Looking Back on Light Entertainment

Blackpool Illuminations dazzled in its 100th year. Photo: Visit Blackpool
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With the Cultural Olympiad running alongside the Olympics and adding to the regular line-up, there were simply too many shows this year and too little cash to see them with. Add to that rain, rain, rain during the summer, and touring circuses and fairs had major problems with mud, floods and ground reinstatement costs.

People needed cheering up, needed to see something special and somehow the same word – wonder – kept coming up. There was Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow at the Roundhouse, the London Wonderground at the Southbank, two new traditional circuses – the Popolinos’ Circus Wonderland and Mr Fips Circus of Wonders – while Circa put on Wonderland. And the big one was Danny Boyle’s stupendous Opening Ceremony for the Olympic Games, the Isles of Wonder.

There was indeed cause for wonder at the 36th Monte Carlo International Circus Festival when Giulia Michel Azzario, a British female white-face clown – a rarity – took part, and her daughters, the Azzario Sisters, won a Silver Clown. Her identical twin, Wanda Azzario, retired from the Skating Willers after 35 years. Carol and Phillip Gandey staged the first Edinburgh International Circus Festival.

Many milestones were reached, including 350 years of Mr Punch, 90 years of BBC Radio, 70 of Desert Island Discs and 35 of the London International Mime Festival. Blackpool Illuminations celebrated its centenary, ‘the Lights’ being switched on by Olympians.

Official gongs included a CBE for Ronnie Corbett and OBE for Blackpool Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson.

Fond farewells go to light entertainment giants, including: Blockbusters’ Bob Holness at 83, guitar supremo Bert Weedon at 91, drag artist Adrella (Peter Searle) at 56, Eric Sykes at 89, the first great female stand-up Phyllis Diller at 95, Max Bygraves, who graced 19 Royal Variety Performances, at 89, Dad’s Army’s Clive Dunn at 92, and most poignantly, the gloriously artistic juggler/magician Luke Wilson at just 35.

Sad, too, in its centenary year, that variety was once again the poor relation in the Royal Variety Performance. A concert with comedians and numbers from West End shows ain’t variety. Where were the sword-swallowers, drag artists and adagio acts? Where were Mat Ricardo, Slightly Fat Features and others spearheading the resurgence in variety? Penn and Teller and the Boy With Tape on His Face saved last year’s show but with a red-hot UK variety scene, simply mining Britain’s Got Talent for the speciality acts gave little cause for wonder.

In keeping with medals and all that, to round off Olympics year here are some picks of 2012, mainly highlights: 

Show: Daniele Finzi Pasca’s Donka

Small Show: Enfila’t’s Plecs

Circus Act: Aerialists Luba Kazantseva and Igor Zaripov in Michael Jackson – the Immortal World Tour

Speciality Act: Pole dancer Felix Cane in Michael Jackson – the Immortal World Tour

Variety Act: Slightly Fat Features’ Wayne Marvell and his ‘tigers’

Vent Act: Myra Dubois and the silent Edward

New Night: Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties

Moment of Wonder: Donka’s ice chandelier

Moment of Madness: My ride on Messham’s Wall of Death

New Year’s Eve Event: Alex Mendham’s orchestra at London’s Savoy

High-Wire Wizards: Nik Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls (okay, we all know about the lunge)/Laci Simet’s sky-high feats in both the Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremonies

Glamourpuss: Viktoria Modesta’s Snow Queen in the Paralympics closing ceremony/Go-go dancer Trixie Malicious

Seductive Sirens: British Crazy Horse dancers Mia Boum Boum and Taina de Bermudes in Forever Crazy

Shoo-in: Dusty Limits winning Best Compere in the first London Cabaret Awards

TV Repeat: Heroes of Magic, including one-arm maestro Rene Lavand/The Story of Light Entertainment

Free Fun: Martin Creed’s mass bell-ringing Work No. 1197/Jeremy Deller’s genius bouncy Stonehenge

Take That!: The Frisky and Mannish-led video riposte to Gary (below) Barlow after he denigrated the word ‘cabaret’ on The X Factor

Let-Down: Elizabeth Streb’s mind-blowing daredevil company paid a reputed £1.3 million to come to London to fall and dangle from various landmarks

No, No, No: Cirque du Soleil’s crass money-spinner Michael Jackson – the Immortal World Tour at the O2, which gets Worst Venue if you actually want to see anything

How Weird is That?: BBC London axeing Danny Baker’s wildly entertaining and madly popular radio show just before his induction into the Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame

Unfortunate Fingers: Paul Daniels – his left index finger was reattached after an accident/Acrojou’s Jeni Barnard, who sliced the top off hers under a German wheel mid-show. Eek!