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The Jesters Nightclub
 

In January last year we discovered that once Mexborough had a magnificent theatre the exterior being made from Tansley Stone embellished with the Fleur-de-Leas and eight Flat Greek Columns. The interior being just as splendid with recumbent cherubs painted on the ceiling, surrounded by gold gilt baroque plasterwork and scarlet, velvet plush curtains and swags. This theatre was renown nationwide for its national and international acts, and although originally named the Prince of Wales it became known as The Hippodrome .

The following month we found that the family who had constructed the Hippodrome left in 1910, to became prominent players in the creation of the British Film Industry.

This was a time when Mexborough was at its height, in every respect you could mention. By the 1970’s Mexborough was still: a forward thinking town upwardly mobile; and ambitious for its future. Young people planned what career they wished to enter into and on aiming for it, by enlarge, succeeded in obtaining occupations in that field.

This vibrancy was reflected in an extensive entertainments industry. Among other venues there was a casino, cinema, the best dance hall in the area, and a nightclub, this being ‘The Jesters’.

The Jesters was situated on Manvers Road and had once been a Territorial Army Drill Hall, constructed and opened in 1938. This closed in c1968 and stood empty for a while until it was purchased by Punchbowl Entertainments Ltd., a subsidiary of Mansfield Brewery Co. Ltd., the intention being to convert it into a lavish nightclub.

Then the work began. Firstly an architect had to be found to design the new club and after much deliberation P.R. Needham of Mansfield was chosen. Then a building contractor had to be found to: convert, extend and greatly improve the run down building and change it into the superior, sumptuous night club it was intended to be, and G.H. Smickersgill Ltd., of Wath won the contact.

Gradually the ‘Jesters’ began to take shape and towards the end of 1972 a large, two storey, building began to appear with a central, double entrance, topped with an impressive double arched steel canopy. Although not as palatial as the Hippodrome, echoes of the old theatre could still be seen in the form of the interior design which was Victoriana.

The cabaret room had a raised stage with extensive, modern lighting, a large wooden dance floor could be found to its fore surrounded by sumptuous carpeting and small intimate tables, each with its own subdued lighting, where, at the touch of a button a waitress, in red and purple uniform, could bring drinks from the large bar or meals from the two restaurant kitchens, served on the specially commissioned pink and white crockery made by the world famous Wedgewood Pottery.

This area of the cabaret section was overlooked by a balcony where small dance floors could be found and tiered seating, also with tables. Off the balcony was a smaller more intimate room with its own bar. Also on the upper floor was the apartment specially constructed for the manager. To one side of the cabaret room was an extensive cocktail bar known as the ‘Gay Nineties Bar’ where drinks were served by barmaids.

Then lastly, separate to the rest of the nightclub, was an ultra-modern dance area with Special Effect Lighting, this was a purpose built Disco. The club, when full, had a seating capacity of 600 and 80 staff were employed to serve the needs of the clientele.

By the middle of November 1972, and a cost of £150,000, all the hard work came to an end and it was ready to open. The Jesters Nightclub opened its doors on Monday 13th November 1972. On arrival everyone received a celebratory glass of Champagne and the ladies, flowers. The evening began with a presentation by Mr. R.W. Chadburn, then the resident compere Graham Elliott, of Northampton, introduced the artistes of the night ‘The Fourmost’, ‘Bev. Randle’, and ‘Mike Riley’. The night concluded with dancing until 2a.m.

Although the doors of the Jesters were opened to the general public on Monday, the official opening did not take place until lunchtime on Tuesday 14th November 1972. The nightclub was officially opened by Mr. Robin Chadburn, Chairman of Mansfield Brewery Co. Ltd. It was a grand occasion with many of the dignitaries of South Yorkshire in attendance. Mr. Chadburn publicly thanked the chairman of Mexborough UDC, Coun. George Hurst, for all the council’s assistance in getting the club up and running and went on to also thank our fire service who instructed everyone on evacuation procedure and fire prevention.

Following the opening ceremony the dignitaries were escorted on a tour of the cabaret and dining facilities, bars, dance floors and disco room. The staff were then introduced, to the dignitaries by Steve Hall the new manager. The afternoon culminated in a buffet lunch served with drinks, at the bar, by Mary Cawford.

The Jesters was open and the work of entertaining the public could began. Prior to the opening the manager, Steve Hall, had travelled 8,000 miles in search of suitable acts for the nightclub, assessing their ability to please his audiences by viewing them himself, prior to booking them. So it was little wonder that some, who appeared at the Jesters went on to become household names, such as: Jim Bowen; Rus Abbot; Little and Large; Cannon and Ball; Paul Shane, who originally appeared as a singer but later became a comedian; the controversial Bernard Manning; Bobby Knutt, seen lately in Emmerdale; Duggie Brown; Charlie Williams; Les Dawson; Norman Collier, with his faulty microphone act; the Krankies; plus the well loved Marti Caine, who went on to accomplish international fame prior to her untimely death.

Tommy Joyce, then one of the doormen of the nightclub, tells the story of how, never having seen their act before, and believing that Bobby Ball was deliberately bothering Tommy Cannon, threw him out. These are to mention but a few of the then unknown, but fantastic acts which appeared.

Then came the ‘Headliners’ which the Jesters’ became renown for, not just locally but nationwide and audiences travelled from far and wide to see them. Acts such as: The Faces, as Rod Stewart simultaneously pursued a solo career it is unsure as to whether he accompanied them but Ronnie Wood, now with the Rolling Stones, did; Frank Ifield; Gerry & the Pacemakers; The Drifters; for the children one Christmas The Wombles came to the Jesters; Ken Dodd, who appeared on the Thursday of the opening week, Bob Monkhouse; Roy Castle, known for his T.V. programme ‘The Record Breakers; Acker Bilk and his

Paramount Jazz Band; Roger Whittaker; Kenny Ball, famous for his tune ‘Stranger on the Shore’; Ivy Benson’s all Girl Band, famous during the 2nd WW for playing to the troops and becoming the female Glen Miller; the American violinist Stephen Grappelli also came to the nightclub. Stephen Grappelli was not the only American to appear, as in 1976 a controversial act appeared. This being the Rock & Pop Star, and friend of Elvis Priestly and Roy Orbison, P.J. Proby. He had become known, nationwide, while doing a ‘gig’ elsewhere, for splitting his tight leather trouser on stage and refusing to climb down, this caused outrage as he was known for not wearing underwear. It seems that he went down well with the ladies of Mexborough as he stayed from 8th to 10th April. Many have told us that Shirley Bassey also appeared there, and it is true that the South Yorkshire Times, in 1974, carried an article stating that, at the end of the year she would be touring South Yorkshire but, as the relevant issues are missing this can not be corroborated.

Televised talent competitions, similar to ‘X Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, also took place. The first started in August 1974 and different competitors appeared every night until the grand final on 29th Sept. 1974, when the winning act took the top prize of £5,000. Then in 1976 it was announced in the media that the manger of the Jesters Nightclub was to judge acts for inclusion in the incredibly popular T.V. programme ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Acts were to appear at the Jesters to enable the public to also judge them and vote on T.V. at a later date. This must have been one of the first occasions that voting by telephone took place on British Television, something we take for granted today.

Many charities also benefited from the popularity of the Jesters as Charity Nights seem to have been quite numerous. The Jesters did not just have cabaret acts and wrestling and boxing evenings were also popular. On 27th Nov. 1974 our own Tommy Joyce, then on the fringes of being one of the top ten welterweight boxes in the country, was to fight there. By this time he had been a professional boxer for four years and had fought thirty-four times, and on this occasion he was to fight Gerry Salmons who came from Stoke. The fight was witnessed by Jack Gardener, the former British Heavyweight Champion and Billy Thompson, a former British & European Lightweight Boxing Champion.

Every nightspot has its ‘unwelcome visitor, as they are known in theatrical circles, and the Jesters was no exception. David Round, who joined the nightclub as Assistant Manager, but became General Manager prior to leaving in 1975 to run his own public house tells us: “we also had a ghost in the Gay 90s Bar, at the bottom of the club, who was seen by a good number of people and was affectionately known as ‘The Colonel’, apparently where he was always seen was where the lorries were backed in and loaded and he was supposedly in the way of a lorry which ran over and killed him, so he was always seen in the same place and nowhere else in the club. I personally never saw him but I can verify that area was always very cool”.

As I have said before, all good things must come to an end. There are numerous reason given for why such a seemingly successful club, which was so popular, closed. The first is that young people, attending the disco, completely ruined the beautiful interior and the cost of repair outweighed the overheads of keeping it open. Another reason was just the climate of the time. Headliners were demanding higher and higher fees, and the seating capacity at the Jesters, was comparatively low compared to other nightclubs. Put together with the general public not having enough free income caused by: a miners strike, the three day week (the winter of discontent); etc. etc. to spend on luxuries such as evenings out at expensive nightclubs, resulted in the club not being a viable proposition and it began to run at a loss.

In April 1977 an article appeared in the South Yorkshire Times telling of the temporary closure of the night spot, as it was to be put up for sale at a cost of £100,000. But it went out in customary Mexborough Fashion, not with a whimper but a bang, consisting of a huge carnival as a ‘thank you’ to all its loyal customers. It was officially closed on Saturday 2nd April 1977. It did, for a while, go through ‘swan song’ and in June 1977 festivities were sparked nationwide by the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Street parties were held all over the country and Highwoods was no exception with the club holding a huge party.

The building then began to fall into decline and by 1981 had become a haven for ‘glue sniffers’ and drug addicts and on 26th June 1981 it was announced in the South Yorkshire Times that demolition had begun.

David Round says of the Jesters that he has: “such lovely wonderful memories of the place, the people, and the entertainment, it was such a really marvellous time in my life”. A sentiment which, I feel will be echoed by many who went there.



Information obtained from:
Every South Yorkshire Times from 7th October 1972 – 2nd April 1977 also 26th June 1981. Personal Memories of: Frank Blaydes, former Foreman for G.H. Smickersgill Ltd., of Wath. David Round, former Assistant Manager and later General Manager of the Jesters. Tommy Joyce OBE, who was once a Doorman. Souvenir Brochure of the opening night Monday 13th November 1972. Chronicle of the 20th Century. Compiled by Longman Chronicle Communications Ltd. Also to everyone who helped in any way in the writing of this newsletter. Copyright.

This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety without the permission of J.R. Ashby