Mo Moreland, leader of Les Dawson’s Roly Polys TV comedy tap-dancing troupe – obituary

Mo Moreland as a traffic warden in the children's ITV series Super Gran (1985)
Mo Moreland as a traffic warden in the children's ITV series Super Gran (1985) - ITV/Shutterstock

Mo Moreland,  who has died aged 87, was a comedienne, singer, dancer and leader of the Roly Polys, a comedy troupe of wobbly middle-aged hoofers devised by the comedian Les Dawson for his television show.

It was in 1982 that Mo Moreland answered an advertisement in The Stage for “excellent lady tap dancers aged between 35 and 50 – size no problem” – which was just as well as while she was just 4ft 11in tall, she weighed an impressive 16 stone.

She had already made her mark as a performer after emerging as a child star during the Second World War, then treading the boards around the country as “The Mighty Atom”, adding comedy to a song and dance routine that would see her top the bill in theatres around the country.

Before becoming the smallest and roundest Roly Poly, she had appeared on the TV talent show New Faces, and in April 1976, on Coronation Street, had taken the role of “Fat Lady” attempting to buy clothes in Sylvia’s Separates.

The Stage ad attracted hundreds of applicants and she was one of six hopefuls who made the final cut. Wearing gold blazers, red satin hot pants and singing Let Yourself Go, Les Femmes, as they were originally billed, were only booked for a one-off appearance on The Les Dawson Show.

But the sight of six generously proportioned tap-dancers uninhibitedly shaking their sprightly, if fleshy, legs, brought the house down and they were immediately signed for the whole series.

Mo Moreland (centre) with fellow Roly Polys in 1987
Mo Moreland (centre) with fellow Roly Polys in 1987 - Alamy

Renamed the Roly Polys, and with numbers reduced to five, they went on to do summer seasons, pantos, Royal Variety Performances and world tours, before finally disbanding in 2004.

She was born Maureen McCluskey on November 30 1936 at Heath, near Chesterfield, an only child of William McCluskey, an Irish showman, and Lilian (née Dawson), a theatre dresser.

She spent her early years in London, making her stage debut aged three as Baby Mauroveen at Peckham Odeon. Graduating to Baby Maureen, then the Girl Wonder, during the war she entertained Londoners sheltering in underground stations and later performed for the troops and raised funds for the war effort.

The family lost three homes during the Blitz and eventually moved to Nottingham before settling in Sheffield.

Mo Moreland in 2003, a year before the Roly Polys disbanded
Mo Moreland in 2003, a year before the Roly Polys disbanded - Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

As The Mighty Atom during the postwar years, Mo McCluskey performed on what was known as the Number Three theatre circuit before graduating to the Number One – Moss Empires.

By her early twenties she had earned enough to buy her parents a house, and as variety dwindled she made the transition into clubland.

In 1957 she met fellow vocalist Roy Moreland. They married in 1959 and went on to develop a successful double act, The Mighty Atom and Roy.

They settled on the Fylde Coast, and when her rise to fame on The Les Dawson Show forced Roy out of work they bought a hotel in Blackpool and ran it for five years.

Mo Moreland in 2003 with Les Dawson's widow Tracy and daughter Charlotte
Mo Moreland in 2003 with Les Dawson's widow Tracy and daughter Charlotte - Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Mo Moreland was close to Les Dawson and his family. In 1992, while starring in a pantomime in Wimbledon alongside Dawson and John Nettles, she was the subject of a This Is Your Life tribute presented by Michael Aspel.

After Dawson’s death in 1993 she was a great support to his widow Tracy, helping her to bring up her daughter Charlotte.

When the Roly Polys disbanded, Mo Moreland resumed her solo career with a summer season on Blackpool’s North Pier and appearances in pantomime.

Renowned for her charity work, she was president of Blackpool’s PDSA, was a committee member of the Cheerful Sparrows charity and regularly contributed to the Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

Her husband died in 2001.

Mo Moreland, born November 30 1936, died December 15 2023