Tuesday, 25 March 2014

20 Years Ago Today

They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be, but after exploring the archives here at Marsh Towers we have decided to start an occasional series peering back through the mists of time.

Back when Cleveland was still a county in the North East of England, the Cleveland Schools' Chess Association ('CSCA') organised all of the county's junior chess events. We had numerous tournaments each year (often held at the Southlands Leisure Centre) and we entered various junior county championships. Indeed, at the height of our county activity we had teams in the Under-9, Under-11, Under-11 Girls, Under-13, Under-18 and Under-18 Girls events. Our best girls were particularly active, as they played for the mixed teams too. We may have been the second smallest county in the country, but we liked to do things properly.

County matches were expensive projects. Even back in the late 1980s and early 1990s a bus to the Midlands would cost the CSCA £300+ so it's easy to see how that would add up for the exploits of all of our teams. The CSCA was independent to the Cleveland Chess Association so we had to raise the money to fund all of our trips. Fundraising was a permanent challenge but one which we constantly rose to. Raffles at tournaments, chess discos, sponsored chess events in schools...we even held two sponsored 24-hour chess marathons (more on those another time).

Our most outrageous plan featured an evening of cabaret. All I had to do was find some acts, a venue and a marketing strategy which would convince 100+ people they would have a good time.

The venue problem was solved by chess enthusiast Graham Marshall, who negotiated well on my behalf with the Grand Hotel, Hartlepool.

The cabaret included singer Tessa Dollin (who went on to appear on the X-Factor), rocking duo The Boppas, a comedy turn by my brother Gary and me, and The Two Noels. Actually, Gary and I were the Two Noels as well, so we had two comedy turns, but we kept that quiet until the evening itself so as not to scare off the potential audience.

To drum up an audience, I bombarded all and sundry with advertising literature and carried tickets around with me at all times. The local press even gave us a mention (tucked away in tiny letters on page 26, just under the bit about local people being fined for not having a current TV license and that sort of thing - but a welcome mention nonetheless). Remarkably, just over 100 people had nothing better to do on the evening of 25 March 1994 and we had a sell-out on our hands. Time to increase the rehearsals!

Here are some photos from what proved to be a very memorable evening - one way or another...

The Two Noels were clearly the height of sophistication. Cravat, a copy of The Times and the longest cigarette holder in the whole of Europe.

'It's been a frightfully long time since we last met, Noel.'

'Indeed so, Noel. I have been in the South of France, finishing my latest book. It took me six months, you know.'

'What a frightfully slow reader you are, Noel...'
'But tell me Noel, why the South of France?'

'Well, my doctor did tell me I had to take things quietly.'

'Oh, what a pity, Noel. And you did so like soup.'

An unexpected start to the second half of the show. "Here's a little song dedicated to me, because I wrote it myself.'
'Who wants some more of this?'
How's that for a quick costume change?
The main theme of the second half involved Gary coming onto the stage as various 'members of the audience' as a precursor to a torrent of gags and punnery.
Marvo the Marvellous Memory Man - who has forgotten something important.
A magic trick - smashing the audience volunteer's watch to smithereens with a big hammer.
'What do you think you are doing!?'
'But you said *whispers*...'

'No I did not! I said - would you like to play some Glenn Miller music, in the mood!'

Tessa Dollin - future X-Factor contender
Curtain call. The Boppas are on the right.
Standing just behind me is either
Fintan O'Rourke or Billy Cook.
I know one of them didn't turn up,
but I can't remember which.
We had plans for a sequel the following year, but various factors worked against them reaching fruition.  But I still have a copy of the script and after 20 years I'm sure most people will have forgotten the jokes, so you never know...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah the amazing two-headed Sean pic! I remember the show well.