Britain’s most prolific theatre company hits home with Redcoats – a giddy musical comedy diving into the history of a seaside institution
He might not have recognised the selfie stick, but it’s tempting to think that Billy Butlin would have been tickled pink by this rapid-fire excursion through the history of his red-blazered world.
On a portable stage amid the runner beans and apple trees and with a newly-built communal hut serving Thai food, this was high-quality entertainment for everyone’s delight, to paraphrase the entrepreneur.
Knobbly knees, glamorous grannies, singalongs, Skegness and a swimsuit competition with livewire Joshua Considine (below, centre) playing every part – it all tumbled out at St Mary’s Allotments in Leamington Spa.
Mikron’s awesome foursome flitted between characters – Joshua also played a sheep – as they strode through the history of a national institution from its first resort in Skeggy, through war, the (not so) swinging 60s, Billy Butlin’s funeral and beyond.
Interweaving songs, narration, many a joke and some moments of levity, they skipped through the chronology but made it all about the people, the plot revolving around a swansong retirement show for Aunty Lyn, played by Rachel Benson.
Laurel and Hardy made a hat-shedding appearance, as did Marlene Dietrich and Gracie Fields, the cast barely pausing for seaside rock as they traced the Butlins dream. The cast, completed by Christopher Arkeston and Elizabeth Robin (both above), have clearly gelled on their mammoth UK tour, with whirlwind costume and character changes.
Writer and lyricist Nick Ahad drew on his own childhood memories to create Redcoats, and it was an affectionate take that nevertheless considered the holiday chain’s relevance in the digital age.
The selfie stick’s appearance came about as a result of the central tension in the plot, where Butlins has to consider how to tell its own story in the age of Instagram, Facebook and Vevo.
Not quite what Billy, or Lyn, envisaged.
On a warm evening, with rain clouds at bay, Mikron played this old-meets-new theme with a quick-draw, charming and touching jaunt that sparkled in every aspect.
It marked an eighth visit to the allotments by Mikron, on the annual national tour, and they arrived in time for the first public use of a communal hut, which served Thai food, cake and refreshments. Around 120 people attended the performance on Thursday evening, also made possible by a National Lottery-funded car park refurbishment.
The resort’s slogan, Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight, was originally a line by Shakespeare, but here it was a travelling theatre company that lived up to it.
*To catch Mikron on tour click here and for more about St Mary’s Allotments visit here
After a few years away, Much Ado’s writer dusted off his wetsuit for the London Triathlon – the sport’s biggest mass-participation event
Gathering my senses on an early-morning Tube populated by a smattering of commuters nursing coffees and thumbing through screens, I wrest a pair of swimming goggles from their packaging and adjust them over my eyes.
My start time in the London Triathlon meant I had to be in Royal Victoria Dock, in the Docklands on the other side of the city, for 8.10am.
Throw in a last-minute kit malfunction, caused by chucking my previous goggles into the washing machine, and I was sat with Sunday retail workers on the Central Line carriage peering out of a pair of discounted Slazengers.
Reprising my involvement in the world’s biggest triathlon after three years, I was pleased to find that the organisers have fine-tuned many aspects of this terrific event, which is anchored at the mammoth ExCel Centre.
For example, there’s a small marquee inside the hangar-like venue where we received our final pithy, screen-aided instructions, hugged a fellow competitor and received words of encouragement from the briefer before making our way down to the pontoon.
In previous times, this happened in the same spot but without the amplification or cover and it added some intensity before the watery start.
Even though I’m no stranger to the event, I had a sense of trepidation at this point – which I feel always comes with a sporting challenge worth the reward.
Or maybe it was because I had done no specific training whatsoever other than my usual routine of being generally up for a run, bike or swim whenever I can fit it in. That includes a vague ‘run-commute’ or cycle to the office.
Pink swim caps and goggles in place, my ‘wave’ – in my case the Olympic Westminster men – were in the hands of an announcer on a walkway above us before she gave over to a heartbeat sound and then the klaxon.
I took the advice given to people who don’t want to race or emulate Richard Varga and stayed to the side of the pack.
You can just about see your hand in the murky water (it meets EU standards and I’ve never had any ill-effects but it’s best to avoid a mouthful, apparently) and at first I struggled to get my more streamlined crawl technique going as the field began to settle into place.
There’s something thrilling about heading past the Tower of London while the city rises for a leisurely Sunday.
Larger triathlon goggles do give better vision but I doubt there’s any kit that would stop that opening sensation of churning water with the occasional leg or foot flashing by.
As I was leaving the ExCel afterwards, I overheard another triathlete raise a laugh by saying “at one point I was doing front crawl arms and breast stroke legs”.
Working on my own, with no slipstream in front of me, I tightened up my front crawl and pulled level with a swimmer on my right, using him as a marker for a few hundred metres before my natural momentum carried me by.
The Olympic-distance swim is a 1,500-metre, oblong shaped circuit of the dock with large inflatable buoys as markers and lifeguards on kayaks keeping an eye on things.
Clambering back onto the pontoon, I hauled my unyielding wetsuit off with the help of a steward and jogged back to the long metal bike racks that form the transition zone.
The cycle, a 40km ride to Westminster that forms the main loop before another, shorter loop on the same circuit, has always been my weakest discipline.
But there’s something truly thrilling about heading out on closed roads, past the Tower of London and the embankment, while the city rises for a leisurely Sunday.
Diving into the warm Limehouse Tunnel had a hairdryer effect that blew away the droplets and seeing the Houses of Parliament up ahead at the Westminster turning point was triathlon routing at its finest.
Technically, the course is about as flat, smooth and PB-worthy as they come, with only the well-marshalled turning points to worry about. The human blurs zipping past on aerodynamic time trial bikes with the forward-facing bars were making the most of it.
Nevetheless, I was the morning’s slowcoach as I trundled along on a respectable but ageing Bianchi C2C Via Nirone 7 and with a lack of road miles in my legs.
The first tandem bike team I have seen at any of the triathlons zipped past at a phenomenal rate on a hill near Billingsgate, the turning point for the shorter loop.
Working hard wasn’t going to make much of a dent, and I treated the cycle as easing back into my favourite sport after a few years of being distracted by life in general.
“Choose one moment that’s going to be hard and think about what you’re going to tell yourself,” was the well-selected advice at the briefing.
This was mine.
Crowds lining the route and peering down from an overpass provided a welcome lift around the ExCel, where I returned to transition and pulled on my running shoes.
A triathlete in front of me seemed to have only just started the event as he bolted out onto the dockside that forms the start of four run laps equalling the final 10k in the Olympic distance.
I used him as a marker, even though I felt my legs didn’t have the juice.
The laps on a flat and fairly narrow route have cheering crowds, water and gel points and a sound system pumping out club classics that Danny Howard would approve of.
It was a pleasant surprise when I reeled my designated paceman in about halfway into the first lap and overhauled him on a stretch that heads back into the building with a tantalising glimpse of the spotlit red carpet and LCD clock on the finish line.
I’d been monstered by pretty much the entire field in the cycle, after all. Raising my effort level on the final lap, I gave it my all on the red carpet and crossed the line to receive a finisher’s medal that felt like pure gold.
It was my London Triathlon four-peat and slowest time to date, but it felt like rediscovering an old friend and above all, I’ve got the bug for the sport again.
A detailed breakdown of each participant’s times is posted online after they finish.
Mine shows I went 2:52:02, consisting of a 30:37 swim, 1:28 cycle and 43:48 run with a few too many minutes in the transition zone, especially after the swim. Overall, I was 1063 out of 1844 entrants.
It’s tempting to think how I would fair with some more focused training and I’m eagerly casting an eye round upcoming triathlons, looking to break out the Slazengers once more.
To register interest in The London Triathlon 2020 click here
Parkrun is a free, weekly event that has become something of a phenomenon. Much Ado joined the runners, and their faithful companions, in Leamington Spa.
With a youthful brass band, intermittent sunshine and a rather competitive cocker spaniel, Leamington Parkrun had the feel of a village fete with added nylon.
Royal Spa Brass’s youth sections, with a few more experienced hands thrown in, even got a few hands clapping with a rendition of Uptown Funk as a crowd of 466 runners limbered up outside a sports pavilion at Newbold Comyn in Leamington Spa.
Dave Chantrey’s run briefing included a message to be nice to other runners – following a report of some “so not cool” pushing on a previous week – and an effort to reduce plastic cups in the café by encouraging runners to bring their own receptacles from August 31.
The run director also dropped some factoids about the number 433 – apparently a prime number and the maximum score in the defunct game show Fifteen to One.
With the milestoners having collected their bibs, a ritual of every Parkrun nationwide, we were off.
The free, timed, weekly event is a 5k circuit of the currently unused Newbold Comyn golf course. Walk, run or let a dog do (some) of the work – it’s open to all, every Saturday.
It climbs a fairly brutal hill onto a tree-lined path that loops round the abandoned green before winding up on playing fields that make an ideal sprint finish.
But times, and rankings, seemed to have drifted off with trumpet notes by the end.
Ben Parsons ran on his 15th birthday along with mum Amanda.
Ben, who has 104 Parkruns to his name, said: “It was fun, it was a nice run, I tried a slow one.
“The best thing about Parkrun is the community aspect – and beating mum.”
Ben, who has also volunteered 34 times, added that he planned to spend the day playing Xbox.
Mum Amanda registered her 154th run on the morning having first taken part in 2013, and was pipped to the finish by her son.
“You meet lots of lovely people and make some fantastic new friends,” she said.
“It feels like a wonderful community.”
Dog runner James Deeks ran strapped to cocker spaniel Clara – believed to be first dog home in a time of 22:43.
“I always like to run with her, she’s got more energy than me,” he said.
Bonny Landsborough was also among the runners dodging “passive aggressive vegetation” on the course. The keen allotment gardener, 61, has gone from walking three years ago to gain muscle strength to regular Parkruns and her first 10k event earlier this year at the Regency Run, also in Leamington Spa.
“It was a good run, it was hard work as always,” said Bonny.
“It’s just a lovely atmosphere. Two people on the allotment told me to come and you meet lots of lovely new people and feel great after it. It keeps me fit and active…and it’s good for my brain too.”
Cafe stalwart Kate Jackson, known affectionately as Mrs Doyle, was keeping the refreshments, cakes and dog biscuits flowing – as she has done for the past eight years.
Like all the volunteers, she gives up her time for free – and it’s the thirsty Parkrunners grabbing water, tea and squash who make it worthwhile.
“I love it, everyone is amazing and everyone is friendly,” she said.
“I’ve watched it grow from a hundred runners to five or six hundred most Saturdays.
“There is one chap who had never run before February when he went to Ireland, and he has carried on here. You also have plenty of little kids.
“Every month we support a charity – this month’s it’s mental health.
“It’s absolutely marvelous.”
As the runners sloped off in the sunshine, the brass band kept playing.
Led by Emily Stewart-White, the musicians included Royal Spa Brass’s Brass Roots and Buddin’ Brass youth development sections. First place was said to have been wearing a green top, but had long disappeared by the time she leafed over to a Glen Miller number.
Seaside world of red blazers and knobbly knees is headed for an allotment stage in Leamington
A great British institution will be brought to life when Mikron theatre company’s marathon tour hits St Mary’s Allotments in Leamington.
The award-winning troupe, who tour the UK by rail, road and vintage narrowboat, will don the cheerful red blazers to dip into 80 years of the resort.
Holiday huts, bonny babies and knobbly knees are all part of open-air, family friendly show Redcoats, with guest appearances from Marlene Dietrich, Gracie Fields and Laurel and Hardy at the lovingly-tended patch in south Leamington.
The Butlins story is ripe for the allotment’s summery outdoor setting amid the blackberry bushes and apple trees, with Mikron unfurling their trademark mix of fun, pathos and songs.
Founder Billy Butlin had a sense for the theatrical – setting up the Redcoat entertainers and using Shakespeare to sell the seaside dream to the British public.
The travelling showman opened the first holiday park in 1936 in Skegness, intending it as a place of “colour and happiness” in contrast to the drab guest houses he had found on a visit to Barry Island.
The allotments were in existence at the time, with every chance the gardeners would have ventured north to try out the new haven of quality activities and entertainment.
Mikron’s artistic director Marianne McNamara said: “Butlins is all things British, which is what Mikron likes to explore and delve into. It’s seaside resorts, it’s knobbly knees, it’s bonny babies and everybody knows what a Redcoat is.”
Writer and lyricist Nick Ahad drew on his own childhood memories of 14 consecutive trips to Butlins’ Skegness resort – where he was a ‘bonny baby’ winner – to weave a story centering on Destiny, Barry, Lynne and Terrance.
Nick said: “It’s some of my happiest memories, we were really lucky.
“I was from a working class, mixed-race family from Keighley and when I went to Butlins in Skegness I felt like the richest person in the world because I could go on the dodgems for nowt and I could get on the BMX for nowt – and they were the best things ever.
“Some of my happiest memories were created in that seaside haven in the eighties and early nineties. What a delight it’s been to revisit those memories while writing Redcoats.”
Britain’s most prolific band of roving performers, Mikron are visiting the allotments for the eighth year running as part of their 48th national summer and waterways tour.
There’s rarely been a spare spot on the hay bales or plastic chairs during the run, with tea, cake and spring rolls among the refreshments on offer at the alloments as usual this time round.
Over the years, the Yorkshire-based arts charity has raked in the plaudits and in 2016 won the Art & Interpretation category in the 2016 Living Waterways Awards.
The company heads from north to south on its annual tour, performing at venues including pubs, cafes, living rooms, village halls, marinas and dry docks.
This year actor-musicians Christopher Arkeston, Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Robin and Joshua Considine make up the versatile cast, unpacking set, props, costumes, musical instruments and lights before bringing their characters, stories and original music to life.
It’s one of Warwickshire’s most enchanting landmarks, but mythical Guy’s Cliffe has been out of bounds for much of its centuries-old history. An effort to save the crumbling manor and grounds is stripping away the weeds and may uncloak some of its past.
One patch of ground at a time, a mythical, tumbledown mansion is being freed from the grip of the weeds that have choked it for several decades.
Once or twice a week, volunteers lay tentative paths and clear Japanese bamboo from the water’s edge under the imposing, jutting ruins of Guy’s Cliffe house and grounds, which lie by the River Avon in South Warwickshire.
As the foliage and rubble are rolled back, the survival of Guy’s Cliffe as a self-sustaining venue edges closer – along with the tantalising prospect of uncovering long-rumoured tunnels and the remains of a legendary knight.
Beguiling stories of subterranean passageways and rooms are supported by visible hints from the ground such as a sunken archway.
From the other side of the river, the towering building tops appear almost shimmering on a tree-shrouded island.
It’s a crisp Saturday morning when I meet Adrian King, custodian of Warwickshire’s Gormenghast and font of knowledge about the crumbling buildings and grounds.
Guiding me around, the caretaker conjures images of open days, group visits and even wedding ceremonies on the banks of the Avon.
Owned by the Freemasons, the core site is now the focus of the Bring Back Guy’s Cliffe campaign, a concerted, grassroots effort to involve the wider community in the regeneration work, saving a heritage asset that rivals nearby castles and stately homes in legend, if not grandeur.
Looming over us are the Grade II-listed ruins, standing on a site that has scientific interest dating back to the Triassic period – which witnessed the first dinosaurs.
“When I first came here it was like the land that time forgot, it had this mysterious aura about it,” Adrian says.
“You have the links with the legendary figures such as Guy of Warwick and I have to admit when I first came here I didn’t know much about him as he had drifted into obscurity, but then you realise Guy of Warwick is up there with King Arthur.
“Then you have other characters such as John Rouse, a famous antiquarian who lived here and was writing the Guy’s Cliffe story in the Fifteenth Century, so it was old to him then. It shows how far the history goes.”
Used as a meeting place by the Freemasons, the Guy’s Cliffe’s history is every bit as labyrinthine as its physical layout.
The charted history dates back to Roman times, when the secluded cliffs and water were a place of tranquillity and reflection.
Guy of Warwick, a knight and pilgrim, spent his final years living as a hermit in a cave which can still be seen at the foot of the cliffs.
Fortunes dipped after World War Two, with the house and grounds entangled in development and ownership wrangles.
The core buildings returned to regular use in the 1970s, with the Freemasons becoming tenants and carrying out renovation work. In 1981 they took ownership from the then split estate of Aldwyn Porter, Guy’s Cliffe’s former owner.
But another blow came when flames tore through the main house in 1992 while Granada Television used the ruins to film an episode of Sherlock Holmes.
In the aftermath, great slumps of debris further obscured the rear of the house.
Bring Back Guy’s Cliffe, borne out of a ‘friends’ group which still supports the site, is now inviting the wider community to take help make the new chapter a reality.
“There’s a misconception that Friends of Guy’s Cliffe is made up of Masons, which it isn’t, it’s open to everyone,” Adrian says.
“Under a new name and through the use of social media the idea was to throw it out there and get local people involved.
“The idea was to make it a community effort and to open this place up to regular visitation so it can be enjoyed and we can save an old historic site that is part of this area’s heritage.”
Adrian opens up a door into a service area with weathered stone walls.
A filled-in stairway once lead down to rooms and perhaps chambers – the location and purpose of which has long vanished from memory.
My guide opens another door and we pass through the annex and emerge on the other side, facing a blue ribbon of the Avon a hundred or so foot below us.
“Freemasons are perceived as very rich people and once upon a time that may have been true,” Adrian says.
“But they are made up of people from all walks in life and they didn’t come here with a great wad of cash, they came here and put it right themselves through their own efforts.
“They did what they could and continue to try and improve the place through their own resources.
“They don’t have bottomless pockets and the ruin remains a ruin, they can’t do much with it.”
The fabled cave where Guy of Warwick is said to have lived is a fairly unremarkable hole in a base layer of sandstone rock.
There’s little fanfare about the Site of Special Scientific Interest, even its toothy cliffs being obscured by undergrowth.
This is changing, slowly.
It may lead to a tunnel system, it may lead to a cavern, we just don’t know
As we make our way along a grassy trail towards a larger, hollowed-out cave that was possibly a folly, Adrian outlines a tentative vision.
“Obviously Guy’s Cliffe will continue in its use for Freemasonry,” he says.
“By nature of that concern it’s possible for it to open quite a lot in the summer months when it’s a lot quieter for Freemasonry business, and to have regular open days. People could come for picnics, we could have school groups and maybe even weddings. I don’t think we’ll ever throw the doors open and let people wander on in because it’s not that kind of site.
“We’ll never get it fully safe, basically, but we can make the outer grounds attractive and welcoming again.”
Mounds of earth under the skeleton of the former grand house are thought to have buried tunnels, chambers and rooms.
The top of a grand arch can be seen at the head of one escarpment underneath the austere stone facework of the manor.
It suggests that a forgotten level lies under the stone above, which feels monolithic viewed from the river bank.
“It may lead to a tunnel system, it may just lead to a small cavern, we just don’t know,” says Adrian.
“Until we remove the rubble from a lot of these places, we just won’t know.”
It’s a place that begs further exploration.
According to folklore, Guy himself is said to be buried within the cave, though, somewhat incredibly, there has never been a concerted effort to find his remains.
“The tale is that Guy of Warwick was buried in the cavern that he lived in,” Adrian says.
“That’s still there. Are there internments in it, who knows? There’s never been any ground penetrating radar or sample dig lower down. There may well be someone buried in the ground, but I don’t think they will have been buried conventionally.”
The slayer of the Dun Cow could become Warwickshire’s own Richard III – the English king found in a car park by experts from the University of Leicester – though he is holding fast for the moment.
“There are hints and possibilities of things underneath this property that there’s more to come,” Adrian says.
“Who knows what we’ll find. I’m a believer that tunnels do exist, there’s evidence of old tunnels across the site.
“All around the world there’s evidence of civilisations that used underground systems and with the history of Guy’s Cliffe that’s possible here.”
We retrace our steps back into the slice of courtyard and make our way up along a ridge that rises above the rear of the house and grounds. Chattering birds, grassland and a sense of calm are replacing fallen trees and pieces of scrap metal.
Adrian shows me where the undergrowth has been cleared, with footpaths being laid near a viewing platform that looks out across Warwickshire.
Using old depictions of the site, they are pooling their own resources along with small grants and assistance from charities and trusts to restore and enhance the landmark.
Picnics and riverside walks will take in rare wildlife and bio-diversity under their plans.
But the enigma of Guy’s Cliffe will likely remain a time longer.
Asked why he devotes so much time to the site, Adrian says: “We have dug as far down into the history as we possibly can with the research and amassed as many old images as we can, but we’ve not even completed that.
“There’s the extensive history, and the mystery of it.
“It’s so close to the town, but it’s the land that time forgot.
“We haven’t solved the puzzle of it yet and for someone who is interested in the paranormal, you have all those things combined.
“All we know is that there are yet more things to come.”
It’s a work in progress, but this deeply mysterious trove of history is beginning to open to the world, one patch of earth at a time.
*For more information about Guy’s Cliffe and to volunteer,click here
Any notion that Will Young is shouldering pop industry baggage was dispelled with a flick of the hips in a riverside Warwickshire park.
Radiating a slight air of abandon in crisp naval-white shorts with gold band and an 80s-style faux tie-dye pullover, this was a Sunday stroll of the musical variety.
There was a touch of George Michael about the headliner at Tom Kerridge’s three-day Pub in the Park bash, the first in Warwick, and something altogether different from the product of the reality television machine.
With his stubble and baggy half-zip sweater, the two-time Brit Award winner soon had the crowd swaying, with kids on shoulders and dad dancing on the grass.
Slightly camp but always perfectly on-key and in harmony with the seven-piece band behind him, the singer was a playful, cajoling presence on the stage
A shimmy and snaking hips were added by Young to opener Love Revolution, his vocals caressing and rising with an irresistible soulful edge.
A sing-a-long came a couple of numbers later with Light My Fire as he elicited an easy refrain from the crowd as the sun lowered over the stage.
“I love my top,” he told the crowd. “Very sweaty.”
The stage school graduate breezed around the stage, occasionally turning to face the drummer, guitarists and two veritable gospel singers who helped give rise to some stirringly uplifting moments.
For all the waving and light jesting – including a hip thrust and a reference to some naughty behaviour on stage in Leicester – he painted with a full palette of light and shade on Who Am I.
On Grace, the full complement of musical elements on the stage combined for a rousing, soulful number that had a staccato, rock’n’ roll ending.
It was controlled power from a Wokingham boy endearing himself as if serving up food at a family barbecue.
“Concerts are a very good time for pickpockets my family tell me,” he teased.
Lexicon, Young’s new album, addresses some of the hurdles the 40-year-old has faced in a career that has included winning Pop Idol in 2002.
But this was a mellow Sunday from a gregarious soul.
“Happy Pride everyone,” he wished the crowd, before taking a bite out of a cupcake passed up by a fan.
“Gay Pride is wonderful, everyone can be themselves, it’s just the best thing no matter what you want. Maybe you want a cupcake.”
A disco edge to My Love, from new album Lexicon, with its electro synth intro, took things about as uptempo as the set went, further displaying Young’s vastly matured range.
Jealously, from 2011 album Echoes, had hands and voices raised among the crowd.
Leave Right Now prompted another sea of waving hands and crowd harmonies as a vastly talented but effortlessly charismatic talent rounded off the festival.
Host’s cash-truck drive, couple made £161million richer and tens of thousands of good causes are part of the anniversary
Bounding out of a cash truck onto the BBC studio floor, Noel Edmonds began a national institution that has lasted 25 years and created more than 5,000 millionaires.
Across Britain, more than 22 million viewers tuned in as the host skipped into frame after being shown driving the National Lottery draw machine and £3million in cash across London Bridge in a high-security convoy.
Going live in a ‘90s boxy grey suit, flamboyant gold-and-black tie and trademark bouffant hair, the show’s anchor man wasted no time bringing ‘Lottery fever’ to the boil from Studio One in Television Centre.
“You could be a millionaire within the next hour,” he told the audience.
“The media have called it ‘Lottery fever’, the nation has been gripped and quite rightly so and over the coming weeks BBC television will be travelling throughout the UK exclusively bringing you the Lottery results.”
Last-minute queues formed for tickets, with half the population waiting expectantly
Twenty-five years on, the National Lottery is marking the anniversary by recognising the best-ever projects funded by the millionaire-making game.
It all began with huge anticipation ahead of the first draw.
In the weeks leading up to Edmonds’ burst onto the stage, National Lottery fever swept newsagents and supermarkets across the country.
A bride in Birmingham even stopped off on the way to church to buy a £1 ticket for the inaugural game, which had a jackpot of £5.8million.
Laura Latimer’s wedding car pulled up outside a newsagent’s near her home in Little Aston while she placed her six numbers.
The bride, then 25, jumped back in to marry insurance underwriter Ivan Barnsley.
As excitement built in the hours before the launch show, the £1 slips were selling at a rate of £1million an hour until the tills closed at 7.30pm.
Many players went back to place a second wager after the total pot rose almost three times above the £2million originally predicted.
Last-minute queues formed for tickets, with half the population waiting expectantly to see if their numbers would deliver the goods.
Even The Queen was said to have spent £10 on stakes.
The feverish anticipation saw players staking a total of £45million on 25 million tickets.
“Everyone wants a piece of the action,” the National Lottery’s operators Camelot said at the time. “The whole nation has gone Lottery potty.”
Live from the BBC TV Centre in London, Edmonds ramped up the tension, with millions more people tuning in to the hour-long show on the radio.
In a pre-recorded opening sequence, he was shown driving the high-security cash van over London Bridge, during which he waved a finger at the camera and told the watching millions: “it could be you!”
As the action cut to the studio, Edmonds leapt from the vehicle before quipping about making two laps of Piccadilly Circus.
“No amount of money in the Lottery would make me not be here this evening for a moment of television history,” the drawmaster said.
“Yes, the National Lottery live, exclusive to BBC television.”
Anchoring a trio of presenters, Edmonds then pushed a last-minute rush to the tills.
“All the records have been broken, all the experts’ predictions have been broken, I promise you when we tell you how much money you could win tonight, you are going to be seriously surprised,” he said.
“There are over ten thousand outlets where you can buy your Lottery tickets, there are supermarkets, petrol stations, off licences, even the little corner shop.”
Co-presenter Anthea Turner broadcast live from a Tesco store in Nottingham, where an exuberant crowd included a man in a Robin Hood costume.
In pre-recorded edits, Turner also explained to viewers how a percentage of each ticket would be given to good causes, including heritage projects.
Gordon Kennedy, live at Camelot headquarters in Hertfordshire, made up the presenting trio and was shown walking into a newsagent’s to fill in a slip after telling viewers how the first lottery was set up in 10AD by Augustus Caesar.
One of three draw machines, Merlin, was selected by an audience member to make the draw – leaving Guinevere and Lancelot waiting in the wings.
In the studio, bursts of audience interaction included knockout games to find the first person to start the draw machine, with Debbie Walsh, of Northwich, Cheshire, receiving the honour on her 18th birthday.
The studio guest donated her £1,000 prize to a hospital scanner appeal.
The first National Lottery draw was made at 7.55pm on November 19, 1994, with the £5.8million prize representing the nation’s biggest wager at that time.
With excitement at fever-pitch, the plastic balls 30, 3, 5, 44, 14, 22 and bonus number 10 rolled into the see-through chamber.
Almost simultaneously, the numbers flashed up on Cilla Black’s Blind Date on ITV.
A hotline number operated by Camelot – 0645 100 000 – was flooded with calls as soon as the winning balls rolled out for the first time.
The first draw failed to make someone a millionaire and instead, the much-anticipated event resulted in seven people scooping a share of the £5.8 million jackpot.
Each lucky winner took away just short of £840,000.
Among those to go down in history as one of the first lottery winners were Julie and Ken Southwell from York. Ken, from Acaster Malbis, often appeared on TV shows and in magazines after his lottery win, the Mirror reported.
He once joked: “I now have a bank manager who phones me and says, ‘Hello Ken, it’s Simon. How are you getting on?’ This is the same guy who would once have happily sentenced me to a public flogging.”
Ken died at the age of just 46 in 2006.
The dad-of-three, who scooped £839,254, knew he was dying and ‘wanted to celebrate the good times,’ according to Mirror.
A friend of Ken’s, recalling the night he won the jackpot, said: “We bought him a keg of lager but then he had to borrow a tenner to get his round in.
“He paid back his pal with a holiday in the Caribbean – that was the sort of fella he was.”
The player to scoop the biggest single win in 1994 was dad-of-three Mukhtar Mohidin, whose numbers landed him £18million. He made history by becoming Britain’s first National Lottery multi-millionaire and rollover winner.
Mukhtar, who was working in a factory in Blackburn, now takes his place among more than 5,100 millionaires created by the game to date.
Mystic Meg, who predicted winners’ house numbers, star signs and clothes, became part of the format as the show went on location in the weeks after the launch.
Security guards and fencing had to be deployed after the draws attracted huge crowds, including 8,000 people at the first outside broadcast in Sheffield.
Ulrika Jonsson, Dale Winton, Carol Smillie, Eamonn Holmes, Myleene Klass and Jenni Falcolner would be among those picking up presenting duties on the weekly draw and spin-off shows over the years.
One hiccup along the way was when the ball machine malfunctioned on November 30, 1996. Bob Monkhouse had to tell viewers that the numbers “might come up during Casualty”.
Mystic Meg later claimed she had predicted the glitch.
Kelly Brook teased the public in 2013 by posing naked in a pool of numbered lottery balls, promoting a Saturday draw with a prize of £10million.
The shoot recreated a scene from 1999 Oscar-winning film American Beauty, where actress Mena Suvari lay naked among rose petals.
To date, winners have splashed out on mansions, long-haul travel and luxury cars, as well as tarantulas, an acre on the moon and a neighbour’s house, which was turned into a pub. In the West Midlands, ticket holders whose stars have aligned include an 18-year-old who landed £22million in 2013.
Tom Naylor and his wife Rita moved from Wednesbury to South Staffordshire after their £15.5million win in 2001.
Bill and Cath Mullarkey, from Coventry, also upgraded in style, buying a new home in St Lucia, complete with rooftop terrace, jacuzzi and 31ft boat, after their stake landed £1million in 2018.
But they are all eclipsed by Colin and Chris Weir’s biggest-ever UK win of £161million in July 2011.
The couple were instantly catapulted into the list of Scotland’s richest people but remembered the community around them as they invested in Partick Thistle football club and launched the Weir Trust, their philanthropic venture.
The BBC stopped screening the live draw in January 2017, moving the show to its digital iPlayer service as ratings dwindled to around three million.
ITV revived the primetime Saturday night slots the following April, with Stephen Mulhern fronting the first show during a break in Britain’s Got Talent.
Funds have continued to pour in to charities and other good causes thanks to the National Lottery players, who have helped raise more than £39billion for over 535,000 projects to date.
The wide-ranging awards include support for arts and heritage groups in the run-up to Coventry City of Culture 2021 and community projects run by the Pat Benson Boxing Academy in Birmingham.
Nationally, the millionaire-making game is allowing athletes to follow their dreams – all the way to Olympic gold medals.
The Lotto, as it was renamed in 2002, retains around 1% in profit from sales, with 95% of total revenue going back to winners and society. The main areas the game funds are community, arts heritage and sport.
Evolving into the digital, multi-platform age, the National Lottery has spawned a host of spin-off games include Euromillions, Set for Life and Thunderball. The main Lotto now takes place every Wednesday and Saturday and costs £2 per play.