Swinging Sixties brought feel-good factor and major change to Great Yarmouth

GALAXY OF STARS! They came from summer shows in the town to rehearse for the 1964 Midnight Matinee o

GALAXY OF STARS! They came from summer shows in the town to rehearse for the 1964 Midnight Matinee on the Britannia Pier. Among the pictured line-up are the Wellington's Morecambe and Wise, perhaps with guitarist Bert Weedon behind Ernie; from the Britannia Pier, songstress Eve Boswell (in front of headlining singer David Whitfield), Des O'Connor and Jack Douglas (top left) who, in 1964, was a supporting act but returned as a star in 1969 and 1971 to bill-top in farces at the Windmill; Morton Fraser's Harmonica Gang (front); and possibly Audrey Jeans behind Eric Morecambe. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

IT seems like only yesterday... but it wasn’t. In fact, it was a half-century ago, in 1964. when national prosperity was reflected in booming business in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, the borough enjoying not only the launch of the vast North Sea offshore industry but also a super summer holiday season, aided by a myriad of showbiz stars spending weeks in our shows.

READY FOR ACTION: Caister's new lifeboat Josie Neville arrived on station in 1964.Picture: MERCURY L

READY FOR ACTION: Caister's new lifeboat Josie Neville arrived on station in 1964.Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Yes, of course there was the odd glitch, but overall the feel-good factor was paramount in those Swinging Sixties.

John McBride’s A Diary of Great Yarmouth, published in 1998, succinctly lists notable occurrences in 1964, some of which might well prompt those readers around at that time to recall them and, perhaps, reflect on them.

The headline-maker was undoubtedly the start of the search beneath the North Sea for oil and natural gas, a multi-million £/$ gamble based on seismic surveys and led by the Americans whose expertise was unequalled internationally.

When the stetsons and Texan drawls became an everyday part of our borough, their owners acknowledged that our little old North Sea was a hostile environment but held promise, and their mini-invasion brought a new and welcome dimension to life hereabouts.

In December 1964 the pioneer drilling was begun by the rig Mr Cap, and although its probe was unsuccessful, the pace accelerated and activity increased. When exploration eventually made discoveries, confidence mushroomed that there were viable sub-sea riches there for the tapping.

As a consequence, our quay-sides and vacant industrial and riverside sites were transformed by contractors, pipe providers, assorted specialists and a myriad of small enterprises launched to help service the offshore activity.

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For generations, Yarmouth and Scottish drifters had packed the harbour every autumn, cranning out their catches of herring for home sale and export, but in 1964 that fishery was facing terminal decline as stocks of the silver darlings dwindled and demand ebbed.

Within four years, the last drifter – the Fraserburgh-registered Fertile – sailed between our twin piers to return home, and the fishing fleet became a colourful and animated memory, replaced by the busy rig supply ships, tugs, stand-by craft and other support vessels meeting round-the-clock demands.

Fortuitously, many out-of-work driftermen found themselves free to join the crews of the new offshore fleet, with better pay and conditions than they had long endured, plus the advantage of year-round work. The traditional Yarmouth-based harvest of the sea was slowly succeeded by the new harvest.

The sea, and even slender links with it, featured prominently in the Yarmouth Mercury in 1964. For example, the Shipwrecked Sailors Home on Marine Parade closed for conversion to an annexe to the art college; later it became the Maritime Museum for East Anglia and now accommodates the borough tourism and publicity department.

Nearby, the Coastguard headquarters and staff accommodation - an attractive development out of kilter with the razzle-dazzle of the rest of the so-called Golden Mile flanking it - was demolished to prepare for the erection of the Tower Building. The Coastguard HQ was built in 1858 on what was then open land.

The new Gorleston Pier, replacing the centuries-old Dutch wooden one, was opened to the public, the Mercury headlining its report: “The Cosies have gone...” That was a reference to those south-facing nooks just below the deck line where people enjoyed the sun on days when waves were not soaking them.

The sea nearly claimed a victim in US fighter pilot Capt James Cheshnut who was forced to bale out of his Super Sabre F100 when two unexplained explosions froze his controls as he approached the coast after bombing practice, preventing him from turning seawards away from the populated urban area.

His fighter crashed on Gorleston riverside mud on Darby’s Hard and miraculously caused no casualties, only damage caused by falling wreckage on High Road properties. He landed safely by parachute on Lawn Avenue allotments in Yarmouth, suffering only scratches.

On a happier note, a major addition to the town’s holiday provision was the creation of the Vauxhall Holiday Park, still thriving today and constantly upgrading its accommodation and amenities.

1964 was the year Tesco arrived hereabouts, moving into Overill’s cycle shop and Savory’s fruit and vegetable store on the east side of the Market Place; later it expanded to Brewery Plain and finally to its present site at Cobholm.

R H Clarke’s flour mill became Pasta Foods. Gorleston’s Palace Cinema converted to a bingo hall. But Henry Sutton’s fish exporting premises in Charles Street off South Quay, Docwra’s sweet factory on South Denes, and the former Methodist Church in Nile Road, Gorleston, used by Repro Arts, were gutted by fire.

With most people now owning a mobile phone, they probably cannot imagine the impact made by the 1964 introduction of subscriber trunk dialling (STD) on businesses and families with home telephones; it meant no longer having to spend time ringing an operator to ask to make a trunk call.

Local vehicle owners saw a change in their number plates, for the borough’s distinctive and much loved EX series was prefixed by a B to denote new 1964 registrations.

All drivers had to negotiate alterations, like the Hall Quay new lay-out and one-way traffic system, Regent Street becoming one-way, and a junction formed north of St George’s Church.

On the Market Place, the Blue Anchor pub and Foulsham’s Dining Rooms were demolished so make way for the Westminster Bank. Farther along, men’s outfitter Hepworths moved to new premises on the Market Row corner.

St Andrew’s Church and adjoining school were demolished to make way for a garage and offices for coach firm Norfolk Motor Services; the business was acquired by Norwich-based H S Neave two decades later. Electrical retailer Comet moved there, and today office specialist Staples occupies the site.

Yarco Fencing was founded; and at the Northgate Hospital, the new Herbert Matthes Block was opened.

In Caister, there was elation as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution sent a fast and powerful new craft, the Royal Thames, to succeed the Jose Neville and her illustrious predecessors, but within five years came the bitterly-received announcement that the station must close as it did not figure in a nationwide reorganisation of the service.

The provision of a new public library in Caister - still in Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council territory and not absorbed into Yarmouth for another decade – was another highlight in 1964.