Wayne SLEEP (1948-)

Wayne Sleep
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THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Wayne Sleep, dancer, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews on the stage of the New London Theatre, following a performance of the musical, Cats.

Wayne began dancing lessons in Hartlepool in 1955 with Muriel Carr, before gaining a Leverhulme Scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in 1961 and joining the Royal Ballet in 1966.

At only 5'2", Wayne is the shortest male dancer ever admitted into the Royal Ballet School. Because of his diminutive stature many directors were reluctant to cast him in traditional male lead roles, and as a result, many roles were created for him by noted choreographers.

Wayne created the role of Mr. Mistoffelees in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats in London's West End, at the New London Theatre, in 1981.

“My God! I haven’t lived it yet! I’m going to faint! I hope you’re not telling everything!”

Screenshots of Wayne Sleep This Is Your Life

Wayne Sleep's autobiography

Wayne recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, Precious Little Sleep...

Some months into the run (of Cats) the whole thing was beginning to feel like a treadmill. I had never been in a show before where I performed eight shows a week, for nine months. The longest had been four months, in The Point. Everyone gets low points in a long run, and I was feeling particularly low on the day a meeting was called by the Company Equity representative. Apparently Thames Television were doing a documentary on the state of the arts in West End theatres and would be in to film the finale of the second act of the show during the matinee performance the next day. Usually I am the first person to speak out in these meetings, to raise a point or have one explained. Or sometimes just be bolshy. That day I was too tired to bother and left the meeting.

The next afternoon I had forgotten about this and was in such a bad mood that I didn’t even want to come and take my curtain call. But of course one always does. Bonnie Langford wiped a smudge of make-up from under my eye, which I thought odd. I was standing with Elaine Paige on the stage and suddenly saw the lights of the cameras. Elaine pulled away from me, so I said to her, ‘Come on, darling, you’ll be out of shot. We might as well make the most of it.’ Then not only Elaine, but everybody else as well, spread away from me and I got this tap on the shoulder. I turned. It was Eamonn Andrews. Clutching a big red book. ‘Wayne Sleep?’ Those portentous tones. ‘This is your life!’ Shell-shocked pause. I squeaked: ‘But I haven’t lived it yet …’

I knew absolutely nothing about it. They had all managed to keep it a secret, which I don’t think is always the case. I was led away, numb, to my dressing room, to find George with my Anthony Price dark blue satin suit and a pair of clean socks. The door closed behind me. No escape. Ten minutes later, dressed (and with clean socks), I was ushered to the Royalty Theatre for the show.

The Cats cast were assembled in the balcony. Eamonn said to me, ‘Whatever you do as you walk down the aisle through the audience. Don’t stop until you reach the stage.’ I realised what he meant. Lining the aisles were hundreds (it seemed) of members of my family – some of whom I had hardly ever met. The programme started with my mother and father. Then we went to a recorded message from Margot Fonteyn in Panama. This, however, was a ruse – she had in fact flown all the way over to London and appeared as the last guest on the show. My mother had to stifle her tears. And Stephen Gretton, my friend from the Hartlepool Tech, whom I had not met for twenty-two years and who was now working for Shell and had a degree – probably thanks to my leaving and not being a bad influence on him. After I left he became top of the class. Gran threw her stick aside when the doors opened for her; she had decided to walk to me unaided. Angela Lansbury spoke to me from her poolside in Los Angeles and Diana Roberts told anecdotes about when I lived with her in Leicester Square. My sister and her new husband were there, as were Uncle Bert, Auntie Barbara (who taught me my first tap steps), and my cousin Jackie. Then they played a pop record I had just made called ‘Man to Man’! Lesley Collier and Jane Darling represented the dance world, along with Dame Alicia Markova and Sir Anton Dolin. And to top it all Dame Ninette de Valois came on and gave me the best compliment I have ever received in public: ‘What we have here is, in my opinion, the greatest virtuoso dancer the Royal Ballet has ever produced.’

When I went back to my dressing room for the evening performance of Cats, I realised that my black mood had evaporated. This Is Your Life was a marvellous exhilaration and I returned to the show with new life. After the performance there was a party at the hotel where all my family were gathered. George was there too, and told me how hard it had been keeping it quiet, liaising with the television company, deciding and preparing the guest. I suddenly remembered George asking me a few days before whether I’d had the suit cleaned. I had thought it slightly odd at the time, because George does not usually bother himself with that sort of domestic detail, but thought nothing further of it then. And I had seen my family only a week before when they came to see Cats. Apparently they were going to cancel, knowing they were coming up again a few days later, but George insisted they do nothing to arouse suspicion. There were people I would like to have been included in the show, but I realised what an impossible task it had been to locate everybody. And it was wonderful to have such a record, not least because of the accolades given me by such great ballet artists.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 576
  • Subject No: 572
  • Broadcast date: Wed 28 Oct 1981
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Tue 22 Sep 1981
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 22
  • Edition: 3
  • Code name: Rest

on the guest list...

  • Elaine Paige
  • Brian Blessed
  • Paul Nicholas
  • Bonnie Langford
  • Joan - mother
  • Stan - father
  • Joanne - sister
  • Michael – brother-in-law
  • Lesley Collier
  • Barbara - auntie
  • Bert - uncle
  • Jackie - cousin
  • Muriel Judson (nee Carr)
  • Stephen Gretton
  • Diana Roberts
  • Jane Darling
  • Alicia Markova
  • Anton Dolin
  • Ninette de Valois
  • Emma – grandmother
  • Margot Fonteyn
  • Recorded tribute:
  • Angela Lansbury

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Tom Wettengel
  • Writers: Tom Brennand, Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Paul Stewart Laing, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 22 subjects: Bob Champion > Bill Fraser > Wayne Sleep > Ian Botham > Cannon and Ball > Rob Buckman > Angela Rippon > Julia McKenzie > Jackie Milburn > Paul Shane > Peter Adamson > Kiri Te Kanawa > Mickie Most > Anita Harris > Mike Brace > Faith Brown > Robin Bailey > Rod Hull > Bob Monkhouse > John Toshack > Wally Herbert > Joe Gormley > Roger Whittaker > Alan Whicker > Peter Davison > Douglas Bader