Honoured and grateful to presenter-about-town Matthew Sweet and impresario-producer Phil Tinline for the opportunity to make my debut as a variety turn at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios last night. Matthew compered his Palace of Great War Varieties, a freewheeling tour through the popular culture of the First World War, with his usual aplomb and a stock of jokes a hundred years old. It’ll be broadcast as Radio 3’s Sunday Feature on December 28 from 6.45 to 7.30pm.
I learned a huge amount from fellow contributors Fern Riddell, Helen Brooks, Ian Christie and Neil Brand about music hall, theatre of different stripes and cinema … and was quite carried away by their enthusiasm, a tremendous demonstration of how the period can still speak to us and fire our imaginations.
And what did I bring to the show? Clubs, drugs and a brief tour of the West End finishing at the scene of London’s first cocaine bust, outside what is now the Ivy. Matthew and I took in Ciro’s nightclub, or rather the National Portrait Gallery archive which now occupies the building, and gazed at photos of its former splendour while standing on what was once the dance floor – boards trodden later in the club’s history by Audrey Hepburn, who danced and sang there in 1950.