The Early Years
Born Charlotte Rickards in 1952 in Pontypridd, Wales but brought up in Birmingham, Charlie was discovered by comedian Les Dawson who helped her to begin a career as a compere and singer at Birmingham’s Cavendish night club in 1970.
In January 1972, under the name Charlotte James, she was one of Hughie Green’s acts on Opportunity Knocks before appearing on New Faces in 1973, a fact that seemed to bypass the ‘new to TV’ rule of the ATV show.
From then on. she toured the cabaret spots of Britain, including Birmingham, Bristol, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oldham, Stockton and Sheffield. In addition she worked as the resident singer at Stafford’s Top of the World club in 1972.
The Big Break
Charlie was spotted by New Faces producer Les Cocks singing in a Birmingham club. Now using the stage name of Charlie James – “my real name is Charlotte but everyone calls me Charlie” – 22 year-old Charlie, invested in a £15 dress for her appearance on the New Faces show.
Having won heat eleven of series one, she was added to the Grand Final line-up for the end of December. A few days before the final show was recorded she appeared at Birmingham’s La Dolce Vita club with fellow finalists Showaddywaddy.
After New Faces Charlie initially went back to cabaret and club work, working with acts such as Tom O’Connor and Neil Sedaka, however it wasn’t long before she was signed up to appear on a number of televison shows. Broadcast on London, Anglia and Midlands ITV Ready Freddie Starr was an early evening entertainment show, fronted by the comedian of the same name. It featured weekly guests and Charlie featured on an episode in February 1974 where she was joined by New Faces judge Shaw Taylor, who’s role on the show was organising a “Mr. World” contest. Later, in August of the same year, Charlie appeared on an episode of the final series of Lift Off with Ayshea alongside Top 10 chart acts Paper Lace and The Glitter Band.
Having signed an exclusive recording contract with Polydor, Charlie’s first single “Fingers and Thumbs” was released on May 31, 1974, but the high hopes of success were never fulfilled as it failed to break into the Top 40 singles chart. Shortly after the single release she was chosen to represent Great Britain at the Yamaha International Song Festival in Tokyo, and her agent, Michael Cohen, at Noel Gay Artists had ensured that she would be returning to a full itinerary of television and cabaret work. In October 1974 Charlie was performing in Derby on the Talk Of The Midlands show with follow former New Faces acts Tom Waite, and Pete Conway.
ATV Summer Shows
In July 1975 Charlie was one of a number of former New Faces acts to feature in a new ATV Saturday evening variety programme. The series of six Summer Shows, each episode having a specific theme, gave a showcase to some of the 300 acts that had appeared in the previous series of the ATV talent show. Featuring each week, alongside Charlie, were Marti Caine, Aiden J. Harvey, Lenny Henry, Charlie James, Trevor Chance, Nicky Martyn and Victoria Wood and show host Leslie Crowther. The acts worked together as a team to deliver sketches, musical numbers, comedy and dance routines as well as having their own dediacted screen time. Some of the themes which featured on the 45 minute show included holidays, kids, showbusiness, summer’s end and mystery and crime.
Charlie was back on TV screens again in both 1976 and 1977 appearing as a guest on Thames TV’s The David Nixon Show. Each week magician and host David Nixon, with regulat guest Anita Harris, introduced a selection of magic and entertainment acts as well as performing his own illusions for the TV audience. Charlie appeared with Jon Pertwee and Hans Moretti on episode 5.2 in 1976 and returned in 1977 on episode 6.6 with The Brother Lees and US magician Norm Nielsen.
After venturing abroad to perform shows in Malta, Spain, Portugal and Japan, Charlie headed back to British shores in 1978 to appear in a summer season in Scarborough in the Mike and Bernie Winters Summer Spectacular and the Ken Dodd Laughter Show in a split season at the Royal Opera House. Joining her on the support bill for both shows were husband and wife illusionists Emerson and Jayne.
During the summer season in Scarborough Charlie also made an appearance in the line-up of the Midnight Matinee Show at the Futurist Theatre, also in Scarborough. With curtain up at midnight and the show concluding at around 4am it was a magnificent fundraising event, making more than £8,000 for the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, The Green Howards’ Regiment Benevolent Fund and the local Rotary Club on behalf of a mentally-handicapped children’s home. The theatre had been provided free of charge by its owner Robert Luff and front-of-house and back-stage staff willingly also gave their services for free. The show was the compered by Danny La Rue, who also produced the show, and he was joined by sixteen escorts, singers and dancers and music was provided by the superb the pit orcheatra. Some of the acts entertaining the capacity 2,155 audience included Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson, Ken Dodd, Les Dennis, Koffee ‘n’ Kreme, Janet Brown and Stu Francis who had all earlier performed their regular twice-nightly shows at local theatres.
The North-East Years
From the end of 1978 Charlie moved to the North-East and made a number of appearances at various Working Men’s Clubs, reinventing her sound from ballads to country, and also took up a sixteen week residency at the Talk of the Tyne in Gateshead. Her busy schedule around this time meant that she had only enjoyed three day’s rest in over three months.
From April to August of 1980 Charlie took up another residency, this time at Nite Out The Empress in Whitley Bay and followed that with a show at Stockton’s Club Fiesta where she received another exceptionally positive review;
“Charlie not only sings the song, but tells the tale too, and that’s one of the things that separates her from the rest, that made her spot stand out.”
Peter Lathan, The Stage, Nov 1980
The Family Way
In 1984 Charlie moved to Yately, near Camberley, Surrey and married Brian Walters, a former ‘minder’ and security to stars such as Andy Williams, Cannon and Ball and Freddie Starr. By December 1984 Charlie was celebrating the birth of their son, Adam, and took a well earned few months away from the cabaret scene. While she was away she released, “The Eye of the Storm” (b/w “Lady of the Night”), which peaked at no.17 in the disco charts.
In May 1985 Charlie completed an engagement at the Lakeside Cabaret Club in of Frimley Green near Camberley in Surrey on the Jimmy Tarbuck Show, along with Kenny Lynch.
After taking nearly ten years out to raise her son, although she did perform a charity fundraising concert at her son’s school, Charlie returned to live performances at venues such as Bashley Park Holiday Village. Her new set includes swing classics like “Mack The Knife” and “Every Time You Say Goodbye” plus songs such as “I Am What I Am” and “Another Day.” Added to these were some classics from musical theatre with songs from shows such as South Pacific and West Side Story.
As the millennium approached, in July 1999 Charlie was involved in a court case against promoter Martin White. Charlie claimed that White, of Last Minute Productions, owed her £330 from a county court judgment passed nearly two years earlier. She was booked to play Worcester’s Purdeswell Leisure Centre in 1997, as support billing to comedian Stan Boardman, for a fixed rate of £300. A few days before the show it was cancelled, and White blamed the venue for poor advertising. White was paid by the leisure centre but Charlie never got my money, but Stan Boardman received his fee. After taking the dispute to Gloucester County Court, Charlie was awarded the fee plus costs in White’s absence.