Derek James tells the story of Peachy Mead - the man who made Norfolk laugh
PUBLISHED: 23:35 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 23:37 10 August 2018
Join me in a round of applause for a former pirate who turned into a peach and is celebrating his 80th birthday this month. Derek James pays tribute to Norfolk's one and only "King of Comedy."
Did you hear the one about the Santa who got the sack?
That’s right it was none other than the boy Peachy who has rarely been out of the headlines during an extraordinary career in showbiz mostly across his beloved East Anglia.
He is a flamboyant, larger-than-life comedian and entertainer who has spent his entire life, mostly in Norfolk and Suffolk, making us laugh.
Yes, Peachy Mead is still working, still enjoying himself, and for the last 35 years has been secretary of the East Anglian Variety Branch of Equity.
He hit the headlines around the country back in December of 2004 when the John Lewis Department store in Norwich gave him the boot following a disagreement over whether or not Santa (in other words Peachy) should have a throne and a grotto.
“I had never had so much publicity,” laughed Peachy as he looked back over his career in showbiz which started when he was a boy called Philip...but I know there is also a different side to this great character.
He spends much of his time helping others, especially in his work with Equity, and that is done on the quiet with no publicity or fanfares.
“Equity has moved forward with the times and is now an important factor in the whole of the entertainment business involving all the latest technology. The union has more members than ever, some 44,000 and a healthy student membership,” he said.
“Sadly with the demise of variety shows in places such as Great Yarmouth, the variety side, while still very active has seen a slowdown in recruitment, Many of the young acts think Equity is for actors only but that is a complete misconstruction. We are the only remaining Variety branch of Equity in the whole of the South East,” added Peachy.
He has been a member since 1961, boom time for the big variety shows on the coast and across the country in theatres, hotels, clubs and pubs.
Born in Norwich on August 5, 1938 at the family home in Avenue Road, rumour has it that as he arrived a siren sounded over the city – a sign of times to come as war loomed.
It was always going to be a life in showbiz for young Philip. His mum Beatrice, known as “Mother Mead,” took in actors from the old Hippodrome theatre, once a magnificent building which was destroyed to make way for a car park.
“When I was a lad they would take me down to the theatre to sit backstage and sometimes the magicians used to plant me in the audience and when they asked for volunteers I would rush up to the stage and they would pay me 10 bob – which was a fortune,” said Peachy.
In those days cycle speedway was a huge passion with thousands of boys in clubs with exotic names across Norfolk and Suffolk. Philip was a member of the hard-riding Galley Pirates and wore the Pugwash vest with pride. He still goes to speedway today.
“I was part of Betty King’s concert party and when they asked me at school what I wanted to do and when I said be an entertainer. They told me not to be so silly. I left aged 14 and went into the grocery trade,” he recalled.
His nickname came about when a teacher called him Meachy – and Meachy turned into Peachy.
They were days of National Service and Peachy went off to serve in Germany at the same time as another king – the king of rock ‘n’ roll....a certain Elvis Presley was doing his call of duty. Little did Peachy know he would play his manager in a musical in the 1980s.
When he came home he and his mate Tony Dennis spotted an advertisement in the Eastern Evening News for acts to join a variety show. They jumped at the chance.
They then went off to see if they could became Redcoats at Butlins in Clacton.
“The head of entertainment told us we were the worst act he had ever seen but we got jobs earning £8 a week.”
Those were the days, in the early 60s, when tens of thousands of people from across the country flocked to the East Coast for their holidays where the biggest stars in the land were waiting to entertain them.
Think of a star and the chances are that Peachy has worked with them. He went solo in 1964 and spent the next 40 years working at the camps in Norfolk and Suffolk.
You may remember him at the Blue Sky Holiday Park near Great Yarmouth where he was working with his friend Bluey the Bear.“I had nine lovely seasons at Blue Sky. We had so much fun,” he said.
He went on to appear in a host of TV shows. He was in five series of Hi-De-Hi and was also a supporting actor and extra in many other shows including Tales of the Unexpected, Lovejoy and worked with some of the biggest stars around.
With the legendary Norfolk band leader, the late, great Chic Applin his manager, Peachy worked non-stop at the camps, clubs, theatres, hotels and the rest. The children loved his “Uncle Peachy Show” at the new Pontins camp at Hemsby.
His Old Time Music Hall travelled the country and he also toured with the Forever Elvis show, playing Col Tom Parker, even visiting Russia.
“Then there was the saga of the Santa. That was good publicity. Not many people can say they were sacked as Father Christmas,” he smiled.
Does he have any thoughts of retiring? You must be joking....happy birthday Peachy.