Rags to riches tale of Doncaster Tiller Girl

Fay Robinson with some of the stars she has worked with.
Fay Robinson with some of the stars she has worked with.

Growing up in a cramped and dirty, foul smelling hut in the middle of a wood on the outskirts of Doncaster, young dancer Fay Robinson could only dream of a life of glitz and glamour.

But that same girl, who spent her early years battling poverty and living in and old RAF hut, went on to tread the boards at the London Palladium and was watched by millions of television viewers each week at the height of her career.

Fay, who grew up with no electricty or running water, went on to work alongside a galaxy of stars at the famed London venue and has now revealed her rags-to-riches story for the first time.

Former Tiller Girl Fay, who hotfooted it from the back streets of Harworth to star alongside the likes of Bruce Forsyth, Sean Connery, Bob Hope, Max Bygraves, Bob Monkbouse, Nat King Cole and many more in a glittering showbiz career, has penned her life story, revealing the highs and lows of a life in the limelight.

The book, entitled My Sixteen Sisters Dancing With The Stars: My Life As A Tiller Girl, tells how Fay, now 73, began dancing in Doncaster as a youngster and stepped all the way to the top, starring on TV and working with a host of names from the golden age of light entertainment.

She says: “This a memoir for an audience beyond my family and friends. I’ve had an extraordinary life, all achieved through hard work and determination. I hope I have lived a life some people only dream of.

“I met and worked with some amazing people and I consider myself very lucky to have worked during those days when stars truly were stars. I have seen and done things that many people will never experience.”

Fay, one of seven children, spent her early years living in a cramped RAF hut near Bircotes - a far cry from the glitz and glamour that was to follow in later years.

She recalls: “We had no hot water, no electricity or flushing toilet. The loo was a smelly shed with an appalling pong. As a child you don’t understand how poor you are, but when you get older you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid feeling humiliation.”

But it wasn’t long before Fay, who now lives in The Wirral, found her love for the stage.She says: “Mum took me to a local dancing school at Tickhill. I wanted to dance and like all little girls, my dream was to be a ballerina.

“My mother wanted me to be a Tiller Girl at the Palladium. Some mothers picked the Royal Ballet School but in mum’s eyes, dancing at the Palladium and being on television was the highest achievement a dancer could accomplish.”

Fay overcame crippling and painful back problems and when she reached the age of 16 in June 1957, her big break came when she landed a place in the dancing troupe known as The John Tiller Girls, the feather-plumed, precision dancing chorus known for their high-kicking routines, securing a show in Blackpool.

She adds: “Towards the end of my season, I was offered a slot on the Sunday Night at The London Palladium TV series. That was amazing, I felt very honoured and it filled me with joy and happiness - me, 16 years old at the Palladium.”

That was the beginning of a glittering career, working alongside some of the biggest names in showbiz at the time, including show host Bruce Forsyth, legendary crooner Nat King Cole and a host of comedy stars such as Ken Dodd, Les Dawson and Harry Secombe. The show was the biggest thing on TV during the decade, with millions of viewers tuning in every Sunday to watch a host of big name acts performing in their living rooms.

“Watching Nat King Cole was truly amazing,” Fay says. “I was a young girl stood a few inches away from one of the biggest stars in the world at that time. We were working with the big American stars so it really did feel like living in a dreamworld.”

After stepping out of the limelight and the whirlwind of showbiz parties, Fay became a gym instructor and thought her dancing days were firmly behind her - until the 1990s when the original 1960s Tiller Girls reformed for what they thought was a one-off charity show.

She adds: “When asked if I could make myself available, I didn’t need asking twice. The smell of the grease paint, the heat from the footlights and the thrill and excitement of the applause that the Tiller Girls gave me, I couldn’t say no.”

However, it was just the start of another amazing chapter for Fay - reuniting with her “sixteen sisters” for a host of shows around the globe capturing the spirit of the orignal sixties dance troupe.

She adss: “When I look back, it’s hard to believe all that has happened in my life. I had to choose between being a dancer, an athlete or a normal teenager, not bothering with boys or having a party going lifestyle. Was it worth it?

When I stood at the London Palladium waiting for the curtain to rise, yes it was worth it.”

l ‘My Sixteen Sisters’ Dancing With The Stars: My Life As A Tiller Girl is priced at £11.50 and

is available by contacting Fay at f.robinson980@btinternet.com or

by writing to Hearts Health Club, 136-142 Wallasey Road, Liscard, Wirral, CH44 2AF or calling

0151 639 7781.