The bank raid which got all the wrong publicity

YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE! Schoolboys stage a bank raid in Great Yarmouth town centre in 1977.

YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE! Schoolboys stage a bank raid in Great Yarmouth town centre in 1977. - Credit: Archant

Writing here recently about the painstaking preparations would-be thieves made in vain in 1964 to break into the Great Yarmouth Hall Quay branch of Lloyds TSB and crack open its safe reminded me of an armed raid on another bank in the town 13 years later. But this was a bank raid with a difference, attracting national coverage and front-page headlines in the Yarmouth Mercury in contrast to our brief account of that thwarted heist.

STICK 'EM UP! The armed gang means business!

STICK 'EM UP! The armed gang means business! - Credit: Archant

“Masked minors cause a major stir” declared the Mercury over a report stating: “A mock bank raid by seven Yarmouth schoolchildren upset the town’s police chief and later drew a protest from their headmaster that it had been ‘sensationalised’ by the national Press.”

The “armed” raiders, faces concealed by stocking masks, were Greenacre Junior School pupils at the East Anglian Trustee Savings Bank in the Market Place. Their “crime” was intended to inject some realism into a project for a school newspaper and took place with the consent of the management.

But police Chief Supt Ronald Spalding thought it could have been distressing for members of the public “who might not appreciate it was a childish prank. If they had stockings on their faces...this could have frightened somebody.

“I don’t understand the motives behind it but it was in a public place and people could have been alarmed. There could possibly be a harmful effect upon the children – this was simulating a very serious incident. Where to next?

“Simulating a serious crime, albeit in a childish way, doesn’t seem very educational to me. Armed robberies, which they were simulating, are very serious offences and on the increase, and I see no educational purpose.

“The bank told us the kids were going into the bank but I had no idea they were going in with stockings and pistols or I would have spoken to the headmaster and suggested to him that it was a very bad idea especially in a busy area.

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Headmaster Stuart Lee stated: “I am concerned that reports, particularly in the national press, have sensationalised the whole affair.” East Norfolk schools were working on a Communication theme for an exhibition in the Central Library and his school’s work would be submitted for that event.

A bank robbery was one topic for coverage and photographs were taken to complement each article. Mr Lee explained: “The police were informed as a matter of good communications although at that time our intention was simply to take three posed photographs.

“When we arrived at the bank there were many more reporters and photographers than customers and had it not been for the television media, we would have taken only still photographs.

“It was their wish that we ask the boys to do some movement. The manager and I saw no reason not to help the cameramen considering the boys are only ten and 11 years of age, and as they were using cowboy toy guns, we could not see any possibility of this piece of TV filming being misconstrued as a real bank raid.

“The work that has evolved from this and other newspaper articles has been very good and it is a pity that what started off as a well-intentioned venture has escalated beyond reasonable limits. Of course, the class discussed the whole matter thoroughly and the moral aspects have been pointed out to all the children involved.”

Parent Mrs Maureen Taylor, of Barkis Road, said: “I think it was wrong. This was putting ideas into their heads. They should have concentrated on getting their three Rs properly rather than doing ‘the bank raid’.”

But parents’ association secretary Mrs Jean Farman thought it was “a big fuss over nothing.”

Her son took part in the “raid” and he told her customers had been warned.

“Anyway, you can’t be frightened by ten-year-olds,” she continued. “The TV cameras were there. People should not have been frightened. I think the whole thing has been blown up out of all proportion.”

Bank manager Thomas Pearce said: “It was intended to do it before we opened to the public and things got a bit late, but all the same, there was plenty of Press about so I wouldn’t have thought it could have caused upset.”

Also recently we mentioned singer-actress Petula Clark, wondering if she had ever performed in Yarmouth. Joan Donohoe, who lives on the Magdalen estate in Gorleston, has good reason to recall seeing her here live.

“I was about ten, living in Cobholm, when my uncle and aunt from Leicester came to stay with us,” she tells me. “Uncle Tommy was a heavy drinker and when they took us to see Petula Clark at the Wellington Pier Pavilion in Yarmouth, he kept howling like a dog despite the manager asking him to be quiet.”

Her imperious aunt left in disgust, but when the show was over Uncle Tommy somehow managed to inveigle his way into the star’s dressing room, pestering her for a date! Petula managed to ward him off.

The entire incident left little Joan “mortified” and “that’s why I remember Petula coming to Yarmouth!”

Joan is the sister of my old Yarmouth Grammar School contemporary and Mercury colleague, the late Trevor Westgate.

In my reference to a Mercury main headline 50 years ago - ‘Gay look’ prison opens (at Blundeston) – I said the innocent word “gay” now has a totally different common usage. Ex-Gorlestonian Paul Godfrey writes that in a recent e-mail to a regular correspondent about seaside photographers, he mentioned his late father-in-law, George Meadows, resident snapper (working for Yarmouth-based Barkers) at Caister Holiday Camp from the late 1950s until 1974.

In the camp’s weekly entertainments printed programme, George “would get a bit of a plug that referred to him as ‘the camp photographer’. He was the camp photographer - but not in the way modern eyes would read this phrase.

“My correspondent’s reply referred to a 1954 film starring Wilfred Pickles and Petula Clark called The Gay Dog about a family named Gay’s exploits with a racing greyhound. Wilfred Pickles, whom I remember on the wireless in Have A Go, revived a stage character of his called Jim Gay.”