In 1959, after his stint hosting Sunday Night at the Palladium had finished, comedian Tommy Trinder bowed out with an album recorded in an Essex holiday camp.
Tommy Trinder’s Party,
Fontana TFL 5073,
Parties. Brilliant aren’t they? If you host a party yourself you’ll be a bundle of nerves as you spend the three months beforehand organising everything with the precision and attention to detail of an army quartermaster preparing for an invasion of Russia. The event itself will pass in an anxious few hours while you fret and worry that your guests are having the very best time of their otherwise drab mundane lives. There will also be the worry that gatecrashers are going to inveigle their way in and steal your plates of canapés, and the all too real concern that a group of boozed up acquaintances will decide to use your priceless collection of Beswick figurines of animals dressed as rustic country folk in an impromptu game of skittles.
If you’re not the host of a party, then your worries are few by comparison. If you can cope with shame, ignominy and the enduring scorn of your peers, then the party is an ideal opportunity to lose friends and indulge your inner barbarian. After you have drunk a litre or four of spirits, thrown up over various pot plants, spiked the punch with dangerous hallucinogens and used a variety of precious vases as ashtrays, there remains not much else to do but fall asleep on the toilet or pass away the night face down in the host’s front garden. The choice is entirely yours.
Why anyone would want a detailed record of a party is beyond me. Imagine all the gruesome details of a terrible party you would rather forget, committed to posterity via the means of a vinyl record. Quite a thought isn’t it? Imagine then, if you can, a record of a particular awful party that you didn’t attend and would have turned down immediately on receipt of the invitation. Imagine listening to the sort of people you would despise on sight, debauching themselves drunkenly in some repugnant orgiastic mockery of a chimpanzee’s tea party. If for some reason that does appeal, then Tommy Trinder’s Party is the record for you. Just because you weren’t born in 1959 doesn’t mean you can’t relive a terrible party you would never have dreamed of attending.
Born in Streatham, South London, in 1909, Tommy Trinder had been an entertainer since leaving school. Early tours in revues led to stints in music halls and appearances on various national variety bills. With a face adorned by a jutting chin resembling the rear end of a dredger, and a toothy grin that could swallow lesser comedians whole, Tommy seemed an unlikely movie star but in 1938 he was deemed popular enough to be given his first big screen role in the low budget farce Almost a Honeymoon. It was during the Second World War that Trinder found true fame, making many appearances in shows entertaining the troops and starring in a succession of films shot at London’s legendary Ealing Studios. Trinder’s roles encompassed both serious roles as well as comic ones and by the end of the war he was, along with the likes of George Formby and Will Hay, one of the most loved and successful film stars of the day.
Tommy Trinder’s career wasn’t exactly in the doldrums when this record was released in 1959, but he had definitely reached his career peak. In 1958, Tommy Trinder had been replaced on Sunday Night at the Palladium by Bruce Forsyth. The handover had been somewhat acrimonious with Trinder convinced the younger presenter was stealing his act as well as his prestigious job hosting the popular variety show. Giving that Forsyth was (and remains) an irritable big chinned comic with a skill for adlibbing and bullying members of the public, it is easy to see how Trinder might have thought Forsyth was copying his act. On Forsyth’s Palladium debut, Trinder physically hindered Forsyth’s first foray onto the stage of the theatre as the two men shared the stage for the first and last time only, making it clear to the young usurper that he was not welcome and that the job was being taken from him under duress. The two did not even share a stage, or speak to each other, when years later they were cast together in a pantomime production of Aladdin. Forsyth was apparently so outraged at sharing the theatre with Trinder that before the pantomime had finished, he had paid off his manager (the notorious Miff Ferrie) at considerable expense and returned to a Trinder-free life of bliss and prime-time game shows.
After his Palladium stint had finished, Tommy Trinder moved on to star in his own BBC TV series, Trinder Box, which saw him host a variety show on a much smaller scale. It was Trinder’s one and only starring role in a TV series and after it ended he retreated from the limelight, leaving the world free for Bruce Forsyth to conquer in the name of light entertainment. Before Trinder did retire ungracefully into the chairmanship of Fulham FC, he did leave the world with one more curious artefact, the 1959 recording of Tommy Trinder’s Party. The record itself is a painful exercise in inanity, a mirthless, tuneless endurance test for audio masochists and people harbouring a grudge against their own ears. Tommy Trinder barges onto the stage of the Jolly Roger Bar at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Clacton-on-Sea, intent on bullying everyone into having a good time whether they want to or not. Luckily, filled as they are with candy floss, cockles and gallons of cheap booze, most of the crowd do. In fact they give the impression that they would applaud a bare brick wall if Tommy Trinder berated them enough.
With a group of drunken backing musicians plucked from the dingy backroom of a down-at-heel Clacton pub, Tommy launches himself into the record with gusto, leading his baying audience into singing one half remembered song after another. I say backing musicians, but in fact the only instrument that can be heard over the general din and raucous musical wailing of the drunken holidaymakers is the drums, played with a glorious tub-thumping incompetence and gusto. Sounding at times like a small child running amok in a kitchenware shop, pots and pans and other random objects are upturned and walloped heartily to a rhythm existing only in the mind of the drummer and no one else.
Highlights are few and far between. Considering that Tommy Trinder was a comedian of some note, there is a marked lack of any sort of comedy on the record. Jokes are absent and what humour there is takes the form of ‘banter’ as Tommy abuses random audience members and harangues them to join in his gruesome singalong. The audience are very obliging and sing whatever Tommy orders them to. Mainly the choices are pub standards, the sort of songs normally played on an out of tune piano with a handful of keys missing, by anyone able to hold a pint of gin in one hand and bang out Let’s All Go Down The Strand with the other, preferably without spilling a drop.
Sometimes, Tommy leads the audience out of their musical comfort zone. Tongue twisters dealing with Susie ‘sitting in a shoe shine shop’ are rattled off at great speed, an ‘around the UK’ medley of tunes is attempted, and Tommy even performs a mind reading card trick. A vinyl record is not the best medium to bear witness to magic tricks, even more so when the audience member plucked from the crowd is crippled with nerves and unable to utter a word. Tommy struggles on gamely and nags her into completing the trick before resuming the cacophonic caterwauling once again.
It’s quite a party. So in summary, parties are best avoided, especially if Tommy Trinder is hosting. Finding a highlight to play is difficult. Tommy’s tour of Britain medley is possibly it, though you would be forgiven for sending me abuse after listening to it. Please do try to be gentle. The album cover with Tommy and his massive teapot is one of the finest I’ve ever seen, so try and concentrate on that instead.