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Barmaid Maud pulls a blinder!

PUBLISHED: 17:00 31 March 2011

WINTER SUN? Comedy brothers Mike and Bernie Winters enjoy summer warmth during a season on Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier in 1967 when the late John Powles was its general manager. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

WINTER SUN? Comedy brothers Mike and Bernie Winters enjoy summer warmth during a season on Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier in 1967 when the late John Powles was its general manager. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

Archant

WHEN I tear myself away from the delights of penning this weekly column and relax in front of the television in Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston, I sometimes marvel at the high-definition clarity of the wide screen enabling me to see the maker's name on a football waiting in the centre circle for an imminent kick-off on the other side of the world.

Yet it seems like only yesterday when I watched in breathless anticipation as Raymond Baxter talked us through a programme capturing the first cross-Atlantic live TV transmission, a grainy grey picture hailed as a broadcasting landmark. America live! Wow!

We were delighted when we kept up with the Joneses and bought our first TV after scrimping and saving, and we enjoyed viewing despite the small screen, grey picture and only one channel.

A Sunday night favourite was What’s My Line? Eamonn Andrews was host, the panel comprised four celebrities from a list including Lady Isobel Barnett, Barbara Kelly, David Nixon, Gilbert Harding, Cyril Fletcher, Katie Boyle and Jerry Desmonde who had to decide the occupation of contestants who signed in before briefly miming their jobs.

Some contestants bamboozled the panel with their few seconds of job routine movement, particularly if they were tripe dressers or something equally obscure, but most were guessed. However, I wonder nearly half a century later, how a Gorleston barmaid’s “line” eluded the experienced panel?

What mime did she perform? Surely, pulling a pint or unscrewing a bottle would have been obvious.

“I can’t remember now what she did,” her son, long-retired local police sergeant John Calthorpe tells me from his home in Elm Avenue. “But we have the certificate she was given for beating the panel, signed by its members and chairman.”

As Maud Calthorpe was a well-known character, most local folk who had TVs would have tuned in to see her competing on the show screened in June 1962, urging her on as the panel struggled to decipher her movements. And when she triumphed, many a celebratory pint was poured in the Pier Hotel at Gorleston where she worked.

According to Mr Calthorpe: “My mum was 71 and still working in the west bar of the Pier Hotel in 1962. She had worked at many hostelries in the area over a long period, and loved it. My dad (fisherman Arthur Calthorpe) and her did run the Wheelwrights Arms on Beccles Road for a period when she was first married around 1912.

“As for What’s My Line? someone sent her name in to the BBC. My wife May and I took her to London for an audition and a few days later for the recording in the Television Theatre.”

The framed certificate acknowledging that her “line” stumped the panel was displayed in the bar at the Pier Hotel while she worked there. Mrs Calthorpe, who lived in Excelsior Terrace, Common Road, Southtown, died about 1972.

Three of the signatories on the certificate are clear: Barbara Kelly (Bernard Braden’s wife), Lady Barnett and Eamonn Andrews. The others are not easily distinguishable.

John Calthorpe still has the certificate and her letter from the programme’s producer informing her that she would receive £5 5s to cover her “appearance, second-class return rail fare, taxis and any other expenses you may incur”.

Maudie Calthorpe certainly mixed with the stars on her outing to London to participate in What’s My Line? and fondly remembered the experience for the rest of her life, but for another resident of the borough of Great Yarmouth, mingling with top names in British show business was all part and parcel of his job.

That was Mr A J Powles – John Powles, who died in January, aged 82. For years from 1962 he was general manager of the Britannia Pier at the seaward end of which was the Yarmouth’s biggest theatre (with 1,511 seats) where some of Britain’s top entertainers starred, either for the holiday season or in Sunday night concerts.

In his first decade in charge, for example, headliners included Jimmy Clitheroe, the Beverley Sisters, David Whitfield, Norman Vaughan, Joe Brown, Dickie Henderson, Dora Bryan, Mike and Bernie Winters, Donald Peers, Harry Worth, Ronnie Corbett and June Bronhill.

And, of course, he also had to keep an eye on all the supporting acts, musicians and dancers, back-stage crew, and take overall responsibility for the smooth running of the various other enterprises on the pier; he supervised a permanent staff of 32.

John Powles’s first job was railway booking clerk during which he studied accountancy, but his interest in stage management was kindled by his membership of the Yarmouth Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and he took on part-time work at the pier where he met a veteran performer who had become a household name during the war and was in the Britannia summer show.

That was Harry Korris whom older readers will remember as Mr Lovejoy in the wartime radio variety show, Happidrome, one of a trio with characters Ramsbottom and Enoch. Korris not only encouraged his theatrical management ambitions but engineered his bold switch to become a trainee manager at one of the world’s flagship variety theatres, the London Palladium.

Returning to the Brit as chief accountant, John was promoted to assistant manager and then general manager and a director of the pier company.

In his first days as the guv’nor, he was called to the dressing room of the star, Jimmy Clitheroe, because the tap would not turn on... but as he entered, the tap burst, soaking both men.

The two became firm friends.

Mr Powles, who moved from Nottingham Way to Southtown, was a Conservative member for Nelson ward on Yarmouth Borough Council for some years.

And a final word on TV game and panel shows: recently I watched Deal or No Deal because of a quirky Yarmouth factor. Welshman Karl Toy brought with him an artificial money tree for good luck, telling host Noel Edmonds it was bought in Yarmouth during a family boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads last summer.

“I hope it brings you good fortune,” host Noel Edmonds told him. But Karl had a disastrous time on the television show, in which he could have won a top prize of £250,000 but ended up with only £5.

Noel Edmonds commented: “Not many people are going to risk buying a good-luck charm in Great Yarmouth now!”

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