From Frankie to Borat - that's entertainment

Ahead of a new exhibition on Jews in showbusiness, we picks our top British talents


By Michael Freedland, May 19, 2011
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Crooner Frankie Vaughan, celebrated for his voice and his headgear

Crooner Frankie Vaughan, celebrated for his voice and his headgear

1950s - FRANKIE VAUGHAN
● He was the man who wore a top hat (even in the 1950s, few did that) and dinner jacket, who gave a kick with his left leg as he asked his adoring fans to "Give Me the Moonlight". Frank Abelson became Frankie Vaughan because his grandmother told him he was her "number vorn boy". That was in Liverpool, where he sang in the choir at the Princes Road Synagogue. As the age of rock'n'roll and Elvis dawned, he showed that an old-style melody and a great voice could still be top of the pops. He was performing right until shortly before his death in 1999 - 14 years after he starred in the show Forty Second Street in the West End.

1960s - LIONEL BART

● No one had the influence on British showbusiness and its export across the Atlantic than the boy born Lionel Begleiter. Or became a bigger disappointment to himself. Bart had written pop tunes, made an impact with the mockney favourite, Fings Ain't Wot They Used T' Be, and then in 1960 (the year of his Cliff Richard hit, Living Doll) scored bigger than any British songwriter-cum-playwright since Ivor Novello, with his musical version of the Oliver Twist story. Bart, a product of the East End, wrote other big shows like Blitz and Maggie May, but Jews loved him because of the way he changed the old antisemitic image of Fagin by making him a loveable rogue. In that he was helped by the man who played the role - Ron Moody. Bart's problem was that he did not follow his own advice and start "reviewing the situation". He went broke after spending a fortune on booze and drugs following the flop of his version of the Robin Hood story, improbably called Twang.

1970s - PETER SELLERS

Hapless Pink Panther detective Inspector Clouseau, aka Peter Sellers

Hapless Pink Panther detective Inspector Clouseau, aka Peter Sellers

● It is difficult to pinpoint a Peter Sellers era. He started entertaining on the radio in the late 1940s and was a big hit with his impersonations in what he called Sellers Market,which led to the ground-breaking series, The Goon Show. In the '50s he starred in Ealing film comedies like The Lady Killers and, most importantly, I'm All Right Jack. But the '70s were really his decade. That was when he was a big, big Hollywood star making big, big Hollywood movies, most notably the Pink Panther series, which confirmed his genius as a comic actor. A descendent of the boxer Daniel Mendoza, he claimed his biggest hatred was for antisemitism. His affairs (with Sophia Loren and Liza Minnelli notably) were as well publicised as his obsessional love of cars. He died in 1980 after starring in what is regarded as his finest film, Being There.

1980s - MAUREEN LIPMAN

● It is nice to able to say that a star who was undoubtedly the big, triumphant name of the 1980s is still going strong. She was a big name before the decade began with a CV encompassing stage, television and film, but the '80s gave her biggest ever audiences - with a TV commercial. Beattie, a Yiddisher mama with all the cliches, was the star of the British Telecom (BT, geddit?) advertising campaigns. Phrases that she coined, such as "You got an ology" and "Your father will run you", are still quoted today. Lipman's great achievement as an actress was that, while being everyone's first choice for a nice juicy Jewish matron's role, she scored brilliantly in other things. Like playing Joyce Grenfell on stage or starring as Aunt Ella in the National Theatre's Oklahoma!. My favourite Lipman moment was when she took a telephone directory, picked a page at random and read the entries like a script. I heard her start with the name, "Solomons - ah, one of mine!" That was at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival a few years ago. She was publicising one of her books, which are as amusing as her comic performances - she describes visiting a breast clinic as giving a "new meaning to pay and display".

1990s - MIKE LEIGH

● He became the darling of the British film industry, winning a clutch of awards for writing and directing his own screenplays on every-day subjects to which so many people can relate, although they might not like to admit it. Movies such as Secrets and Lies, released in 1996, can be unsettling, but reveal the strains behind

Last updated: 11:11am, July 22 2011