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Rothwell's Dorothy Arnold - one half of comedy double act Dickie and Dottie

Rothwell's Dorothy Arnold has had more than her fair share of adventure during her 74 years, 30-odd of which she spent performing in theatres around the world.

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Alongside her late husband Dickie Arnold, she was one half of stage act Dickie & Dottie.

Part of their act involved Dottie wearing nothing but a picture hat and a pair of high heels, her modesty covered (most of the time) by strategically placed objects held by husband, Dickie.

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It was an act they took all over the world.

They were known from Rotherham to Rome and Bradford to Baghdad, and got into more than a few scrapes.

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Born in south east London of Italian-Irish extraction, Mrs Arnold was introduced to ballet and tap from a young age by her mother, Florence.

By the age of 26 she was dancer at the London Panama Club and ended up working with resident comic compere Richard Arnold after an already-established act left abruptly.

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She said: "It all started when a contortionist called Eva May Wong left to go to America. She was a big act and they needed someone to replace her. I had been working in the chorus line and Dickie was a compere. He came up with three acts and asked me if I would do them with him."

The act became Dickie & Dottie, a partnership which lasted 30 years and saw them travel the world.

It was during a bus journey home that Mr Arnold came up with the three acts which would end up being the soon-to-be couple's bread and butter for the next three decades.

Promoter Terry Cantor tempted them north to the City Varieties.

Mrs Arnold recalled: "We auditioned for them and they fell about laughing. They booked us for a week because we were due to go to Tel Aviv, Israel, to perform.

"On one occasion, we were in Baghdad, which was scary because as soon as we got to the airport, they took our passports away. I remember it being red hot. We were playing at The Embassy and used a Lebanese flag we had bought in Beruit.

"During the act, I would let the flag fall to reveal all. We were doing it at about 2am, which was the only time it cooled down, and went through our routine and used the flag.

"Well, it caused a commotion, because there were a lot of dignitaries in the crowd who were not impressed. The next day the stage manager came to us and said 'you have caused me much trouble'. He said that if had we had used the Iraqi flag we would have been shot on the spot – there used to be armed guards at either side of the stage.

"We had to go and apologise to the Lebanese ambassador."

On another occasion, closer to home, they were actually arrested and charged by police. Whilst playing at the Pig and Whistle pub, Dublin, in 1974 they were detained – along with the landlord John Joseph Wheelan – and spent a night in separate police cells and even went to court to face charges of indecency.

At the subsequent trial, Police Sergeant P Sheridan told court he watched Dickie Arnold undress to a pair of "tight fitting briefs" and move in a "slow suggestive type of manner" toward Mrs Arnold, who was naked except for two sequins and a strategically placed champagne bottle.

He added in court: "Part of the act involved Arnold removing the bottle."

When Mr Arnold appeared before a judge to defend himself, the case was dismissed.

Mrs Arnold recalled: "He put on a pair of comedy gloves to show the judge what he did on stage and by the end he had the judge laughing so much his wig was falling off."

When they took their act to Rome, Dottie was spotted by a police officer who had gone to the club to look for drugs. Mrs Arnold said: "They weren't in there to look for us but he happened to see me and came over. He said 'I like, you like; the Pope, he no like'."

Despite their close-shaves with the law, they took their act all over the world and played in Heidelberg, Milan and Verona to name just a few, ending their career at Leeds City Varieties in October 1983.

They were household names and even appeared on TV following the Irish incident. Their notoriety helped launch Mr Arnold's acting career. He travelled to Germany to film the part of a shrinking giant in The Neverending Story, a part which was sadly cut in the final edit.

Mr Arnold did appear as an elf in Santa Claus The Movie, starring

Dudley Moore and appeared on stage in The Dillen, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in addition to a number of TV adverts for Whitbread bitter and Golden Lay eggs. He also appeared in The Magnificent Evans, alongside Ronnie Barker, with whom the couple were friends.

Sheffield-born Mr Arnold observed in an interview in 1983: "You can't really call us striptease because we're starkers to start with. The act has nothing to do with sex.

"It has to do with the embarrassment and incongruity of two semi-nude people in comical situations. It was an original idea and quite avant garde when I first thought of it on top of the bus in London."

He said of his wife: "Dorothy has this innocence about her when she is walking about with no clothes on. There is certainly nothing rude about her. Nobody called Charlie Chaplin rude when he dropped his trousers and Dorothy has a much prettier bottom."

He died aged 72 in January, 1990.

Mrs Arnold, who has two sons, Michael, 31, and Richard, 33, and a step-daughter Gillian, 65, has appeared as an extra in The Royal – attentive viewers may recognise her as the cleaner.

She added: "I'm quite happy in what I have done. Our act did involve nudity but we did it in a way which was not lewd or crude but funny. It was a show husbands and wives could go watch. There was no-one else doing anything like us at the time."

 
 
 

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