Ex-acrobat in Skegness celebrates 100th birthday and gives tips to a long life

Bea with family during celebrations organised by Syne Hills Care Home.
Bea with family during celebrations organised by Syne Hills Care Home.

A former member of an acrobatic troupe which rose to fame in the 1930s has performed her latest impressive feat – turning 100.

Bea Rapley was joined by three generations of her family to celebrate the milestone at Syne Hills Care Home, her home since 2014.

As a member of The Three Matas (or Les Trois Matas, as they were also known), Bea played all the major London variety venues, including the London Palladium. During the Second World War, they did their part in the war effort by entertaining troops.

Such was the trio’s fame, they were filmed for Pathé News and clips of them can now be seen on YouTube.

“It was hard work,” Bea said, speaking of daily practice, falls, bruises and expectations of high standards. “I also had to help hang up and pack away our heavy curtains and other props, make and mend costumes, shop and cook. Sometimes we did two performances a day, and sometimes even three. Sometimes our daily performances were in two different places.”

Bea was born in Liverpool on New Year’s Day. Her first job was far from the world of show business, working at Crawford’s biscuit factory, aged 14 at the time.

Bea, during her performing days (at the bottom).

Bea, during her performing days (at the bottom).

She got into the industry through her older sisters – the eldest met an acrobatic troupe after pursuing a career on the stage and would go on to marry one of its members; then, after the troupe was introduced to the family, Bea’s next oldest sister was asked to join them and agreed; then, when another member left, Bea took their place.

Bea continued performing until she married. Her subsequent career would include helping run a fish and chip shop with husband Alex in Sunninghill, working in the office of a garage, and at Barclay’s bank.

She moved to Skegness in 1993 to be closer to her son and his family.

Here, she spent several years doing voluntary work in a charity shop before giving it up to spend more time supporting Alex, who passed away in 2012, aged 95.

She said her philosophy on life has always been to be ‘as healthy as possible’.

To do this she advocated: good, healthy home cooking; making housework part an exercise routine (every bit of housework she did was exaggerated so she stretched and bent as much as possible); fresh air (gardening helped here); keeping the brain active (crosswords, Scrabble, reading and painting did their part here – also, when she retired, she learned German and gained an O-level in it); and having a peaceful mind.

On this last point, Cheryl Curtis, lifestyle co-ordinator at the home, said: “She was always pleased to help others and, in fact, spent her life looking after the needs of others, visiting those who needed help and support, and later doing voluntary work. This made her feel as if she was making a valuable contribution to the world. She has had a life well lived.