OPINION: Coastal chuckles in the world of seaside entertainment

Food for thought as Norfolk favourites Olly Day (right) and Nigel “Boy” Syer

Food for thought as Norfolk favourites Olly Day (right) and Nigel “Boy” Syer prepare to harvest more big crops of laughs at Gorleston Pavilion Theatre - Credit: Submitted

Young Albert was afforded the lion’s share of publicity when he went to Blackpool and got a bit more than fresh air and fun. Of course, if you swallow that little yarn you’ll help keep the true spirit of music hall alive.

Seaside entertainment, thankfully, still finds room for the odd slice of outrageous nostalgia along with all trappings of the modern era. Why, our coastline publicity moguls have been known to use “The Good Old Days” as an inducement rather than just an apology on behalf of those who like dipping into yesterday’s waters.

Remember how your sense of childhood wonder was sharpened by seaside sights, smells and sounds? You didn’t have to be a Young Albert anxious to do mischief, poking out a stick with a horse’s head handle. Bucket and spade, stick of rock and a couple of bob for the funfair would do.

Perhaps familiarity and availability feed cynicism a fair bit these days. Blame glossy fast cars instead of dodgems and smartphones replacing black and white television if you like. Even so, there must still be a few thousand tingles to spare when a family on holiday, or just paying a visit, size up live shows on offer.

Such enticing variety for which our resorts are lauded has been in short supply for well over a year – but there are signs of comeback fun and laughter warming up in the wings. The ever-affable Olly Day, Norfolk’s own purveyor of magic, mirth and music, hopes the current “dribs and drabs” menu can soon give way to full-blown feasts.

He and regular sidekick Nigel “Boy” Syer head the bill for Summer Showtime at Gorleston Pavilion Theatre every Tuesday until October and also aim to join forces at the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton on the afternoon of Thursday, September 16.

“Social distancing means smaller audiences and frustrations remain on many other counts. But we are back to doing what we love, especially for holidaymakers who have come to expect top-line entertainment on Norfolk stages” says Olly.

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There is no adequate substitute for a live show. I have checked over many years with comedians, singers, musicians, ventriloquists, jugglers, actors, summer-seasoned campaigners and young hopefuls at bottom of the bill … all agree it’s the only way to find and keep that genuine rapport between artist and audience.

While on local newspaper duty at Great Yarmouth in the 1960s I relished a chance to chat with stars who had come to terms with a new era. Many had honed their trades in music halls and moved on to earn big money on television.

Jimmy Wheeler, one of my favourites, confided one night at the Windmill Theatre that entertainment belonged on stage with an audience out front. As he pushed back that famous battered trilby and tuned his violin, he chuckled: “They might not tell you but a lot of ‘em round here do summer seasons to keep sane!”

He didn’t elaborate - “Ay -ay, thass yer lot”! – but I picked up several other hints about sea air being good for your sanity as I haunted dressing rooms. Frankie Howerd, Dick Emery, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Morecambe and Wise, Mike and Bernie Winters, Des O’Connonr, Jimmy Clitheroe … along with many other established” laughter-raisers.

I scored seven out of 10 from impressionist Peter Goodwright for my version of Captain Pugwash. Eric Morecambe greeted me with a cheery “Come in, young man, and take the weight off your notebook!”. Donald Peers told me off for asking what it was like making a comeback. “My dear boy, I have never been away!” he beamed.

It all depends how old you are as to where you pitch your version of “The Good Old Days. In offering mine, I must strike one or two notes of regret. I never saw George Formby or Max Miller live on stage, while a national newspaper didn’t pay up for telling quotes I phoned over on the night it was announced Jimmy Tarbuck was taking over as compere of television’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Back on the credit side, I watched Tommy Cooper sort out some of his props. To this day I can’t understand why he didn’t hit me when I suggested I couldn’t remember his name – but the fez was familiar.

A risky business sowing seeds along the Golden Mile just to spice up your memories.

Skip's Aside: Even a curmudgeonly old stick-in-the-mud like me can appreciate an occasional dip into fresh streams of thought. It’s more like a veritable plunge when highly articulate folk ask if I dream in dialect.

Now, they could be hinting at a mildly obsessive streak following me around for best part of 60 years as writer, broadcaster and entertainer in my native Norfolk. It’s easy to get a bit of a reputation when you preface erudite observations with “Cor, blarst me!” and “Thass a rum ole dew!”.

Perhaps they see me as some kind of bucolic missionary ready to lead lost souls into a new linguistic sunlight . Or as a dangerous fundamentalist refusing to accept days are numbered for mardling mawthers and fair-ter-middlin ’mawkins.

Whatever the motive behind that amiable inquisition, it stirs me into bursts of deep reflection throughout a run of events soaked in local culture.

I certainly hear echoes of another Norfolk, another age in my dreams, a time and place where blackberries and buttercups blot out bedraggled suburbs and ugly by-passes while locals chat as if they know and care how communities work.

Yes, the accent is on nostalgia and I suppose we can influence our own slumbering pictures to some extent. However, any voices raised from the past seem to call for honest comparisons.

As most of those voices chided and challenged me along the snakes-and-ladders country lanes and across cows-or-crops fields they must carry a coating of Norfolk dialect.

I take it for granted that a good old boy dropping in to make sense of a highly complex dream set in Norfolk would interpret being wise after the event as “wunt a’ went if I’d a’ known”

And he’d point to knockin’ and toppin’, back-breaking lot of sugar-beet workers before mechanisation, as the perfect scene to counter romantic notions about toil on the land.

Perhaps some of those nocturnal musings had been coloured by the work of Mary Mann, A Norfolk farmer’s wife, she produced superbly-crafted stories packed with acute feeling for rich dialect and ruined lives in our Victorian countryside.

She was determined to highlight rural plight rather than rustic charm.

*Asked if I dream in colour, I say yes --- but it could be just a pigment of my imagination.