Retro: A baby who starred with Marti Caine in Sheffield finally proves his stage 38 years later

He was a babe in the arms of Marti Caine, on stage at The Crucible at the age of six months old. You could say Nicky Froggatt was destined for drama.

Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 7:44 am

He went on to be a serving soldier in Afghanistan in 2013 and later protected visitors to the American embassy in Iraq. Now aged 38, Nicky tells his family how he played a girl alongside the legendary Sheffield star in performances of Funny Girl in 1984.

But there was no record of it. Not at least until Nicky’s mum Alyson Tate contacted The Star and we tracked down the coverage.

Alyson takes up the story.

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Alyson Tate and her son Nicky Froggatt

“The Crucible had just finished hosting the snooker and my grandma saw an advert in The Star for an audition of the role of a baby,” she says.

“She told me about it and said ‘You ought to go down,’ so she came with me to the audition.

“We took Nicky. I don’t know why, I just thought he was a nice looking baby. I thought we’d give it a try, we had nothing to lose.

“He was a very pleasant baby, he didn’t cry and was a lovely character.”

Nicky Froggatt

The Star covered the audition and Alyson was quoted saying she thought her son was a bit of a character.

“I was thrilled when he was chosen, it was really exciting,” she recalls.

A support worker for adults with learning disabilities, Alyson, aged 61, decided to contact The Star about the show because there was no proof Nicky was in it.

And thanks to The Star’s librarian Jane Salt who tracked down the cuttings, Nicky can now read all about it.

The Star's coverage of the auditions for Funny Girl from 1984

Alyson is proud of his turn.

“He didn’t seem fazed by the bright lights or the clapping, Marti just picked him up in a shawl and took him on stage,” she remembers.

“I got to meet her and she was lovely. All the cast were really nice, really lovely with Nicky.”

The cast included Meg Johnson whose Tv roles include Eunice Gee on Coronation Street, Brigid McKenna on Brookside and Pearl Ladderbanks on Emmerdale.

The Star's coverage of the auditions for Funny Girl from 1984

“Meg bought him a teddy,” says Alyson.

Nicky was supposed to share the part with a baby called Sophie Disney, but she was ill as the show started, says Alyson, and Nicky ended up doing the full six-week run.

“I think at one of the shows he was sick on stage but he did every one. We were exhausted.

“My dad took me to The Crucible and I was concentrating on Nicky being alright.”

Which meant Alyson missed the protests outside the theatre against Marti Caine prompted by her appearance in South Africa.

Sheffield was an apartheid free zone so battlelines were drawn with the star. It could have been so different. Marti seemed perfectly cast as Fanny Brice - the Funny Girl battling her way out of the Lower East Side to stardom.

The Star's coverage of the auditions for Funny Girl from 1984

Born Lynne Denise Shepherd, Marti shot to fame when she won New Faces in 1975, beating Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood. She had a father who died when she was seven, she suffered sexual abuse from her paternal grandfather and her mother had a history of alcoholism and drug abuse.

With her flair for musical comedy, could anybody be better equipped to take on Fanny Brice?

But there was a problem. In August 1982, Marti starred in a multi-million dollar topless showgirl extravaganza - Voila - at the Sun City Theatre in Bophuthatswana, South Africa.

The show was tailored around her, she spent 17 months rehearsing and performing it.

On leaving, she said: “I want South Africans to know that when I get back (to Britain) I’ll defend South Africa and her people,” reported The Guardian.

In October 1983, the United Nations published her name in their first-ever blacklist of performers appearing in South Africa - along with other politically naive performers like Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Leo Sayer, David Essex, and Rod Stewart.

Caine said: “Well, that’s quite a good cast list and very flattering company,” The Guardian reported.

Even more provocatively, at the Funny Girl press conference in her home town, which was picketed by anti-apartheid campaigners, she announced: “I was biased against South Africans before I went, but once I got there I changed my mind. There are injustices, but I have seen worse injustices in Brixton and Attercliffe.”

So the local authority-funded Crucible’s latest star was revealed as an apartheid collaborator, in a city which had been an apartheid-free zone since 1981. There were protests outside the theatre, but Alyson was too wrapped up by what was going on inside.

“It didn’t affect us. I wasn’t aware of it,” says Alyson, who was 24 at the time and living in Norton.

“Nicky was only on stage for a short period of time, Marti used to carry him on.

“He was almost like a prop. He was supposed to be a little girl but I never got to see it because I was backstage all the time.”

Nicky, of Norton Lees, says it causes a laugh when he mentions he played a girl on stage at The Crucible.

“People think it’s funny that I was put in a girl’s role. I just say I must have been a good looking baby,” he jokes.

He later did some modelling in London and was pictured on a skateboard aged three. There was talk of another stage show.

Alyson added: “We were told after Funny Girl there would be another show at The Crucible which Nicky would be cast for but it didn’t materialise.”

By the time he was at Meadowhead School, Nicky’s acting days were gone.

“I left at 15 because although I was good at art, I was never good at English or Maths, I just wanted to work,”he says.

“I did different types of job but I wanted to get into the Army so I could do close protection work. I had read you needed military experience for that.

“I signed up when I was 19 and my first tour was Afghanistan in 2013, ground holding in Helmand Province, showing the Iraqi Army how to patrol and hold the place.”

Nicky was a private in the Third Yorkshire Battalion and mum Alyson was worried.

“It was terrible,” she says. “I understood that was what he wanted to do and it was a dream but it is terrifying. You don’t know what is going to happen.”

Thankfully he returned unscathed from his six-month tour and at the age of 24 was offered the chance to leave the Army early so he could pursue close protection work.

Nicky paid for a course and thanks to his Army CV got work after five months with an American company which worked for the US embassy, driving VIPs to and from Iraq airport.

This lasted eight years until Nicky settled down with a partner who had two daughters. He needed to work nearer home and is now at a steel fabricator at AK Orme in Sheffield.

And thanks to The Star, he can show his workmates his early brush with fame.

“It’s a nice story, a funny story,” he says.

“As I've got older it felt good to say I was on stage with someone famous.”

There is the odd tear too, as he remembers Marti dying of cancer aged 50 in 1995.

“When Marti passed away, I felt sad,” says Nicky. “I had been in a part of her life. It is something to look back on.”

The Star's coverage of the auditions for Funny Girl from 1984
The Crucible Theatre - pictured anti apartheid protestors outside the theatre for the production of Funny Girl with Marti Caine 23 February 1984
Nicky Froggatt as a baby
Nicky Froggatt on patrol
Nicky Froggatt as a baby