King of Clubs

Author: Maureen Prest

King of Clubs

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Tags: Coalfield Culture

King of Clubs is an intimate portrait of visionary showman James Lord Corrigan. Written by Corrigan’s confidant Maureen Prest, this is the only insider’s account of what really went on at his world famous Batley Variety Club, both in front of house and behind closed doors.

From his origins on a travelling funfair, his audacious climb through the world of show business, his turbulent marriage to his glamorous wife Betty, and his dramatic retreat, this is a story of rags to riches and back to rags. With a twist.

‘What was special was James Corrigan. He made the whole thing happen. He was special.’ – Shirley Bassey

‘Batley is a living aspirin. Great.’ – Louis Armstrong

‘Corrigan did more for night life in Great Britain than anyone. I would put him with the great showmen.’ – Danny La Rue


Richard Shaw

This is a smashing book. Told with warmth, humour and resplendent with anecdotes about the stars who played there, I read it in practically one sitting. It is ultimately a sad tale, one of how money and power can destroy and corrupt.
Richard Shaw

Julie Ann Mulvey

An incredible story of an incredible man, the legendary James Corrigan. Written by Maureen Prest, who worked for him at the world famous Batley Variety Club, this tale is straight from the horse's mouth. A truly fascinating life story, that I simply could not put down, very highly recommended.

Maureen Prest on Carl Gresham Radio Show

Maureen Prest on Carl Gresham Radio Show

Maureen Prest talking all things Batley Variety Club in conversation with Carl Gresham on BCB Radio....

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Shirley Bassey at Batley

In this extract from King of Clubs, Maureen Prest recalls Shirley Bassey's visits to the club.

When Shirley Bassey was due to appear at the club for the first time, James discovered she liked Mars bars. He sent one of the staff to the local cash and carry where he bought boxes and boxes of them and stacked them up in her dressing room, ready for her arrival. She thought it was a huge joke, she had enough Mars bars to last a lifetime. She later was to recall how, after that, she could not look a Mars bar in the face again.

James and the club manager Allan Clegg invited Shirley out after a show for a meal. She gratefully accepted, got herself ready, put on her mink jacket and looked for all the world the star she was. They set off in the Rolls Royce, pulling up outside the local fish and chip shop. She thought it was hilarious, having her supper eating fish and chips out of the paper they were wrapped in. Although she was most entertained by the experience, Miss Bassey did live up to her reputation as a diva. She had the most demands of any artiste ever to appear at Batley. There were to be no bars open, or food served whilst she performed. She had to have special hooks fitted in her dressing room to take her many fabulous costumes, all with long trains, sequins and feathers.

She was a very temperamental artist to say the least. The musicians were shaking in their shoes at her band call. When she wanted them to stop playing, her fingers went into her mouth and she gave a high-pitched whistle. Most unladylike. The swear words she used were usually reserved only for a trooper. That said, she was a true perfectionist.

The first time she appeared at Batley she had engaged the services of a new musical director, Brian Fahey, who had not worked with her before. He had accepted the job reluctantly, knowing of her reputation for being difficult to please. When her manager had rung him asking if he would work with her for the duration of the date at Batley, he quoted a ridiculously high figure, hoping the fee would be too much. Alas, to his regret, they assured him that his fee was acceptable. He knew he would be in for a rough ride. He was not wrong. After the first performance, Miss Bassey was less than happy, grumbling about this and that, the musical notation was all wrong and so on, despite the fact she had brought her audience to their feet and they refused to let her leave the stage.

In desperation, Brian gathered up all the music and went into her dressing room. He sat down and assured her he wanted her to be happy with the musical backing and therefore thought it would be a good idea to go through the music note by note. As this was the first time they had worked together, it was important to him that she should feel comfortable. All he wanted was to make sure she was happy. He meticulously went through every band part asking her at regular intervals if she was okay with the music. She assured him she was. Eventually they arrived at the end, changing nothing. From that day forward, Brian and Shirley Bassey got on like a house on fire and he remained with her for many years.

James was worried by the non-sale of drinks and food she had stipulated. He was paying a large sum for the week and needed the revenue to foot the bill. It was announced before she was due to appear on stage that the bars would be closed. James need not have worried. The audience knowing this, ordered lines of drinks before she went on stage. In fact it was later revealed they sold more drinks not less; the audience were not to be denied their booze and over-ordered.

Shirley Bassey was, and is, the greatest star this country has ever produced. She gave the performance of her life on her opening night. She made the most dramatic of entrances, arms outstretched, the long, flowing gowns billowing behind her as she walked out on stage. The audience was captivated, you could hear a pin drop. Her costume changes and the delivery of her repertoire was sensational. She was wonderful, the club was sold out and not a seat could be had. Many people were turned away. James and she became great friends and she remained loyal to him, never wanting to appear at the rival clubs which had sprung up. She was to return to Batley many times, always for a two-week run. She always sold out and she was ever the perfectionist.

She married an Italian man named Sergio Novak, who was also her manager. He was backstage one night standing in the tabs watching the show when he spilled his pint of beer into one of the speakers of the sound system. Miss Bassey’s microphone went dead and she gestured her disgust by throwing her arms in the air and dropping the microphone, then walked off stage. She sat backstage waiting for the technicians to restore the sound. Eventually she returned in a new outfit saying to her audience, ‘Well, a girl has to get changed,’ thus covering up her new husband’s accident. No doubt he was in for the ear whipping of his life, one that only she could deliver.

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Maureen Prest

Maureen Prest was the promotions and public relations manager for Batley Variety Club 1967-1974. She was a close friend and confidant of James Corrigan, the founder of the club.

Maureen has worked as a theatrical agent, artist promoter and record producer. After leaving show business in 1974, she launched a successful fashion business with multiple outlets.

Her book King of Clubs tells the amazing personal life story of James Corrigan. It is the only insider’s account of the incredible adventure that was the world famous Batley Variety Club.

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