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The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club - Complete First Series - DVD Review

Title: The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club - Complete First Series
Release Date: 14th September 2009
Format: DVD (2 discs)
Classification: E
Run time: 538 mins
Catalogue Number: 5027626310141
Released by: network











When I was a lad I was allowed to stay up late on a Saturday to watch the football. Occasionally, between flicking over the three channels, I'd catch a glimpse of this show showing people in a pub drinking and having a really good laugh watching some comedian, or being entertained by some variety act. Quite rightly it was always turned over immediately, and I longed to see the show to find out what grown ups found so fascinating about pubs. As I learned later this show was called "The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club", that the pub was a club, but disappointingly it was staged in a TV set and not in a real club, and even more disappointingly, practically the best thing about it was the name of the show.

There can be few TV shows quite so of its time as "Wheeltappers", a show which makes you extremely grateful for the invention of political correctness, a show which makes "Britain's Got Talent" look like it actually does have some talent, but most of all it must rate as one of the more unlikely DVD releases of recent times. But given the success of Phoenix Nights, and even Vic Reeve's Big Night Out which so successfully lampooned the world of variety and working men's clubs, I felt it was safe to venture in amongst the spit and the sawdust, the fags and the booze, and the pie and peas atmosphere that is "The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club". So with that in mind, I fired up the DVD player and waited to see what I had been missing out on all those years ago.

Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club - Complete First SeriesThese shows from series 1 were originally broadcast between April and May 1974. Each show set in a northern working men's club, showcased a number of acts (or turns) ranging from international cabaret artistes (Kathy Kirby, Lonnie Donegan, Frank Ifield) to working men's clubs favourites - some of whom went on to make it huge (Little & Large, Cannon and Ball, The Krankies etc). The turns range from the staple ingredients of singers, comedians, vent acts, magicians, knife throwers etc, alongside speciality acts such as kossak bands, xylophonists and accordion players - to name but a few.

All the acts are introduced by the compere - the ever loathsome Bernard Manning (looking for all the world like a young Jabba The Hut - but with considerably less charm).

All the acts suffer the constant ejaculations (interruptions that is) of the chairman Colin Crompton, who is easily the most entertaining element of the show. He is the one element of the show that seems to be portraying some kind of irony about the poor quality of the acts being put on, for instance , when a knife thrower is building up to his big finale with delicate precision just as he is about to throw the knives, the 'chairman' interrupts with a ring of his bell and an outing for his catchphrase ("Give order, please") to remind the audience "there are still a few tickets left for the meat raffle". It doesn't take much of a leap from this to Vic Reeve's Big Night Out character.

The acts themselves are mostly p*ss poor, and I use the term both advisedly and correctly. The comedians are to a man, woeful, with little to distinguish the long forgotten acts from the soon to become household names (Little and Large, Cannon and Ball etc), most of the comedians material seems less reliant on getting laughs with their decidedly creaky material and more reliant on lazy stereotypes - i.e. foreigners talk funny, effeminate voices are funny etc. It makes you wonder what the real clubs where like in those "halcyon" days, if these turns best five minutes of material are on show here. We even have to suffer one of the most over-familiar variety sketches imaginable courtesy of music hall veteran Jimmy Jewel. The only comedian appearing here that comes through with any decent material (aside from the afore-mentioned Colin Crompton) is Norman Collier, whose act will be familiar to many via his numerous guest appearances on entertainment shows during the 70s and 80s, but despite the familiarity with this material, his set is still skilful, engaging and hilarious.

A particular mention must be made of the very worst of the double acts on show here - Lambert and Ross. I only mention it because one half of the double acts is Willie Ross (not sure which half) went on to become a rather wonderful character actor (often specialising in playing drunks) and then played some great parts in some of our favourite films including 'Rita, Sue and Bob Too' and 'Riff Raff'.

Turning to the musical turns, amongst journeyman performers giving journeyman performances we go from the sublime Diz Disley Trio with Stephan Grapelli (amazing but way out of place here), a spirited Bill Haley And The Comets, and a classy Gene Pitney to the ridiculous Lonnie Donegan's smug, self-important, big star act.

Add in a few magicians, ventriliquists, jugglers and some speciality turns (what no plate spinners) and here you have the cream of variety acts from a time when clubs like these were absolutely massive.

All that being said we still enjoyed the DVD. We enjoyed the crassness, the retoro-nostalgia, the so bad its good vibe, the few good turns, and most of all, the ironic interjections by Colin Crompton.

Read the The Wheeltappers and Shunters social club: Series 1 DVD release press release

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