The Summer Season Shows

In this interview Tony King reflects upon the shows in Great Yarmouth from the 1950's to the 1970's

By Richard Dade

"When I first started there wasn't the big name shows, just prior to the war and just after the war they used to have nice summer shows at the Wellington Pier and the old Britannia Pier Theatre.

Then in the early 1950's there was the Britannia Pier came up with a show which I think starred pretty certain I think its '53 starred Max Bygraves then after that summer season the Britannia Pier theatre burnt down so there wasn't big shows again until about 1956 when the Wellington Pier first started putting on shows and star names began to come into it.

But the hey day of the star names I suppose was the 60s and 70s when Harry Secombe, Des O Connor, Tommy Cooper, just about any name in show business, Mike and Bernie Winters, they all came to Yarmouth.

Summer seasons in those days, the main shows of the summer season used to start in early June and go on to about the middle of September. Nowadays they start at the end of July and finish at the end of August almost. There is a big difference but the reason is television came in. Stars didn't want to do the work they used to do, slog away twice nightly on a summer show for weeks and weeks on end and where as they could do a television show, get probably as much money as they would for a weeks work at the seaside so those sort of things gradually died out.

At one time Yarmouth used to have the Wellington Pier, the Britannia Pier, the Royal Aquarium or Hollywood as it is now the Regal which then became the ABC, Gorleston Pavilion, the Hippodrome, the Windmill Theatre and I estimated once that with twice nightly shows there was about 33 thousand seats available in Yarmouth any one night in live theatre including the circus and that sort of thing like that of course so it was quite a big industry in those days.

And then on top of that there was all the peripheral things, there used to be a skating show, swimming show at the swimming pool, speedway racing in the early days at Yarmouth Stadium, Stock Car racing all that sort of thing, so there was a tremendous amount of things for people to do. Which nowadays there doesn't seem to be that range. So there has been a distinct change on the entertainment side. To be honest you really could not afford the stars these days."

This page was added by Richard Dade on 02/03/2008.
Comments about this page

Good to read Richard Dade's write up of the Tony King interview on Great Yarmouth from the 50's. I lived there from 1960 to around 1972 working in the town for Engledow and Gallant in Broad Row and was a stage hand for many years on the Britannia Pier for the summer season. At that time there were those hard-working stars like Harry Worth, Donald Peers,Mark Wynter,Dora Bryan and of course the Sunday shows featuring The Who, Tom Jones, Donovan etc. My own group at the time participated in warming up the theatre for the latter artists; your readers might remember us we were "The MI££IONAIRES" and regularly played at the Garibaldi (now gone) The Floral Hall Gorleston and the Holiday Camps further up the coast.
I remember the professionalism of all the people I worked with but especially a certain Alec Peck who was the stage manager at the Brit Theatre. He was the model for all to follow-including the stars who worked under his direction. The twice a night shows were to say the least extremely tiring for everybody but he motivated us all and achieved high quality live performances (including those back-stage)... AH! thanks for the memory Richard...

By STEVE DUNN
On 22/03/2008

My memories of the Britania Pier was 1952-1954 and the Sunday night shows put on by Bernie Weller (who was musical director for the Hippodrome) and a brilliant pianist named Charles Bosomworth.

All the talent on these shows were local artists and as a 15/16 year old they gave me a regular spot playing the piano accordion. These shows were extremely popular as in those days there was very little Sunday night live shows and it was strictly controlled , as to the type of entertainment allowed.

People would queue the whole length of the Pier on cold winter nights to get in as it was so popular.Charlie Bosomworth had two sons Philip, a guitarist, and his older brother on drums. They played on alternate nights between The Savoy & The Black Angus steak House in Regent Rd which were both owned by Mr Lucas who was a charming Greek gentleman. I personally was resident there with my Trio " The Brian Fox".  On other nights there was a guest pianist, none other than Roger La,verne, who was appearing at the Windmill theatre with the Tornados. On the same bill was Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers. I am sure Peter would not remember me ,but he did his first paid "gig" with me playing for a wedding reception at a hotel North Denes Rd called "The Windmill " Happy Days.

By Brian Brackenbury
On 21/01/2009

What about a mention for The Little Theatre?! It was situated in the Royal Aquarium bulding and when the Summer Shows ended we still carried on with weekly Rep' A different play every week - slavery - but the happiest time of my life. I acted and worked back stage and also worked on The Britannia Pier. I too remember Alec Peck The Stage Manager - a gentle and very efficient man. Laurie Bloom and Brian Meredith were other names of note. Would love to hear from anybody who remembers me.

By John Hunt
On 21/04/2009

I was wondering if anybody remembered a group from Liverpool called "The Abstracts", they played in and around Great Yarmouth in 1964.
Any info would help in our research for their book.

Thank you

By Steve Faulkner
On 09/11/2009

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the pages here. Iwas in a band called Peter & The Spectres who did the Donovan show, with Tom Jones ,The Hollies ,The who, PJ Proby and many more. at the Brittania sun nights. Prior to that I also worked at Palmers in the carpet dept with Mr Drake ,Mr P.E Green and Cliff Thompson, also Remember Les Drury .

By Dave Smith-Howell
On 14/06/2010

Dave Smith Howell's memories of the Britannia Pier's Sunday shows reminds us that many seasoned stars of today, Bowie, The Who, Donovan, Tom Jones,etc, all owe their success in some part to the 'Brit'... The group Dave played for remains very much in my memories, and I'm surprised that he and Peter and The Spectres didn't go on to better things, as they certainly had as much talent as David Bowie. If anyone has any programmes of the Sunday Night summer shows at the Pier from 1966 , could they please contact me through this page as I have tried in vain to buy those pertaining to the shows I played in with the Millionaires all those years ago. I still visit Yarmouth from my home in France, and always pay my respects to the stage-door at the Brit, where a mix of the sounds of waves breaking along the Norfolk coast, and the stifled echoes of theatre-goers enthusiastically demanding autographs still reminds me how lucky I was to have experienced this and to have played there. Steve Dunn French Alps

By STEVE DUNN
On 01/10/2010

Can't have one Dunn without the other I suppose. I remember reading your March 2008 and the original article and thinking how nice and moving right along! This time however your comments have opened up a whole Brit nostalgia attack. The show I did with Norman Vaughan and Joe Brown - my first contact with "the stars" - the season with Dora Bryan when our sister joined us as a stage hand "paging the tabs" - the Midnight Matinees when the acts from all the theatres converged on the Brit for a friendly who's best night. The bomb threat when we sat with the Gibsons in the Long Bar singing "We Shall Not Be Moved" All good clean fun which looking back was an integral part of the joy of living in Yarmouth back then. Certainly an escape from the boredom of the long east coast winters. The excitement of opening nights and the emotion of closing nights are certainly a part of my life that will remain with me forever. Thanks for the memories guys! Martin Dunn Valencia Spain

By Martin Dunn
On 14/10/2010

I went to many shows at the Britannia Pier; I was also at school with Jane Engledow.  After my son had been christened we went onto Britannia pier for a walk and my son kicked one of his new leather shoes into the water underneath.  A man that was diving from the pier through flames swam under the pier and retrieved the shoe! Happy days, Susanne Brown (formerly Margaret Smith).

By susanne brown /formerly margaret smith
On 19/12/2011

Your comments on the Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth, move me to write in search of anyone with very much earlier information - back to when my great-grandfather, James Walter Dunn, played the Britannia Pier every summer season in the late 1800's with singer Ben Fielding. If anyone has any information of those days, I'd be thrilled to hear it.

By CAROLYN MASON
On 09/05/2012

Hello, I'm a former contributor to your page, and read with interest the letter from Carolyn Mason 9/5/12, who wanted any information concerning her great grand father James Walter DUNN who played the Britannia Pier in the late 1800's. As a DUNN who has also sang on the pier with The Millionaires in the 1960's, I think it's only fitting that you pass on the following message to Carolyn:- In case you don't know already there exists a book about your Grandfather entitled "John Bull and his 3 little brothers" which gives an account of "Dunn's concert party" on the Britannia Pier. It is available from Colin Coleman Music, was written by James W Dunn, and was published in London in 1887 by Francis Bros and Bray. Good to know there has been a lengthy association of the name Dunn on the Brit. Hope this helps... Steve Dunn French Alps 20th May 2012

By steve dunn
On 21/05/2012

Many, many thanks to Steve Dunn for his information, on 21.5.12., about James Walter Dunn (my great-grandfather) and his Britannia Pier shows and music. I'd no idea about the book and music "John Bull and his 3 Little Brothers" (though I do have one sheet-music book with James Walter's photograph on the front) and I'm indebted to you, Steve, for this information . . . have looked it up and will order a copy. James Walter Dunn lived in London when he wasn't entertaining in Great Yarmouth every summer, so no surprise that the music publisher is London-based. Thank you again . . . and again . . and again, Steve! CAROLYN MASON (21st May 2012).

By Carolyn Mason
On 21/05/2012

An update for Steve Dunn from Carolyn Mason - re James Walter Dunn on Britannia Pier in late 1800's: Sad to say that Colin Coleman Music no longer have a copy of the book "John Bull and his Three Little Brothers" by J.W.Dunn (pub. 1887). I've discovered there MAY be a copy in the British Library - but am just wondering if you, Steve, have a copy yourself. Or, if there's anyone out there who has one, please do let me know. James Walter Dunn was my great-grandfather. You're not related, are you, Steve? Any glimmer of hope gratefully snatched at re the book/music.

By Carolyn Mason
On 28/05/2012

The continuing saga of James Walter Dunn... My reply to Carolyn Mason (28/05/2012) I'm sorry to hear you are having difficulties obtaining a copy of your great-grandfather's book. I originally was interested in your plight with the slim hope I may be related, but alas this is not the case. I discovered the information about John Bull etc. by accident, when researching Britannia Pier Theatre activity from its beginnings in the 1800's; I too noted there may be a microfiche of the book in the British Library, so I hope this will resolve the problem for you. I don't have a copy unfortunately. In any case Carolyn, I'll continue researching the whereabouts of the book, you've certainly whetted the appetite of this Dunn to see it to its conclusion, OK? Thank you also to the Tide and Time Museum for its contact with me concerning your great grandfather. Good to see researchers there are also supporting you in your search...(really professional)... Best wishes, and there's a copy of the book out there with your name on it I'm sure. Steve Dunn French Alps 28/05/2012

By steve dunn
On 30/05/2012

For Carolyn Mason. Two sites of interest for her research:- www.bl.uk (I think you've already seen this regarding your contact with The British Library), and www. europeana.eu/ Both of these sites illustrate your great grandfather's book, which in fact was a series of musical scores composed by him, rather than an account of his concert presentations, and there's a lovely John Bull and his three brothers illustration on the cover, which I'm sure you'll want to obtain and frame. Both accounts are entitled John Bull And His Three Brothers part 01, but may be entitled part 02 to 08... From my perspective as a musician I would be over the moon to discover original scores composed by one of my ancestors, so hope you enjoy this very exciting moment. Best Regards once again, Steve Dunn

By steve dunn
On 30/05/2012

A big thank-you - again! - to Steve Dunn for two more attempts to locate James Walter Dunn's book/music. I'm certainly on the case now, but have found no mention of the "account of Dunn's Concert Parties" which you originally mentioned, Steve - only the music. Doesn't seem I can get an original (Colin Coleman's last copy went recently - to a collector) but I can get a copy from the Bodleian or British Library. I'll look into these further suggestions of yours, Steve, and let you know what transpires. Really good of you to take such an interest! - Carolyn Mason

By Carolyn Mason
On 01/06/2012

Hello again, Steve Dunn: I looked up the J.W.Dunn music on the website you suggested - europeana/eu - and was able to make a copy of "John Bull . . ."; also have an offer from the Bodleian of a copy which may be a bit bigger than I could print, so I'll follow that up too. So it's really just this elusive book I'm wondering if I'll ever track down . . . will let you know if I do. I've quite a few odd pages (and words) of my great-grandfather's other compositions. Because I lived with my grandmother as a child, I feel very close to him - she never stopped telling us stories about Great Yarmouth and their split life between there and London, where he had a music shop in Edgware Road. Interesting family - and I'm now trying to explore it still farther back. Thanks so much for your help! - CAROLYN

By Carolyn Mason
On 06/06/2012

Further research for Carolyn Mason re: James Walter DUNN... 4 References for possible follow up: 1/ National Library of Ireland CATALOGUE "The Little Mud Cabin" written and composed by JW DUNN (refers to Dunn's Concert Party, referred to in my previous e mails)... 2/ The Broadview Anthology of Nineteenth Century British Performance... (Refers to Dunn's Promenade Concerts, Britannia Pier Great Yarmouth), and focuses on JW Dunn's song, "The sun shines bright at last" sung by Ben Fielding. Refer Page 526, and cross reference footnote Page 179... This song interestingly crossed the Atlantic to be picked up by Antonio (Tony) Pastor, in 3/Tony Pastor 'The Watch File', University of Texas REFER b25.43 on this page... And 4/ Pat Garvin English 312 Studies in Victorian Drama, Professor Tracy C Davis Spring 2011. (She also resides on the other side of the Atlantic) so JW Dunn's work was certainly universally appreciated. You must be very proud Carolyn... Best regards, and as you can see I'm still intrigued to see this through to its conclusion with you. Steve Dunn French Alps 1st July 2012

By Steve Dunn
On 01/07/2012

Have only just read your note dated 1st July, Steve Dunn. So sorry for the delay! - I've tried accessing "The Little Mud Cabin" today, but with no success so far. Will follow your other tips a.s.a.p. and get back to you. So grateful for your continued interest.

By Carolyn Mason
On 07/08/2012

Another note for Steve Dunn re James Walter Dunn of Dunn's Concert Party, Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth in the 1800's.   Thanks to your 1st July message, I've now found all the links you mentioned. But "The Little Mud Cabin" music in the National Library of Ireland can only be viewed in person.  Well, I'm hoping to visit my sister in Ireland the week after next, so we may just get to Dublin (she lives in Galway) to see it for ourselves! I'll let you know.  Seems a shame we can't e-mail each other on these topics . . . would you like to swop e-mail addresses?  If so, how could we do this?  Thanks again for everything!

By Carolyn Mason
On 28/08/2012

Reading all your readers' comments about their experiences of the 60's summer shows on the Britannia Pier, prompts me to write a few lines about my time back stage in this theatre.....  What is special about my memories of that time is that I was the first female stage-hand on the Pier, and, probably in Great Yarmouth and really loved immersing myself in the summer shows that holidaymakers (and myself included) loved so much in the mid-sixties.  I didn't hold out much hope for being employed, given that stage-hands were 100% male and that I wasn't particularly well-equipped physically to hump stage-scenery around but, John Powells, the Britannia Pier General Manager had no hesitation in giving me a job.  (He obviously was well ahead of his time concerning equal opportunities for women) and I'll never forget his smiling face whenever he came back-stage to see how I was getting on.  For him the very fact that I had the nerve to apply for what was hitherto a man's job convinced him I was the right person for the job vacancy advertised.  I worked on the Dora Bryan Show and the great comedian in my view - Johnny Hackett.  My job was called "Paging the Tabs" and I loved it.  The hustle and bustle of the scene shifting and also the magic of fraternising with the stars who all made me very welcome.  There was never a dull moment and whenever the curtain opener Colin Smith pulled the ropes that revealed the audience eagerly waiting the start of each show, I was in another world, experiencing the atmosphere that only live shows can conjure up.  My most happy recollection was the end of season party thrown by the show's stars when all the back-stage crew re-hashed the songs and sketches they performed nightly and Dora Bryan, Johnny Hackett, Mark Wynter and the Australian group The Gibsons all congratulated us for our efforts to mimic them, we felt very proud to be part of their stage production.  We weren't paid very much but, this didn't matter as we were so happy to have the opportunity to do something different with our lives which were so humdrum in comparison.  Thanks for the memories, "Our Great Yarmouth" and thanks to the Brit for giving me a wonderful life experience I wouldn't have missed for all the world.  Both my brothers Steve Dunn and Martin Dunn were also stagehands and I felt it was imperative that I show the female side of the Dunn family's experience of "Life backstage at the Britannia Pier Theatre".  Happy memories - Ann Bladen (nee Dunn) Alcester, Warwickshire.

By Ann Bladen
On 12/11/2012

If anyone can please ask Brian Brackenbury contact me please.  I am the son of Phil Bosomworth and grandson of Charlie Bosomworth who is mentioned above.

By Phil Bosomworth
On 07/01/2013

It is lovely to read some comments about my grandfather Alec Peck who was stage manager of the Britannia Pier. Unfortunatley I only met him twice as he was divorced from my grandmother, the second time I met him was with my father John, his son, when he was ill shortly before he passed away. If anyone has any more stories or info about him it would be lovely if you could share them with me, may thanks Jane Peck janeypeck@googlemail.com

By Jane Peck
On 25/11/2014

I remember as a schoolboy seeing Tommy Cooper at one the theatres in Great Yarmouth in the mid to late fifties. Can anybody advise any dates as I am trying to put together a story of my life and this is one thing that keeps coming back to me. Any help greatly appreciated.

ColinB

By Colin Ball
On 17/12/2014

Hello,

This website is a useful place to look up shows at various seaside resorts in the 1950s and 60s

http://www.bradfordtimeline.co.uk/mindex67c.htm

By Colin Stott
On 17/12/2014

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