Charles, friend of the stars, dies

Dame Vera Lynn with Charles Castle
Dame Vera Lynn with Charles Castle

CHAMPION dancer, best-selling author and award-winning television film producer, Charles Castle has died in France, aged 74.

Many local people will know Charles from the time when he ran a ‘Galleria of Antiques’ in Battle High Street opposite the Abbey in the late 1980s.

He later converted the premises into a ‘Hall of Fame’ displaying artefacts such as Sir Noel Coward’s smoking jacket and cigarette holder, along with many photographs signed by famous stars of stage and screen, copies of which were later displayed in Yesterday’s World. Charles also ran a Galleria in Norman Road, Hastings, for many years.

He was born in South Africa and educated in Johannesburg.

Before becoming South Africa’s Tap Dancing Champion, Charles studied fashion at the Kirsten Academy and became assistant designer to the couturier Ivor Kirsten.

He studied drama and won a bursary to attend the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama, leaving for London shortly before he turned 18 in 1957.

Within three days of his arrival, he landed a six-month contract to appear at the London Palladium, and then returned to Johannesburg for a three-month tour on the bill with George Formby, Anne Ziegler, Webster Booth and Eve Boswell.

Returning to London he appeared extensively on television, partnering international stars including Eartha Kitt, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and Dolores Gray, who became a life-long friend.

After an ankle fracture he abandoned his dancing career and returned to haute couture, opening a small boutique in London’s Lexington Street before becoming employed as a designer and cutter in several establishments in the rag-trade in Gt. Titchfield Street.

Ralph Levy, who directed the original pilot of ‘I Love Lucy’ in American, asked Charles to become his personal assistant for ‘Harry’s Girls’.

Charles went on to become a personal assistant to noted ballet dancer Sir Anton Dolin and director Jose Quintero.

Charles was great friends with Princess Margaret and often accompanied Margaret to her home on Mystique, where he would meet up with another good friend, Oliver Messel, English artist, famed stage designer and architect.

Charles joined the BBC in the late 1960s and for the next 20 years he worked in the drama department, music and arts and finally as film instructor. A year as programmes editor at Channel 4 followed.

Charles embarked on several independent enterprises, writing cover notes for EMI long-playing records of Dames Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn and several others.

However his main projects were to write, direct and produce documentary films on the life of celebrated tenor, Richard Tauber and on Sir Noel Coward. He was the first BBC TV employee to sell an independently-made film to his bosses. ‘This was Richard Tauber’ won the international Critics Award at the Monte-Carlo Television Film Festival.

During a private visit to Charles’ home, Sir Noel agreed to a similar documentary, which featured a galaxy of stars, unseen footage and narration by Sir John Gielgud.

‘This is Noel Coward’ has been shown in practically every English-speaking country in the world and it too won an award at Monte-Carlo.

Charles even went to Clarence House to show his film to the Queen Mother.

His authorised book of the film made the best-seller lists in the UK and US.

Charles’ career was interrupted in 1990 when he was given a year to live because of a diseased liver, but received a life-saving transplant.

In March 1999 his Ewhurst Green home, where he had lived for 40 years, burned to the ground and Charles lost his irreplaceable collection of films, paintings and memorabilia, including photographs and personal letters from some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.

In 2004, Charles and friends Kevin and Tom, purchased Montcabirol, a hamlet in France.