Meet SBF Member Dougie Squires, with a career that spans across six decades, it is estimated that Dougie has worked with over 10,000 dancers. Without a doubt, his original choreographic talents and staging changed the face of popular dance on television, with his groups The Young Generation and the internationally acclaimed Second Generation.
His unique style captured the imagination of the nation in popular shows starring Rolf Harris, Lulu, Dame Vera Lynn and many others. He has choreographed and directed a Who’s Who of the world of entertainment, including Diana Ross, Julie Andrews, Chita Rivera and John Lennon.
Read his enticing interview and find out about his unique, amazing career...
How old were you when you started dancing and what inspired you to take it up?
...whether you are at the front or at the back, you will be noticed if you are good....
I was working as an accountant in the town where I was born - Long Eaton, in Nottinghamshire, doing amateur work with local youth clubs. I could sing a bit and act, so thought I could possibly be the next Donald O'Connor, if I learned to tap dance; also, it was a good excuse to meet the prettiest girls around town, who seemed to be dancers.
When I decided finally to take the plunge and move to London to try to have a career in the business, in a tap class at Philip Buchel's, I was told by Joan Heal, the actress who was also in class, that I needed ballet lessons. Ballet!?! So I took myself off to Kathleen Crofton's Classical Ballet School at Max Rivers Studios, in Leicester Square and also studied with Louis Conrad and Audrey de Vos.
What shows have you been in as a dancer/singer?
I was lucky enough to get into television and danced for about two years in the live Saturday Spectaculars at the BBC, with choreographers Ernest Maxim, Irving Davies, Paddy Stone and Beryl Kaye. I did summer seasons and rep, but the only West End show I danced in, was Twenty Minutes South, a British musical directed by Hattie Jacques and choreographed by Mark Stuart.
How & when did you make the transition into choreographing, directing & producing shows?
I had been in rep at Bromley and the director Joan Kemp Welch was moving into television and asked me to do a morning revue series... She explained that they couldn't afford a choreographer and I would have to do it. Help!!!
The series wasn't a success - everybody said 'morning television' couldn't work!
Then I did a try out programme called Cool for Cats... Same scene, no budget, so in at the deep end. I had a great team of dancers Una Stubbs, Amanda Barry, Barbara Ferris, Ken Martyne and Ronnie Curran. It was a big success and ran for three years... live twice a week!!! That was great training. I learned choreographing and how to do TV in a crash course in front of the public... I also appeared as singer, dancer, actor in various TV shows.
You are the founder of two of the most popular UK TV song and dance troupes of the 70's, the Young Generation and the Second Generation, which completely transformed the way light entertainment and choreography was to become. Can you please tell us how the idea sparkled in your mind?
The BBC asked me to form a group for a special with an Italian pop star, Rita Pavone and they wanted 15 young boys and girls, who could sing and dance. I had just finished teaching and doing a series of commercials, so I knew some good young dancers. After the show was transmitted, they asked me to form the Young Generation with 30 dancers. Then we went freelance and became the Dougie Squires' Second Generation and worked all over the world in TV and theatres. The idea was to showcase young talent and my choreography was always a mixture of pop styles and traditional theatre and ballet.
I also directed TV abroad and produced a hit summer series at LWT and the Rolf Harris series, directed various shows and gave up any idea of performing.
Why do you think the Young Generation & the Second Generation were such an enormous success?
I could never embrace the fact that they were different - to me it was all dance, but the hungry monster of television, which weekly demanded two or three routines, made sure that I had to keep trying to be different...
Over the years you must have auditioned thousands of dancers. Please tell us about some that slipped through your fingers?
The choosing of new members of the group was fascinating. "The girl with the large eyes is pretty and interesting, but she is under-age...". So 14-year-old Lesley Ann Down never did become a dancer with the YGs. Phil Collins did, and so did many others who briefly joined and went on to do their own thing.
Many years later, during the Prince's Trust Show, which I was involved in, I was standing back stage waiting to cue someone, when Phil Collins finished his set and rushed into the wings. He looked very surprised to see me standing there and yelled: "Dougie!!! The last time I saw you, you sacked me from the Young Generation!" Then he gave me a big hug - so I guess he had forgiven me for driving him away from chorus dancing into a brilliant career as singer, songwriter, musician, actor...
Earlier the same evening, Victoria Beckham came up to me and introduced herself and thanked me. When I looked confused, she said that I had never taken her on when she auditioned for me, so it had left her searching for jobs and then becoming a Spice Girl.
Well, you can't win 'em all... but two in one night made me think..!
Can you tell us about some of the other cast members?
Every viewer had their favourite, whether it was the good looks of adonis Roger Howlett, the exotic Bobby Bannerman, Lesley Judd's versatility and cool English looks, the gamine energy of Jackie Dalton, the glamour of Denise Fone and Heather Beckers, the beauty of Maggie Vieler, the adaptability of Roger Finch, the appealing boyish charm of Danny Grover, who gave up a successful acting career to become a dancer with the YGs (as a child actor he played Dickie Henderson's son in the popular comedy TV series). The group was thirty strong, but each individual had a moment on the family television set. Mums and dads and even the young generation of viewers, chose the one they wanted to see more of, and we did our best to give them all a chance. Keeping all of these young egos in check wasn't always easy and dealing with the various personalities, made me realise I should have taken a degree in human behaviour! Romances abounded and also enmities were born. It was important to try and keep the group going smoothly, as the BBC had no time for the problems, so it was up to Stewart Morris and myself. We had new members who developed into excellent performers and useful members, and we had some who became lazy once they had the contract. For example, I had to constantly reprimand one boy, with an excellent dance technique, for his sloppy performances within the group. As a soloist he would be firing on all cylinders, but in the group numbers he was not committed. My lectures obviously worked, because he is now one of the most successful and richest TV dance producers in the USA.
You have choreographed for numerous famous stars including Dame Judi Dench, John Lennon, Julie Andrews, Lulu, Chita Rivera and Diana Ross. If you could single out one star (or two), who would be the perfect performer for your choreography and why?
...the hungry monster of television, which weekly demanded two or three routines, made sure that I had to keep trying to be different...
The one person I loved choreographing for was Lulu. She was such a natural dancer. Also Diana Ross, one of the most beautiful women ever, who was so professional and then of course the legend, Chita Rivera. The YGs we were doing a TV Special in Munich and the guest star arrived from America. She was Chita Rivera, who had been the original lead Anita in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story. ...and she had worked with my idol the choreographer/director Bob Fosse! "You have to choreograph a number for her, Dougie. She arrives today and you have a rehearsal this afternoon, so find some music", said the producer. Find some music by this afternoon!?! We were in the depths of Munich. I rushed back to the hotel in the lunch break; I had about three tapes with me and the great Chita Rivera waiting to be choreographed. I listened to the tapes and asked if she and I could have the first hour working out together and then let the Young Generation join us. The kids were quite happy to spend an hour in the canteen, so for one hour Chita and I laughed, choreographed and got to know each other and it was one of the best times of my working life. When the YGs came into the rehearsal room, Chita asked me to dance the number with her, in case she forgot something... and we danced it. Boy, how we danced it!! Both of us in our own way determined to let the YGs see that we had been creative. When we finished, both of us collapsed into a joint heap while the YGs applauded. On reflection, experiences like this seem unreal.
In 2009, you were awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for your services to the Arts. Can you please tell us about how you felt and what that moment meant to you?
It was a surprise.... When they asked me, I was told to keep it secret until it was publicly announced by the Palace. I was humbled and honoured.
You have worked extensively for the British Royal Family, including being the artistic director of the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, along with numerous Royal credits such as the Pageant for the Queen Mother's 100th Birthday, Queen's 40th Anniversary Celebrations, VE Celebrations and VJ Celebrations. How did they differ and which one means the most to you?
I started working as a director with the innovative producer Major Sir Michael Parker and it was a whole new world: military, horses, etc. The Queen Mother's hundredth birthday was very special, but each event has to be treated as the best. I have just finished the Royal Tattoo at Windsor Castle with producer Simon Brooks Ward and we are preparing the Queen's 60th Jubilee for next year.
Can you tell us about some of your experiences during these Royal events?
DS: Well, let me think...
- At the Queen's Jubilee, the Notting Hill Gate procession started the whole thing off marching up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Awesome in their brilliantly coloured and imaginative costumes, but the parade stopped dead in the middle of the Mall. The Royal Family awaiting the arrival of the Queen were assembled in their seats on the Victoria monument. It was apparent that they were enjoying the rhythms of the Caribbean. Notably the Countess of Wessex, who couldn't sit still with these infectious rhythms. However, when the parade halted, two of the younger royals came and stood beside me, commenting that I looked worried. "Well, I am! The Caribs have halted - I am afraid these parades are already behind schedule!" I ran down to see what the problem was and was confronted by one of the male Notting Hill carnivaliers standing in the centre, cross-legged, holding back the rest of the procession. He had a vast pack of costume on his back and his hands were strapped into it to support its weight. "My trousers have become unwound and I daren't move", he said. In his moment of glory the poor man was exposed in the middle of thousands of cheering people. The people in the parade behind him wouldn't move. "We are supposed to be behind him", yelled one brilliantly costumed girl. "Not anymore you're not. Please overtake and move!", I yelled and they did. I grabbed two people standing nearby and we wound his trousers around him once more and he gleefully and rhythmically joined his friends on their progress.
- One of the giant stages in front of the Palace was much bigger than imagined and it was apparent that there was not going to be enough people to fill it. So my assistant Joan Golden and myself made phone calls and persuaded TV dancers and performers, members from the Second Generation, Pans People, The Good Old Days, the George Mitchell Singers and even some of the Young Generation to lead the festivities, and by the way have a fabulous view of the whole event. They all turned up looking younger than their years and created an atmosphere of energy and enthusiasm that only ex dancers and performers can.
As well as working with such talented artists, in 1999 you also directed a show called Abdul Azziz for the Saudi Arabian Royal Family in Riyadh, with 600 actors and 200 camels! What are the obstacles to overcome when working with such a large number of people and exotic animals at the same time?
The key is organisation and preparation and I have learned to plan, as if it is a military action. Animals have trainers or riders, who know their animals. You ask them to do what is needed and leave them to it. The military are brilliant to work with. There is a book on the Abdul Azziz experience: it was such an experience!
What has been your most challenging production?
Probably Abdul Azziz with camels, goats, non-English speaking performers and dealing with their totally different concept of rehearsals and time.
In Saudi Arabia we weren't allowed to show a full frontal of a woman's... wait for it... eyes. Even though she was veiled. When the Arabic team saw her eyebrow they went mad, yelling excitedly. So that was changed. Ali, the camel man, tied one camel's front legs together to stop it from rising, but it got up and hopped away anyway. One camel became very temperamental and very noisy when expected to kneel at the top of the Muzmak ramp to collect the little boy who was playing the young Abdul. We discovered that she hated her bony knees on the wood. "Sand isn't hard", Ali pointed out. So we used a piece of carpet and she happily knelt.
What would you say has been the highest moment in your career, so far?
...Keeping all of these young egos in check wasn't always easy and dealing with the various personalities, made me realise I should have taken a degree in human behaviour... the BBC had no time for the problems...
The next job!
Would you like to share with all ShowBiz Friends a memorable moment in your career that you treasure dearly - either serious or funny?
It's been a long career and there are so many moments that are memorable...
- Robert Helpmann asked me to rehearse at the Royal Ballet School and as I was in the boys changing room struggling into my jeans (I was being modern - tights had been elbowed and jeans were in). A familiar figure swept in and with a brief: "Morning..." stripped down completely and stood there magnificently and totally naked. I gulped and continued struggling into my sneakers and blushing slightly as I realised that this vision of male perfection was the great Russian dancer and idol of all dancers Rudolf Nureyev.
- Joan Kemp Welch was moving television outside, sometimes this helped to give it a 'reality' factor, and one programme I did for her was memorable. It was celebrating the opening of the regional stations and was being transmitted with sections from different regions. I was singing and dancing the part of a fisherman leaving his girlfriend on the docks in Fleetwood and my big moment was jumping onto the trawler on my final farewell. We rehearsed during the day and all went well. In the evening, on the live transmission, the last shot was of me waving to my unhappy girlfriend on the docks and then making the jump. THE TIDE WAS OUT! The boat was a lot further below me, so my leap was much more athletic than I had intended. Luckily I landed on some ropes. I gathered my bruised self together and stood to complete the action. We chugged out to sea and after about five minutes I tapped the fisherman's shoulder and said. "We can return now thank you". He looked at me with contempt: "I was told to keep going until I got a signal to return". The signal never came and after about half an hour, even this experienced seaman had to face the fact that we were forgotten men and reluctantly returned us to base.
What productions do you currently have running?
I do very little theatre and television these days. I am involved with The Not Forgotten Association, organising a garden party at Buckingham Palace for the poor guys returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We invite stars to attend and meet and greet them and their spouses and I am preparing the grand finale of the Horse Show at Olympia and a concert at St. James Palace for the NFA Christmas 'get together' and writing a pantomime for Blackburn Theatre, so I still enjoy a varied career and am lucky to be still working!
How do you think dancing has changed over the years?
There have been vital breaks through in English television dancing and I am proud to have been a part of two of them. Cool for Cats first showcased a small group of individuals and explored their personalities and talent in their own right using the street dance of the time 'rock 'n' roll'. It explored camera techniques through the art of dancing and turned the dancers into performers. The Young Generation and the Second Generation showcased a large group of young people with individual styles. The third break through was Arlene Phillips' Hot Gossip.
However today, so many years later, the breakthrough is made by a giant young man with the unlikely name of Ashley Banjo and his group Diversity. He uses street dance styles, hip hop, breaking, etc. and combined with his brilliant use of sound, is blazing the future of dance.
Do you think that the way showbiz is today puts more (or less) pressure on a performer's career than it used to do in the past?
I think that the present show biz is more pressurised and competitive - the standards of excellence are amazing...
What would you say to encourage today's performers?
Get the best training available, as there are lots of great schools and teachers and enjoy being part of a profession which offers such challenges and varied experiences... Stay healthy and work, work, work... Get experience in auditions and any show: it all adds up to the success you will enjoy or the memories of opportunities...
Whilst I was training I immersed myself in all styles of dance and acting. One day, watching a performance of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, with its exciting African rhythms and styles, one young dancer caught my eye and the eye of everyone in the audience, even though she was just in the chorus. Eartha Kitt was electric and seeing her dance was a forewarning of the future she would enjoy as a star. It also gave me a piece of advice for dancers... whether you are at the front or at the back, you will be noticed if you are good.
What do you think of ShowBiz Friends?
A terrific idea... I congratulate you on your imagination in starting it!
Thank you Dougie for this brilliant interview and congratulations on your remarkable career and may it continue for many, many years to come!