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Victor Young recalls the County Towners shows at the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone


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Victor Young has been looking back at his time on stage in Maidstone.

Mr Young, now 83, was apprenticed as an electrician at Pococks in Maidstone and later started his own electrical company in the County Town, choosing not to join his father and brothers in their barbers business, L.P.Young and Sons, at the top of Brewer Street.

Victor Young performing at The Hazlitt with the County Towners Variety Club in Maidstone
Victor Young performing at The Hazlitt with the County Towners Variety Club in Maidstone

But it was the theatre where Mr Young's passion lay.

He joined the County Towners Variety Club, who were based at the Hazlitt Theatre, in 1961, as a founding member, and took over as chairman from Basil Yates when he wanted to pass on the baton.

By this time, Mr Young, who was known as Vicky, was working as a floor manager for the BBC television studios off Fleet Street in London, and so had a good idea of what it took to "put on a show."

He said: "I then effectively ran the County Towers from beginning to end, writing sketches, auditioning and directing, and appearing on stage.

"We put on two, week-long shows a year, variety shows: there could be juggling, comedy, and plenty of music and dance."

The shows were a glamorous spectacle of music and dance
The shows were a glamorous spectacle of music and dance

The shows raised money for charity, initially the Old Folks Coal Find (to help with heating costs) and later the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

He said: "Edwin Boorman, who later became the chairman of the Kent Messenger Group, was very supportive in the early days. He would compere shows and would always tell one joke each time, but that was all he would do, never more than one joke!"

But, said Mr Young, there were always plenty of people enthusiastic to take part. He said: "Everyone thinks they can sing - some can, and some can't.

"We had one singer who was fantastic if he started on the right note. But if he started on the wrong one, it was just impossible to get him back on tune."

Among the many talented people he worked with, he recalls baritone Steve Stephenson, singer dancer and comedian John Sunnucks and singers Derek Lloyd and Dave Bishop.

Victor Young toasting another successful show
Victor Young toasting another successful show

Often whole families were involved, husband and wife David and Judy Tawney, were accompanied on piano by father Frank.

Ian and Viv Rogers appeared together as two-thirds of a trio, Janice and Arthur Baker from Barming were both on stage, Ron Sparrowhawk was a stalwart member along with his daughters Beverley and Angela, while Mr Young's own wife Valerie was also a singer.

He said: "To be honest, everyone did a bit of everything.

"We had very good audiences, usually the theatre was at capacity, which I think was about 400 then."

But of course, things didn't always go right.

Part of the programme for one of the shows - Smile Awhile
Part of the programme for one of the shows - Smile Awhile

Mr Young said: "For one number we had giant cube on stage, painted like a die, measuring about 6ft in each dimension. At the appropriate moment, the front of the die was to open and a young girl was supposed to walk out singing Hey Big Spender."

The moment came, the intro was played, but the door didn't open.

He said: "When she still hadn't appeared after several moments, I peeped inside to find she had passed out on the floor from the heat."

Mr Young left the County Towners in 1975, but not the stage. He went on to act with and sometimes chair the Maidstone Theatre Company, the John Wesley Players and The Country Players.

Along the way, he picked up many awards including in 1979 the Marlowe Trophy for Best Kent Actor for his role with the John Wesley Players as Willie Mossop in Hobson's Choice, the character depicted on film by John Mills.

Vicky Young appearing in Hobson's Choice with the John Wesley Players
Vicky Young appearing in Hobson's Choice with the John Wesley Players
Victor Young today
Victor Young today

When ill health - he had suffered from tuberculosis and had persistent lung problems - prompted Mr Young to seek a change of environment, he left Maidstone to live near one of his daughters in Norfolk, but he still couldn't give up the stage and continued to act with the the Great Hall Theatre Company in Norwich.

He said: "It was sad when the County Towners folded in 1998. It takes a lot of energy and dedication to keep a theatre group running. But most of the people went on to do other things - I am still in touch with some of them today.

"I loved my time with the County Towners. It was one of the happiest periods of my life."

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