Bristol Chronicles 1966 - 1969
1966 -The Queen opens the £10 million Severn Bridge on September 8.
Bristol's Mecca Centre opens
1966 - Thursday May 19 is a glittering night in Bristol when 800 of the West Country’s VIPs are invited to the opening of the city centre’s brand new £32 million leisure complex on Frogmore Street With a dozen licensed bars, a casino, a cinema, a night club, an ice rink and a thousand plastic palm trees, this is the biggest entertainment palace anywhere in Europe and somewhere to rival the West End of London. There are girls! In bikinis! There’s even pineapple! On sticks! Drivers park their Hillman Imps in the multi-story car park!
And, amazingly enough, the venue has been an entertainment centre ever since. Bristol . . . entertainments capital of the South West, and one of the entertainments attractions of Europe. That was the talk of the town when Mecca moved into Bristol, splashed out a fortune and began building the New Entertainments Centre in Frogmore Street, towering over the ancient Hatchet Inn and the Georgian and Regency streets nearby.
The New Entertainments Centre wasn't just big, it was enormous and it was what 60s leisure and fun-time were all about, Mecca promised. Here, slap bang in the middle of Bristol, the company was creating the largest entertainment centre in the whole of Europe. A dozen licensed bars, an ice rink, bowling lanes, a casino, a night club, a grand cinema, asumptuous ballroom and, naturally, a multi-storey car park to accommodate all those Zephyr Zodiacs, Anglias, Westminsters, Minis, Victors and Imps etc which would come pouring into town bringing the 5,000 or so customers who would flock to the centre every day.
London might have its famous West End. Bristol had its Frogmore Street palace of fun and the opening night of the biggest attraction of all, the Locarno Ballroom, on May 19th was the Night To Crown All First Nights, the Post proudly announced. Sparkling lights, plastic palm trees in shadily-lit bars, a revolving stage, dolly birds in fishnet tights and grass skirts . . . this was glamour a la mid-60s and Bristol loved it.
1966 - KEYNSHAM became a familiar household name to millions of Radio Luxembourg listeners across Europe in the 1950s and 1960s — thanks to a local betting expert.
Self-styled 'football pools king' Horace Batchelor helped punters win a total of more than £12 million between 1948 and 1971 at a time when £75,000 was a fortune and his series of radio ads always mentioned mentioned Keynsham, which Horace would then spell out.
Customers followed his unique 'infra draw' tip system, which forecast which matches would be drawn in the pools. He put the otherwise little-known town on the map by spelling out its name letter by letter so listeners would address their applications correctly when ordering tips by post.
His ads included genial patter such as: 'Hello, friends — this is Horace Batchelor, the inventor of the fabulous Infra-Draw system. You too can start to win really worthwhile dividends using my method.'
Members of the system clubbed together to enter very large permutations with a good chance of winning the pools and then sharing the takings — though each individual only received a small fraction of each big windfall. Horace himself set a world record by personally netting more than 30 first dividends and thousands of second and third dividends.
During his heyday up to 5.000 orders a day were delivered via Keynsham to his office in Old Market, Bristol. His first major pools win came in 1948 when he was presented with £11,321 at Bedminster’s Rex Cinema —part of the biggest dividend then paid by Sherman’s Pools.
It also included £45,000 which he shared with syndicate members. - By 1955 he had won enough to live in luxury, running three cars and puffing cigars in an 18-room house. He later retired to a 27-bedroom ‘Batchelor pad’ in Bath Road, Saltford, a small village just outside of Keynsham, which he named 'Infra -Grange' after his system.
barefoot pop star from Essex
September 1966 - This was the week in September 1966 that Sandie Shaw, the 19 year old barefoot pop star from Essex, was nominated to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest.
"Puppet on a String" won the contest hands down in Vienna the following year giving the songstress her third UK No. One.
Although she hated the song it was a worldwide smash with sales of a million plus.
In Bristol the local media were concentrating on a battle to save three acres of the precious the Downs destined to be lost to a traffic roundabout at the top of Blackboy Hill. Members of the newly formed Downs Protection Association were determined, with the backing of the Civic Society, to fight the plan to the bitter end.
The Civic Society secretary, Mr Marsden-Smedley, told the Post,
“It is quite clear that public opinion is against the scheme (and) there is a strong case for saying that it is not legal.
“We will be coming out hot and strong against this plan.
“We shall follow this through as best we can but without being unpleasant to the Corporation and their officers.”
The roundabout was never built.
Cumberland Basin complex opened in 1965
One bit of traffic management that WAS completed in the 1960s, however, was the £800,000 Ashton Gate complex, a series of bridges and underpasses.
Described as the “ one of the most progressive schemes in the country” by the assistant City Engineer, Mr. Willy, the two level interchange was a continuation of Bristol’s £3 million Cumberland Basin complex opened in 1965.
The new highway would eventually link up with a yet to be built Long Ashton by-pass.
1967 - Steve Marriot writes the Small Faces hit Itchycoo Park while staying at the Grand Hotel in Bristol.
1967 - In the big, big world of movies he was one of the greatest male stars, she was the greatest box office draw of them all ... and together they formed a superstar pair which wanted Bristol as the TV jewel in their glittering crown.
The very mention of the names Richard and Elizabeth meant one thing in the Swinging Sixties. Richard'n'Liz, Burton and Taylor, Anthony and Cleopatra. So it was front page news when it became clear that the most colourful couple in movieland's history were seriously contending to take over the TV franchise for Bristol and South Wales. 'Richard Burton told the Evening Post this afternoon: 'I am backing the bid for the West and Wales TV contract. ''Both myself and Miss Elizabeth Taylor are strongly supporting this application' he said. Mr Burton is filming in Nice. 'He leads an international list of stars who have joined in the bid for the contract now held by TWW.
'Another star named today as 'very interested' in the consortium bid is Harry Secombe. Film star Stanley Baker and opera singer Geraint Evans have already promised their support. 'Broadcaster Mr John Morgan, spokesman for the group, said this afternoon that Burton's involvement was 'very considerable', both financially and in talent. 'He said Richard Burton was one of the originators of the £3 million bid to oust TWW after almost 10 years.
'Faced by a Saturday deadline for their application, the group are putting the finishing touches to their draft programme. 'Mr W.A. Hawkins, chairman of Bristol Evening Post, another group member, said: 'We have all the money we need. The emphasis will be on regional programmes of a high quality. ' 'Important international stars will be used and there will be fewer quiz programmes. We shall keep some but they will be of a higher standard than the present programmes.'
'A statement announced: 'The consortium has at no time sought any publicity for their application and has no desire to embarrass the ITA. ' 'However, some details have been published and in order to clear up some speculation we would like to say Mr Richard Burton and Miss Elizabeth Taylor are strongly supporting this application. In fact Mr Burton is one of the originators.'
' And they won. Bristol's telly company-owning superstars turned up the following year when TWW was given its marching orders and Harlech TV, later HTV, came into being.
She wore the biggest diamond ring anyone had ever see—'It's a present from Richard'—she announced—and HTV had the noisiest, best-publicised launch of all.
Baby its Cold Outside
January 1967 - was cold - so cold in fact that 80 shivering workers at the Feeder Road works of Newman's Plant and Machinery Division walked out for two hours claiming that it was just too cold to work. One man told the Post: 'Our hands and feet were numb.' As the men drank hot canteen soup in the yard outside and warmed themselves up with a rousing chorus of Baby It's Cold Outside - complete with guitar accompaniment - union reps took up their case with the management.
The men warned their bosses that they would down tools again the following day if the works was not made any warmer. But after Gas Board engineers were called in to look at the company's recently-installed £12,000 heating plant, the walk-out ended.
1960s train crash, St Anne's station
The week's main front page story - and one which led to an inquiry - was a head-to-tail collision between two express trains outside the disused St Anne's station. Eight of the 600 passengers on board were injured, but only one - 29-year-old David Newman - was detained in hospital. He was said to be 'comfortable'. The accident happened when the Paddington to Swansea express ploughed into the rear of the Paddington to Bristol train which had stopped at a signal near St Anne's. The South Wales train had been diverted through here because of a goods derailment at Wapley Common, near Chipping Sodbury.
It had run into the back of the stationary train at 20mph, but luckily the luggage coach, which was hoisted high in the air and then crushed, had acted as a buffer and protected the rest of the train from the full impact of the collision.
Bristol Rovers V Arsenal
Luck came Eastville's way as Rovers were drawn at home to Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup match of January 28. 'A great draw, ' commented manager Bert Tann. Arsenal had last played The Gas in the Cup in January 1936 when they had crushed the home team 5-1. The result this time? Three-nil to Arsenal before an excitable crowd of some 35,000.
Lulsgate's Bristol Airport
Other news - included city council approval to spend more than £1 million upgrading Lulsgate's Bristol Airport, despite ongoing controversy over whether it should move to Filton. The money included £750,000 to be spent on extending the main runway. Councillor Charlie Merrett urged the airport committee to stick with Lulsgate, saying: 'So far as the residents of Horfield, Southmead and Henbury are concerned, they don't want VC10s roaring over their heads hour after hour. The place for the airport is Lulsgate.' Councillor Bob Wall pointed out that this was already happening anyway.
St Peter's Church
St Peter's - the bomb-damaged church lying in the heart of the old Wine Street/Castle Street. shopping area (now Castle Park) - was also in the news and causing not a little controversy.
In 1966 a row had broken out when it was revealed that £40,000 was to be spent preserving the gutted church and making the building safe. Although this figure had been reduced to £27,000, the Corporation decided to consult Sir Hugh Casson - who was already working on new museum and art gallery plans for the area - to see if he thought the spending was justified. Sir Hugh said it was, and that furthermore the church tower was an integral part of his scheme for redevelopment. To brick up the ground floors and windows, he added, would be 'visually disastrous'.
Bristol Central Commercial School
Many people were saddened to learn that Bristol Central Commercial School in Old Market's Redcross Street - which had provided shorthand, typing and bookkeeping courses for young people for some 25 years was to close in the summer. Remaining pupils were to be transferred to Rose Green High School.
Two Severnside local landmarks were also going. The ship Vindacatrix, moored at Sharpness since 1939 and which had trained some 75,000 young men for a life in the Merchant Navy, was on her way to a Newport yard to be broken up. And the nearby Severn Railway bridge - badly damaged in a tanker disaster seven years previously - was to be demolished completely at a cost of some £100,000. It was planned for 14 of the trusses to be sent to South America and used on a new bridge there.
Some 4,000ft long, the structure - which once connected Severnside with the Forest of Dean - was opened in 1879. Described by Bristol's Chief Constable George Twist as a 'revolution' in crime, it was revealed that Bristol police were to recruit women traffic wardens for the very first time. Thirty extra wardens were to be appointed, with some taking over point duty from police and releasing them to get on with the job of fighting crime. Apparently the women were being introduced not in the interests of equality, but because of the difficulty of finding enough men for the job.
32 guineas for 15 days on the Costa Brava
Everyone in January 1967 was going holiday mad, with page after page of the Post covered with ads for two-week package breaks. Going with Cooks, you could fly from Bristol to Palma for £55, or to the Austrian Tyrol or the Italian Riviera for £50. A nine-day 'panoramic' coach-tour would set you back a trifling £46 (spending money £41) or, a real bargain this, a 10-day coach trip through the Austrian Tyrol for just £23. Fancy something a bit more restful? Then a seven-day tour by coach through sleepy Irish towns and villages could be yours for just £37. Wallace Arnold Tours were offering even better deals - 32 guineas for 15 days on the Costa Brava, or 54 guineas for 15 days in southern Italy.
Bristol's very own travel agents Hourmont were begging you to fly with them - on the 'fastest Viscounts' - to Lido de Jessolo in Italy, Benidorm or Rimini for just £42. Staying at home? Then a trip to see the sights of London by Bristol Greyhound coach (via the motorway!) cost just 33 shillings. (There were 20 shillings to the pound in those good old days.) If you fancied seeing a panto then you could book (five shillings - 25p to 13 shillings) at the Hippodrome to see that popular Aussie folk group The Seekers along with comedian Ted Rogers in Humpty Dumpty. Bath Theatre Royal was putting on Goldilocks And The Three Bears, and Weston's Knightstone Theatre featured Aladdin with Arthur English.
Also on in Weston, at the Winter Gardens, was the exciting Alan Price Set. If you fancied something a little more highbrow, then Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities was on at the Little Theatre. There wasn't much choice to be had at Bristol's cinemas that freezing January - they all seem to have been showing either Dr Zhivago or My Fair Lady. 1968 - The first St Paul’s Carnival is held with the procession trouping past the Lord Mayor of Bristol.
The Great Flood - Wednesday 10th July 1968
Disaster Day. A date that lives vividly in the memories of those who experienced the Great Flood of ‘68. Heavy rain had been falling for most of the day and by mid-evening, accompanied by thunder and lightning had reached torrential proportions in Bristol and North Somerset.
It was in fact, the worst rainstorm to hit the area in over half a century with more than five inches of rain falling in several districts in less than 24 hrs. This enormous storm started as a heavy downpour over Brittany France, reached its peak over Bristol and South West England and finally drenched Holland on Thursday afternoon.
Flooding had been occurring throughout the South West from mid-day but the full fury of the flood was felt during the hours of darkness. By 5.am almost every stream, brook and river in the area had burst its banks causing death, devastation and despair on a scale greater than any in living memory.
That night, seven people lost their lives, hundreds more suffered a terrifying ordeal of hardship and loss, bridges that had stood for centuries were washed away or severely damaged and countless houses, shops, factories and other properties were engulfed. It was a night that re-kindled the ‘spirit of the blitz’, a night when numerous selfless acts of heroism and community spirit prevailed.
As night gave way to day and the full extent of the disaster was revealed, it became obvious that for a great many people life would not return to normal for a number of days yet to come.. . for same it never did.
1969 - In April, Brian Trubshaw pilots Concorde 002 on her British maiden flight from Filton to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. On emerging from the cockpit he says: 'It was wizard! A cool, calm and collected operation!'
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