When concerts were the new,dangerous enemy...
APART from some bumper summers in the Sixties when visitors flocked to the Great Yarmouth area and star entertainers topped bills in our theatres, the holiday industry often found it hard going down the decades. It had critics a-plenty, and so often the expected sniping and griping was exacerbated by unforeseen problems.
Exactly three quarters of a century ago, 1936, our hospitality business was put under severe strain as it attracted a series of “anti” headlines.
For example, Sunday concerts received blistering criticism from churchgoers who went to court to oppose the renewal of the licences for Sabbath entertainment at the Regal, Royal Aquarium, Britannia Pier, Wellington Pier Gardens and Gorleston Pavilion and beach gardens.
The churches argued: “Sunday entertainments have not been in harmony with Sunday at all.”
These concerts were described as “a new and dangerous enemy” at the St George’s Men’s Service annual supper meeting.
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“When amusements cut right across the work of the church and Sunday schools, their healthiness is very questionable,” declared secretary J Dawson.
Court evidence was given by objectors who had attended Sunday performances. The Rev C W Harpur said the Regal’s accordion band show was “nothing more than a jazz ramp” on a day of national mourning with the burial of King George V imminent, and the audience became more pleased the further the programme departed from any pre-conditions imposed about suitability.
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“The comedian was not only vulgar but very suggestive. The action and words of one song were deliberately calculated to produce that double meaning and to create an atmosphere which could only be regarded as smutty and unclean,” he reported.
“We feel that if this sort of thing is to go on in Yarmouth that it is going to be very deleterious to the young people who go to these shows. We feel the whole thing is calculated to do great harm morally and spiritually to our young people.”
All the licences were renewed, subject to conditions.
Five banks of headline topped another holiday industry report: “Gaming machines at Gorleston; policeman who won 1s 3d (6p today); machine demonstrated in court; magistrates’ clerk loses his penny; defendant fined �50 and costs.”
On a Yarmouth magistrates’ court table stood four slot machines seized by police who raided the amusement arcade on Gorleston’s Lower Marine Parade. The owner admitted allowing his premises to be used for gaming, and an employee pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting.
A bizarre case heard by the magistrates resulted from a man using a boy of four who weighed 11� stones as an exhibit at the Paradium on Yarmouth Marine Parade. The man and the Paradium owner were fined. Evidence was given that the chubby child was exhibited in a playpen surrounded by toys during the summer.
And there was more to beset the holiday industry in 1936. “Questionable seaside postcards” was another Mercury headline over a story about three men and a firm who denied charges of exposing obscene postcards for sale on the seafront, and aiding and abetting. Fines were imposed.
The court learned that thousands of these cards had been sold in other resorts without complaint.
Times have changed, for in 2011, 75 years later, there is an exhibition, Secrets of the Saucy Seaside Postcard, currently at our Time and Tide Museum until September 4.
Yarmouth Hotel and Apartments Association members protested that police had ordered “mackintosh bathers” from the sea and escorted them back to their hotels. These guests, wearing a raincoat over their swimwear to reach the sea after 9am, were breaking an outdated bye-law decreeing a bathing tent should be used for changing. One hotelier fumed: “These are enlightened days and people bathe as and when they like. People want freedom when they come on holiday. This not the way to encourage people to come here on holiday.”
There were calls for the town council to revoke the Victorian bye-law.
Members protested that although Yarmouth presented first-class and varied entertainment, it did not receive its fair share of publicity on BBC radio, and hinted that perhaps there was nobody “to pull strings” for the resort.
Three leading amusement caterers were fined for erecting temporary or additional structures without permission at their Marine Parade premises (Hippodrome forecourt and Jetty Dining Rooms).
But it was not all doom and gloom. A �35,000 scheme to build a chalet-hotel at Gorleston, rejected by the town council because the land was zoned for private housing, was approved by a government inspector and resulted in the creation of Gorleston Super Holiday Camp between Lowestoft and Bridge Roads and the railway line. The facility closed in 1973 and the Elmhurst Court housing estate now occupies the land.
Across the river another grand plan was suggested for a conference hall, swimming bath, medicinal baths and sports stadium in the Wellington Pier gardens or at the Denery (site of a recently-demolished residence at the seaward end of what is today St George’s Park). Much debate ensued but the scheme never materialised.
However, the council sought a �38,500 loan to finance central Marine Parade improvements “to provide Yarmouth with that little extra that its seaside competitors have not got” (auditorium, bandstand, gardens, shelters and promenade). The work would be done by 200 unemployed local men, paid at normal unskilled labour rates.
Sunday bowls, tennis and putting were allowed by the council, which also permitted the Waterways and boating lakes to open that day. The council laid two Cumberland turf bowls greens, replacing gardens and a floral clock.
Record crowds and “a huge increase in motor traffic” crammed into the resort during the August Bank Holiday weekend – then at the beginning of the month – although dull weather spoiled beach business.
The Mercury participated in a Lobby Lud style stunt, a mystery man circulating in busy areas waiting to be properly challenged by members of the public who would win a �1 note and tickets to the Regent Cinema. The fun was in innocent people being wrongly identified and accosted by the eager public.
The mystery man was a 5ft 6in 25-year-old Mercury reporter, the newspaper explained, printing an indistinguishable picture of him. It was not me, I assure you. I am taller than 5ft 6in – and it would make 2011 my 100th birthday!