“He’s not my Partner, he’s my friend”
That’s put an end to the question everyone asks, Syd Little and Eddie Large never did fall out or stop talking, they just live hundreds of miles apart!
I’ve been to ‘interview’ one of the nicest blokes I’ve had the pleasure to meet this afternoon. I say ‘interview’ but I use that term loosely, it was more a case of me listening to the fascinating life history of a genuinely lovely man who is now a resident feature in Fleetwood and The Strawberry Gardens where we met, but is also one of the most famous faces from show business with a career that today’s performers can only dream of.
Syd Little, one half of comedy duo Little and Large, celebrates 50 years of show business – to the very day – remembering his first gig as a pro on Friday 18 October 1963 at the Princes Club in Manchester when he was just 21.
I asked Syd whether he’d been a performer as a child, and he didn’t really remember a burning desire to be a musician as todays youngsters will sob while appearing on XFactor, although he did admit to enjoying being in the centre of attention. The turning point came when he learnt how to play the guitar, starting with a plastic ukulele that he’s sent off for by mail order, complete with the disappointment that he felt when it turned up and wasn’t the real McCoy! The money he earned from his paper round and the tips at Christmas paid for his first Spanish guitar – and once he could play that he never looked back as it was a passport to being surrounded by a crowd.
He started off being paid £1 to pay in a pub in Wythenshawe where he lived – a lot of money in 1960 when he was earning £2 10s in old money for a week’s work as a painter and decorator. When Brooklands Trades and Labour Club paid £3 for a weekend gig that felt like hitting the big time! Syd talked about the era pre Beatles when he sang ‘Little White Bull’ by Tommy Steele, and songs from Lonnie Donnegan.
Eddie was in another gang from Moss Side, and apparently describes what he’d thought when he first saw Syd as ‘A kid in NHS glasses, a demob suit and failed crew cut had to be hard’! Eventually they became mates and developed a double act by doing odd bits of performing together. The turning point came when they sang ‘Rubber Ball’ together, and Eddie started bouncing along at the right points in the song. Not because he was trying to be funny, but because that was just him.
The Concert Secretary for the Timperley Trades and Labour Club was impressed at the audience reaction and booked them as a pair, the comedy was later woven into the routine and developed depending on the reaction of the audience… and the rest, as they say, is history…
For eight years Little and Large did the club, pub and theatre circuit, doing double shows, seven days a week. Starting at 7pm and finishing with a curry, getting in at 4am. It was a life that Syd clearly loved, not only did he explain how it was never a ‘job’ but something he really enjoyed doing, and the expression on his face backed up his words. An amazing life to look back on as he said.
Opportunity Knocks was the show that broke their act as a household name, as it did for many performers of their day. We’ve often said that they ought to bring it back – XFactor and The Voice are good, and I guess that’s what they tried to do with Britain’s Got Talent, but none of them match how good Opportunity Knocks was. However, Syd and Eddie resisted it for some time, concerned that a dancing dog or a ten year old girl singing opera was going to beat them on the Clap-o-meter (if you’ve never seen it, it must be on YouTube).
Anyway, in 1971 onto Opportunity Knocks they went and were a huge success. They were back onto winners shows and every time the producers could find an excuse to have them back on. Then they did a pilot show for Thames TV from which they were offered a six week Monday night series that pulled in thirteen million viewers. Imagine that today – with so much channel choice that’s a viewing figure that producers can only dream of. Big bands like the Four Tops were plugging their records on a quick turnaround show recorded in front of a live audience on Saturday and broadcast on Monday, and the whole thing was a huge success. A three year contract turned into 14 years, and even the last show in 1991 had eight million viewers.
So where did all the stories of a fall-out with Eddie come from? The duo worked together until the mid 90’s when Eddie started to get ill and developed heart failure, eventually having a heart transplant about ten years ago. He lives in Bristol so it’s simply a case that distance and everyday life have got in the way rather than there’s been a crossed word. We’ve all got friends, workmates and family that we haven’t seen for a while, for no other reason than time flies! In fact Syd’s received a card celebrating their 50th anniversary and Eddie had hoped to come to Fleetwood for the occasion but had double booked it with something else!
Not many people probably know that Syd was actually born in Blackpool, and with the name firmly stamped on his birth certificate it makes him officially Sandgrown. In 1942 his pregnant mum was shipped out of Manchester to Blackpool which was considered a safer place to give birth during WW2, and he was actually born in what was then called the Central Hotel on Reads Avenue. In common with many of the large hotels it had been converted into a maternity hospital. Two weeks later they went off back to Manchester – but nonetheless it states ‘Blackpool’ for his place of birth.
He’s come back full circle, right back to where he started as a squalling baby, with a happy life firmly entrenched on the Fylde Coast. A spell in Torquay where he and wife Sheree lived for nine years came to an end when they were looking for a school for their son. They’d been looking at houses in Lytham and St Annes when they settled on Rossall School, and realising that it was quite a round trip every day for years, they settled on Fleetwood. Friendships formed with James Parr and John Kelly whose children were also at the school are what led Syd years later to be a firm fixture at The Strawberry.
Syd and Sheree had been looking for a restaurant opportunity when The Strawberry Gardens was resurrected and its transformation back to heart of the community and real ale pub was started. They now run the Little Restaurant at the Poulton Road pub and are looking forward to the new kitchens which will be open in time for his first Christmas at home.
It’s the first time for years that Syd hasn’t been in panto so he’ll actually be at home to enjoy his sons cooking and the company of his wife, family and grandchildren (after he’s been to The Strawberry of course to check up on the Christmas Day diners!)
So all it remains now for us to do is to wish Syd Little – entertainer, famous face, funny man and absolutely nice bloke – the very best 50th anniversary that he can have, and to enjoy the entertainment from The Blue Pig Orchestra and the company of good friends. Have a good ‘un Syd!
Syd Little with photos from his showbiz past
The Strawberry Gardens
Footings for the kitchen extension at the Strawberry Gardens