By Rosemary Dawson
2006: A good laugh is better than all the pills in the world! So believes Norwich comedian, magician, singer and all-round entertainer Len Rudd, who celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this year.
The oldest member of the East Anglian Branch of Equity, the actors' union, Len has been presented with an award in recognition of this achievement. He is also an honorary member of the Magic Circle, the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Secret Club.
Len knows a thing or five about making people laugh. Until last Christmas he was still performing at old people's clubs and accompanying another local entertainer around Norwich schools to reinforce the message of road safety through his particular brand of magic and humour.
Unfortunately a period of poor health has since prevented Len from doing what he loves best. He finds it hard to accept that he may not be able to tread the boards any more.
Len attends the Mile Cross Salvation Army church in Norwich every Sunday, and also belongs to the weekly over-60 club. He and his three brothers learnt their musical skills from childhood in a Norwich Salvation Army band.
During the Second World War he left his job as manager of a grocery store to join HM Forces. His commanding officer was Buster Merryfield – Uncle Albert in Only Fools and Horses - and Len's gifts of singing and comedy were soon utilised in helping Buster entertain the troops during the Bootle Blitz.
After the war he combined a normal job with being a part-time entertainer. "I did a 75-minute show a couple of times a week, with singing, comedy and magic. One weekend I did shows in Sheffield and Manchester, travelling all the way from Norwich on a scooter with my guitar and magic equipment on the back. I did two shows a night and travelled back the next day. I was a bit sore when I got home – and all for nine guineas! That was good money in those days."
In later years Len became well known to thousands of holidaymakers as the Singing Cowboy on Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth. He's also appeared in television programmes and films – from 'Allo 'Allo! and Only Fools and Horses to Tales of the Unexpected with Sir John Mills, and All the King's Men with Sir David Jason.
Len thinks there's not enough comedy on television nowadays – and doesn't think much of what there is.
"It's the same thing over and over again, there's no skill in it. Much of the language is filthy and suggestive; there's no need for that. It's sad that people don't seem to laugh so much these days. There's too much emphasis on bad news, and nothing to balance it.
"I really enjoy making people laugh and feel happy. It makes me feel good when that happens – and I can almost guarantee that it will! I never take the mickey out of people, but I can sometimes help them laugh at themselves.
"My Christian faith has helped make my comedy easier and more enjoyable. I really feel that God has helped me in every performance. I wouldn't have done anything different with my life – my talents are a gift from God, and I thank him for them."
Pictured above is entertainer Len Rudd in his Norwich home . Picture by Evening News.
Article first published in The War Cry