Retro: Sheffield author looks back at working men’s clubs

Retro piece on working men's clubs: Duggie Brown
Retro piece on working men's clubs: Duggie Brown
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If you were a fan of the working men’s clubs in their heyday, a Sheffield nostalgia author would like to hear from you.

Neil Anderson, who has published several books looking back at the city’s recent history, also writes the Dirty Stop Out’s guide ot city nightlife.

Retro piece on working men's clubs: Cannon and Ball

Retro piece on working men's clubs: Cannon and Ball

He is working on a new book and said: “We’re on the lookout for personal memories and memorabilia from the 1970s – the decade which saw the working men’s club movement at the peak of its popularity.

“With nigh on four million members and thousands more waiting eagerly to join, their success was staggering.

“Whole generations of the same family would enjoy nights out together with the local working men’s club being the place to mark everything from christenings to marriages to funeral wakes.

“The countrywide movement provided the testing ground for acts that went on to break through into the glitzy cabaret clubs of the 1970s and then, if they were lucky, adoring audiences on mainstream television.

“New Faces, Opportunity Knocks and Wheeltappers and Shunters were reliant on the working men’s clubs for raw talent and inspiration and it’s unlikely pillars of 1980s light entertainment like Cannon & Ball, Les Dawson and Little & Large would have enjoyed their all-conquering success without the early support of working men’s club audiences,” he reckons.

The clubland publicity pictures on these pages show acts that were able to make that breakthrough, including local stars Tony Christie, Charlie Williams and Duggie Brown.

Neil said that today’s sadly different story is due in part to the 2007 smoking ban, coupled with licensing deregulation and the rise of cheap alcohol in supermarkets. “The movement has endured a massive downturn in its fortunes in recent years with membership in freefall and scores of venues shutting,” he said.

Neil’s Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to Working Men’s Clubs is set to celebrate the 1970s heyday of the movement that was the cornerstone of entertainment for hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country.

He said: “Bands, booze, bingo, strippers and club trips – the movement thrived in the un-PC decade characterised by strikes, go-go dancers and misinformed fashion.”

Neil has happy memories of clubs from the 1970s himself. “I remember going to numerous celebrations and the club trips to the coast were the stuff of legend for kids.

“The Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to Working Men’s Clubs is set to be a celebration of the golden years of the movement – I’m eager to speak to people that have memories of their own to share.”

Neil said that the clubs of the 1970s were a far cry from the ethos of the movement that was first founded more than 150 years ago when Unitarian minister and teetotalling social reformer Henry Solly began to fret about the working men’s penchant for the “demon drink”.

He founded the working men’s club as a place where blue-collar workers might escape the pull of the pub and find, instead, education, wholesome recreation and middle-class values.

As Neil points out, it’s fair to say things didn’t really go as planned and, following the green light for clubs to supply alcohol at discounted prices, working men’s clubs were offering booze far cheaper than the pubs!

The Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to Working Men’s Clubs is set to be published in autumn this year. Neil Anderson can be contacted by email at info@dirtystopouts.com