The time had finally come when The Sooty Show turned its back on the South and East and headed North – which for Harry and Sooty was really going home because Harry was a Yorkshireman to his boots, despite his time down in the West Country.
We had six venues left on the tour but only three really stuck in my mind.
The first of these memorable theatres was in York, the Theatre Royal, a beautiful structure from the 18th century. It was a pleasure to play in such a building with so much history in the dramatic arts.
We shared the venue with a touring production of The Threepenny Opera. The lead role of Mack the Knife had gone to a 50s/60s pop star and actor who had appeared in another, more modern musical in Basildon the previous year – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
I had heard from stage crew at Basildon that the star was considered to have an air of self-importance and some of the cast thought he needed to be taken down a peg or two. There was a scene where he had to throw himself on a woman lying on a bed. One night, as he threw himself at the bed, the woman raised her knee with somewhat painful consequences.
Whether or not the story was true it certainly seemed the star had changed his attitude as it was clear the stage crew and cast in York considered him a “proper actor” rather than a “jumped-up pop star”.
The theatre manager found a spare seat for me one night and I must admit it was an excellent production of Brecht’s interpretation of the 18th century The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, a fine example of the satirical works prevalent at the time.
The second theatre was on the seafront at Southport next door to one of the town’s biggest venues which attracted top stars.
At the time we were doing The Sooty Show at the smaller theatre my showbiz idols, Morecambe and Wise, were playing at the larger venue next door.
It was not unknown for stage crew to work at more than one venue if necessary and that was how I came to be standing in the wings watching Eric and Ernie keeping their audience in stitches.
I was wearing my stage blacks except that instead of a plain black T-shirt I was wearing one which read THE SOOTY SHOW in large white letters.
At one point Ernie Wise was holding forth and Eric, who was supposed to be looking at his partner, was looking over his shoulder into the wings and saw my TV shirt.
At that he almost corpsed but his professionalism shone through as he held up the index finger, thumb and middle finger of his right hand and said: “Who’s that?” Ernie fell back to his role as straight man and said: “I don’t know, who is that?”
The response was quick and witty: “Sooty in the nude.”
The audience were in stitches.
The third and final venue on my list, and the last venue of the tour, was at Saint Helen’s, Lancashire, another Theatre Royal. which was the last date on our tour and at the end of the week I would be saying goodbye to my companions of the last seven months.
Once again we were sharing the venue this time with a touring repertory company, and I had met some of the actors previously. Not, as you might think, in Basildon but in a previous life in Rhyl when they had been in a company doing a season at The Little Theatre, when I had helped with the lighting, including doing a full lighting plot for one of the plays.
It was fun spending the week doing our final shows and spending some leisure time with my old friends from the theatre company.
I had no plans as to my future once the week at Saint Helen’s ended but a couple of members of the rep company did suggest that there might be a technical/managerial with one of the companies in their group.
I took the details of the company head office and both my friends said they would put in a word for me.
After our final performance we cleared the stage of all our gear and got it all in the scenery dock before cleaning ourselves up and having our final weekly meal at a restaurant courtesy of Harry.
These meals had become an end-of-the-week ritual over the tour and Harry, despite the reputation people of Yorkshire have, was a generous host, telling us to order whatever we like.
At the end of the meal he would always order coffee and liqueurs all round, my poison of choice in those days was a creme-de-menthe frappe. Harry would always have a brandy with his coffee but this was when his Yorkshire roots came to the fore.
He always told the waiter: “I don’t want a fancy Napoleon or Courvoisier, a cooking brandy is all I need because it’ll be going straight into the coffee.”
That final meal was sad but happy at the same time, especially for myself and Howard because we would be going our separate ways while Lawrence was staying with Harry and Toabs as stage manager when they went to do their TV Sooty shows.
I stayed in the caravan that night and Lawrence and I were up early to complete our final getout before I header for the railway station to make my way to Rhyl where my father would pick me up and take me to their new home in Dyserth where I would be staying for a few days while I decided on my next move.