The Royal Variety performance has come in for some scathing criticism from television viewers in recent years, but this year’s show was almost universally well- received. Is variety simply modernising, or is there a shift in public opinion, away from reality TV and the celebrity culture, in favour of those who actually possess true stage talents? UK Cabaret managing editor Mark Ritchie, who has attending past Royal Variety shows, asks the question and gives his own view.
Having personally witnessed everything from Dame Shirley Bassey and a famous RV standing ovation, to embarrassing comedy deaths endured by those comedian’s I am too polite to mention, I feel I have some insight to offer into the merits of Royal Variety shows.
The ultimate all-round entertainer Brian Conley once told me, after one of his many RV appearances, that the public had become used to seeing so-called ‘ordinary people’ on the telly, while talented people sat at home watching them.
The comedian Billy Pearce once gave me his insight into light entertainment on UK television screens, declaring:’ They (TV Producers) have taken the show out of show business’.
Whilst chatting in a dressing room at the Club Tropicana in Lincolnshire, the wonderful Joe Pasquale told me how the West Country comedian Andy Ford had been added to a Royal Variety bill, only to see his performance axed at the editing stage. One can only imagine the sense of dark desolation that Ford must have gone through, as his career highlight was snipped and left on the cutting room floor.
The supremely talented ventriloquist Paul Zerdin had to cross the pond to America in order to find fame. Simply because the lamentable celeb-driven drivel could find no place for him on our small screens in this country.
All of the entertainers I refer to above have appeared in Royal shows. All of them would be on telly every week in years past and some actually were. Was this year’s Royal Variety offering better than many of those staged in previous years? In my view, the answer is probably not, but there were some real highlights, Sting appearing in his first ever RV amongst them. The production, in televisual terms seemed slicker and quicker somehow. Canned laughter was almost certainly used here and there, but variety and new variety lovers will surely forgive that, if there is more of this to come. Michael McIntyre seems to be showing the, in my view, ridiculously over-rated Ant&Dec and the asinine Keith Lemon how it is done, with his new hit, primetime Saturday show.
The most salient question is surely, will the plethora of talent shows ever produce a sustainable television career for its successful contestants. This year’s RV appearance of a certain soldier, with genuine stage ability, who apparently emerged victorious on one of the Cowell talent vehicles, was perhaps a start. And it’s certainly a welcome change to dog acts and general derision from the kids running 21st century British telly. After all, in my view and I suspect in the view of many others, a return to modern variety and performers with talent to offer on telly, is surely preferable to a bucket-load of Big Brother or Keith Lemon’s ever more sickening celebrity juice.