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Obituary: William Perrie – ‘Royal Ballet soloist who shared a stage with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn’

William Perrie

William ‘Bill’ Perrie came late and by accident to theatre and dance, but he went on to become a soloist with the Royal Ballet and share a stage with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

Born in Hendon, north London, on the eve of the Second World War, he spent his infancy with grandparents in Scotland. After his parents divorced, he returned to London to live with his mother. As a child, a job at a butterfly farm in Kent sparked a lifelong interest in entomology.

Moving to Bristol to stay with an uncle who hosted regular theatre parties, at one such party he met Peter O’Toole (with whom he was later to share digs), at another Anton Dolin, then regarded as Britain’s greatest male dancer. Given free use by Dolin of a box at the Bristol Hippodrome, Perrie’s enthusiasm for the stage soon grew. He funded dance lessons with part-time jobs, before gaining a scholarship to the Rambert Ballet School.

In 1959, offered contracts with Ballet Rambert and London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), he chose the latter, then under the direction of his mentor, Dolin. His first assignment was a three-month tour of South America. By the end of his career, he had danced in more than 60 countries worldwide.

In 1965, he was seen alongside Millicent Martin in Hello, Dolly! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and joined the Royal Ballet Company in 1972 to appear with Nureyev and Fonteyn in Kenneth MacMillan’s historic Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. He stayed with the company for eight years, dancing again with Nureyev as the Rat King to his Prince in The Nutcracker.

As an actor, he was most successful as a long-standing cast member as Dobbin, the pantomime horse, in the cult children’s comedy Rentaghost (1984-87) and was also seen in Blake’s 7 (1978) and two Doctor Who storylines in 1984 and 1987.

Perrie’s interest in entomology led to him founding Q Naturalist Enterprises in 1978, which became the UK’s leading expert and dealer in beetles. He led expeditions to the Amazon and Botswana to collect rare specimens, and in 1981 founded the London Butterfly House at Syon House in Isleworth, west London. It closed in 2007.

William Robert Perrie was born on June 11, 1939, and died on March 28, aged 78. He was married to (but later divorced) fellow Festival Ballet principal Carol Yule, who died in 2007, and is survived by their daughter.

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