Roger Remembers —
I wonder what those earnest and well-meaning individuals who pioneered the working mens’ clubs movement in Victorian times with the object of educating and improving the lives of ordinary people would think if they were to see today’s clubs or, more so, those of the “roaring sixties”. Just when, for instance, did entertainment become part of club life. I may be knocking on a bit but I’m sure I don’t go as far back as that. What I do have is an advertisement from 1910 for a concert in Balby Bridge W.M.C. in Doncaster with several singers taking part –all billed in the way of those times as Mr or Miss so and so. It seems that clubs went on their merry way for decades after that, keeping themselves to themselves, and creating their own favourite artistes.
In the 1950s the variety theatres began to die. It was blamed on changing public tastes but it’s much more likely to have been simple greed. Theatre owners stopped spending money on their property, which got shabbier and more run down, putting cash instead into the fledgling ITV. Besides which many theatres were in town centre sites which were very valuable. More money was to be made pulling down the theatre and selling the site than keeping it as a going concern. The performers were left without work.
This was at the time when private clubs were springing up all over the country. They offered entertainment, restaurant facilities and, importantly, gaming of various sorts. Probably Manchester was the pioneer area, with Jack Gillam’s Northern Sporting Club and the famous Talk of the North owned by Joe Pullen prominent. There were countless others and the idea quickly spread all over the North. These places varied from the lavish to the sordid but, importantly, they provided employment for the acts. Many of them bit the dust though when the Gaming Act became law later.
The 1960s were the heyday for clubs of all sorts and sizes. I lived near Doncaster at the time and within easy reach there were 50 to 60 W.M. and Social Clubs, most of them putting on entertainment. You could go out every night of the week and be spoilt for choice.
In the early sixties the first act I ever saw in a club was The Patton Brothers, comedians and tap dancers, at the Scala Club, and who are still working in their eighties in pantomime and on the stage and on T.V. as support for their younger brothers The Chuckle Brothers. The Pattons were so heavy footed as dancers I feared for the state of the stage, but it survived them only to collapse when Tanya the elephant was booked a few years afterwards.
Around that time two prominent concert secretaries, Les Booth from Greasborough Social Club and Tommy Jackson from the Scala Club get together to book a *big name” and brought Edna Savage into South Yorkshire. This was when both clubs were starting to run five or six night shows for full weeks. Both these chaps were real characters , sometimes friends, sometimes deadly rivals, as in the week when the Scala had Diana Dors and Greaseborough Jayne Mansfield !