Happy nights in Hull's old Palace
Monday evening 7.30pm and the place was almost empty.
Behind the bars staff awaited their first customers. At the box office a rather grumpy lady checked the float as she sat in silent solitude.
On the stage a tall man dressed immaculately in evening wear came out from behind the curtains and with a wide smile strolled to the microphone and told a couple of not very funny jokes before announcing the first act, a bedraggled troupe of dancing girls…
This was the early 1960s. And The Hull Continental.
First house Monday night was always quiet. By about 8.30, though things were starting to look up. An hour later and the place was positively buzzing. But that’s showbusiness.
The man who graced the stage many of those evenings was Tom Mennard, a genial southerner well versed in the fickleness of cabaret audiences. He was also an actor, and proved the point in later years when he was a Coronation Street regular.
Old Continental fans will also remember another regular compere, Duggie Brown who also had “Street” connections through his sister Lynne Perrie ,who for several years played Ivy Tilsley. Another familiar face was compere was Leslie Adams, a Hull born comedian.
The Contnental took on its name and new role as a cabaret venue at Easter 1958. It was a bold move by proprietor Harold Clarke and one which proved an instant success, being copied in varies towns and cities across the country as theatre owners struggled to keep open following the rise in televised entertainment and the demise of music hall.
The Continental was housed in the old Palace Theatre which stood on Anlaby Road sandwiched between Pease Street and Ice House Road. Nearby was a motor dealer’s premises – AB Motors, I believe - and a rather grim pub, the Victoria Vaults.
It brought to Hull – and indeed to the country – a Continental style of venue which offered patrons a show, meals if they wished, and comfortable bars in which to drink. There were also opportunities for dancing to the resident band. Those who preferred just to watch and nothing else could choose a seat in the balcony, or move from place to place by purchasing a “promenade ticket” for a shilling.
The resident dancers, some of whom lived in a caravan at the back of the building, were the JW Jackson Girls who weekly went through a routine which appeared to regulars to be little different from that performed the previous week.
Entertainment was varied to say the least. There were jugglers, magicians, singers, comedians and even the occasional stripper. All good clean fun. And all in the best possible taste.
Then there were the regular musicians – Richard Vernon (piano), Elsie Granados (organ), Reg Bates )bass, clarinet and saxes) and Roy Wilkin (drums) who played at the back of the stage, the orchestra pit having been removed to create an area for dancing.
The Continental brought a bit of style to Hull. It was different to the large number of the so-called working men’s clubs which were scattered across the city. It had a degree of sophistication, at least it attempted to try to prove the point.
And it was friendly.
Go in a couple of times and you soon got to know people. Many will remember some of the regulars – Mable Brown who ran a showbiz “digs” down Spring Bank or a man who lived out Gilberdyke way and appeared every Saturday dressed for a big night on the town in top hat and tails.
He was in fact Stanley Oughtibridge, a locomotive driver from Swinefleet.
Stanley was a former lion breeder, the animals being reared by him at Goole.
Before visiting the Continental each weekend Stanley also enjoyed a pint or two in The Old White Harte in Hull’s Old Town – then a men only pub.
He did not, however, arrive in the city in the style to which he walked its streets coming in an old blue van which had seen better days.
Many will also remember the man in the brown overalls who would casually stroll on stage to remove or install equipment for the acts and on occasion sweep it clean before the next performer went on.
Behind the scenes the Continental was, frankly, not up to much.
Dressing rooms were sparse, grubby and had seen better days. Their inhabitants were usually well worn entertainers who had high hopes of TV success but who in reality were only too well aware that this would always elude them. Decent people, keen to please, often talented, but chasing a dream they would never see become reality.
Inhabiting those dismal, yet always warm dressing rooms with them were the Continental’s mouse population. It was not uncommon to be conducting an interview only to see a furry friend emerge from out the woodwork.
Yet the place had a charm, a shabby glamour that attracted regular audiences who loved the place.
Seven years after the Continental was born it died, killed off by a continually changing entertainment scene. Its doors closed in 1965, the equipment was sold by auction and the building was demolished the following year.
Almost 40 years on it is still fondly remembered by many.
Written by The Editor - 06/12/2010 13:08:09
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