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Obituary: Johnny Lamonte – ‘one of the most popular speciality acts on the post-war variety circuit’

Johnny Lamonte in performance Johnny Lamonte in performance

Together with his sister, Suma, Johnny Lamonte became one of the most popular speciality acts on the post-war variety circuit, a master juggler whose balancing tricks and acrobatics defied gravity with graceful ease.

He was born in south London to Japanese- English parents who performed as the acrobatic act Masu and Yuri. Although he and his sister began their careers as solo acts, it was after teaming up as a double-act in 1951 that they began to make their collective mark.

Following a season at the Folies Bergere in Paris, they returned to Britain to a busy schedule that saw them playing every major regional theatre. Lamonte took due satisfaction in being one of the few acts to enjoy repeat bookings at the notoriously challenging Glasgow Empire. “As we didn’t say anything in our act, there wasn’t much the audience could object to,” he later recalled.

Always immaculately dressed on stage and with a polished act to match, Lamonte was ever keen to introduce elements of risk and attention-grabbing tricks into his routines. One, featuring him playing a drum with sticks thrown from behind by Suma to be used by him without interrupting the rhythm and beat, was especially popular.

More daring was juggling in the dark with battery-powered clubs tracing patterns of light live on television on a Shirley Bassey special, and a self-devised mechanism that enabled him to spin 360 degrees while balancing on one hand and keeping aloft a ball on the end of a stick held in his mouth.

In his heyday, Lamonte shared stages with British headliners such as Bruce Forsyth, Dickie Henderson and Petula Clark, and visiting Hollywood stars such as Liberace, Laurel and Hardy and Roy Rogers. With his sister, he regularly opened shows at the London Palladium for popular singing stars of the day.

As the demand for live variety dwindled in theatres, Lamonte and his sister successfully re-imagined the act for the fast-emerging nightclub audience, becoming a regular fixture at London’s premiere club, Talk of the Town.

His television credits included several appearances on Sunday Night at the London Palladium as well as guesting on The Good Old Days, the David Nixon Show, It’s Tommy Cooper, Crackerjack and the Dick Emery Show. He and his sister continued to perform internationally until the 1980s.

A more than capable amateur golfer, he earned a mantlepiece full of Vaudeville Golf Society tournament trophies.

Johnny Lamonte was born on February 12, 1930, and died on May 5, aged 88.

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