Entertainer and Promoter Robert Craig spoke to UK Cabaret magazine editor Mark Ritchie about a certain big show, staged in South Yorkshire recently. The story tells a tale of a benevolent and caring friend, who wanted to do something big for his close friend, the great all-round entertainer Dick Van Winkle, who died recently.
The time: mid-November. The Place: The Dome Leisure Centre in Doncaster. The occasion: a charity event, with money going to a fund set up to help those afflicted by Alzheimer’s and Dementia in this country.
A starry cast was assembled and then subsequently unravelled, due to illness and a variety of other such problems. At the eleventh hour, replacement stars appeared as if by magic, to take the place of those who withdrew and a huge crowd assembled.
The Dome is a leisure centre style venue, with a massive performance space, which is situated within a recently built retail and leisure complex.
Dick Van Winkle himself lived in the area with his wife Sue and their family. Dick was an extremely busy entertainer, who spent a large chunk of his working life on-board cruise ships, in the latter part of his career. Earlier he had been as busy a musician and entertainer as they come, with cabaret work coming out of his ears, for his entire working life. His skills as a comedian and mainly as a musician were admired by anyone who was fortunate enough to sit within his audience and marvel at the sheer professionalism of this ultra-smooth star. The last time I saw Dick was when I was appearing in cabaret at The Doncaster Little Theatre. Dick was eating an ice-cream, but when I spoke to him, he couldn’t even speak to me or shake my hand. This is the cruel nature of dementia. I found my final encounter with Dick deeply moving. He died a few weeks later.
On the night, the show at The Dome got off to a late start, due to technical difficulties, which also caused the show to truncate from time to time during the first half. All the acts were allotted spot times which could only result in one outcome, a very late finish. But what the heck, there was a chummy feeling about the evening, which was all about friendship and fun.
The brilliant Brian Conley was on fire on the night and large sections of the audience stood up and applauded his performance. Also on the bill were The Grumbleweeds, Colin Fingers Henry, Bobby Knutt, The Pastmasters, Chris Lafferty, Dene Michael, Melody Lane and Lee Lard, as well as Compere Robert Craig.
Robert had put so much of himself into the evening and it showed. The show really needed a few other people to bring their skills to the party, but Robert soldiered on under, at times, very difficult circumstances. Robert spoke to me a few days after the event, when the dust had settled a little. I asked him how he thought the show had gone. He was clearly still buzzing, as he replied, ‘Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I don’t think for £10 they could have got a better show than that anywhere’. ‘We are doing it again next year, on November 17th 2017 at The Dome. I am starting to assemble the cast already’.
Dick’s wife Sue was in the audience on the night and we will give this lovely lady the last word. Sue told me; ‘I would like to thank the people of Yorkshire for coming out and supporting this show in such large numbers. The show was as amazing as its audience’. Enough said.