The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 31st December 1974

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Tonight’s Turns:

Design
Charlie Williams
Kristine Sparkle
Brother Lees
Matt Monro
Freddie Garrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 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.

 

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 – 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 – 8th March 1975

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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.