MEMOIRS - 02 - Talent Competitions

I once entered for a talent competition at the Hammersmith Palace, and of all the nerve-wracking experiences that was the worst. That was in the very early days of Talent Competitions and the audiences were anything but kind to the poor amateur who did not please them. The first part of the programme was the ordinary Music hall entertainment and the latter half was given over to the competitors who were allotted eight minutes each.

George Robey was topping the bill in the first half, and after he had given his turn, he came over to us to give us words of encouragement. He said "boys, don't be frightened, ignore the audience when you go on, forget that they exist; they don't’ know a good turn from a bad one." One of us said "Rubbish!" which annoyed George, and he offered to prove his words by entering for the competition too, and going on as an impersonation

of himself, George Robey. He made a few slight alterations to his make-up and eventually went on the stage as a competitor. The audience, thinking that he was someone impersonating George Robey, would not have him at any price. He tried to stick it out, but the audience did not want him, and he got the ‘bird’. He came off laughing and said, "There you are, boys, what did I tell you? They don’t know good turn when they see one".

Another competitor went on to give a recitation, but did not get past the first few lines before they started with cat calls and boos. He stopped, and said, "Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, I expected that" and he walked right off the stage, followed by a roar of laughter.

One fair young lady got a good ‘raspberry’ from a vulgar man in the gallery, when half way through her song. The raspberry sounded to me like the ripping off of a porous plaster, and when the girl heard it, she paused and said, "Don’t tear it, I will take the piece." This smart and witty remark brought a real good round of applause from the audience, and she was allowed to finish her turn.

An audience is always quick to recognise and appreciate smart and witty repartee, and I think the smartest reply from an artiste, that I ever heard, was from ‘Datas’ the memory Man; but, so that you will appreciate the cleverness of Datas’s reply, I must explain that Datas was a super General Knowledge Man, and could answer any questions regarding dates that were asked for by members of the audience, and at that time, a well known breakfast food, called ‘Force’, was being extensively advertised, using a character of a man named ‘Sunny Jim’. The advertisement ran something like this:-

"High on the fence leaped Sunny Jim,

For ‘Force’ is the power that raises him."

When Datas was once asked the question "When was Sunny Jim born?" back came the answer, like a shot. "Sunny Jim was never born, he was hatched by Force."

I think the fairest way to judge an amateur, is to give him a try-out as an extra turn during an ordinary evenings programme, either at a concert or any variety entertainment. I well remember my first try-out as an extra turn at a regular Music Hall. It was at the Camberwell Empire on a Saturday night. I had been invited by the manager, to let him put me on as an ‘Extra’ after he had seen me give a performance at one of the Monthly Socials, given by some Concert Artistes Association; and he said he wanted to see if I could put my stuff over at a full Music Hall show. I consented, and a date was fixed for a couple of weeks ahead. I then got down to tintacks and practiced and rehearsed my show till I was word perfect. I then got all my friends and relations that I could, to promise to come to the Camberwell Empire to see me perform. I was full of confidence and all merry and bright till the night of the show, then I wasn’t quite so sure of myself, and when I went to the back of the stage, I was in a blue funk; but the stage manager was a good sort, and gave me plenty of encouragement, and a port-and-brandy just before I went on. This bucked me up a lot, and when the board went up ‘Extra turn’, and the orchestra struck a chord, I marched on with confidence and despatch; but what a shock I got. The footlights and limes blinded me, and I seemed to have stepped into another world. I could not see a thing in front of me, except a big black space, which, in my imagination seemed to foreshadow my doom, and not being able to see the audience, just gave me ‘stage fright’. I stood there like a stookie, and forgot every word of my patter. My mind was a blank. This state of paralysis lasted for fully five minutes – at least, so I thought at the time; but it was actually a very few seconds; then gradually my sight penetrated the darkness, and I began to distinguish a few white shirt fronts, and a few faces before me, and suddenly my full senses came back to me with a rush, and I went right through my programme without a hitch.