The secrets behind the BBC’s The Good Old Days

Jimmy Cricket's column in the Preston-based Lancashire Evening Post about The Good Old Days on the BBC

Jimmy Cricket has been revealing some of the secrets behind the success of the TV comedy programme, The Good Old Days.

The all-round entertainer, now 70, appeared in the variety show, which ran for 30 years.

It was one of the BBC’s most watched light entertainment programmes of the 1970s and 1980s, and sought to re-create the heydays of music hall entertainment which had charmed audiences at the turn of the 19th century.

The BBC re-creation of the music hall held true to its historic format, as performers appeared in period costume and a chairman entertained those present with hearty introductions. Even audience members were instructed to attend in Victorian attire (see picture below).

This BBC series was filmed on location at one of the best-maintained music hall venues in the country – the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds.

Jimmy, one of the UK’s best-loved comedians, told readers of his latest Lancashire Evening Post monthly column that the success of the programme was down to one man – Leeds-born Barney Colehan.

The audience dressed in period costume for the Good Old Days programme at the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds

“Barney had a unique gift for capturing the atmosphere of a live show and getting that across to the viewers in their living rooms.

“But there’s more… as someone who appeared on the show, I can lift the lid on some of the devices Barney used to make his show so popular.

“Firstly, he used the intimate and beautiful City Varieties Theatre in Leeds to transmit the shows from.

“He then put a live orchestra in the pit – with the right blend of instruments to capture the feel of the music hall.

“He brought in the avuncular and immensely likeable Leonard Sacks to act as chairman – from the start to the end of each show, Leonard struck up an irresistible rapport with the audience.

“And that, dear readers, was Barney’s trump card: the audience. But they weren’t just any old audience. Everyone sitting in the front seats were from amateur operatic societies up and down the country.”

Jimmy added: “Barney’s legacy is that the show he put his heart and soul into is now watched avidly on BBC Four every Friday night.

“It is enjoyed both by older viewers who remember it first time round and new viewers who are loving it for the first time.”

Although the BBC finished producing the Good Old Days TV show during the 1980s, the City Varieties Theatre is still open and continues to flourish. It even went through an extensive restoration phase a few years ago and to this day presents a varied diet of music, comedy and drama, including its very own version of The Good Old Days.

 * Jimmy will be appearing in a live recreation of The Good Old Days at the City Varieties in Leeds on 23 and 24 September. For more details, click here

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