FIRST PERSON: Star of Newport amateur stage, Peter Hourahine
A star of the Newport amateur stage for more than 60 years, Peter Hourahine has entertained audiences through his performances with the STC Musical Society and with the vocal group The Fortunaires.
He tells ALISON SANDERS how he and The Fortunaires had their first big break, how he helped a young Sir Cliff Richard with his nerves and how being on stage keeps him young. WE must have done a thousand shows together as the vocal group The Fortunaires. We also died three times and I can remember all of them.
You’ve got to die once in your life to appreciate all the good times.
Once in Aberfan, long before the disaster, we walked through the doors of a club and I said to the boys, Don Edwards, Bob Pickard and Harry Denham, this is not going to be a good night. You get to know your audience within ten seconds. They were there just there to taunt the performers, they didn’t want any entertainment. But you’ve got to stand up to them.
But we went to a big nightclub in Cardiff one night and they wouldn’t let us off the stage. They are the nights you appreciate.
There are so many highlights of our 46 years together. I met the boys in the early 1950s and we went semi-pro. We did all the clubs - I never want to do those again.
I remember we changed once in a telephone box because we couldn’t stand the smell of the dressing room. Anyway, we saw an advert in the paper for ‘artist wanted’. You’d go for an audition and you’d appear on the Saturday night at the Lyceum Theatre in Newport - we won it twice.
Then we had a break. There was a big competition in London at the Soho Fair in 1958 and someone entered us.
We didn’t know what it was, we just went up on the train for a bit of fun and it turned out to be the amateur vocal group championship of Great Britain and we won it.
We had television dates and we did umpteen cabarets in London. At one cabaret, in the audience was a man named Billy Butlin sitting at a table with Kirk Douglas. We managed to make an impression on Mr Butlin because he called us over and asked if we would like to work at one of his camps. So we packed in our jobs and did a season at Butlins in Pwllheli which was a great experience. A theatre with 2,000 people every night and working as redcoats during the day. God it was hard and it was one of the hottest summers on record.
We met a lot of people who have now become famous. We helped a young Sir Cliff Richard on the stage when he was very nervous at Butlins.
He was just starting out and did thank us at the time. He was about to go on stage and he was very nervous so we sort of held his hand up there.
But it all became too hard.
You’re working all day, you’re on the stage all night and then you had to go in the ballroom and dance with the punters.
We were young and fit otherwise we would have been dead.
Really, we were about ten years too old to break in to the pop scene as it was then. I was 28 and the boys were in their early 30s. It’s a young man’s game and you shouldn’t have any ties. But two of the guys were married with very young families and they were so home sick that we decided we’d come home.
We also turned down an offer to be the anchor group every week on the television show Oh Boy!
That was our big chance and you either take it or you don’t.
But I’m a great believer in fate - if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.
We worked so well together because our voices blended in, we were naturals but we loved each other because we had the same sense of humour.
But we never rehearsed the humour, it was all ad lib but we knew exactly what each other was going to do in the end.
We remained friends all our lives and I think that’s a great thing. When the boys died it was genuine grief and I miss them every day. We were like brothers. Every funeral for me was a nail through the heart.
Butlins also asked me to stay on as a solo but I said no. I thought they’re going back so I’m going back and it worked out because I’m still on the stage now at my age of 83.
The Fortunaires were still doing a lot of night clubs and radio work. Remember the radio programme Workers Playtime? We were on that every other week on BBC Radio. They used to have a show in the lunch hour in a factory which started during the war when they had to entertain all the workers.
Luckily my job at Standards Telephones and Cables was still there after Butlins so they took me back.
I joined the STC Musical Society which had just started so I was there right at the start in 1958.
I’ve done 153 shows now so I’ve been on the stage 64 years.
STC went to the first Waterford International Festival of Light opera that year with companies all over the world and STC won the very first one with Oklahoma.
La Belle Helene is definitely my favourite show I’ve done with the society, followed by Fiddler on the Roof and the Music Man. But I’ve loved them all. We took La Belle Helene to Waterford and we won. I’ve made 12 Waterford Festival appearances and won four major Waterford glass awards.
We’re on this week with our winter review called Best of British so we’re doing all British shows like Phantom of the Opera and Oliver and next year we’re doing Me and My Girl.
I actually started life as an actor. I went on a demob course in Germany when I was in the army. I only went for a skive for a month but they had a drama class going. I went in and that was it. It was the bug.
They told me I was a born actor.
Now, I haven’t done a play for God knows how long and about two months ago I had a call from one of my friends at the Newport Playgoers who said we’re short of a few people so I’m Godfrey in Dad’s Army which starts in January.
I’ve had to turn down parts all over the place in the past otherwise I’d never be at home.
My first love was in fact the drums. I played the drums from about 14 onwards and I was in a few bands in Newport.
When I went in the army in 1947 they managed to steal some musical instruments in Greece including a set of drums so we formed a sort of jazz sextet and we used to play impromptu dances for the officers.
When I came out in 1949 I got caught up in the musical scene and that was the end of that.
But I keep my hand in, I’ve got a pair of bongos which I play when my singing partner Dianne Pring sings some Latin American songs.
I played them regularly when The Fortunaires used to do Latin American music. We could sing and we could sing in harmony. Don had the most brilliant tenor voice but he was an absolute bloody idiot.
He was a clown on the stage and he used to make the audience roar with laughter. Then he’d go out and sing and they’d cry their eyes out. He and I used to get away with murder on the stage. The other two guys were quite quiet so it was a lovely combination and that’s where we were different.
I worked at STC for 35 years and I took early retirement.
That’s when I went on the radio. I did Radio Gwent for three years and then Radio Wales decided to cut the station.
I was on from 8am till 10am every week day morning and whoever was in Gwent at the time used to come on.
Anthony Hopkins came on, Brotherhood of Man, and local people who had a story to tell. It was fun, I really enjoyed it and it was a great great shame when they shut it down. Eight years ago I saw an advert in the Argus saying someone was going to start up a big band society. I went along and I’ve been helping to run it ever since.
The South Wales Big Band Society now meets on the first three Wednesdays of every month at Whiteheads Social Club in Newport and we’re now the only society like it in Wales. We started off just playing CDs but now we have about five tremendous big bands that come to us.
In my own little way I thought I was put on this earth to make people laugh. I get as much enjoyment out of making them laugh as they get out of laughing. I’m probably one of the old fashioned comedians.
I found out early in life that I could make people laugh and it’s a great feeling.
Once the curtain goes up the adrenaline pumps and you’re in heaven. I reckon that’s what has kept me so young all these years.
My second wife Sandra died in 1996 at 55 from cancer. She died a month before I performed in Brigadoon and she said whatever you do don’t you dare stop and I haven’t.
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