Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

BET you didn’t know that Wigan played a significant part in the professional life of the one and only Ken Dodd.

Ken was in town last week, his teeth magnificently jutting out and his hair – or what’s left of it – swirling.

The Diddyman inventor loves everyone and everyone loves this national comic icon.

Now we go back 20 years to the bar of Manchester Palace Theatre where Ken is chatting about life in general before taking to the stage in his one man show.

“Oh from Wigan” he said, as I produced my little tape recorder. “I love Wigan and in a way Wigan changed my life.”

Ken, who years ago tried out material at Wigan Little Theatre, explained that he had become well known around the North but hadn’t bothered to “turn professional”.

He said: “Of course, I was a professional but the papers hadn’t been signed. I’m talking of the 1950s now.

“Anyway I came to Wigan Hippodrome and had a chat with a guy called Jimmy Brennan. The Brennans were big in the northern show business world – and had great contacts.

“Anyway I told Jimmy that I’d never signed the documents saying I was a professional entertainer.

“He immediately said he’d put that right and the next day I went to his office and the papers were signed. I’ve always been thankful to Wigan’s Jimmy Brennan.”

THE King (Elvis) is dead. Long live the Queen (Prescilla).

It’ll be a case of best bib and tucker next week, or it might be the week after, when I will, notebook in hand, walk into a small comfortable room at the Opera House to interview Mrs Elvis Presley.

I reckon I’ll be all shook up at the prospect of a chat with the lady who met The Pelvis when she was 14. She was still at school. He was in the Army. Since The King died, Priscilla has carved out a show business career and, like many American stars, has a great love of the British theatre scene.

And from early in December until January, she’s playing the Wicked Queen at the Opera House.

I’ve been thinking of some questions to ask when I face the great lady over a bottle of beer and a bowl of nuts.

Here my possible questions: As far as this interview goes, “It’s Now or Never.”

I’ll tell her: “I just want to be her teddy bear.”

I’ll ask her if she’ll “Love me Tender.”

Think I’ll wear my “Blue Suede Shoes.”

I’ll ask her where she keeps Elvis’ “Wooden Heart.”

And I’ll tell her lots of Wiganers have a “Burning Love” for Elvis.

THE days before our local Co-op shop shut its doors for a total refurbishment, I couldn’t resist nipping in to see a store in its death throes.

The shelves were two thirds empty and I imagined this might be how it would have looked had there been an extra bank holiday when folks have a tendency to buy several dozen loaves “just in case.” Or just in case WW3 breaks out.

“Nipping up to’t Co-op” has been part of my life for 36 years. It’s true, some of the stuff is a bit dearer but you have to pay for convenience.

Now you wouldn’t have thought the closure of a store would have had a sentimental element. It did. One chap was filming the desolate scene on his mobile phone, and a lady of mature years said: “Shame. And just when I got used to where everything was.”

The last customer went in at five to four ... just as the tills were being switched off and the builders waited to start removing shelves, fridges, displays. Outside, tail-to-tail vans and yellow barriers.

Careless customers who, thinking the Co-op was open until 11pm as usual, arrived to be turned away. Semi-confused, they trooped off hoping someone would give them a lift to strange shopping pastures new.

Two days later it was amazing to see the huge shopping space totally empty and looking bigger than the Tower Ballroom. The new floor was already in.

The temporary closure of the Co-op has put life on a bit of a hold for the many regulars. But the good news is when you read this, the sparkling refurbished store will have reopened.

Phew! That’s a relief.