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'Variety is vulgar now, not like it used to be'

By This is Essex  |  Posted: March 31, 2011

  • LIMELIGHT: Jackie aged 22

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A STAR of the Sixties variety circuit – who shared stages with some of the country's most popular acts – can thank the Brentwood half marathon for the school she later founded.

Jackie Dartnell, the 67-year-old owner of the Sandsgate Theatre School, won the first three-mile fun run 28 years ago.

Sandsgate started life as a fitness school – after people who had heard of her running success wanted somewhere to keep fit.

But through Jackie's experience of years playing alongside some of the greats of variety including Danny La Rue, Stanley Baxter and Bob Monkhouse, it evolved into the drama school it is today.

And, within 18 months, it had grown to 500 members.

Since then she has cut down; she teaches eight hours a week and mentors just a handful of talented youngsters.

"The theatre school started by accident," she said. "It was after I won the race that I got calls to run fitness classes and they sort of morphed into dance classes and the Sandsgate Theatre school was born."

Stephen Moyer, star of the US hit TV show True Blood, was one of her students, and lived across the road from the first Sandsgate School, when classes were held at Herongate Village Hall.

Jackie, whose stage name is Jackie Sands, and who now teaches from Herongate Football Club, said: "Stephen Moyer was very good at 14 or 15 when I had him. He had star quality even then.

"I said 'You are going to go a long way' and he was full of himself which you have to be."

Jackie, born in Leigh and who now lives in Fryerning, is a product of the lost world of variety – when comedians, dancers, singers, musicians and speciality acts criss-crossed the country in search of the next show.

At the age of 20 she was one of 12 picked out of 4,000 who auditioned for Aladdin staring Bob Monkhouse at the London Coliseum.

And for two years she starred alongside the biggest draw of them all – Danny La Rue – in Danny at the Palace, also featuring Roy Hudd and choreographed by Lionel Blair.

She appeared alongside Billy Fury and appeared at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow with Ronnie Corbett and Stanley Baxter as Dandini in Cinderella.

She looks back at the grind of the Northern club circuit with affection. In some cases she was sharing cabaret time with strippers and boxing bouts.

Jackie was schooled at the Arts Educational in London. After training as a ballet dancer she decided on musical theatre for her career.

"At 17 I answered an advert in The Stage and I did my little singing and dancing act at the audition and they booked me for the Cabaret Club in Manchester," she said. "At the rehearsals there was this woman wandering around – she was the stripper.

"I was performing and singing Keep Young and Beautiful and so what chance did I have?

"At another club I said 'We must be in the wrong place – there's a boxing ring', but the manager said, 'No, you're in between the bouts'. The stripper went great – but I died on my feet. I was really tempted to get my kit off.

"All that has gone – and that is how you did your apprenticeship, all the greats started there.

"The business has changed now though and if I'm honest it has become a bit vulgar."

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