Way back in 1969 somebody at The Stage Newspaper had a brainwave. There would be a Stage Awards Show featuring Club Acts of the Year with a final Gala Performance. People in various parts of clubland could submit names to a panel which would then choose acts for a local show, from which the best acts in different categories could go forward to the final Gala Show. I was a member of the Yorkshire panel, and our choices went forward to a show in the Leeds City Varieties. Sounds complicated, but it seemed to work. I was invited to the Manchester Palace Theatre as a guest for the Gala Final in December when decisions would be made and the awards presented. On arrival I was greeted at the door with a request. “Roy Boyle of the Daily Mail can’t make it, will you stand in as a judge for him?”. Would I !” So there I was, in the front row of the circle in the company of a load of quite prestigious folk. Some were not quite so prestigious, like the old variety performer who fell asleep and the .B.B.C. man who had obviously imbibed too much. Terry Cantor produced, Duggie Clark was compere and the music came from an orchestra led by Brian Rodwell. The whole thing was first class and it was very hard indeed to pin point the winners, but these were the Barrie Brothers, Syd Francis, Dickie & Dottie and Duggie Brown in their different categories.
For the following show, at Manchester’s Golden Garter, Granada Television became involved and the T.V .influence soon showed. Only four club acts were featured and each was to be introduced by a “name” artiste, who of course had to do a little “turn”, taking time away from the acts we wanted to see. Vince Hill brought on Robert Young, Jimmy Tarbuck introduced Ken Goodwin, and David Nixon did a long winded trick to do the same for Johnny Hart. The solo vocalist Christine Holmes (no relation) warranted Anita Harris with eight backing singers. I thought it patronising, insulting almost, all these were experienced people who didn’t need any of this. Credit to Norman Wisdom who just did a little bit of business to introduce Ronnie Dukes and Ricky Lee, who of course pulled all the stops out and gave the cameramen something to think about when following the action. Danny La Rue closed the show, but what he said when his microphone stopped working had to be cut from the televised version. Finally the electrics all failed so nobody could hear what was being said.
The last gasp came in 1972 when Batley Variety Club hosted the show. Whoever chose the acts, and I’ve no idea who it was, was largely responsible. What was the star of a current West End musical doing in it, how was a London based comic with antique material going to fare in Batley, where they’ve seen them all and why was Bunny Lewis classified as a speciality act ? The whole concept died here.
This was a small part of my judging activities and it served to illustrate the pernicious effect television has had on live entertainment. It’s much worse today, over 40 years on, with the term ”celebrity” scattered around like confetti, anyone who’s been in a “soap” is a Star, and it’s a rarity to see anyone singing, specially those fronting a group, who knows how to use a microphone properly.
Another time I’ll tell you more about judging talent shows, the good venues, why I gave it up for over ten years, a teenage discovery, and the disappearing agent.