The stars came out to support charities

Sid James and Leslie Crowther

Sid James and Leslie Crowther - Credit: Archant

Kids! Huh! Today’s younger generation are poles apart from my youth, indulging in a culture of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll if we believe all we read, hear or see, with no respect for society or their elders and betters.

Mind you, on second thoughts, perhaps I am misjudging them. For I have written here about Greenacre Junior School children (yes, juniors) embarking on an armed robbery at the East Anglian Trustee Savings Bank branch in Great Yarmouth’s Market Place in 1977, and five Grammar School senior boys being rushed to hospital with injuries sustained when they were doing an unauthorised experiment with explosive material in a classroom in 1962.

The would-be bank heist was a prearranged affair to help the scholars with a forthcoming reporting project, of course, while the serious Grammar School big bang – which the head master claimed could have proved fatal - can probably be attributed to youthful over-enthusiasm during an unsupervised lunchtime in an era before the dreaded words “health and safety” had been coined.

So, having said that, what are we to make of teenage pupils kidnapping a star entertainer?

That happened in 1967 when Irish songstress Ruby Murray was sharing top billing with Freddie and the Dreamers in the Windmill Theatre’s summer show. No prizes for guessing that it was all a publicity stunt – not to promote impresario Jack Jay’s show but to draw attention to the Technical High School’s summer fete which aimed to raise money to provide a swimming pool there.

According to the Mercury, it was no Softly Softly (a Ruby Murray hit) snatch: “Arabs and harem girls” grabbed her as she arrived at the sea-front theatre and bundled her into a car. The kidnappers were sixth-formers who returned her safely to the Windmill after its management paid a ransom in good old Norfolk du-different style – agreeing to distribute 500 handbills advertising the fete among the first-house audience!

Former Mercury colleague Tony Mallion explains: “There was always a degree of rivalry between the venerable Grammar School and the younger upstart, the Technical High (now the Ormiston Academy). The grammar had a pipe organ in its assembly hall, so the Tech had to follow suit with a heavy duty electronic version.

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“This instrument hit the national headlines when the cable which ran across the stage from the console to the large loudspeaker acted as an aerial and picked up taxis and ambulance messages during school assembly.

“Then in the mid-sixties the grammar built a swimming pool, so naturally the Tech had to follow suit. Thus the idea of the first-ever school summer fete was born as part of the fund-raising.

“In those days Yarmouth abounded with big stars in summer shows, famous names very generous with their time and public appearances to help good causes. Mike and Bernie Winters, topping the bill at the Britannia Pier, agreed to open the inaugural Tech High fete.

“But, being the first of its kind, some of us panicked that we might need a bit more pre-publicity to attract the crowds. So someone hit on the idea of involving another of the well-known artists to help, so we approached Jack Jay with an idea he was happy to organise - we would ‘kidnap’ the chart-topping Irish singer Ruby Murray just before curtain up at Jack’s theatre and hold her to ransom!

“If a bunch of mainly Middle Easterners was seen attempting to abduct a major recording artist from her car in the street today, it would instantly attract armed police and the force helicopter. But these were more innocent times and the greater worry was that anyone would pay up to get Ruby back.

“Jack Jay kindly donated something towards the swimming pool fund to do so, and the Mercury reported on the ‘kidnap’. It must have helped because crowds turned out to see Mike and Bernie Winters open the fete and the school eventually gained an open-air pool.

“Sadly it didn’t last for too many years; being outdoors, it seemed to spend much of its limited time in the summer out of action because leaves and other debris clogged the filtration plant. Now a large car and coach park occupies the space.”

Ruby Murray had become a friend of the school the previous summer when she started its walk to Bacton and back in aid of a guide dog for the blind. As for her abduction, she told the Mercury: “I could not have been kidnapped in a more courteous manner. They were very gentle despite the fierce appearances of the boys.”

Another person who has helped to amuse countless folk, though not an entertainer, is local entrepreneur Joe Larter who created the Pleasurewood Hills theme park and its Woody Bear mascot at Corton 30 years ago; he has just published his autobiography, Serendipity.

We happened to meet while we were both in the Mercury office recently, the first time I had seen him since I reported the launch of one of his early ventures – transforming the former Royal Air Force Hopton site into a holiday camp, Mariners Park, in 1966. This was at the end of Coronation Terrace in Station Road where the 100-or-so personnel were administered, housed, fed and drilled; most were radar operators, working in the cliff-edge underground site a mile away.

With an eye to publicity, Joe came up with the idea of inviting former RAF Hopton commanding officers and any of its ex-airmen to the opening ceremony. Three retired COs and a couple of other chaps who were stationed there raised their glasses to toast the Larter venture in champagne.

Some of the RAF buildings were converted into holiday use – like the former headquarters that became the reception centre – and new facilities were added, but Mariners Park was not a long-lived enterprise like Pleasurewood Hills, for it closed after only a few years and is now a housing estate.

It was sometimes dubbed ‘Appy ‘Opton by its RAF personnel, mainly National Servicemen, who likened it to a holiday camp not only because it adjoined a real one but also because it was a cushy posting, relatively free of serious discipline and “bull”.