Livewire - August 8, 2012

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By Robin Duke, The Gazette’s Entertainment Editor

I’ve still got my honorary life membership to Layton Institute at home somewhere. Granted whoever gave me it spelt my name “Robbin” and bunged an extra “2” in honorary but the thought was there.

At the time there was a waiting list almost round the block for memberships so I was indeed honoured

I’ve also got a decorative glass guitar which used to hang above the stage until the concert room was renovated some years ago and it was heading for the skip.

More than either of those items though I’ve got many happy memories of the splendid building where I spent many a happy night both on and off duty.

There was a time when I’d see almost as many Gazette personnel there at night – from every department – as I’d seen at work by day.

Joe Longthorne appeared there in his early days and made a point of going back when he’d made the big times. Jane McDonald still refers lovingly and longingly to her days at Layton before The Cruise made her a headliner. Paul O’ Grady chose the venue as the headquarters for his Lily Savage Live at the Lilydome television series (and to this day I remember the look on “comedian” Mark Lamarr’s face when a Layton regular heckled “sit down mate you’re just not funny”).

Scores of entertainers came and went, many went onto bigger things, many more got no further or faded without trace.

Talent shows discovered interesting newcomers and despatched dozens more “entertainers” back to their day jobs

Summer shows at ‘The Tute’ were legendary. For pocket money prices you could see television names (all right, that quite often meant Paul Shane from Hi de Hi!) and a full production night with dancing girls and support acts.

Coach loads of holidaymakers turned up for social clubland’s equivalent of a Royal Variety show. Back home they got bingo and a dodgy singer. At Layton they got bingo and something they could tell their friends about when their holiday was over.

It set the template for social club summer shows in the days when any venue worth its salt boosted its coffers by pulling in the summer punters. But unlike its competition it changed with the times, leaving everywhere else in its wake. Until its recent problems it was still planning to be bigger and better.

But Layton was more than a big social club with a first floor cabaret venue. It has a competition standard bowling green, a games room, a lounge and more. It was a safe haven from the world around it, a place where you could pick up a conversation with regulars months after you’d last spoken to them.

All ages would mix and mingle there. And all ages will miss it.