By Jimmy Cricket

Hi folks, it’s me Jimmy Cricket come closer, I’d like to ask you a question.

What have the Blackpool Tower and the West Cliff Theatre in Clacton-on-Sea got in common?

Yes I know they’re both in coastal resorts and they both provide entertainment. Do you give in? Well are you ready for this. They’re both 125 years old this year.

You could say they both also light up people’s lives. Especially at night in the case of the Blackpool Tower.

Norman Jacobs is not only the chairman of the West Cliff trust, but he’s the theatre’s historian who can summon up facts at the drop of a hat!

It only takes a few seconds to be in Norman’s company and his sheer enthusiasm for the theatre rubs off on you.

I suppose that gives us a clue as to why the West Cliff is still going.

It’s the enthusiasm of the friends and volunteers of the theatre that have carried the torch all through the dark days that every theatre goes through.

One can only imagine how many theatres round the country were turned into blocks of flats or car showrooms during the last 125 years.

Norman explained to me how it all began. In 1894 a young man called Bert Graham along with his sister and a few friends put on a concert party on a piece of waste ground.

Calling themselves the London Concert Party and charging tuppence a time to sit or stand in the grass.

They were a huge success and laid the foundation for what was to come.

Of course, there’s been milestones along the way.

In 1928, the building we now see opened it’s doors.

Through the years, lots of famous artistes tread the boards there. Like Frankie Howard, Stanley Holloway and Tommy Trinder and when the great producer Francis Go Lightly started to put on his famous Summer Season shows in 1973, during his 28-year reign, he used wonderful performers like Don McClean, (who is back this summer to do the season run), and Bernie Clifton.

This year on May 12 the theatre put on a special 125th anniversary show with stars like Roy Hudd, Anita Harris and Clacton’s very own Andrew Robley, and theatre manager Rob Mitchel Gears has booked a stellar line up of first-class shows throughout the year to make sure the celebrations go right to the end of 2019.

My own friendship with the theatre started in 1967 when I worked as a redcoat at the nearby Butlin’s Holiday Camp.

On my night off I went to see the show that was presiding there that summer and was totally bowled over by the experience.

I set a personal goal of appearing there when I became a professional entertainer. Since then I’ve managed to do a few summer seasons and lots of one nighters.

However, I’d like to tell you an even better story than mine.

After I finish a show I like to go round and meet the audience.

Over the years you see a lot of the same faces, so you build up a bit of a rapport.

In the case of the West Cliff, it was Chrissie Grew and her ten year old son Danny.

Even then Danny had a dream to go into showbusiness and over the years in between meeting them back stage, Chrissie would keep me posted about Danny’s progress.

His particular talent was magic and he started demonstrating tricks at Hamley’s magic shop in the centre of London.

He’s gradually climbed the ladder and now he’s playing pantomimes and one nighters throughout the country and when I next appear in the West Cliff in a couple of months’ time, guess who’ll be my special guest? You’ve got it Danny Grew.

That’s another reason why it’s so good to see theatres like the West Cliff still going, so the would-be stars of the future have somewhere to showcase their talent.

Happy 125th Birthday West Cliff. You’ve stood the test of time.

n Jimmy Cricket is a patron of the Westcliffe Theatre and he brings his Great Value For A Tenner, show there on Saturday, July 6,at 7.30pm. Tickets from the box office on 01255 433344.