Skiffle bands, sex changes and cabaret: the over 65s growing up disgracefully

Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller - Credit: Archant

An 82-year-old skiffle guitarist, a woman who took up comedy and cabaret at 70, and a writer who had a sex change at 67 are among the panellists celebrating Growing Old Disgracefully at The Book Club next month.

The venue, on Shoreditch’s Leonard Street, has gathered an eccentric panel of entertainers and speakers who will challenge attitudes to our ageing population with a lively discussion.

By 2020, one in five Brits will be aged over 65 and many view living longer as a chance to start doing things they’d always wanted to.

Panelists include:

Dubbed the Joan Rivers of Fringe comedy Lynn Ruth Miller, 80 became an author aged 67 a stand up at 70 and a cabaret performer at 71.

Martine Shackerley-Bennett, 70, wrote about her sex change in her autobiography The Hidden Years, has also published a novel Secrets, and is founder director of an experimental theatre company.

Ballroom dancing octogenarians Barbara and Ron will be sharing how they fell in love at 80.

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Katie Harris, owner of The Nana Cafe, who offers work to women over 60 to help them reconnect with their community.

Novelist and poet Hylda Sims was a founder member of City Ramblers skiffle group in the ‘50s and in recent years revived the band with new members.


As well as joining the panel discussion she will close the evening with The City Ramblers Revival’s toe tapping skiffle and blues.

“In the 50s, we toured Europe, were on the Six-Five Special and used to play a Soho club called the Cellar Club. We did quite well but it folded in the early 60s. When there was a revival by fans of 50s rock and skiffle I joined together a couple of friends, me and a guy with a washboard and a bass.”

Born in 1932, Sims, attended legendary liberal school Summerhill where lessons were optional and rules made pupils.

An interest in folk in her teens brought her to London where she started to sing and hang out in coffee bars with the likes of Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd.

It was the influence of American jazz and blues that melded with English folk to spur the skiffle sound, with every teenager rocking away to Lonnie Donegan’s hit Rock Island Line.

“Our band was a bit different we were more of a junk band with ­improvised instruments,” she added.

Sims, who has written three novels and runs monthly poetry events, says her unorthodox upbringing, education and life in the music industry meant she never liked the 9-5. “It never occurred to me to retire. I mean what do people do? I have been lucky to have a full life and I intend to carry on as long as I can.

“Summerhill taught me that everyone was treated as an equal that’s how I feel about life. Sometimes people are a bit patronising but when they offer you their seat on the bus it’s quite nice of them.”

But she adds: “It’s a pain in the a*** growing old. My relationship broke up and I haven’t another one. I can’t imagine myself hooking up with an 80-year-old.

“The tragedy of growing old is if you get ill and can’t do the things you enjoyed all your life. Keep healthy, exercise, drink but not too much, because the alternative is dying which is not much fun ­either.”

The Book Club, 100 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4RH. July 16 7pm-10pm, Tickets £6 with part proceeds going to Age UK East London.

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