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Performing Arts

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Larry Grayson

Larry Grayson

Larry Grayson (1923-1995) was born William Sully White to 29-year-old Ethel White in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Unmarried and under pressure from her parents to give her baby up for adoption, Ethel chose instead to organise foster care for him.

Ethel advertised, and Alice and Jim Hammond from Nuneaton, northern Warwickshire, responded.

Jim was a miner and Alice a homemaker. They already had 2 teenage girls, Mary (known as May) and Florence (known as Fan), but they’d always wanted a boy.

When Billy was 6, his foster mother, Alice Hammond, died. Fan, who had left school at 14 and been working for 6 years, gave up her job to look after Billy and her father (May had already left home when she got married at 22).

Ethel arranged work in Earl Shilton, around 14km north- east of Nuneaton. Each Wednesday afternoon, her afternoon off, Ethel took the bus to visit her boy Billy.

When he was older, it was Billy who would go visit Ethel and spend a whole day with her fortnightly.

Billy Hammond, as Ethel’s son was known in Nuneaton, was interested in performing on stage from the age of 5. He organised temporary stages at home and co-opted his friends to perform with him.

His first professional gig was at the age of 14 at The Fife Street Working Men’s Club, where he sang 2 songs at a wedding reception. From then he had regular performances in working men’s clubs in the area.

Billy’s first stage name was Billy Breen, but with the encouragement of an agent, he changed that to Larry Grayson in 1956. He earned a decent living but stayed on at his childhood home in Nuneaton.

Larry Grayson didn’t make it to the “big time” until he was in his 50’s when he was signed up by television executive Michael Grade.

Larry Grayson went on to present his own shows, Shut That Door and the Larry Grayson Show. Later he hosted The Generation Game from 1978 to 1982.
From the late 1980s Larry Grayson rarely had television work. His final performance was in the 1994 Royal Variety Performance.

According to biographer, Tony Nicolson, Larry was a forerunner of gay comedians such as Alan Carr and Graham Norton. But for a time, from the late 1980s until shortly after his death, Larry Grayson was seen as too “politically incorrect” for gay rights activists and too mainstream for media executives.

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