NEILSON’S COLUMN (June 12, 2014): Memories are made of Dean Martin act

“Just this morning we flew in. We didn’t even take the airplane, we just flew right in.”

So said Dean Martin during the Rat Pack concert of 1965 in St. Louis.

I found myself saying the very same line the other weekend while performing in a Frank and Dean show in Girona.

The occasion was to celebrate the fifth anniversary of a magazine written by my friend John Duncan. John is a writer and former broadcaster, born in Henfield, West Sussex, who made his debut alongside Des Lynam at BBC Radio Brighton.

John asked me to perform as Dean Martin because I played him in the famous ‘Rat Pack-Live from Las Vegas’ musical, which ran for several years in the West End.

Performing as Dean has given me more pleasure than any other role. The chance to sing some great songs, tell some great jokes and basically get paid to have fun, just can’t be beaten. The show eventually took me all over the UK, Holland, Germany, Austria, Ireland and the USA and was apparently seen by well over a million people.

Like the original Rat Pack, we rehearsed and rehearsed the show until we could give it that ‘unrehearsed’ feel, but things still went wrong!

I remember standing on stage in Berlin and Stephen Triffitt, who played Frank, got his microphone lead hopelessly tangled around his microphone stand. After what seemed like an age and with the audience now aware there was problem, he turned to me and said: “Tell them a joke Dean.”

This was not rehearsed.

My mind was doing somersaults; what joke could I tell an audience of Germans whose second language is Russian, not English? I trawled my memory and told a joke about a guy who goes to the doctor because he thinks he’s a dog. To my amazement, the place erupted with laughter.

To this day, I don’t know if they got the joke, or they just laughed because it was “Dean Martin” saying something funny, but it bought Stephen enough time to untangle his microphone and we were back on script.

There are now dozens of Rat Pack type acts doing the rounds, but it was wonderful being a member of the West End cast and, if I’m associated with the role of Dean Martin for many years to come, as the man himself used to say: “I’ll drink to that.”