Look Back With Little: A roaring good time...

Leggy Lions lap up the laughter. Pic courtesy of Fred Nicholls
Leggy Lions lap up the laughter. Pic courtesy of Fred Nicholls

In the history of local service organisations September 1968 will be remembered as the month when Banbury Lions Club was founded.

Its charter was received in January 1969. Like Rotary great emphasis is placed on service to the community at large. Provision of entertainment has always been seen as the means of achieving this objective. Typical occasions have included Children Singing for Children, music festivals and a Son-et-Lumière.

Down the years the club became synonymous with Old Time Music Hall for which the adopted home was the College Theatre. Programmes for this event were quite rightly regarded as souvenirs in their own right.

Not only were they guides to the various stage presentations but also opportunities for shops and businesses to exploit advertising space and to do so in the spirit of the occasion.

Recently a copy of the programme for the 1981 Music Hall was left at the Banbury Guardian office.

Today’s article is both a reaction to the actual programme and also a collection of reminiscences by people who were involved at the time and in particular Fred Nicholls who as the whipper in was responsible for drumming up acts.

The North Oxfordshire Technical College Theatre was an ideal venue in so many respects. It had an unusually wide stage space, which had been requested by Norman Pratt the Principal.

This meant that it could be easily adapted to the specific needs of hirers. Externally the theatre was approached by a gracious sweep of steps, which led to a substantial foyer where audiences gathered before and after shows.

Above all the college was central to the town.

Each year Music Hall acts included groups better known in other venues. Typical were the Lynden Players from Middleton Cheney who provided ‘a twirl of the skirt’.

Then there were performers who came together on more limited occasions. These included Fred Nicholl’s Big Cats said to be appearing by special request and also the Bodicote Hamsters who had been ‘released from hibernation for another season’. By name they were John Cheney, Richard Walford and Pete Goodway.

There was much else to read in the programme both before and after the show.

Many of the commercial advertisements were highly entertaining. Small cafés were much more numerous than today. The Harlequin was but a few doors down the High Street from the Cross. Its owners decided to use verse as a means of attracting custom. It read:

‘When Lions hunting in their pack, decide that they all need a snack, they’ll head for where the food is best, food which revives and gives them zest. So you like them, should all pop in and see us at the Harlequin’.

Equally inventive was a box advertisement for Henry’s Men’s Wear High Street shop.

It incorporated the figure of Henry VIII in full regalia and the comment ‘Dressed to Kill!’ This had been the logo of the predecessor on site.

It made such an impression that Fox FM radio station encouraged Willy Russell to adopt the same attire.

Another old established High Street firm Lumbers described themselves as ‘that gem of jewellers in a Glitteringly Gracious Rendering of his own Gold and Silver Waltz – Chronometrically Controlled’. An undoubted highlight of the programme was a humorous version of a ‘wanted’ column so popular in local newspapers. Two of the entries linked specifically to the town:

WANTED: A new road system for Banbury. Contact P. Butterworth, Cherwell District Council.

WE ARE LOOKING for sponsors for the trip round the Market Place (over raised cobble stones). Entry forms from Pat ‘n’ Mick Incorporated.

There can be no better comment about the Music Hall Shows that one from Fred Nicholls. “The provision of entertainment on the scale of 1981 enabled the Lions Club members to achieve their financial and other objectives.

“Most evening performances were near sell-outs and always Saturday nights.

“Requests for following year tickets were received before the audience departed!”