The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 8th March 1975

wheel

Tonight’s Turns:

The Flirtations
The Krankies
George Melly with John Chilton’s Feetwarmers
Richard and Lara Jarman
Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson

There seems to be a never-ending line of girl groups who are available to be wheeled on to open the show. Today it’s the Flirtations, who have an impressive history and look to be another group that I’ll need to investigate further at a later date. Put Your Hands Together is the song they perform here – all three take turns to trade main vocal lines (although it’s fair to say that some seem better suited to taking the lead than others).

The Krankies are back. It’s slightly baffling now to understand quite how they managed to maintain such a long career, given the thinness of their act (possibly it was a mystery back then as well). The formula is as before – straight man Ian (lovely ruffled shirt, sir) finds himself continually interrupted by the highly irritating schoolboy Jimmy.

A sample joke will give you a flavour of their act. “Do you know anything about general knowledge? Yes, he was a soldier”. I don’t know why, but this time round I found their shtick to be somewhat creepy.

Still, things pick up with George Melly. Along with John Chilton’s Feetwarmers he rampages through The Boogie Woogie Man. They were an act surely good enough to be top of the bill, instead of being relegated to five minutes just before the advert break. Oh well.

Considering he wasn’t a name performer, Richard Jarman (together with the lovely Lara) gets a very generous chunk of the show (some thirteen minutes). It’s a perfect example of the sort of magic act you could expect to see in clubland, utilising props which don’t take up a great deal of floorspace.

Things don’t get off to the best of starts when Richard, preparing for the egg into dove illusion, drops the lid onto the floor. But quick as a flash he picks it up and things carry on. Once this minor miracle is out of the way it’s time to concentrate on the two main illusions.  The first is the very familiar Zig Zag Girl, although back then it was more current – having been invented just a decade earlier by Robert Harbin (one of his performances can be found on Network’s London Palladium release).

The trunk illusion is much older (it was a favourite of Houdini’s) and although it’s not too hard to work out how it’s done, the trick is still a good one.  Both illusions do take a while to set up (which helps to explain why the spot was so long) although it’s a slight surprise to me that Richard was allowed the two big tricks, rather than just one.

No act could be better suited to the Wheeltappers than Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson (he plays the piano, you know). ‘Mr Piano’ leads the faithful in a number of sing-alongs (including You Made Me Love You which seemed to feature every other week). Joe’s amiable pub style of playing is the ideal way to close the show. Not an edition that’s particularly high on star power, but there are worse ways to spend forty minutes.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 1st March 1975

wheel

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

wheel.jpg

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

wheel.jpg

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.

 

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 31st December 1974

wheel s02e08

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

wheel s02e07

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

wheel s02e06

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.