Sounds of an era when the theatres were really swinging

Great Yarmouth's golden sands fringe its Golden Mile in 1970, the hub of the resort's summer enterta

Great Yarmouth's golden sands fringe its Golden Mile in 1970, the hub of the resort's summer entertainment...apart from the Regal/ABC, at the town end of Regent Road. - Credit: Archant

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing! Forgive the bad grammar, please, but Duke Ellington’s classic title sums up the attitude of big band fans, most of us pensioners who rue the day when teenagers’ scrubbing board skiffle and guitars ousted our favourite kind of music.

The bright lights...the Windmill Theatre in its heyday.

The bright lights...the Windmill Theatre in its heyday. - Credit: Archant

This year Mrs Peggotty and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy three swing sessions: at Gorleston Pavilion, over in Lowestoft, and at Potter’s Resort in Hopton, the latter featuring Chris Dean’s Syd Lawrence Orchestra with TV’s Angela Rippon as compere. The Hopton venue has more big-band jazz programmed this year.

All prompted nostalgia, the Lawrence gig coinciding with other reminders of that era – a post-war autograph book signed by entertainers spending summers here, plus some local theatre programmes, stirring recollections of performers and styles long gone.

It belongs to octogenarian Malcolm Metcalf, of Magdalen Way, Gorleston, a well-known character who has remained up-beat and travelled the world despite life-long handicaps. Appropriately, the first entry – by Gorleston Pavilion backstage duo Harry and Marjorie Ristori – was: “Get well soon, Malcolm!”

“Nobody ever refused to sign my book,” he tells me.

To my delight, one 1949 signatory was Ted Heath whose band remains my all-time favourite. Also in there are leaders, sidesmen, ensembles or vocalists Ken Mackintosh; drummer Jack Parnell; Eric Winstone; Primo Scala (accordeons); Charles Shadwell (BBC Variety Orchestra); Sam Brown (Ambrose); Oscar Rabin, Marjorie Daw, Marion Davis; Felix Mendelssohn (Hawiian Serenaders); saxophonist Kathy Stobart, trombonist Stan Smith (Vic Lewis Orchestra); Harry Parry; the Tito Burns Sextet; and Billy Cotton and his singer, Alan Breeze...

Malcolm’s other signatories from show business include many who reminded me of listening to the radio in my childhood and youth, before the advent of television, when we probably had only the Home Service and Light Programme to entertain us.

Most Read

They included Vera Lynn, recent centenarian and wartime “Forces’ sweetheart” ; Anne Shelton, her only serious competitor as the forces’ favourite, Wellington Pier; comic Reg “Confidentially” Dixon, Britannia Pier; the Five Smith Brothers (“Mr and Mrs Smith’s five little boys”), Windmill; comedy duo JimmyJewell and Ben Warriss , Britannia; Richard Murdoch (Much Binding in the Marsh), Britannia; the Western Brothers (sophisticated comedy songs at the piano), Gorleston Pavilion; Hughie Green (Opportunity Knocks talent show); Vic Oliver, comedy violinist but also a serious classical orchestral conductor, Royal Aquarium.

Bob Monkhouse; Leon Cortez (Cockney versions of Shakespeare); Eric Barker and Pearl Hackney, comedians; Jack Train, from radio’s ITMA; Yarmouth-born soprano Helen Hill; film actor Bonar Colleano; soprano Anne Zeigler and tenor Webster Booth; comedian Frankie Howerd (Wellington); singer Cavan O’Connor (“I’m only a strolling vagabond...”), Gorleston Pavilion; pianist Charlie Kunz; bass-baritone Peter Dawson; band singer and comedian Sam Costa (Much Binding in the Marsh); Anona Winn, actress and quiz panellist.

Elsie and Doris Waters (“Gert and Daisy”); Gorleston Pavilion; Suzette Tarri, comedienne; impressionist Peter Kavanagh (“the voice of them all”); comic Charlie Chester, Regal/ABC; Ray Ellington, trio leader, Regal; Michael Miles, host of BBC’s Radio Forfeits; and Big Bill Campbell and his Rocky Mountain Rhythm with Peggy Bailey (“sweet voice of the West”).

That list means that Malcolm’s autograph album is a compilation of British show business in wartime and the next two decades.

Is there another autograph album whose pages include a horse-racing tip as Malcolm’s does? In Yarmouth one day he spotted flamboyantly dressed nationally famous tipster Ras Prince Monolulu. For a small fee, he gave Malcolm his autograph and added beneath it: “Solongaway, win, Stewards Cup, 6.7.49, Yarmouth.”

It was not even placed.

From Richard Murdoch and his radio comedy partner Kenneth Horne came what I still rate as the most original rhyming couplet ever penned. They always ended their weekly show with a witty ditty, one of which included the still memorable: “Aberdeen has lovely houses, gabardine makes lovely trousers...”

They don’t write them like that any more!