Growing Up Is…Optional!

“Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional”

Walt Disney

Our friendship started during the COVID lock down.  I had known about Johnny Tudor, the all-round entertainer, all my life.  I always assumed we must have met somewhere, sometime over the past 50 years, but we couldn’t ever point to a place or time.

It seems hard to comprehend how quickly life changed in those early months of 2020.  The guidance was to stay at home to stop the spread of the pandemic, but it didn’t mean everything could come to a complete stop. Some industries were designated as essential services and one of those was broadcasting.

Prior to lockdown broadcasting meant going to a studio with lots of gear.  It soon became apparent that wasn’t going to be possible for the foreseeable future and we all adapted very quickly.  Because I had a home studio I was well placed to fill a station’s schedule at the drop of a hat and without coming into contact with anyone outside of my ‘bubble’.

After a few weeks of presenting the Late Night show on Radio Wales I realised that whilst I could rely on a steady stream of calls from the audience it might be good to get some regular contributors.  It was whilst scrolling through social media I saw a tweet posting a lovely letter from the wife of Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine.  The letter said how much Ernest and his wife had enjoyed the entertainment provided by Johnny Tudor.  The letter also went on to say, ‘it’s obvious you really love what you do’.

Tomorrow Johnny Tudor turns 80. 

As I write that I find it hard to believe.  He’s just come back from a couple of weeks in the sun to top up his tan.  He swims in the sea most days, he runs his grandkids back and fore to school, looks after some old friends who aren’t well, he’s just made a film for the BBC  and he’s currently rehearsing his Frankie Vaughan Tribute show because he’s got some bookings that have just come in!!! 

Rehearsing ‘It’s My Shout BBC Wales.

I should have known from the start he wasn’t a proper ‘grown up’.  Johnny would join me every week with a story from his lifetime in showbusiness and he would also be posting videos practising his tap dancing routines in his garage.  He wanted to keep fit and be ready to go back on stage as soon as Lockdown ended.

Over those 18 months on Late Night Radio the stories just kept coming.  From sharing the stage of the London Palladium with Dorothy Squires and a 30 piece orchestra to the show biz parties with everyone from Tom Jones to Shirley Bassey, to Panto with his dear friend Stan Stennett.

As far as Johnny was concerned becoming an entertainer was just going into the family.  His dad was a professional pianist, his mum a dancer.  As a child he had travelled around the country as his parents continued to perform in Music Hall. Eventually they decided Johnny needed some stability, so the family settled down and bought a pub in Maesteg.

Although the family were not travelling up and down the whole length of the country anymore Johnny’s father soon put together a ‘concert party’ that played the working men’s clubs across South Wales.   Johnny joined the troupe, learnt his stage craft and was a professional right from the start. For many kids doing what your parents do can be a complete turn off but for Johnny is was the start of a lifelong love affair with the entertainment business.

In 1969 Johnny had his big break when he won Opportunity Knocks and ever since I think I can safely say he has loved every minute.  That doesn’t mean it’s been easy and there haven’t been set backs and disappointments but this is a love affair that will last forever.

When my time on radio came to an end we decided we would start a podcast.  It started with really specific themes like life in panto or summer seasons.  Along the way we interviewed some of our ‘showbiz pals’ like Mike Doyle and Wyn Calvin. As the weeks have passed you would have thought we would run out of stories, run out of enthusiasm, run out of time.

Now I have always prided myself on self-motivation; I’m always thinking about the next project.  When it comes to self-motivation I am an amateur compared to Johnny Tudor.  Every Monday I’ll get a text asking ‘Maldwyn, what are we talking about this week?’. 

Sometimes we have no particular plan, but week in week out we sit down in front of our computer, 40 miles away from each other and start talking.

And that’s possibly the strangest thing about this ‘long distance love affair’.  As I said I was sure we must have met but as the weeks passed neither of us could remember when.  We decided that we had to put that right but with lockdowns coming and going it seemed we might never get together.

Finally, we met on the set of a video shoot for my Christmas CD in 2021.  At that meeting Johnny was invited to the Swansea DSA party at the Swansea.com stadium.  Cath Dyer from the DSA suggested maybe Johnny could do a few songs.

It was that night I realised Johnny was a proper trooper. Expecting a small affair I was taken aback by the size of the room and crowd that had assembled for the party.  It soon became obvious that my little amplifier wouldn’t make much impact in the venue. 

When Johnny arrived I must have looked a little worried.  I explained the situation and before I knew it Johnny had popped back the car to get his PA system.  He always kept it in the boot just in case of showbiz emergencies.  That night Johnny sang and tap danced and the crowd loved him.

On this week’s podcast we talked about Johnny’s recent holiday.  He needs to see the sun regularly.  He sent me a photo of himself nonchalantly leaning against a palm tree.  It would be the perfect poster shot for a summer season.

And so…Johnny Tudor turns 80 tomorrow.  He is a testament to the saying, doing what you love means you never work a day in your life.  Having said that he is one of the hardest working people I know.

Walt Disney is quoted as saying “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional”. Never was a truer word said about someone.

Johnny Tudor…the 80 year old teenager!

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