One of that esteemed breed of entertainers who emerged from the Second World War period, Bill Martin’s showbusiness career took many paths. He was a survivor who used his myriad talents to the full.
Born in Aldershot on March 19, 1927, he was slightly too young to serve in the war but immediately after the hostilities he found himself doing National Service in the RAF. From there he formed a close harmony and instrumental trio, the Martin Brothers, with his elder brother George and brother in law Bob McGowan for a season at the Windmill, then on to tours of Scotland and Germany. When the act broke up, he carried on in variety as Bill Vinden ‘the Guitar Playing Comedian’, using his mother’s maiden name so that there was no confusion with George, who became successful as the ‘Casual Comedian’.
As variety waned, Bill ran a pub for a while, his first marriage broke up and he joined the entertainments team at Butlin’s holiday camps. He became ents manager of several camps over the next decade, eventually reaching the top position of area manager. Always prominently involved in the shows, during this period, he worked in a double act with Irish comic Dave Allen, the beginning of a lifetime friendship.
Using his many contacts, Bill then ran an agency, part owned a members’ club and fronted a resident trio at the Hawley Hotel in Surrey. He also became the full time administrator for the Grand Order of Water Rats, of which he was a member. From the early seventies, he found a niche which was his particular forte, performing ‘warm ups’ for television shows. He perfected the required balanced style for this work and was soon in demand by every channel, generally regarded by producers as the king of the warm-up men. In addition, he was cast in several cameo roles in situation comedies such as Are You Being Served? and Yus My Dear and wrote the scripts for impressionist Paul Squire’s TV shows.
In the early nineties, having tragically lost his eldest daughter Laura to cancer, Bill retired to Spain until, in 2005, the death of his wife Sybil, and his own advancing ill health, brought him back to England. He died in the entertainers’ retirement home Brinsworth House on October 6 and is survived by his daughters Andrea and Freya.
To me, he will always be my Uncle Bill, God bless him.