THE GOOD OLD DAYS ran for thirty years on the BBC, for the most part directed by Barney Colehan. Audiences willingly dressed up in late Victorian/ Edwardian costumes and watched a series of 'turns' presided over by Leonard Sachs. The entire event took place in the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds, one of the few remaining Victorian music-halls left operational in Britain.
The format never varied. Sachs introduced each act with a spate of long words, frequently alliterative, each one prompting the audience into cries of "Ooooh." He would bang his gavel and the act would come on to do their regulation three minutes. There would be a choral number from members of London's Players' Theatre (another extant music-hall), followed by some specialty acts, and the top of the bill artiste would finish the entire bill. The program would conclude with everyone, the actors, the singers and other artistes together with the audience, singing "Down at the Old Bull and Bush."
The program offered an elegant recreation of community values in which social and gender divisions did not matter. Everyone both on and off stage was out to enjoy themselves, and made doubly sure that they did, despite the tackiness of the material. In this episode, for instance, bill-topper Les Dawson reeled off a slew of sexist jokes, many of which were distinctly off-color, followed by a short turn on the piano where he did his characteristic act of playing familiar songs with wrong notes.
Despite Dawson's abilities, the entire act looked as if it had been thrown together. Some of the other turns were equally tacky, notably a magician who made a bikini-clad girl disappear. Peggy Mount did a bad impersonation of Florrie Forde, and Larry Parker mugged furiously. The entire bill reminded me of the last days of variety so painfully represented in Osborne's THE ENTERTAINER.
Yet any reservations about the quality of the bill were simply removed as we watched the audience thoroughly enjoying themselves, laughing in the right places and reveling in Sachs' flights of verbal fancy.
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