This is the first of a brand-new feature here, as we examine the world of speciality acts in British show business. With their roots in music hall and magic, the ever-changing scene remains vibrant, particularly in the family holidays parks. Mark Ritchie lends his view and asks UV puppet-master Krystian Wharton all about 21st century ‘spesh’.
The great British music hall and variety tradition spawned many great speciality entertainers, from sand dancers Wilson Keppel and Betty to Old Mother Riley. Over the years I have seen enjoyed and in the case of some, worked with many of the UK speciality act greats. Amongst the most memorable names are Dame Lucy Bunn and Reg, The Sheratons, Corletts Characters, Arnold Clockworthy, Donimo, Sonny Hayes and Co, Clive Webb and Melton Mowbray, to name but a few.
One of the busiest of the 21st century speciality entertainers is Krystian Wharton, who has been presenting his Groovy UV puppet show up and down the land for almost a quarter of a century. Krystian told us: ’ I guess one part of it that hasn’t changed is the holiday park scene, where you drive up and down the country, set-up and do the show then drive on to the next holiday park and so on. The last few years I have been lucky enough to get runs (of consecutive nights). I enjoy this most when the sun is out, so I can have a great day at the office (the beach).’
Krystian continued;’ What I do remember is years ago the holiday park venues used to offer accommodation, but that does not really happen much now. When you have driven three hours plus it can be hard not being offered any hospitality, but the lovely entertainment teams always look after me with coffee and other things, which is great’.
The industrious Mr Wharton concludes;’ I love being a spesh act. There is not all that many of us and I seldom get to see any of the others, except at showcases. Hey, that is a great idea. A showcase for spesh acts’!
Perhaps Krystian Wharton has a crystal ball, as our sources at UK Cabaret tell us that a showcase for spesh acts could well be in the pipeline.
The generation of whistlers, clog dancers, memory men, escapologists and animal acts may well have come and gone, but today we have much to enjoy, with everything from 21st century illusionists to the enduringly popular ventriloquists and even a Bubble show, featuring the brilliant Damian Jay.
Like show business in general, the market for ‘spesh acts’ operates on shifting sands and those with the next ‘big idea’ will provide the subject matter for all the success stories yet to come.
UK SPECH ARTICLE