Roger Remembers. Show business writer Roger Holmes on nostalgia.
One Sunday lunchtime at the bottom of Morley Road in Doncaster two lads were kicking a ball about in the car park at Wheatley W.M.C. The steward came out. “It’s time to go home now lads, off you go’. “We can’t, we’re t’urn”, was the reply. They were too – Wally Harper’s Gang. One was Johnny, Wally’s son, the other Bobby, Wally’s nephew. In later years Johnny had several groups, including Harper’s Bizarre and Johnny Harper & the Choirboys. Bobby, of course, teamed up with a workmate as the Harper Brothers, later better known as Cannon & Ball.
Wally Harper was a well known Lancashire comedian on theatre stages and in the clubs. Another Wheatley story about him, vouched for by several people is when he was booked there for a Sunday lunchtime show and staying with Tommy Jackson, who was concert secretary there at the time. But he just wouldn’t get out of bed. Tommy went out to the cage where he kept his ferrets, pulled the biggest one, took it upstairs and put it in Wally’s bed. He shot out of bed, stark naked, ran out of the house and into the back garden without stopping to put any clothes on.
Tommy Jackson was a one-off. A shrewd judge of an act, it was he at Doncaster’s Scala Club and Les Booth at Greasebrough Social Club who brought the first “big name” on to the South Yorkshire Social Club scene in the person of Edna Savage. At various times he was concert secretary at different club’s he had his finger in many pies, some perhaps, dubious, but was a big asset to local clubland. He was one of those black and white individuals. If Tommy liked you he could be very generous, if he didn’t you were just blanked out. Luckily he and I got on. It seemed rather incongruous, this big guy with a face like an ex-boxer, running a flower stall in Doncaster market with the help of his family. When my eldest son Michael (now a keyboard player in the Manchester area) was born he sent a taxi up to the Western Hospital with a load of flowers.
He once rang me up. “Roger”, he said “you must get down to the club tonight to see this new group I’ve got on, or I’ll never speak to you again”. It turned out to be Russ Abbot & the Black Abbotts. He it was who brought the Geordie comedian Septimus Jones to my attention. “Forget the rest, Bobby Thompson, Bobby Pattinson and all the others. Sep’s the best” he claimed. And I reckon he was right.
St Leger week was always a busy time. Clubs were doing good business and The Scala was packed every night, there was always a strong show put on, but it could get a bit rowdy. Like all proper concert chairmen Tommy never left the box and to watch him in action was an object lesson in control. “Always watch what’s happening” he said “if you see a disturbance developing, watch, then spot the ringleader, pick him up and put him out. Always make sure you open the (double) doors with his head. That does it.”