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Darcey Bussell to visit Norwich to unveil blue plaque at Premier Inn

PUBLISHED: 13:37 13 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:24 14 March 2019

Darcey Bussell is returning to Norwich. 
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Darcey Bussell is returning to Norwich. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

The queen of dancing will be in Norwich next month to honour the former king of the dance world more than a century ago...Norwich-born Vernon Castle.

Vernon Castle honour. Pictured: Vernon Castle. Picture: Philip Yaxley CollectionVernon Castle honour. Pictured: Vernon Castle. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection

Dame Darcey Bussell will unveil a blue plaque at the Norwich Premier Inn Nelson Hotel on Prince of Wales Road, which was run by Vernon’s family in the days of the Great Eastern Hotel.

When Vernon went to America he changed his name from Blyth to Castle, met his partner Irene, and they became the best known and best-loved dancers around. They were huge stars.

Film historian Philip Yaxley, who has campaigned for many years for a plaque, said: “Vernon and Irene were the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of their day and watching them performing the Tango, the Turkey Trot and other new dances inspired a young Fred.

“So, perhaps, without the Castles there would have been no modern dancing, no Fred and Ginger – and no ‘strictly’!,” he added.

Vernon Castle honour. Pictured: Vernon and Irene with their dog Tell, probably on board the Olympic bound for New York from Europe  - 1914. Picture: Philip Yaxley CollectionVernon Castle honour. Pictured: Vernon and Irene with their dog Tell, probably on board the Olympic bound for New York from Europe - 1914. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection

But Vernon and Irene were also fashion icons and they endorsed products which were snapped up by people – especially in America where they were household names.

“They were the Posh and Becks of their day. By early 1916 Vernon was reported as earning £1,000 a week, a colossal amount in those day, they were idolised by millions,” said Philip, of the Regal Experience Group at Wymondham who are paying for the plaque.

Chairman of the Regal Experience Michael Armstrong said they had been able to support a number of charities and good causes with money raised thanks to their classic film shows and the plaque to remember and honour Vernon was very important.

Dame Darcey, one of the great British ballerinas, now famous for being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, said: “It is wonderful to recognise exceptional people in dance history.

Vernon and Irene Castle. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection

 

 
Vernon and Irene Castle. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection

“Vernon and Irene were at the very centre of western dance culture in the 1910s, Vernon influenced and inspired generations of dancers and continues to do so today,” she added.

But there was more to Vernon than dancing.

He gave up his celebrity life in America and returned home to join the Royal Flying Corps at the start of the First World War. He was a top dare-devil flyer

Vernon flew some 150 dangerous missions over enemy lines, he survived being shot down, was honoured by the French before returning to America.

Foundry Bridge and the Great Eastern HotelFoundry Bridge and the Great Eastern Hotel

Then in February of 1918, he was teaching other pilots to fly when one took off in front of him. Vernon couldn’t avoid him. His plane crashed and he was killed. He was 31.

Fred and Ginger went on to star in a film about their idols The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle in 1939.

A member of his family, Christopher Blyth, is also delighted about the plaque: “They were famous for the Castle Walk, the Castle Polka, the Tango and what eventually became the Foxtrot. It is important we remember them as forerunners of modern dancing as we know it today.”

There is a room at The Forum named after him and now the plaque will be a fitting tribute to a talented and brave man – who came from Norwich.

Vernon Castle honour. Pictured: The Great Eastern Hotel, Norwich. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection
Vernon Castle honour. Pictured: The Great Eastern Hotel, Norwich. Picture: Philip Yaxley Collection

• The plaque will be unveiled at the hotel at 3pm on Tuesday April 30. Dame Darcey will then be talking about her life and her new book Evolved at a special event hosted by Jarrold and held at OPEN, Norwich at Bank Plain starting at 6.30pm.

• This is your last chance for a ticket to An Evening with Dame Darcey Bussell, hosted by Jarrold, at Open on Bank Plain, Norwich, on Tuesday April 30 from 6.30pm.

She will be talking about her latest book Evolved which contains wonderful images of the ballerina and sharing a few secrets about what does go on behind the scenes at Strictly!

Single tickets are £30, doubles £40, and that includes a copy of the book. A child ticket is £10.

Only a handful are left.

Click on the Jarrold website or pop along to Customer Services on floor two at the Norwich shop.

• For the extraordinary story of the Norwich man who taught the world to dance before becoming a First World War flying ace don’t miss our Through the Decades supplement next Tuesday.



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