As you can see, this edition’s Dinner Guest is taking up more space than usual. It is not because he has put on weight or because other guests have been lesser mortals, it is simply that once you get SAM SHROUDER – formerly head of one of the biggest theatre empires the world has ever seen – talking you get more than a main course and dessert!

I was delighted to be asked to be Bernard’s dinner date until I realised that not only was there no dinner involved there was not even a glass of wine to be had! However, who could refuse the much improved Encore!?”

BB: (Handing Sam a packet of crisps): Let’s get the toughest question first. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Sam: Being asked to feature in Encore! although hopefully there are greater achievements ahead!

BB: How did it really all begin for you?

Sam: At the age of 22 I became the manager of the ABC Bowl in Hanley and from that moment on I have been truly blessed doing some incredibly rewarding jobs and meeting
people on and off stage who have made the world a better place by providing a little bit of magic in people’s lives. A less luvie answer would be a simple “I don’t really know.”

BB: Did you have a career mapped out or has it all come as a surprise?

Sam: I didn’t plan anythig, it jusyt happened and I have done lots of things that I never expected to in my wildest dreams including writing my autobiography, which reminded me how lucky I have been. I will always be eternally grateful to all all the people who helped me travel the journey I have had.

BB: Can you pick any favourite moments?

Sam: Lots but I adored being a DJ and got to do lots of radio stuff including an international request programme on Radio St Helena, thanks to my wife Linda, and an infamous appearance as guest DJ on Radio One Club. However I loved live work most and I am sure people still talk about how I used to blow my mind at the Vine Cub in Newport, Shropshire with my shirt off, manic dancing and jumping into the audience. In hindsight possibly not!

BB: You have worked with so many massive stars was there one who got away?

Sam: Most of the greats came our way in one way or another but in my dreams I wander on stage and say “For his only ever UK appearance please welcome the legend that is Elvis Presley “!

BB: Do you have a favourite among all the shows you have presented?

Sam: My problem was that I loved all shows even when the very knowledgable critics said it was a turkey! But if I had to name just one it would be Starlight Express, which opened at
the Apollo Victoria in 1984 and when it closed in 2002 it was the second longest running musical of all time. It was a massive turning point for our Company Apollo Leisure And I used to take my son Ben to it every year to say thank you for our house!

BB: What about the pantos?

Sam: The first Panto I was involved with was at Middleton Civic Hall. It was produced by Nelson Firth and starred Roy Lance, who also directed it. I learnt a lot from Roy but most
importantly that the story is the star and he never let anybody go out of character to sing a medley of their greatest hit! I have been lucky enough to house some of the greatest including Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Norman Wisdom, Cilla Black, Brian Blessed and Michael Barrymore. The finest Buttons I ever saw was a young and cheeky Jim Davidson and I also experienced great Panto performances from Gary Wilmot, Jimmy Cricket, Stu Francis, Marti Caine, Colin Baker. Barbara Windsor, Dana, Anita Harris, Cannon and Ball, Little and Large and the Krankies There are many others that I have loved watching and I thank them all for enriching our lives .

BB: You must have had some embarrassing moments.

Sam: Too many to mention! My tactic of hugging and kissing people I knew but could not remember their name did cause a number of interesting situations!

BB: Is there any one person from whom you learned anything about the art of showmanship?
Sam: Many great people but, at the risk of sounding very old fashioned when I was managing Middleton Civic Hall my boss was Francis Lee, who drove round in a car which had ‘Britain’s No 1 Super Showman’ emblazoned on it and he was. He was forever pulling off stunts getting massive publicity for our events and for Rochdale Borough including putting a bid in of £1,250,000 for the Loch Ness Monster! I am not sure that there are any more Super Showman these days and the world is a lesser place without them.

BB: Do you have any regrets about the way the industry is going?.

Sam: The answer is in the question. It really is an industry now and it used to be a vocation which is not the same thing, of course.

BB: You have allegedly retired from this amazing business but don’t you miss it?

Sam: My excitement now is looking forward to Our 16th Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse June 4-6 2021. Already booked are Divine Comedy, Embrace, Lightning Seeds, The Christians, Seth Lakeman, Craig Charles and Thrill Collins. I co-founded Wychwood with Graeme Merifield. He does all the work and I just have a ball. To feed my theatre love I have just joined the board of the lovely Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. So life is good.

BB: Many thanks Sam, shall we have that dinner now?

Sam: Great idea, can I have cheese and onion this time?

Sam’s autobiography – PLAY IT AGAIN SAM is still available. Take a look at the Encore! Book store.

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