Phoenix Nights 15 years on
It is 15 years this month since Phoenix Nights first hit the nation's TV screens. Mike Hill looks back at the part Lancashire played in the much loved comedy.
It only ran for two series but cult sitcom Phoenix Nights won a place in the heart of millions of TV viewers.The heart warming and hilarious antics of life in a traditional northern working men’s club particularly resonated with Lancastrians who recognised the humour from their own community clubs.Many of the cast were drawn from across the north west and grew up in just the sort of venues The Phoenix was based on.None more so than co-writer and star Dave Spikey who was catapulted into stardom as club compere Jerry St Clair.The Chorley comedian was one of the show’s best loved characters and the series proved a springboard for his career from which he has never looked back.Crawshawbooth’s Ted Robbins was already a famous face on the comedy circuit and children’s television but his portrayal of rival club owner Den Perry was one of the star turns of the series.While fellow funnyman Roy Walker, who lives in Lytham, was among the other established stars to pop up, appearing in the opening episode as... comic Roy Walker.But the show also provided the big break for many cast members including Burnley-born Alice Barry who was a regular extra in the show.The former Blackpool landlady has since gone on to star in Shameless and Coronation Street.Another Phoenix Nights graduate to end up on the famous cobbles was Rodney Litchfield.Who can forget the Wild West Night in the second episode when the Wigan actor’s hilarious turn as Wild Bill with a bunking bronco caused mayhem in the Phoenix. While Evening Post columnist Steve Royle took time out from his day job as Mad Edgar at Camelot theme park to appear as a juggler auditioning for a gig at The Phoenix in the third episode of the first run.Last year he recalled about his brief appearance on the cult show and how it came about: “I was supposed to do six minutes of stand-up at (comedy club) the Frog and Bucket, but ended up doing 12 minutes as the audience kept shouting for me.“I then got asked by the club owner to perform there for a proper weekend. On my first ever gig there, Peter Kay came to watch as someone had tipped off to come and see me.“He was not as famous as he is now. He liked what he saw and asked me to support him on his Live At The Tower show. After that, I did a lot of northern comedy clubs and was then asked to appear in Phoenix Nights as a bad juggler.”Another Lancashire couple to make a brief appearance showcasing their real life talents in the regular audition slot which closed each episode was dance duo The Rumburgers.John and Marian Thompson, from Preston, had performed their dead pan comedy Latin American dance routine around the clubs for 20 years before getting the call.Marian later said: “I am not sure how the Peter Kay show heard of us but we got a phone call out of the blue asking us if we were still dancing.“They then sent a car down to collect us and when they saw us dancing, they said they had heard we were funny - but did not realise how hysterical we actually were.”After their cameo the couple featured on the bill with Dave Spikey at several of his stand up comedy shows.Among the other auditionees was Ted Robbins’ wife Judy whose magic act turned to disaster when her dove was sucked into an air conditioning vent in a ball of flying feathers.The series itself was filmed at St Gregory’s Social Club, in Farnworth, but Lancashire was used for several scenes.In the opening show of the second series Blackpool’s Lyndene Hotel appeared as the fictional Le Ponderosa club which was run by Frank “Hoss” Cartwright played by Lancashire funnyman Jim Bowen.Outside Le Ponderosa a bunch of flowers with the sign ‘In Memory of Alan, 8th Dec 89’, RIP’ was tied to a lamp-post beside the tram line in reference to the famous Coronation Street death of bad boy Alan Bradley under the wheels of a tram.Further up the coast when Max and Paddy attempted to smuggle a van load of booze back into the country the scenes were shot at Fleetwood Docks.And not forgetting, of course, the occasional reference to Chorley FM which later became the name of a real radio station.