During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields.
After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.
Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, former North East club entertainer’s Ned Kelly and Jack Berry, both regulars in the club. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.
Ned: There was plenty o’ work and we used to do 10 shows a week. Sunda’ to Sunda’ then put in a niteclub an’ that to make up to 10 show’s ya knaa. It was non stop. I’ve seen us finish after a 10 day run for one of the most famous agents in the world. A guy called Andy Green, ex Sergeant Major. He’d put us in starting at Dalkeith just before Edinburgh, the last show was Fraserburgh right up on the coast. Then the next next day was at Swansea. Next job was Germany so we had to go to Harwich to catch a ferry to Zeebrugge then up through Holland.
Jack: Aye that bloody time we were in Wales. We were in Neath, is that right ?
Jack: We were in Swansea and he say’s I’m gaan to put pigeons in the piana. This is 10 o’ clock in the morning. He bought some pigeon food, coaxing the pigeons alang, took his coat off, managed to get a few of them. Straight back to the club, lifted the lid up of the piana put the pigeons in. This is about half past eleven time. Buggered off back to the digs, then come back about 7 o’clock (for the show).
Aal you cud hear was coo, coo, coo. Anyway lifts the lid up the pigeons fly oot they’re shyting aal ‘ower the audience, on their claes, in their booze. The curtains are shut, they’re trying to open them to open the winda’s. Well the mare they wu’ flappin’ the mare they wu’ shyting.
Ned: It was the ’70s Gary and it was one of the Giovanni’s big do’s at a restaurant. They were al’ scrap men. It was Christmas time and the scrap yards were shuttin’ for the Christmas and New Year period. There was a buffet on, a big long table full of gear. They brought their dogs and tied them to the railings on the bar cos you can’t leave dog’s near food. There was Bulldogs, Alsations, Rottweilers al’ kinds and they’re al’ gaan for each other. Well they’re shakin’ and there’s oil an’ diesel aal ower the place, it stunk. It was like midnight at Minsky’s.
We had to gaan up stairs to get changed and bein’ a restaurant there was a geet big fridge where they put aal the gear ya knaa, the ducks, fillet steaks, aal kinds, and there was this great side of beef. You’ve seen the lorries getting loaded with the beef and the two legs on the front. We said what we’ll dae is nick the side of beef, chop it up at yem and share it oot.
(Pointing at Jack) He filled his guitar case full of ducks and steaks but we thought How we going to get the beef out the door past the doorman ? I said what we’l dae is put an overcoat on him and if a doorman say’s owt we’ll say it’s the roadie he’s pissed. That’s exactly what we done.
We walked a side of beef oot the door past the doorman and put it in the back of the van. Next morning everyone had choppers choppin’ chunks of beef off it was great. He finished off aal the ducks and never shared with anyone. I shared my fillets with everyone yea never give anything.
Jack: Yea bugger I never got the chance cos the bloke phoned up and said all the meat was condemned.
Jack: A club in Darlington right. Get’s in there. Five nights. On the last night, now bearing in mind the bloke who owned the place put a new glass stage on with lights comin’ up ya knaa.
Ned: Aye. I remember it.
Jack: Aye. We asked the fella in charge can I put this piana on fire? The roadie will come on and put a sprinklin’ of lighter oil on. For wu’ encore wu’ll do Great Balls of Fire. Ya knaa’ Goodness gracious great balls of… then flick the lighter. The keyboard will go up but I said the roadie will be ready with the fire extinguisher.
Well he went an’ put the whole bloody tin on it! Flicked the lighter an’ it’s a blaze. They’re all bloody killin’ themselves in the audience they think it’s part of the show. The band are standin’ like tatties, his fingers are on fire. So I shoved the piana like that (kicks leg out). It went straight through his new glass stage. Polystyrene tiles up a height are al’ bloody comin’ doon. The cortins are alight an’ everything. When all the flames were put oot ya’ shuda seen the state of that stage. He (Ned) said well you’re the man for the money kid gaan get paid (laughs).
Ned: Yeah looked like he was gonna bost yer face.
Jack: I said who do I see to get paid ? Paid !He said. Are you stupid you’ve caused £10,000 pound worth of damage (laughs).
On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…
Ned: No smoking started it.
Jack: It didn’t ya knaa. In the ‘80s the debacle between Thatcher and Scargill, the miners strike God knaa’s what. You gotta remember that in Scotland there was loads of miner’s welfare clubs. A lot of them shut doon. A lot of them shut in this country. I think that was the beginning of the end. And then is what you said kid.
Ned: In those day’s most people smoked, nearly everybody smoked. The majority of the club’s were upstairs in them ‘50s style buildings. They would come aal the way doonstairs for a couple of puffs off a tab, then aal the way back up the stairs. And gettin’ aulder they were knackered they couldn’t dae it anymore. They started shutting concert rooms first, finish the act’s, ring the agents, not enough people in.
‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).
Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.
Interview by Gary Alikivi.