In a separate thread of Mum’s child-rearing philosophy, she insisted that I would one day be at the firm’s dance and need to be able to dance with the boss’s wife. So I needed to learn ballroom dancing to impress that wife, perhaps even whisk her off her feet.
I agreed to attend the John Wayne and Irene Toft School of Dance, held in a studio above the Embassy Cinema in Queens Road. The teachers were the spitting image of the two yellow-coat dancers in the 1980s TV comedy Hi-de-Hi! I agreed because they also taught jive, twist, madison, bossa nova and the almost weekly new dance crazes (this was the early 1960s).
Another side benefit of attending dance classes was that they were held above the Embassy Cinema in Clifton which was at the time running an almost continuous fare of Hammer horror films. Opposite the entrance to the dance studio was a door that gave (unauthorised) access to the cinema’s ‘gods’ so we had free entry to see these cult movies.
Prior to these lessons I used to meet up with a fellow ‘student’, Martin Butt, at his parent’s small private hotel on the right side of town and we would spend an hour unsuccessfully trying to grease our hair into a DA. We were such rebels! One week we even arranged both to pay our 2s 6d tuition fee in ha’penies! We probably thought that was ‘fab’ or ‘gear’, the favoured terms back then.
|ASIDE: Martin had a Triumph Tiger Cub motorcycle that I certainly could not afford at the time. I had to wait years for it; my son bought me one to restore for my 60th birthday. It was a labour of love (pictured above when finished) and a dream fulfilled – thanks Matt!|
One girl who went to the dancing school, Angela Maidment, announced a party at hers on a Friday night. It happened that I and John Daffurn, another dancing devotee, were placed in detention for that night. Cotham Grammar School’s detention approach was for you to tackle a set of arithmetic problems using eight-digit numbers that you had to divide or multiply longhand; once you had solved them all, you could go. With no calculators back then, it was extreme drudgery. John and I finished and discussed whether to bother to go to the party, particularly as we understood most of the girls were already ‘spoken for’. Fortunately we eventually chose to do so –this was when I met my future wife.
At Angela’s Primrose Hill party I was dressed in my full regalia – gold jeans (with turn-ups!), a green mohair jumper with a white stripe across the chest, worn over a maroon and white broad-striped shirt with long pointed collar, finished off with a knitted Sammy tie (I don’t recall the colour because I owned a set of them). As if to justify that shirt colour, I wore maroon elongated chisel-toed shoes. And, of course, I had tried to Brylcreem my hair into a DA. What was Jane thinking even talking to me? But there is little logic in the coup de foudre that we both experienced.
My friends didn’t help. Seeing I was getting on well with the prettiest girl there, they let down the tyres of my trusty New Yorker bike. I had no pump with me so I had to push it to Jane’s house and then the four miles home.
When we met at that post-detention party Jane was still fourteen and I was fifteen. We agreed to meet the next night at 7pm outside the Odeon cinema near Bristol Broadmead. We planned to see the second Bond movie From Russia with Love but when Jane mentioned this to her mother, she considered it was too ‘rude’, and Jane was not permitted to see it.
That Saturday I was participating in a canoe slalom at Poultney Weir in Bath.
|ASIDE: To the right of the weir was a small lock gate that could be used as a relief valve. It had one small gap during our slalom, well below the water level and too small to pass through, with a powerful pull. I capsized above it and had difficulty getting out of its thrall. This would inspire the opening sequence for my first novel, ‘Still Water’.|
I finished my second run and realised it was going to be close-run if I was to make our date – no mobile phones back then. A friend with a motorbike recklessly sped me the fifteen or so miles back to my home which itself was some three/four miles north of the cinema. I changed but had no time to wash and ‘Henry Cooper’s’ Brut wasn’t launched until the following year. During the day I had capsized into the Avon several times so my personal daintiness must have been questionable.
We lived off Filton Avenue, a spur from the major local bus routes, and when I ran to our local stop there was no sign of a handy bus. I ended up running along the route for over half a mile to reach the main Gloucester Road. Finally, I caught a bus to arrive twenty minutes late expecting Jane to have long gone, but very fortunately she hadn’t! Something must have clicked as I am writing this more than fifty-five years later and we are still together!
|ASIDE: I have only just realised the significance of cinemas in my early years – my accident coming home from the Cabot (above); Jane and I met through the Embassy cinema; we had our first date at the Odeon cinema; she lived adjacent to the Whiteladies cinema. Years later she passed her driving test in a test centre next to the Orpheus cinema. We also habitually visited the Scala cinema which showed some very different films. Only the last mentioned cinema still exists, albeit under a new name.|
|One Scala presentation that sticks in my mind was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Marat Sade’. The Marquis de Sade was declared insane and committed to the Charenton Lunatic Asylum in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris. He was allowed to put on his own and others’ plays for the delectation of the Napoleonic elite of Paris. The movie depicts him organising the presentation of a play about the death of Jean-Paul Marat at the hands of Charlotte Corday. The inmate playing Corday had sleeping-sickness and the warders routinely had to prod her awake. The inmate playing Marat was a sex maniac and had to be beaten back away from Corday, the movie climaxing in a riot. This most uninspiring of cinemas, considered a local flea-pit, really stretched our minds with its choice of films.|
The dancing lessons would later come in handy when Jane and I were in the live audience of a local television show, Discs a Go-Go at TWW (Television Wales & West) in 1965. This was presented by Kent Walton, then a DJ and only later to gain fame as the Saturday afternoon presenter of wrestling on ITV’s World of Sport.
Discs a GoGo was broadcast in black & white (1961-1968), instead of Pan’s People they had an illustrated cartoon fox featured in a series of stills to fill the void of non-appearing artists.
It was perhaps best known locally for a couple who attended every week who were, in the mid-1960s, already anachronistic; like my step-uncles they were hanging on to the Teddy boy clothing well beyond its era. He wore a drape coat, drainpipes, and brothel-creeper shoes and had an amazing DA. She had a bouffant hairdo and a long, full skirt puffed out by many layers of stiff net petticoats . The couple were good jivers and were regularly on camera.
There was an impromptu audition for the rest of us which I clearly failed and was shoved well into the background. Jane was selected to be close to the performers as she looked and moved well. She was in the foreground when Lulu, delivered a very early (mimed) performance of her cover of the Isley Brothers’ Shout. Lulu was as yet unpolished, chewing gum and scuffing her slip-on shoes, but boy could she sing. All the flaws we saw were groomed away as she later became a TV regular.
Jane and I reunited later to do our jive. I spun her and she clipped and knocked over the next artist who was leaning against a table preparing for the cameras to turn on to him. He was caked in strange make-up, the sort black & white TV needed to make a performer look good on screen, but weird in person. This was Tony Blackburn, then still trying to be a ballad singer. He would later play the first record (The Move’s Flowers in the Rain) to initiate BBC Radio One broadcasts in 1967. One thing remaining from those days is that we still jive given the least opportunity – most recently at our Golden Wedding party in Dubai. We became engaged on 6 February 1968 – two months to the day before I joined Sweda at Jane’s behest, for what I consider constituted my first proper job.