Working Men Clubs in the 70s

During the 70s I went to a couple of Working Men’s Clubs in Stoke. The Suburban on the Abbey, Baddeley Green and later in the decade I had a job behind the bar at Berryhill. My principal memories of them was how ordered and dignified they were. Saturday was the highlight of the week and people would make an effort to look their best. The Committee officers ran them with a grip of iron and membership were as tightly controlled as any freemasons. Instant silence followed the command ” Give order please” and quiet was demanded- and got- when Bingo started. Bingo was a ritual with its language and actions especially when certain numbers were called out ” Ted’s den- Number Ten, Two fat ladies 88, Leg’s eleven” followed by wolf whistles and the clinking of glasses as pens were banging against them. Sometimes a frustrated gamester would call out to the elderly lady caller ” Shake them up, Elsie” if his numbers were not coming up.

Then there were the turns.
Peter Kay is not far out when portrays the strange acts at the Phoenix. I recall vividly the Pakistani stand up comedian who told racist jokes against himself, the asthmatic country and western act from Cleverley who stopped for breath half way through his act.” I’ll be with you in a moment “, or the overloud ear-ringing rock bands. Sometimes there were special events like a boxing tournament at the Suburban where one competitor eschewing the basic defensive stance advanced with arms flaying like a windmill to be quickly demolished by punishing jabs that opened his nose up in a crimson torrent. For the turns themselves there was recognition that there efforts were taken with proper regard. As local act Gerry Stephens writing of the time reported

“You’d arrive outside the Club, grab your gear, and go in. The room would be completely empty. Then people start coming in; the room is packed, and it’s your job to entertain them for the night. You’ve only got your guitar, your voice and your patter, to get them going, gets them laughing.

It was quite a thing to be an artist in the 70s, there was a lot of respect shown; the audience wasn’t allowed to come in or go out during a bracket”.

But the knell- as it was for the working class- was already tolling for the clubs

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