Smith of the Star: From the Manor to a superstar Poof

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Camp, kitsch and cheeky, they became almost as familiar as the superstars they serenaded.

Camp, kitsch and cheeky, they became almost as familiar as the superstars they serenaded.

Four Poofs And A Piano are exactly what they say they are and for at least one of them, that’s a big leap.

Ian Parkin, Sheffield-born and brought up on the Manor estate by Salvation Army parents, enjoyed nine years entertaining the nation on the Jonathan Ross TV chat show.

And what years.

Every star with a film to plug or a book to launch was greeted by a song from ‘the boys’ as host Jonathan Ross came to call them.

Tom Hanks, Liza Minelli, John Mills, David Attenborough, Kylie Minogue, the list is endless and all went through the hands of Four Poofs, so to speak.

But for Ian at least the celebrity life is far from his Sheffield roots, although growing up on the Manor estate seemed pretty idyllic at the time.

“We lived on Windy House Lane on the Manor Estate,” said Ian aged 54.

“It wasn’t a bad place to grow up at all. There were odd bits of trouble with the gang lads but we were usually all right.

“We would play in the streets – go out in the morning and go back home at night. We could be anywhere on the estate and someone would come out from a house and say ‘Ian, your mum’s calling you.’

“It was like the jungle drums. It felt like all the adults were looking out for you. It always felt very safe to us.”

Ian’s life since the Manor has been quite a journey.

His dad retired as a postman and took a job as a caretaker at the United Reformed Church on Norfolk Street in the city centre and young Ian joined the Crucible youth theatre.

He left Hurlfield School, worked at Cole Brothers – and was sent home because the flares on his mid-’70s trousers were too wide – had a spell as a relief postman and delivered furniture before doing a course at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama.

His song and dance abilities got him into musicals in London and touring the country. He had a part in an episode of the Eric Sykes TV series, toured as one of the legendary Black And White Minstrels and played opposite Noel Gordon in Call Me Madam.

“My mum thought I had made it when I got into the Black and White Minstrels – in her eyes that was the pinnacle,” said Ian.

“The Black And White Minstrels were the reason we had a colour telly at home so my mum could enjoy the show more. We had a great time, there was a great camaraderie among us on the show. I really enjoyed it.”

But the big break came exactly 10 years ago.

“The Four Poofs began when I was working on the reception at the Groucho Club in the West End,” said Ian.

“Once a year members put on a performance and they asked staff if we wanted to go on. Production staff from the Jonathan Ross Show were in the audience looking for ideas. They liked us and we were in. We had only been together eight months.

“For the first two series we were like rabbits in the headlights. After that we relaxed and enjoyed it but it was hard work and we were sort of ready for a change when it all ended.

“Jonathan Ross can be pretty intimidating to work with. He is very quick – his encyclopaedic mind works at twice the speed of any one else’s. But he was always generous when it came to allowing us to develop on the show. He wanted it to be good and he believed it wasn’t just about him.”

Ian lives in West Norwood in South East London with his flatmate of 24 years, also called Ian.

He has a yearning to eventually retire to the seaside, but misses Sheffield.

“Sheffield still feels like home to me. I can walk around town and it comes back to me how it was.

“One of my happiest memories is of the Christmas lights. We would walk from Castle Market to the bottom of The Moor. People would come on coach trips. It was a magical experience

“I don’t know if I’d move back though – I’ve been away so long and it’s a different place now.

“I’d like to move to the Yorkshire coast.

“I still have close family in Sheffield and if I lived up there I could go and see them for the afternoon.

“I’d like that.”

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and The Osmonds

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and The Osmonds

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and Tom Hanks

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and Tom Hanks

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and Jake Gylenhall

.Ian Parkin of Four Poofs and a Piano and Jake Gylenhall