Classic TV Revisited: Wheeltappers And Shunters

Phoenix Nights meets The Comedians with a smattering of The Good Old Days and that classic ’70s fodder chicken in a basket.

Why was it so good?
A classic mock up of a posh northern working men’s club hosted by the politically incorrect Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. On ITV from 1974, its full title was The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club.

How did it begin?
It was spawned by the success of The Comedians which gave us the likes of Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and Mike Reid.

It had a lot to answer for then?
Exactly. But let’s not forget it also inflicted Jim Bowen, Tom O’Connor and others on innocent viewers. Many saw it as the final death throes of variety shows, shortly before the rise of alternative comedy.

Who was in it?
Many people’s bete noir, Bernard Manning, who owned a club in real life, was mein host.

What about the guy with the greasy hair and the flat cap making all the din?
That was Colin Crompton who was the concert chairman.

Cannon and Ball

What did he do?
Interrupt mostly. He made silly remarks about meat pies arriving and bingo. He also produced a lot of the smoke in the club as he was never without a cigarette.

Who were its star turns?
The likes of Bill Haley And The Comets, Lynsey de Paul and Gene Pitney appeared at the Manchester studio where it was filmed.

Anyone else?
For those with longer memories, how about tubby pianist Mrs Mills? And Liz Dawn (Corrie’s Vera Duckworth) was a waitress serving beers to the audience. Ideal soap training.

Any bizarre happenings?
Novelty acts such as knife twirlers and kettledrum bangers often took to its stage.

Were any of the jokes funny?
To be kind they were of their time – the ’70s – and they’re very sad now.

Such as?
Among Colin Crompton’s classic gags were: “First prize in the raffle is a diving suit… no, it’s a divan suite.” Or: “The sign in the gents, ‘Wet paint’, is not an instruction.” The audience, mainly sporting extra- thick glasses and huge sideburns – and that was just the women – were regulars at northern clubs and lapped it all up.

Could it be revived?
Alternative humour from the Comedy Store of the ’80s and the likes of Ben Elton and French and Saunders largely killed off this type of old-style entertainment on TV. The rise of politically-correct comics sounded the death knell of the scatter gun comedy of Bernard Manning & co. But even today Neanderthal comedy is popular in many clubs and the show, which ran for four years until 1978, was repeated regularly on Granada Plus.

So what did a wheeltapper do?
In the days of steam, train wheels were banged with a hammer to test for cracks. There are definitely more shunters around these days.

Did they ever go off the rails?
They probably did after several pints at the social club watching Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. A Wheeltappers And Shunters show still exists in package holiday favourite Benidorm.

Distinguishing features?
“Give order”; dreadful union puns; garish glitter backdrops; the occasional stripper; Bernard Manning’s burly frame and his politically incorrect jokes.

Do say:
“It was a classic of its time, thankfully that time is over.”

Don’t say:
“Did you hear the one about the Irishman ironing the curtains…”

Not to be confused with:
The Good Old Days; Phoenix Nights; Chubby Brown.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.