Lionel Blair: Veteran TV presenter and dancer dies at 92

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Lionel Blair

Veteran entertainer, TV presenter and dancer Lionel Blair has died aged 92, his agent has said.

Blair, whose stage and screen career spanned eight decades, died early on Thursday morning.

Best known as a team captain on game show Give Us A Clue, in recent years he acted in Ricky Gervais's Extras and also appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.

Born in Canada in 1928, he moved to the UK as a young boy and began performing in air raid shelters in World War Two.

Henry Lionel Ogus, as he was known before his showbusiness career, grew up in Stamford Hill, north London and was evacuated to Oxford when the war broke out.

His father died when he was 13 and the following year Blair began working as an actor, appearing in musical productions with his elder sister Joyce.

But it was his self-taught dancing skills - inspired by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at the cinema and then copying their routines at home with Joyce - that Blair became best-known for through his long career.

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Image caption,
Blair married his wife, Susan, in 1967, and they had three children together - including David, pictured with them in 1970

He took part in a comedic dance-off against Sammy Davis Jr at the Royal Variety Performance in 1961 - which he later called the highlight of his entire career - and ensured his presence as a regular on the bill at future royal shows.

He played the role of a choreographer in the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night and life imitated art as he became a sought-after choreographer for films such the 1969 comedy The Magic Christian.

On television, he was choreographer for and appeared on programmes such as the Tommy Cooper Hour and the Jimmy Tarbuck Show, before becoming a judge on talent show New Faces in the late 1970s.

Blair became a household name as team captain opposite Una Stubbs - who also died earlier this year - on ITV's long-running Give Us A Clue.

His friend, the actor and presenter Christopher Biggins, called him "the most wonderful [man], kind, funny, a real giver of life. His energy was extraordinary."

Biggins said Blair was "very competitive" and "loved to win" on the game show. "He's up there now entertaining with Una, I'm sure," he said.

Blair was one of the stars who appeared on a Christmas special of the Ricky Gervais comedy Extras in 2007, as one of the housemates in a fictional version of Celebrity Big Brother.

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Image caption,
Blair appeared on reality shows such as Celebrity Big Brother in 2014 and The Real Marigold Hotel in 2017

It was a role he would take on for real in 2014, when he spent 15 days in the house, leaving after boxer Evander Holyfield and model Jasmine Waltz.

In 2017 he joined another reality TV show, The Real Marigold Hotel, and travelled around India with other older celebrities.

Broadcaster Danny Baker called him a "a true chum, an entertainer beyond compare, an archive of a golden era, an immeasurable talent", adding that it was "impossible to think he won't be in some green room somewhere, dropping names and living out fantastic tales".

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Writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Blair "was the personification of va va voom, he had so much charm and dazzle... he loved life and he loved showbusiness".

The broadcaster also recalled: "[Blair] actually entered the language, because by the time he became a household name in the 1960s and 70s, in cockney slang if you were wearing flares, they were known as your Lionel Blairs."

Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar said he met Blair at "numerous evenings over the years and he was always a gent, warm and fun".

"I loved the fact that he'd always pepper every conversation with a bit of a tap dance. Every single time. And it was glorious," the Goodness Gracious Me star added.

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Comedian Julian Clary described Blair as a "showbiz trooper if ever there was", while broadcaster Piers Morgan said: "RIP Lionel Blair, 92. A wonderful all-round entertainer & lovely man. Sad news."

Singer and presenter Michael Ball remembered Blair as a "funny, kind, generous, compassionate and gifted man". Entertainer Bonnie Langford added: "Dear Lionel. Privileged to have been your dance partner."

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Singer Paul Young tweeted: "I'm really sad to hear about the passing of Lionel Blair; it's wonderful to meet someone that was a TV star when you were small and to find them so impeccably gracious and charming in person. I learnt a lot from him! My condolences to his family."

Blair married Susan Blair in 1967 and the couple had three children.

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