than a year after he earned an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as
the oldest working newspaper columnist in the world, Simon Blumenfeld
died at Barnet General Hospital at the age of 97, on 13 April.
most of us at The Stage, he was known as Sidney Vauncez, one of the
several noms de plume he adopted when he came out of the Army in 1946.
- October 28, 2016
- November 4, 2013
- September 17, 2013
is the Yiddish word for moustache, of which he sported a particularly
fine specimen, which made him instantly recognisable in the show
business circles he adorned for many years.
Yet although he was
known to hundreds of people in theatre, light entertainment, films and
even the world of boxing, few knew of his origins or early life, which
he generally kept hidden, preferring to retain an air of mystery.
was born in London’s East End on 25 November 1907. That he was proudly
Jewish was not in doubt – but only racially, for he had little time for
the Jewish religion. He was, in fact, possibly not Jewish at all. His
son Eric, who has traced what he can of the family history, believes it
originated in Sicily, where they grew olives, the first original family
name being Composiore. At this time they were probably Catholics, who
moved to Bavaria following a volcanic eruption which destroyed their
His grandfather was, so the story goes, a seafaring man,
who was rumoured to be a pirate and smuggler. What is certain is that
his father was born in Izmir, Turkey, and his mother, presumably
Jewish, in Odessa in the Ukraine.
Simon had the equivalent of a
grammar school education and had ambitions to become a writer. But he
was also a fervent communist. He remained so, at heart, until his
death, though few would have known, so easily did he mix with the
wealthy and even royalty.
His early tendencies were certainly apparent in his books and his circle of friends, who included Aldous Huxley.
writing occupied him throughout his twenties and early thirties. He
came to notice with a very personal novel about the East End called Jew
Boy, first published under the title The Iron Garden in the US in 1932.
He also wrote three other novels and a number of plays.
the Second World War, Simon tried his hand at freelance journalism,
becoming a correspondent of a French news agency and even writing a
series of paperback Western novels.
As a fervent anti-Nazi, he
accepted his call-up willingly, being posted to the Royal Army Ordnance
Corps in the Midlands. But because of his writing experience, he was
transferred to the scriptwriting branch of Stars in Battledress, in
Grosvenor Square. It was here that he met future stars such as Charlie
Chester and agents such as Richard Stone, which was almost a crash
course in variety and light entertainment.
Having decided there
was a better future in journalism than in serious literature and
theatre, he was invited by Norman Kark, whom he also met in the Army,
to join him in a publishing venture.
This resulted in his
editorship of Band Wagon, a monthly entertainment title. It was here
that he adopted the name Sidney Vauncez, among othersincluding CV
Curtis, which he reserved for his theatre reviews, and Peter Simon. He
was particularly proud of the fact that a quote from CV Curtis’
of The Mousetrap remained outside the Ambassadors and the St Martin’s
to which it transferred, for some 30 years after its first night.
Band Wagon, where I first came across his name as a teenage serviceman,
he started his own paper, Weekly Sporting Review, covering sport and
entertainment, in partnership with a fellow ex-serviceman, the
irascible Isidore Green. The pair eventually had a quarrel of
monumental proportions, possibly because of a libel suit instituted by
the managers of Tommy Steele concerning an article published in the
paper, though not written by Sidney.
Weekly Sporting Review
ceased publication, with Green then launching Record Mirror, in which I
had a signed column, as did the late Benny Green, but little in the way
of reward. Sidney, though, had his own freelance connection, at one
time ghost-writing a column in a Sunday paper for Harry Meadows, the
proprietor of Churchills, a then fashionable nightclub in which Danny
La Rue began his ascent.
Shortly after the death of his wife
Deborah in 1960, Sidney became light entertainment editor of The Stage
and rapidly put his stamp on its pages. With variety in its death
throes, he realised not only had many of the big names gone into the
northern clubs, but they were also finding their own stars. The clubs
had no more enthusiastic advocate than Sidney, who relished their
raffishness and almost became their official spokesman, helping to
organise the numerous events attended by royalty.
He will be
missed by hundreds of past and present members of the profession, by
his former and current colleagues on the paper, by myself, who knew him
for more than 40 years and whose advocacy helped me eventually to
become editor of The Stage, and, of course, by his family, son Eric,
daughter Sheba, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Peter Hepple, editor, The Stage, 1972-1992