Auf Wiedersehen, Pet anniversary show raises the roof at Newcastle City Hall

For many in the audience which packed out a hot and crowded O2 City Hall on Saturday night, the 40-year anniversary celebration of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet clearly felt like a long-awaited reunion with old friends.

There's never been any doubt about the enduring popularity of the comedy-drama which started on ITV in 1983, ran for four series and was followed by a two-part special in 2004. Tickets for this event, organised by the Official Auf Wiedersehen, Pet Fan Site, sold out within minutes of going on sale - so a matinee was added, and the same thing happened.

Now those who had snapped up tickets were buzzing as they took their seats - having queued up outside around the block - and once the entertainment kicked off and the cast favourites began to make their appearances one by one, the reception was wild. Love was very definitely in the air.

Nobody knew quite what to expect from this night of nostalgia, other than there would be special guests, big screen clips from the series, anecdotes and some surprises. Local comedian and presenter Alfie Joey turned out to be our host and, in the style of This Is Your Life, he did the introductions and kept chat flowing as the stage steadily filled.

This was the fans' event more than anything, he told us, and there did seem a sense of shared ownership. Many in the audience clearly knew their stuff, immediately identifying snippets of Auf Wiedersehen scenes - all as funny now as they ever were - and even minor characters.

There was heckling, not that you could hear what was said in the party atmosphere and a roar at the sight of each of the core cast members.

The first to appear was Tim Healy, who played Dennis; telling a very funny story about the matinee show where he shared with the audience that Newcastle United had just gone a goal up in the match - not knowing it was then disallowed - so everyone had gone home thinking they'd won.

He was soon joined by Kevin Whately and Jimmy Nail - fellow Geordie brickies Neville and Oz - and Christopher Fairbank, who raised a laugh when he admitted his character Moxey didn't have a clue how to plaster in those building site scenes.

And the four bounced off each other. It was like no time had passed at all.

We'd have loved to see Timothy Spall - the well-meaning Barry - too but the actor was unable to make the night, instead sending a lovely video message. Also on the big screen came happy anniversary messages from Mark Knopfler and Sting.

Those who appeared in person included series creator Franc Roddam and writer Dick Clement - co-author Ian La Frenais sent a video message in his absence - plus Julia Tobin, who played Neville's wife Brenda. And there were so many more, from both the production side to later cast members, including Bill Patterson - the dodgy Ally Fraser - and Lesley Saint-John who played his girlfriend Vicky.

Alongside Su Elliot - Oz's wife Marjorie - the pairings made for a fun rendition of Stand By Your Man in the second half as she, Lesley and Julia were joined during the song by their on-screen other halves. This post-interval part of the event was concert time, opening with the show's three Geordie stars singing the series' theme tune and led by Nail who revived memories of Oz's passion for the music of the American country legend Merle Haggard, even donning a similar blue jacket to recreate the scene where he sang I Can't Be Myself.

Whately was in country mode too, singing John Denver's I'd Rather Be A Cowboy and the three also upped the ante with Knopfler's Why Aye Man. There were many musical treats during the evening, with local musicians Kathryn Tickell and the Wilson Brothers among them and Ray Laidlaw on drums.

And Nail's inclusion of Crocodile Shoes and the beautiful Big River went down a storm. It made for a memorable night.

And throughout it all, their late colleagues were never far from mind. There were touching tributes paid to their fellow cast members Gary Holton and Pat Roach, the last of the 'magnificent seven' workmates Wayne and Bomber, with their images regularly appearing on that big screen behind the stage.

The night also raised money for the charity FACT - Fighting All Cancers Together - and Sunday for Sammy which benefits talented local performers. For such a well-loved series, it proved a fitting celebration: a great event, full of fans, fun and friendship.