PLAY LUCKY: Celebrating 75 years in showbiz with Ray Cooney O.B.E

‘I was born in 1932 and been in the business since I was 14 years old. When I was 18 I had to do National Service for a couple of year, you had to do that after the Second World War’.

London born Ray remembers his roots and where his life on stage began…

‘Originally the family were Irish and came over to Jarrow in the North East where my Dad was born, then he hitch hiked down to London to get work. After I completed my National Service I went up north and joined a repertory company in Blackburn for a couple of year, before auditioning for Brian Rix at London’s Whitehall Theatre where I ended up staying for seven years’.

Comedy and farce are the backbone of Ray’s work but a rock n roll swerve in 1977 saw a musical celebrating the life of Elvis Presley. The show opened at London’s Astoria Theatre with pop stars Shakin’ Stevens and PJ Proby playing the Elvis role in different stages of his life. Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan tours quickly followed.

‘I enjoyed the Elvis show so much. We got in touch with his agent and asked to put a show on about his life and he said sure go for it. So we went ahead and here we are over 40 years later talking about it’.

Having previously written with Tony Hilton and John Chapman, I then started to write my first solo play which was ‘Run For Your Wife’, that ended up running for nine years in London. We also had a six week run in New York and that went well, really delightful’.

Various TV and film stars appeared in the 1982 and 83 productions of ‘Run For Your Wife’ including Richard Briers (The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles), Bernard Cribbins (Carry On, Tales of the Unexpected) Bill Pertwee (Dad’s Army) and Carol Gill (Robin’s Nest, Carry On).

The show was first performed at the Windsor then promoted to the Shaftsbury Theatre, London.

‘My process is I write the play, then have a rehearsed reading which we do in my house or garden, I always play in it, and that’s where I get a real good feel for it. I do a re-write then we go to Guildford or Windsor Theatre and do a three week production’.

‘After that I do a re-write then a short six week tour and another re-write. By the time we come to do it in the West End it’s really, really polished and the play is then set in stone’.

‘The premise is basically simple and that’s why they play so well, in fact my plays are played all around the world, and in Poland ‘Run For Your Wife’ has been playing for over 27 years and is still running’.  

‘Also in Russia my plays, play for months and months and they love them – because the basic premise is so easy to understand’.

‘The well-known actors who I’ve worked with in the past, like Richard Briers and Donald Sindon, know what I’ve done with the play so respect it and rehearsals are really fun. Plus any producer who does them knows what would have gone in to them’.

With a skill set of actor, writer and director, Ray added producer, with west end credits including Chicago, Andy Capp, Elvis, Jack the Ripper and Birds of Paradise. Is he thinking of slowing down ?

‘I’m not writing anymore, I don’t have the feeling to write, but there is a lovely little dinner theatre near Reading called The Mill at Sonning Theatre. They love doing my plays there and I always go down to see them’.

‘I’ve directed a couple there and even though they were written years ago they still play wonderfully well. They do dinner before the show and it’s around £60 a ticket – it’s always packed out’.

‘Looking back I’ve been very fortunate over the years because my plays are done all over the world. I’ve been really, really lucky – you betcha’.

For more info on Ray check his official website, Facebook and Twitter accounts:

Ray Cooney

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021.

GOOD OLD TYNESIDE with Local History Collector, Norman Dunn

77 year old Norman from Hebburn, who started work as a fitter at Wardley & Follonsby Collieries in the ‘60s, has been collecting Tyneside photographs and postcards for over 20 year.

I started collecting because I asked my old aunt if she had any old photos and she said ‘We had a lot of photos, but when we moved to a new Council house, we just binned them’. How many other families did that when they moved home, not realising the value of a photo ?’

‘Over the years I’ve helped three authors with photos for their books, and I’ve often sent photos to be used in the Shields Gazette and Evening Chronicle. Now it’s my time to publish, but not just one book – I’ve published four’.

‘I’ve wanted to compile this set of books whilst my enthusiasm and memory is still good. I’ve always been interested in local history that’s why I decided to compile the photo’s into books’ explained Norman.

Tram and St Mary’s Church, Heworth.

A number of years ago I volunteered on a South Shields Library project digitizing thousands of photographs from their archive, so recognise some of the images.

Photographers Amy Flagg, James Cleet and William Emmett done an excellent job capturing Tyneside images and left behind a marvellous legacy.

A glaring omission in this book is apart from Dunn’s family photos, no photographer’s names are credited or where they were obtained originally. South Tyneside Council hold a lot of the original images and are available to view on their official website. https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

St Oswalds Church, Hebburn c.1900

‘I’ve collected photos for many years but unfortunately never kept a list of people who loaned me them. I just want to share them with people’ said Norman.

‘I always told my contributors that their photos are valuable. They want to share their photos with others, and often said ‘what use is a photo stuck in a drawer under the bed or in a cupboard’.

‘If they sell I might do another set of books. So far I’ve had marvellous feedback from people who’ve already bought books. They all said fantastic value with so many photos in it’.

‘Good Old Shields’, ‘Good old Hebburn’, ‘Good old Jarrow’ & ‘Good old Bill Quay, Pelaw, Wardley, Felling & Heworth’ are priced at £15 each plus £3 p&p.

To buy a copy contact Norman on  07958 120 972  or email norman@dunn247.co.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2021

FAMILY TIES #2: A FULL MOON & AN IRISH WAKE

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with the text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

Seaweed harvesting was an industry along the coastlines of Mayo, Galway, Donegal and Kerry.

Work on farmland and fishing were major occupations in Ireland and after a long day’s work people would organise entertainment – there was no radio, TV or cinema in those days.

Relatives, friends and neighbours would enjoy endless singing and storytelling, the tradition of seanchaí – a teller of traditional stories – was hugely popular in rural households.

Killing the pig was an important ceremony and social occasion with neighbours lending a hand. Tea and the odd whiskey or two were shared afterwards, plus the latest neighbourhood news and gossip.

Superstition played a part – a pig was never killed during a month containing the letter ‘R’ and if it was done on a full moon the meat increased in size.

The Bothan Scoir, a labourers cottage, west Ireland.

Ancient customs and traditions were a big part of Irish life – and death. The wake was a send off by  family and friends in the house of the deceased before the body was handed over to the church. My Grandfather wrote of his experience as an Irish family living in Jarrow, North East England.

You know looking back on my younger days, knowing the bit about my father and the more I knew about my mother, she was a very kind woman, strict but fair, and very religious. She must have been a strong woman to work the way she did and to put up with the life she had with my father.

I often wonder how they came together as they had nothing in common with each other. One was always in the pub, the other in the church. Still, I suppose there must have been some feeling between them as she had five children to him, three sons and two daughters. As they say, there’s nothing as queer as folk.  

In 1920 I started at St Bede’s Senior School, Low Jarrow. I was eleven years old and quite a lot happened to make me grow up quickly. I detested school and did everything I could to make sure I seldom went.

The only time I was ever happy at school was during the winter because each classroom had a big open coal fire and it was lovely and warm. But in the summer I would go to school in the morning and if it was a sunny day I would go to Shields beach in the afternoon.

When my father died my mother insisted on an Irish wake, where the deceased is put on display in the front room so that family and friends can pay their respects. They all sat at a table where there was snuff, cigarettes, clay pipes and ‘baccy.

Later on the men brought in the beer and to my young mind everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves except for my father who was stuck in the corner.

Then the final touch the night before the funeral, the priest came down at 7pm to say prayers as there was no taking the coffin to the church the night before the funeral as there is now.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

FAMILY TIES #1 : THE GALWAY CLADDAGH & JARROW DON

Galway fish market 1905

In 2007 I was over in Ireland researching my family tree when I picked up a book ‘Old Irish Country Life’ by Hugh Oram. It was packed with photographs taken at the beginning of the 20th century of people working on the land, some I have included here along with text by Oram.

From fishwives to seaweed harvesting, weaving and cutting turf, the wonderful black & white pictures illustrated a harsh life – and these were similar scenes to what my ancestors lived through.

The Claddagh, Galway City.

A branch of my family came from Galway so I was drawn to a picture that featured The Claddagh. The houses in the photo remind me of old black and white image’s I’ve seen of homes near St Paul’s Church and along the river Don in Jarrow.

Old pit cottages, Jarrow, 1897.

My grandfather lived in those white walled cottages, and before he died in 1986 wrote down his memories of Jarrow life growing up in an Irish family.

To begin with a word about the type of house I lived in and the surrounding area. I suppose when they were built they would be a hamlet outside of Jarrow. There were three communities like this at the time; the Old Church at Jarrow Slake, pronounced ‘Slacks’, where we lived, Quay Corner at the riverside, and East Jarrow over the Don Bridge. The Don was the river that ran past our house.

The house itself was old it was one of the original pit cottages built when there was a pit in Jarrow. The pit itself was at the top of Queens Road and when I was young we had a fair there every year.

But back to the houses, they were white cottages, the walls would be about 8 feet high with a shallow sloping roof. They were two roomed, but the attic was turned into a bedroom for the children and there was room in it for two beds. To make it more comfortable we pasted layers of newspaper over the rafters.

More Irish family ties and images from ‘Old Irish Country Life’ on the next post.

Hugh Oram book published in 2007 by Stenlake Publishing Limited.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

AMY FLAGG WAR DIARIES #5 BOMBS FALL ON JARROW

In 2016 when researching in South Shields Library about Historian and Photographer Amy Flagg (1893-1965), along with her photographs of damage to the town by German air attacks during the Second World War, there was a number of personal scrapbooks full of the towns history and genealogy of families in the borough.

Also included was ‘Air Raids on South Shields’, the typed notes and diary entries were a record of official statistics of enemy attacks since the first bomb dropped in 1940. Miss Flagg also recorded incidents in the surrounding areas including Jarrow. Detail from Tyneside newspapers and maps have been added to some entries.

Amy Flagg, Historian & Photographer, 1893-1965.

Friday, 25th/Saturday, 26th April 1941: 

On Saturday morning German radio claimed the main attack of the previous night’s raid was on the Sunderland Flying Boat Works at Sunderland. In fact this was another bungled raid by the Luftwaffe, as no bombs fell there. Home Security could only deduce that inexperienced crews were being used. They felt the large number of parachute mines exploding on Tyneside was believed explained by a strong to gale force NE wind which had blown them inland during sea mining operations.

22.08pm Five injured. Incendiary bombs fell on the Old Granary near Jarrow Staithes and at Hebburn. Fires were started but were quickly controlled. A parachute mine fell at Primrose – no damage. Another fell near the Old Staithes causing damage to houses and shops.

In great detail Miss Flagg describes this large scale attack on 10th April 1941.

23.30 – 03.00am High explosives fell on Station Street and Sheldon Street, Jarrow. Houses were destroyed and suffered a death roll of twenty-four, seven members of one family being wiped out, nine people were seriously injured and nineteen slightly injured. A Roman Catholic Priest died from shock. A police constable was slightly injured by an incendiary bomb.

Fires were started at the Petroleum Installation at Jarrow, Jarrow Tube Works and at Mercantile Dry Dock but were quickly subdued. High explosives fell on a colliery railway line leading to Jarrow Staithes, on a coal depot at Jarrow Railway Station and on the A185 near to Old Church, Jarrow, where the road was blocked and gas and water mains damaged.

pic Amy Flagg. courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

Published reports in Tyneside newspapers:

Tuesday, 2nd July 1940:

Newcastle and Jarrow were attacked during the late afternoon. The damage was considerable. A single German Dornier bomber passed over Blaydon, shot down a balloon and dropped bombs on Newcastle and Jarrow.

Fourteen dead and 120 injured in Jarrow. Three high explosives dropped in streets. Four houses and six flats demolished, six houses and thirty flats damaged. School partly collapsed. Three domestic shelters and five others damaged. Four or five streets were affected but most casualties occurred in Princess Street, a search of the debris for trapped victims went on throughout the night, firemen, ARP workers and others working in relays.

It was announced that the August Bank Holiday is to be cancelled.

Monday, 7th /Tuesday 8th April 1941:  

‘HMS Manchester’, waiting in Jarrow Slake to convoy the new aircraft carrier ‘Illustrious’, may have been the objective of the two disastrous raids this week; but it proved quite ineffective so far as naval vessels were concerned, no hit being scored on either. Considerable damage, however, resulted along the riverside from Tyne Docks to the oil tanks, as well as other parts of the town.

Immediately after the ‘Alert’, enemy aircraft became very active and there was an intense barrage from ground defences. At 23.45, 4 high explosive bombs dropped on Henry Wilson’s Timber Yard, Tyne Dock, Clayton and Armstrong’s Timber Yard, Tyne Dock, the Anglo Iron Foundry, Tyne Dock and a dwelling house and shop in Porchester Street.

Friday, 6th June 1941:

At 15.00 an enemy aircraft dropped one 500kg bomb, 20 yards West of the LNER railway line at East Jarrow. Two pigs and a number of hens were killed by blast. No other damage or casualties were reported.

Pic. Amy Flagg. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

Monday, 29th/Tuesday, 30th December 1941:

Two high explosives – damage to Primrose Hospital windows.

Single high explosive fell, believed to be a 1000kg, in a field 100yds East of the Pontop – Jarrow railway causing damage to a signal box, Wardens’ Post, overhead colliery electricity cables and a seed drill. A smaller bomb also fell in this vicinity. An UXB or aircraft shell went through the roof of a house and penetrated the soft ground under the floorboards.

Thursday, 30th April/Friday, 1st May 1942:

Explosive incendiary bombs were dropped. A hut adjoining the Jarrow Tube Works was set on fire and a woman was slightly injured. No damage to the Tube works but an electricity pylon 500 yards NW of Boldon Railway Station was short circuited. A single high explosive was believed to be dropped in the river Tyne about 50 yards from Hawthorn Leslies Shipyard and was suspected of being unexploded.

Link to Amy Flagg’s war photographs on the excellent South Tyneside History website.

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Link to Amy Flagg documentary film ‘Westoe Rose’.

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Gary Alikivi  April 2021

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #2 – Joseph Henry Collin (1893-1918)

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy, that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

In a series about Tyneside recipients of the VC, this story features Joseph Collin who was born in Jarrow, North East England on 11th April 1893.

My father Joseph was a rail worker, and my mother was called Mary. I lived at 12 Drury Street and was baptised at St Bede’s Church in Jarrow before I went to St Patrick’s School in Harraby, Carlisle.

I  won prizes for running, I also loved playing football. Then I got a job in Leeds at the clothiers Hepworth & Son.

It was 1915 when I enlisted with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a Private. I must have done good because during training they promoted me to Sergeant. Then in 1916, we went to France and fought in the Battle of the Somme.

I took more training and returned to France in 1917 and served as a Second Lieutenant with the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

We went to the front line at Givenchy. The Germans were pressing us hard with bombs and machine-gun fire. They were really close.

We had to withdraw because we only had five men remaining, but still fought for every inch of ground. Then I went out and attacked their machine gun, firing my revolver first then threw a grenade putting the gun out of action. I killed four of their team and wounded two others. I saw another machine gun firing, so I took a gun and found a high vantage point, and kept them at bay until they wounded me.

Joseph died soon after from his injuries and was buried in Vielle-Chapelle Military Cemetery, Lacouture, France. His parents were presented with the Victoria Cross for Joseph’s bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice.

In 1956 the medal was presented to the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regimental Museum where it is displayed. In the chapel is a plaque which commemorates Joseph, and each year schools in Carlisle compete for the ‘Collin Shield’, a trophy for a 1 mile race presented in his memory by his family.

In 2008 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at South Shields Town Hall and in 2014 Carlisle City Council displayed a blue plaque commemorating Josephs heroic gallantry at the Battle of Givenchy. A memorial stone to honour the memory of World War One hero Joseph was laid in 2018 at Joseph Collin House in Jarrow.

Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

Sources: Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross.

TYNE CRIMES with Natasha Windham, author of new book ‘Jarrow Murders and Misdemeanours’.

When researching the book did you come across any unusual or strange stories ? Maybe more shocking than unusual, but the amount of gun crime I uncovered surprised me. Jarrow really was like the wild west of the North-East!

Also included in the book is a story about a Jarrovian one-legged arsonist who later became a popular comedian and dancer. That was certainly one of my more unusual stories.

What inspired you to write the book ? I’ve always been interested in true crime and had been studying Jarrow from a genealogical point of view. I was trying to understand what the town would have been like when my ancestors were living there in the Victorian period.

My interest widened and I began to keep notes on the stories that had shocked me the most. I then had several days last spring when I was feeling more inspired than usual which resulted in me contacting Amberley Publishing and securing a book deal.

What is your connection to Jarrow ? Half of my family are from Jarrow, including my dad and grandad. I can trace my paternal family in Jarrow as far back as 1848. Over the years, the Windham family have lived on High Street, St Paul’s Road, Catherine Street, Bede Row, Sheldon Street, Buddle Street and Valley View. My dad and distant cousins still live there today.

What are your memories of the town ? I remember visiting my great-aunt, Jenny, on the Hedworth estate. She lived on a street called Greenlands and I remember the sounds of the metro trains passing by.

Jenny was quiet, sweet and unassuming, and every time we visited, she would give me and my brother mars bars and bags of jelly babies. She had an incredibly kind and helpful neighbour called Billy who really looked after her in her old age. Sadly, they’re no longer with us.

Have you any ideas for your next book ? I think so. I’m considering one idea in particular, but I’m unsure whether it will come to anything. There are moments in my life when my mind is filled with too many creative ideas and it’s difficult sometimes to untangle them and decide what to focus on.

‘Jarrow Murders and Misdemeanours’ is released 15th May and available to pre-order from Amazon, WH Smith and other online retailers including the publisher Amberley.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   March 2020.

JARROVIANS – Vince Rae’s photographic record of Jarrow in 1978.

For 30 years Vince Rae ran the Bede Gallery in Jarrow which featured paintings, sculpture and photographs reflecting the town’s history. Included was material relating to the 1936 Jarrow March and the execution of William Jobling, the last man to be gibbeted in the North.

I knew of Vince Rae’s work as I’d read a couple of books that he had published about old Jarrow and came across his photography through the 1990’s. But first talked to him around 2001 when I was running a Community Video Project in South Shields. He was organising an exhibition about the Jarrow Crusade and was looking for a video projector. We didn’t have one, but I went along to the Viking shopping centre in Jarrow to see the exhibition.

Then in 2008 I called him up explaining that I was making a documentary in Jarrow called ‘Little Ireland’. The film was going to look at the Irish immigration into Jarrow and could I use some of his photographs. He agreed straight away ‘Yeah no bother son just send me a copy when it’s done’.

If we go back to around 2002 I was filming in Jarrow and in a newsagents I saw a book called ‘Jarrovians’. Inside were some amazing black & white documentary photographs of people and places around Jarrow, all taken by Vince during 1978. I handed my tenner over.

Packed with images of drinkers and barmaids from pubs like the Royal Oak, Prince of Wales, Tunnel Tavern and the Viking Bar. There’s gadgies suppin’ pints and playing domino’s, kid’s on the streets setting up bonfires, homeless men in Simpsons Hostal, women’s darts team in The Western pub. Dogs, horses and Joblings gibbet – all life is here in it’s working class glory.

With few exceptions, the overall feel of the collection of photographs is people simply enjoying themselves, being out of the house and among friends sharing their time together. Most people are happy to get their photograph taken but looking at some of the images Vince might not of asked first.

The Jarrovians was first published in 2001 by Vince and Willa Rae at The Bede Gallery, Jarrow.

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.

LITTLE IRELAND – documentary on Irish immigration into Jarrow, UK

DSC_0313

Sarah McFadden, (7th from left) my Great Grandmother, at Haggies Rope Works, in Willington Quay, Wallsend. A long way from Derry.

Little Ireland came about after I’d been researching my family tree in late 2007. I knew I had Irish background but not sure of the exact locations where they lived. The Local Studies Library in South Shields was a great source for information. The filing system with the old press cuttings and the brilliant photographs by Amy Flagg and James Cleet of Tyneside in the 1930’s. The area’s where some of my family lived after travelling from Ireland.

The old maps were really interesting. I could see where my Great Grandfather Dawson Downey from Derry lived. Bell Street, East Jarrow, across the road was the chemical works where he worked, next door was The Alkali pub and just up the road was St Bede’s Church. I thought thousands of families would be exactly the same. Never having to go very far. Living a small life.

I never realised the full impact that the Irish had on the North East and in my case, Jarrow. The population had grown so much around the 1890’s that the village became a small town. I started to jot down a few notes when I read an article in The Shields Gazette in 2008 about Irish immigration written by Tom Kelly (Jarrow born playwright). I got in touch and we met up at The Customs House in South Shields. Quickly, a plan was made, a structure for a documentary and interviews with Jarrovians with Irish ancestry fell into place. It wasn’t forced, it was easy to put together. 

We started filming at St Paul’s in East Jarrow. Tripod up, camera ready, Tom reading the opening lines from the script but it didn’t feel right. We stopped and went back to my studio. Had a cup of coffee, talked about it then went out in his car again to Jarrow. I started filming in his car and Tom started talking as he drove. This was more like it. Hand held felt more comfortable, being part of the film. As though an old Irishman had come back and was searching for his town ‘Like driving into the past’.

Over the next few weeks I filmed interviews with people who had Irish relatives. For one interview I arranged to talk to singer Leo Connolly at his home in Jarrow. I turned up, knocked on the door but got no answer. I knocked again and heard someone in the house. I looked through the front window and there they were. Two blokes with acoustic guitars and Leo in the middle singing his heart out. That was Little Ireland right there.

The documentary was successful it was screened for the first time to two sell out audiences at The Customs House on St Patricks Day 2009. The film has been shown at various venues including St Bede’s Church Hall where most of the Irish, and my family, attended when they first came to Jarrow over 100 years ago.

Link to the documentary, to check out other films on You Tube subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.