RETRO: Magical Marti beat odds to become a national treasure
Marti Caine experienced the highs and lows of life before her untimely death aged 50 in November 1995, undoubtedly proving great creative energy and success can emerge from adversity.
She was an actress, dancer, presenter, singer, writer and comedienne, later becoming a household name with the television talent show New Faces.
Her memory now lives on as a shining example of courage and determination.
Born Lynne Denise Shepherd on January 26, 1945 – almost 71 years ago – in Jessop Hospital, her family initially lived in a council prefab at Dore.
Following a move some months later to Shiregreen, she started going to Sally Carmichael’s dancing class in Wincobank.
Marti was one of the Sunbeams – and only 18 months old. She used to try and tap dance, but mainly messed about.
At the age of four or five, her first leading role on the stage was one of the babes in the panto Babes in the Wood.
Marti was already clowning around and making her chums laugh as well as enjoying showing off on stage.
She would only sing in the chorus, never on her own, as she was far too frightened.
Her paternal grandfather gave her bags of encouragement and was very ambitious for her, envisaging a successful stage career.
Then it all went wrong.
Her father died aged 28 when Marti was only seven. Her mother was devastated and they went to live in Scotland.
Matters deteriorated when her mother became dependent on sleeping tablets and Marti was taken into an orphanage for a couple of weeks.
Hating the place, Marti ran away and was found in Carlisle.
Returning to Sheffield, she was reunited with her doting grandfather and Sally Carmichael.
She attended Beck Road Juniors and her mother returned to Sheffield with a new husband, living in a house in Plymouth Road, Abbeydale. Marti lived with them sometimes, but mostly stayed with her grandparents.
Always a clown at school, Marti wanted to hide behind a character and often pulled funny faces to make other children like her.
Failing the eleven-plus at Carterknowle, she attended Totley Church of England School.
While at Sally Carmichael’s dancing classes at Bellhouse Road working men’s club, she entered a beauty contest – Queen of Sheffield Clubs – aged 14.
When she won, her grandfather was beside himself with delight and decided she must go to Grove Modelling School in Sheffield. At 15 or 16 she was Miss Bradford, Sheffield University Rag Queen, Junior Miss North-East Britain, Junior Miss Sheffield, a Junior Miss Britain finalist and a Miss Great Britain finalist.
Leaving school without taking any O-levels, Marti was pushed into modelling by her grandfather. Soon she found herself modelling for the bright women’s magazines such as Flair, Vanity Fair and Honey.
At 16, she met butcher Malcolm Stringer at a youth club and got pregnant. Her grandfather took it very badly but Marti was delighted in an odd kind of way.
She didn’t have to parade around in bathing suits any more. The couple were married in February 1962 at St Christopher’s Church in Shiregreen and their son was born in the same year. They had another boy a year later.
Initially Marti and Malcolm lived with her grandad in Shiregreen but then they moved to Fox Hill and Gleadless.
Struggling to make ends meet, the couple nevertheless went out to a club, celebrating a wedding anniversary. Watching an average female singer on stage, Marti convinced herself she could do better and so she did.
She launched into a career singing and telling gags and by the mid 1960s was doing well touring the clubs, notching up thousands of miles a year.
On mixing singing with comedy, Marti said: “The comedy came out when I went on stage and was so nervous that I started talking. People seemed to like that, so I’ve gradually built it up, and now that seems to have taken over from the singing.”
But a double tragedy was just around the corner. In 1966 her mother committed suicide and around six months later her grandfather died.
Putting all that aside, Marti progressed through the club scene to become a compere at the Fiesta Club Sheffield for a three-month period. She also found time to help husband Malcolm run a cafe at Firth Park.
The name change from Lynne Shepherd to Marti Caine occurred following a suggestion by husband Malcolm.
Managed by showbiz agent Johnnie Peller, she was sent to an audition for TV’s New Faces in 1975.
As a comedienne she had to have three minutes of clean material and couldn’t believe it when she won. When she first saw herself on telly she thought: “My God, a nose on legs!”
After winning, she went on to the all-winners show, and won, and then won the winners from each of the all-winners shows.
A little later, while still on the working men’s clubs circuit, the head of ATV offered her a show of her own.
After the first series of shows she was offered more and Bobby Knutt appeared with her in sketches.
Moving over to the BBC, all her dancing, comedy and musical talents were featured in her own self-titled show Marti Caine.
The price of fame for Marti was the end of her marriage to Malcolm in June 1978, making front-page headlines after he left her for another woman.
Marti on her own admission was very reliant on him to do all the driving and packing, all the VAT forms, all the bills, and see to all the money.
Television shows were Marti’s passport to fame and for two years running – 1978 and 1979 – she was chosen to appear in the Royal Command Performance.
In the 1980s, Marti married again and throughout the eighties and into the nineties she was never out of the public glare: returning to New Faces as its compere, playing to sell- out audiences in cabaret, pantomime, summer seasons, and pier shows as well as undertaking countless charity engagements.
She was a versatile performer as well as a talented actress, often appearing in repertory in numerous locations around the country. She was the subject of This Is Your Life twice in 1978 and in 1994.
During her lifetime she recorded five albums and they were marketed globally.
Marti Caine lost her battle with lymphatic cancer in 1995 after a long illness. During the last years of her life she campaigned tirelessly on behalf of cancer charities.
Sculptor Mick Farrell’s work Sheen is dedicated to her and stands outside Sheffield Hallam University.