2 April 2020
Dave Bestman, one of the giants of Cape Town and Southern Africa’s entertainment scene, was cremated last week without the fanfare and acknowledgement that could be expected for one who contributed so much.
He died, aged 83, of a heart attack and was farewelled in a quiet ceremony heavily restricted by the Covid-19 world we live in. Many people who would have gone, practised social distancing and paid their respects on social media.
The quiet send off and the circumstances wouldn’t have fazed him in the least. He would more than likely have made light of it; cracked a joke at his own expense and blamed his friend Howard “Kef” Links in one way or the other. That’s the Dave Bestman I knew.
And that’s the Dave Bestman most people knew from the time he started out as a stage performer in Athlone, through to his days with the Dixies and the time he spent as a big drawcard at the top hotels on South Africa’s borders. Everybody was keen to tell his or her story.
Veteran Cape Town singer Sophie Foster, who spent time with Dave as part of the travelling Golden City Dixies show had fond memories of the man who helped guide her as a teenager far away from home.
“For me, Dave always just stood out, he just had that stature,” Sophia said.
“On stage, he had his own style vocally and he backed it up with superb comedy skills.
“Dave was always teasing everybody and mocking every situation. When I ran away from home with another dancer to look for work in Jo’burg, he was there to take care of us and help us with work in the whites only venues. Those were tough times; you couldn’t keep track of who slept where as some of us even hid in dark basements below the pavements of Doornfontein. But Dave was always there to help us.
“When the apartheid laws forced us out of work, Dave came to the rescue again.
He had landed a gig at a top venue in Swaziland as entertainment manager and his job was to find fresh new faces.
“He arranged an audience audition for me. I shat myself, but secured my singing career for another few years.
“It is sad that he gave so much to entertainment during the darkest days of apartheid and got no acknowledgment for his pioneering skills . . . no awards, no Noble prize, no nothing – just memories.
“RIP Mr. Entertainment you took your last bow with dignity.”
Terry Fortune, singer and one-time female impersonator was another who benefited from the largesse of the entertainment manager in Swaziland.
“I first met Dave in the early ’70s when he was in charge of entertainment at the Highlands View Hotel in Swaziland. He was a veteran of the industry then already,” Terry said.
“Dave was one of the most versatile performers I have come across. He could do comedy, variety, cabaret, musicals and was one of the leading lights in the Golden City Dixies.
“I remember watching him do his Louis Armstrong impersonation and the pleasure he got at the audience response. He loved being on stage.
“He was so totally involved in entertainment industry and thrived in conversations about it, around it and anything to do with it.
“Many of us in the industry have fond memories of working with him somewhere and at some time in our careers. He had a keen, sharp and wicked sense of humour and we shared many a funny, naughty story.
‘Besides being colleagues, we were also friends and I will miss that friendship. Looking back over the decades I guess the most important thing in any friendship is mutual respect and that is what we in the industry have for him.
“Dave had so much he still wanted to do and knowledge to impart, but his time to take his final curtain has come. Thank you for your contribution Dave.”
Gobi Martin, another of Dave Bestman’s contemporaries in the Dixies in the Sixties, said he owed his career in the Dixies to Dave.
“ I was doing variety shows, like Legs And Laughter around Cape Town in the mid-Sixties with Dave and the other local acts, when he took me to the Dixies boss, Fred Langford, for an audition,” Gobi said. “You had to prove yourself before the Dixies hired you.
“Dave was a couple of years older than me and I looked up to him. He was very good, an all-rounder who could do the pop songs of the day and well as brilliant imitations of Satchmo Armstrong and Frankie Laine. He did a lot for us.”
Jerry Watt, leader of The Rockets, said the Dave Bestman had a big influence on the group when he was on tour with them in the Seventies.
“He was our MC and he had his own spot on the show,” Jerry said. “But he was a lot more than that. We could turn to him for advice on almost anything because had all those years of experience behind him. It was great to have him around.”
Madeegha Anders is another who acknowledged the role Dave Bestman played in shaping her career. She first met Dave when Taliep Petersen put together the Carnavale a la District 6 show (which preceded District 6 The Musical) and she was just starting out in the business.
“Dave is a legend, an icon,” she wrote in her tribute on social media. He was one of my mentors in my earlier years in the arts . . . musician, comedian and singer extraordinaire!!! You’ll be sorely missed.
For myself, I was just a teenaged, pimply wannabe journalist writing entertainment stuff in the late ’60s when I first met Dave. His opening line to me then was: “Why do you write all that s@#t?” And I replied: “Why do you tell those k#k jokes?”
That is how our conversation started for the next 50 years or so, even when I called him long-distance in Botswana.
He was a helluva entertainer and a helluva man. Here’s hoping that his legacy is remembered for a helluva long time.