Legends from The Granada’s history

Kettering 'Records 'Brunswick- Sweet Nuthin's Brenda Lee'PYE- I wanna go home Lonnie Donegan
Kettering 'Records 'Brunswick- Sweet Nuthin's Brenda Lee'PYE- I wanna go home Lonnie Donegan

The article about concerts at The Granada in Kettering brought back memories of the audience rocking in the aisles for one reader.

Mel Hopkins said: “I was at a concert that featured Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Jet Harris and the audience was, for a change, mainly made up of boys.

“Jet Harris was booed because he had left The Shadows, whom all the boys idolised. It was The Shadows who inspired many groups around the country to form.

“Sam Cooke was truly a great singer unlike many pop stars of the time. And, without the hundreds of screaming girls that usually attended these shows, you could hear him. But the performance that to this day for me was the most exciting I have ever seen was from Little Richard. I, along with everyone else, was literally rocking in the aisles, something until then or since I had never done.”

Mr Hopkins remembers seeing Ronnie Corbett perform at The Granada with Bernie Bresslaw in 1958. He said: “They were funny even when they just stood together because Bresslaw was about six-foot-seven.

“Tommy Steele’s concert was his last touring performance. According to the Evening Telegraph’s report of the concert, the star said: ‘This was easily the best show of the whole tour. The two audiences were magnificent: so responsive and a delight to perform too.’”

Mr Hopkins said it was The Granada’s manager Rex Smith who introduced the Sunday night bandshows in 1958. Local bands were given the chance to perform in the interval between the B movie and the main film. He said: “The shows were responsible for a 400 per cent increase in the audiences to between 1,400 and 1,500, mostly teenagers. If you turned up late a seat was out of the question so hundreds stood at the back. Once the band had finished, a mass exodus took place so no-one went along to watch the movies.”

Mr Hopkins believes the rise in local bands was linked to the increasing popularity of skiffle. He said: “In 1956 one man would inspire every village and town to form a skiffle group.

His name was Lonnie Donegan. His record Rock Island Line sold three million copies in six months and was the first British record to reach the top 20 in the American Billboard chart.

“Kettering Boys Club had a very good skiffle group. All you needed was someone who could play the guitar, and the other members used a washboard and thimble, and a tea chest with a broom handle and string to act as the double bass.”

The Granada cinema chain decided to host touring road shows in the late 1950s and the first act to appear at The Granada in Kettering, on April 14, 1958, was Lonnie Donegan. Between 1958 and 1964 The Granada put on 43 shows featuring all the top performers of the day.

Jim Dale, who was born in Rothwell, appeared at the venue on April 28, 1961, when he compered a show featuring Frankie Howerd and singer Matt Monro, who was unknown at the time.

Mr Hopkins said: “Frankie Howerd told a lot of jokes no-one had heard before because he used material he wasn’t allowed to get away with on the radio or television, and my mum was disgusted.

“I never collected the artists’ autographs but I did see Jim Dale on the platform at Kettering station once, he was on his way down to London to film a TV show.”

One group which was big at the time but never appeared at The Granada was The Beatles. Mr Hopkins said: “They appeared at the ABC cinema in Northampton in March, 1963. Having led the way, Kettering was now deemed too small to host the really big acts, the writing was on the wall.”

Mr Hopkins stopped going to the shows when he joined the RAF, but it didn’t stop him from seeing the stars perform. He said: “I was stationed in Aden and Bob Monkhouse [who appeared at The Granada in 1960] came out to entertain the troops. He put on a three-hour show in 100 degrees and was really exceptional.”