My involvement with the professional lighting at The Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe led to me receiving many requests for help from the theatre’s amateur users. In 1985 in response to those requests I set up Showlite Stage Lighting.
The business was almost too successful! For the next nineteen years Showlite provided the lighting for almost every non-professional performance at the theatre. This work combined with the professional show lighting which I did as an employee of the theatre meant that my wife and family got used to me being out six and sometimes seven nights a week for most of the year. Lighting the annual Dennis Lowe pantomime at the Spa meant that this absence included the run up to Christmas and most of the Christmas holiday from Boxing Day onwards.
Over those nineteen years I provided the lighting for a host of non-professional shows at the Spa including:
the East Suffolk Blind Society shows produced by Pat Taplin and Bob Davis
all performances at the Spa by Pat Taplin’s Gallery Players
plays presented by Bert Ainsworth’s Brackenbury Players
musicals and plays by Felixstowe Amateur Dramatic & Operatic Society
musicals by Felixstowe Musical Theatre and Stage Door Theatre Company
all pantomimes and Easter Shows presented by Dennis Lowe
dancing shows presented by the Rita Turner School of Dance
dancing shows presented by Claire Fulcher’s Apple Dance Company
most of the ‘Sounds Familiar’ Shows presented by Ipswich Operatic Society
musicals and plays by Gallery Players at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich
several touring and one-off performances by John Southworth’s Dolphin Arts.
In 2003 I changed the company’s trading name to Showlite Sound and Light. I went ‘back to my roots’ and concentrated on providing high quality indoor and outdoor public address systems. I did still enjoy lighting small scale shows when I had the time.
Following that change in direction the sound side of the business expanded enormously. At one point I had available:
7 amplifiers varying in output power from 40 to 900 watts
21 weather-proof outdoor loudspeakers
10 indoor loudspeakers
2 CD players
1 mini-disk player/recorder
1 twin cassette player/recorder
18 cabled microphones of various types
6 radio microphones both tieclip and hand-held
4 mixer desks varying in size from 4 to 12 channels
a selection of disco lighting effects and lighting control equipment
band lighting including lights, dimmers and control equipment
14 stands for loudspeakers and lights
18 microphone stands of various types
many varieties of connecting cable for loudspeakers, microphones and power.
Our regular client base has included:
Ipswich JAFFA Running Club
Ipswich Borough Council
Aldeburgh Town Council
Aldeburgh Angling Association
Aldeburgh Carnival Committee
Felixstowe Lawn Tennis Club
Easton and Otley College
Suffolk Young Farmers
Sudbury Choral Society
As well as supplying equipment on a ‘hire only’ basis, we attended numerous events in the course of a year – everything from carnivals to conferences and fetes to funerals, with quiz nights and a wedding or two thrown in.
However, in 2017 I began to realize that I was not getting any younger so I took the decision to down-size the business. Showlite is still trading and I do still attend some outdoor events, but I have now sold most of the bigger sound equipment and all of the band and disco lighting. Show lighting now is purely for pleasure. I know that I will eventually have to make the decision to stop completely, but not yet!
In April 2001, some 37 years after my original wish to work for BBC Television, I at last started work for the BBC – BBC Radio Suffolk to be precise. Originally I was a part time receptionist covering for sickness and holidays, then, in September 2001, I became the station Handy person. My main work was looking after the station cars and OB vehicles, along with general building maintenance.
In 2005 most of the building maintenance work was taken over by an external contractor and so, late in 2006, my official title became station Technical Assistant. This more accurately reflects the diverse nature of the jobs I now undertake. Although I continue to do my original task of looking after the station vehicles, I also work alongside David Butcher the Station Engineer helping with the cabling and other jobs at large outside events such as Ipswich Music Day and running the live sound at the recording of the annual Carol Concert. Very occasionally I work as a Telephone Answerer usually for the Nick Risby regional programme which is broadcast every week night from 10.00pm to 1.00am. and I organise our Monday Night tour taking various groups for a look around the station.
In addition to my normal work I’ve been trained as a Satellite Van trainer so I can teach new staff to use this vehicle, and I can set it up and demonstrate it at outside events and open days.
You could say that I have finally achieved my aim to work ‘in entertainment’ – well almost!
If you are a member of a group or organisation and would like to arrange a Monday Night Tour of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Ipswich studios then give Reception a call on 01473 250000 and we’ll see what we can do.
Working with Music Acts, Cilla Black, Rick Wakeman and The Barron Knights etc
Although, as I said back in chapter one of my story, I had quite a keen interest in stage lighting at the time I left school I was not really able to pursue it to any great extent until 1974 when I began working for Suffolk County Council Education Department. I soon found myself involved with Val Egan and Alan Austin in the conversion of the old Gatacre Road primary school into the South Suffolk Drama Centre. My main role being to design the layout of the lighting grid and to supervise the electrical contractors installing it. I was also the maintenance technician for the centre’s lighting hire stock and I went on to design and operate lighting for a number of shows there; mainly those staged by Alan’s Ipswich Youth Theatre Group. Two which stand out most in my mind were ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and ‘The Devils’.
Today, of course, the building is home to the professional touring theatre company Eastern Angles. My original lighting grid is still in use, although it has been added to and updated over the years.
Making the videos
I first met Olga Ironside-Wood, who at the time was County Drama Adviser, whilst I was involved in the making of a series of drama teaching videos at the South Suffolk Teacher’s Centre in Ipswich.
Olga had written a play telling the life story of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey which she called ‘The Ipswich Boy’. It was to be performed in Ipswich as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. She asked me if I would like to be involved and I ended up working alongside John Rowe creating and recording the sound effects.
John and I working in his studio
Olga was very precise about the effects she wanted and, although John worked for the BBC, he could find little suitable even in their vast library of effects. So it was that we spent several weeks visiting churches in Suffolk to record their bells pealing and tolling, and a whole morning at a remote location near Woodbridge – Tunstall I think – recording a group of horse riders arriving and departing complete with the sound of chain mail. Several takes were ruined by aircraft noise from the nearby Bentwaters USAF base, but, we got what we wanted in the end. The play itself was staged at Ipswich Corn Exchange in either July or August 1977 which also gave me my first experience of working in that cavern. I’ve worked in there a number of times since and it doesn’t get any better!
My lighting work largely ceased when I left the County Education service and went to work for BT Research at Martlesham until, in the Spring of 1983, the Rita Turner Dance School at which my daughter Kerri was a pupil presented a show at the Spa Pavilion Theatre in Felixstowe. Whilst I was operating the tabs (curtains) for this show a brief conversation with the theatre’s Resident Stage Manager Mike Creasey led to him asking me to operate the lights for the play ‘Whose Life is it Anyway’ which was being staged there later that year by The Brackenbury Players. He would normally have done this but the show’s producer, Bert Ainsworth, had persuaded him to act instead.
Point it where?
Following this demonstration of my talents, and much to my surprise and delight, Mike invited me to join the theatre’s professional stage crew, as the lighting board operator, for the 1983 Summer Season promoted by John Redgrave. I think I’m right in saying that I was the first, and probably the only, person who was not a member of John’s own crew to be entrusted with operating the lighting board for him. We got on extremely well and over the following two or three Summer Seasons John taught me a great deal about cabaret lighting and presentation.
Summer Season Crew 1983 and guest
After spending a couple of hectic, but interesting, evenings helping to rig and focus the lighting for the Summer Season, my very first professional show starred Sir Harry Secombe supported by the female trumpet player Joan Hinde. I freely admit to never having been so nervous in all my life as I was when Sir Harry stepped out onto the stage and I suddenly thought ‘what am I doing here’? You see, as is sometimes the way in the entertainment world, I had slightly ‘over sold’ my experience of professional lighting when I first spoke to Mike. All went very well though, despite me almost having a collision with a certain gold Rolls Royce with the number plate HS 1 as I was going down to the theatre for the Saturday matinee, and by the time I got to working with Cilla Black I was almost an ‘old hand’. I thoroughly enjoyed the job and I remained the professional lighting board operator at the Spa Pavilion for 21 years. However, even after all that time and literally hundreds of professional shows with all kinds of stars, I still felt nervous sometimes before the curtain went up.
The Fairy Godfather
I have also been persuaded to ‘tread the boards’ occassionally; as a definite amateur. Amongst the roles I have played are a salmon poacher in ‘The Amorous Prawn’, Tim Bobbin (typecast as the village idiot) in ‘Murder in the Red Barn’ and the ‘Fairy Godfather’ in a spoof version of the pantomime ‘Cinderella’. This was written by the then Resident Stage Manager at the Spa Pavilion, Denise Newton, and performed by the stage crew and friends very late at night after the final performance of Dennis Lowe’s real pantomime ‘Cinderella’. Only a specially invited audience, including Dennis Lowe, were allowed to watch and large amounts of ‘falling down waters’ were consumed both before and during the performance! Great fun was had by all concerned though and, of course, any resemblance to Denise’s original script was purely accidental.
As well as working backstage in theatre and treading the boards I have appeared briefly on television and radio. In 1995 I was featured in two episodes of a Sky TV series called ‘StageStruck’. The series looked at various aspects of an amateur production and my part, which was filmed at the Spa Pavilion, was to discuss and demonstrate safe methods for rigging of lighting equipment and the creation of gobo effects.
In 1998 I was interviewed on BBC Radio Suffolk by Lesley Dolphin and David Webb about my involvement in theatre lighting. I did a similar interview – this time with Lesley only – in 2001.
… and Music
My interest in pop music began in the late 1950’s when as a young boy, probably aged ten or eleven, I can remember listening to Radio Luxemburg and following the growing rock ‘n’ roll revolution. This was done with some difficulty because the signal was rather poor and my parents were not too keen on me re-tuning their wireless set. For some obscure reason I remember in particular the Request Show theme tune, Duane Eddy’s ‘Because They’re Young’, and the advertisement for Horace Batchelor’s infallible method of selecting your football pools entry!
With the explosion of pop music and the help of offshore (pirate) radio this interest grew as a teenager through the sixties, remained in the seventies and eighties through of my disco and Hospital Radio work and continues today because, being involved with entertainment and broadcasting, I have to maintain some interest in the current music scene!
In a way though I am luckier than many of my friends from the 60’s because, through my theatre lighting, I have actually met many of my idols from that era. There is one person though who I have yet to meet and that is Helen Shapiro. Being close to my own age she was the girl of my dreams in the 60’s; still as they say, there’s always tomorrow.
During my twenty one years of professional lighting I met and worked with many stars; sadly names such as Les Dawson, Larry Grayson, Leslie Crowther, Sir Harry Secombe, ‘Mr Drifter’ Johnny Moore, Bob Monkhouse and Danny La Rue are no longer with us, but others including Lenny Henry and Daniel O’Donnell have gone on to become big stars. I have a large collection of signed photographs of many of them and, for the most part, they have all been very pleasant to work with. I do, though, have certain favourites:
For an expert knowledge of how to give an audience what they want;
The Original Drifters featuring Johnny Moore
The Barron Knights
For being just thoroughly nice people to work with;
Danny La Rue
Hinge and Brackett
Amongst all the people I’ve worked with Rolf Harris still stands out for me, despite recent developments which have shown him not to be the nice person he appeared to be. As I have said in an earlier chapter, I first met Rolf at Hospital Radio’s 10th birthday event and I’ve worked with him several times since. On each occassion I have found him to be a pleasure to work with and an excellent entertainer.
Felixstowe Drama Festival at the Pier Pavilion and Spa Pavilion
The Felixstowe Drama Festivals began at the now demolished Pier Pavilion in 1949, originally they were festivals of one-act plays. By the time it transferred to the newly built Spa Pavilion in 1951 it had become a festival of full length plays.
Just before the 1984 Festival the Spa Pavilion employed a new stage manager, Denise Newton. Although Denise had much experience in professional theatre and television work it was felt that she would benefit from some assistance in running the festival, particularly with the lighting of dramatic productions. At this time the festival was fully subscribed so ran for a full eight days. Staging and lighting eight different plays in eight days was a complicated and tiring job. As I had become the theatre’s regular light board operator for the 1983 Summer Season and I had experince of lighting plays I was asked if I would join Denise for that first festival week; so began my twenty three years association with Felixstowe Drama Festival.
I well remember that first festival not only because Denise was fond of cider and so several pints of it were consumed during the week, but because when we came to lock the theatre after the final night party we discovered that the lighting man for team who had just performed – Company of Four – had gone off back to their store with the keys to the roof access door in his pocket. A frantic phone call discovered that he was still unloading their van and so we had to dash over to Woodbridge to collect the keys before we could finally secure the building. From then on I became Festival Lighting Supervisor and only theatre staff were allowed access to that part of the building!
Sir John Mills was the first patron of the festival and since its beginning many companies of performers have ‘trodden the boards’ in order to win one of the trophies available. Some teams notably Barn Theatre Group, Cardiff YMCA (later Cardiff Players) and Parkside Players from Ilford were regulars at every festival. Perhaps my one claim to fame is that I lit the final amatuer performance by Jenna-Louise Coleman who is now famous for playing Doctor Who’s companion. Jenna was in a group called ‘In Yer Space’ who won the Felixstowe Festival on a couple of occassions, one of which was a day or so before she started filming for the role of Ashley’s neice in Emmerdale.
Although they are no longer available on this site I have more details about the history of the Felixstowe Festival and an almost complete list of winners and runners-up dating from 1951 until the festival was last held in 2013. If you would like to know more please contact me.
Whilst working in Ipswich around 1976 a mis-directed telephone call led to me joining Hospital Radio Ipswich where I remained a member until the early eighties. During this time I was variously chief record librarian, PRO, vice-chairman, a ward visitor, a presenter and an engineer (of sorts). It was an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
As an engineer I worked on various outside broadcasts including some plays from the Wolsey Theatre and concerts (usually military bands) from the Corn Exchange. I was also involved in the re-fitting of the Heath Road studio, being given the task of constructing the amplifiers used to drive the monitor loudspeakers and headphones. Judging by the model of reel-to-reel tape deck shown I think these pictures are of the new studio although I can’t be sure.
Me on HRI
I presented a 60’s music show and for a while co-hosted the children’s show ‘The Tiger Club’ with Sue Brodribb. As a presenter I interviewed several interesting people; none more so than country singer Diane Soloman. I spoke to her backstage at Snape Maltings where she was due to record a TV special for Anglia Television. She was a very attractive lady and very nice, making a complete amateur feel totally at ease whilst interviewing her. She even arranged for me to stay and watch the concert.
She was also great fun during the recording when things did not go entirely according to plan and the session ran very late. To satisfy the director cameras had to be moved and a couple of numbers performed again. During the pauses between ‘takes’ Diane caused much laughter at his expense.
HRI OB at Heath Road wing
I particularly remember HRI’s 10th. birthday as a day of big celebrations. Our giant fund raising event, opened by Rolf Harris, was held on the area in front of the maternity block – there were no buildings between the Maternity Block and Heath Road then, it was just grass. The station was on air all day with programmes coming live from the fete. Then as a culmination of the day’s activities we joined Radio Orwell for an outside broadcast in which a current Hospital Radio presenter and an Orwell DJ, who was an former HRI member, visited various parts of the hospital. I had the pleasure of escorting Katie Glass to the maternity block!
I’m not sure that this photograph of yours truly at the decks was actually taken at the 10th birthday celebrations, but, it was definitely taken at one of several outside broadcasts we did from events held in front of the Maternity Block. Also in the picture are Owen Williams (in the yellow HRI top) and just visible behind Owen is Pete Raffell who I believe was Chief Engineer at the time.
Sadly, my involvement with HRI had to come to an end when I became professionally involved with the lighting at the Spa Pavilion Theatre in Felixstowe, although, I suppose you could say that things have come almost full circle now that I work for BBC Suffolk, because two of my former HRI colleagues – Stephen Foster and Norman Lloyd – also work there.
Hospital Radio Ipswich has been broadcasting programmes to patients of the Ipswich hospitals for over 30 years and they can now be heard by everyone on the web. Check out their web pages for information.
As far as I can determine from reading through the minutes of the preliminary meetings which were held, a Talking Newspaper for Ipswich and District was the idea of Marilyn Brooks who was an assistant lending librarian at Ipswich Central Library. An initial meeting of invited guests was held on 10th June 1976 at Ipswich Town Hall, but, although a number of expressions of interest were received through the Evening Star coverage of that meeting, no further action occurred due to Marilyn’s subsequent prolonged absence from work through illness.
Having eventually returned to work Marilyn progressed her idea at a meeting with Mr. Robert Light of Hilly Fields, Woodbridge on 12th November 1976. From those discussions a public meeting was arranged to determine whether a service of this nature was needed and, if so, to set up a steering committee to look into the feasibility. This meeting, which my wife Kath and I attended, was held on 23rd November 1976 at Ipswich Central Library. A need was established and a steering committee was elected with Robert Light as Chairman and Marilyn Brooks as secretary. I was also a member. The first meeting of the Steering Committee was held in early December 1976.
Following around six weeks of investigation and planning by the steering committee an Inaugural and First Annual General Meeting of Ipswich and District Talking Newspaper was held in The Corn Exchange, Ipswich on 26th January 1977. At this meeting the proposals put forward by the steering committee were accepted and unanimously agreed, and a full committee was elected. This consisted of Robert Light (Chairman), Marilyn Brooks (Secretary), Anthony Broster (Treasurer), Mr. A H Pyatt (Editor) and members Ian Lowrie, David Whiting, Clive Moore, Bill Turnbull and Brian Lockie. One or two other members were also co-opted on to the committee as the need arose.
For the next eight months we met regularly, sometimes every fortnight, to agree details as varied as which was the best equipment to purchase, the name, insurance, accommodation, technicians, readers, editors, selection of users, maintenance and training. Above all else our over-riding priority was of course fund-raising – at the time Marilyn first proposed the idea of a Talking Newspaper the estimated cost of launching the service was £3500 plus £1000 per year running and maintenance costs. Although it has proved impossible for me to work out exactly how much we did raise, I found it interesting to note that at our committee meeting on 1st February 1977 the Treasurer reported a balance in hand of £125; during October of that year he reported receipts of £3785 and expenditure on purchasing equipment alone of £2789. The support we had with fund-raising was tremendous; it meant that at our meeting on 17th August we could agree that we would aim to launch the service on either 13th or 20th October.
Choosing a name for the Ipswich and District Talking Newspaper proved to be more difficult than expected. The committee first considered this at our meeting on the 2nd March 1977 when ‘On Tape’, ‘Sound News’, ‘Tape Deck’ and ‘Sound of Ipswich’ were proposed, however no decision was made. At our next meeting on 16th March twelve other suggestions were considered. These included ‘Switch On’, ‘News Time’, ‘Listen In’, ‘Sound News’, ‘In Touch’ and ‘Sound Around’. All of these were also rejected for various reasons and a decision was put off for three months. However, after some further discussion at our meeting on 20th April my suggestion of ‘Sound-On’ was agreed. Where did the name come from? The world of film where I started my working life in 1965. It appears at the start of each reel of film to indicate the beginning of the sound-track.
Picking suitable theme music was almost as difficult, although we did have the invaluable assistance of professional pianist Clive Moore as a committee member. He listened at length to many tracks from his large collection of records and tapes then supplied samples of some suitable tracks to the Chairman – he also offered to compose a theme tune if necessary. Eventually though the Chairman and committee left the final choice up to Clive and at the meeting on 4th October he supplied details of the music he had chosen.
During September and early October we held various successful practice runs for the editorial, reading, and technical teams, as well as working out the packing and unpacking routines needed each week all of which allowed the first edition of ‘Sound-On’ to be sent out to 100 or so users on 13th October 1977.
After some teething problems, particularly with the type and quality of cassettes used being unsuitable for high-speed duplicating, the production of ‘Sound-On’ settled down into a fairly well planned and trouble-free routine. So much so that at our committee meeting on 8th March 1978 – barely four months after the launch in Ipswich – we discussed the possibility of expanding the service to Felixstowe, Woodbridge and other surrounding towns; ‘and District’ had always been included in the name of the organisation for just this reason. Felixstowe was the first area chosen and a public meeting was held at Felixstowe Library on 19th June 1978. From this meeting sufficient support was pledged for the service to go ahead with Clive Garnham leading the planning. At a committee meeting on 12th July it was agreed that, because the Felixstowe area had already donated around £200 to the funds, users there could receive tapes and players immediately without further fund-raising. It was also agreed to leave Woodbridge until Felixstowe was established. The inaugural meeting for the Woodbridge expansion took place on 16th October 1978 when again sufficient support was offered for the service to begin. Initially tapes were sent to five users who required a ‘Sound-On’ tape player and to several others who already had a suitable machine. Following this expansion the committee decided that there should now be a ‘settling-down’ period of at least six months, mainly to avoid exceeding the capacity of the duplicating equipment and the packing volunteers.
Two years after the inaugural meeting was held, at our committee meeting held on 10th January 1979, the chairman informed members that Ian Lowrie who had been responsible for most of the technical side of setting up ‘Sound-On’ would be resigning as he and his wife were emigrating shortly. Also both myself and Clive Moore decided that we would not seek re-election at the AGM to be held in February that year. Pressure of other work meant that neither of us was able to give the amount of time needed to the committee, although I did continue to be involved with recording and production for a while. Having been with the project since its inception, Bob Light eventually resigned as Chairman at the 1987 AGM after ten years of guiding the ship, but I believe that he remained involved with Ipswich and District Talking Newspaper until shortly before his death.
I became involved with The Ipswich and District Talking Newspaper as a result of reading an appeal in the Evening Star newspaper for volunteers who would be interested in forming a steering committee. My wife and I attended the first public meeting which was held on a cold November evening in 1976 at the Central Library in Northgate Street, Ipswich. The chairman was Bob Light and the aim was to establish whether or not a Talking Newspaper service was needed in Ipswich and the surrounding area and, if so, to form a steering committee to look in detail at the idea and come up with proposals for the way forward. It was agreed that the service was needed and I was a member of the steering committee which was formed.
After about six weeks of research and planning the formal launch of the project took place at the Corn Exchange in January 1977 when a full committee was elected. Again Bob Light was elected as Chairman, Marilyn Brooks was Secretary and Anthony Broster was Treasurer. Other committee members were the blind professional pianist Clive Moore, Brian Lockie, Bill Turnbull, Ian Lowrie, Tony Pyatt who was at the time editor of the Evening Star and myself.
To get the project off the ground took a huge amount of fund-raising, mainly to buy all the equipment needed to record and duplicate the weekly tapes and to allow users without a suitable cassette player to be given one by the organisation. From inception to first edition took eight months of hard work by numerous people to not only raise the money but to find the volunteer news readers, recording and duplicating engineers, the home service engineers and the administrators and packers needed to enable us to create and send out the 100 or so cassette tapes each week.
The very first edition was sent out on 13th October 1977. As now the news items were chosen mainly from the pages of the previous six editions of the Evening Star, the ‘Sound On’ editor very often being either Tony Pyatt himself or Carol Carver. The Evening Star have always been very closely involved in supporting the project which from the beginning was based at their offices in Ipswich.
After it’s initial launch I remained a ‘Sound On’ committee member and a volunteer engineer for some while. Unfortunately this had to cease when I became professionally involved with the lighting at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion Theatre.
A more detailed history of the first ten years of ‘Sound On’ is available here.
Weekly bingo sessions were held by Leiston Labour Party as part of their fund-raising. They were organised and run by Norman Fish and his willing band of helpers under the auspices of the Party’s social committee. As callers Ernie and I were closely involved with the running of these sessions and so, with Ernie’s mum and dad already active party members, it was almost inevitable that we too would end up joining both the local Labour Party and the social committee.
I even met my wife through bingo. Both her mum and dad were helpers; Charlie sold the game cards and paid out the winnings, and Blanche usually served refreshments. Kath occassionally came down with them on a Thursday night for something to do. After a few weeks I confided in one of the other helpers, Bob Bilner, that I quite fancied her and he encouraged me to ask her for a date. So it was that on Thursday 15th July 1971, after the evening’s bingo session, we went out on our first date – to Aldeburgh to enjoy fish and chips I believe. We’ve been married for over 38 years now and we have two grown-up children, two grandaughters and a grandson. For the fortieth anniversary of our first date we went to Aldeburgh for fish and chips before trying to re-visit the cliffs at Dunwich where we did much of our courting. Alas that part of our lives has long since fallen into the sea.
As part of the Social Committee Ernie and I, with our respective partners, helped with the organisation and running of dances, discos, social evenings and the annual childrens Christmas Party. I remember one of the bands we booked on a couple of occassions was the Tune Twisters. We also dreamed up and organised the Labour Party’s float in one Leiston Carnival, although I can’t recall which year it was. I do recollect that we begged and borrowed all sorts of blacksmiths tools and an anvil, and then had both Ernie’s and Kath’s fathers on the float dressed as village blacksmiths.
In addition to helping with social events we also became involved in the political side of the local Labour Party. I very much enjoyed the work connected with local elections. Firstly out canvassing for support and then, on election day itself, either being a ‘teller’ at one of the Polling Stations collecting the ID numbers of people who had voted, or, going out ‘knocking-up’. This meant calling on people who had previously indicated that they would vote Labour, but, who according to the information from our ‘tellers’ had not yet voted. For one election I was nominated as a candidate’s representative. This allowed me to be present on the floor of the hall whilst the count was in progress; something the candidates themselves were not allowed to do. It was very interesting to see our electoral system in action at close quarters.
Although not specifically mentioning Leiston Labour Party, more information about Labour in the East of England can be found on their web pages.
At the same time as I was providing commentary at Peasenhall my good friend Ernie Rabett was involved with bingo calling for Leiston Labour Party. As the popularity of our respective events grew I needed help with commentary and he needed a relief caller for bingo. From this mutual need for assistance Top Hat Sound disco and PA service was born.
Why the name you might ask, well, I believe it came from the fact that we had an old silk top hat which Ernie and my brother, George, were messing about with at one time. The first ‘disco’ we ever did was a wedding reception for one of our friends, Barry Martin, in Snape village hall. For equipment I seem to remember we used my hi-fi turntable and 12 watt valve amplifier, and one large loudspeaker. From memory, I don’t think we had a lightshow. A couple of the popular records we played were Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold’ and Dave Edmunds Rockpile with ‘I Here You Knocking’. I can still hear the catering ladies working for Vic Last complaining that the music was too loud! What would they make of the 900 watt system I can use for cabaret shows today?
As our work load increased so we improved and added to our gear. For the PA side we invested in a mains and 12V battery powered Vortexion amplifier with an output of 60 watts, six Eagle horn loudspeakers, several hundred yards of cable and three home designed tripod stands which my brother made for us. This amplifier gave me my first experience of using the 100V line distribution system which ten years earlier Bob Henderson had told me he used. I now use this system for most of the outdoor events I work at. Its flexibility means that I can arrange loudspeakers to cover large areas using very long cables without loss of volume.
The first disco set
The disco used the same amplifier, two 12″ Whiteley Radio loudspeakers in custom cabinets, which I built to a design from Brian Babani’s excellent Loudspeaker Cook-book, and a home constructed twin-turntable unit using Garrod SP2 MkI decks. Our light show at this stage was two oilwheel projectors, two pairs of coloured PAR36 type reflector lamps which I seem to remember just flashed off and on, and a sound-to-light unit. This controlled two home constructed light boxes fitted with coloured lamps in variously shaped cooking foil reflectors all hidden behind a glass front covered with textured Fablon. Both this controller and the audio mixer for the turntables were built from designs I saw in Practical Wireless. Incidentally, can you name the venue in this picture? If so please e-mail me.
During the next ten years or so we provided the PA system for numerous fetes and events around the area including the Sotterley Steam Rally (the fore-runner of the present one at Henham I think) and the two-day Sibton Horse Show which was featured in the BBC documentary I mentioned earlier. We also entertained at countless wedding receptions (including each others), parties and dances as far away as Gorleston, Ipswich, Stowmarket and Diss. One Saturday afternoon, having set up the equipment for a wedding reception at Scole, my wife and I were sitting in our van on a layby outside the town when a police patrol car pulled in. The driver came over to speak to me and I immediately began to wonder what I’d done wrong. It turned out that we have provided the disco for his wedding reception at Aldeburgh a couple of years earlier. He recognised the name on the van and came over to say hello. Phew, panic over!
1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, was probably the busiest we ever had. At its peak we covered two events on one day. In the afternoon we were at a Sports Day on the LWAA ground in Victory Road, Leiston then in the evening we moved to Knodishall where we linked the Village Hall and the WI Hall together – via a cable run across the intervening gardens – for a big Village Celebration.
New Sounds Around kit In the late seventies we purchased a FAL 100 watt amplifier to use with the new loudspeaker cabinets I had already built and completely updated the rest of the disco kit.
All four of us I designed and built a new console using Garrod SP2 MkIV decks, and added refinements such as fader-starts and Shure magnetic cartridges on the turn-tables, push-button cueing and talk-back. I also designed and built a whole new lightshow and controller.
I think the picture left of all four of us with the new kit was taken in Knodishall Village Hall; the one to the left was definitely taken in the dining room at 61 King Street, Felixstowe where the whole thing was built.
Following this upgrade and because we were now working a much larger area where we were less well known we decided to change the name to Sounds Around, which we felt conveyed more of a ‘roadshow’ image than our original Top Hat Disco.
As part of ‘being a DJ’ in the early 1970’s I joined the fledgling East Anglian Disc Jockeys Association. Regular meetings were held at what is now Millars on the seafront at Felixstowe; then I think it was called Mannings. It was at these meetings I first met Jon Kennedy of the Dhobi Discotheque. The EADJA seemed to fizzle out after a while and I did not see Jon again until he, like me, joined Hospital Radio Ipswich. We’ve remained friends ever since, meeting on many occasions, particularly at the Orwell High School French Evenings – a fine excuse to drink lots of wine and have fun all in the name of culture – where he provided the music, and when I have carried out repairs to his disco equipment. Kath and I were very pleased when in 1999 Jon and his wife Judy agreed to provide the music for our Silver Wedding celebration.
Both ‘Top Hat Sound’ and ‘Sounds Around’ were successful and great fun, but, by the end of the 1970’s work meant that Ernie and Rachel lived in Lowestoft and worked in Great Yarmouth, and Kath and I were living in Felixstowe and working in Ipswich. The physical distance between us, and the fact that I had joined Hospital Radio Ipswich, made it very difficult to fit in the discos and so reluctantly, soon after my son was born in 1981, we decided to call it a day. We sold most of the disco equipment to an up and coming DJ I had met through Hospital Radio – Stephen Foster (BBC Suffolk); gave the remaining PA gear to Hospital Radio Ipswich, and went our separate ways. Ernie continued with bingo for some time whilst I devoted my time to my wife, two children, a full time job and Hospital Radio Ipswich.
I first met Eddie Chorlton, the driving force behind Peasenhall Stockcar Racing, whilst I was working for W. Wells & Sons in Saxmundham. Eddie knew of my interest in electronics and PA systems and so, after several lunch time discussions held in the studio over his photographic shop in Saxmundham Market Place, I began using my PA equipment to provide commentary for the racing when it started in the Summer of 1969.
At first a considerable amount of work was involved because all the equipment had to be set-up before each race meeting and taken down afterwards. In addition, as I have said in a previous chapter, my equipment would only run for two or three hours from a fully charged car battery so it was not unknown that my commentary became very distorted and quiet towards the end of a meeting as the battery ran down.
After a few meetings the popularity of the event grew to the extent that the crowd coming through the gates to watch often numbered several hundred. Because of this, and the limited running time of my own system, the committee decided – I think before the start of the second season in 1970 – to install a more powerful, permanent system which could be directly battery operated. The new 30 watt Eagle system considerably reduced the amount of work needed before racing started because the loudspeaker mounting posts along with the microphone and loudspeaker cables were left in place. All we had to do was mount and connect the loudspeakers around the track and then connect up the amplifier in the Race Control and all was ready to go. Also being directly 12V battery powered meant that the system could easily cope with a whole night’s racing without the battery going flat.
The picture to the left is a still taken from a BBC documentary called ‘The English Village is Alive and Well – Peasenhall’. which was filmed when the racing was only a few weeks old and broadcast I believe in December 1969. It shows the original commentary and race management point which was a small raised dais alongside the entrance leading from the pit area to the track itself. This gave quite a good view of the racing, however, as you can see the race control team had no protection against either the weather or objects and vehicles coming off the track! (I do believe yours truly is wearing a tie, must have been dressed up for the filming.)
The new caravan
It was replaced with this small orange and black painted caravan, which, although quite ‘cosy’ in space terms and with a limited view of the track, did mean that all our paperwork and equipment stayed dry! Note also that by now some ‘safety fencing’ has been errected around it! Reading left to right the people in the picture are Jenny Chorlton (Eddie’s wife), myself, a face I don’t recognise, Liz Chorlton (Eddie’s sister) and another face I remember but can’t name. With his back to the camera is Basil Saunders who I believe was the Start Marshall at the time. The car on the left with the water tap on the boot lid was probably sponsored by Basil’s company B. A. Saunders Plumbing and Heating.
By the time Michael Cole and BBC Look East came to film the racing, the caravan had been superseded by a converted Whincops coach. This gave the race management team much more room. It also gave the commentator a clear view of the track and allowed the introduction of a battery driven turntable from which we could play records before and between races. In order to get the records to play I arranged a deal whereby Hubbards TV at Saxmundham would supply me with copies of the latest releases free of charge in return for a few ‘plugs’ during the meeting.
I have been in touch with one of the drivers, Bob Foss, now a driving instructor in the Yarmouth area I believe, who has given me some more names of people who regularly raced at Peasenhall. Particularly Richard Smith – now the Senior Driving Examiner at Lowestoft Test Centre – and Cliff Thrower who was a Driving Examiner at Lowestoft, although Bob thinks that he is now retired. I believe Cliff was the driver of the B. A. Saunders car shown above and he is rumoured to have some cine film of the racing. I have also met up again with an old friend from Stockcar days Adam Collacot, however, I have still not been able to locate any more photographs of the early racing. A number of websites have much later photos available for sale, but, no-one seems to have anything from the early days. If you can help, or you know the name of the photographer who regularly attended the meetings, please e-mail me, or call me on 01394 274935.
I continued to provide the commentary for Peasenhall Stockcar, both at it’s home track in Sibton and at some very interesting demonstration meetings at the Eye Show, until the mid 1970’s. Latterly I was joined by Ernie Rabett, but, more of that in the next chapter.