Breakfast with: The Beverly Sisters
By Derek Mead
WITH the recent death in October of Babs Beverley, it is time for some reflection on the Beverley Sisters trio which emerged from the war years to succeed in an era so different from the music and musicians of today.
Only The Kaye sisters can be considered a good comparison, and they were not sisters but three unrelated singers born between 1930 and 1938 who must have modelled themselves on the style and sound of The Beverley Sisters.
In today’s world, there is now little enthusiasm for trios such as these, or the sounds they make, but we must all ensure the memories created by them are not forgotten.
The lives and careers of the three Beverley Sisters span a considerable period from their births in the mid to late 1920s up to 1958 when they ‘almost retired’ but reunited in the 1980s and continued performing up to 2009. In 2002, the sisters entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest serving worldwide vocal group without a change in line-up.
During all of these years they became involved in various styles of music and song, preferring live cabaret and theatre, plus television rather than recording work. They can be described as a British female close harmony pop vocal trio in an era of Jazz Big Band and Light Entertainment.
They had six varied entries in British Hit Singles between 1953 and 1960, being most popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They partly modelled themselves on the American group The Andrews Sisters. They dressed alike – had identical blonde hairstyles – were inseparable, often living next door to each other and finished each other’s sentences – in short they were difficult to tell apart.
They were firm favourites of the Queen Mother. The three sisters were born to parents who were a music hall act in Bethnal Green, East London, where they grew up and they all share the same birthday. Joy (Jocelyn Victoria) born May 5,1924, and the twins Babs (Babette) and Teddie (Hazel) born May 5, 1927.
After being evacuated to Northampton during World War Two, they started work as typists before auditioning for their musical future particularly radio. After a brief marriage to a musician, Joy married Billy Wright, the Wolverhampton Wanderers and England football captain on July 28, 1958, when the trio almost retired.
They were married for 36 years until Billy died in September 1994. Joy died on August 31, 2015, aged 91. Babs died as recently as October 28, 2018 also aged 91, and now, in 2019, Teddie is the last surviving sister. Joy and Billy had two children with one from her previous marriage. Babs – married in the sixties had none and Teddie – married in the fifties had one. So from their very early happy days even when money was scarce and the three sisters shared a bed until teenagers, then on, through evacuation in the war years, becoming close harmony glamorous singers. Even though their mother continued to make their costumes, their personal lives and their careers progress-ed satisfactorily. Truly rags to riches.
When they were awarded MBEs for services to music in 2006, they wore identical clothes to accept the awards at Buckingham Palace. Their earliest singing days were as part of an Ovaltine advertising campaign before using the name Beverley Sisters and meeting Glen Miller not long before his fatal disappearance followed by recorded programmes in Bedford for the Allied Expeditionary Forces. After the war, they toured with the Eric Winstone Orchestra, then performed for NBC in America with surviving members of the Glen Miller Orchestra. They developed their own television series called Three Little Girls on View, later named Those Beverley Sisters singing live popular songs.
At that time there were occasional problems with the BBC over certain ‘naughty’ songs they sang and dresses they wore.
In the 1950s, they signed recording deals with Columbia Philips and Decca. Their biggest hits in the UK singles chart were ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’, recorded at Abbey Road Studios and ‘Little Drummer Boy’, both Christmas Hits at No.6 in 1953 and 1959, followed by ‘Little Donkey’, No.14 in 1959. Also in 1956, they recorded an updated version of ‘Greensleeves’ which became their only US chart hit, and Irving Berlin’s song ‘Sisters’ written for the film ‘White Christmas’ – originally recorded by Rosemary Clooney. It became their theme song and rumour has it that it was written for them.
They were very active on television in the late 1950s and 1960s onwards, appearing in five Royal Variety Performances, the first in 1952, also appearing on Desert Island Discs – Stars on Sunday – This is Your Life and The Good Old Days.
They appeared as guests in shows such as Morecambe & Wise.
In 1956, they appeared in pantomime in Liverpool as three Principal Boys. They were the highest-paid female entertainers in the UK for some 20 years. It is interesting that Joy’s two daughters and Teddie’s daughter formed a musical group ‘The Foxes’ who first appeared with the Beverley Sisters in 1978. Then, in 1985, when appearing together again at the London Hippodrome, the impresario Peter Stringfellow persuaded The Beverley Sisters to resume their careers.
They took part in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, 50 years after they first appeared in the Royal Variety Performance of 1952. They also appeared in the D-Day 60th anniversary memorial concerts in 2004, later becoming supporters of the Burma Star Association for ex servicemen.
Undoubtedly they had become legends in their own lifetime.
The trio’s main chart
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Philips
27/11/1953 No.6 5 weeks
Willie Can Decca 13/04/1956 23 4
I Dreamed Decca 01/02/1957 24 2
Little Drummer Boy Decca 13/02/1959 6 13
Decca 20/11/1959 14 7
Green Fields 29
A Date with the Bevs (Philips, 1955)
The Enchanting Beverley Sisters
Those Beverley Sisters (Decca, 1960)
The World of the Beverley Sisters
Together (EMI, 1985)
Sparkle (K-Tel, 1985)
Sisters, Sisters: An Evening with the
Beverley Sisters (Pickwick, 1993)
Bless ‘Em All (Pickwick, 1995)