17 May 2015

Freddie at the Hippodrome, Eastbourne

For those who couldn't make it, Freddie was on fine form at the British Music Hall Society's Day By the Sea at the Hippodrome, Eastbourne yesterday. 

His spot centred around his comedian grandad Jack Herbert - in effect, the talk which illness had prevented Freddie giving at Wilton's as part of the BMHS 50th anniversary celebrations.

But his surroundings inspired him to begin with a hilarious memory of a summer season with Dickie Henderson and magician Julie Llusion which he'd produced at the Hippodrome, the full story of which can be found in Freddie's autobiography Funny Bones.

He then read several extracts from Funny Bones about Jack and Sid Field before we saw a clip from a 1968 documentary in which both Philip Hindin and Myrtle Jay (who'd been in revue with Jack as Myrtle Grove) testified to Jack's influence on Sid, his former straight man in the 1920s.

Jack, who died not long after the programme was recorded, appeared at the end of the clip, and as the book's cowriter it was a particular pleasure for me to hear that Eastbourne audience of music hall and variety devotees react as Jack laughingly denied any credit for Sid's act - while simultaneously demonstrating the hand gestures which suggested otherwise.


As Jack's role in Sid Field's career is so little known (it's not mentioned in the sole biography) the spontaneous applause which greeted the end of this clip felt like a vindication. 

Jack continued to perform until the early 1950s, his professional decline mirroring that of variety itself, as described in a passage which Freddie chose from the book's final chapter:
After the first world war, he had been present at the birth of variety; now, steeped as he was in that world and not knowing any other, maybe he knew there was no choice but to stick around for its long, dying fall.
Freddie's own story is intimately bound up with that of his grandad. In one of our early interviews he told me that, after years of watching Jack from the wings at the Salford Hippodrome as a child, when he goes onstage it feels like a natural thing to do: that he's in the right place. That was borne out at Eastbourne yesterday in front of a rapt and receptive crowd.

You can read the full story of Jack Herbert and Sid Field - and the ups and downs of Freddie's own career as comedian, producer and actor - in Funny Bones, available from amazon (paperback) or direct from Scratching Shed Publishing (paperback or limited edition hardback).  Read an extract here.

Freddie will be returning to Eastbourne in a few weeks to give a talk and do a book signing at the Langham Hotel - details in Live Show News here