“You know what,” I said to my dad on one of the drives home from Kent, “I reckon it’ll be good to put on a variety show.” Not entirely sure how big an undertaking, or indeed debacle it would turn out to be.
I’ll start this off by saying I was 16 years old at the time; was commuting between Liverpool and Kent with my father several days a week to film Tricky TV; and was also studying for my final GCSE exams - so trying to arrange a theatre show alongside it all probably wasn’t my best idea. Then again, I did eat some unidentifiable meat in Brazil once, which forced me to lock myself in a bakery toilet until Paul Daniel’s son, Martin, could come and pick me up… so it certainly wasn’t my worst idea either.
I’m a relentless planner and can’t help but compulsively make lists for almost anything. It’s something of an annoying trait, but I certainly do find it helps to keep me on track. I’m also the kind of person, as the helicopter lessons proved, who will completely commit to something on a whim and apropos of nothing. Unfortunately, the two characteristics don’t always marry as well as I’d like.
That said, upon arriving home I looked online at some venues that could be hired for a reasonable rate, and found a 440 seat performance centre near to where I lived, called Crosby Civic Hall. I picked up the phone and made the booking. Whether they are technically allowed to hire it to a 16 year old I have no idea, but I felt it best not to bring that up with them.
Confident it was the correct location, I confirmed the booking for 7:00pm on June 8th 2010. In hindsight, a Tuesday probably isn’t the most appealing night to attend a variety show. I’d also imagine an 8pm start - long enough after people have finished work - would have been better as well. Either way, I was excited by the whole idea of it.
I spoke to a couple of entertainer friends of mine to try and negotiate some ‘mates-rates’ for them to perform in the show as well, and after a bit of haggling, I was done! Total time: 3 hours. I remember thinking how easy it all was! A quick look online; a few phone calls and BOOM - I’ve sorted a variety show! Haven’t I? I closed my computer with aplomb and took the rest of the day off.
A week later, I phoned the theatre to see how the tickets were going. Presumably I’d need to add a second night due to demand, I thought.
“Hello!” I said, “I was just phoning to see how many tickets have sold for the variety show?”
“Not a problem, I’ll just check for you.” There was a brief pause of the other side of the line. “So far,” she continued, “zero.”
Zero! How could this be?! A week had passed since they’d gone on sale and not a single ticket had been sold! Genuinely, not one ticket. Now admittedly, I wasn’t expecting people to camp out the night before they went on sale, but I was hoping for a bit more action than this. My family at the very least could have bought a few to make me feel better.
It turns out that hiring a venue and arranging some acts isn’t quite enough to have a variety show - you actually have to advertise and sell tickets. You have to convince enough people that the show would be worth their time and money… and that’s harder than I expected it would be.
In ernest, I stepped up the ante and pulled a few strings. Stephen Mulhern filmed a video introduction for me and Peter Dickson (the voice of the X-Factor) recorded a voice over promoting it as well. They realised how difficult the night would be to arrange and went out of their way to helpout with it. It was ridiculously nice of them to do (they’re both really lovely, brilliant guys) and I really appreciate their help with it! The brilliant Ade Gower was also kind enough to design a really cool poster for the night as well, which was plastered everywhere within the local area.
Amazingly, I also managed to get featured on some local radio stations in Liverpool promoting the show, and after a few weeks a couple of hundred tickets had sold. Result! It wasn’t quite a sell-out, admittedly, but I was delighted with how many people came. Let’s not kid ourselves here, if those tickets hadn’t have sold, the night could have essentially just been a family reunion.
Looking back, I can’t really remember what made me think I even had the act to do a show like this. I’d been somewhat successful with the 10 minute manipulation act I had - but this was different. Here, I’d be doing the entire second half of the show! 45 minutes of just me on stage. I’m putting it down to the naivety that came with my youth.
The day of the show came and we made our way to the theatre to set everything up. Almost immediately, we were hit with a problem…
“Are they doves?” barked a theatre’s general manager, whom I’ll call Emma Banks. “Have you got a licence from Sefton Council for those?”
“Erm, a licence?” I said, raising an eyebrow so she could see my shock.
So, it turns out that Sefton Council, who the theatre falls-under, abide by the 1972 Circus Act saying any livestock used on stage must be licensed. I’d never heard of it - yet Emma Banks, was insisting that without this licence she would not allow the doves to even enter the building.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of bizarre conversation that I find myself having more often than I’d care to mention.
She passed me the phone number of the relevant person in the council who could arrange the licence. There was 5 hours to the show at this point, and I’m in the car park arranging a certificate for two small white doves called Itchy & Scratchy.
In writing this, I’ve just realised that my porn star name (taking my first pet’s name and the first street I lived on) would be Itchy Furlong. I’m going to give you a moment to process that… and perhaps fetch a bucket. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d need some cream for. I digress.
I vividly remember the lady at the council being absolutely lovely; in fact, mocking Emma Banks for making any kind of controversy about it. She told me, however, that the issue she had, was that in the history of that ruling being in place, absolutely no one had ever requested a licence. Literally no one. So, she didn’t have any kind of template for the certificate or documentation that she could give me.
After a bit of negotiation, she managed to cobble one together and email it across. With a strange sense of victory, I magnanimously picked up the doves and paraded into the theatre, being sure to pass the managers office. I knew it was her office as it had the name Emma Banks written on the door… the name I’m just using as an example, of course. It has no similarity to a Emma Banks who may still be working at that very same theatre as the general manager today. Honestly.
We continued setting up for the evening; had a quick bite to eat; I said hello to the other acts and sat backstage in anticipation. Sure enough, 7pm came and a hush fell over the audience as the house lights dimmed. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show!”, Peter Dickson boomed. It had officially begun…
The show featured myself; Brendon Riley who compered the evening; ventriloquist John Kimmons and comedian Steve Royle; along with the Beverly Edmunds Dancers.
I’m not going to say my bits in the show were any good, but it was certainly a brilliant experience and I undoubtably learnt a huge amount from it. The least of which had to do with the 1972 Circus Act.
Experience has a huge amount to play in just how good any kind of performer is. I wasn’t hugely experienced at this point, but it’s nights like this that have a major impact on shaping how someone develops; and I honestly think this show was hugely beneficial.
The other acts were as brilliant as I’d expected, and overall the show seemed to go down really well with the audience. High fives all round! Just not to you Emma Banks… you shan't be getting a high five.
With the show now done, I went home and revised… I had a science GSCE the following morning.