A Doncaster dancing queen who grew up in a hut with no electricity or running water before becoming a showbiz star has revealed her rags-to-riches story for the first time.
Former Tiller Girl Fay Robinson, who hotfooted it from the back streets of Harworth to star alongside the likes Sir Sean Connery, Bob Hope, Max Bygraves, Bob Monkhouse and many more in a glittering showbiz career, has penned her life story, revealing the highs and lows of a life in the limelight.
The book –‘My Sixteen Sisters’ Dancing With The Stars: My Life As A Tiller Girl – tells how 73-year-old Fay began dancing in Doncaster as a youngster and stepped all the way to the top, starring on TV and working with a host of names from the golden age of light entertainment.
She said: “I met and worked with some amazing people and consider myself very lucky to have worked during those days when stars truly were stars. I have seen and done things many people will never experience.”
Fay, one of seven children, spent her early years living in a cramped RAF hut near Bircotes – a far cry from the glitz and glamour that was to follow in later years.
She said: “We had no hot water, no electricity or flushing toilet. The loo was a shed with an appalling pong.”
However, it was not long before Fay, who now lives in The Wirral, found her love for the stage.
She said: “My mother wanted me to be a Tiller Girl at the Palladium. Some mothers picked the Royal Ballet School, but in mum’s eyes, dancing at the Palladium and being on television was the highest achievement a dancer could accomplish.”
Fay overcame crippling and painful back problems for success.
Her big break came at the age of 16, in June 1957, when she landed a place in The John Tiller Girls dancing troupe – a feather-plumed, precision dancing chorus known for their high-kicking routines.
She said: “Towards the end of my season, I was offered a slot on the Sunday Night at The London Palladium TV series. That was amazing, I felt honoured and it filled me with joy and happiness – me, just 16-years-old at the Palladium.”
That was the beginning of a glittering career, working alongside some of the biggest names in showbiz at the time, including show host Sir Bruce Forsyth, legendary singer Nat King Cole and a host of comedy stars such as Ken Dodd, Les Dawson and Sir Harry Secombe.
Fay said: “Watching Nat King Cole was truly amazing. I was a young girl stood a few inches away from one of the biggest stars in the world at that time.
“We were working with the big American stars, so it really did feel like living in a dreamworld.”
* ‘My Sixteen Sisters’ Dancing With The Stars: My Life As A Tiller Girl is on sale now, priced £11.50. Copies are available from firstname.lastname@example.org or 0151 639 7781.
WHO WERE THE TILLER GIRLS?
The Tiller Girls were formed by John Tiller in Manchester in 1890 when he discovered that by linking arms, a chorus of dancers could dance as one.
He originally formed the group for the pantomime Robinson Crusoe in 1890 at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Liverpool.
From this were founded the Tiller School of Dancing and the Tiller Girl troupes. The number of troupes grew to dozens, and their fame spread around the world.
After Tiller’s death in 1925, the UK schools were kept alive first by his wife Jennie, then by some of the head girls.
The heyday of the troupe was in the 1950s and 60s, with regular slots on TV show Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
Former Tiller Girls include Former House of Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd and Diana Vreeland, former Editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine.