I dedicate this blog to my friend Colin Levy who passed away on 12 October
after a short battle with cancer.
May he rest in peace.
On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and for me it was then that science fiction became fact. His historic flight was just six weeks after my eleventh birthday and around six months later I started at Christopher Wren Secondary Modern School. In many ways that summer was the beginning of my ‘Swinging Sixties’.
Internationally the early 1960s were very eventful with the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President John F Kennedy. In the UK there was the Great Train Robbery, Winston Churchill died, the Aberfan School disaster and England won the World Cup.
Closer to home 1964 saw the first episode of Steptoe and Son who lived at the fictitious address of Oil Drum Lane, Shepherd’s Bush. The first episodes were filmed at the BBC Studios in Lime Grove before moving to the Television Centre in Wood Lane. Most of the outside locations were filmed in the roads around Notting Hill and Norland Gardens but some were shot locally, including Wormholt Road, St Luke’s Church and the White City Stadium.
In August 1966 Braybrook Street witnessed the brutal murders of Police Sergeant Christopher Head, Constable David Wombwell and Constable Geoffrey Fox. People came out in their hundreds and stood in the pouring rain to see the funeral cortege arrive for the service at St Stephen’s Church, directly opposite the Police Station.
Family copy of the Imbercourier magazine (this photo was taken from the Police Station)
A few months later Wormwood Scrubs Prison was in the news when Russian spy George Blake escaped. I was out on my early morning paper round and witnessed the police activity following the overnight escape. In March 1967, Third Division Queen’s Park Rangers won the League Cup final against First Division West Bromwich Albion.
The 1950s had seen the rise in popularity of Rock and Roll but in 1962 The Beatles debut single ‘Love me do’ was released which was the start of ‘Beatlemania’. Local boy Roger Daltrey was born in Hammersmith Hospital 1944. In his early years he lived in Percy Road and went to Victoria School in Becklow Road. At the age of 15 he was expelled from Acton County Grammar School and around that time joined The Detours skiffle group. By 1964 the group had evolved into The Who.
By this time my brother was already working and had bought a Dansette record player. With our limited budget we often bought cheap ex juke box records from a stall in Shepherd’s Bush Market. Main stream radio was slow to react to the demand for 24/7 pop music and in 1964 pirate radio stations London and Caroline began transmitting non-stop pop music from ships moored off the Essex coast. At that time my only money came from my paper round and my friend Colin earnt his money on a pink paraffin delivery round. Small pocket transistor radios had become affordable and we both bought ones that were small enough to fit in our shirt top pockets.
Although we constantly listened to pop music we were desperate to see live performances. We had no money to pay for expensive show tickets so we found ways to see them for free. In the school holidays we attended live lunchtime radio broadcasts, although it did mean we had to travel into central London. One favourite location was the BBC Playhouse Theatre in Craven Street where I remember seeing The Animals. We occasionally went to the BBC Paris Studios in Lower Regent Street but it was a small venue and more difficult to get in. We saw one memorable show where The Seekers performed live.
Of course we really didn’t need to travel far as the BBC were right on our doorstep. The BBC studios in Lime Grove broadcast Top of the Pops live but unfortunately for the majority of us it was impossible to get tickets.
The BBC Centre in Wood Lane broadcast some live evening shows and also regularly recorded shows. You had to write in and wait a couple of weeks for an allocation of two tickets to arrive in the post. We did get tickets for a few shows and I remember seeing the famous Pan’s People dance. It’s hard to believe now but the security was very lax at that time. You had to show your tickets at the front gates but then walked unescorted to the studio entrance. I remember after one show Colin and I didn’t leave with the rest of the audience but walked around the Centre and grounds unchallenged.
By far the easiest place to get into was the BBC Theatre on Shepherd’s Bush Green. Initially we wrote in for tickets for the most popular shows. Once we had our tickets we always arrived very early to ensure getting seats in the first row of the theatre. However, we soon discovered that there were always two queues outside; one for ticket holders and one for people without tickets. The reason was that the BBC always wanted to ensure the theatre was completely full for every show. On most visits we didn’t have tickets so we always made sure we were at the front of the non-ticket queue to ensure we got in.
We became regulars at the Theatre to see shows such as The Frost Report, The Billy Cotton Band Show and the Al Read Show. The Frost Report actually launched the television careers of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett. On our way to one of his shows we actually bumped into David Frost getting out of his car in Pennard Road. We chatted to him and when he found out we didn’t have tickets he pulled out a single ticket from his jacket pocket and wrote on it admit two. One of our favourite shows was Gadzooks as every show featured at least one top singer or group. Unfortunately it only ran from February to September 1965.
During school holidays we often hung around the stage door in the mornings as we knew that stars arrived for rehearsals ahead of the evening show. I remember seeing the singer Kathy Kirby several times as she had her own weekly show. One morning we started chatting to a group of slightly older teenagers unloading their battered van. We had no idea who they were but asked them for their autographs anyway. They signed a publicity card for us and it turned out that they were an up and coming group called The Small Faces.
Although I started work in 1967 I never earnt enough money to buy tickets to see any of the big stars perform in concert. However, in the last year of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ an older Dutch pen friend came over to stay and took me to see The Beach Boys at the Hammersmith Odeon.
My interest in space from the start of the decade continued throughout the sixties and in fact I chose space travel for my school project. Then in July 1969 I was glued to the television to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. My ‘Swinging Sixties’ ended with a move from my first job in Earl’s Court to a new job working in ‘The City’.
By Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham Local Studies and Archives volunteer