On this day (22nd January)

The Odd Job, the third episode of Six Dates with Barker, was broadcast on ITV in 1971.

My Six Dates rewatch has reached this episode. It’s always good to see Ronnie Barker and David Jason teamed up (and for this era it’s a rarity for Jason to be playing his own age).  I’ve previously written about the episode here.

Look to the Lady – Part One, the first episode of Campion, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1989.

Both BBC and ITV had already scored successes earlier in the decade with heritage detectives (Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes) so it wasn’t a surprise to find the BBC scouring the bookshops for another Golden Age detective writer ripe for adaptation.

Margery Allingham had been a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L.  Sayers, but it’s fair to say that over the decades her profile had dipped somewhat – making her stories ideal for rediscovery. Her later Campion novels became rather ponderous, but the early ones, like Look to the Lady, had an appealing light-hearted tone (it’s not surprising that the series tended to favour her earlier efforts).

Adapted by Alan Plater, Look to the Lady was the ideal way to kick off the series. Peter Davison and Brian Glover both hit the ground running and there’s strong support from the guest cast (such as Gordon Jackson in one of his final television appearances).

Hopes for Campion were obviously high as a second series was commissioned before the first was transmitted. But it never reached a third – possibly scheduling (the early episodes of series one were put against David Suchet’s Poirot whilst series two was placed opposite The Charmer) had a part to play in this.

Even now though, I still hold out hopes that Peter Davison might reprise the role in adaptations of some of the later novels (like The Tiger In The Smoke). Maybe one day ….

On this day (11th January)

Sleeping Partners, the first episode of Robin’s Nest, was broadcast on ITV in 1977.

Having already played Robin Tripp in six series of Man About The House, Richard O’Sullivan clearly hadn’t tired of the character as he pretty swiftly moved onto this spin-off (which also ran for six series).

Joined by Tessa Wyatt, Tony Britton and David Kelly (as the unforgettable Albert Riddle – the one-armed washer-upper) this is typical Mortimer/Cooke fare – although they didn’t write all the episodes. Adele Rose, Terence Feeley and Willis Hall were some of the more unexpected names who pitched in with scripts.

Armed and Extremely Dangerous, the first episode of Dempsey and Makepeace, was broadcast on ITV in 1985.

It’s easy to imagine that D&M was an attempt to replicate the success of The Professionals (which in turn owed something of a debt to The Sweeney). The problem is that a copy of a copy might turn out to be a little faint ….

Given that The Professionals never played that well in America, maybe the casting of Michael Brandon was an attempt to crack that market, just like those old ITC shows. Will they/won’t they was part of the D&M formula (we know what happened in real life of course) although never a large part – catching villains, shooting guns and crashing cars were always the first orders of business.

The excellent Ray Smith was cast as Spikings (this series’ Cowley or Haskins). It’s probably the role for which he’s best remembered today, which is a shame since his relatively short career was full of excellent character performances that stretched him much further (Callan, Colditz, How Green Was My Valley and 1990, to name just four).

With the likes of Roger Marshall and Murray Smith later contributing scripts, D&M is always going to be worth a watch but it can be rather hit or miss.

The first edition of Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV was broadcast on BBC2 in 1985.

If Dempsey and Makepeace doesn’t appeal, then maybe the first show in Victoria Wood’s new series might be more entertaining.

Many of the building blocks of As Seen On TV were already evident in Wood & Walters (C4, 1981 – 1982), although Wood was later to disown it. Mainly this seems to be because the audience were comprised of pensioners who’d never heard of her and proved to be a pretty tough crowd to crack.

But by the time of As Seen on TV, Wood had built up a head of steam through touring and the BBC2 audiences were much more appreciative right from the off. And there’s plenty to appreciate in this opening show, not least the first installment of Acorn Antiques.

On this day (8th January)

1937: The Removals Person, the first episode of Six Dates With Barker, was broadcast on ITV in 1971.

Although Six Dates With Barker doesn’t look to have been set up as a breeding ground for subsequent television series or film projects, three episodes did go on to have a life outside the series.

Spike Milligan’s The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town was revised and expanded for The Two Ronnies, The Odd Job by Bernard McKenna was developed into a film (with David Jason reprising his role and Graham Chapman replacing Ronnie Barker) and The Removals Person by Hugh Leonard was rehashed in 1988 by Ronnie Barker as Clarence.

A Land Fit for Heroes and Idiots, the first episode of When The Boat Comes In, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Created by James Mitchell (and as far removed from Callan as you could imagine) When The Boat Comes In is one of those period programmes that’s aged very well.  Possibly series four (which aired in 1981, some three years after the series had apparently come to a conclusion) doesn’t quite match the earlier runs, but overall my impression is that it was always pretty consistent. Another one that I think I’ll add to the 2022 rewatch pile.

Horse Sense, the first episode of All Creatures Great and Small, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1978.

Perfect Sunday evening viewing (even though it began on Saturdays) this first television incarnation of All Creatures was as well cast as you could have possibly hoped for. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them all, so I’m tempted to consider a rewatch – although considering it’s only the 7th of January and I’ve already got a tottering rewatch pile, maybe I’ll hold off for a while ….

Hail the Conquering Hero, the first episode of Shine On Harvey Moon, was broadcast on ITV in 1982.

Something of a neglected gem, Shine On Harvey Moon was a series which featured a fine ensemble cast headed by Kenneth Cranham as Harvey.  Nicky Henson made a decent fist of the role when he replaced Cranham in the 1990’s revival, but he never displayed the same sparkle that Cranham always had.

The immediate post WW2 setting is an interesting one – a Britain of shortages and economies provides plenty of scope for both drama and comedy. In some ways this opening episode has a feel of When The Boat Comes In‘s debut, albeit with a much lighter tone.

It’s a pity that the DVD release of the early series was very comprised – originally airing in 25 minute episodes, they were re-edited into 50 minute form for the DVD release (losing large chunks of various episodes along the way).

A decent DVD re-release or another television rescreening (it turned up on the Yesterday channel a while back) would be very welcome.

The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, the first episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, was broadcast on ITV in 1989.

It’s a funny thing, but back in 1989 I was impatient for the series to start tackling the novels and found these early adaptations of the short stories rather flimsy. Thirty years on, my opinion’s totally switched around (mainly because some of the tv versions of key novels – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with the chase ending, say – rather tried my patience).

Many of the stories adapted for the first few series were originally published in the 1920’s in magazine form and were fairly brisk in terms of word count. That means that the adaptors have plenty of room to add incidental colour (mostly this works pretty well).

David Suchet is, of course, excellent as Poirot. In 1989 he might have been a little too young (and a little too slim, even with padding) but in all other respects he had the character of the little Belgian dandy nailed right from the start.

On this day (4th January)

The first episode of Ivanhoe was broadcast on BBC1 in 1970.

Adapted by Alexander Baron in ten parts, this Classic Serial was directed by David Maloney, so you can expect to see plenty of familiar faces (such as Graham Weston, John Franklyn-Robbins, Hugh Walters, Tim Preece, Bernard Horsfall and Noel Coleman) filling out the cast.

Eric Flynn cuts a dash as Ivanhoe with the always dependable Anthony Bate as his nemesis, Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert. Vivian Brooks and Clare Jenkins supply the female interest.

Released on DVD by Simply Media in 2017, I reviewed it at the time and it’s still an enjoyable watch – albeit with the usual strengths and weaknesses of the Classic Serial from this era.

The Prisoner of Spenda, the first episode of Carry on Laughing, was broadcast on ITV in 1975.

Hmm, I wonder what novel this could be based on?

There’s a good reason why the television incarnation of the Carry On franchise doesn’t receive the same number of rescreenings as its big screen counterpart (they’re not very good) but approached in the right mood it’s still possible to derive some enjoyment from most of them.

This one features most of the main Carry On players (one notable absentee was Kenneth Williams, who loathed the whole idea) and at 22 minutes it’s brisk enough.

The first episode of The Prince and the Pauper was broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.

Another Classic Serial debuting on this day, The Prince and the Pauper boasts an impressive duel performance from Nicholas Lyndhurst as well as the usual strong supporting cast. With Barry Letts directing, it’s no surprise that CSO comes into play – the meeting between Prince Edward and Tom Canty is excellently done (the mirror shot still looks very good today).

Another Classic Serial released by Simply Media, you can read my full review here.

The first episode of Clarence was broadcast on BBC1 in 1988.

Ronnie Barker’s sitcom farewell is a series that I’ve never warmed to – the single joke premise (Clarence is a short-sighted removals man) wore pretty thin when the character (with a different name though) appeared back in 1971, so a whole series based around this concept has never seemed inviting to me. Still, Barker and Josephine Tewson are always worth watching, so maybe I’ll give it another go this year.

Iain Cuthbertson, born in 1930.

I’ve chosen Mutiny, an episode from The Onedin Line‘s first series, as my anniversary Cuthbertson programme. It sounds promising – Cuthbertson plays the dangerously unstable Captain Kirkwood with the likes of Kevin Stoney and John Thaw also making appearances. It’s written by Ian Kennedy Martin (his sole script for the series).

Morecambe & Wise at Thames

The news that Network look to be releasing all of Morecambe and Wise’s Thames shows soon (DVD covers have appeared on Amazon) fills me with a certain amount of joy. I took to Twitter to express my delight but Twitter being Twitter it wasn’t long before somebody stopped by to tell me that the Thames era was a bit rubbish really ….

This is a widely held view, but hopefully after all the shows become accessible we might see something of a reassessment. It’s true that Morecambe and Wise’s Thames twilight years don’t match their BBC peak – but then both performers were older and slower (especially Eric, who had suffered his second heart attack in the late seventies). And no matter how good Eddie Braben was, after more than a decade writing for Eric and Ernie it’s not a surprise that sometimes things seem rather familiar.

But one thing you realise when working through the BBC era is that not everything is gold. The hit rate is pretty good, but there’s a fair bit of chaff too. For me, it’s Little Ern’s plays which are the main sticking point – had they been tight, ten minute skits then they’d pass by very agreeably (but many tend to be twice that length and are more of a trial than a treasure).

Since the regular Thames shows were only twenty five minutes, this sort of indulgence was no longer possible. Possibly the shows were shorter in order not to put too much pressure on Eric, but whatever the reason it was a positive move.

Although I watch a considerable amount of archive television (a self evident statement I know) I’m very rarely motivated by nostalgia. I’m prepared to make an exception for E & E at Thames though.

I don’t have any clear memories of their first run BBC performances (and in the late seventies, early eighties their BBC shows didn’t get repeated very often) so I really hopped on board at the start of their Thames transfer. So little things (“here they are now, Morecambe & Wise” sung to the Thames jingle and Eric walking off at the end of each show to catch the bus) still give me a little nostalgic frisson.

Fingers crossed that these DVDs don’t go into limbo like certain other Network titles (Biggles, Hollywood). Time will tell ….

The Losers – A Star Is Born (12th November 1978)

Any sitcom starring Leonard Rossiter is going to be worth a look (even Tripper’s Day, although only the strong or foolhardy will probably be able to watch all six episodes of that one).

The Losers has plenty going for it – the series was scripted by Alan Coren and featured Alfred Molina (making his television debut) as Rossiter’s co-star.  It’s pretty tough going though, for several reasons.

Firstly the picture quality isn’t great. The videotape masters were wiped, so we’re left with off airs of the first five episodes (the final episode has presumably disappeared for good) which can be headache inducing. This is particularly noticeable during the series’ debut episode – A Star Is Born – where at certain points the picture keeps going to black every few seconds.

Set in the world of pro-wrestling, The Losers reinforced the widely held belief about the rigged nature of British wrestling (the sport was still a Saturday afternoon staple on ITV but its days were numbered). Sydney Foskitt (Rossiter) is a manager in desperate need of a fighter to lose convincingly in a big match. All seems doomed for Sydney, until he stumbles across the monosyllabic Nigel (Molina).

Good points about this first episode. Rossiter is his usual immaculate self and plays comfortably to type – he’s on decent form when the increasingly hysterical Sydney finds himself backed into a corner by the sport’s Mr Big, Max Snow (Peter Cleal). Joe Gladwin, as a cynical old trainer, is also good value as is Paul Luty, who throws himself around the ring with reckless abandon.

Possibly the best part of the episode takes place at a fairground where Sydney is hiding out (he’s attempting to dodge the wrath of Mr Snow). Sydney, as befits a WW2 veteran, breezily demonstrates his skill at the shooting range – only to miss the target and fill the top prize (a teddy bear) full of holes.

The stallholder and his wife (John Cater and Stella Tanner) are both dismayed about this, as is their son Nigel.  Things are about to turn nasty, when Sydney realises that Nigel (by a wonderful coincidence) is a wrestler. He may be a rubbish one, but that’s exactly what Sydney needs, someone who’ll lose when instructed.

There’s a harshness throughout A Star Is Born. Nigel’s father is more than happy to offload his son onto Sydney (“his mother and me always wanted a dwarf, there’s midgets on her side”) whilst the manipulation by Sydney of the simple and trusting Nigel does leave you with a nasty taste in the mouth.

Critical reaction to the series was muted at best. The Stage and Television Today reported that “there wasn’t much to say – except perhaps to express regret that it was written by Alan Coren” (16th November 1978). Meanwhile the Daily Mirror’s postbag contained this missive from R. Jackson of London. “Oh dear! What has that wonderful actor Leonard Rossiter done, getting mixed up in The Losers?” (25th November 1978).

The fact that the third and final series of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin began airing in late November 1978 did The Losers no favours, as it clearly came off second best when compared to Perrin.  Presumably ATV agreed and decided that the series had little or no repeat value, wiping the tapes sometime after transmission.

Although there were later archive loses (the erasure of BBC children’s programmes like Rentaghost and Animal Magic not to mention the accidental destruction of most of Granada’s Lift Off With Ayshea) The Losers has to be one of the last British dramas or sitcoms to have been deliberately wiped in its entirety.

The fact that most of it has been recovered is a cause for celebration, but the first episode suggests that it’s no lost classic (to put it mildly). No doubt I’ll brave the rest of the series in due course, but I’ll probably take it nice and slowly.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 1st March 1975

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Tonight’s Turns:

The Settlers
Johnnie More
Bert Weedon
Keeley Ford
Steve Sabre
Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch

The Settlers. Well they’re colourful, if nothing else. Comprising three chaps – dressed in yellow, green and blue suits – and a young lady whose dress has all those colours and more, they open proceedings with a bang. The young lady (Andie Sheridan I believe) bangs a mean tambourine whilst the gentlemen all energetically strum their guitars. It seems to meet with the approval with the crowd who are nodding their heads in time to the music with mild gusto (especially the chap with a Tartan bobble hat). Oh, the song they’re singing today is called Shoes.

The group had teamed up with Cliff Richard and William Hartnell in the 1969 series Life With Johnny – a show so obscure it didn’t appear on Hartnell’s cv until a few years back (an episode had been sitting on YouTube for some time without anybody noticing). I think they’re a group to investigate further at a later date (their website looks to be a good place to start).

Johnnie More is an impressionist. He does Tommy Cooper of course (at least he doesn’t wear a fez). It might not surprise you to learn that there’s a little bit of Frank Spencer too, although he does throw in a few more unusual victims, such as Ian Paisley.

It’s Bert Weedon! His Play in a Day book was a bible for so many budding guitarists – Paul McCartney, Hank Marvin and Eric Clapton to name but three. A pity he’s only given five minutes, but Hava Nagila and Guitar Boogie Shuffle both go down very well with me. His sparkly top is a thing of beauty as well.

It’s a very music-orientated show today as after the break Keeley Ford appears to sing When You Smile. This seems to have been her sole television appearance, although she released a number of singles during the mid seventies.  She’s a performer quite happy to give the men in the audience the eye (one chap seems very taken with her). Keeley then decides to move amongst the crowd, encouraging them to “la, la, la” along with her.  Alas, she passes by Tartan bobble hat man, who I’m sure would have been up for it.

To break up the musical turns, Tony Sabre is on next. He’s a spesh act who balances sabres (see, the clue’s in the name) on his chin. He’s not a one-trick pony though as he balances axes on his chin as well. It’s when he does his balancing act in the middle of the audience that things really get interesting.

Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent are headlining today. Everybody knows they wrote the theme to Neighbours but I find it more interesting that they penned Positive Thinking for Morecambe and Wise. Their spot, considering that they’re bill toppers, is quite short – but it’s a nice trot through Two Can Make It Together, Everlasting Love and Together.  

Hatch was probably more suited to being a backroom boy than a front-man (he’s not the greatest vocalist ever) but Trench – resplendent in a canary yellow dress – certainly had an impressive set of pipes.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 22nd February 1975

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Tonight’s turns:

The Vernons
Ray Fell
Paul Daniels
Elaine Delmar
Alvin Stardust

Bernard Manning’s introductions are almost always interesting. Sometimes he’s genuinely enthused about the acts whilst on other occasions he indulges in some good natured (?) banter and insults. Then there are the times when he bigs up a turn that would later sink without trace. How do today’s openers, The Vernons, fare? “Ladies and gentlemen, greet The Vernons”. Hmm, he didn’t put a lot of effort into that ….

The Vernons are an archetypical Wheeltappers opening act. Three attractive young ladies squeezed into tight purple outfits (to prove this point they make sure to turn around and wiggle their bottoms) the trio rather pleasingly belt out Automatically Sunshine in a little over two minutes. Short but sweet.

A comedian often filled the second spot of the evening and today it’s Ray Fell. He’s sporting a very impressive shirt and bowtie – better material than his gags anyway (I thank you).  For the second part of his spot he invites a pianist called Sydney onto stage. Sydney is just a little bit camp (I think it was the mincing walk and handbag that gave it away).  Their banter is very much of its time although the moments when both struggle to keep a straight face do raise the odd smile.

Elaine Delmar – still going strong today – takes no prisoners when tackling You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Given that she – like all the turns – has to perform in a fug of cigarette smoke this is no mean feat.

He’s not yet topping the bill, but ‘unusalist’ Paul Daniels is still given a decent ten minute spot. Like his previous Wheeltappers appearance, Daniels displays his sharp and spiky club persona (honed after countless years trudging up and down the country in similar venues to this one).  Easily able to deal with the odd heckler, Daniels shuffles some cards, rips up a five pound note (causing the audience member who donated it to suffer a mild spasm) and does the cup and ball routine as entertainingly as ever.

I love the moment when Paul aims a dig at Bernard’s Embassy Club. We cut to a shot of Bernard with a rather forced smile on his face ….

Alvin Stardust is today’s top of the bill. Wearing a checked jumpsuit he certainly doesn’t hold back – kicking off with My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind, Mr Stardust is a bundle of energy. Born Bernard Jewry in 1942, he’d already enjoyed some success during the 1960’s as Shane Fenton and whilst his 1970’s hit-making wouldn’t last long, he bounced back again in the early eighties (most notably with Pretend in 1981).

He’s certainly a wow with the ladies here – who want to divest him of his gloves (and possibly more). One chases him backstage (possibly staged, but maybe not) before he closes the show with Money Honey which certainly seems to leave the Wheeltappers faithful more than satisfied.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 15th February 1975

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Tonight’s Turns:

Karl Denver Trio
George Roper
The Platters
Ronnie Dukes and Ricki Lee

Up first are the Karl Denver Trio. Born Angus Murdo McKenzie in Glasgow in 1931, Denver, together with his two associates, had a string of hit singles during the early sixties. The one they perform here – Wimoweh – was their biggest hit and judging by the appreciative audience reception was still fondly remembered a decade or so later.

Denver’s yodelling style will be something of an acquired taste (especially when he gets screechier and screechier) but at the very least it provides a rousing start to the show.

George Roper has to deal with a twin-pronged assault – Bernard Manning on one side, Colin Crompton on the other – but he still manages to come out ahead. A regular on The Comedians, Roper’s material isn’t exactly rib-tickling but he’s still very engaging (his pained expressions after withstanding yet another Manning barb is nicely done).

To close his act he invited Bernard up onto stage for an impromptu (i.e. obviously rehearsed) song and dance number. It’s a pleasingly shambolic ramble through Side By Side – no doubt they could have done another more polished take, but the rough and ready ‘live’ feel of the Wheeltappers is one of its strengths.

Despite his heckling (something he did to virtually all the comedians who dared to take to the Wheeltappers stage) Manning obviously had a great deal of affection for Roper, as proven by the tribute he wrote after Roper’s death in 2003 at the age of 69.

Up next are The Platters. Their non-musical history makes for fascinating reading – countless personnel changes, legal battles and rival versions of the group touring at the same time (I’m not sure how many – if indeed any – of the group present during their hit-making days made it to the Wheeltappers). But given that Buck Ram (who wrote many of their hits and guided their early career) was sitting in the audience, it looks like these ones were the ‘legit’ Platters.

Like many of the turns, they have to deal with the fairly primitive sound system (a spot of feedback to begin with) but like true pros they plough on through. Plenty is packed into their short spot – a medley of Only You, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The Great Pretender and My Prayer, finishing off with a rousing Put Your Hands Together.

There’s only four acts on tonight’s show, partly because the headliners – Ronnie Dukes and Ricki Lee – are given a generous fifteen minutes.  Introduced by Bernard as one of clubland’s top draws, they enjoyed only intermittent television exposure (although this did include a spot on the 1975 Royal Variety Performance) whilst Dukes was a big enough name to merit Eamonn Andrews handing him the big red book that same year.

Dukes (short and stout, but still a lovely little mover) and Lee (statuesque and long suffering, but a more than decent singer) were a good combination.   Ricki’s mother Vi was added into the mix – as a pianist and the inevitable butt for many of Ronnie’s jokes.  There’s some nice info on the act here – sad to hear that Ronnie ended up dying on stage in the early eighties with Rikki passing away a few years later.

There’s no ‘wow’ moments in tonight’s show, but a very solid evening’s entertainment nonetheless.

 

Sez Les – Series Four, Show Six

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Several times during the last series, Les took to the streets in order to confound the residents of Leeds with some hidden camera stunts. This idea gets another outing today – he’s disguised as a German tourist – although as before it’s difficult to believe that he wasn’t identified. This quibble not withstanding, the grimy film sequence does provide a brief window into a vanished world, so it’s of interest from that standpoint.

Today’s first studio sketch is a little different from the norm. It’s mainly just Dawson (as a police sergeant) on the phone to someone who may or may not be royalty. The answer to this question is provided when one of his colleagues walks in with a polo mallet. A break from the slapstick seen previously, but it’s hardly a rib-tickler. One innovation is that the same set is used again in part two for another sketch.

American singer Esther Marrow impresses with a rendition of the Love The One You’re With. The performance is given a little extra punch by the way that the camera moves around – at one point it’s positioned behind her, giving the viewers an unusual shot of the watching audience.

The Skylarks are back! With the assistance of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra they chug very nicely through We’re In The Money. Although since the Denys Palmer dancers were dressed in stockings and suspenders I’m afraid my attention wandered a bit …

After the break there’s something of a curio. Dawson had made a few attempts to break into the music business, but he would never enjoy the success of some of his contemporaries such as Ken Dodd. Promise Me, released by Decca in 1971, failed to set the charts alight but it’s still interesting to hear it (the song accompanies a filmed item featuring the journey taken by Dawson and his significant other – from childhood sweethearts to old age pensioners).

Peter Noone pops up with a jaunty version of the Buddy Holly classic I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.

Although the audience were generally very warmly approving towards Dawson’s convoluted monologues, occassionly the odd line fell flat. This happens today (“Pilbeam Bottlecrud was a strange looking woman. She was short, fat and always wore a black dress. When you first met her it was like shaking hands with a ginger beer”). But there’s something about the way Dawson pauses to acknowledge the sparse laughter, raises an eyebrow and then presses on which keeps the audience on his side.

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show Five

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The fun starts right from the opening few seconds, as Les comes crashing through the YTV indent! Kenny Everett later did this with the Thames logo, but did anybody do it before Les, I wonder? It’s only a throwaway gag, but the concept of disrupting the established grammar of televison is an unusual one for this era of Sez Les – the surviving episodes so far tend to contain much more traditional comic fare.

The fact that Dawson wears the same suit and tie each week when delivering his monologues and links is slightly intriguing me. Did he only have the one suit and tie or was it because all his studio work was shot over a short period and then spread out through the whole series? The Two Ronnies did something similar when they had regular musical guests (that way the artist wouldn’t have to return week after week). Possibly Louis Barfe’s excellent book on Les Dawson might contain some of the answers, I think I’ll have to dig it out for a re-read.

Roy Barraclough returns to the fold in a sketch which features him and Les as a pair of clerical artists. It’s another cheaply mounted studio skit – the countryside is represented by a painted backdrop and some sound effects – which relies on wordplay to begin with. Although it doesn’t take long before it descends into slapstick (like most of the S4 sketches have done) with the pair putting more paint on each other than on their canvases. I’d have preferred more wordplay than slapstick, to be honest. The chief pleasure I derive from this sketch is watching Les’ inability to keep a straight face as he gets messier and messier.

The lovely Aimi Macdonald returns for another large-scale song and dance number. And very nice it is too. Les’ other guest today is New World. If you’re a Two Ronnies fan then they should be familar (the previous year they had guested throughout the first series). As with their Two Rons appearances, NW offer a very laid back performance, although they seem to be cut off a little abruptly.

Dawson’s monologue today is all about love.

The one person who loved me was my grandfather. He stood six foot four and had a hamster. He was a boyhood dream, he was a Red Indian chief and he came from the Who-Ha-He-Ha tribe. So called because they used to run through long grass with no underpants on.

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show Four

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The lovely Aimi Macdonald is one of this week’s guests. She performs a song with the backing of both the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Denys Palmer dancers. It’s a big production number – at one point the dancers move away to a separate set – so it seems that most of the budget for this show was spent right here (today’s sketch by contrast is a simple affair – only utilising a small set).

David Mallet continues to pull out some unusual camera angles – during this sequence there’s a series of crane shots, for example – which helps to give the performance a little more impact. As do the few clothes which Aimi just about manages to wear ….

Given her skills as a comedy performer, it made sense to recruit her for the sketch (and probably saved a little money too). The premise is simple – Aimi is a hotel guest who has lodged her toe in the bathtap and Les is the helpful plumber who comes to assist her. She’s naturally a little reluctant to let him in, but is reassured when he tells her that he’ll be blindfolded the whole time.

There’s something a little queasy about this sketch. Not only the way that Dawson “accidentally” drops his tools into the bath so that he’s got an excuse to give Aimi a quick fondle, but also the final reveal – when we realise that Dawson was only blindfolded in one eye (he gives the camera a self-satisfied leer to hammer this point home). Not something that’s aged very well then although neither has the brief musical skit featuring Les as a Chinaman(!).

Ah well, there are better pickings elsewhere – a few brief film sketches amuse, my favourite being the one featuring two doctors operating on a car … they eventually extract a baby car. Silly, but amusing.

Today’s other guests are The Peddlers. No, me neither, but they’re good fun – a musical trio who favour the organ very highly. I’m going to have to dig into their history, this website looks to be a good place to start.

One of Les’ monologues is directed towards a familiar subject – marriage. It offers a selection of choice cuts, such as this one.

I was reading a horror story the other day, it was a terrifying account of a man who was trapped under a ton of whale blubber. And it reminded me it was me wedding anniversary. That’s ten years, which is a decade, and you’ve never seen such a decayed looking woman.

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show Three

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This week’s sketch features Les as a myopic waiter in a curiously empty restaurant. Either this was done for comic effect or it was simply because the show couldn’t afford any extras. Never mind, it’s not long before two customers (played by Hugh Walters and Joan Savage) wander in. From the moment she opens her mouth for the first time it’s clear that she’s the dominant one (no surprises there, since Walters excelled at playing hen-pecked and inconspicuous types). It’s always a joy to see Walters – but his one-off appearance as a Dawson stooge makes it clear that, as yet, Sez Les didn’t have a regular group of comic performers (Roy Barraclough would later fill one of those roles, but at present he was only one face amongst many).

Dawson – dressed in an impossibly small waistcoat – creates the expected level of comic mayhem due to his inability to see anything at all. He affects an Italian accent for a few seconds before dropping it (although there doesn’t seem to be any comic reason for this). Since Savage is so incredibly shrill and annoying it’s no surprise that the audience approves when most of the food ends up in her lap rather than on the plate.

Walters is positioned as the sympathetic one (I like his plaintive statement that he should have listened to his mother and stuck with his whippets!) with the eventual punchline reveal being that he’d paid Dawson specifically for this service. With Dawson concentrating on crafting his monologues, a small group of writers were responsible for the sketches. At present they’re workmanlike but not terribly inventive (fresh blood in later years would see the standard rise).

Dawson’s close encounters with pianos were always notable, but one of the best gags from this second half sequence comes before he sits down – he flicks the tails of his evening dress so hard they fly off!

There’s only one guest today – Miss Shirley Bassey. Possibly she was more expensive than some of the previous acts (if so, they got their money’s worth out of her as she performed two songs). She closes the first half with Till Love Touches Your Life but the main point of interest is that she opens part two with Diamonds Are Forever, just a week after the Batchelors performed the same song.

If these shows were recorded in order then this seems a little odd. True, the Bachelors had released it as a single, but with La Bassey due to appear the week after, it’s a strange duplication. No prizes for guessing who comes out on top – backed by the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Bassey’s live vocal has all the punch and control that you’d expect. Easily the highlight of the show.

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show Two

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There’s an interesting moment early on, when during a sketch featuring Les as a clerical golfer, his comment of “balls” is muted. Given this was such a mild profanity it’s surprising to see it taken out. Especially since it was plain what the word was (especially the punchline is that he’s then pelted with golf balls from a helpful God).

The set-piece sketch of this show is a two-hander between Dawson and Kenneth Connor. Connor is an earnest academic lecturing about the mechanics of comedy …

What makes this sketch work is that whilst both continue to soberly discuss the nature of comedy, their actions (involving an ever increasing cycle of slapstick abuse) are in such sharp contrast to the serious tone. Dawson’s inability to keep a straight face as the pair get messier and messier is a joy as is Connors’ straight-faced control. The climax of the sketch – Connor attempts to light a bomb – seems to be scuppered after he’s unable to get the matches to work. He carries on in character (berating the props man) whilst Dawson dissolves into a fit of giggles. If this sketch teaches us anything then it’s how actors and comedians react differently to the same series of events.

A familiar part of Dawson’s act was to start a monologue with a deluge of evocative wordplay before bringing the tone right down. There’s a perfect example in this show, as he discusses how evocative memory can be. “A drift of perfume on the stairs, a snatch of laughter on a balcony or a song in the night can evoke forgotten memories. This happened to me the other week – I was watching the wife suck a hot chop with her teeth out”.

The Skylarks and The Bachelors are this week’s guests. I’m not sure why three of the four male Skylarks are wearing the same sort of jacket, but the fourth isn’t. Either dress the same or don’t! Their performance is enlivened by the Denys Palmer Dancers (the regular dance troup) who flounce about in green whilst the Skylarks are warbling.

Now this is mildly noteworthy. The Bachelors (whom I’m glad to report were clothes coordinated – all wearing nice pink shirts) perform Diamonds are Forever. Quite good it is too, even if they do have to change all the “I’s” and “me’s” to “she” or “her”. This won’t be the last time we hear this song though – stay tuned ….

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Sez Les – Series Four, Show One

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Returning in early 1972 for a run of six episodes, the format’s pretty similar to what has gone before – the Syd Lawrence Orchestra (“the only musicians I know who are mentioned in the Doomsday Book”) are still in residence, although the Skylarks are nowhere to be seen (but fret not, Skylarks fans, they’ll be back next week).

David Mallet continues to feature unusual shot selections at various points (fish-eye lenses, for example) whilst one innovation is that there’s now a selection of “quickie” sketches. These provide a change in pace between the longer items.

One of my favourite short sketches from the whole series features Les as a roadsweeper who lifts up the pavement in order to shovel the dirt underneath! It’s a lovely moment which Dawson later used (during an interview with Michael Parkinson) as an example of the difference between British and German humour (German televison executives didn’t believe this sketch would work in their country as their pavements didn’t lift up …)

As for the longer sketches (still only one each edition) today’s features Roy Barraclough as the impossibly camp owner of a crockery shop. Les, the flat-capped handyman, doesn’t tell his workmate to watch his back in so many words, but the inference is there. As a time-capsule it’s interesting, as a piece of comedy rather less so (partly because it’s obvious that everything in the shop will be destroyed somehow. It would have been more of a surprise if they hadn’t gone down this route).

Musical guests for this first show are Jeannie Lamb and Gilbert O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan I was familar with, but Jeannie Lamb didn’t really ring a bell. A quick search on the internet hasn’t left me much wiser (apart from a few scattered references to her jazz career and a collaboration with Ray Davies). But my researches continue ….

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Sez Les – Series Three

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Broadcast during August and September 1971 and running to a measly four editions, series three of Sez Les clips along at a fair rate of knots (although Dawson himself is in short supply). This is due to the fact that he has to share the stage with regular acts The Skylarks (a rather decent vocal harmony group) and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra as well as a number of guest performers. With each edition only running for twenty five minutes, there’s a fair amount to be crammed in …

The formula tends to run as follows. After the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Skylarks have welcomed him to the stage, Dawson kicks off proceedings with a short monologue (returning in the second half with a longer monologue). Each edition has a single sketch with the remainder of the time being taken up with the guest performers as well as spots for the Skylarks and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra (who close proceedings). The final two editions also have some brief film inserts, showing Dawson interacting with ordinary members of the public.

Luckily I have an almost unquenchable thirst for 1970’s LE, so the number of musical performers isn’t really a problem for me. But for those who are interested in seeing more of Dawson, you might be advised to skip ahead to one of the later series (plus the arrival of David Nobbs helped to sharpen the series’ comedy sensibilities quite markedly).

Guest wise, Manitas De Plata strums a mean Spanish guitar, Dana has a very credible stab at a George Harrison song (Isn’t It A Pity), Frank Ifield warbles in an entertaining fashion, Anita O’Day jazzes things up (her obituary makes for interesting reading) whilst Georgie Fame and Alan Price are good value in the final edition, as is Kathy Kirby. For those familiar with other LE programmes of this era (such as The Two Ronnies or The Morecambe & Wise Show) many of those names will be familiar.

Brian Glover assists Dawson with the sketches seen in the first two editions – the second (Dawson as an extremely nervous dentist attempting to remove Glover’s tooth) being the better of the two. It’s not subtle, but it’s good fun. After leaving Monty Python John Cleese would become a Sez Les regular, but it’s slightly more surprising to see him pop up here in a couple of brief sketches.

It’s likely Cleese recorded his contributions in something of a hurry. The train sketch in show three should have been tailor-made for him, but it’s rather thrown away and there’s little bite to his reactions of Dawson’s improbably dressed Highlander – complete with caber! The second sketch with Cleese is rather better (it also switches from VT to film in a way that’s almost Pythonlike).

Maybe the budget for the last few episodes was a little greater. In addition to this brief film insert, Dawson also went out and about on the streets, ensnaring unsuspecting members of the public with hidden camera stunts. Presumably these gags were real and not staged (although since Dawson had been a television regular for a few years it’s surprising nobody seemed to recognise him).

Producer/Director David Mallet had worked with Dawson before on Joker’s Wild. Knowing that Mallet would later pursue a career as a top music promo director (Queen and David Bowie were amongst his clients) it’s interesting to look back at his early work to see if there’s any visual flair in evidence. For Joker’s Wild, probably not – but then it was a rather static sort of series (the main highlight being a wobbly camera zoom into Barry Cryer at the start of the show).

He had more to work with during Sez Les though and the Syd Lawrence interludes do have some fast intercutting and unusual camera angles, suggesting that Mallet was interested in shaking up the visual grammar of this type of show.

Not a rib-tickling 100 minutes then, but entertaining nonetheless. As my occasional rewatch continues, it’ll be interesting to see the point at which the series began to grow. Several changes – increasing the running time, dropping the musical acts for a while – helped to shake the format up.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 31st December 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Design
Charlie Williams
Kristine Sparkle
Brother Lees
Matt Monro
Freddie Garrity

It’s New Years Eve at the Wheeltappers, so decorations, party hats and Auld Lang Syne are all to the fore. But this merriment has to come to an end eventually as it’s time for the turns to do their thing. First up are “one of Great Britain’s top recording groups” Design. Active between 1968 and 1976 (and across a range of record companies including Epic, Capitol and EMI) they may not have had many hits but thanks to a string of television spots (they appeared with Morecambe and Wise, Reg Varney, Vera Lynn, Tommy Cooper, Val Doonican, The Two Ronnies and many others) Design would have been a familiar sight to most the watching audience.

On a slightly melancholy note, it seems that this Wheeltappers performance of Listen to the Music was their final television jaunt. It’s an energetic canter through the song and kicks off proceedings in a decent, upbeat way. Design have a very comprehensive website for those who want to dig a little deeper into their history.

Receiving a typically mocking introduction from Bernard, Charlie Williams’ first point of business when reaching the stage is to thank his fellow comedian (whilst likening him to Humpty Dumpty at the same time). A former professional footballer, when he retired from the game in 1959 he decided to pursue a career as a singer. But when he discovered that his between song banter was going down better than his crooning, he switched to comedy full time.

In one respect he was certainly a trailblazer – black comics were thin to non-existent during the 1970’s – although there’s something slightly uncomfortable about hearing him use the same sort of racist jokes (albeit of a mild variety since this was the Wheelappers) that his fellow, white comics would also have been peddling at the time. But due to his genial, inoffensive nature (“hello flower”) he just about gets away with it.

When Kristina Sparkle’s music career failed to take off, she pursued a parallel career on the impressions show Who Do You Do. Indeed, her Wheeltappers appearance shows that impressions were already part of her act – her spot here culminates with a medley where she mimics the likes of Cilla Black and Lulu. Fairly broadly it has to be said (whilst the way that the cameraman lingers on her rather shapely bottom for several seconds is quite noteworthy).

The Brother Lees mix comedy and impressions. Good to see that they do both Frank Spencer and Tommy Cooper (a seventies impressionist just isn’t a seventies impressionist otherwise). They take it in turns to do various celebs individually – including Roy Orbison and Harold Wilson – whilst also tackling others such as Ken Dodd, Bruce Forsyth and Max Bygraves in triplicate. None of their impressions are stunning, but since their act is so quickfire you don’t really notice – by the time you’ve registered their current impression, they’ve already moved onto the next. An above average turn.

Matt Monro adds a touch of class to proceedings with a trio a well-performed songs – Around The World, Let Me Sing (And I’m Happy) and Born Free. For once, the band all seem to be on the same page and this part of the show slips down very easily.

Normally you’d have expected Matt Monro to have been the headliner, but today there’s one more treat. And what a treat it is. Billed as Freddie and the Nightmares, Freddie Garrity, Frank Carson and Duggie Brown (all dressed as chickens) squawk their way around the stage. Mere words alone can’t do this justice, you simply have to see it (at least once). Colin succinctly sums them up. “We’ve had some bloody rubbish here, but that beats the lot”.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 7th September 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang
Mike Reid
David Whitfield
Marion Ryan
Max Wall
Stuart Damon

Through the decades, the basic premise of the Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang never changed – one member of the group (Royston Smith) was somewhat diminutive in size, meaning that he was unable to get his fair share of the limelight (or indeed the microphone). Equal parts slapstick and music, they’re a decent opening act. This Pathe newsreel from 1947 shows them in earlier days.

Given a typically ironic introduction from Bernard, Mike Reid’s opening comment to him is delivered with a singular lack of warmth (“ever thought of lacing your mouth up and using it as a football?”). A genuine spot of needle or were they the best of showbiz mates? Hmm, not sure. Unlike some of the other comedians who appeared at the Wheeltappers, Mike Reid never gave the impression that he wanted the audience to love him. The jokes may be average, but it’s all about the delivery and Reid’s extraordinary vocal gymnastics makes this a memorable spot (and he does a spot of singing too).

David Whitfield, born in North Yorkshire, was a tenor who had a string of hits in Britain during the 1950’s and also cracked the American market at the same time. Straddling the advert break, he’s another good addition to the line up – clearly entertaining the audience not only with his singing but also with his convivial attitude. Drink, Drink, Drink, a whistle of the Colonel Bogey March and The Soldier’s Dream comprise his act today.

Dubbed “the Marilyn Monroe of popular song”, Marion Ryan (like Whitfield and a number of other Wheeltappers acts) had been a big star back in the fifties. She had her own television show and also notched up appearances in The Army Game and Six-Five Special, amongst many others. Multiple Royal Command Performances and guest appearances in specials featuring the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby followed.

Her Wheeltappers appearance proved that she still had a decent singing voice, although having to contend with the house band (who sometimes appear to be pulling in different directions) couldn’t have been that easy. But her performances of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and The More I See You manage to overcome any musical backing deficiencies.

Bernard. as ever, is charm personified when introducing Max Wall. “Can we have a nice welcome … probably one of his last”. Although Bernard’s genuine look of delight and hearty clapping when Wall takes to the stage suggests that he was only joshing.

Wall’s career encompassed both music hall and the legitimate theatre (appearing in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Krapp’s Last Tape, for example). His dead-pan delivery is spot on (although it’s slightly strange that his stream of one-liners has a musical accompaniment – this isn’t really needed). Although one of his gags (“yesterday in the city of Manchester, I saved a lovely girl from being sexually assaulted. I controlled myself”) hasn’t aged well, the rest of his act is a joy.

Best known from The Champions (indeed, Bernard introduces him as such and his walk-on music is Tony Hatch’s familiar theme tune) Stuart Damon bounds onto the stage to entertain the audience with a handful of familiar songs. With a number of Broadway musical appearances under his belt from the 1960s, he obviously knew how to belt out a song. He kicks off with Bad Bad Leroy Brown before finishing up with The Yellow Rose of Texas and a snatch of The Battle Hymn of the Republic (where once again the band, led by Derek Hilton, goes somewhat off-key).

Damon’s performance style is best described as “full-on”. He certainly gives his all (and then some) and also can’t resist moving into the audience from time to time. A curious turn that’s for sure, but whatever else it is, it’s certainly not dull.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 31st August 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

The Wheeltappers Waiters
Syd Francis
Peter Gordeno
Dermot O’Brien
Wilma Reading
Enrico
Marty Wilde

There seems to be a lack of turns tonight, so Colin and Bernard are forced to let the Wheeltappers waiters take to the stage. And wouldn’t you know it, they turn out to be a very passable barbershop quartet. The audience seems to enjoy them (as ever, watching the audience is sometimes more entertaining than watching the acts) and they happily join in with a good old singalong. I’m not sure why the waiters all had to sport stick on moustaches though.

Next, Colin – still desperately short on turns – gives a plucky member of the audience, Syd Francis, a chance to shine. He’s a pretty decent trumpet player as well as being a comedian. A memorable contributor to The Comedians, this means that Francis is subjected to a certain amount of heckling from Bernard (who often gave his fellow comics a hard time). A few gags and The Entertainer played on the trumpet. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

Peter Gordeno might be best remembered today for his short stint on UFO, but his main talents lay more in the direction of singing, dancing and choreography. Rather oddly introduced by Bernard as “Peter Gardinia” (a genuine mistake or a spot of Bernard’s mickey-taking?) Gordeno can certainly hold a tune (kicking off with One Is One). Mind you, it’s hard not to focus on his appearance just as much as his vocal skills – he’s sporting an impressive head of hair (complete with massive sideburns) as well as a frilly white shirt and medallion.

He then brings on four attractive young ladies for another song (I Taught Them Everything They Know) which then merges into When I’m Sixty Four and Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody. With Gordeno displaying a well-developed sense of humour, this is a pretty long spot but also one of the more entertaining seen so far during the second series. For those looking for more info on him, Gordeno’s Guardian obituary makes for interesting reading.

Variety is the spice of life at the Wheeltappers, so next up is Dermot O’Brien, an Irish accordion player who leads his band through a spirited rendition of Orange Blossom Special. The ladies in the front row seem very taken with this, as they’re clapping for all they’re worth.

The music continues with Wilma Reading, who treats the audience to The Ends of the Earth. Barely wearing a blue dress, she’s an energetic performer who seems to draw the best out of the house band (especially the bongo player). She certainly makes a memorable impression with her three minutes.

Up next is Enrico, a diminutive juggler. Dressed as a clown, he’s a more than decent spesh act and helps to keep the audience warmed up before the appearance of the headliner.

One of the original wave of British rock’n’rollers (and still going strong today) Marty Wilde offers us a whistle-stop trot through four classic songs (Mean Woman Blues/Rubber Ball/Teenager In Love/Oh Boy) within the space of his six minutes. The ladies in the front row seem particularly energised by his turn – especially Oh Boy. A cracking end to a very strong show.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 24th August 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Sheps Banjo Boys
Dave Evans
Rain featuring Stephanie De Sykes
Malcolm Roberts
Johnny Hackett
The Kaye Sisters

The Wheeltappers hits the road today, as they visit Blackpool. We open with a lovely series of black and white stills of Colin and Bernard enjoying the various Blackpool amenities before crossing over to the Layton Institute (Affiliated) where the Wheeltappers faithful have set up for the night.

Shep’s Banjo Boys, still going strong today, keep the audience entertained with a burst of banjo favourites. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more from them, but as always the turns tend to be wheeled on and wheeled off.

Unless I’ve got him mixed up with another Dave Evans, then the young impressionist second on the bill here is the father of Lee Evans. Will Dave be giving us Tommy Cooper and Frank Spencer (as all 1970’s impressionists had to do?). He starts off with a pretty decent Eric Morecambe before moving onto Groucho Marx (you can’t beat the classics). That he’s got a slightly different list of victims from many of his peers is demonstrated when he then takes off Acker Bilk (he may not sound too much like him, but he can handle a clarinet quite well). So no Frank Spencer and Tommy Cooper then, but a more than decent spot.

This year – 1974 – Stephanie De Sykes hit number two with the song Born With A Smile On Your Face (penned by Simon May). She sings it here, with vocal support from Rain (three gentleman who all wear shirts with very wide collars). Very nice performance too, although not for the first time it’s an irritation that a good song is faded out (here because it’s time for the adverts). Unusually, De Sykes and Rain continue after the break (once again though, we don’t get the full song as this one is faded up). Rain take more of a prominent role on Golden Day, the theme song to The Golden Shot (written by Lyndsey de Paul and Barry Blue).

Bernard cajoles Colin up onto the stage. The first part of his act is basically what he does throughout all the other shows – reading out messages and resolutions from the committee – the difference here that he’s standing up on the stage rather than sitting down and ringing his bell. Instead, Bernard’s the one sitting down and enjoying himself enormously by lobbing several well-timed heckles Colin’s way! But Colin then does something different, singing With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock. Crompton does a very fair impression of George Formby, it has to be said.

Malcolm Roberts had three hit singles in the late sixties, although like so many who appeared on the Wheeltappers he found chart success harder to come by in the seventies and beyond. Today he performs She (which was his current single). From such a brief appearance it’s hard to get too much of an impression of him, but it seems that he carved out a decent living in clubland and also went on to have a few Eurovision adventures. This website will enable the curious to dig a little deeper.

Johnny Hackett notched up a series of appearances on various series during the 1960’s and 1970’s (including The Good Old Days, Dee Time and David Nixon’s Magic Box). Mixing comedy and music, he’s a convivial type – not exactly my thing, but he’s amiable enough.

The Kaye Sisters (who weren’t actually sisters, what a swizz!) had several hits during the late fifties and early sixties. Their spot is quite jolly, although since they’re the headliners it does seem a little stingy to give them less than three minutes.