Time Travel Theatre – Celebrate Music Hall and Variety Day 2023 by watching the Last Night of the Crazy Gang- 61 years ago!

What better way to celebrate Music Hall and Variety Day than with a celebration of the Crazy Gang.

The Crazy Gang “at the races”

The Crazy Gang was a unique combination of three double acts – Flanagan and Allen, Naughton and Gold, Nervo and Knox. Occasionally they were joined by “Monsewer” Eddie Gray (who had been working with various members of the Gang since the twenties). Their compatible styles, combining music, interruptions and knockabout comedy with seemingly unscripted verbal and physical acrobatics, slapstick and rapid-fire visual gags was hugely popular with British audiences for over three decades.

It all started at the London Palladium. George Black, the impresario and Managing Director of the Palladium, had in 1928 revived the Palladium’s reputation as the premier variety house in the UK, with spectacular success. The biggest names in variety appeared on ambitiously mixed bills, and the management were not averse to experimenting- pantomime was tried in 1930, to great success, and became a staple throughout the thirties at the venue, running in extended seasons from December to Easter.

The Crazy Gang came into being by accident. All relatively successful double acts themselves, in 1931 two of the pairs – Naughton and Gold and Nervo and Knox – were booked, together with another double, Billy Caryll and Hilda Mundy, to appear at the London Palladium in the same week. Bud Flanagan recalled that “in 1926, Nervo and Knox were appearing in a show, Young Bloods, in which they interfered with every act on the bill”. By 1931 it was well-known across the business that Nervo and Knox had a reputation for interrupting other people’s acts, and although George Black initially considering cancelling one of the teams, he was persuaded by Val Parnell to let the bookings proceed, allow Nervo and Knox their head – and see what happened!

The bill was promoted as Crazy Week, opening in November 1931 and booked for two weeks. Two weeks became eight months as crowds jammed the Palladium – Crazy Week became Crazy Month – and in June 1932, Flanagan and Allen replaced Caryll and Mundy to create the classic line up that was celebrated for the next three decades. All participants experienced more success together than they had apart, fused in the public mind as a unit.

The Gang played long seasons each year in the 30s at the Palladium in various shows all tailored to their particular style. They also found time to make a number of successful films for Gainsborough Pictures. When the war came, they split, to perform for the troops as three double acts again, so that they could cover more ground. This was a time when Flanagan and Allen’s songs came to the fore and cemented them in the public mind as a key link between the home front and the battle front.

The Gang was persuaded to reunite in 1950 by impresario Jack Hylton (without Chesney Allen who had decided to retired from the stage), they took up residence at London’s Victoria Palace, where they stayed for the next twelve years, presented by Jack Hylton in a variety of vehicles all loosely constructed to allow the Gang’s magic of mayhem to flood across the footlights and keep packed houses well-satisfied. Eddie Gray, a comedy juggler with a hilarious Cockney-French accent who had worked with the team early on in their careers, became a regular addition to the Gang from 1956 onwards.

The Gang’s last show together was entitled YOUNG IN HEART and ran from December 1960 until May 1962, when it was announced that the show would close and the Gang would retire. Although the separate acts continued for a few years, the Gang was gone…

The TV highlight of the week in May 1962

Thankfully for us, ATV filmed the last night of their last show on Saturday May 19th, and it was networked on ITV the following evening as The Last Night Of The Crazy Gang, running 90 minutes. It’s a very special nostalgic night, and there’s a guest appearance by Chesney Allen (who comes up from the audience), and the band in the pit is conducted by producer Jack Hylton himself.

So here, thanks to YouTuber Pete Faint, we can all enjoy The Last Night of the Crazy Gang – and raise a glass to these (sadly) long-gone heroes of Music Hall and Variety

EXTRA: You can read my article about legendary impresario Jack Hylton here

For more information on the Crazy Gang you may enjoy a visit to this specialist site http://www.thecrazygang.co.uk/

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