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Good Old Days, The (1953-83)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Good Old Days, The (1953-83)
BBC, 20/7/1953-23/12/1983
c. 700 editions, black & white/colour
ProducerBarney Colehan
Music DirectorsAlyn Ainsworth
 Bernard Herrmann

Chairmen: Leonard Sachs, Don Gemmell

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An evening of variety and music-hall acts from the Leeds City Varieties theatre.

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In January 1953, a programme was broadcast from and about the Leeds City Varieties, one of the oldest theatres still on a weekly variety bill. Producer Barney Colehan proposed outside broadcasts from there, focusing on the Edwardian era, initially irregularly because the BBC was already running the series Music Hall.

A fitting period venue, with plush drapes, galleried upper floor with boxes, the theatre only required a chairman's desk and the extra stage between orchestra and audience built specially for the programme. The Good Old Days' image was completed by an audience in period costume and title credits in appropriate typography. Purists might argue that by the Edwardian era the chairman's role had vanished, and quibble about the costumes, but this image informs many peoples' view of how music hall must have been. The chairman, with his polysyllabic, hyperbolic introductions, became the pivot around which the show revolved, and his duties were briefly carried out by Don Gemmell, until Leonard Sachs replaced him for the third show and continued for the remainder.

A typical show would open midway through a popular chorus with the audience singing, after which the chairman would take his seat at his desk, with his gavel, and introduce a series of acts, usually in period costume. Many of the acts were singers, and most bills included relatively unknown performers, often speciality acts from abroad. As years passed, fewer acts would have experienced old-time music-hall (though many had paid their dues in variety), and recent stars - including pop musicians - began to appear. But the show regularly used artistes from the Players Theatre in London (which also revived music-hall and with which Gemmell and Sachs were associated) to maintain the faux-Edwardian feel.

Each show would close with an exuberant exaltation from the Chairman to the audience to join in the chorus from 'The Old Bull and Bush' featuring the whole cast, "but chiefly yourselves". This focus on audience was pervasive and often quite intrusive (close-ups on people singing along - or trying to - were used extensively). This was a sure way of engaging the audience at home, who might join in the singing or just feel relieved that they weren't on camera, or watch for the costumes, and the show was extremely popular, becoming for a time the world's longest running series. The programme ended in 1983 as the subject of a documentary, prior to a national tour.

David Sharp

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