When the carnival was King - and Queen

MAINPAIR OF KINGS: King Herring and the Carnival King with their entourage arrive on Gorleston Quay

MAINPAIR OF KINGS: King Herring and the Carnival King with their entourage arrive on Gorleston Quay for the 1934 event. Picture: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

AS summer approaches, folk are busy in some East Norfolk villages, turning plans formulated throughout the winter into reality as they prepare for their annual carnival. These are still a high-spot in the calendar of many rural communities but ceased long ago in urban Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.

The enthusiasm of carnival organisers could well be sorely tested by the red-tape involved nowadays. Form-filling, licence procurement, child protection regulations, temporary road closures, lorry/float insurance, police approval and supervision and inevitable health and safety demands must persuade some to wonder if it is any longer worthwhile.

All credit to them for their persistence, patience and selflessness in devoting so much of their leisure time to stage an annual carnival which so many folk will already be anticipating eagerly.

The Yarmouth and Gorleston carnival petered out well before the millennium, if memory serves me a-right, a victim of waning interest, difficulty in obtaining and insuring vehicles, and rising costs of policing coupled with shortage of officers at a peak summer weekend to marshal traffic when Southtown Road was the only main route between the twin halves of the urban borough...

Apart from odd fringe items, the town carnivals were primarily the procession on a Sunday afternoon, in sharp contrast to pre-war ones which required immense administrative and organisational flair because it was a week-long programme featuring not only a bumper parade as its highlight but also historical pageants, displays, tournaments, fetes, concerts and dances, decorated shops and houses, competitions, model yacht regatta, firework displays, swimming gala...

Admitted, in that pre-television era, people did give up leisure time for involvement in local good causes and their help was certainly essential for carnival week, if only for stewardship duties. But the borough carnival had the advantage of being Town Hall-led, so much of the organisation was the responsibility of the salaried publicity officer, Louis Rump, and his staff.

Eighty years ago, in 1934, the third carnival spanned eight days – Sunday was event-free - and its ambitious content required a 64-page booklet to detail it. This souvenir programme cost sixpence (2½p today), and even included the script and cast of the four open-air historical pageants staged during the week and also the words and music of the song Carnival Time, specially composed by Ray Somerville and arranged and orchestrated by Freddie Belcher (recalled by older Yarmouthians for leading his band and playing the Hammond organ at long-gone Gorleston Super Holiday Camp and its off-season Rollerdrome skating rink).

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Four pages were required for membership lists of no fewer than 16 organising committees, two judging panels and marshals. Scores of names were published, and the committees covered “expert advisory”, bowls, children’s, dance, decorations, historic episodes, model yacht regatta, newspaper publicity, processions, swimming, and juvenile and evening fetes.

The medieval-style proclamation of King Carnival III (Backhouse Archer) declared: “Awaye with all ye mournefulle sayings and long visages! Awaye with them, I doe command, and for a spayce doe ye all rejoice, sing and dance and make merrie!”

King Carnival and his Queen (Miss Ailsa Woodger) launched the eight-day programme by arriving with their retinue at South Town Station where they were received by Miss Yarmouth (Rose Addy) and the mayor and mayoress, Mr and Mrs Percy Ellis, before heading to Marine Parade for the King to introduce leading characters featuring in the forthcoming four historical episodes. Back at the Town Hall, a public carnival lunch was held.

That afternoon, there was a swimming gala at the open-air pool, including a display by world champion diver Pete Desjardins, with music by Chapman’s Military Band. Along at the Nelson Gardens, a model yacht regatta was held, and at the Wellesley Recreation Ground the fifth Norfolk Schools athletic championships took place, and local pupils gave a dancing display. Yarmouth Amateur Dance Club Band played in the open-air on Marine Parade.

In the evening the carnival royal retinue visited Gorleston Coliseum Cinema, then Yarmouth’s Royal Hotel for a gala dance, and were at the Pleasure Beach and the Waterways the next morning.

The first historical episode was on Church Plain (repeated four days later), and the evening included children singing and dancing on stages opposite the Jetty and Empire, a royal visit to the Royal Aquarium and a carnival dance at the Goode’s Hotel.

On Tuesday came the start of the bowls on “the North Marine Parade Drive”, the second historical pageant (on Hall Quay), procession of decorated cars through the town, “royal” visits to the Empire Cinema, Physical Culture Club display on the sea-front, carnival dance on the Britannia Pier and a firework display.

Gorleston was in the limelight all Wednesday, when Neptune, King Herring, John Bull and Britannia arrived from the pier and participated in a procession. Also, there was a 16th century “pageant fantasy” on the Lower Promenade near the yacht pond, lunch at the Cliff Hotel, juvenile fete at “the Reccer”, a second procession, evening fete, public dancing in the beach gardens, parade and judging, and fireworks.

Thursday? The fourth historical episode featuring “The landing of King William III on the Jetty” in Yarmouth, “third great procession”, evening performances and displays, dances, and King Carnival and his court on the Wellington Pier attending the Pavilion show, Winter Gardens dance, and fireworks and community singing in its gardens.

Friday saw a children’s procession and tableaux and performances on Marine Parade, the bowls finals, the royal couple at the Regent Theatre, and the official carnival ball at the Town Hall.

The week’s activities ended on the Saturday with a big procession which included all the characters from the historic episodes, Marine Parade performances by troupes of dancers, “battle of the streamers” and “farewell to King Carnival and his revellers”.

It was remarkable for its inclusiveness, praiseworthy for its variety. Scarcely a venue was bypassed.

There was truly something for everybody, so much to see, hear and do, all thoroughly entertaining for locals and for holidaymakers and trippers in a less sophisticated era.

One can but marvel at the zeal, enthusiasm, flair and flexibility of all involved, from planning to execution, even if it was part of the job description of a few.