1 9 5 3 – 1 9 8 3 (UK)
The Good Old Days ran for thirty years from 20 July 1953 and was introduced for the majority of its run by celebrated chairman Leonard Sachs (Don Gemmell for the first two shows).
The show was broadcast from the City Varieties in Leeds, one of the last true Victorian Music Halls still in existence.
On its present site since 1865, the City Varieties is one of the few remaining music halls in Britain and of those, undoubtedly the best preserved.
A fitting period venue with plush drapes and galleried upper floor with boxes, the theatre only required a chairman’s desk and the extra stage between orchestra and audience built specially for the programme.
As the band played Down at the Old Bull and Bush, the assembled audiences were expected to dress in period costume (and stick-on side-whiskers and fake moustaches) and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in all the appropriate places as Sachs introduced the next act with alliterative attacks of alarming alacrity in a constipated display of perspicacious polysyllabic peripatetics, which heralded the appearance of a teaming torrent of tempting talent . . . for our delight and delectation, naturally.
Finally, as the atmosphere reached fever pitch, Sachs would activate his gavel, shriek “your own, your very own . . .” and often introduce an act that nobody had ever heard of!
Authenticity was a very important factor. Women were forbidden from smoking in the hall (they didn’t in the 1900s) and the audience were discouraged from using cigarette lighters – they hadn’t been invented back then.
All the money for the costumes, false beards, stick-on moustaches and side-whiskers came out of the audience members’ own pocket, although some were known to cheat by only wearing costumes from the waist up since only their top halves were visible on television.
Regular acts on the show were Ken Dodd, Danny La Rue, Roy Hudd, Arthur Askey, Hilda Baker and Les Dawson.
Many of the acts were singers, and most bills included relatively unknown performers, often speciality acts from abroad. As years passed, fewer acts would have experienced old-time music-hall and recent stars – including pop musicians – began to appear.
But the show regularly used artistes from the Players Theatre in London (which also revived music-hall and with which Sachs was associated) to maintain the faux-Edwardian feel.
At the height of its popularity, in 1975, there was an audience waiting list of over 24,000 people.