IT WAS fascinating to see within the pages of this organ the other week the reminiscences of former regulars at much missed Hexham “nite-spot” Dontino’s, where I had the honour of being a barman for some months during its 70s hey-day.

The venue was run by larger than life character Donalde d’Adamo, a fast-talking extravagantly quiffed entrepreneur who first made his presence felt when he opened his hair salon Donalde of Mayfair in Fore Street in the 1960s.

He had trained under the legendary Mr Teasy Weasy Raymond Bessone, and shamelessly aped his flamboyant ways and outrageous styles which were lapped up by the ladies of Tynedale in their hundreds.

Always a showman, he used to put towels over the mirrors in the salon, so that his clients could not see just how he had conjured up their bouffant top knots.

After years of success with the scissors, he decided to branch out into the showbiz world of nightclubs, launching what he hoped would be a sophisticated cabaret club where people would dress up to the nines and enjoy a meal while being serenaded by top notch acts.

It never quite worked out that way, but it soon became the place to go, when all the pubs had closed and there was drinking still to be done, and chicken and chips in a basket to be consumed.

Hexham already had one successful nightclub in the Fandango in Back Street, run by former ballroom dancing champions Len and Molly Heppell, parents in law of Newcastle United goalscoring sensation Bryan “Pop” Robson.

But Dontino’s was aimed at a different market and the two ran side by side quite happily.

My stint behind the Donnies bar came in the late 70s when I was called out on strike from the Courant by the National Union of Journalists, and was at a loose end with a wife and three children to feed.

I was bemoaning my fate to the Don, who had a love hate relationship with the Courant over many years.

He had a banner advert on the back page of the paper for decades, but every Friday, when the paper came out, he would be on the phone to complain that the news columns featured one or more court cases involving fisticuffs outside the club in Priestpopple in the early hours of the morning.

“Why have you mentioned my club?” he would demand to know. “No-one can prove that those people fighting had been in my club. They could have come from anywhere!

“If World War Three broke out, you lot would say it started in my club!”

The likelihood of boozed up brawlers waiting several hours after the pubs had closed before waging all out war was irrelevant to him as he railed about the injustice of it all

I like to think we became quite good friends over the years, and he once told me he had booked one of the top singers in Wales to perform in Priestpopple.

“You’ve never got Tom Jones coming to Hexham,” I gasped, but he replied: “No, bigger than him - it’s Ivor Emmanuel!”

Now I recalled Mr Emmanuel starring in a TV show called Land of Song when I was a nipper, and I ventured that the aging Welsh baritone’s coracle may well have sailed as far as Hexham audiences were concerned, but he insisted it would be a great night.

Sadly when I asked how the show had gone, the Don snarled: “ Died on his backside!”

When Donalde invited me to don a dicky bow and work behind his bar, it turned into an experience I will never forget, as the blood frequently flowed as freely as the Tartan Bitter as punters clashed with bouncers on those notorious stairs.

Bar staff had to be there at 8pm, even though the first customers didn’t arrive until after the pubs turfed out at 11pm, and it was then sheer bedlam until 2am.

The Don sat in his armchair, which afforded a panoramic view of the premises, and he didn’t miss a thing.

Woe betide any member of the bar staff who put more than the tiniest sliver of lemon in a Martini and lemonade, as he would remonstrate: “Oi! Cut it thinner - I’m not made of &*%£$ money!”

He would become apoplectic when clearing up after the punters had gone to find empty bumper bottles of cheap cider which crafty girls had somehow smuggled into avoid paying bar prices.

Particularly troublesome and pugnacious punters were sometimes overpowered by several bouncers, and then dragged in front of the Don on his throne, before being sent on their way, to ponder the error of their ways.

It was quite an experience serving clients whom I had previously only seen in the dock of Hexham Magistrates’ Court with the potent drinks that would surely bring them back there again, but they didn’t seem to recognise me behind my dicky bow!