Stars out for Sammy

The venue may have changed but the sentiment remained heart-warmingly the same as the curtain came down on Sunday For Sammy 2006.

The venue may have changed but the sentiment remained heart-warmingly the same as the curtain came down on Sunday For Sammy 2006.

As is the form, two years had passed since the last gathering of North-East's entertainment glitterati, in memory of one of their own, Ronnie "Sammy" Johnson, the popular actor who died in 1998 at the tragic age of 47.

And the gang were out in force again - and then some - for the fourth such occasion, this time though, at The Sage Gateshead.

Founders of the Sunday For Sammy phenomenon, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet stars Tim Healy and Jimmy Nail were the first on stage to welcome both the matinee and evening sell-out crowds in the venue's Hall One.

A film montage featuring a smattering of Sammy's most memorable on-screen moments had got proceedings underway, and a visual gag, which saw Kevin Whately joining his pals on stage (and bringing a giant "northern rock" with him - you had to be there) produced the evening's first giggle.

The laughs, along with a raft of top class music, just kept coming.

When you've got a house band which features John Miles, Ray Laidlaw and Billy Mitchell, to name but three, you know the soundtrack to the evening is going to go with a rocking swing.

Add to that the fact that Ray Stubbs, AC/DC frontman, Brian Johnson, Jill Halfpenny, Tim Healy, Jimmy Nail, the Young Sinfonia and the Swing Bridge Singers were all waiting in the wings to do a turn at the mic, and you can see that the music side of things was tied up.

A duo of Mastermind spoofs, featuring Look North anchorwoman, Carol Malia as question master, and contestants Kevin Kennedy (formerly Curly Watts in Corrie) and the aforementioned Mr Johnson punctuated the first half.

Other before-the-break highlights came from Tim Healy's 16-year-old son, Matthew who put in a blinding acoustic performance of Hallelujah; Denise Welch (who doubles as Tim's wife and Matthew's mother) and fellow actress Angela Lonsdale in a sketch featuring NUFC heroes, Peter Beardsley and Bobby Moncur as potential suitors; and - of course - the much-anticipated return of the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet boys.

It was one such sketch, during the first Sunday For Sammy concert, which spawned the on-screen reunion of the brickie boys. And every concert since has seen writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement send a custom-written sketch for the show.

This year, they chose to go for somewhat of a prequel, finding Dennis, Neville and Oz working on Buckingham Palace during the Blitz.

The second half found the lads in heaven (complete with the angelic Brendan Healy and Brian Johnson in halos and everything) - much before their time.

There's not room to give everyone a mention who deserves one (and that would be everyone), but as you would expect, from the assembled talent, performances were top notch and received with the warmth that only a home crowd can offer.

Belly laughs and toe-taps aplenty were enjoyed before everyone went home safe in the knowledge that their enjoyment would go on to help the current and next generation of performers through the Sammy Johnson Memorial Fund.

Before last night, £250,000 had been raised to create a permanent endowment fund, which has already dished out £60,000 of grants to aspiring actors, musicians, directors and writers in the region.

So it doesn't look like the Sunday For Sammy concerts are going to have any trouble filling the bill in years to come - and amen to that.

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