Storm surge created drama far in excess of any Hollywood film
PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 December 2015
LET'S settle down in the one-and-nines at the pictures again, following up my recent column about two cinema films partly made on location hereabouts: Hollywood's Julia, featuring Winterton beach, in 1976, and The Rolling Road in 1928 on Yarmouth's sands.
Hickling and Ludham were settings for 1954’s Conflict of Wings, with John Gregson as the star, about villagers protesting that a nature reserve would be disturbed by aircraft from an adjacent base using it for target practice. Scenes for I Gotta Horse, starring Billy Fury, was made here in 1964 during his summer at the Windmill Theatre.
Malice in Wonderland, starring Danny Dyer and shot in 2008, featured our seafront, Hippodrome and Rows but went straight to DVD so Yarmouthians who were extras never saw themselves on cinema screens. Richard E Grant shot scenes for Cuckoo in 2007 “in a studio built in a disused warehouse in Yarmouth”, according to one account.
At the back of my mind is a vague recollection that Hollywood star Joe Don Baker was here making a film, but I cannot trace any record of it. Can I picture him, in a white baseball cap, on the cliff-edge green at the far end of Gorleston’s Marine Parade, and an American-style car picking him up?
And whether it was for television or cinema, I seem to recall the walls of some end-of-terrace buildings in Cobholm being painted purple in silhouette scenery for a car chase through the streets. Again, I cannot trace any details – assuming it is not a figment of my imagination.
Even cinema’s special effects departments could not have frightened us more than the reality of the horrendous January 1953 floods that swept southwards down the coast, a toxic mix of gales and abnormally-high tides that brought death, destruction and heartbreak to seaside communities like east Norfolk in general and Yarmouth and Gorleston in particular.
In September my column about a Midlands family relocating to Yarmouth postwar to open a guest house included recollections of that disaster: a young woman marooned overnight in Gorleston’s Floral Hall with scores of other dancers, a lad she knew who drowned trying to rescue his budgerigars, and seeing first-hand during a walk on the Sunday morning “people’s belongings, carpets and everything in their houses, all thrown out on to waste ground, all saturated.”
Perhaps that jogged the memory of occasional correspondent John Clarke, a former Yarmouth Grammar School pupil long resident in Dorset, because he has written to me after receiving some Mercury back issues from his sister, who lives in Freethorpe.
As a 14-year-old in 1953, John and his father donned their rubber boots and they too went for a walk from their Collingwood Road home to see the aftermath of the surge. He writes: “We saw many beach huts at very odd angles as we walked along the promenade where the water was only about 10ft away.
“I don’t remember anything strange until we saw the Jetty with a huge hole in the boards. Still astonished, we carried on to the Pleasure Beach and a little beyond. There we saw where the Jetty had moved to!
“My dad decided that we should go a bit inland, so we made our way to King’s Road and Queen’s Road where number 46 belonged to my parents. Among its features was a basement but, to my Dad’s tremendous surprise, there was no water in it.
“Then we moved down to the quay and our first sight of water on the road. So, we walked on, paddling, pleased about wearing wellies. My Dad warned me not to go near the edge - but there was no edge!
“On the Gorleston side, a boat was lying completely on its side, the first time I had seen a rusty hull. Shortly after that, my wellies were not high enough so we turned back for home.
“A day or so later, the water had mainly subsided so we decided to see how my Gran had fared in Cobholm. It seems she was taken out via her upstairs bedroom window.
“On the way back, we visited the quay again and discovered that the road surface was made up of wooden bricks which had all been lifted by the water. There was no problem of them going to landfill. They had been covered in tar a few times and fed many a home with heat - with a fire-guard because of the stone chips!
“We know some people were unlucky and suffered badly, but some like us were lucky, with no water in that basement.”
It was John who alerted me in September about sighting a small fishing boat with a Yarmouth official registration (YH563) in an episode of television’s popular Doc Martin comedy drama set and filmed in Cornwall. That led to another reader notifying me of a second, YH299, in the same harbour – Port Isaac, where the series is located.
I mentioned recently visitors arriving here without booking in advance and knocking door-to-door seeking accommodation. At Peggotty’s Hut (then in Avondale Road in Gorleston) in the late Sixties Mrs Peggotty once did succumb when two elderly women arrived “on spec”, offering them bed and breakfast.
They left their luggage, went for an exploratory stroll...and forgot where we lived!
Luckily somebody they approached about their dilemma happened to know us and our address.
That anecdote reminded John that when he was a schoolboy in the Fifties he was flagged down by a family with suitcases asking him to direct them “to the coach station in Yarmouth.” This was before the 1959 closure of the entire M&GN railway line meant Yarmouth Beach Station’s spacious vacant land could be used officially for coach parking.
Recalls John: “I said that I knew of five places where coaches parked and, being very polite, I asked them the colour of their coach. There were blank expressions on their faces!
“The father said, ‘I think it may have been blue’ but the mother added, ‘Or maybe orange...’
“Oh boy! I never had a chance. I hope they got home all right.”