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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