Singing Detective Jim Carter unveils blue plaque at whistler Ronnie Ronalde's childhood home
- Credit: British Music Hall Society
Actor Jim Carter has unveiled a blue plaque at the De Beauvoir home where the late siffleur Ronnie Ronalde would fool his neighbours with his bird song imitations.
Born Ronald Charles Waldron in 1923, Ronnie, who is chiefly remembered for his whistling, also yodelled and sang on the music hall and variety stage.
He grew up in a poor but supportive home in Downham Road, and found a talent for singing, whistling and bird impressions from early childhood, when he entertained informally for pocket money and with church and school choirs, developing his talents for stage performance.
Christine Padwick, who sits on the committee of the British Music Hall Society and who has worked with Ronnie's widow Rosemarie for two years to get the blue plaque commemorating his life installed on his childhood home, told the Gazette: "He would position himself in the small attic room with a lookout window, and practise his birdcalls on the neighbours as they worked in their back gardens, confusing them as they looked up to locate the robin or blackbird he imitated.
"His bird-whistles developed into melodies and with the guidance of his pianist mother, he refined his distinctive whistle and trills."
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While Ronnie was training to be an accountant, he was invited to become one of Arturo Steffani's 21-piece boys' choir, the Silver Songsters, aged 15.
Steffani was so taken with Ronnie's voice and whistling that he disbanded the group in 1947 and became his manager, mentor and chaperone, touring the world together.
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After wartime service, Steffani encouraged Ronnie to study singing in London and yodelling in Switzerland, and for nearly a decade he began working his way up the bill, not only as a solo variety performer, but also under his new name, Ronnie Ronalde.
He enjoyed a long and successful career with recordings for Decca and EMI selling millions, and went on to become a household name in the 1950s with his own TV series.
Ronnie published his autobiography, Around the World on a Whistle in 1998 and sadly died in 2015.
Christine said: "He worked extensively in radio as well as in pantomime and performed at the Royal Variety Performance.
"It's amazing now to think that sort of act accrued such enormous audiences, but he sold out the Radio City Music Hall in New York which is 6,500 seats every night for 10 weeks. That's an amazing statistic.
"He was huge in the 50s, and Marilyn Monroe said she shivered when she heard his whistle.
"It's difficult to understand how huge he was for a whistler and yodler, and it is curious by today's entertainment standards.
"But it was an age of 'spesh' acts, and people who could do really odd things.
"I think he was so big because of the skill and talent he had. He could whistle in tune and do complex melodies and imitations of birds, and he was also such a nice man. I've only heard what a nice gentleman he was."
Christine met Ronnie's widow Rosemarie, a former model who now lives in New Zealand, a few years ago by chance and they decided they would work together to install a blue plaque at his childhood home.
If it hadn't been for the lockdown it would have been up a year ago.
"What struck me about Rosemarie is that Ronnie died six years ago, but she loved him so much and she misses him," said Christine.
"She's been so happy about the plaque going up and the emotions of it.
"I had to get the necessary permissions, and the house owner said yes immediately. I wanted Jim Carter to unveil it, and I was thrilled when he accepted."
As Mr Marlow in the 80s, The Singing Detective Jim mimed to Ronnie’s recording of Bird Song at Eventide which then featured on the best-selling soundtrack.
At the plaque's unveiling, Sheila Harrod, Ronnie's good friend who used to perform with him did some whistling to entertain the crowd.
"It went down really well, and it was a really effective end to the afternoon," said Christine.
"It is fitting that on the house where Ronnie started whistling and performed for pennies in the street, there will be a permanent reminder of the contribution that he made to the world of entertainment."