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Legge-up to success
More than 4,000 children have had the chance to appear on stage thanks to the legacy of Oxford dance teacher Vera Legge.
She started the Vera Legge School of Dancing in 1920 at the age of 16, and 92 years later, it is still going strong.
Her parents were not keen on allowing her to follow a theatrical career, but finally agreed to let her train as a teacher, though not as a performer.
In the 1930s, she was asked to take 24 pupils for an audition at the New Theatre, Oxford.
Her troupe was chosen, and the school continued to supply children for most pantomimes there for the next 60 years.
As well as pantomime, she provided youngsters for ballet, opera, musicals and plays at the New Theatre and the Oxford Playhouse.
Children also took part in charity shows, particularly for the elderly at Christmas.
The Vera Legge Babes, as they were known, worked with many stars, including Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Roy Castle, Russ Abbot, Bruce Forsyth, Lulu, Des O’Connor, Jim Davison, Bradley Walsh and John Inman.
The children had to be versatile – they were not only expected to dance but sometimes to take part in scenes which involved rollerskating, acrobatics, skipping, playing handbells and even riding scooters.
Many pupils progressed to the professional stage, the most famous being Dame Maggie Smith, now appearing as the countess in the ITV period drama, Downton Abbey.
Miss Legge, whose married name was Leed (her husband was an Oxford architect), had two daughters, Elizabeth and Diana, both of whom helped with the school.
When Miss Legge died on Christmas Eve 1981, Diana took over.
Now a new era for the school has just begun – former pupil Joanna Walton has taken charge and has ambitious plans for the next generation of children to learn the delights of dancing.
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