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By Neil Gould - May 2007

Greetings Alan, since posting my picture of The Nest and Cuban Hat, I am truly inspired by your website. I left Durban in 1974 as a 19-year-old lad on board the Pendennis Castle, to Southampton, England, where I lived until 1995, after which my family and I settled in Hong Kong. Although I paid for my ticket I did spend time on board entertaining the passengers.

Entertaining passengers.

Pics Courtesy Neil Gould

One benefit of being an entertainer was meeting beautiful women. Another was being invited to the captain's table. And sometimes, both at once.


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Anyhow, let me get back on track. Dodo talks of The Mermaid Lido, in Durban and the very camp, "Durban's answer to Liberace". Wow..that brings back memories. His name was Sandy; he had longish yellow white straw hair, piercing eyes, a rugged face that looked like a smacked bottom, slim build, and tight rods [trousers] with a comb in the back pocket. [Sounds like the person who later presided over the bar which led off of the veranda of the Bad Morals (Balmoral) Hotel. Allan.]

I used to be mesmerised by the older couples waltzing (roller skating) around the room, whilst Sandy peered over his shoulder from time to time in order to ensure he still had his audience. It was a setting out of an old English seaside resort.

Sandy was a friend of my mother's hairdresser, another very camp character, called Frank Ash. Frank was known as "Camp Frank", but after he had a drink or two, he would keep you in fits of laughter, with all the antics which you will read about further on.

In the early 70's,on weekends, my life long pal Gary Salmo and I would frequent the Smugglers Inn in Point Road. At 18yrs old, this was an adventure. You would arrive at 9.30pm, in time for John Rothman's show. He was another very camp cabaret performer who did the same show week after week, till we all knew if off by heart. He always began by singing "Cabaret", then he did the Russian Kezutska and a standing joke would be when he turned his back on the audience and the cheeks of his buttocks would contract in time with a buzzing sound, produced off-stage somewhere. The punch line was "This is Morse code for COME UP AND SEE ME SOME TIME"

Frank would usually have arrived at Smugglers at 8.30pm and half a bottle of Cane [sugar cane spirit] would have been consumed. By 9.30pm John Rothman would have the bouncers keeping Frank away from the stage because, with each joke or new act from John, Frank would shout out what came next.

This was our highlight; to see what Frank would do and just who would be sent to remove him. Barney was the great big bouncer and manager at Smugglers, (owned by the Grieve family - now deceased and again friends of the family). Once a chum of Frank's grabbed my pal Gary's rear and Gary went to complain to Big Barney. His immediate reply was if you don't like it, get out. It was at that point that we realised that being gay was not restricted to the likes of Frank or Sandy.

Smugglers Inn was a weekly jorl for us. We cut our teeth on Castle Beer and Cane and Coke at the Inn. We would sometimes be lucky enough to pull some bokkies [girls]. We learned to drink and drive, a very sore lesson. It was a rough place with the sailors coming off the passing ships. There would often be a rumble [fight] and one or two of them would be thrown out by Barney, bleeding and left on the pavement.

Being keen fishermen Gary and I, we brought our Indian fishing companion one night to Smugglers, although at the height of apartheid, it was highly illegal. This nearly ended in our dear friend Kaapi being stabbed and we left and never came back. It was a serious place, with serious consequences. One of which was a week earlier when the assistant manager turned up on stage as the Great Omar (John Rothman was sick that night) and we got drunk and teased him. A ballie [old bloke], he gave me a slap across the face and I turned around, seeing two of him, and kicked out at the illusionary one of him.

The rest of the story involves me being dragged into the Smugglers Inn urinal and being rescued by Gary, and us both waking up in a field the next morning, with little memory of the missing time.

Now I must add that I had a little bit of fame myself. Being a bit talented, I was spotted by a raconteur, John Hals at Albert Park, playing the fool with magic at a table. He immediately offered to put me in his Blue Waters Hotel disco as a DJ come ventriloquist.

Pics Courtesy Neil Gould

Neil and Charlie.

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I was DJ at the Blue Dolphin, myself and "Charlie". He would put words into my mouth. Twice a week I would do a hypnotist show. My short lived fame elevated to entertaining on the deep-sea boats, one of which was the Isle Of Capri, amongst others. One time it caught fire. Any one remember that?

Pics Courtesy Neil Gould

The advert for the show, left. Left, above, performing with Brian Finch of Totem and, right, an article on the bay cruises.

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My schedule included the Outspan Hotel and finally touring the coastal towns as a Hypnotist. John pressed me to do the Outspan hotel. I explained that you could not hypnotise drunken people. So John arranged for six people to be planted in the audience. That ended in disaster. The drinkers were all locals and suddenly six new faces show up and all of them get on stage. We were chased by a crowd of drunken people and managed to jump on the back of John's buggy and make an escape; not so different from a Steve McQueen movie. I am sure there are some of you who remember me. If you do…sorry, I was 18 trying to make a living.

Further disasters happened on the South Coast when, after a rather successful performance, a woman asked me to hypnotise her in the hotel lounge. I did and she started ranting on about her dead dog and began crying. Her boyfriend grabbed me by the collar and wanted to hit me. Luckily, my stagehand Richard Upton, a great person and a helluva clown and acrobat, had climbed up the Hotel chimney prior to the incident.

He came headfirst back down the chimney in the middle of this fracas and distracted the man's attention; he must have thought it was Christmas. This was my chance to run and I did. I now decided not overstep the mark again and perhaps it was time to retire from showbiz as, after all, I was of the ripe old age of 18.

Pics Courtesy Neil Gould

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From left, above, a crit on a show, an advert for a show in Pietermaritzburg, an article about a party and Neil and Charlie, again.

It was nearly time for me to face leaving South Africa in 1974. My folks had already flown out. I sat with Gary on the harbour jetty looking at the Durban coastline. Memories passed in front of me. The Durban North Rex cinema. I remembered growing up with surfer Rikki Jordan, and how we would all go to the Rex on Saturday arvies [afternoons]. Pay sixpence for a ticket and old Pops, who had only 2 fingers on each hand, would tear them and ask you to miss the first 5 rows.

Movies started with a weekly serial. One such serial was the Batman series, and then a thriller with a character called the Scorpion, who ended up as Dr Marlowe. At interval, we would cross the road at Broadway and buy a Pop-a-Two ice cream. We would envy the boys who had black bomber jackets, Chelsea boots and greased back brylcreamed hair. In some cases, it would be Vitalis hair formula. You might recall at these sessions that someone would shout out 'CRUNCHIE' in the middle of a film and everyone would shout 'shhhhhhh'. The shushing would go on for about 5 minutes, once started.

Another fond memory was my Sunday lunch at the Cumberland hotel. Twenty five cents for a curry and rice and two slices of bread. Then back to the North Beach and we would build channels in the sand, diverting the flow of water as people showered under the Blue Shower. Do you remember the concrete showers? Two on the North beach. Then we would all sit on the famous wall, checking the bokkies out.

Evenings were at Newton's, when Simon, the attendant would give us free games on the pinball. We would cane Easy Aces, King Arthur and Southern Belle. One of our guys, Graham Arfrichtig, was an absolute ace. He could bring the machine up to 10 or 12 free games. After that, it was down to "putt putt", did a few rounds on mini golf and just in time to get a real autograph from the singer "Jody Wayne", who happened to pass through. On the way home we stopped at the Pickin Chicken, between Putt putt and where Mini town is today, not for a plate of chicken and chips, but because we knew the Indian guy who operated the ice cream machine, and he would put a chocolate flake in the middle and build the cone extra high, with ice cream.

These days the smell of Kenilworth, a childrens entertainment hall with shooting galleries, 1 penny handle cranked movies machines, arcade-type machines and dodgem cars is still very much in my memory. What a place for a kid. It was situated right on the lower Marine parade, beachfront, between the Beach baths and the motorised boats heading towards the aquarium The upstairs, had an illusion gallery. It was the first time I saw Funny mirrors. Downstairs had the tilting rocket and do not forget the shooting alley, where the koala bears would climb up and down the tree whilst you took a pot with a rifle wired to the console. I would love to see any pictures of Kenilworth, both inside and outside if anyone has any.

Anyhow, I have to go now, life in Hong Kong is quite hectic and I guess I will collect further memories and post them in due course.

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