Evelyn Short was something of a local celebrity in the South Yorkshire pit village where she was born and bred.
The mother- of-seven knew everyone and everyone knew her. Such was her reputation, Evelyn never paid for her weekly fish and chip supper and there was always someone ready to buy her a drink when she went to her beloved working men’s club.
Silverdales was a cornerstone in Evelyn’s life and each weekend she would make sure she had a front row seat to watch whichever turn had been booked to entertain the crowds. It was an eclectic mix. However, whether she had watched a part-time crooner with Frank Sinatra aspirations or a magic act who dreamed of a Saturday night TV slot alongside Paul Daniels, at the end of each performance, Evelyn would be there publicity poster in hand asking for an autograph.
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“Throughout the 90s, it was something she did week in, week out,” says her grandson David Short. “She loved those nights at the club and those posters were her souvenir of a good time.
“Dinnington was a very traditional pit village. My granddad worked as a blacksmith at the pit and like most of the mining families, Evelyn never travelled far outside its boundaries.
“It was quite an insular existence and that’s why Silverdales was so important. Those turns on a Friday and Saturday night were an escape from the normal daily routine; they offered a little glamour and excitement in what was otherwise a pretty hard life.”
Before the advent of social media and the internet, the publicity poster was often the sole means of promotion and every week Evelyn would add to her collection which she kept tucked away in a box.
“She was often quite reticent about showing them to people,” says David, who works as a professional photographer. “She would definitely never show them to my granddad. I think she thought he would think them a little trivial, but whenever I went round she would get the box out and we would look through them together.”
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By the time of her death at the age of 93, Evelyn had collected more than 800 posters and other bits of memorabilia spanning more than a decade in the life of Silverdales. Together they represent a little slice of social history, one held together by dry ice, industrial quantities of hairspray and the smell of cigarette smoke.
“There are some glorious names like B-Dazzled and Pink Gin and the photographs themselves are just wonderful,” adds David. “There was one woman who posed on a speedboat, which sounds pretty glamorous, except that it was parked on someone’s driveway and another act called Rhapsody who had obviously invested in a professional photo shoot, but whose forced expressions are quite a thing to behold.
“Every single poster tells a story and when I was eventually passed the collection after Evelyn died I knew I wanted to do something with them, I just wasn’t sure what. A few years ago I approached a couple of publishers about the possibility of doing a book, but it never quite worked out.
“One of them wanted to focus on the big hair and the questionable fashion of some of the acts. I could see why they wanted to go down that route, but I didn’t want to do something which felt disrespectful to Evelyn’s memories. These entertainers were such a big part of my grandmother’s life and I wanted something which was a celebration of something she held so dear to her heart.”
David eventually found the perfect publishing partner in London-based graphic designer Patrick Fry, whose previous work includes entire photographic books on the humble brick and another entitled simply Great British Rubbish.
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“David initially sent me a small selection of images and as soon as I saw them I knew that we could do something really special with them,” says Patrick. “There is something inherently comedic about some of these images, but they are also a reflection of a really important chapter in British culture and that’s what I wanted to focus on.
“Without Evelyn, many of these acts might have disappeared into complete obscurity, but through her posters they live on.
“I love the fact that Darren might have worked in an office Monday to Friday, but on a Saturday night he put on a silk shirt and turned himself into B-Dazzled. Now social media allows all of us to create a fantasy version of ourselves, but back in the 80s and early 90s these posters did exactly the same thing.”
While many working men’s clubs have closed, Silverdales has survived and seven years after Evelyn watched her last turn there she is still remembered fondly by the regulars.
“I visited the club for the first time recently because I wanted to take a photograph of the stage where all these acts had performed,” says David.
“It was lovely, because as soon as I mentioned my grandma’s name the staff and customers all said, ‘Of course we knew Evelyn, she was always the first one up for a dance’.
“Silverdales was special to Evelyn and hopefully this book is a fitting tribute to all those entertainers who brought a little sunshine into her life.”
To Evelyn, Posters From the Stars is priced £20 and available to order from centrecentre.co.uk