their early days

Let’s get the confusion out of the way first. The Crazy Gang pair were Flanagan and Allen, and both have joined the great entertainment theatre in the sky. Mick Foster and Tony Allen are both very much alive.

The two Irishmen came to Eastbourne’s Royal Hippodrome Theatre recently, and were a sell out. For the first time in four years of independent management, the 630 seat theatre was full to bursting. Deservedly so, because the pair gave the audience what they wanted, and then more.

I loved it. I was working as a volunteer usher, greeting at the front, checking tickets and directing to the correct part, stalls, Dress Circle or Upper Circle, which was opened for a rare occasion.

Every seat sold.There is also a disabled access door, leading to the stalls so no stairs have to be negotiated, so I was also guiding along the passageway to the correct doorway. Everyone was patient with the wheelchairs, standing to one side when asked.

The bar was very busy. And I mean busy. The management asked the theatre duty manager if the bar was going to be open during both halves of the performance, or even afterwards. When the reply came in the negative, they were somewhat pleased as some of their followers have been known to frequent the bar throughout, wanting the doors open so they can listen.

Most disruptive to other audience members.

Foster and Allen with Chas and DaveFoster and Allen are now 68 and 63 respectively. This latest tour is an excuse to celebrate their forty years in partnership, having been independent entertainers at home in Ireland until forming a band. Their style of music is Irish country, with Mick Foster playing the accordion with great accomplishment, and Tony Allen singing Irish tenor and playing the guitar.

Their band consists of a lady keyboard player also playing the flute, and two further guitarists, all three musicians strong in their own right. Each had a solo spot in the first half.

The first half opened with the three support players starting, and then the two main men entered to loud applause. They have quite a following, with some of the audience living fifty miles away or more. A lot of the numbers were sing-along, with the words already known.

Foster and Allen. Foster has the accordionThe theatre atmosphere was something special, with the public expecting a repeat of what they had previously heard at other concerts. That is what you get when you go to a live show, all the old numbers, and that is what was provided. The Rambles of Spring, Old Flames, Maggie, all were appreciated fully.

Most numbers were prefaced by a whimsical story, including an amusing anecdote when they were invited in 1982 to appear on Top of the Pops performing A Bunch of Thyme which was in the charts. Allegedly, they were persuaded to wear green suits.

Their soft Irish accents, all numbers with rhythm and a message, means that you sit there, wanting to move at least one part of your body in time to the music. I was sitting in the back row with some of the other ushers, and could hear every word.

Interesting financial anecdote from me. Mark the promoter hired the theatre for a negotiated amount, paid the performers a set fee, and took a chance on making a profit. However, he is very experienced at this, and books acts like Georgie Fame, Chas and Dave, and the Strictly dancer Pasha Kovalev. He fly-posters for months in advance at prominent roadside positions, no payment made and he takes a chance on being prosecuted with a £75 fine each time. He has never paid anything.

The theatre in Seaside, EastbourneFoster and Allen are still touring the UK until the Christmas 2015, then going to the USA and Canada, where they sell out theatres seating well in excess of 1,000 patrons. They are that popular.

Harry Pope is Eastbourne’s only licensed sight-seeing guide, and also takes people for guided walks around the theatre. He is also a speaker and a writer