David Clayton remembers friend John Fisher, the man who brought Talk of the East to Norwich
PUBLISHED: 18:33 23 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:57 24 January 2019
He was the man who changed the entertainment scene in Norwich by launching a cabaret venue which attracted stars such as Bernard Manning, Frankie Howerd and Gene Pitney. David Clayton remembers his late pal John Fisher
I have a spurious claim to fame – I closed one of Norwich’s most famous entertainment venues – the Melody Rooms in Oak Street. I say “closed,” in fact I was the last DJ to play some tunes before the doors finally shut. Bands such as The Who, Status Quo, and Slade appeared there during the sixties and early seventies. Many couples met on the dancefloor and lived the rest of their lives together.
It wasn’t for long because within a matter of weeks, after some swift renovations, the place re-opened as a plush cabaret club. This was April 1974 and Norfolk was doing its usual thing of catching up with the rest of the country where big cabaret venues such as The Fiesta Club at Stockton, Jollees at Stoke and the Baileys nightclub circuit had been packing ‘em in for years.
The building was just ready in time and the opening night was memorable with The Flirtations and TV comedian, Jerry Harris. I know because I was there as the new, nervous DJ. So, I closed one venue and opened another thanks to one man – John Fisher.
I was sad to hear that he’d died, I have much to thank him for and I’m not surprised there’ve been many tributes paid to him because he was an important figure in our local entertainment scene. Thanks to John’s vision and perhaps at the time, a degree of risk, the fine city of Norwich had its own cabaret venue. It launched as Talk of the East, changed into Talk of East Anglia and then reverted to the shorthand version of what everyone called it, The Talk
John was the figurehead of this new Norfolk night out, standing at the end of the bar, dressed immaculately, usually with his wife Ronnie beside him, keeping an eagle-eye on the whole operation.
He had the highest of standards both on stage and off. Brian Russell took on the role of fronting the resident band. He’d toured the clubs up north with his showband Edentree and brought his vast experience to compering the Talk’s cabaret nights. Between the three of us we ran the show each night. Brian and I spent each day at the venue anyway, running Norwich Artistes Agency, booking entertainment around the region but more importantly the weekly acts to appear at Norwich’s new nightclub.
Thanks to Brian’s contacts, they came from all over the country but many of them never got used to how far away Norwich was from everywhere else. Many’s the night John, Brian and I would be pacing up and down waiting for an act to arrive. No mobile phones back then to reassure us. What looked like a three-hour journey on a map confounded people like Bernard Manning who as he finally walked on to the Talk’s stage said, in no uncertain terms,” I’ve been travelling here since ******* yesterday!” You can fill in the expletive yourself and you wouldn’t be wrong!
Throughout the seventies The Talk was the place to go to see memorable acts who weren’t necessarily household names on TV but had wowed cabaret audiences all over the country, like the amazing hypnotist Tony Sands. Then the outrageous comedian Jimmy Jones and just before he landed a TV gameshow called Bullseye, the hilarious Jim Bowen. All three packed the place night after night. Big stars such as Gene Pitney, Frankie Howerd and Val Doonican appeared for one-night specials. The place buzzed.
More than that, John Fisher oversaw a venue that gave a chance to hundreds of Norfolk based acts who, when filling that all-important “support act” role, gained valuable experience.
After a long career in broadcasting I have no doubt where the roots of what I do come from. They come from long hours in a nightclub ensuring an audience had the best time possible.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.