Artist and entertainer James "Justso" Ridington dies from cancer aged 78
- Credit: ARCHANT LIBRARY/IAN BURT
One only has to look at the vibrant artwork of "Justso" to see he was a man full of colour and energy.
From children’s entertainer to locally-renowned artist, he will be remembered by his loved ones for being a larger-than-life character.
His wife, Marlene Ridington, who he met almost two decades ago, explained how she was able to recall many anecdotes from his life due to the two years he spent composing an autobiography for his family.
“He was very, very family-orientated,” she said.
“His daughters were his life and he adopted my family as his own – he has been a big part of their lives.
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“He worked so hard and loved every minute of every day.”
In fact, it would be this autobiography that caught the attention of his brother-in-law, John Snell, who would commission him to illustrate his book of humorous tales Been There, Seen It, Done It! This project would form another creative accolade to his lifelong love of art.
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Kenneth James Ridington was born on May 29, 1943, at Stow Bardolph Hospital, near Downham Market. The family had been residing in Norfolk after being evacuated due to the Second World War.
Shortly after 1945, they returned to their hometown near Romford, Essex, where he remained until he returned to Nelson’s county after marrying his first wife Sandy in 1966.
Their two daughters, Mandy and Sasha Lee, were born during the 1960s. On April 8, 1974, the couple bought a house at auction to renovate and the property, Flint Cottage in Ingworth, near Aylsham, would become their family home.
The couple separated and divorced during the mid-1980s, and remained friends. Mr Ridington bought another cottage, again close to Aylsham, which is where he lived until meeting his second wife, Marlene.
He began working as an entertainer in 1987 after teaching himself how to juggle. He covered a variety of events, fetes, carnivals, and parties, and also performed illusions, walked on beds of nails, carried out balloon modelling, as well as fire-eating. Prior to this, he worked as an artist designing t-shirts, then later car stickers.
Marlene described his entertaining years as “very successful” and said he enjoyed the limelight and “being an exhibitionist”.
The 71-year-old explained how they met in 2003 at a singles club in Dereham.
She said: “I used to come along from Swaffham with a friend of mine. One day, James’s daughters encouraged him to come along. I came into the room and I remember thinking ‘wow, look at that hair’. It was long, gingery-blonde, and curly, halfway down his back.
“We liked each other but we both played hard to get.”
The couple went on their first date in April 2004 and married in September 2005. Describing it as “an amazing day”, Marlene recalled being surprised after Mr Ridington arranged for a performance from entertainer Olly Day, as she was a fan of his.
In August 2018, Mr Ridington semi-retired from the entertainment business in order to paint pictures to raise money for local charities, including Dereham Cancer Care and the Zoological Society of East Anglia. A member of the Natural World Art Society, based at Banham Zoo Art Gallery, near Attleborough, he also held exhibits there.
Shortly before meeting Marlene, Mr Ridington received a devastating diagnosis of prostate cancer and last month he was told he had just months to live. At the time, he asked galleries selling his paintings to donate 25pc of the profits to the NHS due to the 18 years of care he had received since his diagnosis.
His artwork focused on wildlife, animal, and portraits, as well as “what catches the eye". Some of his prints, which vividly depict colourful wildlife, are available at Norski Noo’s Gallery in Dereham, Handmade Gifts and Gallery in Anglia Square, Norwich, and the Norfolk Gallery at Wroxham Barns.
Earlier this year, the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk thanked him for his services to the community, after he painted a portrait of a beloved charity founder and organiser.
His painting of Janet Money, the founder of the Dereham Cancer Care centre, who died aged 73 on December 15, 2020, caught the attention of many.
At the time, he described Mrs Money as “a very good friend and advisor to many people”. The painting has since been donated to the centre as a tribute to her and is due to be hung on a memory wall there with other items celebrating her legacy.
As well as attending meetings there, he ran art classes for members of the centre, as well as organising exhibitions of his paintings which raised hundreds of pounds for the organisation over the years.
Marlene added: “We all have such great memories of him - Christmas is a particular favourite. It was always the best. Huge family Christmases, sometimes with 15 or so people, and we would play games, do tricks and quizzes.
“He struggled, but he kept going to the end and would not give in. He fought it all the way.
“The loving memories shared together will live on in our hearts forever.”
After a brief spell in hospital, Mr Ridington returned home to Dereham. He died on August 4, 2021, aged 78.
He leaves behind his wife, two daughters, son-in-law Craig, step-son Simon, Lorraine and Sinead, and grandchildren Wil, Toby, Jamie, Jake and Frankie.
The funeral takes place at St Nicholas Church, Dereham, on Wednesday, September 1 at noon. A hearse will pass through the High Street at 11.45am. People are welcome to pay their respects. Donations to Dereham Cancer Care via Jordan Young Independent Funeral Home, 11 Nelson Place, Dereham, NR19 1EA.
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