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 – 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 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.