All this and Danny La Rue

MANY of these features generate feedback, and occasionally readers' contributions result in a need to clear the decks - an apt description as this column bears the nautical title of Through the Porthole.

MANY of these features generate feedback, and occasionally readers' contributions result in a need to clear the decks - an apt description as this column bears the nautical title of Through the Porthole. So, today is round-up time.

My references to the goods railway that ran along Great Yarmouth quays for 120 years until the 1970s and led to a letter from regular correspondent Cecilia Ebbage, of Lovewell Road, Gorleston. She and her husband were friends of the late Ivor Davies, a former driver on that quay tramway whose memories I related in March, and they used to visit him at his shed near the lifeboat buildings in which his varied memorabilia included African spears on the wall.

“He was a fascinating person to talk to,” she writes. “I thought he was one of the wartime 'secret army' (a sort of commando Home Guard) because he was commissioned to drive away the trains from Vauxhall Station if an invasion occurred, and hinted at other events, like comings and goings to Holland of an individual, but he never gave away any secrets or names.”

Mr Davies was also “always ready to help repair any household gadget; he could always find something and say: 'I've got the very thing for that'”.

From Ernie Ives, 81, of Bradwell, comes the information that, although the tramway trains were preceded by a man with a red flag for safety during the day, after dark he bore a red light. “It was his responsibility to control traffic, giving the engine and trucks right of way, including the Haven Bridge,” he recalled.

And he should know, because he carried the red flag from September to December 1950 and recalls that the bus taking people to work at the Erie Resistor works on South Denes was stopped regularly by the flag boy about 7.45am.

Most Read

“One morning I had stopped the traffic crossing; the Haven Bridge and the engine pulling the trucks had got more than halfway across when a taxi driven by a lady crossed in front of the engine because she was taking passengers to South Town Station!” remembered Ernie.

“In those days the railways ruled supreme: health and safety did not matter. Today, it would be fenced off, restricting the 32 or 34 crossings over the line which gave access to the quayside.”

Ernie also sent me a photo he took nearly 60 years ago on the Thames at Richmond, in Surrey, of the old Yarmouth Belle - once a pleasure-tripping part of our port scene until she was sold - making for the Thames in 1946 where, I believe, she is still working at the age of 118. She was built at Fellows Southtown shipyard in 1892, a sister ship of the Queen of the Broads that was scrapped in 1976.

The picture was taken before she was given a new look, with artificial paddle-wheel arches, the configuration she had in 1998 when she featured briefly in a television sit-com starring Richard (Victor Meldrew) Wilson. Twenty years ago she was given a complete rebuild and restoration. Over the years other Yarmouthians have expressed delight to me when they have spotted that old friend still active in the Thames. She belongs to the company that operates the Grand Turk, the replica three-mast sailing ship that often visits the Yare and takes part in tall-ships events.

Still on a nautical theme, Kenneth Brown was especially pleased with my column on the biggest herring catches that earned the annual Prunier Trophy award in 24 autumn fisheries from here and Lowestoft between 1936-1966 (omitting the war years) because his late father, “Mabby” Brown, was skipper of the Yarmouth drifter Wydale, winner of the award in 1960. “I went to the presentation of the trophy at the Star Hotel in Yarmouth, when Madame Prunier (a French restaurateur in London) came down to hand it to hand it over,” he told me. “I was just a boy then.”

Kenneth, of Martham, a marine engineer who served his time with Crabtree in Southtown Road, Yarmouth, said the Wydale was powered by a “monkey” triple expansion engine built by Elliott and Garrood, of Beccles. She was part of the Eastick fleet, and Mrs Eastick liked to give the skipper of any of its drifters a bottle of rum to share with the crew if they landed a 100-cran shot.

Spurred, presumably, by my feature about some of the show business stars who used to spend summers at our theatres, expatriate Yarmouthian Harvey Gates emails from his home in Shropshire: “When my parents (George and Stella) ran the Cobholm Tavern, they used to get two free tickets for the Saturday night shows by displaying posters advertising them. The most unusual of these I can remember are those which made a claim that all members of the cast were male: the billboards stated that the groups were formed in prisoner-of-war camps.Watching the shows, I couldn't see much difference to any other - until the finals, when all the cast stood on the stage and took their wigs off, including some very pretty girls!”

Many local businesses received free tickets for displaying show posters, often for opening nights. I well remember the all-male revues that formed the weekly bills at the Regal after the war. But, although this type of production might have had its groundings in PoW camps, most of the performers were just demobilised ex-servicemen.

I recall being in the Regal with my parents to see one of those ex-servicemen shows when the list of chorus “girls” included a young Irishman named Danny Carroll, whose fledgling years learning his trade obviously proved successful... he later morphed into Danny La Rue. In 1976 and 1981, he topped the bill at the Regal/ABC. He died last year.