Film ID:
NEFA 9344

NORTHERN SCENE: LAUGHING AT LIFE

1981

Visitor Tabs

Description

This Tyne Tees Television documentary profiles the North East comedian and club entertainer Pauline Patricia Brennan (nee Petty), better known under her stage name, Scarlet O'Hara.  She reminisces about her impoverished post-war childhood in the working class Rye Hill area of Scotswood, in Newcastle’s West End, her husbands, and the start of her career working as a singer and stand-up comic at working men’s clubs and pubs in the region. The programme was originally broadcast on 12th March 1981 as part of the series Northern Scene, later featuring as part of the networked About Britain series.

Footage includes interviews, visits to Rye Hill and the Cambridge Street School she attended, life with her family, performances at clubs such as Western Social Club in Middlesbrough, and at her own club in Whitley Bay for a Christmas show. Also included are scenes with her uncle, Bob Whitfield, a rag and bone man out and about in Bishop Auckland. The humour of her act is drawn almost exclusively from her real life experiences and it is these which touch a chord with North East audiences - then facing a second great depression - every time she walks on stage.

Credit: Tyne Tees TV logo

Pauline Petty is on stage performing her comedy routine as Scarlet O’Hara. She’s dressed in a pink evening dress with silver trim, and sports a shaggy perm haircut.

A voice-over commentary states: "Pauline Petty, born in Scotswood, where consumption claimed her mother and sister. She herself faced personal tragedy, but she believes “What I’ve been through makes me what I am.” Scarlet O’Hara, on stage, laughing at life.”

She continues with her comedy routine, including jokes about getting silk nylons with black seams from American GI’s based in Newcastle upon Tyne during the Second World War.

In voice-over and interview to camera, Pauline Petty explains how she started doing the odd song at pubs for free at about 26 years old. One day she got a real booking at a pub a few miles away. “I went along… bundle of nerves, no music, a little black dress, did three songs. They sort of seemed to like me, but me [sic] nerves. Me [sic] legs were like jelly. I was shaking, oh God. Erm … and I took a couple of bookings after that. And it’s been a long, long drawn out step up the ladder.”

General view of the Rye Hill area off the Scotswood Road. Pauline Petty walks down a street in the area, dressed in a red dress and white fake fur jacket (?). Two old monochrome photographs of the Rye Hill area are shown. Petty continues to walk around the streets she grew up in for the first time in years, and revisits Cambridge Street School, which she attended as an infant. She reminisces about growing up in the area (in voice-over and interview to camera). Memories include being walked to school by her father, who left her mother when she was very young, and being sent to the school nit nurse.

Monochrome photographs of streets around Rye Hill follow. Petty talks about playing children’s games in the street including Tin Can Tommy, knocky-nine-doors (also known as knock down ginger or knocky door ginger). She walks down a street of 1960s terraced housing in the area, looking towards the Cruddas Park tower blocks. She remembers the community spirit of the streets: “It wasn’t just a street, it was one big happy family.”

Pauline Petty is back on stage at another Scarlet O’Hara gig in a working men’s club, dressed in a long pale blue evening dress. She performs a great sketch about poverty and working-class life when growing up as a girl (the toilet paper and teacake sketch).

Petty is interviewed in a bar and discusses the attraction to audiences of the unusual stage name.

Petty is at home with her third husband, Ron, and four children. Her daughter lays the dining room table for Sunday lunch. Petty is cooking steak and kidney pudding, mash and vegetables in the kitchen and describes herself as a “plain cook” but she loves to cook when she has time. Her son wears headphones to listen to an LP on the record player, and is still dressed in his school uniform. A younger son holds the pet gerbil. Dinner is served and the family gather at the table, the food doled out. The family chat, Ron, the husband complaining about the boy wearing out his shoes too quickly.

Back with Scarlet O’Hara on stage, she performs a sketch with her husband who’s in the audience. He pretends to be angry at her jokes about his father. They trade insults about their parents, which have the audience laughing loudly.

Back to the interview with Pauline Petty in a bar, where she talks about her second husband Tommy who at one gig began to dismantle the stage equipment whilst she was in the middle of a performance.

The sign for the Western Social Club on Union Street in Middlesbrough is illuminated at night. She says she loves working the clubs on Teesside. “The beauty of it is the quality of the people haven’t changed. Working class people like me self [sic].” Her husband Ron talks about travelling to the gigs (on voice-over) and sets up the equipment on stage. Petty starts to get ready in a dressing room, using an afro comb on her permed hair. The interviewer asks if she changes her Geordie accent for Teesside audiences. She says that she just slows her speech down a little, because Geordies are apt to talk quickly. Ron does a sound check on stage. Back in the dressing room, Petty applies her make-up and talks about her opening gags.

Pauline Petty is on stage as Scarlet O’Hara at the Western Social Club, Middlesbrough, looking quite glamorous in a long turquoise evening dress and glittery jewellery. The performance is intercut with shots of the audience, a mix of ages.

Interview with Bobby Thompson, a popular stand-up comedian, actor and entertainer from Penshaw, Tyne and Wear, known as The Little Waster. He explains the need for the comedian to get her stage dress right, so that she appeals to both men and women in the audience.

Pauline Petty shops for stage clothes with her friend who has good dress sense. She tries on a couple of dresses with good honest advice from the friend.

Interview to camera with Pauline Petty. She talks about the difficulties she had when her first husband died. She had to look after her young daughter after moving into a new council house where she knew few people. After a car crash, she felt very low but bounced back.

Petty is out trotting with her Uncle Bob, a rag and bone man who lives in a caravan. In winter, with snow on the ground, they go out with a horse and rag cart, scavenging for unwanted household things and scrap. Petty rides on the cart as Uncle Bob leads the horse out and about in Bishop Auckland. In voice-over she talks about how he helped her out when she was coping with the tragedy of losing her first husband in a car crash.

Uncle Bob has a drink in a pub with Petty and two other young women (perhaps her daughters). He tells a few humorous, real-life stories.

Back to one of Scarlet O’Hara’s performances at the Western Social Club, Middlesbrough.

Petty walks down to the beach at Whitley Bay with her dogs. General view of her on the windswept winter beach, the Spanish City dome visible in the background. She tells about her enjoyment of walking on the coast (in voice-over). There’s a view towards St Mary’s Island, waves crashing onto the beach.

Food is prepared at her own club in Whitley Bay for a special Christmas show. A coach travels through the night. Shot of people chatting inside the coach. The coach drives along lit city roads at night. A team of chefs are preparing food in the kitchens. People begin to arrive and take their seats at tables in the club. Food is ladled out and people enjoy a candle-lit dinner. Food is served at a long trestle table. Petty moves around the guests and chats.

In her dressing room, she gets ready for her performance, along with her husband who is dressed in a ruffled tuxedo shirt and formal black dinner suit. People eat, drink, smoke and chat back in the club. Scarlet is introduced to a packed club. She wears tinsel round her neck. She jollies up the crowd. She does a sketch about the difficulties of being a female comedian and about growing up poor in Newcastle.

Interview to camera with Pauline Petty in a bar.

Scarlet O’Hara finishes off her comedy show with a rendition of This Is My Life. The crowd cheer.