The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 13th April 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Ukranian Cossack Brotherhood
Lambert and Ross
Barbara Law
La Vivas
Freddie Garrity
Tessie O’Shea

Wheeltappers is a fascinating series for several reasons.  Although the club was a studio mock-up, by all accounts it’s a pretty accurate recreation of a typical club of the era – and therefore it gives a good impression of the sort of environment that the majority of the Wheeltappers acts would regularly perform in.

Many up-and-coming performers honed their skills in clubs like these, appearing on the bill alongside popular acts from the 1960’s (like, for example, Roy Orbison), who found success harder to come by in the 1970’s and were therefore happy to find regular employment in the numerous clubs dotted up and down the country.

I can’t put my hand on my heart and claim that everything in the Wheeltappers is good, but there’s certainly some gold there.  Alas, there’s plenty of god-awful singers and unfunny comedians as well – but for those hardy souls prepared to sift through the series, there’s quite a few nuggets of interest.

And for those who lack the stamina to watch it all, and because Network rather annoyingly don’t list the performers on the DVD sleeves, I’ve decided on this rewatch to put an artist listing on each entry, as well as highlighting those acts who are worth seeing (or are best avoided).

The Ukranian Cossack Brotherhood were quite good fun, although I’m not sure whether they were actually Ukranian or not – seems a long way to come just to appear on the Wheeltappers.  Their performance is particularly impressive considering the small stage they have to perform on – one false move and they’d be sitting in somebody’s lap!

Lambert and Ross were certainly no Morecambe and Wise – or even Little and Large.  Their’ USP seemed to be that one (Ross) was camp and one (Lambert) wasn’t.  Sample gag: “We could appear in a film. What film? Ben Hur, I’ll play Ben. And I’ll play Her”.  Although there’s little evidence of it here, Willie Ross would go on to have a successful career in television, on the stage and in films such as Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Riff Raff and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, before his death in 2000.

Barbara Law belts out her song quite well.  It’s worth watching the man directly behind her at the start – was he a plant or was he genuinely that drunk?  La Vivas indulge in some knife-throwing, roping in a lady from the audience and Bernard for good measure.

Freddie Garrity has plenty of energy – that’s for sure.  The former lead-singer of Freddie and the Dreamers would return to the Wheeltappers in the future and he’d be even more deranged – so this performance, by his standards, is fairly restrained.

Headliner Tessie O’Shea was something of an entertainment legend.  Born in Cardiff in 1913, she was a popular music-hall act during the 1930’s – 1950’s and she’d go on to pick up a Tony award in 1963 for her appearance in Noel Coward’s musical The Girl Who Came to Supper.  Another notable American appearance was on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, where she shared the bill with a young up-and-coming beat combo from England called the Beatles.

On the Wheeltappers she plays a paper bag and invites the audience to join her in a good old fashioned sing-along.  It’s the sort of thing that we’ll see a lot of at the Wheeltappers (the sing-along that is, not playing with a paper bag).

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 20th April 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

The Three Degrees
The Krankies
Brandy Di Franck
Bill Haley and the Comets
Martin and Sylvia Konyot
Ronnie Hilton

The first turn up on stage tonight are The Three Degrees who perform I Like Being A Woman.  The group had formed in 1964, although the 1974 incarnation didn’t include any of the original members (over the years the line-up would see quite a few changes – some fifteen women have been one of the Three Degrees at one time or another).

The 1974 line-up consisted of Fayette Pinkney, Valerie Holiday and Sheila Ferguson. Shortly after this appearance, When Will I See You Again would top the UK charts for two weeks and it would herald a run of successful singles which would continue for a number of years.  It’s a pity then that their Wheeltappers appearance wasn’t later in the year, as I Like Being A Woman is nice enough, although fairly forgettable.

There are two points of interest though, first is at 1:35 when they all bump into each other (they won’t be the only act to find performing on that tiny stage to be a bit of a problem!) and the second is the interesting spoken-word section, which must have gladdened the hearts of a certain section of the audience.

You know, women’s liberation is cool.
I mean, it had it’s good points and it’s bad points.
But you know sometimes… I just want to be loved,
And that’s why I become your slave.
I don’t want to be your equal, I just want to be a part of you.
All you gotta do is treat me like you treat yourself.

Next up are The Krankies.  They’d spend the 1970’s working clubs like the Wheeltappers before moving onto mainstream television in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.  They always seemed to be a staple fixture on Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!!) at one time, for example.

Even though wee Jimmy Krankies’ cross-dressing antics only has a limited amount of comic potential, you have to admire the career they were able to build out of it.  This Wheeltappers appearance is fairly typical of their comic shtick – Ian Krankie is attempting to tell a few jokes and sing a song but he’s prevented from doing so by a small boy in the audience.  This is our Jimmy, who clearly has the audience’s sympathy as he tells them his mother doesn’t love him (awwww).  The closing part of their act (where Ian treats Jimmy as a ventriloquists doll, swinging him around) is quite impressive and does raise a few laughs.

After somewhat fading from view, the revelation that they used to be swingers put them back into the spotlight a few years ago – and the fact that the likes of The Telegraph reported it is an example of how times have changed (it would be hard to imagine them running showbiz stories like that a few decades earlier).

Following the stripper Brandy Di Franck (yes really!) there’s the main treat of the show – Bill Haley and the Comets.  Although Haley’s time at the top was quite short (his main chart success came between 1954 and 1956) his influence was far-reaching and thanks to a handful of classic singles he remains a significant figure in the development of rock and roll.

He gave the audience at the Wheeltappers exactly what they wanted – two of his biggest hits (Shake, Rattle and Roll and Rock Around the Clock).  The only mystery about his appearance is why he wasn’t the headliner – c’mon it’s Bill Haley!

Next act on stage are Martin and Sylvia Konyot, who attempt to provide a touch of class with their dancing, although this is somewhat sabotaged by the fact the one of them is usually face-down on the stage.  Not a bad spesh act which obviously took a good deal of training in order to execute the moves.

Tonight’s headliner is Ronnie Hilton, who rather cruelly (but accurately) is introduced by Bernard like this.  “Ladies and gentleman, if there’s ever a nuclear attack then it’s all round to the next artist’s house.  Because he’s never had a hit for years”.

Ronnie Hilton had a successful recording career in the 1950’s as a middle-of-the-road crooner.  He built his career on recording cover versions of successful American songs.  Hilton wasn’t the only artist to do this as back in the fifties it was the song – not the singer – that was king.  His biggest hit, No Other Love (originally recorded by Perry Como) made number one in 1955, but by the early 1960’s the hits had dried up – so like many others before him, he took to touring the club circuit.

On the evidence of this appearance, he had become a decent club singer – although as he never had any particularly identifiable songs it does mean that the show ends with a bit of a whimper.  Alas, if only they’d put Bill Haley on last!

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 27th April 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Stephane Grappelli and Diz Disley Trio
Little and Large
Tony Brutus
The Barcias
Terri Rogers
Lonnie Donegan

Another typically eclectic Wheeltappers show opens with Stephane Grappelli.  His lengthy career saw him play with a wide variety of fellow musicians – including Pink Floyd, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Paul Simon, Yo Yo Ma as well as Yehudi Menuhin (the pair recorded several well-received albums).  It’s hard to imagine a less likely artist to grace the bill of a working man’s club, but once you accept the incongruity of his appearance, it’s a very enjoyable (albeit brief) turn.

From the sublime to the, well, rather less sublime.  At their peak (during the late seventies and well into the eighties) Little and Large were one of television’s top-rated attractions – their BBC shows generated very good ratings which turned the pair into major stars.  But in the decades since, their stock has plummeted – so much so that today they’re mostly forgotten or held in barely disguised contempt by those who do remember them.

Does their turn here hint at any forgotten greatness?  Not really no, although it’s probably an accurate snapshot of the act they’d honed playing many similar club gigs during the years prior to their big television break (they formed in the 1960’s, so the pair had spent a long time slogging around the unforgiving club circuit).  Syd attempts to sing a song but finds himself interrupted by Eddie in numerous ways (Quasimodo impressions, using his electric guitar as a sledgehammer, etc).  Personally, I saw them live in 1985 and thoroughly enjoyed their show, so maybe they were an act that worked better in the live environment.  On television their limitations were possibly more easily exposed.

Strongman Tony Brutus attempts to lift both Bernard Manning and the local Mayor off the ground.  This is an impressive, albeit brief, feat.  The specialty acts continue with the Barcias, who display some decent feats of agility.

Next up is vent act Terri Rogers.  Rogers was an interesting character – she was born male but underwent a sex-change operation in the early 1960’s.  This naturally enough generated a certain amount of publicity, but it didn’t prevent her from enjoying a lengthy career as both a magician and a ventriloquist – mainly in the clubs, although in later years she notched up appearances in Las Vegas and on American television.

The contrast between the highly coiffured Rogers (complete with tiara) and the somewhat tatty, slightly foul-mouthed doll is the best part of her turn, even though she may not be the greatest technical ventriloquist ever (I suspect the large microphone was strategically placed at times to obscure her moving lips!).

The show ends with a bona fide British showbusiness great – Lonnie Donegan, the King of Skiffle.  He was an influence on virtually every aspiring British musician in the 1950’s (including, most famously, The Beatles).  His later musical career was less successful, as tastes changed, so it’s not difficult to imagine him in this sort of club setting during the mid 1970’s.  Like the rest of the turns, he’s only got a few minutes to make his mark, but his energetic act certainly brings this edition of the Wheeltappers to an impressive end.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 4th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

The Wedgewoods
Beryl Calvert
Jimmy Jewel
Johnnie Wager, Union Man
Buddy Greco

First up are the Wedgewoods, a wholesome singing group.  They’re a vision in blue velvet and the highlight of their song must be when the camera pans into the audience to show us a man clapping with such grim determination that it’s possible to imagine there’s a gun pointing at him off camera!

Next is ventriloquist Beryl Calvert.  She’s quite well-spoken, whilst her doll sports a broad Liverpudlian accent.  It’s a decent act, although it only attracts polite laughter from the audience.  Beryl certainly doesn’t leave any stone unturned when attempting to tug at the heartstrings of the punters though (similar to the way that Keith Harris and Orville would later work).

Buddy Greco makes a brief appearance and he’s far from impressed with the piano he’s been given.  When he tells the chairman he requires a grand piano, he’s told that it’s the grandest they’ve got.  It’s not what he wants to hear, so he kicks the piano over and leaves the stage.  This forces Bernard to fill in, with the assistance of a drunk from the audience (played by Jimmy Jewel).

Jewel was a veteran British variety performer, who had enjoyed a thirty year partnership with his cousin Ben Warriss, before they went their separate ways in the late 1960’s.  After the split, Jewel would continue to rack up an impressive list of film and television credits well into the 1990’s.  At the time of this Wheeltappers appearance he would have been best known for the ITV sitcom Nearest and Dearest, where he appeared alongside Hylda Baker (famously, the pair detested each other in real life).

His comic talents are rather wasted here, as the “joke” is that Bernard and Jimmy perform a song which appears to get a rapturous reception.  But what they don’t realise is that the applause is for the stripper who’s appeared behind them.  So they continue to give encore after encore, whilst the stripper (Marie) takes off another item of clothing.  How long can this joke be stretched out?  Quite a way, it has to be said.

After the break, we’re launched into the middle of Valentino’s act.  It’s a compelling turn – although it might just be the ever-so shiny jacket that piqued my interest.  If you’ve ever wondered how Colonel Bogey would sound on the accordion when played in different countries, then this is the turn for you.  Valentino, born Jackie Farn, has enjoyed a long and successful career, rubbing shoulders with a host of showbiz greats (including the Beatles).  His official website, modestly called King of the Music is worth a look.

After a fairly laughter-free turn from Johnnie Wager, it’s a relief to learn that they’ve found Buddy Greco a decent piano and he’s returned to close the show.  Born in 1926, Greco is still going strong – a survivor from a classic era of music.  In the 1960’s he appeared with the Rat Pack and is a veteran of numerous Las Vegas engagements.  He brings a little of that glamour to the Wheeltappers, although the performance is slightly wonky – not necessarily his fault, since the band do seem to be playing different songs at the same time!

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 18th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Springfield Revival
Cannon and Ball
Julie Rogers
Eric Delaney
Tina Townsley
The Bachelors

The Springfield Revival open the show with a bouncy little number. They’re comprised of two white-suited gentleman strumming guitars and a lady in a blue dress shaking a tambourine for all she’s worth. There’s the odd cutaway shot to the audience who seem a little unenthused (but possibly it was early and the alcohol hadn’t begun to kick in yet). But they do manage to engage the audience in a singalong after their main number which warms them up a bit.

Tommy Cannon is introduced as a solo performer. He’s sporting an impressive brown suit complete with flares and a ruffled shirt. His sartorial eloquence somewhat detracts from his lusty attack on Summertime it has to be said. But Tommy’s moment in the spotlight doesn’t last long as an enthusiastic friend from the audience (Bobby, of course) can’t help but show his appreciation at Tommy’s star quality.

This doesn’t go down well with some members of the audience, who cry out “sit down, you’re spoiling his act”. Did they really not twig that Bobby was the other half of the double act? But it doesn’t take long before Bobby’s cheeky-chappy persona (and no doubt his politically incorrect song about a house full of Pakistanis) has won them round, which enables Bobby to milk the audience’s sympathy after Tommy orders him offstage.

You’d have been hard pushed from this spot to foresee that Cannon and Ball would go on to enjoy such a long run on ITV, but there’s clearly some spark there – even if their Wheeltappers debut is only fitfully amusing.

Julia Rogers, a vision in a sparkly pink dress, has an impressive set of lungs which she uses to belt out a couple of songs. Best known for her 1964 hit The Wedding, she has something of a Shirley Bassey feel. Given this, it’s possibly not surprising that she had a close encounter with the James Bond world – recording a demo of You Only Live Twice (albeit a different song from the one later recorded by Nancy Sinatra).

Upon Eric Delaney’s death in 2011, aged 87, many of his obituaries commented on his energetic stage persona. An inventive drummer – he pioneered the technique of playing the timpani with wire brushes – he’s good value during his short Wheeltappers appearance.

The arrival of Tina Townsley gains some murmurs of approval from the audience. Are they appreciating her baton twirling skills, or is it more to do her brief costume? Hmm, I wonder. She gets the opportunity to prove that she can twirl other things too – such as knives – although the act doesn’t really go anywhere. She appears, twirls some objects and then departs.

The Bachelors run through a medley of some of their greatest hits (Marie, Charmaine, Diane, Whispering). They then spotlight a number of songs which feature the banjo. And why not. By this point some members of the audience are warmed up enough to clap whilst others (such as a gentlemen in the front) contents himself by gently nodding his head from side to side. It’s not exactly a show-stopping finale, but it has a certain charm.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 11th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Norman Collier
Kathy Kirby
Jackie Allen & Barbara
Victor Burnett & June
Frank Ifield

Splinter are the first act to brave the stage tonight. A five piece (three women, two men) they give the sort of performance which seemed to be tailor-made for clubland. With each member of the group taking turns to trade vocal lines, it’s clearly a song that went down well with the audience – at the end we see a beaming lady of a certain age whilst a cloth-capped gentleman, fag in mouth, also gives them a hearty round of applause.

Norman Collier does his act with the dodgy microphone. Some unkind people might way that was his act, but he has more than one string to his bow. I wonder if his hats routine predated Tommy Cooper’s? But Collier sings as well as changes hats (which is something – possibly mercifully – Tommy never did).

Like a number of other performers, Kathy Kirby’s appearance at the Wheeltappers was an accurate summation of the current state of her career. One of the top female performers of the 1960’s, by the early 1970’s her professional life was stuttering somewhat, which makes it entirely probable that she would have had to ply her trade in venues such as this one. Her various obituaries, which appeared in 2011, filled in some detail about her career freefall.

She belts out a good version of You Won’t Find Another Fool.

Kirby then introduces Here I Go Again as the song she wanted to release as her latest single, but due to record company pressure was prevented from doing so. This might explain why she’s a little emotional at the start, although she rallies as the tempo picks up.

After the emotional drama of Kathy Kirby, Jackie Allen and Barbara offer some light relief on the xylophones. Jackie dishes out some baby xylophones to selected audience members which adds to the hilarity as he attempts to teach them how to play. Interestingly – well I think so – when Jackie began his career he was partnered by his cousin Barbara. But when his wife-to-be, Irene Spencer, took her place, they decided to keep the name “Barbara”. They had a long career, first appearing on the wireless via shows such as Variety Bandbox and Workers’ Playtime which – prior to the dominance of television – united a large part of the nation.

Today’s show must have been underrunning as Bernard is given the opportunity to do a spot of crooning. It’s always a jolt to realise that Bernard Manning could carry a tune very well.

Victor Burnett is an old-style sort of magician. No rabbits alas, but top hats are in evidence. The fact he remains mute means that the illusions have to do the talking for him. There’s nothing staggering to be found here, but I daresay it’s an accurate picture of a typical club magicians act, so it’s of interest from that perspective.

Frank Ifield, like the other headliners from this era, doesn’t have a great deal of time to make an impression, but thanks to an energetic Waltzing Matilda (he’s Australian you know) he manages to engage the audience. I would have liked to hear I Remember You, but you can’t have everything I guess.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 26th May 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Mrs Mills
Dave and Amos
Eve Boswell
The Fivepenny Piece
Peter Wheeler, Schoolmaster
The Leaways
Gene Pitney

Today’s show opens with Mrs Mills in full swing. There are few things finer in life than a good old singalong and Mrs Mills’ jaunty piano playing certainly energises the audience, who whole-heartily join her in familiar old standards such as My Old Man. It’s interesting that her brush with fame only occurred quite late in life (she made her debut television appearance with Billy Cotton, aged 43, in 1961). I now have a faint inclination to track down some of her LPs (most of which had the word “party” in the title) and singles (Mrs Mills’ Minstrel Medley sounds intriguing).

Bernard seems to be enjoying Dave and Amos’ performance, as his hearty chuckles are very audible. Or is he simply amusing himself by disrupting their act? More the latter than the former I think. Dave and Amos might be a double act, but unlike, say, Cannon & Ball they weren’t comprised of a straight man and a comic. Instead, both are somewhat off the wall (for the Wheeltappers environment anyway) and eschew traditional gags for something a little different. It might not quite work, but you have to admire them for taking the risk (although had Bernard kept quiet it might have worked a little better).

Eve Boswell pops up to sing her big hit. Pickin’ a Chicken reached number nine on the hit parade in 1956. No, I’ve never heard of it either but one of the joys of the Wheeltappers series is discovering little nuggets of entertainment history which have previously passed me by. As ever with the show, the audience – especially those in the front row, energetically clapping along – are sometimes as entertaining as the performers on stage.

Lancashire’s finest, The Fivepenny Piece, are up next – although since there are six of them shouldn’t they have been called The Sixpenny Piece? I enjoyed their folksy song I Don’t Know If I Wanna Go Home. They have a rather comprehensive website which lists all of their television appearances. I have to confess that I’d rather like to see some of the series they made in the late seventies – MH and 5p in 1978, where they shared the stage with Mike Harding, or their own four part show the following year. Maybe one day they might surface on DVD – it seems unlikely, but stranger things have been released. Although those who crave some more 5p action should check out the sixth and final series of the Wheeltappers which features them throughout one of the shows.

It’s a laughter-free zone when Peter Wheeler stands up to play a schoolmaster. If you can’t guess some of the punchlines (apologising for the drunkenness in school which turns out to be – wait for it – the teachers not the pupils) then you’ve clearly led a very sheltered life (or not experienced comedy of this type).

The Leaways are a rather good acrobatic act. He’s very tattooed (something which is commonplace now, but would have stood out much more forty years ago) whilst she – as is traditional – wears very little. The accompanying music – Moon River and others – seems a little out of place but it doesn’t detract too much from their feats of balancing – which, given the small stage, was probably a little tricky.

After a brief snatch of 24 Hours from Tulsa (rudely interrupted by Colin Crompton) Gene Pitney launches into a spirited rendition of Princess in Rags. He then closes the show with a song he wrote for Ricky Nelson, Hello Mary Lou. Personally I would have dropped Peter Wheeler so we could have heard all of Tulsa – as always with this era of the show, the turns are very limited for time.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 27th July 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Brotherhood of Man
Franklyn James
P.J. Proby
Los Tres Hermanos
Alex Sisters
Russ Conway

The Brotherhood of Man are simply a vision. Once you’ve finished goggling at their stage clothes then you can appreciate their full-throttled musical attack. They’re definitely not holding back as they rattle through Reach out Your Hand. A storming start to the show.

It seemed to be the law that every impressionist during the 1970’s had to take off Frank Spencer and Franklyn James doesn’t disappoint on that score. But he also mimics both Colin Crompton and Bernard Manning (Bernard seems to enjoy this) which is a nice touch. Some of his other subjects couldn’t really be more seventies if they tried – Peters and Lee, for example – whilst he also tackles some classic Western stars. Just about tolerable.

If there’s one fact that everybody knows about P.J. Proby then it’s that he once split his trousers. No such trouble on that score today as his denim trouser suit looks to be very secure. As with the Brotherhood of Man, his intensity is something to marvel at – although whether he’s being serious or just taking the mickey is a moot point. I’ve a terrible feeling that he’s being dead serious ….

Either way, it’s an unforgettable spot.

There’s no respite in this show. After still reeling from P.J. Proby, Los Tres Hermanos bounce onto the stage. There’s three of them (naturally) and are identically decked out with white trousers, red polka dot shirts and natty little red hats. With such a name, you might expect a traditional Mexican song …. instead they treat us to Tie A Yellow Ribbon. This undemanding singalong fare hits the spot with the audience, who give them the biggest cheer of the night so far.

A female double-act during this era was an unusual sight. I’ve not been able to source a great deal of information about the Alex Sisters – so I don’t know whether the act they perform here (one sings a serious song whilst the other – dressed as Charlie Chaplin – attempts to upstage her) was one they did on a regular basis. “Charlie” is, as you’d expect, silent throughout and manages to milk the audience’s sympathy when she’s ordered off the stage (all together now, “awwwww”).

Top of the bill is Russ Conway. He gives the audience what they want by opening with his biggest hit, Side Saddle (1959). His spot is thoroughly charming and following some of the more wonkier delights on today’s bill, closes the show in style. Unlike some of today’s acts, there’s no shortage of Russ Conway information out there and I recommend this website for all your Conway needs.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 3rd August 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Amazing Bavarian Stompers
David Copperfield
Barbara Sharon
Susan Maughan
Paul Wynter
Winifred Atwell

What can you say about the Amazing Bavarian Stompers? If you like oom-pah music then this is the act for you. They’re still going strong today, with a website and Twitter feel, which obviously suggests there’s a market for this sort of thing. The Wheeltappers crowd, pints in one hand and pennies in the other, seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously as they use the coins to tap out a relentless beat.

The one from Three of a Kind who wasn’t Lenny Henry or Tracy Ullman, David Copperfield has tended to exist in the shadows of his more illustrious later co-stars, but his solo spot here (which would seem to be his earliest television appearance) isn’t too shabby at all. A mixture of music, comedy, magic and ventriloquism, it’s very decent. His red suit is nice as well.

As has happened before, when it’s adverts time Colin Crompton announces that they’ll entertain themselves with a nice game of bingo. But this is only a cover story, as they’re really enjoying the stripper (Barbara Sharon) and it’s only due to a spot of miscuing from the vision mixer that the punters at home receive a flash – as it were – of anything titillating.

Like a number of other Wheeltappers acts, Susan Maughan’s career peaked in the 1960’s with success a little harder to find in the following decades. She’s still able to entertain the packed crowd though and her two songs are passable fare.

Twice a winner of the Mr Universe contest, Paul Wynter’s appearance has to be one of the strangest seen so far on the Wheeltappers. He begins by flexing his impressive muscles and then moves on to bending a nail. It’s a pity that the camera isn’t able to pick up the bent nail, so we have to assume from the warm applause that he actually did bend it. Wynter then uses a karate chop on a piece of wood, shattering it in two, before bending an iron bar. Well it was the 1970’s, so possibly people were more easily impressed. As Wynter doesn’t speak, it’s down to Colin Crompton to keep the audience informed (“he’s now pulling a funny face”).

Pianists are obviously a big draw at the Wheeltappers. Last week it was Russ Conway, today it’s Winifred Atwell who tickles the ivories. She had a string of instrumental hits throughout the 1950’s and as her performance here demonstrates, still had the magic touch. An entertaining end to a bill which is a typical Wheeltappers mixed-bag.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 10th August 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Remember This
Duggie Brown
The Multichords
The Playmates
Roy Orbison

Remember This open the show with a bracing blast of Rock ‘n’ Roll nostalgia. It seems odd to think that by the mid seventies this type of music had already become a period piece, but I guess that’s musical trends for you. The band are dressed like a scruffy version of Showaddywaddy and if their energetic performance isn’t eye-catching enough then there’s two dancers – a man and a woman – placed centre stage to inject a little more oomph. It’s good stuff (Rock ‘n’ Roll Music is the main song they cover) although Colin Crompton (reading the Beano) seems less impressed with them ….

An old face from The Comedians, Duggie Brown faces attacks on two fronts – Bernard on the left and Colin on the right. Presumably his put-downs to them were off the cuff (like all club comedians he no doubt had to face down his fair share of hecklers). That’s easily the best part of his spot, as his gags are fairly ordinary (but his confidence and sheer personality enables him to make a decent impression). Since there’s only five acts today, this allows some turns to get a little longer – Brown is one recipient of this generosity as he’s able to close his act with a fairly straight song at the piano.

The Multichords are up after the commercial break. There’s two of them, playing their harmonicas for all they’re worth (and not just through their mouths either). Don’t worry, it’s nothing too terrible – one of them elects to play Wooden Heart via their nose. This is the sort of act I find fascinating – not least since you can’t help but wonder whether they were able to sustain a decent living from it. I’ve not been able to find out too much about them, but my researches continue.

Described by Bernard as a “knockabout act”, the first member of the Playmates (she’s blonde and wearing very little) draws an appreciative ripple from the audience. The other playmate – he’s small and goofy – isn’t likely to stir any hearts but the incongruity of their partnership is no doubt what makes it work. There’s a few decent acrobatic moves thrown in, but it’s mainly an excuse for the man to race around the audience prodding the females. Well, it’s a living.

Quite what Roy Orbison, waiting backstage, would have made of this is anybody’s guess but by the mid seventies he would have been quite familiar with the typical clubland bill. After the hits dried up, he made a decent living (if not an artistically satisfying one) by touring venues like the Wheeltappers.

Needless to say, The Big O is the class act of tonight’s show. Gifted ten minutes (a generous amount of time for this era of the programme) he sings three songs – Lana, Sweet Mama Blue (the current single) and Oh Pretty Woman. It’s just annoying that Oh Pretty Woman plays over the credits (and is cut short as well). Baffling that Orbison’s biggest hit received this treatment – maybe in retrospect trimming a few minutes from Duggie Brown’s act would have been the sensible move.

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 17th August 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Aphrodite and the Grecian Kings
Los Magicos
The Crickets
The Grumbleweeds
Johnnie Ray

Unusually, today Bernard gets an introduction at the top of the show (normally, we cut into his song when it’s already in full swing). The audience have clearly been primed to wave red cards at him whilst he’s in mid-croon (the reason for this is lost in the mists of time).

With a name like Aphrodite and the Grecian Kings you’re primed for something special – and they don’t disappoint. There’s three chaps – all visions in white – whilst a blond lady sings a song in Greek (at least to begin with). When she’s not singing she gyrates around in a fashion that I’m sure the males in the audience appreciated.

Are they being serious or is it a comedy act? I’d say the latter, but with some of the turns you get at the Wheeltappers you can never be sure. It’s a rum old opening that’s for sure – when this lady sings, nobody sleeps.

Magic’s up next, with Los Magicos taking to the stage. He’s dressed in a stunning white suit, complete with flares, whilst his female helper has a similar (if somewhat abbreviated) outfit. He’s a dove man – he makes the birds appear, then he makes them disappear. Scarves and more birds (for variety, an owl) are also pulled out of a box. Fair to say that these are only modest thrills.

After the fairly average entertainment derived from the first two acts, things pick up with the arrival of the Crickets. Although a number of new members had joined during the 1960’s, the presence of Jerry Allison was a direct link to Buddy Holly which therefore makes them slightly more than just another covers band. It’s only a short spot – two songs – but it’s pretty decent.

The conceit of the Grumbleweeds’ act is that their stage clothes haven’t turned up, so they’ve been forced to use whatever they can find backstage. This includes a Musketeers costume, what seems at first to be a football kit (but turns out to be a dress), a nappy(!), a school uniform and a swimming costume. Their song routine – based on endless repetition – isn’t subtle but it’s funnier than many of the comedians who have graced the Wheeltapppers stage so far.

Given that they clearly had some visual flair, it’s slightly surprising that they never really seemed to be at their best on television (their 1980’s ITV series was only fitfully amusing). Instead it was radio where they made their mark.

The Wheeltappers, no doubt reflecting the reality of clubland, tended to feature a fair few acts who had been famous once upon a time but who had then faded into obscurity. Yana is an excellent example of this. At the height of her fame – in the late 1950’s – she had her own BBC television show and also crossed over to America, appearing with both Ed Sullivan and Bob Hope, but by the following decade she had become yesterday’s woman.

So by 1974, possibly only the older members of the audience (which, luckily, tended to be most of them) would have remembered her. Yana’s style was to breathe out a song (like Move Over Darling) whilst fondling and kissing various men in the audience. She also invites one lucky chap onstage, where he gets right into the swing of things (jigging in time to the music like nobody’s business). Possibly he was a plant, but I like to think he was simply an ordinary punter who had one drink too many. This is an odd little sequence, but one that also perfectly sums up the Wheeltappers experience.

Another blast from the past – Johnnie Ray – is today’s top of the bill. Cited by Tony Bennett as being the true father of rock ‘n’ roll, he rattles through a few familiar songs (most notably his UK number one, Just Walking in the Rain). It’s a slightly wonky listen, mainly because the regular house band aren’t the tightest, but Ray’s star quality – like Yana, he works the crowd well – shines through.

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.

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
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 – 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 December 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

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 – 15th February 1975


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 – 22nd February 1975


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 – 1st March 1975


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 – 8th March 1975


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.