For more than 70 years, Fred Cox was a pillar of the world of old-time variety with his identical twin brother, Frank. As leading members of the Royal Air Force gang shows, under the auspices of the producer, Ralph Reader, they toured throughout Europe, north Africa and the Far East, singing, playing several musical instruments, tap dancing and performing acrobatics.
The Cox twins, as they were billed, were instantly recognisable. Sporting huge, frizzy hairstyles, they wore garish suits and red or yellow socks.
At the age of 12, the brothers joined a touring boys’ choir, Steffani’s Silver Songsters, in which they appeared alongside the yodeller Ronnie Ronalde and the comedian Norman Vaughan, who went on to host ITV’s flagship variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. After leaving the songsters, the Cox brothers joined a show starring cult singer Dorothy Squires.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, they enlisted in the RAF and were quickly transferred to the gang shows, making friends along the way of such future stars as Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Dick Emery.
After the war, they were virtually never out of work, largely thanks to Reader and Cissie Williams, the fearsome lieutenant of Val Parnell, who was at one time the managing director of the all-important Moss Empires chain of music hall and variety theatres, and the presenter of Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
In 1951, Fred and Frank married another pair of identical twins, Estelle and Pauline Miles, who also worked in the variety theatre. All four lived together in the same house. The comedian Jack Seaton, a stalwart of the British Music Hall Society, once said that if you had lunch with them, you had no idea who was who.
Among the films the Cox twins made was a 1972 adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a star-studded cast that included Fiona Fullerton as Alice, Michael Crawford as the White Rabbit and Robert Helpmann as the Mad Hatter. Quite naturally, Fred and Frank played Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
In 2000, the brothers were presented with a lifetime achievement award by the British Music Hall Society. Frank died six years ago.
Fred Cox, who was born on December 4, 1920, died on September 28, aged 92.