In the mid-sixties Rediffusion's Stars and Garters had presented top talent within
a London east end pub setting, while BBC2's International Cabaret presented similar
acts, but in the context of a London west end night club. The Wheeltappers and Shunters
Social Club took things to a different level. Many social clubs in the north of England
like The Embassy Club in Manchester and Batley Variety Club had the cash and the
will to outdo each other in order to entice big names. It wasn't unusual to visit
the club on a Friday or Saturday night and see Gene Pitney, Julie Rogers, PJ Proby,
Neil Sedaka, Lonnie Donegan or any number of fifties and sixties acts whose chart
career was behind them. Many acts saw these clubs as the lowest of the low, Neil
Sedaka once referring to them in an interview as "toilets", but they could pay good
money when work was sparse.
Granada's Johnny Hamp, who had previously produced The Comedians, had the idea of
creating a fictional social club and have real-life club owner and comedian Bernard
Manning as the host and fellow comedian Colin Crompton as the club's concert chairman
whose role would be to interrupt the proceedings between the acts and Manning's jokes
with club announcements and the bingo. The audience were all locals and the drink
appeared to be real, while one of the barmaids, Liz Dawn, would later find fame in
Coronation Street as Vera Duckworth.
The second week of the show saw TV Times launch its Pub Entertainer of the Year competition
with a £10,000 prize, while in June 1976 the show went all Seaside Special and went
on the road for a one-off special, The Wheeltappers & Shunters Club Mystery Coach
Tour, starring The New Seekers.
Aping Stars and Garters an album of sing-a-long songs by the host and regular cast
was released by Granada in 1976.
The show offered an impressive line up with Matt Monro, The Crickets, Johnnie Ray,
The Three Degrees, Bill Haley & The Comets, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, alongside club
legends Tony Christie, The Dooleys and Tony Monopoly. The acts chosen ranged from
singers, groups, exotic dancers, comics and variety acts that were doing the rounds
of clubland, taken straight from the pages of The Stage and introduced the whole
of the country to acts like Cannon & Ball and The Krankies, both of whom would become
big stars and later go on to host their own series.
The show hosted the National Club Act Awards and the Final of Miss Nightclub 1977,
but the end was near. The show was dropped by most of the ITV network in the last
year and was moved to late night Thursdays. The series appeared to finish with a
group of specials starring the acts like The New Vaudeville Band and Mike Harding.