When I was a teenager, a couple of friends and I used to jump on a train and head over to the bright lights of Clacton-On-Sea if we had a sunny school holiday with nothing better to do. It was a good place to get away from the parental units for a day, and generally misbehave. We’d hit the arcades, egg each other on into buying cheap lagers from the Spar on the esplanade, and try and desperately fail to talk to girls.
One event we always managed to fit into our itinerary was a visit to the Alhambra. This was a shabby cinema/theatre, tucked away in a side street. It had a bit of a reputation for showing obscure horror and sci-fi, and my friends and I made a habit of checking out what was on.
But if we were lucky, we would be in town while the management of the Alhambra made one of their regular attempts to pick up some of the spill-over crowd from whoever was playing at the pier theatre (Bobby Davro normally, if memory serves.)
Now. The management of the Alhambra had some strange ideas as to what constituted good live entertainment. Downright … bizarre ideas. Which was why me and my mates were always enthused when we crossed into Harold Road from the Marine Parade, to see signs up announcing the triumphant return of the Amazing Derek.
The Amazing Derek’s shows were short, sharp, and to the point. They were free to get in (the management made money off the concessions stand. We certainly ate our bodyweight in Revels whenever we pitched up) and lasted no more than ten minutes. It was closer to a sideshow in a fair than any proper theatrical venture. None the less, we scampered up, bought our chocs and settled down in the worn red velvet seating for the show.
The Rocky theme would blare out of rattling speakers, and Derek would stride out on stage. He was a short, wide man with a curious ruff of ginger hair nestling round the base of his skull. He wore a red silk dressing gown. On the back, wonky gold lettering proclaimed “THE AMAZING DEREK NOBODY DOES IT BETTOR”. The crowd, well, the three teenage boys in the front row, went nuts.
His stunning assistant, whose name I never did find out, then stepped daintily onto the stage. As daintily as you could do when you were dragging a heavy wooden sawhorse, anyway. She placed this in front of Derek. Then she dug in a hidden pocket of her costume (way too small and tight for a woman of her effusive dimensions, but she had our undivided attention while she struggled with her bustier) and after much drama and groaning of tortured fabric, produced a blue sateen bag. With much ceremony, she took three walnuts out of this bag and placed them carefully on the sawhorse in a line.
She withdrew. The lights dimmed a little.
Derek slipped his robe off.
I could describe the explosions of ginger hair that blazed over his chest and back. I could describe the taut firmness of a belly that had clearly made good friends with the Hofmeister Bear a long time ago. But really, all anyone was looking at when Derek disrobed was his gigantic penis. He was enormous. I mean, jaw-droppingly huge. His cock was as thick and wide as a police truncheon. It swung gently from side to side as Derek paraded across the stage, making sure the whole audience got a really good look at it.
Inevitably, this was the point where there were walkouts. We always stayed. We knew what was coming.
Derek positioned himself in front of the sawhorse, and grasped his manhood firmly. Then he lifted, and swung. CRACK. The walnut on the left shattered. Derek swung again. CRACK. There went the walnut on the right. CRACK. The walnut in the middle, sending nut-shards all over the delighted teenage boys in the front row. He stood back, to let us admire his feat of strength and dexterity, and then the curtains came across again. We would be on out feet by then, applauding wildly, but he never came out for an encore. We didn’t really need it. The act was perfect just as it was.
Last summer, I was at a loose end on a day off, and quite out of nowhere decided to visit Clacton. Have a wander around, have an ice cream, watch the sea. An aimless, nostalgic kind of a day.
Quite by chance, I found my route led me back along Marine Parade to Harold Road. I smiled, and thought I’d take a look and see if the Alhambra was still there.
It was. Not only that, but a faded banner outside declared “!!!TODAY LIVE IN PERRSON THE AMAZING DEREK!!!”
It couldn’t be, could it? I had to find out. Entrance was 50p, a concession to straitened times. The spotty girl at the concession stand seemed uninterested in my stories of past visits, and had no idea if this was really the same Derek. I slipped into the cool dark interior of the auditorium. The seats were a little more worn, but just as I remembered, and the seat I always took in the front row was free.
As I sat, the Rocky theme crackled out and the curtains opened. The Amazing Derek strode out on stage. He was a little plumper, and the ginger ruff had gone white. But it was clearly the same man I had seen twenty-five years earlier. The assistant, also the same, dragged out the sawhorse. I could hear her costune complaining from the immense strain it was under. But now she ducked back into the wings, bringing out a Tesco carrier bag. Out of this, and with great ceremony, she produced three coconuts, which she placed with the same care on the sawhorse.
She withdrew. the lights dimmed a little.
Derek slipped his robe off.
The ginger explosion had gone white, the belly had a bit of a sag to it. But Derek’s cock was as long and thick as ever. The damn thing could have qualified as an offensive weapon.
He took up position, and grasped his manhood firmly. Then he lifted, and swung. BAM. The coconut on the right exploded in a shower of white flesh and juice. BAM. The one on the left did the same. BAM. The coconut in the middle burst into pieces. I was picking coconut out of my hair all the way home. It was extraordinary. He stepped back, and the curtains fell.
I couldn’t help myself. I snuck backstage, and introduced myself as a lifelong fan. Derek was charming and polite. His voice was Essex gravel, but he was intelligent and erudite, if a little amazed that anyone would have remembered him. His stunning assistant Charmaine, his wife of thirty-seven years, made us all tea.
“I’ve got to ask,” I said eventually. “When I was a kid, it was walnuts. What made you upgrade? I mean, it makes for a better show, but what made you think of it?”
Derek smiled, and dug in the single pocket of his robe, producing a small pair of glasses which he perched on the tip of his nose.
“Thing is,” he said, “my eyesight’s not what it used to be.”