In Showbusiness - Chris D'Bray Official

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First Published 2017

Firstly, can you believe its forty years since I started in this business which we call show? I started as a six month old baby playing the Baby Jesus in a professional nativity play! Well, that's what I've always maintained, but now I think its time for the truth...
(cue music, smoke and wobbly screen effect to show flash-back,)
I started in 'the Business' at the end of May 1977 at Pontins holiday camp at Squires Gate, South shore Blackpool: it's now all been demolished and I remember watching it getting dismantled and flattened when I used to fly over the site on my trips out of Blackpool airport to the Isle of Man to work a Radio Show and appear in Cabaret every weekend.
I'd been going to Pontins on holidays for years with my family, and I was always struck by the  job the 'Blue-coats' did, so I was on holiday at Pontins at Ainsdale (Southport) in 1976, the year before I left school, and I got friendly with one Blue-Coat called Robert Towel, who was not much older than me, and he gave me the address for the Pontins regional head office in Blackpool, and encouraged me to write off for a I did!
And, in mid-May 1977 - a week after I left school - I got a letter summoning me to the Squires Gate camp to meet the entertainment manager Les Melville, who was a comedy magician and a seasoned pro and who was going to interview me. I don't know what he saw in me, a quiet, shy and retiring yet instantly-lovable young creature, but whatever  he saw, he must have liked it because after my interview he asked me to start the following week as a Blue-Coat entertainer!  And (as they say) that was that...I was IN and I started a six month apprenticeship like no other...never mind what Alan Bloody Sugar says!
We stared at 8am welcoming the campers into breakfast and we continued to entertain them from then until 'Lights Out' at 1am - Exhausting! And very similar to what was shown on the TV series 'Hi Di Hi' Pool Games, Donkey Derby, Pitch 'n' Putt, Darts Tournament, Bowls, Knobbly Knees, Glamorous Granny, Cute 'n' Cuddly competition: Ohh, and BINGO...endless bloody Bingo! And THAT was just the games and competitions for the adults...THEN came the games and competitions for the kids! Later on cabaret in the evenings, dancing with campers, more competitions, chalet/baby patrol and more piggin' BINGO! We had to entertain, organise and 'Do' all the stage management ourselves, and I learnt on the job from the other Blue-Coats who took me under their collective wings, after all I was the youngest Blue-coat there at just seventeen...well THAT'S whow old  I told them I was - to get the job, I was actually just turned sixteen!!!!

But, I learned so much in those five and a half months. When the season was over I returned home to sunny Wigan-by-the-sea, I was a changed person: at school I'd been quite quiet and introverted due to being the only Gay in the school, so basically I was the school puff, who was bullied physically by fellow pupils and mentally by pupils and (on occasion) by the odd teacher or two, with comments that would not be tolerated in this day and age. So, I kept out of the lime light, never took Drama or Performing arts as a subject, even though I wanted to be in 'Showbiz', I kept out of the lime-light and left school as soon as humanly possible.
But on returning from Pontins...well! How the tables turned. I was a different person, laughing, joking, singing (well trying to sing!) I'd come out of my shell and I gave the world-at-large a two fingered salute!
From then on I always worked in the entertainment industry in some way, always with the intention of getting into a drama school to train professionally. By 1979 at the start of the New Romantic era, I found that I was a naturally good robot dancer: and I was asked to robot dance in various shows and at clubs were people were willing to pay me to do it! At that time, Robot dancing was developing and was seen as a very visual but difficult thing to perform and the robot dancers were highly sought after as were the dancers who performed the developing 'Popping' and 'Locking' skills in break dancing. Sometimes, I would team up with another excellent robot dancer, Panda Jazz, (who ended up as one of the ten finalists on the 'That's Life' Robot disco dancing championships of the UK) in 1983.
At this time - in the very early 1980's - I became a resident dancer at Silvers night spot at 'Park Hall' Charnock Richard, (behind the service station of the same name on the M6!) The club had an existing troupe of dancers there and I was asked to join as the 'Weird' one; I performed all the New Romantic numbers as well as the Robot, and I had recently added a quiet little under-stated routine to my repertoire called 'Sweet Transvestite' from the Rocky Horror Show.
In the North West of the UK in the very early 1980's this routine was quite shocking and little known, even though the film version of the show had been featured in the movie 'Fame' in 1980 it was still a little known number from an obscure but cult show which was not really known about outside of Showbiz circles or major cities. But, I used to regularly perform it at Silvers and the audience loved it! I would get the girl dancers Lillian, Tracy and Kath to come on stage with me, they needed no persuasion, let me tell you. We would all be in the usual Rocky Horror attire and make-up which was only a small step for me as - after all - I WAS a New Romantic and was well used to donning the slap. Kath (Rolston) was from Garswood near Ashton-in-Makerfield and ended up as a major dancer and choreographer in Greece (now called Kate) then she moved to the USA and we lost touch. The Boy dancers at Silvers were Barry Clarke who became B.J. Rambo and major act on the Fun Pub circuit, Clive (who went on to become the main Black boy dancer on The Hit Man and Her, the one with the white wig, which I gave him!)
I stayed at Silvers for nearly three years, and continued to perform in other one off show all over the place whilst auditioning for various drama schools. I remember Robot dancing in the Rainbow Rooms of the Kensington exhibition centre in London in about 1982/83 at a British hairdressing event for the British hairdressing team. Working for the Library theatre in their marquee as part of 'Sci-Fi Ballet' (the Library theatre named us,) with Panda Jazz, Kath and another friend of mine called Neville. I had met Neville (Nev) at the famous Wigan Pier night club on a Wednesday night (New Romantic night) and we hit it off straight away and became firm friends: he was a hairdresser who had a bit of a back ground in performing arts at school and was interested in performing professionally too: he would go with me to all my bookings and performances, he was really supportive.

Then in the Autumn of 1983 the dancers at Silvers were all asked if we wanted to work in a new bar opening in Wigan? Well, as I was the only dancer from Wigan I said yes, all the other dancers were from further afield. It was going to be called 'The Rock Rock Cafe' and it was Wigan's' very first Fun Pub, based on the Hollywood bar which had just recently opened in Preston, and was that city's' first Fun Pub. Thie idea for the Fun Pub had been brought over the Pennines from Yorkshire by Colin Dernan, who had been involved in the original Fun Pubs over there and he thought the idea would work well in Lancashire... Boy! Was he ever right! The DJ from Silvers(Andy Wright) and his wife Karen, had seen the Hollywood bar and had persuaded the owner of Park Hall (John Rigby) that the idea would work in Wigan, and that they had sourced a likely venue and were looking for backing. John Rigby liked the idea and during the late Spring of 1983, myself and Nev helped Andy and Karen Wright to decorate the 'Rock Rock Cafe' in Ince-in-Makerfield, Wigan, prior to it's opening in the summer of 1983.
When we did open it was pandemonium! We were mobbed and had to draft in bar staff from Park Hall, who had come for the opening and a night out! Me and Nev were going to be the 'Tambouriners', which entailed standing on top of  the bar and bashing a tambourine in time to the music and Andy had asked me to perform 'Sweet Transvestite' and Robot and a couple of other routines - that I performed at Silvers -  but we were that busy serving drinks and tambourining, I didn't get the chance to perform anything! One night I couldn't work at the Rock Rock,  so Nev performed Sweet Tranny, and everyone loved it! So I told him to do it at the Rock Rock Cafe regularly, 'cause I was performing it at Silvers; and that's what I did for the next eight to ten months; Rock Rock cafe from 7pm til 10pm then I'd drive like mad to Park Hall and dance at Silvers from 10:30pm  til 12:30 am every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and performing at the Rock Rock Cafe every night as well.
At this time I realised I could achieve a life-long ambition and apply for the prestigious 'Equity card' by virtue of performing in Cabaret which came under the collective umbrella of Variety. So I did. and so did Neville. We both applied at the same time and got them at the same time: and after I told the Equity representative for the North West (Don Dawson) that my ambition was to be an actor, he suggested I did some extra work on Television to gain experience, exposure and expenditure; I loved the sound of that! Television! But Nev said he wasn't interested in acting. Any way, one phone call later - courtesy of Mr. Dawson - to Nidges agency in Saint Annes Square Manchester, and I had an interview arranged for the following day! Nidges took me on their books for TV small parts and extra work, initially and also on the books was a young guy who also did drag called Dame Damian, who went on to have commercial success with his music career. I did lost of TV work with Damian and we always got on well, I've even got some shots of us in TV programmes from the mid 1980's, on old video tape (VHS NOT betamax...thank you!) Which my mum used to record for me, from 1983 to 1985 I was never away from Granada, BBC Manchester, Brookside and Yorkshire TV. Plus a whole host of big budget and independent films. I did nearly every episode of 'Lost Empires' and virtually LIVED on 'Albion Market'! But, my first TV job has an interesting story...
(Cut to: wobbly screen dream FX)
In the early Autumn of 1983 I was a 22 year old young jobbing actor who was on the train to Granada studios in Manchester, to do my first, major acting job which was going to be my first time on 'the telly'. I boarded the train at Wigan Wallgate station, bound for Manchester Victoria, but I had been told by my - newly acquired - agent (Nidges) that I should disembark at Salford Central station and walk to the studios. I remember sitting on the train full of excitement and nerves wondering what the experience would be like, how much exposure would I get on screen, what would my friends think? I was a whirl-wind of emotions. I wasn't paying much attention to my fellow passengers on the packed train, I was too busy looking through the window at the surrounding countryside: but at one point on the journey I noticed that there was a middle-aged woman sat on her own reading. She was smartly dressed with coiffured hair and had a number of bags at her feet. The more I starred at her, the more I got the feeling that I knew her. Was she an acquaintance of my family, who had boarded at Wigan Wallgate station as well? I thought? Was she someone I knew? I just couldn't place her, but it played on my brain for the rest of the journey. As we approached Salford station and I got ready to disembark, I noticed the well-dress lady was also gathering her bags and making her way to the train door, obviously she was terminating her journey at Salford as well; and as she approached the door she looked at me and smiled and I suddenly realized who she was. It was Jean Alexander...the Legendry Hilda Ogden! I was amazed, you don't expect to see stars from the TV on a northern train do you? They usually have a chauffer driven limousine, don't they?
As I got off the train, I made my way to the exit with Miss Alexander following me; we left the station and headed in the direction of Granada studios. I had never been there before and only knew the route from directions, so I gathered my courage and turned around and said "Miss Alexander, is this the right direction for Granada studios?" She smiled and assured me that I was heading in  the right direction and asked me if I was working there? So, as we walked together - companionaly - I offered to carry one of her bags and told her that I was trying to get into acting and today was my first job on TV. Miss Alexander was charm itself. She  asked me where I was from, where had I worked before, had I been to drama school, and she seemed genuinely interested. She advised me to apply for a drama school and even suggested which ones in London to apply for. She also explained to me what to expect at the studios and that it would be a 'long day'.
When we arrived at Granada, the receptionist touched his hat and wished Miss Alexander a 'Good morning'; she said "Good morning: this young man is working here today, can you sort him out?" She then wished me a goodbye and headed off to her dressing room.
Later that day I was stood outside the studio where the 'Krypton Factor' was filmed, waiting with a number of other actors, all dressed in the same costume, as we were going to be the 'Line up' of actors, which the contestants had to choose from, trying to identify an actor from the film, after they had watched a clip of a film: our instructions were, if chosen step one pace forward. Earlier in the day, I had introduced myself to the other actors when we were ensconced in the dressing room, and a few of them were with my new agent; but they seemed like a cold lot, and I got the impression that this was a 'closed club' and that I was the 'newby'... an outsider. So, I kept myself to myself and plodded on, determined to enjoy the whole experience.
And now as I was waiting with the others to enter the studio for my big moment, who should be walking down the corridor by Miss Alexander dressed in her 'Hilda' costume, resplendent in curlers, head scarf and wrap-around apron. The other actors in my line up were nudging each other and indicating to her, and she smiled warmly as she passed us. Then she did the smallest of double takes and came straight over to me with a "Hello laddie, don't you look different, very smart." I mumbled something about it was indeed becoming a long day as she had warned me and that we were just about to enter the studio. She told me to 'Break a leg' and walked off to the 'Corrie' set.
The fact that she had approached me and singled me out for a conversation gave me the seal of approval with my fellow actors that was as good - in their eyes - as the Royal Warrant. Suddenly they all wanted to talk to me, asking how I knew Jean Alexander? What had she said to me? Had I worked with her in the past? I took immense pleasure is answering, "We frequently travel together on the train." A small white lie, I know, but that was soon to become a fact. I didn't have much time to say anything else as we were then cued to enter the studio. I loved the experience of working on my first job at Granada, and I was, indeed,  picked out and had to 'Step one pace forward' and still have the film on video tape; and we were sworn to secrecy to not tell anyone anything before the actual broadcast. And as a newly qualified 'professional' I kept schtum!

As I boarded the train home to Wigan, at Salford central station, I looked for Miss Alexander, but she was not on the platform, indeed, I had not seen her again that day, even though I HAD seen many other famous faces in the canteen at lunch time, including Michael Le Vell who stood behind me in the queue for lunch and kept nudging me with his savaloy!When I got home, I told my friends and family all about the day, and meeting Miss Alexander. They were all gobsmaked and I think a few of them thought I was 'telling porkie pies'; but six weeks later there I was 'on the telly' looking resplendent in my costume and taking 'one step forward'. That wasn't the end of the story, it was just the beginning of what was to become regular meetings with Miss Alexander. The following year Granada made 'Albion Market' and I was a regular supporting artist for nearly the whole of broadcasts, before it was de-commissioned in 1986, but by then I was leaving 'extra' work behind me as I was starting Drama School in Liverpool. But, whenever I got on the train at Wigan Wallgate station, bound for Granada, I would always look for Miss Alexander, and if she was on the train and saw me she would always smile and beckon me over to sit with her and she would ask what I was doing that day, and what other work had I done; she was always interested in me and interesting to listen to, when she would tell me about her days in weekly rep.
We shared many a train journey together from 1983 to 1986 and if I saw her anywhere in the studios, she would always say hello and ask me how the job was going. The last time I saw her we travelled together for what was to be my last job on Albion Market; and when I told her I had been successful in my application for Drama School in Liverpool she was so pleased for me and that set us off on another conversation, as she was from Toxteth and we got to discussing all aspects of Liverpool. If it wasn't for Miss Alexander, I might never have been inspired to apply for drama school, and will always be greatful to her for the inspiration.

After that, I only did the 'odd job' at Granada, as I was so engrossed with my studies at drama school, and I never did she Miss Alexander again, but I did watch her often on 'the telly'. I also remember a couple of fellow drama students poo pooing the idea that I had traveled frequently with the famous Hilda Ogden, even though I'd shown them the video of me on the Krypton Factor, (thanks to my mum for recording it for posterity,) some just did not believe that some one as famous as Miss Alexander would deem to speak to a mere 'extra'. I never argued too much about it, because I always knew the truth of things, as did a number of my fellow performers from the Nidges agency if I was with them at Granada when Miss Alexander would come over and say 'hello' to me. You are probably wondering why, (throughout this piece) I have always referred to her as 'Miss Alexander' and not Jean? Well, that is because that is how I always addressed her. I was never invited to call her by her Christian name and she always referred to me as 'Laddie'. "There's a seat her, laddie."  or  "How's filming going laddie?" I don't know if she ever knew my actual name, even though I had introduced myself, but I was just happy to be recognized. However, Miss Alexander was always first and foremost a Lady, and, therefore that is how I always addressed her.

And in early 1984 Nev and me were head-hunted to work for an organisation who had a number of bars in Lancashire and wanted  to host a Fun Pub night one night of the week: so me and Nev performed every Monday night at 'The Loose Goose' (naturally we christened it the Slack Chicken!) In West Houghton, Tuesday nights in 'The Rams head' in Tarlton,  and Wednesday nights in  the 'Brahms and Liszt' in Ormskirk and every weekends in Sylvester's in Wigan town centre. Suddenly, Me and Nev were becoming a 'Name' in the Fun Pub industry and we were getting lots of work! Then in Autumn of 1984 the company told us that due to the success of the one-off Fun Pub nights which were doing for them, they were planning on opening a tailor-made Fun Pub in Standish near Wigan and they were in the process of transforming what used to be the Black Horse pub and would we like to go and have a look at the shell of a venue, and offer any suggestions? This eventually became the legendry Fun Pub/Showbar 'Henry Africas' which I opened with Nev on December the 18th 1984 and it was a success, playing to packed audiences until it closed for good in the winter of 1990. When I eventually did go to drama school in 1985 'til 1988, Nev and I dicided to go our separate ways, I was studying to be an actor and had a big Manchester agent and Nev went back to Benidorm, where we had performed the previous year, as a solo act: I was still performing at Henry Africas whilst at Drama school - 8am on the train to Liverpool (am start Drama school, classes all day, train home at 6pm home for 7pm, shower and out to Henrys at 7:30pm, on stage in full costume and slap at 8:30 til midnight, staff bus home for 1am and then up the morning after at 6:30am to be on the train at 8am repeat, repeat, repeat...for over two years solid - I had NO grant or student loan to go to Drama School, I had to pay my own way.  However, it paid off, I graduated as top of the class with a merit (what do the Americans call it? Oh yes "Magna Cum Laude"). After graduating from Drama school, I was offered a role in a  touring kids show (I know I in a kids show! Please!) The Care Bears Magic show, and we toured for a year: a good role for a jobbing actor fresh outta drama school and eager to prove. After touring, I went back to Henry Africas and worked there and did the odd, but regular night in other bars and pubs: furthermore, there were now two more Henry Africas venues in Scunthorpe and Oldham for me to perform in. After that we re-launched the Fun Pub/showbar concept (with Neville now as Roxy Duvalle) in the Potteries, Staffordshire; we had ditched the name Henry Africas in favour of the new moniker of  'Fatty Arbuckle's'. These bars were in Newcastle-under-Lyne (as opposed to the other Newcastle-up-on-Tyne), in Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton and in the county town of Stafford. Our shows were a lot slicker now and we used female and male dancers to give a more Parisian style Floor-show as opposed to a comedy bar-show. Our routine oozed class, costumery and chorography, but with still retaining the drag and some of the comedy. They worked well until the 1993 when the bosses got greedy (a common occurrence,) and audiences dwindled due to the increases the bosses imposed.

So, I came back to the North and work at the famous Hollywood bar in Preston, the original Fun Pub in Lancashire. I'd been there at the opening in 1983 to watch this new concept of 'Fun Pub', and now - ten years later - I was working there. In 1994/95 I also performed at 'Flex' in Earlstown with some of the old Fatty Arbuckle dancers and ended up opening 'Flex 2' in Saint Helens which went on to have great success as a gay bar. I continued in this vein, playing Fun Pub nights here and there until 1998 when I was approached to perform in the legendary 'Union bar' in Manchester's gay village. I was there every Wednesday evening and Sunday Lunch and within six months the filming started for 'Queer as Folk'. A few months later we were inundated with a whole new audience when the programme aired and in Summer 1998 I was asked by Julia Grant to open and front her new bar in the village...the Hollywood bar. The year after I was asked to audition for the world famous 'Funny Girls' as the Monday night DJ and on March the first 1999 I started my first night there. Within six months I was also resident DJ at the old 'Flying handbag' where I met some Gobshite called Adam Nolan who said
"Ohhh you must let me do a web site for you..." ...the rest (as they say) is history.

I’ve been burning  the candle at both end’s, in an attempt to transfer all my old vinyl records on to CD, (waste of a candle, if you ask me)! And the two record decks I’ve got are ancient! One’s steam driven and the other’s got a handle for cranking; it comes complete with a large horn (waste of a horn) and a Jack Russell dog that keeps trying to piss on my leg! All this on top of Hay fever, and I don't mean the play by Noel...So I'm  now officially knackered

A while ago the powers that be decided that we Wiganers were to have a new shopping arcade in the town centre. This precipitated the need to demolish half the town and it ended up looking like Iraq’s second city Basra, after George W had had his way with it! The interesting thing is, that workers have discovered Roman ruins deep in the Earth! Now, it’s always been theorised that Wigan is one and the same place that is mentioned in various Roman histories, as an early Roman Fort called Coccium. However, it has never been proved, although most of the evidence points to this being the case. Well, now with these ruins un-earthed it’s looking more certain than ever!

This is ironic when you stop to think about it. I mean a Northern working class town, full to bursting with rugby players, retired miners and pie-eaters and a thriving hetro night life…and yet, it only had it's first gay pride in 2016! And yet, over two thousand years ago, the town was originally called COCcium!
Not bad for a town that has no official Gay bar, but DOES have the unique honour of being able to boast  that it has produced not one but TWO, former Mr. Gay UK’s! David Jackson and Sean McVey. Now, I might be wrong, but 'Excuse Me!' I’m sure I’m right in thinking that no other town or city has produced more than one? Do contact me if my information is can email me through my web slave Adam (Don't call me Miss!) Nolan

Right’ I’m off to get my natural Peruvian Mahogany tresses into some thing that resembles a Human League fringe 'cause I've just got all nostalgic for the 1980's music scene. Finally, my eldest son Mitchell has just got a new car, courtesy of his boyfriend, and he’s promised to take me out on a drive. (Actually, between you and me and these two walls  - and I DON'T mean Hadrians wall and the Great wall of China - the boyfriend said if I bent over, he’d drive me ALL the way home! And apparently, there’s no speed limit on a ring road! This 'ere car also comes with a free Tom Tom Sat Nav! Now, I’ve not the foggiest what a Sat Nav is…but I do know that Tom Tom’s are a type of drum, something like bongos, so, I’m going to try to cadge them for my hubby Jack to have a bang on…which will make a change from him banging on my Hymen! Yehhh! that's STILL intact!

So, you're now up to speed with my forty years in showbiz. I do hope you came to see me at this year in Blackpool, Oldham or Manchester and say hello', 'Congrats on 40 odd years and still alive' or 'hears fifty quid...enjoy'!

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