Bruce?s fond memories
By MITCHELL DALE
MOST people think Channel Nine's Footy Show pioneered the idea of rugby league players dressing up in women's clothing.
Long before Paul Vautin, Matt Johns and Peter Sterling raided their wives' closets for a gag, 1948-49 Australian Rugby League Kangaroo Tourists Bruce Hopkins, Wally O'Connell and Keith Froome were donning dresses and miming to musical classics of the time.
They were pretty good at it too.
In fact, the trio made more money from performing their music act than from playing football according to Hopkins, who bought the lease for the Pier Hotel in 1976 and has been a Coffs Harbour resident ever since.
The idea started on the 1948-49 Australian Kangaroo tour, after the Australians were entertained by a group of Frenchmen performing acts to swing group The Andrews Sisters.
"The trip back home (by boat) took about six weeks so I bought a wind-up gramophone and some records and we worked on an act," Hopkins said.
"We would dress up like Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters and mime to the music.
"We practiced in our cabins and volunteered to perform (for other passengers)."
After the act received rapturous applause from their audiences at sea, Hopkins contacted league fan and owner of Sydney's popular Celebrity Club, Joe Taylor after arriving home in 1949.
Taylor invited the trio to perform at his club and the rest is showbiz history.
The three members of Off The Record, as they became known, ended up earning around 50 pounds a week each to perform at the Celebrity Club and another 50 pounds a week as top billing at Sydney's Tivoli theatre.
"It was pretty big money in those days, I think the basic wage was about six pounds a week," Hopkins said.
"It was certainly more than we were getting playing football.
"The Tivoli actually asked us to tour with them to Melbourne and Auckland, but we refused because the football season was starting."
Unfortunately, memories such as these are about all Hopkins has to remember from a glittering football career.
When he was moving house around 15 years ago, Hopkins had all his football jerseys stolen.
"When we finished unpacking I realised they were gone," he said.
"It's sad not to have them, I would like to still have at least one of my old jumpers."
Hopkins, who was Canterbury's first Kangaroo tourist, still keeps a close eye on the game and is looking forward to catching up old teammates and other former stars at Friday night's Men of League dinner at Coffs Harbour Catholic Club.
"I only found out about Men of League last year, so this will be my first year," he said.
"I am really looking forward to catching up with some of the guys, I don't know if any of the players from my team are going, but I know some of the other guys anyway.
"Men of League do a very good job in helping out former footballers so it is great to be a part of."