The Battery has stood guard at the mouth of the river Blyth in Northumberland for more than a century. It’s an impressive array of buildings that acted as a lookout, armaments, storage and an assembly point during World War 1, the Battery also boasted two six-inch guns for coastal defense.
This weekend, May 20 & 21, the Battery is hosting two days of exciting historical activities when it presents Blyth Battery Goes to War.
Lindsay Durward, secretary of Blyth Battery Volunteers, explained “We are delighted to announce our exciting activities for the weekend. There is something for people of all ages, from children to the older generation.”
Run by dedicated volunteers the weekend will involve a full programme of music, comedy, song and dance and re-enactments from 10am to 4pm each day. Top Northumberland folk combo Beeswing will close the weekend at 3pm on Sunday.
“We take the history of the battery very seriously. One of the main aims of Blyth Battery Goes to War is to put the battery plus Blyth on the map as well as enjoy ourselves.”
“It’s a free event but we would ask everyone to put a few coins in our donation buckets, buy a cuppa in our cafe, tell their friends to come back after the event and talkto us. We are always looking for volunteers to come along and see what we do”.
For further details about the Blyth Battery Goes to War weekend and summer visits, visit the Blyth Battery Facebook page, BlythBattery.org.uk or contact
When it’s finally time to leave the stage all entertainers would love to go out at the top and Sunderland born comedian Bobby Thompson was no exception.
At his peak performing in North East clubs, punters were packed in like sardines and in 1985 Bobby was interviewed on BBC TV’s Wogan Show.
But is there a reminder of his achievements anywhere in the North East, and what happened to Bobby? There is a story that he had a statue given to him by The Little Waster pub in Wallsend after it closed down.
One night Bobby was broken into, cash, jewellery, and gold records were bagged, but after opening a cupboard and seeing his statue the burglars fled empty handed after realising who the house belonged to.
The life of Bobby, aka The Little Waster, features in A Private Audience by Dave Nicolson. The book is packed with interviews from fellow performers, managers and family members, with a foreword by comedian Ken Dodd…
‘To have an audience in uproar, to help them forget their everyday problems and worries, if only for an evening, is an experience to treasure’.
Former manager Brian Shelley remembers…
‘At the height of popularity his fee in the clubs was between £300-£500 a night. He did theatres for £1,000 for an eighteen minute slot. He was riding the crest of a wave. Bobby had it all going for him in 1978 with his record out’.
Some people interviewed on this site have mentioned seeing Bobby’s act or working with him. Back in October 2019, David Wood, boss of Wallsend’s Impulse studio, told me a story with a surprising ending.
I knew his manager Brian Shelley, he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go.
We recorded him in Rhyope Club and Newcastle Mayfair around 1978. It was around an hours recording we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it. Ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.
Soon as we put the record out it took off, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads, they couldn’t get enough off it. It was phenomenal.
With the profit from Bobby’s album the studio came on in leaps and bounds. We started the Neat heavy metal record label as an alternative to what we were doing.
We released a couple of singles then the Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of heavy metal singles. So yeah we’ve got to thank Bobby for Neat records.
In September 2019 I talked to actor and musicianPete Peverly who performs as Bobby in a tribute show. If he had a posh accent would he have appeared a lot more on TV and topped the bill on UK tours ?
His accent wasn‘t just Geordie it was Pitmatic, that’s very strong, and yes it was a barrier but one of the reasons why he didn’t make it outside the region was because I think he didn’t want to, he had everything up here.
He might have had more ambition in the early part of his career when he was doing Wot Cheor Geordie for the BBC. Maybe he thought about pushing it further but certainly not during the ‘70s.
All the other regional comics and entertainers who made it nationally were all-rounders, actors, comedians, song and dance men, Bobby wasn’t. He was a pit comedian from the Durham coalfields talking specifically to that community.
One performer who worked with Bobby was actor, writer and theatre producerLeah Bell. I talked to Leah back in July 2021 and asked her what was he like to work with?
I worked with Bobby Thompson a lot, he was a nice man. His act was of its time, the poverty, the war – very funny.
We done a panto in Newcastle Theatre Royal with David Jason (Only Fools and Horses). David didn’t know Bobby Thompson at all, Bobby never rehearsed with us, there was no interaction.
So Bobby done his cabaret piece at the start of act two, and afterwards backstage would shuffle around saying hello to people.
David used to say to me ‘What a shame for that old fella, fancy having to work at his age, I’ve just given him some money for a cup of tea’. I said ‘What ! He gets dropped off in a limousine (laughs)’.
One night David said ‘He’s never in the finale, it’s nice of the theatre to let him go early, he must be tired’. Really, Bobby was doubling up and playing the late spot at Newcastle Mayfair.
Bobby had great delivery, clear, distinctive and not draggy. It can sound like he’s just talking along but it’s not, it’s very precise. He was a one off.
Another North East comedian, Bobby Pattinson, is interviewed in the book.
‘Over the years I gave him bookings at my club. I never saw him as a rival, but regarded him as a friend even though people told me he didn’t have a good word for me’.
‘Most North East comics were content to go on stage in any order, Bobby always wanted to be last, he interpreted that as top of the bill. Buthe wasn’t as successful as I hoped when I booked him in December 1981 and had to cancel sixteen shows’.
In his detailed introduction, author Dave Nicolson tells us…
‘Bobby had success and money through the golden years, but he also had loneliness. The last few years were embarrassing for him, empty tables and chairs told him the harsh truth. Even the examiner at his bankruptcy hearing in 1986 was kind and considerate’.
‘Having lost the company of an audience his feeling of loneliness and isolation intensified. Spending late nights at Newcastle’s Casino Royale and the roulette wheel provided his nightly stage’.
Sadly, Bobby died on Saturday 16th April 1988 in Preston Hospital, North Shields. Family and friends attended his funeral with a fellow comedian adding a one liner that summed up Bobby Thompson…
’He’s late because he’s found out there’s another funeral after this and he wants to go on last!’
Alikivi May 2023
Research: Bobby Thompson, A Private Audience by Dave Nicholson.
North East couple Jools and Paul Donnelly have a huge passion for promoting the North East’s recent cultural heritage, theyalsorun the Handyside Arcade publishing company, and the Club A’Gogo dance events named after the famous Newcastle venue.
From 1962-68 Club a’Gogo hosted a number of amazing gigs from legendary bands The Who, The Animals, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, plus from America – Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker.
‘We successfully lobbied Newcastle Council for a heritage plaque at the site of Club a’Gogo – we are incredibly proud of this. We’ve also published our first book ‘Club a’Gogo & The Mod Scene of 1960s Newcastle’ which is on sale now, more books are planned’.
Both Jools and Paul are passionate collectors of 60s mod culture which includes vintage clothing, shoes, magazines, records and books, now the couple have combined their extensive collection for an exhibition held in Newcastle City Library.
I asked Jools what was the catalyst for the exhibition?
It actually came from two sources, last year we visited the Punk No.1 exhibition at Newcastle City Library and this year we were in London for a private viewing of Contemporary Wardrobe, a supplier of costumes to the film and music industry.
This huge collection of vintage clothing is owned by former mod and stylist Roger K Burton. Roger has done a number of exhibitions and we were so inspired we thought we could do that.
I asked Paul what’s the response been to the exhibition?
Amazing, and to be honest far better than we expected. We’ve done regular ‘meet and greet’ events at the library – next one is Saturday March 11th from 2-4pm, where people can chat with us about the exhibition and share their memories of those glory days.
People have brought their own memorabilia to show us, it’s been a fantastic experience. We’ve also had a good turn out from a younger generation who have been fascinated by how cool the youths of the North East were back then.
Lots of original mods and Club a’Gogo members have turned up to see the exhibition, they’ve shared their stories of seeing the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who and of course The Animals.
We’ve encouraged them to come along to our monthly Club a’Gogo Dance Party events where I play the Club a’Gogo sounds on vinyl.
What next for the exhibition?
This ends on 31 March 2023 and we are aiming for more exhibitions. Our next one is early 2024 that will celebrate the history of the Handyside Arcade.
(The sorely missed Arcade was a glass roofed horseshoe shaped building which housed a number of independent and alternative shops including Kard Bar. It was also the place where tribes of young people – mods, hippies, punks – would meet and hang out on weekends).
Jools added….We want to highlight the Arcades importance and promote the North East’s sub cult heritage.
On Sunday March 6, The Word in South Shields is holding an event for International Women’s Dayto celebrate women’s achievements.
Kicking off at 1pm the celebration will incorporate excerpts fromEd Waugh’snew play, Wor Bella, plus trailer films and talks by representatives of women’s groups in the region.
“Men were conscripted so women flocked into the workplaces to save the World War One effort. The heroic munitionettes worked a 60-hour week in dangerous conditions.”
Ed added “In 1917 football matches started to be organized for a bit of fun and to give people entertainment. Matches were played on Tyneside at Westoe while Palmers of Jarrow had a crack women’s football team based on the shipyards there.”
By the end of the war there were over 1 million working women, of these, 700,000 were employed in the munitions industry and 80 per cent of all weapons were produced by these working class women.
Things quickly became serious as women trained and dedicated their spare time to developing all-female teams that could compete against each other. Hundreds of teams formed spontaneously throughout the country – often 2,000-3,000 people paid their 6d (£1.50 today) to be entertained.
In the North East teams were formed in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, Darlington, Hartlepool and County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside, Newcastle and Gateshead
Blyth Spartans Ladies in Northumberland became local and regional heroes, playing in front of an average 4,000.
The Blyth women worked at Blyth docks in South East Northumberland unloading spent shells from France, and the biggest star was Bella Reay, their magnificent centre forward who notched 133 goals in 30 unbeaten games.
Wor Bella, who was ‘the Alan Shearer of her day’ and Blyth Spartans Ladies went on to win the 1918 Munitionettes Cup against Bolckow Vaughan of Middlesbrough in front of 22,000 people at Ayresome Park, then home ground of Middlesbrough FC.
The play Wor Bella is about women’s football as seen through the eyes of Bella Reay (played by Lauren Waine). The International Women’s Day Celebration takes place on Sunday March 6, at the Market Place venue in South Shields town centre from 1pm to 3pm.