INTERVIEW: Scarborough's Mr Showbiz Tony Peers: I realised I could make money by dressing up and messing about
Twice in her life Tony Peers made his mum cry '“ once when he left school without any qualifications and again when he quit a good job to be a Butlin's Redcoat.
In 1969 he left well-paid work to join the staff of the holiday camp in Minehead, Somerset.
“My mum came to see me and cried all the way home from Minehead to Liverpool. She said to my father ‘He’ll never make a living doing this; he’s a big, daft lad and he’s got no talent’.”
Four years later in 1973 she was in the audience when he was hosting his weekly Friday night show – Tony Peers and Friends – in the bar of Filey Butlin’s holiday camp.
Proud as punch, she told everyone: “That’s my lad, you know, my lad that.”
When he got a role in Coronation Street, she took the TV Times round to the neighbours pointing out his name printed in the credits.
Tony regales his listener with these stories – and others – without pretention or boast – but always with a comic’s timing, ear for the vernacular and instinct for irony.
He was funny at school and despite having a talent for football and cricket went into showbiz after mates and customers told him he should.
“I had a good job in gentlemen’s clothing then announced I was going to be a Redcoat and walked away,” he said.
That his change of direction was the right choice for him was confirmed when he was watching the Patton Brothers – a double act and brothers of the Chuckles – from the wings.
“It was my St Paul on the road to Damascus moment, a bolt of lightning came from the sky and lit up a sign which said ‘You can get money by dressing up and messing about’. That was the best day’s work I ever did.”
Self-deprecation is one of Tony’s characteristics. “My stage name for years was ‘Support Act’,” he said.
Do not be fooled – you do not get to run Butlin’s entertainment section, feature in soaps Emmerdale and Coronation Street, appear in sitcoms including Last of the Summer Wine and run your own production company supplying theatres with summer shows and pantomimes without canniness, business acumen, professionalism and a core of steel.
He is always immaculately turned out – those years in gents’ clothing were not wasted. The day we met he was wearing a bespoke tweed jacket with a blue shirt which matched perfectly the blue thread running through the jacket, matching tie, grey waistcoat and grey tailored trousers. His watch and cuff-links were understated and expensive.
Tony is also an old-fashioned, in the best way, gentleman and good company.
With 50 years in the business he has lots of tales to tell – there are ones about Ken Dodd, Billy Pearce, Liz Dawn, Bill Tarmey, Bob Monkhouse and the Grumbleweeds, with whom he toured, playing dame in a dress made for Les Dawson and the night he fell off stage drunk at a Jimmy Logan gig and the audience thought it was part of the act.
He played a journalist in the film Funny Bones which starred Lee Evans, Oliver Reed and Jerry Lewis. Reed, he said, was a prince. He has another word – beginning with ‘p’ – for Lewis.
Tony came to Scarborough in 1983 to work at the Grand which was then a Butlin’s hotel. When Butlin’s came to an end in the 1990s he joined forces with friends and started producing – almost off the cuff as he had no office at that time. He now has an office and staff. “The type of stuff I was doing was coming to an end and I thought there was more longevity in producing,” he said.
There was a time in his life when showbiz was all that mattered. “I called people who did not work in showbiz ‘civilians’ and I had no friends who were civilians,” he said.
Then he met Glenda, who used to run Duet in Scarborough. They have been together 35 years. “She is the least showbiz person I know. Everyone in this business is an insecure, self-absorbed egomaniac. I would get home from the Spa and start talking about work – after two minutes Glenda would be on to other things.”
He ‘inherited’ her family and said: “She taught me there is more to the world than dressing up and messing about. Family is what it is all about.”
Work is still important. He produces the Scarborough summer season – the musicals format which featured Scarborough-based singer and director Linda Newport has become almost a franchise – shows for the open air theatre and Peasholm Park.
He is producing six pantos this year including Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at the Spa.
“I don’t feel like stopping,” said Tony, who will be 72 next month. “But I suppose one day I will have to, won’t I?”