a bit more’,” said Molly.
“We thought Bruce would be nice in the act as he can tap dance so we were communicating with his mum because he was quite young.
“But he was down south and we were up north so it didn’t work out.”
Coming from a family of RAF men, the sisters were deterred from joining the services in the war by their brother. Instead they joined the Entertainment National Service Association (ENSA) set up to entertain our troops.
They later moved into ballroom dancing and finally ended their careers by hosting tearoom dances at a Sidcup nursing home.
Describing fond memories of their performing careers, Molly added: “We gave up four years ago but our history is a long one.
“I recently Googled myself and so many things came up – I was amazed how much we’ve done.”
Thanks to Francesca Hoare at The Churchill Theatre for conducting the interview