Gorleston-born author’s debut novel puts Great Yarmouth in the spotlight

A GORLESTON-born writer has put Great Yarmouth's dazzling theatrical history firmly back in the limelight through the pages of his debut novel.

Tony Gareth Smith has made the seaside town the star of his first book Twice Nightly, which follows the run of a pre-season summer variety show at the fictional Golden Sands Theatre.

The story is set in 1969, a year which has strong memories for Mr Smith - who was an avid theatre goer from a young age - and focuses on promoter Don Stevens who is asked to pull together the show at short notice.

He manages to recruit a magician, dance troupe, orchestra, comedian and a mind-blowing balancing act fresh from the set of TV talent show Opportunity Knocks.

But he is in for a surprise when he manages to secure West End leading lady June Ashby as his headline act, which intrigues the locals as her casting marks a return to the stage after a five year break.

Mr Smith, who attended the former Alderman Leach secondary school in Great Yarmouth and worked at Palmers department store, said Twice Nightly was a reminiscent story that he thought would appeal to older readers, who could remember the days when theatres staged two shows in one night.

The 56-year-old added: 'I always loved twice nightly theatre and loved variety; I was brought up on variety. My mum or father would always take me to see a show and in my teenage years I went on my own.

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'And 1969 sticks in my head so much because I'd always wanted to see (actress) Dora Bryan and I had a ticket for her last night in the front row. I was out with friends and one of my friends lost her handbag with my ticket in. Fortunately it was handed in to the police station and a day later I got my ticket back.'

Mr Smith, who starred in amateur dramatics and cabaret shows in his native Norfolk, has always been a keen writer and seized an opportunity to make something of his creative talents after being taken ill with angina.

'I had a triple heart bypass and while I was recovering my sisters said to me why don't you do something with your writing,' he added. 'Here I was with three months recovery time so I pulled out an old story and started taking notes.'

A friend provided some proof reading assistance and with help from a colleague he then secured a publisher.

Mr Smith said he is 'very proud' with the finished article, which is also a 'tribute' to the artists who would perform in the twice nightly shows, many of whom he got to meet during his dozens of trips to Yarmouth's many theatres.

But he said all the characters in the novel were original apart from one personality who was 'loosely based' on a woman who worked in his mother's guest house and would get her words muddled up.

He added: 'Nineteen sixty nine was very clear in my head when I wrote it and of course the town is much changed now so this book would appeal to an older reader but it's also a little bit of history, I'd like to think.'

Mr Smith now lives in London and works as a PA for the RNIB but is already working on book number two, which is also set in Norfolk and will include some theatrical elements.

? Twice Nightly is available on a print to order basis. To order a copy and find out more about Mr Smith visit www.twicenightly.net.

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