Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Perks Family Photo Tin 2

As I trawl through the photos from an old toffee tin belonging to Fran's side of the family, I wonder how many mysteries will I leave behind for my descendants to ponder over in years to come. I can't count on this blog still existing, a century after I'm gone. I'm not sure if anything stored electronically will still be retrievable by then. If you were to go back to 1914 and ask someone then how best to store something safe for 100 years, they would say "Put it in an old toffee tin..." and would probably add, "...and bury it in the back garden!"

One thing has become clear - there's a lot more photos than I thought there would be! Let's have a look at a few. This time most of them will be folks I don't know - family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances?

To start with, there's this. Not a single female other than babies. Plenty of cloth caps in evidence. Some fine moustaches too! This is a mixture of men though. Although the three piece suit is not necessarily a pointer to prosperity - because most men had one for best, what the men wear under all that worsted cloth seems to say this is a gathering of different classes. From the bare-headed gent in the centre with the winged collar and narrow tie to the chap seated to the left of him who wears a closed-necked dark shirt, clogs and a heavy-duty jacket with large buttons.

At the back centre two chaps look like office workers, with lighter suits and ties. They are the only two bare-headed apart from the gent we've already mentioned at the front. Elsewhere we can see neckerchiefs and cravats and a muffler or scarf on the right. A couple of watch chains are in evidence and a briar pipe on the right contrasts with a white clay pipe on the left. A society or works do? The photo is likely to have been taken in Rochdale.

We met the two lads at the back in the last article I think. Frank on the left, the cheeky chap and his brother, the rather more reserved Bob Perks, Fran's Dad, on the right. Two younger siblings (I think!) have joined the family.

It would just kill the atmosphere of some of the photos to clean them up too much! Frank again - a bit younger than in the previous photo. I bet the photographer despaired over the facial expression, but someone loved this photo enough to have it hand-coloured.

Rochdale mill girls at a guess. There's a look of the Brophy side of the family in the girl on the right, it might even be Ellen Brophy, but I'm saying that without even knowing if she ever was a mill girl. If anyone recognises family or friends, please get in touch to advise of names/places/dates etc.

We originally thought this might be Peggy's mother, but her sister said it was another sister and great archivist that I am I can't remember the name she said... This was presented in a frame with metal sides and an oval cut-out, but I've scanned the entire photograph here, uncovering the Rochdale photographic studio name and given it quite a bit of cleaning up. Cleaning some of these photos is almost impossible unless I spend hours and hours on each. Any photo printed on lustre or silk photographic paper shows up either a pattern (silk) or lots of light dots from the raised stipple of lustre paper.

And here's Fran's mum, Peggy herself, seated in the centre of this group who we presume are colleagues. Peggy spent some time as a mill girl, but then ended up (as did Bob and Fran until we got married) working in a leatherworks on Queensway in Rochdale.

Final one for this time shows two children who are total strangers. I don't have any clue who they are. The chap at the back looks slightly familiar though and quite seasonal I suppose. The little lad is hoping for a Hornby train set, but the little girl is just hoping to get away as soon as possible!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Perks Family Photo Tin

I've spent a few hours recently going through an old toffee tin of photos from Fran's side of the family. I suspect a lot of families will have something similar. Maybe an old album, maybe a box, maybe a biscuit tin... It contains photos going back to at least the 1930s and possibly 1920s. Some of the people shown are totally unknown and with next to no chance of finding out who they are unless someone reading this recognises a great aunt or whatever. Some we do know. The main characters binding them all together are this couple...

This is Robert Walton Perks, who we shall call "Bob" from now on. In this late 1930s photo, taken by a Walkie-Snaps operator in Blackpool, he strolls along the Promenade in front of the Central pier with the old 1930s lifeboat house behind him and his sweetheart, possibly by then his wife, Margaret (Peggy) Birch. This is Fran's mum and dad.

Some of the photos - as will be the case with many such collections, thrown together loosely in a tin or box - are in a bit of a state. Many are torn, scratched, dirty. Some are fading to white. A few were not properly fixed during the processing and are fading to black! I'm not expert at this, but I've managed to repair some of the damage to bring back some of the lost detail.

We're not really sure who this lady is. We think it's 1930s. She bears a bit of a resemblance to Ellen Brophy, Fran's Great-Aunt. If it is her, she was instrumental in bringing the young Peggy up as a child.

Here's a family photo, taken after a wedding, judging by the button-holes worn by many in the photo. Perhaps the bride and groom are the couple in the centre of the photo, Clifford Barker and his wife Edith in the cloche hat. Ellen, Edith's sister, is standing next to her in the photo and I wonder whether the little girl, right at the front, is a young Peggy.

In the 1970s I used to collect football coupons, calling in every week to Ellen's house who always asked me in and made a fuss of me if it was raining. At Christmas a glass of sherry would be pressed into my hand (in several houses actually - I was in danger of being over the limit even if I only took a quick sip to be polite!) Sometimes a young girl, my future wife would sit ignoring me on the sofa...

By the time I became more well known to the family Clifford and Edith were in their 70s. He was the elder statesman of the family and was always asked to give a little speech at any occasion, no matter what it was. He would always rise to the occasion, after a modest attempt to decline, saying to me, "I don't know why they always ask me..." Then he would say something flattering and appropriate to the person or couple of the moment and raise a toast to their health, prosperity (or memory...) A lovely gentleman.

By the time Peggy was old enough to work it was only natural that, as a Rochdale girl, she would go to work in a mill. Even I can remember all the mills in Rochdale. My Nana, who had worked as a mill girl used to astound me as a child by sitting with me on the upstairs of a bus, having a conversation with someone at a bus stop, simply by mouthing and lip-reading. Mills were such noisy places that you couldn't hope to hear anyone speak inside one.

Bob, seen here standing shyly next to his brother Frank, hailed from the Wolverhampton area. Born in 1918, in the closing year of the First World War, his background, I am led to believe, was a bit more basic. There's a marked difference in the photos that we think of as Bob's family, than those of Peggy's. Famously (at any rate in the memories of Fran and her brother, also named Bob) he once refused to open the door of his Rochdale home to some of his family who had come all the way from Wolverhampton to see him.

This photo could in all honesty be of Rochdale folk, but we think it is of some of Bob's family. These are what you would call good, honest, heart-of-the-land folk. They've known rough times and have come through them. And though they may well have told Granny to stay in the house out of sight, that's not going to stop her peeking through the curtains and grinning at the camera!

What a shame none of these photos has either a date or a name scribbled on the back... Many of the photos are tiny. Passport-sized dog-eared prints. They don't stand too much enlargement even if they are in focus to begin with!

This is a young Bob standing with ... well, it could be and probably is, his mother and grandmother, but we don't know.

This is quite a poignant photograph from the collection. Bob joined the Leicestershire Regiment of the Army on his 19th birthday in May 1937. His Service Certificate, which we still have, shows that he was stationed in his home country until 14 September 1938. He spent eight months in Palestine then was transferred to India in May 1939 where he spent the first and second year of World War II. On 12 February 1941 he was moved to Malaya, arriving there the following day. One year and two days later, he was captured by the Japanese.

Bob (next to the end on the right, front row) spent three years, 239 days as a Prisoner of War of the Japanese. He spent some of that time in forced labour on the infamous Burma Railway. Whilst not actually working on the bridge over the River Kwai, he did work with gangs cutting some of the clearings. Bob would never speak about his experiences. Just once was he to say privately to me how awful was the treatment given to the native slave workers. Given little food, they had to shin on ropes down cliff faces, plant explosives and climb back up before the charge went off. Many did not have the strength to climb back up and either fell off, or were blown up by the explosion.

Whatever else Bob saw or endured went to the grave with him. Peggy would tease him into his seventies, saying, "Oh, Bob won't talk about the war, will you Bob? What did the Japs do to you?"

"Nowt!" would come a grunt. And I couldn't help but think, "Nowt that you would want to remember..." Bob was liberated on 11 October 1945, was brought home to England the following day and was discharged from the Army in Shrewsbury in May 1946. His testimonial reads: "This man is cheerful willing worker. Honest and sober. Displays intelligence when interested in a job. For more than 3 years was a P.O.W. in Japanese hands."

We'll meet Bob and Peggy again.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Charity Acknowledgement

Received today is a poster from the British Heart Foundation confirming our raising funds of £710 at the gig at Blackpool venue, Coast Riders Diner on 18 October this year.

I expect we will be arranging another charity event for next year - watch the dates feature on the band's page.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Memorabilia Show November 2014

We had a run out today down to Birmingham to meet up with some friends we've come to know over the years. The Memorabilia Show is run twice a year at Birmingham NEC and also has a slot in London. This year it was teamed with a Comic Con - one of those conventions where a sizeable proportion of the visitors dress in costume. There were super heroes, manga characters, Jedi knights, Tuscan raiders, Jawas and a couple of Princess Leias from Star Wars, a few Jokers, a lot of Harlequins (some quite sexy, some quite gross) and a plethora of Poison Ivys from Batman and er... a couple of Lego men...

There were also lots of Gothic horror characters from the likes of Twilight, Hunger Games and so on. Apart from all the weaponry, there were acres of flesh on display, much of it concentrated on just a minority of people... eeeew! Costumes ranged from slinky, to really authentic looking to... yes, well, there was at least one made of painted corrugated cardboard.

It made for a much more geeky Memorabilia than when it was teamed with a sports theme, but we were there to meet some friends we've made over the years, most of whom were first met at such shows.

Caroline Munro (Career highlights [will follow this approach for all artists below]: The Spy Who Loved Me, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Journey To The Centre of The Earth, Dracula AD72 etc) has been a friend since 1997. We first met at a quite early Memorabilia show, when she was sitting with that other lovely star of the big screen, Ingrid Pitt. I remember her days as a model who appeared regularly in Amateur Photographer and Practical Photography in the late 1960s. Then she won a ten year contract starring in adverts for Lambs Navy Rum.

She was the female lead in Golden Voyage of Sinbad and became the only actress contracted to Hammer Films, appearing in Dracula AD72, I Don't Want To Be Born (aka The Monster) and Captain Kronos, Vampire Killer. She memorably eclipsed Barbara Bach, the female lead in the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, playing Naomi, the beautiful assistant to the villain Stromberg. She is memorably killed when pursuing Bond and Russian Agent Amasova when her helicopter is blown up by a missile fired from their submerged car-submarine. Her wink at Bond as she flies past him is always included in the top Bond film sexy moments.

We've had the pleasure of showing Caroline some of the better places to eat in Blackpool and whenever I'm in London we try to meet up for a drink and a natter. A nicer person you just couldn't hope to meet.

Martine Beswick (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, Dr Jeckyll and Sister Hyde, One Million Years BC, A Bullet For The General, Slave Girls, etc) I met Martine through Caroline and spent a couple of hours one afternoon acting as her minder at a signing. She was one of the fighting gypsy girls in From Russia With Love and met a sticky end as Bond's colleague Paula Caplan in Thunderball. She was the brunette counterpart and main rival to Raquel Welch's blonde in One Million Years BC and was the female Hyde to Ralph Bates' Dr Jeckyll in Hammer's Dr Jeckyll and Sister Hyde. Few men would disagree that her dance in the Hammer film Slave Girls (aka Prehistoric Women) is something every man should see before he dies...

Carole Ashby (Chariots of Fire, Octopussy, 'Allo 'Allo, Bergerac, Minder, Dr Quinn Medicine Woman etc.) Carole is probably best remembered as Louise of the Communist Resistance in TV's 'Allo 'Allo. She was one of Octopussy's gang of female circus gymnasts. A real character is Carole - she once had me sitting on her knee for some photos with Helene Hunt, one of her colleagues from Octopussy - how could I refuse...? The first time I met her, a sound technician was feeding a mini-microphone up her shirt and out of her neckline. A tough job, but someone has to do it... She's a delight to talk to.

Shane Rimmer (This could take all day even sticking to the highlights: Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, The Saint, UFO, Rollerball, Space 1999, Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope, The People That Time Forgot, The Spy Who Loved Me, Superman, Hanover Street, Secret Army, Superman II, Ghandi, Superman III, Lace, Out of Africa, Whoops Apocalypse, Coronation Street, Lipstick On Your Collar, Batman Begins, etc etc etc...) A modest Canadian with the oh so recogniseable voice - yes! Scott Tracy from Thunderbirds!!! He has an amazing list of 154 credits on the Internet Movie Database going right back to 1957 (remember Hawkeye and the Last of The Mohicans? I didn't mention at least three other James Bond films and he was in just about every TV series in the 1960s including Danger Man, Dr Who, Orlando, The Saint, The Persuaders, The Protectors, Quiller, Hadleigh... - the man is a legend!

He was in The Spy Who Loved Me with Caroline so I got to know him as he was often sat next to her and we'd chat when she got busy with other fans. He was telling me he has even found time to write a book, a thriller called Long Shot. You can buy it as an Kindle book at Amazon.

Now, this lady I hadn't met before. Margaret Nolan aka model Vicki Kennedy is probably best known for playing the masseuse, Dink, in the early stages of Goldfinger. She too has a list of credits as long as your arm, including A Hard Day's Night, Crossroads, Carry On Cowboy, The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery, Witchfinder General, Nearest and Dearest, Carry On Henry, Carry On At Your Convenience, The Persuaders, Steptoe and Son, Carry On Matron, Budgie, Carry On Girls, Carry On Dick etc. Very friendly and the beauty of that 1960s glamour girl is still there shining out!

Fenella Fielding (Carry On Regardless, Doctor In Love, Doctor In Distress, The Avengers (TV), Doctor In Clover, Carry On Screaming, Drop Dead Darling, The Prisoner, Lock Up Your Daughters etc.) The legendary vamp who played up her man-eating image in a couple of Morecambe and Wise TV shows, Fenella Fielding is the only person featured here that I didn't meet through the Memorabilia shows. I first met her at one of Ingrid Pitt's birthday parties-cum-fan club dinners when, to the envy of all other men in the room, I found myself sitting next to her for the night. There was a very glamorous blonde sitting opposite me too - either Ingrid was looking after me or she was trying her best to get Miss Franny sore at me... Anyway I spent the evening acting what I like to call "charming and witty" and what others like to call "like a prat"... I've met Fenella a couple of times since and she always remembers me - hopefully for all the right reasons! Sorry for the awkward pose, there wasn't a gap in the tables at this point and I wouldn't expect a lady to climb over...

Wow... Wish I could write this sort of article every day lol!

Friday, 21 November 2014

1977 Blackpool Photo Album 7 - The Pleasure Beach

We've done it. We've reached the end of our series from the recently unearthed photo album of Blackpool. The photographs were all taken in 1977 and I hope you've enjoyed looking through them with me. Today we'll be taking a stroll through Blackpool's Pleasure Beach. In contrast with the earlier articles in this series, most of the photos this time have already been seen either on this blog or elsewhere in the past. The consolation is that they all show either rides no longer with us, or ones that were under construction in 1977, so there is something in every photo that you can't see today.

The Monorail is only very recently decommissioned as a ride. But never-the-less, it has gone, never to trundle slowly round the concrete pillars holding up the track. Pictured is the futuristic enclosed train that everyone hoped for. Unfortunately the door seals were so good that after a mere five minutes regardless of whether snow was falling, you were sweltering in the heat from exhaled breath and neighbours' body heat! The springs on the doors were really strong too, so holding a door open with your foot to get some much needed fresh air was an exhausting business!

Just in front of the monorail train and on the other side of the track we see the backs of giant animal figures which overlook a row of children's trampolines. Behind them we can just see the black square hole of a bridge over the Pleasure Beach Express. Two of the Pleasure Beach "woodies" roller coasters can be seen in the background. On the left a curve of the Grand National and to the right, the riser of the Roller Coaster.

We've seen the tall thin column of the Space Tower a couple of times already in this series, but here is the gondola that spun round and rose in a spiral up the tower. It remained in Blackpool until 1993 when it had to come down to make way for the Big One, roller coaster. It was moved to Morecambe's Frontierland and renamed the Polo Tower, being repainted in appropriate colours. It has the distinction of being the last bit of Frontierland standing.

In the same area were these rockets. This was an old ride - I have a photo of me and my brother on it that was taken around 1964. Each rocket had a lever control that raised or lowered the rocket as they went round. Riding high was a more comfortable ride as the angle you sat at was either leaning inwards at the top, in which case gravity counteracted the centrifugal force, or leaning outwards at the bottom which added the gravity force to the centrifugal force and your left shoulder took a bit of punishment against the side of the cockpit!

The Log Flume was an immensely popular ride in its time. It was built over the old boating lake in front of the Big Dipper. There were two long downward ramps during the ride which resulted in the fibreglass log carriage splashing down into the chute that carried the water along with the result that riders stood a good chance of coming off the ride considerably soaked. On the lake itself the motor boats had been replaced by the rafts of the Tom Sawyer Ride. This was a slow ride along a series of scenes that would have been better screened off, with just a few tableaux of mannequins and animals that you might see on the Mississippi. I could say it was a bit like the Mississippi stern wheeler ride at Disneyland - but only if you believe that Mr Jinks and Pixie and Dixie were as good as Tom and Jerry...

In 1977 the Pleasure Beach were making a big thing out of their new ride, currently being constructed on the southern half of the park. This was called the Steeplechase and had three parallel tracks running round a twisting layout with occasional rises to go over the "jumps". A horse-glider that reminded onlookers of the Derby Racer roundabout is displayed whilst work is ongoing so that visitors could imagine what it would be like to ride. On the left is the station of the ride being built.

The Virginia Reel was another superb ride that many people thought of as their favourite. It dated from 1922 and in 1977 would have just five more years to stand. Riders sat around the inside of a tub which revolved whilst clattering around a sloping track that zig-zagged back on itself like a piece of corrugated cardboard seen end-on. A great ride for courting couples - as I recall...

Well there you go... We've been through the pages of this photo album in seven instalments. When I picked out this photo album I had a few to choose from. It wasn't even the only one from 1977. It wasn't even the only one with a photo of the Steeplechase under construction... So this series may have come to an end, but there will be another. Not straight away, perhaps, but then... I don't want to get boring, do I?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

1977 Blackpool Photo Album 6 - Pleasure Beach Area

My photo album of Blackpool photos still has a few pages left to show. Today we are down South Shore, towards the Pleasure Beach.

It's a very different skyline to today's, where the blue and red steelwork of The Big One dominates the view. The column of the Space Tower is the tallest structure on this 1977 photo and instead of a row of shops stretching along Ocean Boulevard, there is open space and the pillars of the Monorail holding up the track.

In the distance is the Pleasure Beach loop of the tram network, a good spot for taking photos of trams as there was almost always two or three trams standing there or moving slowly around the tight curves. Only a minority of trams went down all the way to Squires Gate and those terminating at the Pleasure Beach would go round this loop to swap back to the northward track.

On the extreme right is the bridge over to the Open Air Baths. A sign warns vehicles on the car park underneath: "Low Bridge Height 8ft 10" (2.7m). After a bad storm and high seas that could mean the depth of the water that laps at the bridge. It wasn't the safest place to leave your car in winter as the following shot from February 1983 shows!

We'll nip down to the tram loop and see what's there...

This is a bit of a teaser! Not so much because of the photo of the 1934 "Boat" tram, but for the bit of the multi-coloured Brush tram seen at the left of the photo. This was a specially painted tram celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee year. Something stopped me taking its photo on this occasion, though I can't recall what it was. Maybe my wife was getting impatient, maybe the baby started to cry (she now has a three-year-old of her own!) or maybe the tram simply moved off before I could get a decent shot. So let me dig...

This is the best photo I have got of it and it's partly obscured by a sign. This is a crop, a small portion of a photo taken from the Central Pier on another occasion, this time on colour slide film. The tram had actually been painted in this colour scheme the year before. 1976 marked the centenary of Blackpool as a borough and during that year this tram had commemorated that event.

Still, at least they added the new lettering and the "Long Live The Queen" bit! Funny in a way to think that almost 40 years ago we were celebrating how long the Queen had been on the throne! Since then we have been through the Golden and Diamond Jubilees and seen a whole lot of change.

The album also holds this photo of a 1930s "Balloon" tram. These double decker trams were brought in as replacements for the formidable Dreadnought trams - we saw a preserved example of these in the first instalment of this series.

By 1977 trams were carrying advertisements along the side and a few trams were painted with all-over adverts. In later years these paint jobs covered the windows as well to the annoyance of passengers and the detriment of goodwill, though Blackpool Transport, i.e. the Corporation, raking in the money from the advertising, refused to acknowledge this. The paint went on a mesh over the windows. It was still possible to see through the holes and even if it was darker inside and appeared darker outside, not to mention the strain on passengers' eyes, that was thought good enough by the powers that be - who presumably never travelled on them and tried to look out of the windows...

This however carries a simple banner advertisement for Empire Pools. The National Lottery, which started in 1994, had a large impact on the popularity of football pools, whose heyday was probably during the 1950s and 60s. They were collected house to house by teams of collectors who braved elements and dark nights with bags of money around their shoulders with very little risk of being mugged. I collected coupons for both of the larger firms: Littlewoods and Vernons during the late 60s and early 70s without any incidents. I don't think I'd like to risk it now...

There were several ways to gamble on a football coupon with the most popular being the "any eight from ten" or "any eight from twelve" lines. Against a list of football fixtures (all held on a Saturday afternoon in those days before Sky arguably ruined the sport) you marked an "x" against those matches you thought would be a score draw. The scoring system awarded one point to a match where one of the two teams won, 2 points for a 0-0 draw and 3 points for a score draw. The object was to achieve 24 points from your top 8 scoring attempts which was the Jackpot score with the prize fund shared amongst all punters (if any) achieving it. Football pools were the general public's best chance at winning life-changing amounts of money without going into a bookmakers. In the early to mid 1970s after a few well publicised scandals where collectors had just pocketed money and thrown coupons away in the hope that punters wouldn't win anyway, public confidence in the collectors dwindled and most customers by 1977 either sent coupons off by mail, filling out coupons for several weeks at a time, or picked them up from and returned them with stake money to newsagents shops.

Empire offered a plan of "any eight from 20" with each attempt ("line") costing just one penny. Twenty such lines would cost you 20p per week with a chance of winning tens of thousands of pounds. The odds were far better than those of winning the National Lottery!

The 1937 casino building at the Pleasure Beach has never been a gambling casino. Designed by the Pleasure Beach's architect Joseph Emberton in the 1930s (replacing an equally-loved "casino" building of 1913) it housed restaurants and a banqueting suite and an Art Deco private flat that still exists. Although much altered internally it remains a Grade II listed building and is often described as the north's answer to the De La Warr Pavilion (at Bexhill-on-Sea). The Pleasure Beach monorail used to go round the outside of this building.

This is quite a personal memory jogger for me. This first-floor restaurant is situated between the Lucky Star amusements arcade and the pub on the corner of Station Road opposite the South Pier. In 1977 we lived with my parents in a hotel and guest house. My wife worked in the hotel and at nights after work, I would help out in the bar (hic!) On Sundays the main meal was served at lunchtime rather than evening and that was our free time - Sunday afternoons. Blackpool would be awash with guest house landladies, some of whom would even take off their headscarves and take out their curlers and go out eagerly to share the antics or scandals of the week with their friends and colleagues from other establishments over a brown ale or two.

This was our Sunday evening eating place. In 1977 you could still find pretty young waitresses in starched white pinnies over a black skirt and top. We would order steak cooked well done, believing wrongly that cremation made it more tender... Sometimes we'd get a little giddy and have a bottle of Blue Nun to go with it. Or (where's that bucket...) a bottle of Beaujolais (often called "Bow-jollies" by those trying desperately to impress!) By heck, these were sophisticated days...

Here's a turn up for the books! The photo album features this one photograph of Cleveleys whilst every other photo is of Blackpool! Here we see a Progress Twin-Car, tram and trailer, crossing the junction of Victoria Street West and East in the centre of Cleveleys. There's a lot more traffic lights and paint on the road these days but essentially the scene hasn't changed all that much. The thing that perhaps dates this photo the most is that delicious black and white striping on the traffic light poles. Never really needed much in Blackpool and Cleveleys, but as a young boy in Rochdale on the edge of the Pennines, in winter these stripes told you how deep the snow was... Global warming? When I was a nipper no one - and I mean no one - would dream of driving in winter without a spade and a few empty coal sacks in the car boot in case they got stuck in the snow. No, the coal sacks weren't to put snow in... you put them under the wheels to give a bit of traction to get out of a hole!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

1977 Blackpool Photo Album 5 - Amusements, Pastimes and South Shore

We're turning the pages of a photograph album full of photos of Blackpool taken in 1977, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Year. This is the fifth instalment and there will be at least one more, possibly two before we come to the last page - and look for another album!

Coffin trams Nos.3 and 13 caught side by side at Manchester Square. These were Corporation-built for operation as One-Man-Only vehicles, without the need for conductors. Passengers are queuing to enter tramcar No.3 at the extreme left, a slower process than normal because of the need for each passenger to stop by the side of the driver and exchange cash and tickets. Also at the extreme left we can see the sun lounge of the Craig-Y-Don Hotel. By 1977 most but not all of the hotels on the Promenade had sun lounges built onto the exterior of the outside front wall, creating a room for visitors that afforded views of the Promenade and sea that was warm in all weathers and sheltered from wind and rain. They were starting to creep up some of the side roads also. It only needed one hotel or guest house to go this route and the others would have to follow suit as visitors who had come "on spec" i.e. without booking accommodation before arriving, would naturally head for the ones with modern sun lounges.

The addition of what was in effect an extra room created all sorts of opportunities. Some hotels used this as their dining room giving visitors the chance to watch early morning activity on the Promenade. Many used them as a lounge, with entertainment and a bar. Some used them to create mini waterfalls... flat roofs, you know...

In 1977 much of the Golden Mile was occupying buildings that had existed for many decades. Originally hotels or houses with gardens, earlier occupants had quickly cottoned onto the fact that the garden space could be used or sub-let to hold attractions and stalls to draw the passing visitors. Teas and coffees, amusement arcades, shops selling items for the beach including balls, buckets and spades and stalls selling sheet music. These were particularly popular in those days when almost every front parlour had a piano and would often employ singers who spent the entire day singing the same song, drawing huge crowds who soon learned the chorus to join in.

By 1977 most pianos had been replaced with radiograms and stereos. The sheet music stalls had gone and in their place were markets and mock auctions where crowds would be whipped into a frenzy by barkers and well-placed cronies who would "buy" a bargain and excite the crowd even more until they began to push and shove each other into buying what might turn out to be at best shoddy goods and at worst a box with a brick in it... They were closed down regularly and sprang up again just about as regularly.

Here we see The Washington pub in the background (now Uncle Peter Webster's, although the tiled name still exists). A shop at the end has toys for the beach, postcards and offers developing and printing of photographs in these days of film cameras, long before the digital cameras we have now. Having a film developed and printed could cost up to three pounds fifty pence. This is almost 40 years ago so you can probably easily multiply that by ten at least. You now see why most people didn't take as many photos as you do now! I did, mainly because I was selling photos to magazines during the seventies and eighties.

Next door is an ice cream stall and there are plenty of those left with us today. Again though, times were changing. Walls had introduced the Italian-style Cornetto and the wafer cone it came in had a different taste and texture than the lightly baked biscuit (loaded with "e" numbers to ensure they were all the same colour) cone that was more traditional. People were divided into two camps - those who preferred the new, darker more brittle cone and those who stuck with the lighter and less crumbly traditional cone.

Pastimes Amusements takes up the right hand side of the photo, a typical rectangular box filled with flashing lights and tinkling bells from the row of pinball machines that lines one wall. These were still electro-mechanical. They relied on banks and banks of relays rather than computer chips. Scoring was shown by reels of numbers spinning round. They were sparse of special features and much easier to understand than their counterparts ten years later. So too with one-armed bandits (we call them fruit machines these days). Most were still operated with a mechanical grab bar at one side which was pulled down to compress a spring mechanism which when released would set the reels spinning. You could find a few with a hold feature, but nudge was only starting to be seen, and there were no complicated systems requiring hours of play before you twigged what you needed to do.

Penny pushers were popular and race and roulette games were common. Rifle ranges were plentiful - either with real rifles (usually air powered, but some featured live .22 ammunition) or as a single replica gun attached to a cabinet with moving targets inside. Those ranges with rifles firing projectiles had the rifle muzzles chained down so they could not be swung away from the confines of the range targets, but it wasn't unknown for a range operator behind the counter to feel a sudden pain if he hadn't warned players not to shoot as he moved about! Bizarrely, the arcade advertises that it gives Green Shield Stamps... I suspect these were a feature of bingo games rather than one-armed bandits...

The site of all these stalls and the arcade is now occupied by Silcocks' Fun Palace.

A little further south is the Carousel arcade. This had a brand new large machine which showed film footage of western characters on a large screen and had a stand with a holstered gun which you drew against the film characters. The gun shot a light at sensors behind the screen and depending on your speed and aim (though shooting pretty much anywhere as long as it was at the screen would do) the film gunman either shot you and then looked somewhat apologetic, or you shot him and he would tumble backwards or (towards the end of your five duels) would tumble forwards off the roof of a saloon. This machine also had a push-button "professional" option where cocking your gun before the flash of the gunman's eyes, which was your signal that he was about to draw his gun, would disqualify that shot and whether you were quicker or not, you were shot by the gunman. In real life you would probably have shot your foot off anyway... The Carousel also gave Green Shield Stamps.

The Leisure and Pleasure Arcade was around the area of the Brunswick on the Golden Mile proper. Stalls sell Blackpool rock and cigarettes. Many people still smoked. Though cigarette adverts on TV were banned in 1965, they were shown in cinemas until 1986 and new brands kept appearing during the 1970s. With the growing realisation that smoking could cause disease and even death, many brands such as Silk Cut came out claiming to be "mild". Milder they may have been, but good for you they certainly weren't! Smoking has reduced considerably these days. Many people still smoke but bans at work and in public buildings has forced most smokers to reduce their habit. I was working in Cash & Carries at the time and with long 12-hour days, including overtime, had been smoking between 40-60 Players No.6 cigarettes a day. I gave up smoking at the end of 1976 when we were expecting our daughter. As an added incentive the price of a packet had leapt up to 30p for a packet of 20!

Whilst we are talking prices; from the arcade signs we can see that a game of Bingo with two cards cost 5p, a stick of rock was 6p but you could get 12 sticks for 50p and (what a bargain!) that was the same price as the previous year!

Passing in front of the arcade are a Mini Traveller, with the woodwork reminiscent of a bygone age of shooting brakes, the forerunners of estate cars. To the right, the rear end of a car, either a Morris Oxford or Austin Cambridge is heading southwards towards...

South Shore. Here we are looking from the gardens, across the roadway to the South Pier. The magnificent horse's head sculpture still exists I think behind the ugly modern facade which is a testament to the tastelessness of recent owners. In 1985 it vanished behind a pink and white confectionary of a tent-like structure and awaits someone with a bit of sense to uncover and restore it.

The Beachcomber amusements arcade at the entrance to the pier had for a good decade featured a forerunner of The Carousel's quick draw game. This machine though, instead of film, had a life-sized mannequin of a gunslinger, dressed all in black and with a single photo cell in the middle of his chest. You had to seriously aim well to beat this hombre! Mind you, there were no sensors that disqualified you from cocking the gun early, or even from drawing it and taking a bead on the photo cell long before he shouted "draw!". On this word, the gunman's own gun arm would swing mechanically and somewhat slowly and stiffly upwards. If you were asleep, or were simply a poor shot, you paid the price upon which he laughed at you and challenged any onlookers to have a go. On the off-chance you beat him he said "Ugh! You got me!", but refused to fall down, never mind tumble off a saloon roof!

The gardens in 1977 had a Crazy Golf course. This was just one of several in the town. There was one right down at Squires Gate, one on the southern half of the Pleasure Beach, one in the sunken gardens just north of the Metropole hotel... Some had plastic obstacles, some had wavy lines and bends obscuring the line from tee to the hole. This one was built with concrete obstacles. The players remind us again that the seventies was a good time for knitwear...

Here the telephoto lens has brought the end of the South Pier close enough to have a good look at the facilities. A giant slide had been bought from the Pleasure Beach and installed on the end of the pier. The theatre was still in existence and The Black Abbotts comedy group, led by the popular Russ Abbott, headline with comedian Roy Walker who would have a long spot, bringing the first half of the show to the intermission. There were two shows every night, the first and second "house". The wooden structure of the bar advertises William Younger's Scotch Ales. Visitors from north of the border were frequently incensed at the common use of Scotch instead of the correct Scottish. "Scotch is a drink!" they would say in a fierce tone.

On the landward side of the Promenade just north of the gardens near the Pleasure Beach was the Lucky Star. As I write, it has just closed and awaits a final fate to the great sadness of many in the town. I remember the business in the late 1950s, selling trays with pots of tea for visitors to take across the road to the beach. A deposit secured the safe return of trays and pots. It operated out of a tiny hut, which was added to at intervals until my favourite incarnation in the mid 1960s had a small amusement arcade attached to a cafe with seating and a jukebox. The arcade was destined to grow into the dominant side of the business. Eventually, this purpose-built two-storey building swept aside the wooden structures and I remember it with great affection a couple of decades later as being the last arcade with any decent selection of pinball machines.

Our final photo this time shows the old Open Air Baths opposite the Crazy Golf course. Opened in 1923 this was a popular venue into the early 1970s but, with the proliferation of central heating, folk were becoming less hardy and the pool was filled with unheated sea water. The sea at Blackpool is not known for being particularly warm and you had to be willing to put up with some discomfort if not outright muscle seizure to swim here! It had been for many years the host site for the Miss Blackpool beauty contests with summer season celebrities acting as judges. Its popularity continued to wane until finally it was demolished and the Sandcastle water park venue built in its place.

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