The platinum-blonde sex symbol travels from Hollywood to the somewhat less glamorous locale of Batley for an unlikely cabaret appearance just before her untimely death.
For a ten-year period, the East Riding of Yorkshire had its very own slice of Las Vegas glamour, in the form of the Batley Variety Club. The name might suggest just another working men’s club, but this ambitious venue was much more – the dream of James Corrigan, it was built from scratch on the sight of an old sewage works in just three months, and was based on the Vegas clubs that Corrigan had seen, with a horseshoe shape and tiered seating that held over a thousand people, who could munch on scampi and chips and swill beer while enjoying the top turns of the day. With deep pockets and big ambitions, Corrigan managed to persuade some of the biggest names in showbiz to play his club for weeks at a time, starting with Louis Armstrong, who was paid a cool £27,000 to perform in 1967. Other popular acts included Shirley Bassey, who would play for three weeks at a time, Neil Sedaka, Gene Pitney, Lulu, Tina Turner, Cliff Richard, Tiny Tim, The Supremes, The Bee Gees and Tom Jones, as well as most of the popular comedians of the era. Roy Orbison even recorded a live album at the venue in 1969.
The shows would usually consist of an opening act – in the variety tradition, often a comedian – and a compere before the main act took to the stage, where they were expected to deliver the hits and nothing but the hits. The acts often stayed in Corrigan’s palatial mansion and had to find their own amusement between shows – a couple of weeks in Yorkshire possibly being a bit of a culture shock for many of them. Eartha Kitt, for example, busied herself sampling tripe, at least according to news footage of the day.
One performer was Hollywood glamour girl Jayne Mansfield, who came over in May 1967, just two months before her untimely death. Jayne was booked to do her stage show – a few songs like This Queen Has Her Aces In All The Right Places and some audience interaction, which lasted around 30 minutes – for which she earned £20,000 for the week.
Ever the self-publicist, Jayne took to travelling around Yorkshire, visiting a market in Bradford, Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip shop, opening a fete in Brighouse and even performing for an audience of very excited prisoners in Leeds – take that, Johnny Cash! She was spotted (I mean, how could she be missed?) at markets in Halifax and Dewsbury, and apparently was looking at appearing in a play in Bradford, hoping that it might help change her image from a platinum blonde sex symbol – already a rather dated idea in 1967 – to a more serious actress (contrary to popular opinion, Mansfield was a pretty good actress when given the chance – check out her uncharacteristic appearance in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents if you need evidence). Of course, she knew which side her bread was buttered on, and continued to play the dumb blonde in public.
During her time in the UK – which began as a tour that quickly fizzled out when sleazy promoter Don Arden demanded that she perform in a see-through dress, and saw the star briefly stranded in Manchester – Mansfield seems to have pinned her hopes on a reinvention of sorts. There was talk of her guest-hosting Top of the Pops, as well as the theatre idea. Interestingly, Diana Dors showed up to one of her shows (Mansfield apparently had no idea who she was), and it’s interesting to wonder if, had she lived, Jayne could have reinvented herself from glamour girl to serious actress in the way that Dors did in the 1970s.
The Batley Variety Club eventually began to collapse under the weight of its own ambitions, and after Corrigan and his wife Betty divorced, the club closed in 1977. It had a brief after-life as a nightclub called Crumpets, before being re-opened in 1981 by former booking manager Derek Smith as The Frontier. Smith died in 2015, and The Frontier closed its doors a year later. The building is now home to a gym.
There’s a fascinating BBC documentary from 1982 about the heyday of the Batley Variety Club, which you can watch here (there are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clips of Jayne on stage):
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