Veteran Santa Tony Fletcher has sadly not made it to his 89th Christmas. Tony, remembered by thousands of children over the years, died exactly a month before Christmas Day.
Tony, who used to joke that he was one of the few Santas who did not sport a fake beard, was among the earliest residents of Lakeside.
He and his late wife, Jill Fletcher, a long-time art critic for the Cape Times, lived in three traditional Dutch-gabled semi-detached cottages formerly occupied by farm workers.
His step-daughter, Jill Lotter, who still lives in the Fletcher home, remembers the time some 50 years ago when the only houses around were theirs and that of the manager of the stone quarry above Boyes Drive. The actual farm house was in Uxbridge Road over a kilometre away. There were still many gravel roads and farm fields at the very start of development into a suburb.
With his rich Cornwall accent and long white beard, Tony was long a favourite Father Christmas on SABC television and at malls around the Peninsula.
For most of his life Tony was connected with showbiz.
While most people that age put up their legs and grow old, Tony, who for many years was a real-life magician, has been busy acting in children’s videos which I, a former photo-journalist, make.
Tony, who was born in Devonport, England, began his varied career as a shipbuilder. His highlight was being involved in the construction of one of Britain’s largest aircraft carriers, HMS Eagle.
As a teenager, he also took to the theatre, becoming a magician and actor for local shows. He developed a particular skill as a puppet master.
In 1961 he left for South Africa and was soon working as a senior draughtsman for the SA Navy in Simon’s Town.
Jill Fletcher helped Tony develop his popular puppet shows. He was a pioneering performer on SA TV when it was still in its infancy. Jill died in 2002.
Highlights of his puppetry were his Michael Jackson dance, Louis Armstrong and Dolly Parton imitations and pianist, the Professor, whose fingers seemed to be actually playing the piano.
Tony was even sent to England to do some of his puppet shows. He was also Capab’s puppet master for some years.
In theatre he was sought after as a hilarious gender-bender pantomine Dame and for numerous TV adverts.
Tony later met and became a partner to Jill Martin, widow of former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town who died in 1999. Jill died of a heart attack while she and Tony were holidaying in Greece.