Part 1: "Search For A Star"

The Moondogs Go To Manchester

Johnny and The Moondogs was a name adopted by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1958 for the purpose of entering Carroll Levis's "Search For A Star" talent competition. On this historic occasion, they would forsake their usual "Quarry Men" name. It is not clear why the name was changed prior to this competition, however, ther are two plausible explanations. The Quarry Men had lost two of its members in late summer 1958, Len Garry and Duff Lowe and this may have been a chance at a new start. Moreover, it was the second time they had entered this competition : the first was in 1957 at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, when they failed to pass the preliminary auditions required to qualify for performing in front of an audience. A new name might have erased a poor showing in the minds of the fans.

As luck or talent would have it, on this second try Johnny and The Moondogs they did somewhat better, passing the preliminary audition and appearing on the stage show at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, and doing well enough to qualify for the area finals held at the Ardwick Hippodrome, Manchester. They played there, but did not win the contest which would have entitled them to appear on Carroll's TV show : the show was judged by the results of a "clapometer" which recorded the volume of applause for each act, during which the competitors gave a brief resume of their performance. Johnny and The Moondogs missed this as they had to leave the theatre to catch the last train back to Liverpool, and it can be assumed that without their presence the applause would be muted somewhat.

This broad synopsis of the story seems to be undisputed, recounted by the Beatles themselves and numerous biographers. However, the date of the performance (and even the year, 1958 or 1959) is open to speculation. As a resident of Manchester I was interested in their visit to my home city and decided to carry out some research into the Ardwick Hippodrome (which was demolished in 1964) at the local reference library, to see if any light could be cast on the date of their performance. The results are not 100% conclusive, but strongly suggest that Johnny and The Moondogs made their appearance on the later of 2 nightly shows on Monday 24 November 1958, contrary to popular supposition that it was Sunday 15 November 1959. (It certainly wasn't a Sunday, anyway : England was a more God-fearing country in those days, and theatres, cinemas and shops were firmly closed to the public on Sundays, although of course the pubs were open !)

Ardwick Hippodrome in 1958
Front Entrance to Ardwick Hippodrome - 1958

The Manchester Hippodrome, Ardwick

This grand historic building opened on 18 July 1904 as the Ardwick Green Empire Theatre and, in 1935, was renovated and re-named the New Manchester Hippodrome after the closure of the first Manchester Hippodrome in Oxford Street. This venue hosted a wide variety of entertainment acts, including but not limited to: comedy; circus; music hall; singers; pantomime; band; musicals; and even striptease! Larry Adler, Max Wall and Joe Loss were amongst the countless big names who appeared there.

The Hippodrome was less than a mile from Manchester Piccadilly Station, from which trains ran to Liverpool Lime Street station, so if Johnny and the Moondogs were impecunious they may have walked there and back. Indeed, there is mention by some Beatle historians that Johnny and the Moondogs left early from their Hippodrome performance as they were unable to afford the cost of overnight lodging in Manchester. The Hippodrome stood on the corner of Hyde Road at Ardwick Green, facing the Appollo Cinema (built in 1938 and now one of Manchester's premier rock venues). Many local people think the Appollo was formerly the Hippodrome, but they were separate venues.

By 1959, it was in trouble and closed temporarily for 5 weeks, probably too much competition. Manchester was a large city with literally dozens of similar venues, and growing ownership of televisions was blamed for falling attendances. It finally closed for good on 22 April 1961 : there were plans to re-open it as a bowling/leisure complex, but in 1964 there was a fire which damaged the structure severely and it was demolished in autumn 1964. The site has never been re-developed, it's still a tarmaced area of land with a wire perimeter fence and advertising hoardings. I must have driven past it a thousand times without realising what once stood there.

Part 2: Mr. Star Maker

Appollo, Manchester
The Apollo Cinema, Manchester - circa 1958

Submitted on April 6, 2002

2002 Tim Fletcher. All rights reserved.

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