All-action tap dancer was a force of nature

A former professional singer and tap dancer who gained a black belt in martial arts in her mid-70s has died.

June Gibbons, 89, toured the country for years as one half of a song-and-dance double act with her husband Danny, working with music legends Kenny Ball and Max Bygraves.

June Gibbons.

June Gibbons.

They performed as The Dixie Dandys during the peak years of the Hollywood musical, playing to theatres all over the UK.

Then in later life, June became Lancaster’s high kicking great great granny, who trained in the martial art of tae kwon do into her 80s.

Her son Mel described her as “one hell of a character” and daughter Carol said she was “a one-off”.

June was born in Nottingham in 1925.

Her father was Fred Brand, a music hall star of the 1930s who worked with Laurel and Hardy.

The TV entertainer Roy Castle once named Fred as a big inspiration behind him learning to tap dance.

Fred married Bette, herself an entertainer, and June was their only child.

At the age of 16, June went to London to entertain World War Two troops.

She worked as an extra in films, appearing for just a few seconds as a dancer on the 1945 film Caesar and Cleopatra starring Vivien Leigh.

June also worked alongside bandleader ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, a leading figure in black British music of the 1930s.

She then met her first husband, Clarrie.

They later split up and June met her second husband Danny, who was from Dublin.

They formed their double act and toured the theatres and the clubs, at one point even joining a touring circus.

They were later joined by their son Mel to form a trio.

Mel, who later became musical director for famous singer Tony Christie, said: “They were considered quite a good song and theatre act of the day.”

After their daughter Carol married and settled in Lancaster, June and Danny also moved to the city, and carried on entertaining in working men’s clubs. Danny passed away in the 1990s.

June remained extremely active into her 80s, training in tae kwon do at Salt Ayre Sports Centre twice a week.

She was also riding a bike right up until just before her death.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that she was taking up parachuting,” her daughter Carol told the Guardian in 2005. “She’s capable of anything.”

She won her black belt at age 74 after chancing upon the sport when visiting her daughter Eleanor in America.

When she turned 80, she was still facing much younger and bigger opponents in training and bouts.

This was despite weighing seven stone and standing just five feet tall.

June is survived by her five children Mel, Eleanor, Carol, Martine and Shaun, 13 grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

Her funeral will be held at St Peter’s Cathedral in Lancaster today (Thursday) at 10.30am, then Skerton cemetery at 11.30am.

Our video includes extracts from ‘Beauty Surrounds Health Abounds’ by Sonja Byrom and shows June in action.