The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club – 27th April 1974

wheel s01e03

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.

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