Spotlight on ……
Dorothy Squires was, quite simply, one of the most popular singing stars of the 1940s – a charismatic and electrifying stage performer who, thanks to her enduring musical partnership with the respected songwriter and bandleader Billy Reid, topped theatre bills throughout Britain, and whose many recordings included such smash hits as The Gipsy, I’ll Close My Eyes, It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight, I’m Walking Behind You, A Tree In The Meadow, This Is My Mother’s Day, and Safe In My Arms.
Later, in the 1950s, when Dorothy was married to the young up-and-coming actor Roger Moore, she moved to the United States to help further his career and became one of the first British recording artists and performers to work there. In the 1960s Dorothy continued to have hit recordings, including Say It With Flowers and For Once In My Life, and the 1970s were notable for her sell-out concerts at such venues as the London Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Royal Albert Hall and The Talk Of The Town nightclub. The hits also continued, thanks to her recordings of Till and My Way. Even in the 1980s Dorothy was still performing and recording (most notably, releasing a powerful version of I Am What I Am, from the stage show La Cage Aux Folles). Her last live show was at the Brighton Dome in March 1990, almost 54 years after she had made her recording debut.
Dorothy Squires was born Edna May Squires on 25th March 1915 – her birth certificate records the address as being Travelling Van, Bridge Shop Field, Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire - in South Wales. She was the younger daughter of a steelworker, Archibald James Squires and his wife Emily, and grew up in Dafen. Her first job was working behind the counter at Woolworth, and she later worked in a local tinplate factory. One of Edna May’s earliest musical memories was watching and listening to Al Jolson in the first ‘talkie’ movie The Jazz Singer. The experience moved young Edna May so much that she was determined to become a famous singer herself.
Her earliest professional shows were in the Llanelli area, performing with a local dance band, The Denza Players, including at the local Ritz Ballroom, then at the age of 18 years Edna May decided to move to London to pursue her musical ambitions. However she forgot to tell her family of her plans – they found out about her decision after she had caught the train to London’s Paddington Station!
The budding performer arrived in the capital, knowing no one and with nowhere to stay. Eventually young Edna May settled in Croydon where she briefly worked as a nurse. Edna May was determined to be a singer however and pursued her ambition with the true grit and determination that were to become the hallmarks of her larger-than-life personality in later life. She eventually found herself sitting in a variety agent’s office in London’s Charing Cross Road where she gave an impromptu performance of the song Dinah. Edna May was subsequently offered a part in a cabaret show, performing three songs, but unfortunately on the big night she developed stage fright and forgot the lyrics to her specially prepared numbers!
It was a personal disaster for the young singer but she rapidly overcame her nerves. Soon afterwards Edna May was offered a booking at the Burlington Gardens Club and this developed into a long-term contract. It also led to her first radio broadcast in 1936 after the noted American pianist Charlie Kunz heard her performance. Kunz invited Dorothy to perform with his band at the Casani Club in London’s West End and Dorothy (as she had now re-christened herself) made her first broadcast with the orchestra.
Several months later Dorothy was booked to do one show with the Southampton-born musician Billy Reid and His Accordion Band, and it was the beginning of a long and successful professional relationship. Such was the success of that first show that Dorothy was booked by a leading impresario to do an eight-week tour, working as a solo act. However, when she returned to London, Billy Reid offered her a permanent job as the vocalist with his orchestra.
Dorothy made her recording debut in 1936 with When The Poppies Bloom Again, recorded on 6th December of that year. The following August she recorded three more songs with Reid’s Accordion Band – Kiss Me Goodnight, Sweet Heartache and Moon At Sea. Other recordings that Dorothy made with Reid during 1937 and 1938 included Moonlight On The Waterfall, Whistling Gypsy Waltz, Are You Sincere? and Little Drummer Boy. Dorothy also sang with Reid and his orchestra in the film Saturday Night Revue.
However it was in the mid-1940s that the Reid/Squires partnership finally began to reap rich rewards. With the advent of World War II the Reid/Squires musical partnership had been brought to a temporary halt, and there were no new recordings from the team between the summer of 1938 and the spring of 1945. The first of many hits that Billy Reid composed for Dorothy was Coming Home, recorded on 1st May 1945, which was released just before VE Day. The song captured the sentiments of many of the homesick and shell-shocked soldiers who were returning home to their families, and Coming Home quickly became popular both on the radio and on record.
Among the other hit recordings that Dorothy and Billy Reid also introduced were The Gypsy (recorded in July 1945), followed by I’ll Close My Eyes (also in 1945), A Tree In The Meadow and Mother’s Day (both 1948). Their many other hits included It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight, In All The World, Safe In My Arms, Danger Ahead, Yes! I’ll Be Here and Coming Home. Dorothy and Billy Reid topped variety bills as “The Composer And The Voice”. Their working partnership also developed into a passionate if somewhat volatile personal relationship – Reid was some 12 years older than Dorothy, and a married man. They however lived together between 1939 and 1951.
Billy Reid had already captured the imagination of the nation’s popular music fans before the Second World War with songs like When The Rose Of Tralee Met Danny Boy, but there can be no doubting that his partnership with Dorothy Squires propelled their respective careers to new heights. Dorothy herself went on to have success in the United States, appearing regularly in cabaret although she was deprived of big record sales via the fact that many of the top American artists of the era, including Al Jolson, The Ink Spots, Margaret Whiting, Dinah Shore and Eddie Fisher covered Billy Reid’s great songs.
By the end of the 40s Dorothy Squires was one of the most popular performers in Britain. She became the resident star of BBC Radio’s Variety Bandbox, which regularly attracted millions of listeners, and she made her London Palladium debut in 1946. Dorothy and Billy Reid also regularly broadcast in such popular BBC radio series as Music Hall and Variety Fanfare. Dorothy also had solo bookings on Henry Hall’s Guest Night radio show, and many other popular series of the day, including Melody Lane, Band Parade and All Star Bill. With her blonde hair and glamorous looks, the petit Dorothy packed theatres throughout the country while her many recordings were bought by a huge army of fans.
The 1950s saw a relatively quiet period in Dorothy’s recording career. Her professional (and personal) relationship with Billy Reid had broken up amidst much acrimony in the early part of the decade, and a well-publicised court case ensued. Billy Reid retained the Astoria Theatre in Llanelli, which they had jointly owned, while Dorothy kept their home St. Mary’s Mount in Bexley, Kent. It was later to be the venue for many of Dorothy’s famous show business parties.
In 1952 Dorothy was introduced to a young aspiring actor called Roger Moore, and in July 1953 she duly became Mrs Moore. That same year Dorothy also had a Top 20 hit with another Billy Reid song, I’m Walking Behind You. For much of the decade Dorothy was living with her young husband in the United States, initially in New York and then in Hollywood. She returned to Britain for occasional theatre and television engagements. Dorothy also recorded an English version of Edith Piaf’s Hymne a l’Amour, under the title If You Love Me, which Piaf considered to be better than her own version. Dorothy had first heard the song when Piaf performed it in a Hollywood nightclub. The two women subsequently met after the show, and many years later Dorothy was to incorporate a tribute to the Little Sparrow in her own stage shows.
In the mid-50s Dorothy was signed to Nixa Records in Britain and released a succession of singles including When You Lose The One You Love (which she composed), I Saw The Look In Your Eyes, Come Home To My Arms, Precious Love, Torremolinos, and Don’t Search For Love. She also released her first album Dorothy Squires Sings Billy Reid in 1957. The previous year Dorothy co-starred with Pat Kirkwood in the British film musical Stars In Your Eyes in which she gave a credible performance as a music hall entertainer who is estranged from her husband. The movie also featured Nat Jackley, Bonar Colleano, Jack Jackson, Vera Day, Freddie Frinton, and Jimmy Clitheroe.
Dorothy was also active in furthering her husband Roger Moore’s acting career and she helped to negotiate his first American film contract in 1954 when they moved to Hollywood. Roger’s big break came when he began filming with Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris. Dorothy also had a huge success in her own right when she appeared in cabaret at the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood. One of her biggest fans was a young Elvis Presley who attended several of her performances, and repeatedly asked her to sing This Is My Mother’s Day! She was also invited to replace one of the famous Andrews Sisters – an offer that she turned down.
In 1961 Dorothy teamed up with pianist Russ Conway to record one of her own songs, Say It With Flowers, which she launched with a huge party at her Bexley mansion. The single went into the Top 30 in August of that year and spent a total of ten weeks in the pop charts. On the strength of this, Dorothy became the first British performer to play London’s Talk Of The Town nightclub – quite an accolade as, until then, it had been mainly a headlining venue for top American stars like Sammy Davis, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Tony Bennett and Sophie Tucker.
Sadly these personal triumphs were overshadowed by the break-up of Dorothy’s marriage to Roger Moore in 1961. The couple were not divorced until 1968, and the mid-60s were a bleak period for Dorothy, although she continued to release occasional singles, including Talk It Over With Someone, Whoever?, Are You?, Bless Your Heart My Darling, I Won’t Cry Anymore, Look Around, and Someone Other Than Me. Dorothy penned many of these songs herself and most of them were painfully biographical.
On Saturday 8th October 1966 Dorothy Squires returned to the Regal Cinema in Llanelli to record a semi-autobiographical live album, This Is My Life!, which was released by Decca the following year. This recording helped to set in motion an extraordinary sequence of events that ultimately were to make Dorothy one of the most controversial and talked-about show business personalities of the late 60s and early 70s.
Soon afterwards Dorothy recorded a new studio album Say It With Flowers for President Records – her first in almost a decade - which was released in 1968. It further helped to pave the way for her comeback. Dorothy started working on another new album, The Seasons Of …, which included an emotive interpretation of For Once In My Life. On 20th September 1969, For Once In My Life (which had been a hit for Stevie Wonder earlier that same year, and which Dorothy had been inspired to record after seeing Judy Garland perform the song at Judy’s ill-fated Talk Of The Town season in December 1968), entered the British Top 50 and eased its way into the Top 30, remaining there for 11 weeks. Dorothy was finally back in the limelight.
In 1970 Dorothy had two more hit singles, with Till, which spent a further 11 weeks in the charts, and then with her powerful interpretation of the Frank Sinatra hit song My Way which took up a 23-week residency in the Top 50. Till had originally been a million-seller for American pianist Roger Williams, and the Carl Sigman-Charles Danvers ballad had previously been recorded by Tony Bennett and Shirley Bassey among others. However it was Dorothy who took the song to its highest-ever British chart position (until then). Dorothy was also the only female artist to have a hit record with My Way, despite competition from several others.
However Dorothy felt that despite this recording success she was being ignored by television and radio, and so she decided to take dramatic action. In November 1970 she called a press conference to announce that she would be hiring the world-famous London Palladium on 6th December, at a personal cost of £5,000, to stage her own concert. For a short time the cynics had a field day. One Fleet Street columnist, who will remain anonymous, sneered that Dorothy was “making the biggest mistake” of her life. However Dorothy had the last laugh – within hours of the Palladium box office opening all 2,300 tickets for the show had been sold, and she could have filled the venue several times over.
Dorothy walked onto the Palladium stage that Sunday evening and was greeted with a spontaneous standing ovation from the capacity audience. Amid cries of “welcome back” and “you belong here”, she gave the performance of a lifetime. Dorothy sang her heart out and was rewarded with several more standing ovations.
On the strength of this remarkable event, her recording of My Way raced back up the charts and she subsequently embarked upon a nationwide series of sell-out concerts. Dorothy also headlined at The Talk Of The Town nightclub in London again, and the double-album recording of the Palladium concert became a big seller. A year to the day after that historic Palladium concert Dorothy once again returned to the world famous variety theatre for another self-financed concert, which was again recorded for LP release. During another two-hour performance she virtually brought the theatre down with an electrifying Irony Of War medley, which included the show-stopping songs Maman, When The World Is Ready, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Dorothy returned to the Palladium for a third concert in 1972 before switching venues to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1973 (her performance there was also recorded for release as a double-album). She also booked New York’s Carnegie Hall, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles (the venue for the Academy Awards) for her own concerts. In July 1974 Dorothy returned to the London Palladium for a two-week season – and this time she didn’t have to book the venue herself. She had made her own point several times over, and agents and impresarios were now queuing up to book her.
Sadly however, Dorothy’s career began to suffer from her penchant for litigation. She became embroiled in several court cases. The most damaging was in February 1971 when the News Of The World alleged that she had bribed a BBC radio producer to play her records. Two years later she was arrested (along with several others) on the same charges. When the case eventually came to the Old Bailey Dorothy was acquitted on all charges, and she eventually won £30,000 damages from the newspaper. However her career never fully recovered from these traumatic events.
There was more personal tragedy for Dorothy in 1974 when fire gutted her Bexley home, and she narrowly escaped death. Her much-loved standard poodle died in the blaze. She later moved to Bray-on-Thames where her seventeen-room mansion – once the home of King Edward VII’s mistress Lillie Langtry – was flooded when the river broke its banks! During that year Dorothy released a new single, a revival of The Impossible Dream from the musical Man Of La Mancha, and performed it on Russell Harty’s TV chat show. At the end of 1974 Dorothy travelled to Australia where she undertook several very successful concert and cabaret appearances.
During the 70s Dorothy made many concert and cabaret appearances throughout Britain. There was also a string of live and studio albums for her fans to enjoy, including Cheese ‘N’ Wine, which she recorded with Dennis Lotis, and Rain Rain Go Away in 1977. The latter was meant to coincide with the publication of Dorothy’s autobiography of the same title. In the event, the book never appeared because of copyright problems. A live album recorded at London’s Dominion Theatre on 8th December 1979 was issued on enterprising Dorothy’s own record label, Esban Records.
Horse racing was another area where Dorothy was achieving success. In 1973 her horses Esban and Norwegian Flag placed her among the twelve leading Nation Hunt owners – just one place behind Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother!
In the 80s Dorothy became the first light entertainment artist to appear at London’s new Barbican Concert Hall, when she was booked to headline there in 1982. She also continued to release occasional records including a big-voiced version of I Am What I Am in late 1983. By the mid-80s, unfortunately, Dorothy’s personal problems were totally overshadowing her career. Ruinous court costs resulted her being declared bankrupt in 1986, and six months later she was declared a vexatious litigant. Bailiffs evicted Dorothy from her Bray home and her possessions were sold at public auction. At one point she was living in bed and breakfast accommodation before moving to Ackworth in South Yorkshire where she rented the home of one of her loyal fans.
On 17th March 1990 Dorothy gave her last ever stage performance, at Brighton’s Dome Theatre. Meanwhile her life continued to fall apart and she eventually returned to her native Wales and spent her last years as a semi-recluse, living rent-free in a small house loaned to her by another long-time admirer, Esme Coles. Diagnosed with cancer in 1996, Dorothy displayed her usual resilient attitude in the face of adversity.
In late 1997 Dorothy gave her first television interview for many years, for the BBC Wales documentary Rain Rain Go Away. She talked about her life and career, and the programme also included warm tributes from her former husband Roger Moore, as well as fellow performers Danny La Rue and Russ Conway, radio presenter Peter Murray, and her long-time record producer and great friend Norman Newell. Roger Moore admitted that Dorothy had given him the confidence to “become my own person”. He described her as “warm and outgoing, larger than life” with the charisma of a true star.
The day before the documentary was due to be screened, Dorothy collapsed in her home and was admitted into hospital at Llwynypia, Mid Glamorgan, in March 1998. She died in the early hours of 14th April. A week later a funeral service was held for her in Wales, and this was followed by a second service in Streatham, south London, on Friday 24th April, followed by burial in the cemetery there.
For Dorothy’s many fans and admirers however the memories live on, and this Website is intended as a sincere tribute to a truly outstanding – and under-rated - stage artist, whose magic and sheer charisma will long be remembered by those fortunate enough to witness her electrifying stage performances and who enjoyed her rich catalogue of recordings.
© 2004 www.dorothysquires.co.uk