Each month I take a look at Funny Women from throughout the 20th Century – stating their case so that you may decide which to vote your favourite Vintage Funny Woman. For the first entry we had Fanny Brice, then Lucille Ball and now for my third instalment I have gone to the later end of the 20th century with Yorkshire’s Marti Caine.
The first I ever saw of Marti Caine was in 1995, and I was yet to know it would be her final television performance. She was performing as Gracie Fields, singing ‘The Greatest Aspidistra in the World’ in a BBC production called ‘Call up the Stars’ – my first introduction to both Marti and to Gracie:
I loved how Marti could be funny, looked striking and could sing – all three of our nominees so far have showed that you don’t have to be pigeon-holed to be a successful Funny Woman.
Marti was born Lynne Denise Shepherd in Sheffield, 1945 and had to grow up fast. She suffered sexual-abuse from her grandfather after the death of her father, and she went on to run away and marry her first husband when she was only 17 years old. At 19 she could not afford the £19 needed to give her mother a funeral, so she auditioned as a singer for the Chapeltown Working Men’s Club. Her obituary in 'The Independent' by Nick Smurthwaite stated: "That fateful audition, prompted by debt, fuelled by brandy, consisted of two songs, 'Puppet on a String' and 'Summertime', intended to demonstrate her versatility. Her voice was trembling so much, Marti Caine later recalled, that she sounded like Édith Piaf with Parkinson's disease.
She used her married name, Lynne Stringer. A couple of name changes later her husband Malcom created one inspired by a gardening book – ‘tomato cane’ became ‘Marta Cane’ but an early misspelling of her name at a gig left her as ‘Marti Cane’ forever more."
In 1975, after many years on the Working Men’s Club Circuit, she won ITV’s ‘New Faces’ for her excellent comedic and singing skills, beating off competition from Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood. She went on to host her own self-titled TV programme which showcased her many talents. Here are some incredibly 70s musical numbers from the series…
Here is Marti in an outfit made of Quality Street wrappers, singing a disco version of ‘Fever’ in a giant Starbucks takeaway coffee cup surrounded by muscly men in lycra:
Here she is singing ‘Street Life’ on what looks like the set to ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ surrounded by more dancers in lycra:
Here she is being a sexy alien surrounded by even more lycra-clad, writhing dancers:
Annoyingly there doesn’t seem to be any footage of Marti on YouTube performing comedy so please look out for her on those compilation comedy shows/top 100 list shows.
At the height of her fame, Marti had a very public divorce for her first husband, Malcom and she went on to marry the television producer Kenneth Ives in 1984. A mum of two, she was secretly quite insecure as her obituary in The Independents observes: "The years of popular acclaim and serious money were not enough to eradicate her inner doubt and insecurity. Like anyone who re-invents themselves, she had no way of escaping the person she once was. She still saw herself as an ugly girl with long legs and a nose job. Marti was loud, brassy and egotistical, she told one journalist, while Lynne had no ego and enjoyed doing the housework."
In the 1980s she took over hosting ‘New Faces’ which revived the now rather stale show:
She had a catchphrase: “Press your buttons now” (not a great one admittedly!). At the same time as ‘New Faces’ she starred in ‘Hilary’, a BBC comedy series about a divorcee with a 19 year old son working for a television company. It aired for two series.
As a live performer she starred in sell-out tours, cabarets, pantomimes, summer seasons, pier shows – particularly Blackpool, and then starred in a tour of the musical ‘Funny Girl’ which was about the life of our first Vintage Funny Women Awards Nominees, Fanny Brice. In 1986 she starred in a one-woman-show at the Donmar Warehouse which featured 14 co-written songs about her life. Music always featured alongside comedy and as a singer she had recorded five albums, the first being so popular she re-released it three times with different covers.
In 1995 Marti lost her 7-year-long battle with Lymphatic cancer. She spent her final years campaigning for cancer charities, and the proceeds from her final album went to the ‘Marti Caine Children with Leukaemia Trust’. In 1990 she had published her autobiography ‘A Cowards Chronicals’, to counter-act the media’s portrayal of her being the epitome of defiance.
It is so sad that there is such a limited amount of footage available of Marti Caine. I would have been very small when she was on television, but she instantly came to mind when I knew I would be writing this column and definitely deserves her place amongst the other ladies in the Vintage Funny Women Awards.
Contact Miranda with suggestions of future nominees on twitter @MirandaDawe