Bobby Crush is the headliner as traditional seaside variety returns to Bognor Regis this summer in The Summer Variety Show at the Regis Centre from Thursday to Saturday, August 25-27.
It’s a toe in the water for a form of seaside entertainment which many had feared had gone for good. Bobby, for one, salutes the idea of trying to bring it back.
“It’s certainly unusual in this day and age where most theatres are not prepared to take the risk on a summer season,” Bobby concedes, “but Hazel (Latus, producer at Bognor) is prepared to give it a go – just for three days, which is great. She is trying to recreate the golden days of the summer season which I did a lot of in my early career.”
Bobby has got precisely the pedigree to make it succeed. From his six winning appearances on TV’s Opportunity Knocks as a teenager through to his three seasons at the London Palladium, numerous gold and silver discs, starring roles in four musicals and appearances for various members of the Royal Family, Bobby remains one of the UK’s favourite musicians.
“I came in on the tail end of the Bernard Delfont summer seasons where you could have ten musicians in the pit and 12 dancers and a full variety bill. My first variety season was in 1973 in Eastbourne and we were doing two shows a night and selling out every performance.
“It was a time when not everybody was in the habit of going abroad for holidays, and summer seasons were thriving for performers. Somebody like me could pack a bag for four months and hire a house and be quite settled while at the same time being in association with some great colleagues. My first summer season was with Dickie Henderson and Lionel Blair. And the summer seasons continued into the 80s and slightly beyond before they fizzled out 20 years ago. But things go round. Things turn in cycles. In terms of variety coming back, you have got things like Britain’s Got Talent on TV and also Sunday Night at the London Palladium being revived. Maybe people are just starting to look to come to variety shows again and maybe it will just take a little bit of educating them.”
Bobby can certainly promise something special: “Live theatre is the best and only way to actually feel like you are participating in a show rather than just watching TV. With live theatre, obviously, it is something that is actually happening in front of you. I think a lot of youngsters have not really got into the habit alongside all the other distractions around like movies and PlayStations and so on. But things were different in my generation. My mum and dad brought me up to go to the theatre and saw it as part of my education, just as I have done with my nieces. They are 22 and 20 now, and I would like to think that if they are still going to the theatre now, it has got something to do with Uncle Bobby!”
It’s part of the story Bobby will tell in his autobiography. He reckons he is probably about half way through writing it now. It will be quite some story: “I have worked with lots of interesting people. I was at the Palladium with Julie Andrews and Jack Jones and Morecambe & Wise, and my experiences of the business have been mainly positive.”
For Bobby, so famously, it all started on Opportunity Knocks a little matter of 44 years ago, that great pre-runner of all our talent competitions today.
“I won Opportunity Knocks for seven weeks, and at the time it was a record. It gave me my start in the business. It was all through Opportunity Knocks that I got a six-album deal with Philips Records which I was really thrilled about. I had always wanted to make records and I found myself on the same label as Dusty Springfield, my favourite singer.”
Back then, Opportunity Knocks was averaging 15 or 16 million viewers a week at a time when there were just three channels – not that that necessarily added to the pressure for young Bobby.
“My father gave up his job and became my road manager. He took a lot of the pressure off me. He would drive me to gigs and do my VAT and sort out hotels, and if ever I was showing signs that I was getting a bit swell-headed, the fact that my dad was my road manager and keeping a keen eye on me kept my feet on the ground.
“So I didn’t really feel pressurised, but my memory of my teenage years and early 20s was being on the road and being in endless hotels and working really hard. I wanted to make the most of the opportunities I was given. I knew that a lot of people that came from Opportunity Knocks had a career for maybe a year or two years, but I was looking at it as long-term employment. I was looking at the bigger picture so I was having singing lessons and dance lessons, and I took it really seriously – to the detriment of my personal life. My personal life went out of the window! But this is my 44th year in the business now, so I have managed to keep it going.
“Opportunity Knocks was part of a kinder age. There was no judging panel. There was no filming of the auditions. There was no expectation about people going for auditions that obviously had no hope getting through. You had your chance and then it was up to the public.
“In 1972, there was no telephone voting. It was postcards, can you imagine, and if you didn’t get enough, you didn’t come back the following week. If you got enough, you came back week after week until someone knocked you off. I just felt from the word go that you had to adapt, that you had to keep learning new skills and go into other areas.”
The host of Opportunity Knocks was the redoubtable Hughie Green.
“So much has come out about him since his death that people are always interested in what I thought he was like, but I have to speak as I find and I have to say that he was always very good to me. I think he appreciated the fact that in the early days I would always give him credit for giving me my break.”
Tickets on 01243 861010.
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