TALKING NUMBERS

Big thanks to all readers of the North East culture blog as we reach the quarter million milestone these are the 30 most read interviews to date:

1.TALKING PICTURES Lesley Saint-John, Auf Wiedersehen,Pet

2.DEATH OR GLORY Danny McCormack, The Wildhearts

3.MAN FOR ALL SEASONS Dave Ditchburn, Brass Alley/Talisman

4.ANGELS OF THE NORTH Mond Cowie, Angelic Upstarts

5.MUSIC MATTERS Les Tones & Arthur Ramm, Beckett

6.MUSIC STILL MATTERS Dave Taggart, Danceclass/Belinda Carlisle

7.RUN FOR HOME Michael McNally, actor/musician

8.JARROVIANS Vince Rea, photographer

9.ROKSNAPS Motorhead, Newcastle City Hall

10.LITTLE IRELAND Jarrow documentary

11.KEEP ON ROCKIN’ Tom Hill, Geordie

12.BACKLINE Par Can stagehand/lighting

13.LETTERS FROM JARROW I.R.A on Tyneside

14.HOWARDS WAY Howard Baker, musician

15.WESTOE ROSE Amy Flagg, photographer/historian

16.1980 The Year Metal Forged on Tyneside

17.ENTER STAGE RIGHT Jon Deverill, Tygers of Pan Tang

18.THE BOY FROM BENWELL Bob Smeaton, White Heat

19.ALL RIGHT NOW Michael Kelly, Southbound

20.RUNNING MAN Ray Laidlaw, Lindisfarne

21.FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE Micky Crystal, Tygers of Pan Tang

22.GROUND ZERO The Fauves

23.BOLD AS BRASS Marty Craggs, Lindisfarne

24.THE ENTERTAINER Kev Charlton, Hellanbach/Bessie & the Zinc Buckets

25.THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT Ray Spencer, The Customs House

26.STORMY DAZE Jim Clare, Venom

27.THE FIXER David Wood, Neat records

28.THE HOUSE THAT OLGA BUILT Olga, Toy Dolls

29.TYGER BAY Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, Tygers of Pan Tang

30. LAST GANGS IN TOWN, Tyneside band photographs

Click on ‘About’ for a full list of interviews and features.

To read an interview just enter the name in the white search bar on the home page.

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.

BORIS OUT !

The poem ‘Mask of Anarchy’ by Percy Shelly inspired Writer and Theatre producer Ed Waugh to write lyrics for a new song ‘For the Many, Not the Few’.

Ed recently got in touch…We are delighted to launch our new song and you can watch it on You Tubeit can also be downloaded from various platforms Facebook, Spotify and Amazon (link below)’.

‘The song is to launch Boris Out! A show of socialist comedy and entertainment – comedy sketches, satire, stand up, songs and poetry written and performed by some of the region’s top writers and actors. It is also a precursor to the political earthquake that is about to engulf the world’.

‘If you like it please share the song and the Boris Out! leaflet on social media.

If you don’t like it, still share it but say it’s by Duran Duran……

See you all at Boris Out! at the Tyneside Irish Centre on November 14’.

Due to demand, only tickets for the 3pm show are available.

The 7pm show is sold out (returns only) – only 50 remain for the 3pm show.

Buy your tickets for only £10 from:  borisout.eventbrite.com

Watch the video here:

Gary Alikivi  October 2021

TAKE A BOW – writer, actress & theatre producer, Leah Bell

The last 17 months have been surreal, I don’t want to live my life behind a glass window and frightened – I’m double jabbed and ready to rock n roll said Leah as we sat down in The Centurion bar in Newcastle Central Station.

‘Dirty Dusting’ full cast – Andrew Green, Vicky Entwistle (Coronation Street), Vicki Michelle (Allo, Allo) & Leah Bell.

I got a call from Ed Waugh ‘Would you be interested in putting on Dirty Dusting at Whitley Bay Playhouse for a week ? I saw it around 20 years ago when it opened so was interested in picking it up. He sent me the script and I thought I’m not learning all this for one week.

So I asked Ed and Trevor Wood (Writers) if I could make a few alterations to make it more current. Well Ed had been to review our pantomime at Consett Empire and had seen me do other variety shows so he knew I was comedy based. They said ‘You know what’s working when you’re doing it – go ahead’.

So I pushed it along and here we are with 31 dates on our ninth tour. It’s a sign of a good play when it can last as long as it has. I hope to start touring at the end of September, I love getting up and setting off to the next venue.

WE ARE FAMILY

The meeting of the cast for the photo call and press launch was in my niece’s dance studio in Bedlington where I live, so very handy to pop in to my house, the restaurant and the pub. It’s very important that everybody gets on and gels – they did and we had a great time.

Dirt Dusting starts in Blyth Phoenix and for all the dates the cast go into a theatre family. We have Vicki Michelle (Yvette Carte-Blanche in Allo, Allo) still a very glamorous lady, and Vicky Entwistle (Janice Battersby in Coronation Street) just so funny.

In the past young people have told me they brought their gran to the show because they thought they would like it. But it’s the young people who like it, one girl said to me ‘I never went on my phone once’. What an accolade (laughs).

I just hope people are not frightened to come back to theatre because at some point we have to make a decision how we are going to live the rest of our life. If people want to come into the theatre and keep a mask on fine, it might be mandatory anyway.

Promo pic for Beverley Artists Agency, South Shields.

THE CLUBS

When I was 12 year old I was putting play’s on in the backyard roping in my school friends and hanging my mother’s sheet up as the backcloth. Nobody in our family had any connection to the entertainment industry so I don’t know where it came from, my mother couldn’t understand it. I didn’t go to stage school, I was more academic and looking at being a teacher or a lawyer, but somewhere, somehow, I wanted to be on stage.

I was born in Benwell on the banks of the river Tyne, I didn’t come up through Jesmond when everything is there for you. I came up where you learned to survive and work. My brothers and sisters were the same – cut from the same cloth. From my experience I think North East women are strong.

At 15 I started for Beverly’s Agency in the North East. The working men’s clubs is where I learnt my craft. And I’m eternally grateful. The clubs were different back then they were always a discerning audience. The men didn’t go in the concert room if they didn’t have a suit and tie on.

I think that background stood me in good stead for working in showbusiness. Especially when I moved out of the North East into more of a national market, you realise it’s a tough industry. You can’t be easily knocked down.

DODDY TIME

I was very happy going into places doing what I felt I have to do – entertain. I started off singing but because the audience in clubs are close to you, and some aren’t adverse to talking to you, I learnt how to speak to them on a personal level. I didn’t realise at first but it translated into comedy, and from that I won club and stage awards.

I went on a summer season in Jersey and from there Ken Dodd put me on his UK tour in the early ‘70s. He used to stand in the wings which is very disconcerting. When I came off stage he would say ‘You’re timing that gag wrong, this is how you time it’. So I had for free, one of the best teachers of comedy. If I’m writing a gag or a comedy sketch his words on timing echo in my ear.

Ken Dodd put me on with him at the Victoria Palace, London when I was young and I’m glad because when you’re young you’re brave. I never thought if the London people would understand me. Will my approach be acceptable in the West End ? I just went on and did my act and spoke to people.

Leah with David Jason. Promo pic by Newcastle Chronicle for Cinderella at Newcastle Theatre Royal 1980.

OH YES HE IS

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). Being in the North East was like being sent to the Antarctic for him ‘Blaady ‘ell’ he’d say in his Cockney accent (laughs).

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 give 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.

SHOW MUST GO ON

But there has been low times like when I was doing final rehearsals for a touring show that was just stopped completely because of what happened in New York on 9/11 – the show just didn’t go ahead. But if the theatre permits it I’ve always gone on after terrible events.

When Princess Diana died I was in Jersey, and you could tell the mood of the island and all the holidaymakers, the whole world was watching news 24/7. It was decided that nothing would proceed that actual night, but from the next day it would carry on.

We were doing a fabulous ‘50s and swinging ‘60s show, I would do the opening and make a remark about it and say we need to carry on. The audience applauded that and relaxed into the show. It was like people were waiting for it and wanting us to acknowledge what had happened.

When I used to work on the cruise lines I was on the Canberra and we would be doing the rota, and none of us wanted to go on stage after we had stopped in Jerusalem. When the tourists got back on board they were very sombre and serious because they had been on a religious tour. We felt we would be far too flippant for them after they had spent the day there.

TURN BACK TIME

If I could go back and change anything I would like to have in my thirties the frame of mind I’ve got now. When you go through showbusiness you really have your heart on your sleeve all the time, you are trying to please everybody and doing what you think they want you to do.

I worried about performances when working for people when really I should have just enjoyed it more. I should have made more of the opportunities rather than worry about them. As I say to all the cast before they go out to do any show ‘Remember above all, try not to be shite’ (laughs).

LIGHTS UP

An old lady stopped me on Bedlington Front Street the other day and said ‘Leah are you gaan on at the Blyth, cos we’ve had our tickets cancelled from the Christmas show.

I said ‘yes I’m going on’.  ‘Good’ she said ‘we’re glad to be gaan oot cos we’re sick of stopping in’

I walked off saying ‘If the theatre is shut, I’ll do it in the car park behind ASDA’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2021