The golden age of Kirkcaldy nightlife

It was the era when Kirkcaldy was the place to be at the weekend.

By Paul McCabe
Friday, 16th August 2019, 4:20 pm
A kids party in Jackie O
A kids party in Jackie O

In Jackie O and Bentley’s not only did the town have two of the most popular clubs in the Kingdom, they attracted late-night 80s revellers from all across the UK.

And there through it all was Roger Howell, who worked as operations manager for Dean Entertainments and Kingsway Entertainments, who, as well as owning the Kirkcaldy clubs, also had Buddies in Dundee and ran a free bus there from the Lang Toun.

“My background is hotels, pubs and nightclubs,” Roger said.

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Roger Howell with Ian Botham

“I started off with my own hotel which was the Greenmount in Burntisland in the 1970s.

“Then I sold it and went to become operations director for Dean Entertainments and Kingsway Entertainments. When I started I was part-time because I was also working at the Raith Ballroom.

“So I was with the Caira family for the best part of 20 years. They sold out a couple of times and I rejoined them.

“To be honest, if they hadn’t sold out for a final time, I think I still would have been there to this day.

A bodybuilding competition at Jackie O

“They were first class to work for.”

Roger calls the hugely successful Jackie O “the jewel in our crown” adding: “It was a wonderful place.

“It was always busy and it never changed,” he said.

“We kept it that way because when you have a winning horse you don’t change the jockey!

Kirkcaldy's Neena Gadhia is named Miss Dundee at Buddies in the 1980s

“We just kept it going. We were meeting friends every night. We had our usual customers coming in, you knew everybody.

“People came from all over Britain too.

“We had buses coming from places like Nottingham and Newcastle.”

As well as their regulars the clubs also enticed its fair share of celebrities over the years, from sports stars such as Ian Botham to singers including Jason Donovan.

A fashion show at Jackie O in the 1980s

“It cost a lot of money to bring them in and you had to make sure they were looked after,” Roger says.

“One of my highlights was when we had Gloria Gaynor. Getting her was a big plus.

“When we were driving her about she was always reading this book which had just a plain cover.

“I asked what it was and she said, ‘Roger, this is the good book’. It was the Bible she was reading.

“That’s all she read and she had it with her wherever we went.”

Unfortunately the good times couldn’t last.

Roger Howell with Liverpool players Ray Houghton, Ronnie Whelan and John Aldridge.

Roger says it was the late 80s when he noticed the difference.

“Music was starting to change but what really didn’t help was pubs getting a 4 o’clock licence.

“People didn’t start coming out until 12 o’clock then, so that really was the nail in the coffin.

“I don’t think it’ll ever come back.”

Roger also points to a £5m facelift for Bentley’s in 1980 – almost £14m in today’s money.

“People would never spend that kind of money on their place now.” Before retiring Roger also had 15 years as general manager of the Penny Farthing pub and is now back happily working in facilities management for Fife Council, though he says the transition took a bit of getting used to.

“I had retired but after a year I couldn’t hack it.

“So at first working nine to five was odd.

“I would get home and think ‘why am I here, I should be somewhere else’! But I’m used to it now.

“A lot of people would think that they would have been able to do what I did back then, but not everybody can.

“There were a lot of long hours, getting home at 4am and you had to have a smile for everybody.

“You need to be a special individual to do it and if it was in your blood you could.”

He adds: “That time is past now but it was a lot of fun and I have a lot of great memories.”

The Penny Farthing celebrates its 21st birthday.