It was a phenomenon of the 1960’s, the “Theatre Club”, a step up from the Working Mens Clubs that the populace fraternised of a weekend, Wakefield had one, but the most famous was the Batley Variety Club.
Your average Working Mens Club of that era would attract a regular crowd from its local streets, mainly of men, in fact through the weekday nights it would be only populated by men and usually only the bar would be open – the “bar” being reserved exclusively for men whilst the “lounge” would be for those unfortunate men who had been coerced into bringing their wives out with them, and even under these circumstances it would only be a matter of a few minutes before the menfolk sneaked off out of the lounge for the comfort of the men-only bar.
“Turns” on a weekend evening were the big attraction and Saturday night involved households in the locality being a hive of women activity as beehive hairdo’s were lacquered up or perms poked and prodded into shape until finally with their husbands standing at the back door tapping their watches and declaring that all the seats would have gone by now, the women of the town would emerge onto the streets and clik-clak their way through the cobbled lanes to “the Club” for a night of “getting kay-li’ed” and listening to a “Turn” who would only sound good after several Cherry-B’s or Babychams.
Batley Variety Club was a step up from this normality, for Batley Variety Club was a Theatre Club, a place where you only went for a treat, it had carpet on the floor for starters a thing unheard of in many Working Mens Clubs, carpet on the floor and instead of perching on hard vinyl covered stools around a small circular table all night long, at the Variety Club you sat in your own little “pod” on plush velvet benches, five couples to a circular “pod” with an open end facing the stage, hundreds of these “pods” arranged in tiered rows from the huge stage right to the back of the room – a wonder to behold.
But two remarkable things distinguished the Variety Club from the run-of-the-mill Working Mens Club, they fed you during the night, and they attracted the worlds top performing acts.
When I say they fed you, they fed you with a dish that had been specially invented for the clubland audience – the ubiquitous chicken-in-a-basket, several small pieces of fried chicken and a pile of chips inside a raffia basket that was declared by all and sundry to be the height of sophistication and the highlight of the evening, people would not eat at all for 24 hours before visiting Batley Variety Club just so that they would enjoy their chicken-in-a-basket all the more.
And when I say they attracted the worlds top performing acts I mean the worlds top performing acts that were going through a bit of a drought year and looking to make a quick couple of grand in cash for a one night gig, enough to keep their house in Buckinghamshire going for a few more months before the creditors found them – and now after having said that I daren’t name any of those acts for fear of “the sue”, so I shall start a new paragraph to distance the acts from this outrageous comment.
Acts like Dusty Springfield, The Bee Gees, Roy Orbison and Tom Jones were commonplace at Batley, following the chicken-in-a-basket and taking to the stage to the smell of cooking oil and the sound of smacking lips to entertain the masses of coal miners and mill workers and then get off stage and into the taxi before the fight started.
I travelled to Batley Variety Club on at least three occasions of my memory, to see Guys and Dolls, The Brotherhood of Man, and The Grumbleweeds – what did I say about the worlds top performing acts ?
Guys and Dolls, a six piece vocal group who had as their selling point one of Bruce Forsyths daughters in their midst and a record in the hit parade “Theres a whole lot of lovin”, complete shite they were and I only mention them here to impress those folks who watch the likes of “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” for of course Guys and Dolls were the first incarnation of the poisoned dwarf David Van Day and the wicked witch of the west of a girlfriend of his Theresa whats-her-face – I can idly boast that I saw DvD “in his prime” for what it is worth.
The Brotherhood of Man were appearing on the back of their Eurovision Song Contest win when I paid with my own money to join a bus trip to Batley to see them one saturday night, the most memorable event of the evening being the dash to the bus park afterwards to avoid the fight which was of a classic wild west stylee that night.
And then The Grumbleweeds. No-one not from The North will ever have heard of The Grumbleweeds, so famous were they when again I paid with my own money to join a bus trip to Batley, but at least they were funny, they weren’t very funny, just funny, their mix of comedy and song and extracting the urine from other of the worlds top performing acts hurriedly brought to a close at around midnight when someone looked at someone else’s wife for a nanosecond too long and the fight started.
Batley Variety Club, chicken-in-a-basket, a worlds top performing act and a fight, all for a fiver…