So the working mens club entertainment scene is big in our family home in the 1970s, I think I’ve covered that ground, if he’s not grabbing the microphone and singing his range of Sinatra songs or repeating “gags” that he’s heard professional comedians recount, our dad is at the very least scouring the monthly “club book” for “turns” that he hasn’t seen yet, or “turns” that he has seen but wasn’t quick enough to write their best gags down.
And at some point during this time he manages to put his hand up for the post of Concert Secretary at his local Conservative Club, you remember, the Conservative Club where no-one had ever voted for the Conservatives.
As Concert Secretary you got to go to Jim Winsors club in Leeds on audition nights and peruse the sometimes dubious talent on show with an intention of filling the Saturday and Sunday night entertainment slots at your own club and in doing so of course you got to meet “the turns”.
One such turn doing the rounds was Paul Shane, comedian of the parish, yes, THAT Paul Shane, the bloke off “Hi-de-Hi”, yes, the one who’s acting always seemed to be, well, acting, but who was in fact a very, very good club comedian, I know because our dad persuaded me to go see him once and it was the only time ever that I agreed with our dad as to the quality of a turn on at one of the clubs, Paul Shane was a first rate comedian of that there is no doubt.
Crap actor though.
Word gets round quickly on the club circuit and soon Paul Shane’s diary was booked at least twelve months in advance and he was making a nice living telling the same routine two or three times a week with the need to change the jokes only once a year or so, such was the life of a club comedian compared to TV comedians who need a constant supply of new gags.
There is a back story to this story – our dad worked for a company with a head office in Swindon and one of the directors of that company had served in Burma during the war, had been a Japanese prisoner of war, and later helped to organise The Burma Star Association, a veterans organisation designed to help the survivors of that particular campaign and imprisonment – their biggest fund raiser was the once a year event when they hired The Royal Albert Hall in London and put on a star-studded variety bill with lots of top acts giving their services on expenses only and lots of very rich folk being fleeced for money.
One year our dad took a call from his director which went somewhere along the lines of
“I say old chap, you’re from the North aren’t you ?”
“Erm, yes” replied our dad looking out of his office window at “the north”
“So you will know about these, erm, how do you say, working mans clubs, what ?”
“Jolly good, well look here, you may be able to help me out…”
The story went that this director was putting together the bill for that years event and had a ten minute slot right at the end of the bill just before the star turn came on, the star turn being, as always, Cardew “the cad” Robinson, a crap comedian who’s upper-class twit of an act had been funny in the 1930s when it was funny to take the piss out of the upper classes, especially if the comedian himself was actually genuinely posh (he had been to Harrow School), but by 1970 the act was as old and dried up as Cardew the Cad himself, still, he thought he was funny and the chap booking him was from the same old boys network as were probably most of the very rich easily fleeced audience, and they all thought he was funny too.
So our dads director asked him if he could recommend to them one of those novelty “Northern Comedian” chaps by way of comparison to Cardew the Cad, it would be a nice diversion for the chaps, sort of tasting the salt before the lime in a Tequila Sunrise and some of the old boys might find amusement in throwing bread rolls at a northern chap.
Our dad recommended Paul Shane.
A few days after the event the director rang our dad and thanked him for the contact, “He is very good isn’t he old chap, yars, very good” all was well in the world, the Harrow boys liked the northern chap.
A few months later our dad was at one of Paul Shane’s gigs, got chatting to him and asked him how the Burma Star job had gone, “Very good” replied the comedian, “the audience loved it but I don’t think I’ll be working for them again”, he’d broken the golden rule of variety acts – don’t stay on stage beyond your allocated time slot.
Worse still he’d stayed on stage well into Cardew the Cad’s allocated time slot and as the whole she-bang ran to an absolute time plan (they had royalty in attendance who needed to meet the cast and be home in time for cocoa) poor old Cardew the Cad only got five minutes at the end, usurped by a northern oik he was furious backstage, as was his agent – everyone else thought that Paul Shanes piece was the highlight of the show and hadn’t noticed that Cardew only had time to say “Good Evening” and then “Good Evening” again as he left.
Shortly after the Royal Albert Hall gig Paul Shane was asked to an audition by Jimmy Perry, co-writer of “Hi-de-Hi” to play the part of a brash northern comedian in a holiday camp which by coincidence was managed by an upper class twit Old Harrovian blokee – now where on earth did they get that idea from ?