When Batley reached for the stars

Issue 618

THEY said he was mad – and yet Batley entrepreneur James Corrigan proved them all wrong.

The man who co-founded the town’s famous variety club created the Las Vegas of the North against all odds.

And now his inspiring story is to be told at a meeting of the Batley History Group on Monday.

James, an in-comer who married a Batley lass, helped build the variety club in just 14 weeks early in 1967.

The bingo hall owner’s dream of attracting superstars to the new venue was widely ridiculed.

But he and business partner Peter Fleming had the last laugh when the cream of the era’s talent agreed to come.

Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, the Bee Gees and Louis Armstrong all performed at the 1,600 capacity venue.

In a BBC documentary Mr Corrigan said at the time: “The variety club was a joke. Everybody said it couldn’t be done.

“But we proved them wrong. I knew the area and knew I had five million people within 10 or 15 miles.”

One of the great tales of that time is how a variety club waitress quit her job  to run away with Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.

Yvonne Spenceley, of Thornhill Lees, met the star backstage in 1974 and it was love at first sight.

The pair married a year later and were together until Maurice died aged just 53 in 2003.

These and more stories, plus film clips, music and pictures, will be aired at the town hall from 7.30pm on Monday. Roger Keech, who made the BBC documentary, and former club manager Alan Clegg are to be among the guests.

Organiser Malcolm Haig said: “People love reminiscing and I’m sure there will be plenty for people to recall with this subject.”

Anyone with mementoes can call Mr Haigh on 01924 479824 to get them included in the event.

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