Leslie Collins Eulogy


As many of you know Laura and I have been engaged for some 17 years but I have not yet made an honest woman of her, as they say. This is not just because Leslie made it clear he wasn't paying for another wedding although I should say it is a contributory factor.

As if to emphasise the point Leslie christened himself the Father-in-Law Elect and, sadly, will now always be known as such, at least to me.

Leslie was a man of forthright views, not all of which I agreed with, but he was fiercely patriotic and I mean here England, not the rest of the UK and definitely not Ireland!

He was also highly secretive about his age and, in the last couple of weeks, we have found a few application forms where he managed to lose 10 years or so. Would that we could all do that.
What is always especially sad is that you often learn more about people when they pass away and you wish you had taken more interest in them when they were alive.

It happened with my own father. There are many things I would like to ask him now. The same will be true for many of us today.

I did know he booked dwarfs. A few months after I met Laura my father and I were invited to Leslie and Jacqui's house for Xmas evening. My feet were not sufficiently under the table to get a lunch invitation at that point. This was especially to the regret of my father as he was forced to eat a Christmas lunch cooked by me. That day we called ourselves Steptoe and Son

That year Snow White was on at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon and some of the little guys were there at the party. It was that night I discovered their liking for vast quantities of the alcoholic beverages. When two were outstaying their welcome and continually returning from the kitchen with large glasses of red wine I decided, as a helpful prospective son in law elect, that I would take action.

I went into the kitchen and placed the wine box - you can tell it was a real class do - onto the highest shelf I could reach and returned to the party.

Soon after, to my horror, they returned again with full glasses. Leslie then pointed out that they were acrobats. But they did get the message and left shortly afterwards but not without draining their glasses.

I also knew that at the insistence of his parents to learn a trade he became a tailor. But he soon embraced his true love of jazz music and became a highly-successful double bass player.

I did not know that he attended London University where he studied music, nor that he had a professional engagement at the age of 15 and made his debut with a young Spike Milligan who, at the time, was also a musician.

Nor did I know that in 1938 he won the Musicians Union's Best Swing Bass Player Award.

During the war he was in the RAF and was an Operator of the newly-invented radar which at the time meant his work had to be kept top secret. I suppose that's why none of us knew that!

Later he was asked to join ENSA entertaining troops in Burma and India. He also played trumpet and the bass drum on parade which he did at the surrender of the Japanese. His best moment in the forces, he once said.

After the war he joined a band and played in many shows and also played and appeared in 42 films

Later he started his own band and went from strength to strength playing on many Saturday TV shows and supplying cabaret when requested.

During this time he met Rusty Goffe, who's here today, and became his manager for many years. As a result he soon started booking many other "little people" and started his agency with Jacqui. He also managed Victor Sylvester Junior for many years.

Right up until his death he was arranging Big Band Weeks at the famous Potters Resort in Norfolk which Jacqui will now continue. In fact she'll be there in the next few weeks.

He was an early member of the Lord's Taverners and actually played cricket and football in show business matches.

He was also President of the Concert Artists' Golfing Society.

He married Jacqui in 1948 and amazingly, apart from sometime in hospital when he had a heart attack 20 years ago, and apart from when Jacqui was in hospital giving birth to Laura, they have been apart for only one night in 61 and a half years.

It would be true to say that Leslie relied on Jacqui. To the extent that even in the maternity ward he dragged the typewriter in so she could do a letter for him.

This gives an indicator that Leslie was not a practical man. He was obsessively interested in what came out of the kitchen but, unlike his show business career, had no interest in the production nor in the after show clean up. I did once offer, while washing up, to phone the AA and get a map for him so he could find the kitchen.

Despite the fact that I couldn't get in for that first Xmas lunch, they pitched up at my place for the next 18. As I said when I spoke at Leslie's Masonic Lodge during his year as Master, I didn't mind them coming for Xmas. It was just that I hoped they'd go home before Good Friday.

Leslie got on very well with my father who was capable in kitchen matters but was led astray by Leslie. Once we ordered them to go and make the rest of us a cup of tea. The result was mayhem, probably deliberately, so they were never asked to make a repeat performance.

In fact during one Xmas holiday, when he had retired to bed for an afternoon nap, he decided, on waking up, to telephone, using Laura's Fulham number as the only one he could remember and knowing it was transferred to Tunbridge Wells, to order a cup of tea from downstairs. Unbelievably he got one - but not from me.

However it did cause a laugh and Leslie loved a laugh. He even laughed at me. Not always in the right place but he wasn't alone there.

I think he also enjoyed giving me the worst Easter of my life when I was dragged to Antwerp to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Flemish - Snow Veet and the Seven Dwarfens. I've forgotten the Flemish for seven but I can't forget that week-end. Another laugh for Leslie.

It has been of some comfort to the family to learn from their kind and supportive neighbours John and Jean, not to mention Royston the dog, that they could hear him laughing in the garden the day before he died.

On the day we met Laura warned me that she and her parents were incredibly close but even so I did not realise the extent of it. They had scrimped and saved to put her through Drama School for which she was and is eternally grateful. She telephoned them several times most days and when I came to bed late or got home from a dinner the phone would always be lying on my side of the bed where she had fallen asleep after speaking to them at the end of the day.

At his Diamond Wedding Party Leslie did say that the greatest gift God ever gave him was his daughter. I think he forgot, just for a moment, that Jacqui was also there at the time.

Jacqui has been staying with us for the past few weeks and I can't quite get used to that phone not being there when I go to bed.

But that of course, pales into insignificance when compared with how much Jacqui and Laura miss him. Knowing how close they were this is a time I knew would come but have dreaded.

I need not have worried. I feel proud of the way they have coped with the difficult moments that all bereaved people have to face but which are still so personal and unique to each individual.

In the next few months Jacqui will no doubt find somewhere new to live and the phone will then be back on my bed. Until then I shall continue to miss seeing it each night just as I know from the mountain of cards and messages how much all of you and many others will miss Leslie Samuel Collins.






Grumpy old goalies


Bob 'The Cat' Bevan