Theatre Reminiscences – What I learned from my next ten shows – 1971-1972

And now another plunge into my early days of theatregoing. Hold tight!

image(143) 11. To See Such Fun – London Palladium, 25th April 1971.
The first proper revue show I ever saw, I went with my Dad because we were both great fans of the legendary Tommy Cooper, who topped the bill, but the show also starred the great names Clive Dunn, Anita Harris and Russ Conway. What I learned from this show is that it’s acceptable to laugh hysterically – as I remember doing, from Tommy Cooper’s very first appearance to his final trick. I was so thrilled by this show – it probably remained my favourite show (I reserve the right to change my mind on that statement) until A Chorus Line came along and blew everything away for me five years later.

I only got one autograph – but that too was a memorable experience. Standing outside the Stage Door about an hour before the show started, some guy came up to us and said that if we wanted to see Tommy Cooper, he was just finishing his dinner over there – and he pointed towards a greasy spoon that is now the swish O’Neills pub on the corner of Carnaby Street and Great Marlborough Street. So we went over there, and there was the great man, sitting in front of an empty plate that had obviously contained fried eggs, baked beans and chips, signing autographs for a queue of people. I joined the queue, and he kindly signed.


12. Boeing-Boeing – Lido Theatre, Cliftonville, July 1971.
Our week’s summer holiday in 1971 was to Ramsgate – we always went to the best places. One of the shows we saw that week was Boeing-Boeing, Marc Camoletti’s 1962 comedy that refuses to go away, even though the recently planned tour was cancelled due to poor advance sales – pity, as it’s one of the finest modern farces, superbly structured and a wonderful example of bringing a lovable louse to justice. I guess it is a little dated now. But I remember this fondly. This is another example of the lesson Look After Your Programme – it rained that day and the programme got soggy so we chucked it. Nowadays I’d know to keep it under my coat! The cast featured Kenneth Connor (of the Carry On films), McDonald Hobley, who was primarily a TV presenter and continuity announcer, and Yutte Stensgaard, who I remember as being one of the hostesses on TV’s The Golden Shot and appeared in some racy horror movies in the 1970s.

13. The Toast of the Town – The Granville Ballroom, Ramsgate, July 1971.
Not the Talk of the Town – that was something far more glamorous! Sadly the Granville Ballroom was demolished in the 1980s – proof that we have to protect our live venues. I remember clearly that this little show delivered more than it promised; a hilarious cast with some great sketches, including “The Jumble Sale”, a variation of which you see frequently at pantos today – “If I were not upon the stage something else I’d rather be…” to which various performers with silly moves add their lines and end up in a deliberately choreographic mess. I remember it featured a vicar singing “nylon panties, nylon panties, look at them stretch”, a robust young lady shouting “crumpet, crumpet, come and have a nibble” and an effete young man with the lines “pansies, pansies, don’t you think they’re Oh so gay”. Not that acceptable today, but done with huge panache.

The cast were “yodelling cowboy” Ronnie Winters, Colin Beach, Sonny Day and Nola Collins, and many of them signed my programme. A little research shows that Ronnie and Nola were married, and their daughter Mandy still performs in the family tradition.

14. John Mann’s Show – Granville Theatre, Ramsgate, July 1971.
I completely draw a blank on this show I’m afraid – I have no memories of it whatsoever! No autographs either, so perhaps I wasn’t in the zone. John Mann (who retired in 2018) was on the organ, and the show also featured Roy Greenslade, Roger Smith, Ricky and Shirlie Young, and Myra Sands, whom we only saw last year in one of the Lost Musicals.


15. Moscow State Circus – Wembley Empire Pool, August 1971.
image(135)It may be odd to include this show in theatre reminiscences, but I still have the programme and also the memory of an enormously entertaining show. I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoy clowns, and Oleg Popov was the Master of the genre and I loved watching him. My other main memory of this show is that it was a matinee, due to start at 3pm, when the orchestra started the show with three musical strikes (to suggest the clock striking 3). However… for whatever reason, the show was delayed and didn’t start until about 3.20pm – nevertheless the orchestra still had to start with the three musical notes. I learned from that experience that it’s not always wise to tie down a start time that firmly!

16. Cinderella – London Palladium, 3rd January 1972.
image(134)Theatre is never an island; your own experiences and those in the theatre are inextricably linked. I say this because three days before Mum took me to see Cinderella at the Palladium, my dad died. I was 11; she was widowed at 50. In retrospect, I still don’t know whether the decision to go ahead with going to the panto was a wise one or not. It probably was, as I remember enjoying it – it provided a couple of hours of light relief at an otherwise very sad time. Much harder for my mother though, who put on her stiff upper lip throughout, but I remember looking at her from time to time and thinking she’d never looked so sad; and wondering whether it was fair of me to still ask to go to the panto despite everything.

But we did; and it was a typically glamorous and showbizzy affair. Ronnie Corbett as Buttons, Clodagh Rodgers (who’d just represented the UK at Eurovision) as Cinderella, and Terry Scott and Julian Orchard were the Ugly Sisters. Malcolm (May I Have the Next Dream with You) Roberts was Prince Charming. I got a few autographs, including David Kossoff and 1960s favourite Dorothy Dampier, but I remember the whole event being tinged with sadness.

17. Give a Dog a Bone – Westminster Theatre, January 1972.

image(148)This Christmas Show came back every year from 1964 to 1975 and the Saturday Morning Drama School that I attended had a school visit to see the show. It was written by Peter Howard, head of the Moral Re-Armament movement, and I expect it was the heavy Moral/Christian element of the story that made it feel very worthy but not very sophisticated. What I learned from this show was an ability to start honing my critical faculties where it came to theatre, because, in comparison with all the other shows I’d seen, this was deathly dull. Too childish and patronising for my taste. I hated it!

Although I have to confess, I do still sing “I Dream of Ice Cream” to myself at regular intervals. “I Dream of Ice Cream, sausages and cake. Things that you chew, things that you bake. It’s such a nice dream, I’m afraid to wake, when I dream of ice cream, sausages and cake.” Music by Ivor Novello, lyrics by Sir Noel Coward, as the late Terry Wogan would have said.

18. Move Over Mrs Markham – Vaudeville Theatre, July 1972.

This is more like it! A very funny, Ray Cooney and John Chapman farcical comedy, where a one-bedroomed flat is the target for three sets of illicit lovers, none of whom know that the others have the same intent. Cue a couple of hours of trendy early 70s stage naughtiness. I remember that I absolutely loved it – and my mother did too, so it was nice to see her enjoying theatre again (although all that was to change when you see the next entry!)

It had a terrific cast, many of whom I met at the stage door afterwards and were generous with their time and their autographs. Dinah Sheridan, Tony Britton, Diane Hart, Terence Alexander and even Dame Cicely Courtneidge were all lovely. And the programme features loads of photographs from the production, which brings it all back in glorious monochrome!

19. The Comedians – London Palladium, July 1972.
image(117)What I learned from this show is that a successful product in one format does not necessarily translate into a successful product in another format! Granada TV’s The Comedians was a big hit at the time and made stars of the likes of Bernard Manning, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin, with its innovative editing and nightclub style presentation. On the vast stage of the Palladium, most of these comics looked and felt very sad indeed. I had particularly wanted to see this show, but Mother was not keen, feeling that their acts were an unfortunate cross between coarse and Northern, not sure which was the more offensive to her! As it was, my memory of it was that their material was very disappointing and not very funny.

The six comics who presented this show were Mike Reid, Dave Butler, Jos White, Jimmy Marshall, Charlie Williams and Ken Goodwin. When I was hunting autographs at the Stage Door Jimmy Marshall didn’t endear himself to my mother by bumping into her as he wasn’t looking where he was going, and she put on her affronted look. And Ken Goodwin ended his act with a very schmaltzy and sentimental number, and as soon as he sang the words “absence makes the heart grow fonder they say” all her inner griefs exploded and she burst into loud uncontrollable tears in the middle of the stalls, much to the embarrassment of those around, including myself. So another lesson I learned was to make sure of the material on offer in a show when you have a volatile parent!

20. The Mating Game – Apollo Theatre, London, August 1972.

I got on much better with this fast, funny and sexy farce (yes, I know I was just 12) with a brilliant cast and a show full of laughter. Terry Scott led the cast, with Aimi Macdonald, Clive Francis, Avril Angers and Julia Lockwood. I remember the first scene very clearly, where Mr Francis is luring Miss Macdonald back to his bed for a night of shenanigans only to find Mr Scott already in it.

Written by Robin Hawdon, and directed by Ray Cooney, this had a long run and enjoyed very many successful international transfers. Julia Lockwood was the daughter of Margaret Lockwood and retired from acting a few years later. Clive Francis is the father of Harry Francis, one of the best young actor/dancers on stage today. All the cast were charming when I met them at the stage door afterwards.

And there you have it for today’s reminiscences. My next blog post, probably on Tuesday, will be back on the holiday snaps and we’ll be in Austria in 1989.

Review – Moscow State Circus, Babushkin Sekret, Derngate, Northampton, 16th January 2012

Moscow State CircusYou’re either a circus person or you’re not. When I was young, I wanted to run away and join the circus. When Mrs C was young, she wanted to run away and join a group of travelling accountants. Well, neither of those stories are strictly true, but you get the picture of the difference between us. Last year we – I won’t say “enjoyed” – “witnessed” is perhaps more appropriate – the performance of the Chinese State Circus at the Derngate. Mrs C made me promise absolutely “No More Circuses” as a result. Trouble is, me and the Moscow State Circus go back a long way. Oleg PopovI saw them when I was 10 at the Wembley Empire Pool (showing my age), and again in my early 20s at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road, and both occasions they had the legendary clown Oleg Popov, who really was amazing, and who I’m delighted to read is still going strong at the age of 81. So I hoped the passing months would eradicate the bad memory of the Chinese affair and I snuck in these tickets to the Moscow State Circus in the hope that She Wouldn’t Notice Until It Was Too Late.

Valerik and ValikThe Moscow State Circus really is, and always has been in my book, a class above your average circus, and I’m delighted to say I feel my decision to book was fully justified in the light of last night’s performance – and not to say a little relieved. It’s not perfect by any means. Similar to the Chinese State Circus, they do for some reason feel compelled to structure the show around a rather artificial story. Babushkin’s Secret is based on the legend of the Twelve Chairs. You’re not familiar with it? You do surprise me. Whilst it does serve as a framework as such, the twist at the end of the story makes for a very disappointing punchline in circus terms. Much better simply to get on with doing what they do best – circus acts.

Yana AlievaOur clowning hosts are Valerik (the straight man) and Valik (the red nosed one), in real life, Valery Kashkin and Valentina Rumyantseva. They strike up a good interaction with the audience and Valerik also proves himself very deft on the stepladder and with a spot of juggling. Comparisons with Popov would be odious, but I did laugh at them, and even Mrs C was occasionally wryly amused.

Four VassilievsTaking the acts in order of performance, we had Yana Alieva’s wonderful hula hoop act, contorting herself in a revolving ring high above the stage; then one of the real highlights of the evening, the Four Vassilievs, who do a spectacular horizontal bar act. Two of the Vassilievs are basically used as bar stands, but it is Vassiliev #3 who does the leaping and twirling who has an extraordinary skill.

VeslovskiysAccording to the programme, we should then have seen the “Fat Man” doing his Revolutions; but there was no fat man last night. Maybe he was off sick. Maybe he had lost weight, suggested Mrs C. Instead we had a bonus act of a couple of Wild West rodeo lassoers and whip-crackawayers. Not sure how they would have fitted in to Babushkin’s Sekret, but we’ll move on. They were excellent – and I recognised them later on as the Veslovskiys, headed by Gennadiy Veslovskiy, who did a thrilling rollerskating act.

Sasha Doktorov and Yulia TsurikovaThen it was the turn of Sasha Doktorov and Yulia Tsurikova, incredibly skilful gymnastic acrobats revolving high above the stage, a very controlled and strong couple. Next was the Rubtsovs Skakalki, a skipping act. It’s much better than it sounds, although to be honest, I felt that if you were a skipper of this level of ability, you probably could have made the act a little more interesting. That’s just me – I’m not over-experienced in the noble art of skipping. To come to terms with her excitement at this act Mrs C started searching her pockets for a dry-cleaning ticket to read.

Professor BulakovThe second half started with a probably my favourite of the night, High Jinks with Professor Bulakov. I thought it was going to be just another clownish pratfall type act, but it develops into an immensely skilful and funny trampolining act. Won’t give the game away, but do be careful if you’re sat in the front row! Vladimir Georgievskiy is the real Professor Bulakov, and I really loved his act.

Katiya DrozdovaWhilst Bulakov and Valerik drown away their sorrows over a bottle of vodka, Katiya Drozdova appears as the doll on the Music Box. This is another contortionist acrobatic act, and she’s highly skilful and watchable. Sasha Doktorov comes back to reach the Twelfth Chair – and it’s an awe-inspiring display of balance and strength. Finally the Rubtsovs came back doing their Flying Jesters routine, a lot of exciting tumbling and crowd pleasing acrobatics.

Rubtsovs As we were leaving the theatre, Professor Bulakov was having his picture taken with loads of kids. I was officially jealous. The good news is that, on the strength of this performance, Mrs C said we can see another circus in 2014. If you like your circuses, this one’s a treat.