The QT

Thursday 16 May 2024

That’s Livin’ Alright

Sam Wonfor reflects on a joyous night of comedy and music at Newcastle City Hall of comedy and staged by the legendary cast of Auf Wiedersehen Pet with a little bit of help from some friends
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet at 40 at Newcastle 02 City Hall. Credit Paul Glass

If you’d dropped me, blindfolded into the basement bar at Newcastle City Hall on Saturday night and asked me to guess the evening’s on stage attraction, I reckon I would have got it within 30 seconds.

Standing in the ridiculous queue, weighing up the longevity benefits of a two-pinter versus the inevitable —  and even more ridiculous —  interval line for the ladies loos, line after line of classic TV dialogue was filling the air.

I’ll tell you one thing, mate. Sex is in its infancy in Gateshead.

Well, that’s a smashing system that is, isn’t it Barry? Everybody gets what nobody wants? … [altogether now] That’s democracy Dennis

Do you want to come back to our hut?

What do you think you’re going to find up there, eh? A new striker for Newcastle United?

Dear Brenda…

Moxey, Oz, Neville and Dennis reunite on stage. Credit: Paul Glass

The assembled masses had gathered to raise a (massive) glass to Auf Wiedersehen. Pet (AWP) —  the iconic comedy drama series which introduced itself to the nation in the mid eighties and made a triumphant return in the early 21st century.

And as someone who has given over more than a little shelf space —  and screen time —  to both the VHS and DVD box sets over the years, I was delighted to be amongst them… although I regretfully stopped short of piping in with a rendition of the Auf Wiedersehen mix of Rule Britannia feat. Marmalade, Jam and Five Chinese Crackers.

Written by Dick Clement and (North Tyneside’s own) Ian La Frenais, the beloved series followed the fortunes and considerable exploits of ‘the magnificent seven’ —  a group of British migrant workers who arrived in Germany in search of the construction work they couldn’t find at home.

The show ran for two series from 1984-86 and then returned in 2002, prompted by another gig on stage at the City Hall — the first Sunday For Sammy fundraiser, held in memory of North East actor Ronnie ‘Sammy’ Johnson, which brought the Geordie contingent of the cast back together for the first time in more than a decade.

Saturday’s 40th anniversary celebration —  held in aid of the Sunday for Sammy Trust and North East cancer charity, FACT —  was organised by the committed team behind the AWP fansite with the help of Jimmy Nail, who played Geordie brickie Oz in a manner which ensured legendary status was nailed on (pun intended).

Demand for tickets had dictated matinee and evening performances.

Filled with surprises —  the first being that it was former BBC Newcastle treasure Alfie Joey and not the previously announced Jason Cook taking care of hosting duties —  the opening half took a massive leaf out of a certain big red book.

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet at 40 brought a crowd of cast and crew together to raise a glass. Credit: Paul Glass

This Is Your Life, Pet saw four of the five surviving stars of the series take to the stage.

Jimmy was joined by Tim Healy (Dennis), Kevin Whately (Neville) and Christopher Fairbank (Moxey) as they cracked on with sharing memories and anecdotes from all five series. 

Sadly Timothy Spall (Barry) —  who happened to win a Best Actor BAFTA the following evening —  couldn’t make it, but sent a heartfelt video message which left no-one in doubt of how much affection he holds for the show as well as his building site comrades.

Meanwhile moving musical tributes to Gary Holton (Wayne) and Pat Roach (Bomber) were saved for the second half —  more of that later.

Host Alfie Joey talks to Auf Wiedersehen, Pet writer, Dick Clement. Credit: Paul Glass

In true This is Your Life style, a parade of AWP alumni were welcomed to take their seats on stage —  often teased by a voiceover giving clues to their identity.

Among them were show creator, Frank Roddam; writer Dick Clement; set designer, Mick Perry who created the Dusseldorf building site in Elstree Studios; Stan Hey who wrote a number of episodes when Dick and Ian were busy crafting their Hollywood legacy; and actors Julia Tobin (Brenda), Su Elliot (Majorie), Lesley Saint-John (Vicky), Bill Patterson (Ally Fraser), Yin Tong John (Big Baz), Donald McBride (Douglas) and Lysette Anthony (Christa).

Ian (La Frenais) joined the likes of Sting, Mark Knopfler and the aforementioned Tim Spall on the big screen, sending a message direct from Beverly Hills where he is overseeing storm damage repairs on his house.

Eamonn Andrews would have been proud…

The irony of him being prevented from making the journey due to having a houseful of builders raised a big laugh —  as did so many of the stories and behind the scenes nuggets shared by everyone on stage and screen.

From lorries full of bricks —  and fancy net curtains —  being shipped over from Germany to ensure the AWP aesthetic was authentic to Frank and Jimmy being mistaken for bank robbers in Arizona, the audience lapped up every tale.

And then it was time for some music.

Jimmy Nail performed songs from the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet songbook. Credit: Paul Glass

The show’s second half saw Jimmy —  who boasts chart-topping singer and songwriter alongside his acting chops —  take charge of proceedings, presiding over a set list of songs which all had an AWP link.

Kicking off with Tim giving a rendition of AWP theme tune, Breaking Away, we were also treated to a stream of songs by Oz’s Country music idol, Merle Haggard, Mark Knopfler tracks including the third series anthem, Why Aye Man and Jimmy singing Crocodile Shoes and Tyneside anthem, Big River.

Northumbrian pipe and fiddle queen Kathryn Tickell guested on a number of the songs, as did Teesside vocal group, The Wilsons and members of the AWP cast.

The Auf Wiedersehen lasses sang their hearts out – in excellent boots. Credit: Paul Glass

Female trio, ‘Brenda’, ‘Vicky’ and ‘Marjorie’ performed These Boots Were Made for Walking and Stand By Your Man (joined by their respective AWP other halves for the last chorus) while Kevin Whately also belted out a song which had been a busking banker in his acting school days.

By the time the entire AWP ensemble gathered for the finale, I think we could all agree that evenings like these could be filed comfortably under its title.

That’s Livin’ Alright.


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