FOR Derek and Vera Hamer the timing was perfect - as might be expected from two veteran tap-dancers.
As the couple announced their decision to step down from organising the Roy Castle Tapathon after 15 successful years, news came through that a pilot lung cancer screening trial is to be held across the country.
The trial is partly based on the £15 million research programme which the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation funds at the University of Liverpool - and for which the Tapathon has diligently raised thousands of pounds over the years.
“The trial is tremendous news and we hope it will be a major step forward in the battle against lung cancer. It’s great for us to be able to bow out on such a high note,” said Derek.
This year’s Tapathon, held at North Bridge Leisure Centre, Halifax, in January, was the last to be organised by Derek and Vera, of Rayner Drive, Brighouse. They have now handed over the reins to Janet Austin and Ashley Nelson of the Janet Austin Tappers - the dance group which meets at Waring Green Community Centre and which has been involved with the Tapathon since the outset.
Derek and Vera were childhood friends of the successful musician, entertainer and children’s personality Roy Castle. Roy, born in Scholes near Huddersfield in 1943, started his career in variety shows and concerts in which Derek and Vera also participated.
They stayed friends after the Hamers’ own stage appearances had ceased - and after Roy had gone on to become a well-known face on television. When the entertainer was diagnosed with lung cancer caused by passive smoking in 1992, they rallied to help him with his aim of raising money for research.
The first Tapathon was in 1997 and the Hamers had little idea that they would have 15 years of successful fund-raising ahead of them.
Said Derek: “We’d tried fund-raising with coffee mornings, tombolas and so on but we always thought show business was the way to go. When Roy was on ‘Record Breakers’ he had taken part in a huge record-breaking tap dance event involving hundreds of people in Manchester and it gave us the idea of trying to put on a tap dance marathon nearer to home involving our excellent dance schools.
“The first Tapathon raised £5,750 and we thought, ‘Wow, we’re onto something here.’ We’ve made so many friends through doing this and had such a lot of support. It’s been a fantastic event to be involved with.”
Vera said: “Younger people taking part often have no idea who Roy Castle was but they’re still keen to get involved. The Tapathon is such a happy event.”
Since 1997 the Tapathon has raised around £176,000 towards the fight against lung cancer with money going into research, patient and carer support, education and prevention campaigns. It is hoped that the pilot trial being set up in Liverpool will eventually lead to a national lung cancer screening programme.
Derek said: “We are now at the stage with lung cancer screening that we were with breast cancer screening 15 years ago - and everyone knows what a huge impact that has had.”
Roy Castle’s widow, Fiona, has been a huge supporter of the Tapathon and has attended most of them. The Elwyn School of Dance from Brighouse has been another source of support and has been involved since the outset.
“The dance schools have been so enthusiastic and have helped make it so worthwhile,” said Derek.
For Janet and Ashley stepping into the tap shoes of the Hamers is going to be a challenge. “They’re going to be a hard act to follow but the Tapathon is now so well-established that the dancers would probably still turn up even if we didn’t organise it! We’re looking forward to taking it on and continuing the fund-raising.”
l Janet and Ashley have already started organising next year’s Tapathon but they are looking for business sponsors to advertise in the programme and support the event. Log on to www.janetaustintappers.co.uk for more information.