Born four the stage

Debra Porter
Debra Porter

THERE are four girls spread over four generations of one family.

But this quartet of lovely lasses have more than their blood line in common – all of them have been showbiz stars.

Florence Harrington (nee Jelliman)

Florence Harrington (nee Jelliman)

Young Rachael Kenney, aged 21, is in the lead role in a season of musicals being performed in hotels across Majorca this summer.

And that means she’s following in the singing steps of great grandma Florence Harrington, nana Dorothy Porter and aunt Debra Porter who all trod the boards for a living.

But it seems while the basic concept of show business has remained the same down the decades – “getting everyone on the edge of their seats,” says 78-year-old Dorothy – plenty has changed since Florence became a Tiller Girl, aged just 17.

“It’s strange to think these days” says Dorothy, of Gaunt Drive, Gleadless Valley. “But back then Florence had to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t show any leg or say any profanities.

Rachael Kenney

Rachael Kenney

“They were told they had to wear thick tights under their skirts and even saying ‘damn’ was a sackable offence.

“It was a bit different by my day. Then we’d all be wearing short skirts.

“I met Cyril, my husband, because he came to our show in Sheffield and made no secret of the fact he liked my little outfit.”

And now in the limelight is Rachael, a former Eckington School pupil, of Ravencar Road, Eckington.

Dorothy Porter

Dorothy Porter

“Performing gives you such a buzz,” she says down a phone from the holiday island. “I was never pushed into doing this but it’s lovely to think I’ve got an aunt and a nana to go to for advice.

“I was so pleased to win this part but hopefully it’s just the first step in a long career.”

So, obvious question: How can one family produce so much talent?

“Perhaps it’s in the blood line,” says Debra, aged 40, who toured the world performing to the British armed forces while a club singer.

“Mum always had a little makeshift stage at home for me and my sister – Rachael’s mum Kay – and her mum had the same so maybe it’s just what this family is destined to do.”

Certainly that seems to be the case.

Florence, also known as Tolly, was born in London in 1898 – herself the daughter of a dancer called Rosena.

Along with sister Cissie, the youngster joined the Tiller Girls, a troop whose high-kicking, precision-timing routines were a huge hit with audiences across the country and saw them perform at prestigious venues like the London Palladium.

But when she retired and moved to Liverpool in 1925 little did Florence, who passed away in 1989, know she had started a dynasty.

Daughter Dorothy soon became one half of a duo known as The Vedelle Sisters who, aged 21, were spotted by an agent in Liverpool and offered a contract to sing at clubs across the country.

“They were some of the best times of my life,” says Dorothy, who still sings today at an afternoon group in Ranmoor. “If I could do it again today, I would in an instant.”

And she’s pleased the tradition was kept alive by daughter Debra, also of Gaunt Drive, Gleadless Valley, and now granddaughter Rachael.

“I remember taking Rachael to various auditions when she was still in her teens,” says Dorothy. “She always wanted this so I’m so delighted. We went to Majorca to see her perform and she was brilliant – her great grandmother would have been so proud.

“The funny thing is she has a sister, Alex, who’s 17 – and this is something she really wants to do too.”

This is one dynasty, it seems, for whom the show is very much going on.