X Factor, TV talent contests and ramble on…

Its easy to say “it was better in my day”, sometimes its just a reflex reaction, sometimes its actually true, often its not.

When ah wor nobbut a lad there was no X Factor, imagine that kids eh, no X Factor, what did we watch of a Saturday night in the three months before christmas, well, we went out actually, out of doors, out into the big bad world and we went to pubs, and we got very drunk.

But sometimes in some of those pubs there would be a singer, or what you now call “a band” although back in the day “a band” would have played hymns and the Hovis advert tune on brass instruments and they would have been boo’ed out of the sort of pubs I frequented when ah wor nobbut a lad.

And that dear folk, is how people made their way in the entertainment business back in the day, they stood up in pubs and clubs and they sang for beer and when they got better they sang for money and occasionally a man in a mohair suit would step from the crowd, remove the fat cigar from his mouth and proclaim “You’re a star, you’re a star. lamé suit and a new guitar, and I know that you’ll go far ‘cos you’re a star” just like on the TV Show “New Faces”.

My father knew a “good turn” when he saw one, he told us all the time that he could spot a “good turn” when he saw one for he never called singers and bands , “singers and bands”, to him they were all “the turn” and if there was no “the turn” on at a pub or club then he didn’t go there, my father could not sit in a pub and chat over a pint, he had to have a “the turn” on or the night was ruined.

“Where you going tonight ?” he’d ask me or Ned most Saturday nights
“The Woodman” we’d say
“Who’s on ?” he’d ask
“What do you mean ?” we’d say
“The turn, who’s the turn ?” he’d ask
“There is no turn, its The Woodman” we’d say
“Bloody rubbish” he’d mutter and become disinterested

And every Monday evening we’d gather as a family around the second hand colour TV Set, bought from off the street outside his mate Plews’s Second Hand Furniture Shop, and he’d tune it in to Hughie Greens “Opportunity Knocks”, a task that took considerable effort for this was in the day before TV remote controls, can you imagine that kids, our dad had to get up off his seat and walk all the way across the room to press a button on the TV set and then thump it very hard on the right hand side to stabilise the picture, “button ?”, look up the word “button” in a dictionary.

And the ingratiating and at the same time condescending Canadian Hughie Green would present HIS show to us spellbound Brits, and there was no doubt that on any of HIS shows the show was all about HIM, and in that “I know everything, me” way of his he’d tell us who we were going to worship on the altar of light entertainment for the next few months – a man who rippled his muscles to “tea for two”, a singing dog (yes really, it beat Sue Pollard one week), or an annoying singing duo who sang in the same key with no harmony at all and one of them was blind so got the sympathy vote.

Because he haunted the club singing circuit our dad would, without fail, proclaim at some point during each and every episode of Opportunity Knocks , “Seen him/her/them at [insert name of working mans club]” and he would then go through a long drawn out routine of how good or how bad they were, how Brian had paid them off once at East End Park Club and how they shouldn’t have done that song at all but another one which they did better, in short our dad managed hundreds of acts in his own mind, knew what clubs he’d book them at, what songs they should sing, which were their strong and weak gags, had written in his head their whole catalogue – and would then be devastated every week when the studio vote went completely against his opinion and then devastated again the week after when the postal vote came in.

For yes, back in the day there was no such thing as Premium line phone voting technology, to vote for the winning act on Opportunity Knocks you had to get off your arse and walk down to the post office, buy a plain postcard, write Hughie Greens address on one side and on the reverse write the name of your favourite act, then purchasing a stamp you were expected to lick said stamp, stick it on the front of the postcard and walk a bit further to a post box to post it – only after several days when Hughie actually received the postcard and either counted it or binned it (depending on who he wanted to win that week) would your vote be acknowledged.

Our dad never went to all that trouble but he’d feel an obligation to exclaim loudly when the vote was wrong or agree smugly when it concurred with his last-weeks-opinion, and then one day he actually was instrumental in getting a club comedian a big break in TV…


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