Carol Vorderman remembers ‘always kind and smiling’ Lionel Blair

Carol Vorderman has remembered Lionel Blair as someone who was “always kind and smiling” as she joined famous names paying tribute to the entertainer following his death at the age of 92.

The TV star, best known as a team captain on ITV’s Give Us A Clue, enjoyed a showbiz career that spanned 70 years.

He died in the early hours of Thursday morning, his agent said.

Vorderman tweeted: “Remembering Lionel Blair. I met Lionel many times and he was ALWAYS kind and smiling, a family man, energetic, a grafter, just lovely to be around. RIP Sir. My thoughts are with his family who he adored and was so proud of.”

Blair appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2014, and BBC reality series The Real Marigold Hotel in 2017, which saw groups of older celebrities travelling around India to explore the culture.

Speaking at the time about what he had learned from the experience, he said: “All the different religions seem to live together in perfect peace and harmony.

“My favourite time was staying on a boat on Vembanad lake, it was so peaceful and quite beautiful. I was deeply moved by the 6am ritual at the sea shore, where the families and priests pray for their departed loved ones.”

Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar recalled meeting Blair over the years, saying “he was always a gent, warm and fun”.

A tweet added: “I loved the fact that he’d always pepper every conversation with a bit of a tap dance. Every single time. And it was glorious.”

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Lionel Blair with Su Pollard at the wedding Les Dennis and Amanda Holden in Bournemouth in 1995 (Tim Ockenden/PA)

Blair was born Henry Lionel Ogus in Canada in 1928 before moving to Britain at the age of two.

He grew up in Stamford Hill, north London, and was evacuated to Oxford when war broke out, with his sister Joyce and mother Deborah.

He had cited Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple as figures who inspired him to pursue a life in showbusiness.

After a stint on stage in the West End, he decided to swap acting for dancing and took the stage name Lionel Blair.

His stage credits included the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium, and he also had roles in Lady Be Good, Mr Cinders and Pageant.

His career saw him engage in a dance-off against Sammy Davis Jr at the Royal Variety Performance in 1961, appear in the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, and choreograph big-screen features such as The Magic Christian.

On TV he choreographed and appeared in 1970s programmes such as The Mike And Bernie Show, The Tommy Cooper Hour and the Jimmy Tarbuck Show.

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Lionel Blair with singer Cilla Black and comedian Bruce Forsyth in 1969 (PA)

In the late ’70s, he turned to judging with New Faces, a talent show forerunner to series such as Pop Idol and X Factor.

Blair later became a household name opposite Una Stubbs in the long-running Give Us A Clue.

Speaking in 2014, he said of the ITV show: “Twelve years and over 1,000 shows. But I really wanted to be an actor.

“I was the breadwinner after my father died when we were quite young, and I got into a musical, became well-known and stayed in musicals. But really I want to be in EastEnders.”

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Lionel Blair meeting the Prince of Wales in 2011 (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

He reprised the role in a 2011 Comic Relief special and was back on screens for Celebrity Big Brother in 2014.

He spent 15 days in the house, leaving third after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.

Asked how he felt about being evicted, he said: “A bit sad because I love them all. But I have missed my family so much, I can’t tell you.”

Choreographer Matthew Bourne also paid tribute to Blair, tweeting: “When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s #LionelBlair was the most famous dancer in the country … more of a household name than any ballet star! A true dance legend Heart suit RIP dear man”.

Christopher Biggins, who was an old friend of Blair and who starred with him in the film, Run For Your Wife, and the stage show, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at the London Palladium, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We never stopped laughing. He was brilliant. He was such a good actor.”

Referring to Blair’s run on Give Us A Clue, Biggins said: “He was brilliant in that because he was very competitive. And you had to be really, really careful about being good, because if you weren’t good in that show, he would get really angry because he wanted to win.

“And now he’s won because he’s up there with Una and they’re probably playing as we speak.”

He added: “He was a wonderful dancer, he was a wonderful singer. He was a wonderful entertainer.

“He was superb in everything he did. And the laughter we had was just wonderful.”