From other articles in this series it might be thought that Belle Vue, during this period, was a glum place to work and the trials and tribulations of making a silk purse from a sow's ear left the staff with little time to enjoy working in, what after all was, a place of entertainment.
Trials and tribulations there were but many interesting events and personalities helped brighten the working environment.
I'm going to change the style for this article and relate some anecdotes involving people I personally dealt with and events not known to the public at the time.
I'll start with Harry Mortimer, the doyen of brass band competition organising. Already well past retirement age when I met him, he was the total master of his craft, an inspiration to anyone wanting to learn the art of event organisation and a total brass band enthusiast. Given the "Nationals" had been a Belle Vue institution for longer than anyone wanted to remember, he was almost a staff member and the Brass Band Office, above Caesar's Palace, was full of mementos of one of Britain's finest amateur pursuits.
Harry, in my hearing, never said a thing against the state of Kings Hall and he maintained his loyalty to the last, only vacating the venue when it closed. Having said that, he could be very tough with the management and he set a standard for the operation of the venue for his events as strict as the standards set for judging the bands.
In my book he rates with Patrick Moore, Arthur Negus and Jack Hargreaves as one of those people, so devoted to their passion, that they captivated others and, in doing so, became national institutions.
Another couple of people in the same mould were Johnny Morris and David Bellamy. I booked them in the spring of 1977 to run a series of lectures in Kings Hall aimed at school children.
My first memory of Johnny is as the BBC Children's Television "Hot Chestnut Man", from the mid 1950s, when he appeared as a London chestnut seller who told stories. He was closely associated with Bristol Zoo and the BBC Natural History Unit, based in Bristol and his TV and radio animal programmes were legendary as were his rather offbeat radio travelogues.
At Kings Hall he gave a series of lectures to primary school children explaining the purpose of zoos and the reasons for not keeping exotic animals in a domestic environment. Two incidents from these lectures stick in my mind. The lectures were "illustrated", not by slides or film but by live zoo animals, paraded around the Circus ring. This put the children within feet of the animals with no bars between.
Imagine the collective gasp when a male lion appeared, led by a handler on a lead. Blanco was an eighteen month old lion that Peter Grayson had hand reared from birth. Unable to rejoin the lion community, Blanco had his own cage and the Belle Vue staff both loved him and spoiled him rotten. In the summer, with visitors around, we were not allowed to stroke him through the bars of his cage and his walks around the grounds on a lead with the odd excursion down Hyde Road (to the consternation of many a driver) were kept until the visitors went home. In the off season, he was the subject of much attention and he had certainly decided that he was a furry, four footed, human.
As part of Johnny's lecture, Blanco was paraded along with other animals. The audience were seated in a semi circle around two thirds of the ring, going back for six or seven rows. I was seated opposite the audience, behind Johnny. One of the reasons for my presence was to ensure the microphone lead, which led across the ring to an amplifier box near my seat, did not spook any of the animals as it snaked around as Johnny "talked and walked".
During the second lecture Blanco, who had behaved impeccably the first week, completed his circuit of the ring and, clearly deciding he wanted to acknowledge my presence, leapt onto my lap. Now an eighteen month old lion leaping onto one's lap - even in fun is a heart stopping experience. The weight alone takes your breath away, being licked on the face is quite revolting but Blanco's piece de resistance could not have illustrated Johnny's point more vividly.
Ad libbing like mad and trying desperately not to dissolve in laughter, Johnny reinforced his warning of how unsuitable lions are as domestic pets whilst Blanco liberally sprayed me with pee in an effort to seal our, up until then, quite close friendship.
One week and a ruined suit later, we took steps to avoid a repetition by having Blanco pass me on the way into the ring when he was focussed on the audience and exiting on the far side of the gap. This worked OK but it was Johnny's week to stop the show.
We had a reasonably tame Bactrian camel with two large humps. Unlike its fellows, this one did not have a reputation for spitting when excited or annoyed and our faith in its temperament had been borne out during the previous lectures. For some reason that morning the usual handler, a young man, was not available and the camel was led in by a young, attractive and very well endowed, woman. With his back to the animal entrance, Johnny's cues for each animal were both a well rehearsed time gap between each animal and the "oohs and aaghs" from the audience. As I said, the audience were primary school children but there were a number of male teachers around the auditorium. No doubt they paid a little more attention than they might have done when our lady handler appeared.
Their attention was riveted, however, when Johnny, with his back to the animal and expecting a Bactrian camel with male handler said, in all innocence, "now here we have one of the finest examples of a beautiful double humper" at which point the attendant Belle Vue staff, the male teachers and some of the more precocious children dissolved in laughter.
The camel, however didn't see the funny side and tried to bolt, spit and defecate all at once.
Johnny, turning to see the reason for the unscheduled upset to the well ordered proceedings, uttered an unscripted "oh my Gawd" and retreated to my side while order and dignity were restored by removing both animal and handler, not to mention the large steaming mass from the edge of the ring.
The arrangement with Johnny was a professional one on a fee basis. I was delighted, therefore, when he invited Peter Grayson and his partner along with my wife and I to the Free Trade Hall to hear his "Carnival of the Animals" performance with the Halle Orchestra, under the baton of Owain Arwel Hughes.
Afterwards, he entertained us to dinner at the Midland where Owain and he proceeded to amuse us well into the evening and we were joined by the actor Nigel Stock, at that time appearing on national TV in a doctor drama series set in the Cotswolds.
Johnny and I exchanged Christmas cards for many years after I left Belle Vue and I was sad to read of his death a while ago.
David Bellamy provided a much more scientific series of lectures for secondary school children. At the time he was lecturing at Durham University and was at the start of his media fame, appearing on television with Dr Magnus Pike in programmes designed to attract interest in science at peak viewing time.
He was extremely personable and very happy to converse with my then three year old daughter. I was a little saddened, some 14 years later, when I met him again at a reception in the House of Commons at the launch of an environment exhibition, when he not only didn't remember me at all but couldn't recall ever having lectured at Belle Vue.
Television used Belle Vue for various events. Johnny Hamp, a true TV entertainment genius, used the Bier Halle for the Comedians, a fast patter showcase for up and coming club comedians, which aired nationally from Granada at Saturday evening peak time.
The scenario for the Belle Vue show was that the Comedians were on tour and would stop their coach at any likely looking venue and offer their entertainment.
Some of the cast I met were Colin (Give order) Crompton, Frank (It's the way I tell 'em) Carson, with whom I had an acquaintance for some years, Tom O'Connor, Mike (Frank Butcher) Reid (above), Ken Goodwin and Bernard Manning who, when they were filming the cast leaving the bus, turned to the front wheel and pretended to pee over it. This brought a thunderous rebuke from Hamp which left Manning, a big man by any measure, looking like a cowering child and the whole scene was re-shot.
At the time only Bernard Manning (right) had a real toe-hold in show business by virtue of owning a club in North Manchester. The rest were from the club circuit, many having had other jobs during the day and, having fairly recently gone into show business full time, they knew that the Comedians was probably a make or break chance.
Talking with them during the breaks in filming, I felt far more secure dealing with Belle Vue's problems than I would have done in their positions at the time.
It is a tribute to Johnny Hamp's genius that very few of his selection of comedians for the show, over many series, failed to either make real money in comedy or go on to become national stars in variety or straight acting.
When Granada filmed a station identifier sequence on the waterchute, a number of the staff and I became temporary TV "stars" for a few vainglorious months, as we were the people who rode in the cars for the filming!!
TV also gave me the chance to spend an afternoon in close proximity to a famous TV actress. Geoffrey Lancashire (Sarah Lancashire's father) had written a successful series known as The Cuckoo Waltz, a gentle comedy about newly marrieds starring Diane Keen and David Roper.
One episode called for them to have a day at Belle Vue and a sequence was to be filmed on the Jetstream. The key shot called for Diane and her screen husband to look terrified on the first drop on the ride. The problem was how to shoot it.
The ride dropped about seventy feet at a very steep angle for the first descent this giving the momentum for much of the remainder of the ride. The idea was to have some close up facials, plus some cutaways shot from the ground, to show the steepness of the drop.
The cameraman was Mike Blakeley, now one of Granada's most senior cameramen who has covered news and documentary stories around the world, some in situations of extreme danger.
Mike and I knew each other well. We had been in the sixth form together and his grandfather was John Blakeley, Director of Mancunian Films that used to shoot its Lancashire epics in the old church on Dickenson Rd, which became the BBC studios from where Top of the Pops was first broadcast. My grandfather, Fred Blinkhorn, was a director of the company and our immediate and more distant family members had known each other for years.
We held a council of war. As we were in the days before the small, broadcast standard, video camera, the equipment Mike was using was large and heavy, especially when equipped, as it had to be for the shot, with a battery pack.
Mike volunteered to stand braced against the front of the car, the front seats would be removed and the "stars" would sit in what had been the second row. I would sit on the floor of the car between Mike's legs, holding his legs to help brace him. My feet would be between Diane's legs with her legs gripping my ankles.
Thus we set off up the long climb to the first summit on the ride. The shock of the drop hit us in different ways. Mike, with his back to the direction of travel, lost the shot as the camera moved away from Diane's face, I, unable to see where the car was, was taken completely by surprise and went rigid and Diane looked terrified (and later confirmed she was).
Next time round we did a dry run with a stopwatch and from the third, fourth and fifth trips we had enough takes to satisfy the Director.
Some years later I bumped into Diane at the check in at the Midland Hotel and she had the grace not only to remember me, unprompted, but told me the humorous version of the story she told her friends (which I won't repeat here).
Television also brought fame to professional wrestlers. The one who always amazed me when he was at Belle Vue was Giant Haystacks. A mountain of a man, he could be vicious in the ring, yet he was gentle and, though not the brightest button in the box, he was interesting to talk to. My abiding memory is of him leaving Belle Vue on a mid week winter evening (and this happened every time he was at Belle Vue) on foot, holding hands with a tiny lady, less than a quarter of his bulk and about two thirds of his height. That tiny figure was his mother.
Sport and Belle Vue (after the demise of the Rugby Club) generally meant motor sport. Speedway reigned supreme with Stock Cars the poor relation always held up as the culprit whenever the Speedway track was in a poor state of repair. Peter Collins was the "star" in residence but I had little to do with him. Eric Boocock was the Manager and he was full of ideas and a great enthusiast for a sport of which I knew little but for which I had to assist in gaining sponsorship. I can't comment on his management style but his work with me was all I could ask for and I envied the way he dealt with a, sometimes, aggressive press.
By far the greatest number of stars and personalities associated with Belle Vue, in my short time there, were from the world of pop music. Concerts were the lifeblood of Kings Hall and, by default it was Manchester's premier venue.
But something happened between 1976 and 1978 that owed much to a young aggressive Manchester entrepreneur, the availability of the disco at the Elizabethan Ballroom and the vision of the Ballroom Manager, Mike Hare, in persuading senior management to accept a new culture, which brought some steady and worthwhile income.
Kings Hall concerts were on a different planet. In my time a raft of stars appeared and I had the good fortune to meet most of them and deal particularly closely with some.
The remarks made by Shirley Bassey re the state of Kings Hall have been mentioned in a previous article and were made a few weeks before my arrival. On the Saturday before my employment commenced, Elton John performed to a packed house, which had to be evacuated due to a bomb scare. Other problems, including the scaling of Kings Hall roof by young David Cassidy fans (female) were well documented at the time and caused no end of problems for both security and management and the remoteness of the star did not help the mood of those of us who were involved in facilitating his appearance and ensuring the safety of his fans.
Rod Stewart played Belle Vue, much to the delight of my wife. He was personable and friendly, Britt Ekland, his then significant other, was a different kettle of fish. Whilst playing up to him, she made the life of the Kings Hall staff, the roadies and the Belle Vue management a little uncomfortable and did not endear herself when she made similar remarks to those made by Shirley Bassey.
The James Last Orchestra played Belle Vue and this led to an incident at the airport.
The concert programmes were a standard "shell" which had a centre double page listing the particular venue, the running order and information on the other tour dates. These were printed in Germany.
British Airways flew them in on a regular Merchantman flight. As the cargo container in which the programmes had been carried was moved inside the aircraft, the machine tipped onto its tail. The ground crew had failed to correctly position the tail stop which prevents the aircraft from tipping whilst the centre of gravity changes when moving freight around.
I had hired a self drive Transit to collect the programmes and take them to the Hotel Piccadilly where a team of workers were to bag the programmes with some memorabilia. When I rang the promoter's room to tell him of a delay of at least 3 hours, James Last answered the phone. Some interesting German followed my delivering the news, but he was politeness itself and even offered to visit the airport to bring pressure to speed the process. In the end, the delay was not as bad as anticipated and the programmes were ready in time.
Jerry Lee Lewis played Belle Vue on a night I was the rota Kings Hall manager. One of the hottest exponents of 1950s Rock and Roll, he was personable and had some amusing tales of a lifetime on the road around the world. We expected a half full house of late thirty/early forty somethings with a smattering of younger fans, all who would listen to their idol in a degree of awe..
Our estimate of the numbers was right (we cheated, we knew the ticket sales figures) but our assessment of the fans was somewhat off the mark.
The Belle Vue clock turned back over twenty years as a stream of greying Teddy Boys in drape jackets, drainpipe trousers, luminous socks and a range of brothel creepers wended its way into the auditorium. They were accompanied by boosted bust, tight waisted, flounce skirted, forty somethings, some wearing white ankle socks. As the music started they proceeded to dance. The noise on the Kings Hall wooden floor was amazing and their gyrations in the footways between the seats and the aisles was not only risking injury to themselves but threatened the Fire Officer with apoplexy as his gangways were blocked.
Worse followed. Kings Hall had a number of support pillars that were easily climbed. For concerts these were normally made unclimbable to prevent accidents to over enthusiastic fans climbing for a better view, We had made a decision not to bother for this concert as we thought the age of the fans would be beyond that of those inclined to climb. Wrong! We lost count of the number of latter day Teddy Boys we had to talk down, help down and, from time to time, dislodge from the stanchions.
After the concert Jerry had provided a bottle of whiskey for each member of the Hall management with a note of thanks and an apology for leaving quickly, before the fans mobbed him!
I was away when Demis Roussos played Belle Vue. There was, however, a Belle Vue joke about the gargantuan Greek singer:
"If he's only a Demi Roussos, what's a full one look like?"
After I left Belle Vue, the performer I most wanted to meet and hear appeared but I didn't get to meet Mike Oldfield as he was, at that time, very reclusive.
Showaddywaddy appeared and the hall was packed with pre-teens some, like my daughter, only four years old.
Talking to the lads at rehearsal, they said they didn't really care what age the fans were as long as the records sold, the concerts booked out and they got enough air time. They obviously enjoyed what they were doing and certainly satisfied the audience.
I had the great privilege (and I'm not a person who holds anyone, no matter how famous or "important", in awe) of meeting and dealing with two of the greatest music stars of the twentieth century.
I had been aware of Bing Crosby since I first became aware of music. Whilst my parents weren't exactly fans, his music and films had been heard and seen at home for many years and Christmas Eve, during my early teens, always seemed to feature either White Christmas or The Bells of St Mary's on early evening TV.
Bing Crosby and Stockport seemed light years apart in those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s but 1977 brought one ex resident of Stockport and the great man together and at almost the last possible moment.
I had been around the Hall during set up and missed Bing when he visited prior to the concert. I decided to watch the concert from the back of the Hall.
As I arrived, Chris Hind asked me to do him a favour. Bing Crosby was to first appear on the stage by climbing a set of steps at the rear so that he would gradually appear as if over a bunker on a golf course as the orchestra played a selection of his melodies. At the end of his set, he would need to descend the same steps.
The set had been designed and agreed months before. By the time of the concert, Bing was not in the best of health and had asked for assistance with the steps. He didn't know any of the crew for the Manchester concert and the promoter had asked Chris if a senior manager could assist.
I couldn't believe my luck. I went around to the hospitality room and was joined by Bing and his wife, Katherine. He was extremely charming and we talked a little of his films and he asked a few questions about me, Manchester and Belle Vue. His wife had already made life hard for some of the Hall staff and wasn't very forthcoming with me.
A knock on the door told us it was time for the grand entrance and Bing Crosby walked through the back of Kings Hall arm in arm with Phil Blinkhorn and up the steps to the stage with me gradually falling behind him, yet keeping a hand on him as he climbed, so as not to spoil the effect.
At the end of the set he said his farewells to the audience, went to the top of the steps and said to the audience "I have to wait for Phil, my helper" and beckoned me to join him. Holding onto my arm he waved to the crowd and we descended the steps and went back to his dressing room where I handed him back to his wife. He offered me a putter he had been using on stage but I declined, suggesting it could be raffled for charity a decision I've regretted ever since, particularly as I think someone else took it from the dressing room at the end of the night. He departed from the rear of Kings Hall and the tour went on to London. From there he went to Spain and, within the month, died where he probably would have wished to die, on a golf course.
Andy Williams was scheduled to perform two concerts on one weekday evening at Belle Vue in 1977. We anticipated excellent sales, plenty of forty something women with, maybe, a few reluctant husbands in tow and no trouble. Due to holidays, sickness and some staff losses, we were short of managers and it was agreed that I would run Kings Hall for a two week period not an onerous task as it involved the one night of concerts, one weekend and one midweek wrestling bill and a fire inspection prior to the concerts.
At the start of the week in which the concerts were to take place, the promoter arrived at Belle Vue late one morning. We ran through the ticket sales figures, the requirements for the set up, hospitality, security all the run of the mill pre-concert necessities. He then suggested lunch at the Piccadilly Hotel and, as he had arrived by taxi, we drove in my Cortina. On the way, he rather took me aback by saying that "Andy will be joining us for lunch".
On arrival at the hotel we made our way to the restaurant bar where we were joined by Andy Williams and a few members of his entourage. A lively discussion followed covering topics as diverse as golf (of which I'm almost totally ignorant), politics, differences between the UK and the US and the life of a touring singer.
After lunch we retired once more to the bar to run through the details of timings for the concert. Throughout the lunch I had noticed that Andy's voice was a little husky. This seemed to get worse as we talked.
After the meeting broke up we went to the hotel foyer and, before we went our separate ways, it became apparent that the promoter and the Williams party were to proceed to Stoke on Trent by road and, as I walked out of the door, a large Daimler limousine drew up and the driver started talking to the promoter.
When I returned to Belle Vue, I noticed a black document wallet in the foot well behind my seat. The promoter had placed a case in the boot and retrieved that at the hotel but I hadn't noticed the wallet. Finding it unlocked, I checked the contents. Had it contained trivial information I would have hung on to it until the concert. As it was, the contents included the contracts and ticket figures for all the concerts on the tour plus detailed running orders.
I hastily made my way to the office and phoned the Piccadilly. Had the Williams party left? The hotel operator was reluctant to give any information and demanded that they phone me back to verify who was calling.
After a short while they rang back to tell me the party had departed five minutes before. In these days of mobile phones, the situation could have been retrieved in seconds. In 1977 a much more involved solution was called for. I decided that they would head out along Princess Road and set out in pursuit.
Cutting along Slade Lane and Moseley Road, I arrived at the Princess Road traffic lights on the corner with Wilbraham Road. I turned left, on the basis that I would go as far as Altrincham Road, in the expectation of overtaking the limo. After that it would be a case of travelling to Stoke.
As I crossed Mauldeth Road I could see a large black limo proceeding sedately about half way between my position and St Bernadette's church. Temporarily ignoring the 40 mph limit, I caught the limo just after it crested the railway bridge and then the fun began.
Drawing level with the driver I started to gesticulate, waving the wallet in my left hand. The driver, no doubt fearing some sort of attack, accelerated hard. I kept up and as we approached Barlow Moor Road, the limo suddenly pulled over. I stopped in front and got out. Andy, the driver and the promoter also got out and I handed the wallet over.
It turned out the promoter had forgotten that he had not put the wallet in the case in the boot as was his habit. He had not recognised my car as he had been asleep as I came alongside and Andy, a minder and the driver had decided that they were under some sort of attack. The situation was resolved as soon as the promoter was hastily woken, as he recognised the car.
Having added hijacking a superstar to my talents it then became clear I was also to be deemed saviour of that night's concert as the wallet also contained a cash wallet in a concealed compartment from which the many concert cash disbursements were to be made later that afternoon.
After expressions of thanks had been made, Andy adding that in certain parts of the USA the action I had taken would have ended with at least the limo ramming my car, we parted once again.
My troubles with Mr Williams were, however, only beginning.
The day before the concert I had been out in Yorkshire with one of the BV reps. Returning to the office just after five to collect my car, I was confronted by an extremely worried looking Ivy Holmes. The concert promoter had been on the phone and had cancelled the first of the two concerts on the grounds that Andy had a throat problem. He was insisting that everyone could be accommodated at the second house.
My reaction was to tell
him to cancel both, have Andy recover and either forget
Manchester or rebook at the end of the tour. The
promoter wasn't having that. His stance was, as long as
Andy took it easy, we could at least satisfy some of the
Tickets had been sold in various outlets, many for cash, and we had no way of contacting the first house audience directly to advise them to come for the second house. We (being Dick, Ivy and I) decided placing an announcement on TV and radio would cause more problems than it would solve and we banned the promoter from mentioning the cancellation. We did insist on cessation of ticket sales for the second house.
We were 100 seats short and some 800 others, almost all of whom could not take their chosen seats, would have to settle for what they were offered.
To accommodate everyone
AND satisfy the Fire Officer, seats in the Gods
(basically wooden planks, not normally offered for this
type of concert) would have to be used and some seats
normally not sold, due to pillars spoiling sight lines,
would have to be pressed into service.
So our problems were over. Don't you believe it.
Concert seats are a very subjective purchase. If a trip is cancelled by a bus, train or plane operator there is always some annoyance and inconvenience but people are generally happy to take a seat and complete their journey by an alternative vehicle.
Not so with concerts. People book tickets to sit close to/far from the stage, close to an aisle or with particular sight lines. We were far from out of the woods.
We then sorted the deal the promoter would have to buy into. We would offer all the those booked for the first house a free meal (John Hampson on one of his rare evenings off was found and brought into the loop). The majority who were not able to take their seats but who would have a standard seat elsewhere in the hall would receive a 10% reduction in their ticket price plus any difference in the value between the seat they were given against the seat they had booked. A few fortunates would get a refund and a better seat as a few top price seats were still available. The unfortunates who were to be banished to the Gods were to receive a 75% reduction. All would be offered a free call to re-arrange transport/pick up/babysitters etc.
The first concert was timed for 6 pm, the second for 9 pm. We estimated we would have people arriving from around 4 pm so we reasoned there would be adequate time to sort things out before 9 pm.
It was at time like this the Belle Vue machine came into its own. Signs for the gates, informing concert goers for the 6pm concert to go to the Elizabethan Ballroom, were printed overnight. 100 extra phones were arranged, using the exhibition hall set up, and the lines were in place by 3.30 pm next day.
A chart was drawn up showing which tickets would be allocated to which seats. Wherever possible we kept people in the same price range. We also decided that we would segregate the 100 or so who had been condemned to the Gods and deal with their reallocation away from the main crowd to reduce the chance of disruption due to dissatisfaction.
We then costed the plan and woke the promoter to tell him the estimated cost. He wasn't happy, but then neither were we. We insisted he telexed his acceptance and, on its receipt we went home.
John Hampson was in early next day and a menu was designed and the food sourced by 10 am. We then got on with the normal business of the day.
By 5 pm we had quite a gathering in the Elizabethan and I made the first announcement. The reaction amazed me. Over 200 people (90%+were women), mostly extremely well dressed, made a noise worthy of the Stretford End in its worst moments. The language, screaming and even tears from some were unbelievable.
We had both our own security and a small police presence and I was glad of them. Eventually, we quietened and dispatched this group to be fed and collected the next lot for what was a repeat performance. As people were eating the junior managers from various departments did a magnificent job locating specified ticket holders based on seat lists drawn from our plan and exchanging their tickets as they ate, providing them with a voucher which they could take to the ticket office at any time up to 1 am next day, or anytime during normal office hours thereafter, to claim their refund. By this method we managed to prevent the initial reaction (which was repeated every time we had a group ready to be told and fed) from overspilling throughout the evening into a mass protest. By keeping the groups manageable, dealing with the exchange without them having to queue and handing out money vouchers at the same time, we were able to defuse a crisis and handle any real problems discretely.
Those wanting to use the
phone were sent down to the phone banks and the few who
The promoter arrived at around 6.30 pm to say Andy was feeling a good deal better and he brought 900 copies of signed photos with him which he proceeded to distribute.
Sometimes human beings amaze me. What had been volatile and potentially dangerous group melted like butter in the sun when offered Andy's apologies and the photos and the promoter took the plaudits.
We, who had saved his skin, sweat blood and provided the audience with every assistance were still the villains of the piece.
The problem of those to be seated in the Gods now had to be faced. They had been found and given a note to be at the Kings Hall ticket office at 8 pm. I reasoned I could deal with the number (which turned out to be 93) in a hour, on a 3 at a time basis, as there were no seat numbers in the Gods and I just needed to take their tickets, give them a new one plus a cash refund (rather than a voucher for later redemption as this would soften the blow) and have them go directly to their seats. This would also not give them enough time to organise any sort of protest or cause other problems.
I sat at a table facing the door in the office and the ladies were ushered in, three at a time. Each got an apology, a ticket and a cash refund. Most were polite, some were upset and in tears and a few were certainly not ladies. I was hit, spat at, cursed and kicked. Three so called ladies (immaculately dressed and with well rounded vowels) were lucky not to be in court the next day, given the very real handbagging I got. The fact that their idol had put them in the situation never occurred to them. It was the evil venue, of which I was the personification, that had visited this calamity on them. The seats in the Gods were not the smoothest or cleanest and I sincerely hope they not only found a few splinters but they also found some chewing gum remnants and dust to enhance their expensive attire.
9 pm came and we were still not out of the woods. With everyone seated, we awaited the first half of the show. In all honesty, I can't recall who the first act was and I've been unable to find a reference. Whoever it was was not ready on time. Ted Rogers was the compere and he had a slot at the end of the first half but must have used some of his rehearsed material as he filled in brilliantly.
As the interval approached, I had duties in overseeing the bars. The "crush" bars at Kings Hall were always packed and serving was an art, a science and a little bit of magic involving the need for fast mental arithmetic, understanding of many accents shouting orders at you and the ability to locate items at a glance.
Having seen that the usual chaos was being coped with I made my way to the dressing rooms and knocked on Andy's door. My first impression was that his voice was much better than when I had last seen him. He was genuinely concerned about our problems and particularly displeased to hear of my handbagging.
I suggested that, whilst Rogers had put the house in a very receptive mood, he needed to hit the road running and something more than the planned appearance on the stage by means of a fade up from blackout was called for.
I suggested the lights would fade up as planned, accompanied by his singing. But the stage would be empty. Instead he would be standing with me at the back of the hall and, as he started singing, he would walk forward down the central aisle singing and shaking hands with half a dozen or so of the audience. A follow spot would pick him up on the first handshake after five or six bars and the whole stunt would take less than a half minute before he would be safely on the stage too short a time for anyone to get their thoughts together and mob him.
He agreed and further suggested that with the hand shake he would give each woman a peck on the cheek. That I left to him as I arranged the changes with the lighting crew and advised security of the change of plan.
We then went around to the back of the auditorium (front of the Hall) by means of the tunnel which ran around under the tiered seating.
As we reached the door to the foyer there was a strong smell of smoke. What else could go wrong? I had visions of an evacuation, chaos and a burning Kings Hall. Smoking was strictly banned in the wooden Kings Hall but there is always one idiot around and this one had put out a cigarette and dropped it on the floor. It had fallen through a gap in the boards onto a coir mat stored in the tunnel and this had begun to smoulder. A prompt bit of batting with a piece of board by the Fire Officer, who was standing with the Security people, saved the situation.
Andy and I shook hands and I told him he owed it to me and the rest of the staff to give a great performance. His hand was ice cold. He told me he always was cold immediately before a performance but, cold or not, he made his entrance, entranced his audience, had to do a number of encores and, by 2 am, I was home and in bed, having been profusely thanked by the star, the promoter and, I'm pleased to say, a number of the fans who saw me as they were leaving.
There were other celebrities at Belle Vue from time to time. Father Christmas once visited at a most unseasonal time of year. THF had taken over part of the Aviemore Centre in Scotland which included a year round Santa's Grotto and had decided it needed a boost from the summer visitors to the Centre.
Father Christmas was dispatched around the country and Belle Vue was added to his schedule, as a photo and TV opportunity, on the grounds that he could be seen to be visiting his reindeer in their summer quarters. Norman Rowland was told to fix the press and TV, Peter Grayson was told to provide the reindeer. His protests that BV had no reindeer was met with a typical Jermyn St reaction "any deer will do".
On the appointed day, Father Christmas duly arrived as did the press and TV. It was arranged that the management would line up to greet him and accompany him to his "reindeer" which they would present for his approval on the basis that they were being well looked after. We lined up in a compound in which there were a number of deer. The TV footage showed me in the middle of the line up as Father Christmas approached from the left of the line. Within the space of one frame I was at the extreme left hand edge. How did this happen? It was glaringly obvious that I had somehow moved fifteen feet in the twinkling of an eye and had failed to shake hands with Father Christmas. Even my three year old daughter noticed it on first transmission.
The truth was a justification for the saying "never appear with children and animals".
As Father Christmas proceeded down the line, one of the male deer took a great dislike to me. First he butted me from behind. Peter Grayson told me to ignore it. I did, so the beast changed his approach and can be seen coming around the front of the line. At that point the film was edited as the director obviously thought it better not to show a deer trying to emasculate a member of the BV management team as it butted me quit hard.
Everything stopped, I did an impression of a footballer protecting himself in a free kick wall and, after some minutes, with the offending animal being held by a keeper, I joined the end of the line so the filming could continue and I cover recover. When the film was cut and pieced, I was seen to make a miraculous change of place.
I did get to shake hands with Father Christmas, off camera, and some years later visited him when on a business trip to Aviemore. Expecting to reminisce about the day at Belle Vue, I was disappointed to find Father Christmas had undergone a miraculous change and was thinner, shorter and had never been to Belle Vue.
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