Obituary: Louise Clarke, dancer
BORN: 3 September, 1949, in London. Died: 24 August, 2012, in Ipswich, aged 62
IN the era before videos Top of the Pops relied on a group of delightfully provocative female dancers to fill in when pop stars could not sing their song in the studio. In 1966 Clarke joined Flick Colby, Babs Lord, Ruth Pearson, Dee Dee Wilde and Andi Rutherford to form a dancing group that would cause a sensation. Clarke was a teenager and friendships were formed that were to last for life. She explained once in an interview how, when she joined, “the others were always protective of me. I loved being on stage. I never got nervous. And I was quite confident about baring my body.” She added with an endearing smile, “We had great figures in those days.”
Pan’s People first appeared on TOTP in 1970 and the sextet became a regular – and hugely popular – addition to the show. Clarke was one of the troupe that brought a definite zest to TOTP from that first broadcast: a suitably seductive routine to Elvis Presley’s US Male. Clarke and Pan’s People went on to bring a sense of sensual fun to Thursday nights for six years.
There was always a sense of the larger-than-life about Clarke – both on and off stage. She certainly had an eye-catching dancing style that captured the very essence of the music. Off stage she was no less vivacious. Clarke had the ability to wear extravagant clothes with a lavish style – tight leather suits with broad brimmed hats were her trademark at post performance parties.
Louise Clarke was the daughter of a musician and began dancing in her infancy. She trained at the Corona Stage School in west London and was often cast in child roles in films. In 1965 she was in the chorus at the London Palladium in the Cliff Richard pantomime Aladdin and danced in revues throughout the capital. Her slim, lithe body along with her handsome appearance and long dark hair made her instantly recognisable on stage and, later, in Pan’s People.
Clarke had a natural sense of rhythm and was a quick learner of dance routines – a necessary discipline as the group often had little time to learn the number for that evening’s broadcast.
The fame Clarke and Pan’s People gained through their appearances on TOTP made them celebrities and individually each dancer gained a considerable following. This popularity was witnessed directly when the group gave concerts in 1974. Clarke danced a solo routine that caused much controversy: on her knees she swayed gently to the throbbing music amid a collection of large cushions as if in a harem. In fact Clarke wore the most expensive and skimpiest costume (a jewelled bikini) that was ever made for Pan’s People by the BBC costume department.
But the concert demonstrated the wide range of dance that the group could dance and it got them away from what was considered the usual brief, “fluffy” stuff that was seen on TOTP. They all demonstrated their training in classical ballet positions, tap and ballroom.
But it was their sensuous movements, risqué outfits and flirtatious mannerisms that endeared them to millions. Dad’s throughout the land put down the evening paper when Pan’s People were on.
The group was booked on many other television shows. Clarke, for example, made a distinctive contribution in 1973 when they were guests on the BBC’s The Two Ronnies dancing to the Beatles’ song Yesterday.
On her 21st birthday Clarke met her future husband, Tony Dobson an entrepreneur, and she decided to leave the group in 1974 to start a family. The marriage proved very successful although Clarke often had to reassure her husband about the attention she received at stage doors. Sadly her husband died in 2010.
On her retirement Clarke lived with her husband in London and Sheffield and a house in Marbella. Later she opened a health and beauty club in London called Pan’s Place and started her own motorbike courier service.
Although the group broke up in 1976 – dancing to Silver Star by The Four Seasons on TOTP was their final performance – the girls remained close and Clarke was much comforted by her former colleagues when her husband died. They remained steadfast when Flick Colby died last year and at the time Clarke commented, “It helps to have friends who have shared so much .You can’t buy an experience like Pan’s People, or friendships like this.”
Clarke was the sister of actress Caroline Villiers, formerly known as the singer Carol Friday who had a great success with Gone Tomorrow in 1965. Clarke died of heart failure and had been ill for two years. She is survived by her son, stepson and stepdaughter.
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