It's May 1941 - The Battle of Crete, which marked the first large-scale paratrooper invasion in history, was being fought, far less momentously, in bomb scarred Sheffield I was born, the youngest of five children. Raymond is ten, Maurice eight, Mavis five, and Barbara is three. And the pattern of 2 & 3 years which emerged between each birth, would continue... I was just four months into gestation during the blitz of December 13th 1940. But I do remember the devastation that Sheffield suffered during the war.
I know our memories can play strange tricks - can I really remember with such clarity, running down to the Anderson shelter in the dark, stumbling on the path, being picked up in a strong pair of arms and rushed to safety? The terrifying wail of the sirens, and inordinate fear of the barrage balloon, just above our house? I have strong pictures in my mind's eye that no newsreel could have provided. I can remember the addresses of the various houses we lived in, the neighbours, the games we used to play, even the clothes I used to wear! But certain things can become a little 'shuffled around' in our memories, and although I'm trying to ascertain the accuracy of names, places, events, it's entirely possible that my memory may stumble a little.
At fourteen I was making notes in the back of my school exercise book, recording events that were important to me, events that I felt sure I would want to recall later. At fifteen I received my first diary, a tiny thing which, as it transpired, would become crammed with excitedly written and now, almost illegible jottings. These 'jottings' became so prolific in later years that I would buy bigger and bigger diaries, until I gave up trying to cram daily events into such small spaces and bought loose-leaf notebooks, so that I could scribble away to my hearts content, writing in the date myself.
These diaries, kept in an old carrier bag, have travelled with me throughout the last three decades, often mislaid for many a year, then suddenly falling out from the back of a cupboard during a rare clear out. (I'm hopeless at throwing things away!) I'd sit down and have a good wallow in nostalgia, wondering at the amazing pace of my lifestyle then! At the number of famous people who came into my orbit, and the occasions when I so narrowly missed coming to grief! At the difference then, to our lifestyle today. I wonder too, that I did not write even more than I did, as these diaries serve to jog further memories that did not find their way into print.
But of course, I was not writing my biography - then. Just recently, I stumbled across this 'cache' of diaries yet again, and was concerned that they were rapidly fading (the first ones written in pencil on semi-shiny paper), and the loose-leaf notebooks, even looser than ever. I have often wondered what most precious things I would save if ever the house went up in flames, now I know that it would be my diaries and my favourite photographs - I'm sure the cats would be ahead of me...
So I decided to type up these precious memories and save them on disc, and to also include the memories not recorded at the time. It was then that I began to realise that what I was typing up was history - I mean real history!
From time to time, events were being resurrected in T.V. documentaries as being special moments in time and this was MY time, I had been there, I had experienced these events at first hand, they were talking about MY youth. Was it really so long ago? Had my youth gone down in the annals of history already? (Was I really that old??)
I turned to my older brothers and sisters for confirmation of certain events, dates and places. I was dismayed that my sister Barbara admitted sadly to being able to recall very little of our youth. It made me all the more determined to write about as much as I possibly could, reaching into the furthest corners of my memory to recreate our family life. I then turned to Maurice, and spent a couple of very satisfying hours on the phone, matching up our youthful memories. He was surprised that I could remember so much, and I was delighted that he was able to confirm that my memories were quite accurate, in fact he astounded me with the sheer width and breadth of his memory, being able to name not only every neighbour we'd ever had, but practically every one in the street! But he also told me something that differed greatly from what I had always believed and it made my heart pound! I then phoned my eldest brother, Raymond, where memories began to come into conflict in no uncertain manner and I realised that I was going to have to dig really deeply to get to the truth.
The one member of our family, Mavis, who really has the best story to tell, prefers to remain silent, which is a great shame, but I respect her reasons for this. It's understandable that, as she spent so much of her life under the microscope, she now wishes to continue to stay out of the limelight. But of course, not only would these memories be incomplete without any mention of her, but also the very fact of her being, and what she had to suffer through her condition, is a very relevant part of it.
Sadly, my parents are long since dead, and I no longer have any family living in Sheffield, consequently, I have not seen the amazing changes - which I have become aware of since reading Bob Horton's book - 'Living in Sheffield - 1000 Years of Change'. A real eye opener!
I look back and try to discover exactly where it all began - this urge to put words on paper.
Lots to say
I was always good at English Composition, when it came to English lessons my little star shone! I was good at spelling, remembering and reciting poetry - even composing my own, but most of all I was good at creating stories - (which came in very useful when I was caught doing something I shouldn't, which was pretty often). Whilst most of my fellow classmates struggled to cover half a page with juvenile scrawl, for me, the one and half hours allotted, simply wasn't enough. I would race through page after page, usually managing to condense my story into three pages.
Where it all came from, I do not know, the words just came tumbling out without my having to think about it. When given a choice of three subjects from which to compose a story, I would always choose the most difficult; partly to test myself and partly to show off! Inevitably, after our work had been read and marked by the English teacher, I would be asked to stand up and read out my composition, there'd be the odd gasp from classmates who'd struggled to create three lines, unable to comprehend how I'd managed to write so much! I would have gained even more 'house points' for this sterling work, if it hadn't been for my handwriting - it was quite appalling, but I couldn't write fast and neatly! I read voraciously, and loved words, even now, a dictionary is always within reach, (and boy, do I need it now!). Except that, learning new words but not how to pronounce them, would serve to trip me up time and time again! How can I ever forget the time I stood up in class to read out a particularly good story, using lots of new words I'd recently discovered, only to ruin it by pronouncing phenomena as 'pheenomeena'! (I can still hear the laughter!).
Aged eight, I was asked by a visitor to our house, the standard question - "And what are you going to be when you grow up"? My stock answer was - "A Biologist or a Biographer!" And the re-action was always the same, the inquisitor, momentarily taken aback, would then smile indulgently and ask me if I knew what the words actually meant. I knew that one was to do with the workings of the body and the other was to do with writing, but, in truth, I just liked the sound of the words!
Even so, I knew more about the former, than this visitor could possibly have imagined. I had spent a great deal of time talking with my older sister, Mavis, who was born with a hole in her heart and, consequently, spent most of her youth in and out of hospital. She knew a great deal about her condition, which she and I discussed at great length. We would even play games to test our knowledge. The idea was to take it in turns to go through the alphabet naming parts of the body. For instance, A - Aorta (arm would be far too simple!) B could be biceps, or blood if you were new to the game, but I preferred to wait until H when I could say haemaglobin! Then we'd go on to naming the bones in the body in the same way. So, if I didn't have my nose stuck in The Universal Home Doctor, it was imbedded in Nuttall's Standard Dictionary.
I usually came out top in Biology exams simply because I rabbited on at great length, showing off my 'extra' knowledge, far and beyond what was actually asked for! When I was good at something, I gave it my all, in an effort to make up for my many shortfalls - music, religious knowledge, and cookery - where on one occasion I came bottom of the class, which was so unfair, it wasn't me who burnt the cakes!!
I gratified my desire to write by being a prolific diary keeper and writing letters. At one time, I was writing on a regular basis to eleven people scattered throughout the British Isles. I also had a pen friend in America and another in Sweden. And, some years later, a girl from Krakow in Poland, started to write to me.
As I had an insatiable interest in 'show business', I began to run Fan Clubs for my favourite performers, this too, provided an outlet for my desire to 'put pen to paper'. And, as I was soon to discover, it also provided a 'free pass' through the stage door, and, more often than not - into their dressing rooms for a chat!
Through my fan clubs, I came to the notice of Eddie Holland, editor of The Sheffield Telegraph & Star's Teenage paper. He asked me to help form a committee of local teenagers who, amongst other activities, would organise 'welcoming parties' for visiting 'Stars'. So, not surprisingly, I appeared on practically every photograph taken at these parties! I was even asked to help publicise certain events, in particular, Terry Steeples, manager of a Rotherham cinema, was putting on a Pop Concert featuring Craig Douglas so, as I was his Sheffield fan club secretary, he asked me to go along with some friends and have a few publicity photographs taken - unfortunately, someone had the bright idea of taking them up on the roof of the cinema - on a wet, blustery afternoon! Being the kind of person who thrived on meeting 'Stars' from every corner of the show biz world, my teenage years were very enjoyable indeed!
Someone, at some stage in my life, once said wryly, "Oh, yes, Freda's always got a lot to say for herself"! I'm not sure what, exactly, prompted this remark, but I have never forgotten it, and I have often thought it summed me up pretty well!
I was always quick to respond with a letter, to anything I saw written in a publication that I felt warranted comment, nearly all of which were printed. I well remember when I was eighteen, writing to Mike Tomkin, who I think was the 'show biz' reporter for 'Weekend', a popular publication at the time, similar to 'Titbits' and 'Reveille'. I wish I could remember what it was all about; I know it was on a subject where my opinion was contrary to his.
Quite a heated correspondence developed between us, which I was rather enjoying, he was a good looking fellow, and this added a certain extra dimension to the proceedings. But eventually he got fed up with the whole thing, and sent one last letter underlining his original viewpoint and insisting that that was the end of the matter. Feeling a little miffed that the 'game' was over, I think I may well have responded to this finality with a certain immaturity: something along the lines of "cowardy, cowardy custard"!
Strange, that when asked what I was going to be when I grew up, I never replied "A Dancer". Perhaps it was an ambition I knew I could not really fulfill. I was obsessed with music from a very early age, music made me feel good inside and I just wanted to express these feelings in song and dance. I was about 12 years old before I started taking lessons in tap & ballet at the local dancing class (held in the hallway of a neighbour's house, it didn't quite aspire to the rank of 'dancing school'!). I'd desperately wanted to go well before then, but my parents simply couldn't afford to get involved, it wasn't just the cost of the lessons that had to be taken into account, which I think were about 2/6 for an hour, but the cost of tap and ballet shoes, a rehearsal costume, cost of exams - which required one to dress all in white - including tap shoes, the cost of costumes for the shows that we put on. These were not all 'for the old folks' either; I actually appeared in shows at Sheffield's City Hall! But sadly, I was all enthusiasm and no talent; my exams results would suggest that I was merely average.
I adored 'Musicals', the kind that took me into another world were 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers', (I had a youthful passion for Russ Tamblyn!) 'South Pacific', 'Carousel' and 'Oklahoma!'
If I heard Howard Keel singing 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning' on 'Housewife's Choice' during the week, or 'Two Way Family Favourites' on a Sunday morning, I was out of bed in a trice, full of the joys of spring. Mum had the devil's own job to get us all out of bed on a Sunday morning - although the smell of bacon and eggs cooking often did the trick!
I loved all Musicals, including those early Elvis Presley films, but the film that had the most influence on me and left me open mouthed with wonder was 'The Jolson Story'. Still only aged 12, I fell madly in love with Scotty Beckett, who played the part of the young Al Jolson. After it had finished its run, at the Capitol Cinema at Sheffield Lane Top, 'Jolson Sings Again', quickly followed, again I sat open mouthed, just knocked sideways by the sheer effervescence of the man. That deep voice, that handsome face (I fell in love again!), those songs that set my feet tapping. It was an experience I have never forgotten, and those old films thrill me still! And, along with just about everyone else, I could not separate the handsome face of Larry Parks from the wonderful voice of Al Jolson. It was perfect teaming! Sadly, I was less than thrilled when I met the exceedingly gorgeous Larry in the flesh, a few years later.
After I started work at The Grand Hotel in the centre of Sheffield, I began to write in my tiny, handbag size, 'Film Star' diary, all the daily happenings. I was meeting 'Stars' almost every day, and I felt it all had to be carefully documented. I also kept my autograph book close to hand! I was able to meet many stars on a one to one basis, thanks to the manager of the Sheffield Empire, Johnny Spitzer, who lived at 'The Grand'. He was very kind to me, not only giving me two free tickets, in the best seats, almost every week, but also making sure that I met the performers that I really liked.
Whilst my old school friends were now forming steady relationships and looking in jeweller's windows in anticipation, for me, marriage was always in the distant future. Despite having strong feelings, from time to time, for certain boyfriends, it was never with the intention of 'settling down'. For me, I felt there was so much more to life than getting married, so many people to meet and places to discover - and I managed to hold on to my single status until I was 27!
Despite the rather hectic and most enjoyable social life I had in Sheffield, I longed for something more. Jenny, my pen friend in London, encouraged me to spread my wings, and when I eventually left Sheffield behind, I was full of excited trepidation for the wonders that I truly believed existed in London. And it was exciting. (Quite terrifyingly so, on occasion).
I was there when the 'Profumo Scandal' made all the front pages; in fact it was happening so closely around me that I was even mistaken for Mandy Rice-Davies! Meeting well known people from stage screen and television was a daily happening, and I was thrilled to become friends with my favourite pop star - Gene Pitney! I remember clearly the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kennedy; coming face to face with two of the Beatles on Oxford Street; appearances on TV and having a very famous neighbour!
I was almost 20 years old, it was the birth of 'The Swinging Sixties' and London was most certainly the best place to be - I became a teenager all over again! I really loved living in London, even imagining, eventually, that I was a London Girl; after living there for eight years I thought I'd shaken off my Yorkshire roots - I'd certainly had some rough corners knocked off me! But of course, you never, ever, completely lose your true foundation. And although I have now been away from Sheffield, for far longer than I ever lived there, I will always think of myself as a Sheffield Girl.
The War, Sunday School and Mrs Jilliver's Ample Bosom
It's the 1940's; the blackout, the bombs, the barrage balloons, the sirens. The midnight race down the garden to the Anderson Shelter. And the seeds are sown for a different kind of fallout in the years to come...
We live in City Road in Sheffield, a tall Victorian terrace house, the once white stone now black, with the years of smoke from the steel mills. The front garden is steep, and many steps lead up to the front door, (however did Mum get the pram up and down all those steps?) but we always use the long, narrow, echoing passage that leads to a small yard and the back door. To the right of the yard is our lavvy; it has a large wooden seat - big enough to accommodate two small bottoms in an emergency! A long chain hangs down from a tank of water, and I have to climb up onto the seat to reach it, when I pull it I have to jump down quick and get out of the way, other wise the water that flushes the toilet splashes over the top of the tank and showers me with cold water! Its walls are whitewashed on the inside, and neat squares of paper hang from a string. (Toilet rolls? What are toilet rolls??)
We have a small plot leading off from the yard towards a high wall, well, it's high to me, anyway! I've often skinned my knees in an attempt to climb high enough to look over into the brickyard, and the hills beyond. Dad has dug over a small patch in the hope of growing a few vegetables, there's a black smouldering mound where all the rubbish is burned, I found a pair of shoes that had belonged to one of my sisters, on the mound, waiting to be incinerated, but I saved them! I love shoes, I do - none get past me! Our house has a large kitchen, there's a big wooden table in the middle, which we hide under when the bombs are dropping and we haven't had time to get to the Anderson Shelter. Mum is very careful about keeping the blackout curtains in place, not a chink of light must show through to give away our position to the enemy! There's a big balloon over our house - it almost touches the chimney, it reminds me of an elephant without any legs and it frightens me so much I try not to look up at it, but I know it's there - and I wish it would go away! I cling fearfully to my Mum when I hear the awful wail of the sirens (I can hear them still), and wait... there always seems to be a long, long silence - just before the bombs drop...
There is devastation everywhere, but somehow we get used to it, I'm too young to understand the significance of it. "Mrs. so and so's got hit last night..." friends, neighbours - some homeless, some lost forever. I can't remember when the sirens finally stopped, when the 'balloon' went away - I should, but fortunately our memories protect us, and we only remember the good bits...
Mum dresses we three girls all alike, which means that I seem to be wearing the same dress for years and years, as my sister's dresses are passed down to me, I don't mind too much as Mum always chooses really nice clothes for us. I love clothes, and even when I grow out of them I want to keep them. I had this lovely blue coat with velvet collar and cuffs and a matching hat - like a postman's, when it became too small, Mum wanted to sell it, and I was very upset, I didn't like the idea of another girl wearing my favourite coat, a man came to buy the hat and coat for his daughter, I very sulkily agreed but I wanted to keep the hat! But Mum knew how to make me let go of it, she told me to go and look in the bottom of her wardrobe... and there I found a brand new pair of brown lace up shoes, not as pretty as my black patent ankle straps - but I loved shoes, and squeaky new shoes were even better! By the time I got back downstairs the man had gone and so had the coat - and the hat!
When we go to Sunday school, we wear our best clothes and we each have a straw bonnet trimmed with silk flowers, tying under our chin with matching silk ribbon - I am looking forward to being able to wear Mavis's and Barbara's hats when they grow out of them, because I think theirs are much prettier than mine. (I look back and wonder how on earth Mum managed to clothe us so well, as we were not at all well off). We walk down to the church hand in hand, and passers by look at us and say "amah, don't they look sweet?" Sweet? I'm not sweet - I'm a little horror!!
It was at this church that, watched by proud and misty-eyed parents, all the girls and boys dressed as angels, adorned in their mother's net curtains, paraded peacock-like, around the hall. I flaunted my curtains like the best of them, but on catching my mother's eye, was reminded that they had to go back up at the window afterwards - undamaged!
At five years old, Mavis is diagnosed as having a hole in her heart, and at seven or eight years old she has to see specialists in London to see what can be done. During this time me'n Barbara are sent to Fulwood Cottage Homes to be looked after, but there was one occasion when all three of us went there. It was only quite recently, when discussing our family history, that this point came up, me'n Babs were often sent away when Mum and Dad had to take Mavis to the Hammersmith Hospital in London, but why would all three of us go? Maurice would have been about eleven years old then, so perhaps he could remember. No perhaps about it, the phenomenal memory came into play - I was two years old at this time, and, it turns out, Mum had given birth to another girl.
I have fragmented memories of climbing upstairs on hands and knees, ostensibly to see my Mum who I knew was upstairs in bed, a neighbour sat on a chair just inside the bedroom door, I could see Mum in bed and there was the wicker washing basket on the bed beside her, which I thought was a bit odd. To my annoyance, the neighbour tried to stop me but Mum said to let me in, I climbed up on to the bed beside her and the scene then fades from my memory, the scenario had never held any particular significance until Maurice told me about this new baby, and then everything clicked into place.
I was seventeen before I learned of this younger sister, from Mavis, but when I asked Mum about it, at first she said it wasn't true, but eventually said, yes, there had been another baby girl, but she had died at a few weeks old, and that was that, Mum refused to say another word about it. But during my talks with my brothers, I broached the subject of my younger sister - Maurice said he'd no idea I knew about her, and that he didn't know what happened to her, he thought she'd been 'given away'. My heart began to pound at this revelation - was it possible that I had another sister out there somewhere? But Raymond shattered this intriguing news by stating quite categorically that the baby had died. He remembered the occasion quite clearly, he said, when both he and Maurice where ordered out of the house without any explanation, out of curiosity, Raymond peeked through the window and saw a small coffin on the table, he said there was no doubt that the baby had died. Never the less, until I can unearth a death certificate for my kid sister, I'd like to think that she might still be out there somewhere!
So this was why the three of us had been sent to Fulwood Cottage Homes, after the birth - and whatever followed, Mum needed a rest, so we were sent away for a while. I have only happy memories of these occasions, but Barbara's memories are not quite so jolly - "Why were we always being sent away?" she asked me sadly. Perhaps it was being the youngest that made me so bolshie, or maybe I was just born that way! But even at two years old I was perfectly capable of dressing myself, and was most put out when the staff at the Home insisted on trying to do it for me. I complained loudly when, on arrival, we had our own clothes taken away and we were dressed in clothes belonging to the Home. I can still see myself - standing on the bed, full of indignation that someone was actually dressing me! We couldn't even wear our own shoes, but somehow that didn't bother me quite so much... But mainly, I remember only sunshine and riding on the milk trolley around the cobbled yards, sandwiched between the tall milk churns, the milk ladled out with a jug-like container with a long handle which was dipped into the churn, the milk then poured into large blue and white pottery jugs.
Mum had a friend called Mrs Jilliver who lived in Middlewood Road, where Mum and Dad had first set up home. Me'n Babs were sent to see Mrs Jilliver - a buxom lady with a large bosom and a goitre neck - and keep her company for a while, she loved feeding us on great doorsteps of bread and dripping, I didn't mind this too much, providing there was plenty of that tasty black stuff from the bottom of the bowl, spread over the rather tasteless white dripping. Watching Mrs Jilliver cutting the bread was a rather disconcerting sight, as she grasped the loaf to her ample bosom and with a large knife, cutting towards her body, hacked off large chunks of bread, I was almost afraid to look, but somehow, she always seemed to know when to stop. When I'd eaten my fill, I was ready to go, but Babs would shush me whenever I asked plaintively "Is it time to go yet?" - social graces were yet to be learned!
Growing Up In Sheffield
I'm five years old and my throat feels sore, I told Mum that it hurt to swallow, the next thing I know I am in hospital and I'm going to have my tonsils out!! Help! - Nobody asked me if I wanted them out...The nurses are quite strict and shoo Mum away from my bedside, which makes me feel very cross with them. She has brought me in an egg for my tea - I never got it. The next day I am put onto a trolley and left waiting in the corridor outside the operating theatre, another child on a trolley is wheeled out and it's my turn! The surgeon says he is going to put a mask over my face and I tell him that he's not and put my hands out to stop him - I'm aware of a nasty smell of rubber, as I lose the battle, and the mask goes over my face - ugh! Gas is horrid but I know no more until I wake up back in the ward, in my cot. Mum is there as the mist clears from my eyes, but again, the nurses send her away, and I am soon asleep again.
The nurses keep trying to make me eat - but how can I? Anyway, where's my egg? I am in hospital for 3 days altogether, I'm told that I can't go home until I have eaten something. Normally, I have a very good appetite, but I have never felt less like eating. I manage to force some bread and milk (known as 'pobs') down my poor little throat and on the third day I am allowed to leave. In years to come, tonsillectomies will be performed in hours, and patients allowed home the same day - although they will not be whisked into hospital with quite the same speed that I was!
We move to Eastern Avenue, Arbourthorne and it's leather leggings, liberty bodices and black patent ankle straps. The cry of the rag & bone man - he offers me a balloon in exchange for my outgrown shoes and I'm outraged! Being the youngest of three girls, I'm used to having the 'pass-me-downs'. Mum actually tried to throw out my black patent ankle straps because there was a hole in the toe of one of them - can you believe it? My favourite shoes! I crammed my little toes into my brown leather shoes with the strap across the front, even though Mum wanted to give them to the rag and bone man because she insisted that they were too small - so?? He thought he could tempt them off me with the offer of a big, bright yellow balloon - he must think I was born yesterday, I know that that lovely balloon could go pop at any minute, then no balloon and no shoes - no way, Jose! But I will be glad when I've grown out of those leather leggings. I wear them with my shoes to keep my legs warm, they button up with a million, trillion tiny buttons that have to be fastened with a special button hook, and Mum is always telling me to keep still while she tries to match the button holes with the appropriate button, she gets very cross when, reaching the end, finds a button and no button hole...a smack usually follows.
And as for that Liberty bodice (I'm sure it didn't really come from Liberty's) those flat, covered buttons are so difficult to do up and undo that I wiggle and squiggle until it's off, if I do this often enough, it will stretch, and I shall get it on and off with ease. I tried leaving it off all together, but got a smack for my temerity. Smacks came often, as I remember. I got two for getting tar on my legs - a smack for each leg - after I'd been told not to go near the newly tarred road, but I wanted to get a closer look, it's a wonder I didn't get any on my nose!
Victor Sylvester represents chairs on the table, Housewives Choice - a house full of damp washing. I still cannot bear to hear the sounds of Victor Sylvester and his orchestra, it revives memories of being told to go away and amuse myself whilst Mum got on with the cleaning. I hated seeing those chairs on the table whilst Mum washed the kitchen floor, it seemed to take forever, and all I wanted was a bit of attention...On one occasion, Mum gave me a bag of desiccated coconut to eat, thinking it would keep me quiet for a little while. I did my best to eat it; I was supposed to like it, wasn't I? In fact I disliked it intensely, and have loathed coconut in any shape or form ever since, I cannot even bear the smell of it. (Unfortunately for me, it appears to be used in practically every consumable!)
The whole process of doing the family wash took forever. Every inch of the kitchen floor would be covered with separate piles of clothes, the large copper bubbled away in the corner, filling the room with hot steam. With sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and the hair that escaped from her turban, stuck firmly to her forehead, Mum used a wooden 'dolly' (like a 3 legged stool with a long handle) to thump the living daylights out of the heavily soiled clothes that had been soaking in a zinc pan, and a copper 'posher' for moving the clothes around in the boiler. A bucket stood in another corner, supposedly out of the way of curious little fingers, where the boiled white washing was soaked in water to which a bag of 'dolly blue' had been added. It turned the water (and my fingers) a lovely shade of blue, I never could understand why Mum wanted to turn her lovely white washing blue!
Mum used to have to wring out the soaking wet washing by hand, until the day a wringer arrived, but it had to stand outside, there just wasn't enough room for it in our small kitchen. I used to help by lifting the wet washing out of the zinc bowl for some one else to feed through the rollers, standing well back - I'd heard horrific tales of long hair and even arms being caught up in those rollers! Then there was the drying; we had washing steaming all over the house when the weather was behaving badly. The ironing process took up another whole day, robbing me once again of even a tiny bit of my mother's attention. The freshly ironed washing was then draped over the slats of the ceiling dryer and hauled back up high, where it hung over us during every meal time until it was all hauled back down again, to be carefully folded and put away.
We still have to go outside to get to the toilet, but at least it's bare whitewashed walls are attached to the house, although the ledge and brace door, to which squares of neatly torn up newspaper are attached by a loop of string, (when will we get to use those wonderful sheets of shiny 'Bronco' lavatory paper??) does not quite reach the floor and the sharp draught which blows beneath, feels appallingly cold to tiny feet.
Sent off to nursery school at the age of three and on the first day, clinging to my mother's skirts, I cry broken heartedly - because another girl is wearing the same dress as myself! Which was all a waste of time, because on arrival we have to put on overalls, identical except for the picture on each pocket. Mine is either an 'h' or the profile of a chair - I never could decide. (And I still don't know!) This matched the picture above the peg on which we had to hang our overall.
My favourite activity at nursery school was 'woodwork'. Hard as may be to believe, we had a huge block of wood on the floor, measuring perhaps 4' x 6' x 1' thick, into which we hammered large nails! (But it would be another 30 years before I put this early experience to some practical use!)
During play, a shove from my young friend and neighbour, Peter Parkin, sent me sprawling on the pavement. I ran into my house crying for my Mum, (as you do), blood streaming down my face. In fact it looked to be far worse than the small cut, the cleaning up process revealed. Never the less, the scar above my lip, bears testimony to that event and has caused many a ribald comment about 'over-enthusiastic' kissing, ever since!
The Sheffield Blue Baby
Al Jolson enjoys a come back. Raymond becomes a big fan so I grow up to the sounds of 'Mammy'.
Mavis is still attending hospital due to her heart condition and now cannot walk very far without becoming out of breath and turning a pale shade of blue and now has to be pushed around in a wheelchair. She becomes known as 'The Sheffield Blue Baby', and becomes a bit of a celebrity. The Sheffield Telegraph and Star have a club called the 'Gloopers' and Mavis is an honorary member, they have a strange looking mascot called Gloops. The club is run by 'Aunty Edith', who takes a special interest in Mavis and writes about her quite often on the gloopers page, she encourages other gloopers to write to Mavis. There are always photographers and reporters around, and at a very young age I start to meet the 'Stars' of the day - Frank Randall, Al Read and Albert & Les Ward - one advantage of being the sister of a 'famous' person! On one occasion, the whole family was the special guests of comedian, Frank Randall, and invited to the Empire Theatre, where a 'box' had been reserved for us. We felt like Royalty!
Unfortunately, for the most part, we can only afford to sit in the 'Gods'. A special trip to the Empire Theatre to see a Christmas pantomime - and I'm terrified! We have to queue for what seems like hours, then we have to climb so many steps, I feel my little legs will give out before we get there. Mum practically lifts me off my feet in an attempt to get me to the top! Now for the terrifying bit - we are so high up; the stage appears to be the size of a pinhead and the slant of the rows so steep that, as we make our precarious way to our seats, we almost tread on the heads of the people seated on the row in front. I sit as far back in my seat as I can, clinging tightly to Mum's hand, (and I'm wishing that seat belts had been invented!)
During the interval, Mum asks if I want to go and get an ice cream from the lady standing at the end of our row with her tray of delights, but there is absolutely no way I am leaving my seat, the smallest movement in the wrong direction, and I shall topple over every ones heads on my way down to that tiny stage a million miles below. I want to go home. I've decided I don't like pantomimes, fat, ugly men dressed up, supposedly as women, shout silly things to the audience, and I don't understand any of the jokes. Albert and Les Ward sing a silly song about a hole in their bucket, which the audience find highly amusing. I like the singing and the dancing - but I still want to go home!
Aged seven, we move to Colley Road, on the other side of Sheffield, and into a brand new council house on the huge, sprawling Parson Cross Estate. Our house is known as 'the one with the big tree'. Although we live next to and opposite 'fields' (actually waste ground), there are no trees or shrubbery of any kind, as all the houses are new, the gardens have yet to mature. But we have a huge tree in our back garden, which Maurice is required to shin up at regular intervals, to rescue all the local moggies!
Richard Page is the young curate at St Paul's Church, every time he visits our house, I tug on his sleeve, vying for his attention - I have two older sisters and two older brothers, who he would much rather talk to. I may be young, but I recognize a handsome young man when I see one, and Richard Page is certainly very handsome!! (And one day he will marry me!) He also runs the church youth club, and I beg him to let me join, but the answer is always the same, "sorry, you're to young". A refrain that will continue to echo in my ears for years to come...
Mavis continues to go to London for tests and now she is to have an operation to plug up the hole in her heart, it is all pioneering stuff, and no one knows how successful it is going to be. The idea is that they will take the pulse from her left wrist (no one thinks to ask, so they do not know that Mavis is left handed...) and insert this small piece of muscle into the hole in her heart, thus preventing the blood from going the wrong way - the blood will now circulate the heart correctly and be oxygenated. Mavis will not be completely cured, it is intended to prolong and improve the quality of her life. She has been told that she will never be able to lead a 'normal' life, get married or have children - but the doctors have not reckoned on Mavis's amazing tenacity and desire to be just like everyone else - she will do all these things!
To be near Mavis, Mum takes a job as an auxiliary nurse at the Hammersmith Hospital, where Mavis will be operated on. Barbara and me are going to stay with Uncle Walter and Aunty Ena at Stannington, on the other side of Sheffield. I hate changing schools; it's awful being new and not having a special friend. Worse, I find that the lessons are all so different too, and find myself consistently at the bottom of the class - this is not where I am used to being and I hated every minute of being at that school. Barbara seems to have adapted all right, I try to hang around with her at playtime but she wants to be with children her own age. I am totally miserable! Aunty Ena and Uncle Walter have plenty to say about my poor schoolwork - especially my terrible handwriting! But there are some good moments - bilberry picking for instance, we go on to the nearby moors and pick tons of bilberries for Aunty Ena to make into the most amazing steamed bilberry pudding - I still dream about it! There's a fete on in the village and a fancy dress pageant, we decline to take part but enjoy seeing all the others, we like the ones dressed up as the Bisto kids best, (they used to feature on the Bisto gravy box and were very popular characters) and sure enough they won!
After several weeks Mavis comes home - and what a homecoming!! The papers have a field day, and Mavis's story is splashed across them all. She is feted by all and sundry in Sheffield and she has a special party - she now has a new birthday to celebrate - July 11th, when she was given a new lease of life. Mum and Dad have bought her a super red bicycle as an incentive for her to get really well, but it is me'n Barbara who will be doing most of the riding on it.
Out In The Big Wide World
I must confess, I would not want to be a teenager today - it really was so very different when I was young. Recently, whilst regaling an eighteen-year-old colleague of how things were when I was a teenager, back in the 1950's, she surprised me by saying "I wish it was like that now!"
Young people have so much freedom today, they can to do pretty much what they like - the taboos of yesteryear have all but gone. This whole 'sex thing' has now been turned around, although it would seem that not everybody is thrilled skinny by this freedom.
We were all so incredibly naïve - that was the way our parents wanted us to be, they thought keeping us in ignorance would keep us out of trouble In some cases it was no bad thing, what you didn't know about didn't bother you, it was the curious ones - with a little bit of knowledge, who wanted a little 'hands on' experience who got caught out - culminating in very early marriages and '7 month pregnancies'!
In those far off days, kissing and cuddling were the standard elements of 'boy-girl' relationships - and very little more. Walking down the street arm in arm or holding hands was usually a sign that you were 'courting' - today's anything goes free for all has put an end to that lovely romantic interlude. There's just no anticipation any more. In my day, it was ok to have lots of boyfriends, but only one at a time, otherwise you were considered to be a flirt (I hold my hand up!) and if it was discovered that you had let a boy 'fondle you in a rather intimate way' ' - you were considered 'easy', and if you had 'gone all the way' (shock, horror - no, really?) you were virtually ostracized. Parents didn't want their own offspring being tarred with the same brush by association. How did we know who had and who hadn't? Well, if a not particularly attractive girl had boys buzzing round her like bees round a honey pot - you knew!!
Despite having a healthy interest in biology, and even being quite good at it, at school, I knew virtually nothing about sex. It took my friends, Pam and Cynthia - the Marriott twins, to enlighten me on the basics of reproduction (I was 14, by the way!) I decided there and then to remain a virgin...
At fifteen we all leave school, (well, nearly all, the Marriott twins decide to stay on, they want to become nursery school teachers) and we're terrified of being out in the big, wide world...Our first job - and some quit in the first week! This going out to work malarkey is no joke!
Hairdresser, Comptometer Operator, Telephonist, are all popular choices for the girls. The less ambitious go to work at Woolworth's - well, it's a wage packet isn't it? I had tried doing a Saturday job at Woolworth's - I worked 9.0am till 6.0pm with half an hour for lunch, for which I got paid the princely sum of 9/- (about 45p) after deductions and bus fare, it didn't leave very much, and I certainly had no energy to go out on a Saturday night to spend my hard earned cash! I tried working at the bakery cum teashop in town, but Saturday, being the busiest day of the week, was absolute hell.
Hot toasted teacakes are the most popular item on the menu - we have to put them under the grill, keeping an eye on them - as well as the customers - butter them and then rush them to the customer. I can tell you that hot currants are very hot indeed! - I went home on that first day with every finger on both hands boasting a painful burn. I got paid 6/- as it was assumed that we would make up our wages with tips - mean blighters!
All the boys want to be professional footballers, but will no doubt settle for working in the steel mills.
Rock 'n Roll fever, and Bill Haley arrives in Britain. 'Rock Around the Clock' is on at the local flea-pit - and we get thrown out of the cinema for jiving in the isles! Flat, slip on shoes, tight sweaters and even tighter skirts with hemlines at calf level, are all the fashion, as are jeans and check shirts (tucked in!). The boys slick their hair back into a D.A., wear shoes with thick crepe' soles, drain pipe trousers and long jackets with velvet collars - a style reminiscent of the Edwardian period, so they are called 'Teddy Boys' - a name that will become synonymous with thugs and trouble makers.
I want to be a telephonist, the G.P.O. is the place to go, they send you on a three-week training course in Halifax, but I have heard many off-putting tales about being a G.P.O. telephonist. You cannot talk in a friendly manner to callers, you can only use standard phrases, you are timed when you go to the toilet, and the supervisors are akin to Attila the Hun! Never the less, there is a waiting list, and, because my father works at the G.P.O. I get an early interview, but I still have to go on the waiting list! Well, I'm happy to have my six weeks holiday, just as if I were still at school - but Mum is having none of it, and finally I agree to go to work at Swann Morton, where both my sisters work. It is an internationally known company that makes blades of every kind; although commonly known as 'the razor blade factory', it is famous for producing surgical instruments.
The factory is situated on Penistone Road, there's a large park conveniently close by, for walking through at lunch time, although the factory does have it's own lovely gardens, where we can sit and eat our lunch on fine days. Barbara is a supervisor there, and the manager of the company is kind of related to us - she is a third cousin once removed, (whatever that might mean!) I soon find that factory work is definitely not for me - I object to having to wear a turban (Hilda Ogden - eat your heart out!) and an overall. I'm also not too keen on having my finger ends shredded. My heart isn't in it - and I'm certainly no good at the job, I last about a month before I give in my notice. My third cousin (once removed) tries to dissuade me - hasn't she heard I'm pretty useless? But I'm determined to leave. As luck would have it, mum has spotted an ad for a trainee telephonist at The Grand Hotel, in the centre of Sheffield. I go for an interview, and I'm overawed at the old-fashioned, rather shabby elegance of what is supposedly Sheffield's most premier hotel. I'm taken on and start next week!
Life At The Grand
October 1st 1956 - I'm excited, but a little uneasy about my first day working at the Grand Hotel. I will have to work in shifts - one-week 7.0am till 2.0pm and one week 2.0pm till 10.0pm, and on the switchboard every other weekend.
For this, I get paid £2.3s.7d per week. It's quite a long journey from my home in Ecclesfield. I take a 20 minute bus journey, passing the Sheffield Wednesday football ground at Owlerton, along Penistone Road and West Bar, into Bridge Street bus station in Sheffield City centre, then I walk up Snigg Hill to Fargate, stopping to look in the window of Kemsley House, where the Telegraph and Star are situated - I love to see who's photograph might be on display there, (it might even be Mavis's!) and then on towards Leopold Street, pausing to look in the window of Wilson Peck (musical instruments) they are the 'posh' version of Cann's, the music shop in Dixon Lane. (After all these years, Wilson Peck finally closed down in 2001).
And so on to The Grand Hotel, in all, it takes upwards of 15 minutes, depending on how long I spend shop window gazing. The staff entrance is in Orchard Street; one goes down into the bowels of the hotel, where we have to 'clock on'. Cards with our name on, are kept in a wooden rack, with 'OUT' emblazoned across the top, on one side of the clock. We take out our card push it into a slot under the clock, which then stamps it, extremely noisily, with the time of entry. It's then placed in a rack emblazoned with 'IN', on the other side of the clock. When we leave, the whole process is reversed. Heaven help those who forget to perform this daily, and sometimes twice daily (when on 'split' shifts) ritual!
I have to be fitted for a uniform as I am going to be working on the lift, running errands, and I might even get a look at the switchboard. I have to start the day by polishing the huge mahogany table that takes up most of the vastness of the front hall. There are two enormous ashtrays on this table, which I have to keep an eye on and be constantly emptying and polishing.
The main entrance, in Barker's Pool, has two huge plate glass doors; the long reception desk is situated opposite, with the porter's desk just inside the doorway to the left, and the restaurant off to the right. Past the Porter's desk and two steps down into the main part of the hall, the switchroom, on the right, is little more than a walk-in cupboard.
The switchboard is big enough and often busy enough, for two people to work it, it is a 'dolls eye' switchboard, which means that 'lids' with a number to represent the number of the room, drops down when a phone is picked up. Many guests (and the hotel manager!) think they have to flash the cradle up and down to get our attention, this makes the 'eyelid' open and close very rapidly - making a very annoying noise, can you imagine what it would be like if everyone did that!! It's bad enough when two or three do it at once, all they need to do is pick up the phone and wait for a moment, but no, everyone seems to think that they are the only person wanting to make a phone call! (Roll on subscriber trunk dialling!!) Beside the switchroom stands a tall glass cabinet, full of paperbacks for the guests to purchase.
At weekends, when I am on the switchboard and it isn't very busy, Dennis, the nicest of the porters, will let me choose a book to read, so long as I promise to return it in good condition and not turn back the corners of the pages. A walk across the front hall towards the ballroom will bring you to the barber's shop on the left, right next to that, pushed up into a corner is my little world - the lift! Across the hall I can see into the bar which is situated between the stairs that lead up to the Manager's office, the staff dining room and the guests rooms, and the way through to the other lounge. There's also a 'secret' door that leads to the back stairs and the 'luggage' lift, which every now and again, when my lift is out of order, I have to go on. I'm appalled that the guests also have to use this horrible lift on these occasions too - or walk up several flights of stairs to get to their floor.
The front hall is also the main lounge; there are lots of easy chairs arranged in straight rows. There's another lounge by the revolving doors, which is the back entrance, but is on the main street - it all seems back to front, to me!
Even in 1956, the Grand is considered to be rather old fashioned. Is it really necessary to have a lift operator? I can only assume that it is cheaper than altering the lift's mechanism to automatic.
My uniform is awful, a muddy brown colour with faded gold cord trim, it's too short, too tight, shabby and showing all too clearly that it has been worn by many others before me. I'm told we will be getting new uniforms soon, but it seems they've been saying that for years. Anyway, I don't want one; the sooner I get out of this one the better. Little do I know that for as long as I am at the Grand, the only time I am out of uniform is when I am working on the switch board at weekends and when the regular telephonists are on holiday, then I get to wear black (whoopee!).
After I have learned how to use the switchboard, I shall take over whilst Barbara, the head telephonist, is having a break. The telephonists have their break in the staff dining room, on the mezzanine floor, whereas the hoi-polloi, such as myself, have to go down into the bowels of the hotel, and find our way through long, dimly-lit corridors, where I can hear the scurry of small brown creatures, to a room that seems to be somewhat Dickensian. The food is absolutely disgusting, a horrible looking mince, full of nasty looking bits, that I do not consider fit for human consumption. I constantly make do with bread and jam, which comes in large containers and when it hasn't fermented, is full of steam flies. There are steam flies everywhere. We keep our clothes in a locker in the locker room, where I have learned to make a lot of noise before opening the door and switching on the light, in an attempt to disperse the mice into their dark little corners, before I go in. Any clothes that have been hanging in my locker are given a good shake before changing into them - those little beggars get everywhere...
The kitchen is down here too, I have to pass it on the way to the staff room, I have seen a very nice looking young man working in the kitchen, I'd be happy to get to know him... In due course, a message comes through the grapevine that this young man would like to get to know me too, and via various messages we arrange to meet after work. I write in my diary that I hope he asks me for a date - but not yet, not until we get to know each other better!! Well, we took things very, very slowly in those days......... Actually, not as slowly as I thought, as the first time Mike takes me home, after we have both being working on the late shift, I note in my diary that he kisses me 4 times! (I'm shocked!)
Friday January 18th - we arrange to go to the cinema. 'Viva Las Vegas' is on at the Paragon. Mike isn't too bothered about musicals, but I love it, I adore musicals.
The path of young love is strewn with misunderstandings, and three weeks of seeing Mike on a daily basis has proved to be too much, especially as I seem to have a rather fickle nature - when I get what I want, I don't want it. I enjoy the thrill of the chase, but soon tire of the quarry. I am meeting so many interesting people, and much as I loathe being 'the little liftgirl', it's a great way of meeting people. I met Tony Wright today and got his autograph, he looks exactly like the photo in my 'Film Star' diary, tanned and rugged, but not at all 'film-starry' - he's really nice. I keep my autograph book handy now, as I never know whom I'm going to meet. Guy Mitchell came to stay, managed to get a photograph but not an autograph - he's tall and handsome and very friendly.
Jimmy Young is appearing at the Empire this week, and staying at the Grand, got his autograph - called me darling! He rings Australia - at £10 per minute! Hilda Baker is also here, she has a very nice young man with her called Arthur, he's supposed to be her manager, but he's always going off to play golf. One of the porters gave me a funny look when I referred to Arthur as her manager, well that's what he told me, I insist, but I get another funny look, which indicates that I must have been born yesterday. I think I understand what he is getting at, but I cannot believe it. She is old enough to be his mother, and, whilst she is my favourite comedienne, and I have the utmost respect for her, she's not exactly the type that I would have thought Arthur would be interested in. (But then I was so-oo naïve!) Arthur and I are getting on famously, I really do quite fancy him...and I am really very sorry when the week is up and they move on to some other town. (Little do I know that we will soon meet again...). I note in my diary that their hotel bill comes to £70.2s.4d - equivalent to about 34 weeks wages to me!
The Platters are also here. They are all very friendly, Robi in particular, is very nice to me, gave me a kiss and a Krone as a keepsake. (Which I still discover from time to time, hidden away in those little pots that we all have somewhere, into which we pop drawing pins, foreign stamps, coins...)
Life at the Grand is quite strange really, on the one hand, I am treated like the lowest of the low, mainly by the porters, yet the 'Stars' who stay here are usually very friendly, and treat me like a fully paid up member of the human race. Sometimes, they even treat me like I'm someone special...
Learning About Life At The Grand
We somehow managed to buy a television in 1953, to enable us to watch the Queen's Coronation. I used to dash home from school to watch children's television and the antics of 'Billy Bunter' and his schoolmates at the fictitious Greyfriars School. It's February 1957 before we change our T.V. set so that we can receive ITV.
Gathering around the fire to watch T.V. on a cold winter's evening, is the best place to be, and because we don't have central heating, we girls argue over who is going to go into the cold kitchen to make a pot of tea. Just going out into the hallway one feels the drop in temperature, only the thought of bringing a tin of Mum's homemade buns to have with the tea, prompts me to go. Mum is a great cook, and I have a great appetite! If I wasn't so active, I could have a real weight problem, as it is, I am growing faster than either of my sisters, which prompts Maurice to tease me mercilessly, and I am made to feel as big and as ungainly as a carthorse! His favourite joke is "don't upset Freda or she'll roll on you!" I was 9st, hardly huge, but compared to my size 10 sisters, it was. I was about 3 inches taller and perhaps a stone heavier than they were, and I remember how unfair it all seemed, with me being the youngest too! Little wonder I felt so uncomfortable in my horrible brown uniform.
Our favourite T.V. programme is 'Quite Contrary', which features a very beautiful young lady called Katie Boyle, and introduces to the world, hairstylist, Raymond, (who became known as 'Mr. Teazy Weazy',) he not only demonstrates new hairstyles, but how to change these styles with the aid of hair ornaments and false hair pieces. (I heard the music today - "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" - which was played as the model is turned round in her chair, so that we could view the hairstyle from all angles, and now that I'm into classical music, I realize that this very familiar piece, was, in fact 'stolen' from Chopin's Nocturne). It was all so glamorous - a million miles away from our working class lifestyle. Even so, I never thought of us as being poor, as everyone I knew was just the same. Although a certain 'snobbishness' existed amongst us. Mum was exceedingly house proud; her net curtains were always whiter than white, (she was quick to remark on anyone else's that weren't - "have you seen the colour of Mrs. so and so's nets?!!") and the front and back doorsteps scrubbed and 'blanco'd', or painted with 'red cardinal' according to the current trend. And it seemed to me that no sooner had the last room in the house been decorated, than mum would start again from the beginning!
The evening shift at 'The Grand' can be quite interesting; I stand by the lift observing all that is going on in the front hall. For a while I was most intrigued by the two women who regularly came in night after night. One tall, slim and blonde with a rather hard face, the other, shorter, and fatter with dyed black hair, and had obviously seen better days. (With hindsight, I would say that the blonde one was probably 30 to 35 years of age, and the other one about 45 - or maybe wishes she was!) They would sit in the front hall, watching everyone who passed by, then after a while they'd go to the ladies powder room, then they'd sit at the bar, which was just opposite the lift, chatting to the other guests. After that, they would walk into the other lounge by the back entrance and sit there for a while.
I found it all rather mysterious, what a boring way to spend ones evenings - of course when I mentioned it, the porters were only too willing to explain their behaviour - and teased me for ever after for not knowing! But I still found it difficult to comprehend, why would anyone want to pay to be with these rather unattractive women? (I really did not know anything about prostitutes - why would I? They had never entered my life before, in any shape or form. For all my apparent success in school biology, which was purely academic, there were huge gaps in this area of knowledge, simply because there were huge gaps in what we were taught, and what was available to the curious. Mum was very warm hearted, generous and hard working, but rather straight-laced, she did not want me to know about sex and did not offer any explanations about anything, consequently, I would get very embarrassed at any allusion to sex, and closed my mind to it.)
Leading off from the front hall, and just by the lift, is the ballroom - which I am not allowed to enter. I try to catch a glimpse as I go past the entrance, there are wonderful chandeliers, and a ball made up of tiny pieces of mirror, suspended from the ceiling, when it turns, even from where I stand by the lift, I can see the refracted light, cascading across the floor, and lighting up the faces of the ladies in their ball gowns and the men in their dinner suits, as they spill out into the front hall.
I love looking at the ladies dresses, and their sparkling necklaces and bracelets. The men look so handsome in their dinner suits. Sometimes I am looked at with curiosity, I have even been described as 'quaint'! Martin, the page boy, suffers from this more than I do, although he is a year older than me, he is really tiny, he has a mass of blonde, naturally curly hair, and round blue eyes. He really does look very cute in his brown page's uniform, complete with pillbox hat - which he hates wearing! Guests think that we are brother and sister, although my curly hair is permed - I have it in the new 'bubble cut' that's so fashionable now. I try to walk casually away from the lift and innocently look inside the ballroom, but I am soon ushered back into my place by a porter, usually Mac - he's such a spoilsport! When Mr. Rendell, the manager, walks through the front hall, he always scowls at me and indicates for me to go inside the lift - I'm in a no-win situation with him, if I'm standing outside the lift - I'm ushered back into it, out of sight. If I'm sitting on my small stool in the corner of the lift - I'm told to 'smarten up'; he walks around as though he has a bad smell under his nose. And his wife thinks she's the queen bee - she rarely spares a look in my direction.
In March, drummer, Tony Crombie, came to play at the Empire. We have now graduated to a 'box' at the Empire when quite a few of us go, not only do we have a really great view of the stage, but find that we get a lot of attention from the artists, perhaps they think that folks who can afford to sit in 'the ashtrays', (as the comedians like call them), must be 'somebody'. Anyway, it's a really good show; Tony Crombie can really play those drums! And it's a very lively evening.
Tony Crombie doesn't stay at the Grand, but he comes into the hotel with Mr. Spitzer, who is the manager of the Empire, and I get his autograph and tell him how much we enjoyed the show. Johnny Spitzer lives in the hotel, and is very nice to me on the whole, but expects excellent service, and when he rings for the lift, he expects me to be there - but instantly! He nearly rings the buzzer off the wall. It's the same with the telephone, he can't just pick it up and wait to be answered, the little 'dolls eye' flashes madly until he's answered. I can't complain though, I only have to say that I want to go to see a show and he will have two tickets waiting for me at the box office. Mostly, I take Mum with me, and she and Mr. Spitzer always have a little chat. Also, if a visiting star I like isn't staying at the hotel, I only have to say, and Mr. Spitzer will arrange for me to meet them. He always introduces me to the stars he brings in the hotel and will make sure that I get photographs and autographs. All I have to do in return, is suffer a rather wet kiss, and a clasp to his huge body, but it is all very chaste - unlike some of the visitors to the hotel...
Colin, who is a travelling salesman for a clothing company, appeared to be very nice at first; he comes quite often, hiring a room to 'show' the clothes. He's quite good looking, as well as being very funny, and I like him a lot, I regard him as my friend and I get quite jealous when I find he has been 'chatting up' Anita, who works the opposite shift to me. I didn't mind too much when he kissed me on the cheek, but when he asked me to stop the lift between the floors so that we could 'do it properly', I'm most offended, and I'm quite 'off' with him for a few days, in fact I feel pretty much on the defensive with him now, but contrarily, I'm still glad when he is visiting again. I realise that I like his attention but I'm giving nothing in return! Another salesman, who is travelling in jewellery, gives me a ring and announces that we are now engaged - doesn't he know I'm only fifteen?!
Johnny Ray is here!! He's appearing at the City Hall for just one night. There are dozens of fans outside the hotel screaming for him. The porters have to stand in front of the glass doors to stop them from breaking in. Johnny is very tall and exceedingly thin, he's very nice, but he is rushed around by the people who are with him, so I don't get the chance to ask for his autograph, which is a great pity, because he is Mavis's very favourite singer, and I would like to have been able to get a signed photo for her.
It is pandemonium outside all evening, quite exciting really, but I am on the inside, and I still can't get near him! When he comes into the lift, he is surrounded by so many people, that I am crowded up in the corner and barely have room to operate the handle. (You didn't think I pushed a button, did you? No such technology here!) I'm really rather sad when I discover that Johnny is leaving the next morning, as it has been very exciting having him stay here - really brightened up my life! There are still girls outside the hotel, and I hear lots of screams when he finally leaves - I wonder if any of them managed to get his autograph?
Following Johnny Ray came Tex Ritter and a very peculiar friend. The friend is a hypnotist, he proves his powers by hypnotising Tex Ritter, his manager, and Mr. Spitzer, they are all slumped in their chairs in the front hall lounge, and other guests think that they are drunk! Whenever the hypnotist comes into the lift, he looks at me with deep brown, rather mysterious eyes, he says he's going to hypnotise me, but after having seen what happened to the others, there's no way this man is going to hypnotise me, and I refuse to look at him. But he catches me out when he speaks to me, and automatically I turn to look at him, I start to feel very strange - I panic and tell him to stop it, which, thankfully, he does. But I don't trust him, I know he wants to hypnotise me, I'm quite a bolshie little piece, usually able to take charge of a situation, but this man frightens me, so I make a point of not looking into his eyes again. Tex Ritter, on the other hand, is really nice, and the way he dresses makes me laugh. He is always in full cowboy gear, complete with tall Stetson and high-heeled boots with very pointed toes, which he frequently trips over!
March 30th is Mavis's 21st birthday and we are going to hire a hall, there is going to be a huge party. We have a terrific time; a photographer from the Sheffield Telegraph & Star came to take photographs. A crowd of us go back to our house to play cards until the early hours. I stay up for as long as I can because Keith is there, and I really fancy him, he's tall and dark and handsome and is very fit because he plays football. He's 22, which is too old for me, or rather, I am too young for him, but he is really nice to me and most lads of his age aren't, and he lets me sit on his knee. Unfortunately it is my weekend on the switchboard, and I have to be up early - so reluctantly I have to leave them enjoying themselves. I rather think the other girls are glad I have gone; now they can have Keith's undivided attention. (If only I could have known then, that one day, I would have Keith's undivided attention, I would have gone to bed a much happier girl!)
My two older sisters are petite and pretty, I'm tall for my age and feel like a carthorse next to them. And I am very envious that they can do all the things that I would like to do, like wearing high heels and make-up and staying out late on dates, but I am constantly being told that I am too young for this and too young for that. They have lots of handsome boyfriends - they aren't interested in me, I'm still at the ugly duckling stage, and somehow four or five years is a big age gap when you are only 15 years old and the boys are around 20.
But at least they talk to me, boys can be very strange, they don't like to be caught talking to a girl in case they're thought to be interested in her. It's so silly; I like having boys as friends. I have to admit though; it gives me a good feeling if I'm seen talking to any of them by my girlfriends. I'd love to be able to pass one off as my boyfriend, but Sandra, who's my best friend isn't fooled. "Saw you talking to your Barbara's ex-boyfriend, don't imagine you stand a chance, will you?" We girls could be quite bitchy with one another.
Further down the road from our house lived two brothers, who were the same age as my sisters; I thought they were both very nice because they were happy enough to talk to me. The eldest, who had been in the same class at school as Mavis, was really gorgeous. Very tall, (and with me outgrowing everybody, that was very important) dark and handsome, with a nice lean figure as he also played football, in fact he lived football. I often saw him going to or coming back from a game, and he always said 'howdo' and asked after Mavis. I thought he was especially lovely because he was so natural and friendly towards me. I wish he could be Mavis's boyfriend - no point in me casting an eye at him. But then he got engaged. I had to admit; she was a lovely girl, very dainty and pretty, emphasizing my own lack of sophistication. (But, as with Keith - my day would come...)
Looked in Kemsley House window and saw photograph of me, Mavis and Barbara, taken at Mavis's birthday party. Someone staying at the Grand saw the photo too and recognised me - fame at last! I have started a fan club for The King Brothers, here in 1956; they are very, very popular. They are appearing at the Empire this week, went back stage to have a chat with them, discovered that we all like Count Basie who is appearing at the City Hall Friday night, they won't be able to go to the concert - but I shall!
My hair has grown, so I tried putting it in a 'bun' with the aid of a hairpiece shaped like a do'nut. I rather liked it, and felt quite grown up, but the reaction - from the porters in particular, did nothing for my esteem. I'd tried experimenting with make-up too, but it seemed to do nothing for me at all. Max Factor's 'Fire Engine Red' lipstick is very fashionable, but I already had lips that are rather too full, and rather too red. This red lipstick did not help at all. And when the very pale, whitey-pink lipstick became so fashionable, I couldn't wear that either with any measure of success, as the redness of my lips showed through.
Anita has handed in her notice, a nice girl called Lorna came for an interview. It was the Easter Break, all in all it turned out to be quite a weekend. Barbara got engaged to her boyfriend Ron, and we went to Swallow Falls in Wales on Easter Monday, where, strangely enough, I bumped into one of the guests who had been staying at the Grand. A nice young man, that I'd had my eye on, we looked at each other in astonishment, but said nothing, we hadn't got around to speaking yet, in fact if anything, I felt a little embarrassed, almost as if I'd followed him to Wales, which of course I hadn't - it was just one of those really bizarre coincidences.
Soon it will be Whitsuntide, a time when we all buy new clothes, and then go round the neighbours, showing them off, it is traditional for them to give us money - how much, depends on how nice we looked in our new clothes. Barbara always looked stunning and, consequently, got the most money! One year she wore a black, circular skirt trimmed with white ric-rac braid, a matching bolero, and a pretty white blouse. With her dark, shoulder length hair, blue eyes and slim figure, she looked terrific. I was very envious, and couldn't wait for her to grow out of it, so that I could have it! Unfortunately, by the time this happened, it was no longer fashionable - tight skirts were in, anyway it didn't look as good on me. I was always casting envious eyes at my sister's clothes, waiting for them to either tire of them, or grow out of them, (same with their boyfriends, really!).
This year I have chosen a lovely pink coat, with an unusual collar, a pink dress with fitted jacket - which Mum helps me to buy, and I find a lovely pair of pink shoes at Saxone, which are 49/11 - a lot of money to me, but I have to have them, they have a very pretty heel, not too high. Heels are very important, stilettos are just coming in, but the 3" ones that my sisters wear, are too high for me. I'm still learning to totter on these now fashionable slim heels, also, I don't want to seem to be too tall. Being the same height as a boy, is just about acceptable, being taller is not. Being several inches smaller - even in high heels, is very preferable! And I buy a matching pink bag, and pink gloves. (I look back and think that I must have looked like a blancmange in all that pink - thankfully, we had stopped wearing hats!)
Thursday May 2nd - Carlton Wortly, The Earl of Wharnecliffe, a local toff, who fancies himself as a drummer, is appearing at the Empire. We three girls book a box, nearest to the stage, and get a lot of attention from the group, there's plenty of grimacing and winking going on between us. When Barry Tucker, the guitarist, refers to the Earl rather irreverently, as Charlie, he replies with a few choice swear words - quite shocking in those days!
Singer Lee Lawrence is topping the bill, but ballad singers were getting a raw deal at this time, everyone wants Rock'n Roll, and despite the Earl's amateurism, he's giving us the right kind of music, so he goes down well. Slim Whitman is appearing at the City Hall for one night only, and he is staying at the Grand. He's tall and slim, and has a small moustache, which really suits him. He really is very good looking, and gives me a lovely smile when I ask him for his autograph, Mavis is very envious of me, as he too, is one of her favourite singers.
May 9th - it's my birthday and I'm thrilled to get a brownie camera and immediately use up all the film taking photographs of everyone and everything, including the cat! (They're only black and white, but what did we know about colour anyway?).
Ventriloquist, Dennis Spicer, singing group, the Three Deuces comedian, Ken Dodd and comedienne Joan Turner are appearing at the Empire this week. I adore Dennis Spicer, he's young, good looking, and very much on the up. I tell Mr. Spitzer that, as a birthday present, Mum is booking a box to see the show and I would love to meet Dennis Spicer. So during the interval, I'm invited into Mr. Spitzer's office to meet my hero - and his dummy, James Green, dummies were quite frighteningly ugly in those days. Dennis is lovely, we have a little chat, and he gives me an autographed photo of himself and his dummy, and when he goes on stage to perform, he looks straight up at our box and tells the audience that it is a special little girl's birthday (I was sixteen!) He (his dummy, that is,) sings happy birthday to me. I'm thrilled that throughout his act he 'plays' to me, he always finished his act by singing 'At the End of the Day', and he looks up at our box and sings it to me. By the end of the evening, I am trembling with excitement, it has been a marvellous evening, and from then on, whenever I see Dennis on T.V. (it seems he is also a favourite of the Queen, and appears on The Royal Variety Performance) I feel that I am watching a special friend. (Sadly, Dennis was to die in a car crash about four years later, at an accident 'black spot', eerily, close to where I now live).
Lorna has taken the place of Anita; she has just left school, and like myself, wants to learn the switchboard. We click immediately, and become very good friends, but working opposite shifts means that we have very little chance to socialise outside of work, so instead of leaving work at 2pm when our shift has finished, either one of us stays behind for about an hour, chatting and catching up on what has been happening in the hotel, and swapping information on the hotel guests, until Mac, the assistant head porter catches us, and insists on one of us leaving. Mac has a real personality disorder. Lorna's a very pretty girl, slim, with short blonde hair and big blue eyes, (and that pale pink lipstick looks great on her!), but very shy. I'm exactly a year older, Lorna's birthday being on the 6th May, and I feel quite protective towards her. I've been working at the Grand for a good few months now, and beginning to be aware of the pitfalls of working in a hotel and meeting a diverse section of society. She is terrified of the switchboard, which she calls 'that machine', but soon gets the hang of it.
It is my weekend working in the switchroom, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers are staying at the Grand, (They had several big hits - 'I'm not a Teenage Delinquent', 'Goody, Goody' etc.) they spend an awful lot of time sitting around in the front hall - right opposite the switchroom. I feel very self-conscious when I have to walk past them to take messages to the porter's desk, or take receipts to the reception. They laugh and giggle a lot, and even wolf whistle as I go past. Mac comes into the switch room and tells me off! Eventually, Vernon, one of the Teenagers, came into the switchroom to ask me for a date! I'm horrified; he is only 12 years old! But I'm delighted to get all their autographs.
My heart leapt as the formidable figure of Mr. Rendell, the manager, suddenly entered the switchroom - why does he always make me feel as though I'm doing something wrong? He spares me a brief glance, and demands that I ring his office. I do as he says but there is no reply, I attempt to tell him, the first words I have ever spoken to him, but the words won't come. I've never been this close to the manager before, his bulk seems to fill the small room and I'm shaking like a leaf, he gives an impatient sigh and storms out almost colliding with his secretary. "Ah there you are", he greets her, "I've just been trying to ring you, but the stupid girl doesn't seem to understand a word I say". What! I really am sick and tired of being treated like an idiot, and I don't doubt he will have something to say to Barbara, the head telephonist, greatly exaggerated, probably. She will be sympathetic, but it won't do my credibility any good. It would take a visit from The Duke of Edinburgh himself, for me to finally decide that it was time to move on.
Old favourites Albert & Les Ward are at the Empire, went to see them, but sadly, now find their act very dated. Near the Empire, there's a coffee bar called the El Mambo, we love going in there, drinking Espresso coffee and watching to see who is going to come in, it's a great meeting place for young people, and there's a small juke box which is kept very busy playing the hits of the day. 'When' by the Kalin Twins is my favourite, and I show off that I know all the words!!
Frankie Lane is here, he's not at all 'starry', he's really friendly, he gave me his autograph and said to me "You're awfully pretty, you know" - what - me???? Crikey!
Mr Asua, who has been staying here all week, is leaving today. He came in the lift and gave me a box of chocolates and 2/6 (12½p) tip saying in his lovely foreign accent - "Forr you, Frridda". Sometimes, I get as much as 10/- (50p) a week in tips, which helps to boost my pathetic little wage.
I am off on Friday so went in the hotel to collect my wages. The timekeeper wasn't going to let me in as it was my day off, he said I had no right to come in the hotel unless I was working, Mac was passing by, worse luck, and joined in. I feel my anger boiling up, as I thought I wasn't going to be able to get my wages. Somehow, I manage to hold on to my tongue, I know if I stand up for myself, Mac will report me and I shall get the sack. Luckily, Dennis is passing by and seeing how upset I am, asks what's wrong, when I tell him, he takes me to the wages room himself, telling my adversaries that I am allowed in the hotel to pick up my wages. I find wages day so humiliating somehow. We have to wait outside in the corridor, and not go in until our names are called. The assistant manager, who I dislike almost as much as Mr Rendall, sits at a trestle table which has separate piles of money on it, the secretary calls out my name and how much I'm to be paid, the assistant manager barely manages to spare a me a look, he counts out the money.
If I am lucky, he may give me 2 pound notes, three shillings and seven coppers, or perhaps 4 ten shilling notes, which makes my wages look much better! If I'm not, I will get a handful of various coins - half crowns, two shilling pieces and a lot of pennies, which, hopefully, will add up to the right amount, if it doesn't - tough! (Wage packets are apparently, unheard of at the Grand - at least for the likes of me, and my wage slip is just a tiny scrap of paper with faint, unidentifiable hieroglyphics on it).
I give all my wages to Mum, who gives me back a £1 for spending money and 7/6 (42½p) for my bus fare - which doesn't leave much of a contribution towards my keep. Mum encourages me to save, and I save a ¼ of my £1, putting the 5/- in a Post Office savings account. Babs earns about £3.5s.0d, she gives Mum 25/- a week for her board. Mum would like to be in charge of Barbara's wages too, but Barbara wants to be in control of her own money. Quite right, too.
I walk down town afterwards, looking at things I know I cannot afford to buy, but I treat myself to my regular 'read', Picturegoer and Weekend. I love reading about filmstars and their lives. For Christmas, I always get a Film Star Annual, and I will read it over and over again. (And I still read these very same annuals, over and over again...)
Trench coats are all the fashion. Lorna and me are saving up like mad, to buy one, they are 5 guineas, but we cannot decide which colour to get - Royal Blue, Red or Beige, but we agree that we are both going to buy shiny, black patent shoes with high heels, well, high-ish, anyway, which will cost 34/11. It will take a lot of saving out of our poor little wages. In the meantime, our noses will be pushed up against the window, trying to decide on the colour we are eventually going to get -hopefully before they have gone out of fashion...I went to sleep that night, my mind full of my imminent purchase and dreamt I was on stage dancing in my high heels and trench coat, which I finally fling off to reveal a sexy, figure hugging outfit complete with black fishnet stockings! (tights haven't yet been invented!) In the event, and unknown to one another, we both decided on the royal blue, and rather enjoyed going out together - looking like twins -in our new outfits!
I often lament the fact that I am only sixteen, gauche and nothing special to look at, especially in this ghastly uniform, as so many nice young men come in the hotel, either to stay or just to have a drink in the bar. There are three nice young men staying in the hotel at the moment, they are here on a three day training scheme. They are very friendly; I like Les in particular, so I'm, surprised, but delighted when he suggests that we should go out on a date, and to bring two friends for his two friends. But he is 22 years old; I ask Mum if I can go, but she says no, he is too old for me. Never mind, there is someone else in the hotel who is taking my attention. He is absolutely gorgeous. He has lovely black hair and dresses very smartly. He's staying in a room on the first floor, so he doesn't use the lift, unfortunately. I watch him constantly, as he moves around the hotel, Barbara, the head telephonist, came round the corner and bumped right into him, lucky thing! Sadly he is leaving, the porters bring his luggage down in the lift and I note the name on the luggage label as being T. B.Cullinan. Two days later he is back and the porter informs me that he is a Lord! Things are beginning to click into place, the address on the luggage label was Transvaal, South Africa - and I remember learning about the Cullinan diamond at school. He seems to have everything - good looks, a title and riches beyond belief, I mentally shrink into my dull brown uniform - the gulf between the have and have-nots just got bigger...
Much as I like looking at him, I try to merge into my surrounding whenever he's around, I cannot bear him to look at me in my shabby uniform. I like to keep this small corner of my world looking spic and span, and love polishing the brass parts of the lift. A brass rail runs along three sides of the lift, about hip level, which is either to lean against - or hold on to! There's a brass frame on one wall, which holds the poster showing who is appearing at the Empire that week. (why oh why didn't I think to save them???) Beside the lift, a glass mosaic wall curves round into the ballroom. I breathe on the glass and give it a good polish, my intention is to work my way round to the ballroom, if I look industrious enough, I might be able to move round far enough to sneak a look in. I am aware of someone behind me, I turn to see Lord Cullinan smiling at me, one brow raised in amusement.
I feel my cheeks blushing scarlet; did he think I was looking at myself?? His eyes wander over me, slowly and very purposefully he looks me up and down but doesn't say a word; he then turns and walks towards the bar, but turns to look at me again, before disappearing inside. I want to curl up and die. Has he been aware of my eyes following him around all the time, and came to give me a taste of my own medicine? I flee into the safety of my lift, feeling miserable and inadequate, hating being no more than a little lift girl in a shabby brown uniform. The lowliness of my position here, at odds with my own sense of value. Later, I have to go on the switchboard for a while, Lord Cullinan rings down from room 103, we have to make all the phone calls for the guests, (no direct dialling for some years yet) I get him a number in Fulham, London, I would love him to know that it's me he's talking to, to let him know that I am capable of more than just operating a lift, but of course I cannot say anything.
June 1957 was very hot and dry. July starts with thunder and lightening - which both fascinate and terrify me! I stand at my bedroom window, watching bright flashes of lightening zig-zagging across a navy blue sky, heralding the terrifying crashes of thunder, finally, the heavens open and the rain comes bucketing down - rain that we badly need. Phew - now it's cool enough to sleep!
'Disc Doubles' was on at the Empire last week, people who look like pop stars mime to records - almost as good as the real thing! This week Ray Ellington (actor, singer, comedian, musician - a very talented fellow, who was also known as 'the fifth Goon') is here and he is lovely - so full of fun. His very presence livens up the whole of the hotel. He clasps me to his broad chest every time he comes in the lift! He's an outrageous tease, but makes me feel very happy. Before he leaves he gives me two addresses in London, where I can write to him, if I want to. (I remember those hugs very clearly, great big bear hugs - great stuff!) I note in my diary that he drives a black & white Zephyr Reg. ELL 777).
July 22nd 1957 - I would have thought that Ray Ellington would have been a hard act to follow, but a visit by The Harlem Globe Trotters and The American Allstars is something I will never forget! They were appearing at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground for one night only. They all came in, in a great big rush of American gianthood, piling into the lift, which was only supposed to take a maximum of 9 ordinary sized people, half a dozen giants was just too much for my poor little lift, it did not get off the ground, in fact it immediately sank. There's about 3 spare feet in the lift shaft below floor level, and we took up all of it! There was no way the lift gates could be opened, the lift engineer had to be sent for, in the meantime it was the most hilarious 15 or 20 minutes I've ever spent. What with the other players pulling faces at us through the gates and telling the trapped players that their time was up and they should now swap places! They needn't have worried; it was to happen several times again, before they finally left the next day. I was invited several times over, to watch the game that night, in the end, I decided to be tactful and accept the invitation of the Manager, Gene Moyers. I took my friend Barbara, and we had a fantastic time. During the interval, the entertainment was just amazing - the trampolinists, the jugglers, the cheerleaders. Benny Shirtzinger, twirling his batons, was a real showstopper. I had promised to go round to their dressing rooms afterwards, but it seemed an impossible task - the entrance blocked by hundreds of fans. The boys came out to sign autographs, by this time we were being well and truly crushed by the surging crowd.
I saw Ronnie Kim and yelled his name, my small arm flailing about in an attempt to get his attention, catching a glimpse of our frightened faces in the teeming crowd, the boys pushed their way through, lifting us effortlessly over the heads of the crowd and depositing us in the entrance to the dressing rooms, where we stayed until the crowd had dispersed. They wanted us to go back to the hotel with them in their coach, but whilst Barbara could have gone, not only was I not allowed in the hotel when not on duty, but even being seen socially with a guest was a sackable offence. Instead, we hitched a ride in the team's coach and were delivered safe and sound onto our own doorsteps. I would see them again tomorrow when sadly, we would have to say goodbye.
I had taken quite a shine to Benny, the baton twirler. He was a very good-looking young man of 27, and he was happy to have my fan worship, he invited me to his room to collect an autographed photograph. When I went, he only had a pair of shorts on, perhaps I backed out of his bedroom a little too hastily, I apologized and said I'd come back later. The next time he came in the lift, he had the signed photograph for me, and signalled for me to put a chaste kiss on his cheek. He looked at me in a way that gave me the uncomfortable feeling that he found me curiously naive. Their departure was as crazy as their arrival - the front hall just a mass of luggage and belongings. And all these incredibly big guys coming and going, calling to each other good naturedly - such noisy informality would have given Mr Rendell apoplexy!
With their departure, it suddenly went very quiet - The sedateness of the Grand Hotel had been restored.
A Royal Visit and Last Days at The Grand
I still hadn't asked him for his autograph, his countenance didn't seem very encouraging! Betty Garrett was completely different, she was very friendly and sweet natured. I was so tempted to show her my bruised fingers and say "Look what your husband has done!" but never found the courage. It was obvious he didn't have a clue, and it would just have embarrassed him. On the day of his departure, Martin was sent upstairs to collect their luggage.
Elvis Presley tops the 'Hit Parade' with 'Heartbreak Hotel' and 'Hound dog'. Cann's music shop is the place to meet on Saturday morning, but there is pandemonium when they run out of copies of 'Heatbreak Hotel'. I buy the last copy - and suddenly I am the most popular girl around - everyone is trying to buy it off me! A weeks holiday in Blackpool with the family, and there are Elvis Presely impersonators everywhere. There are jiving competitions and teenagers hang around the jukeboxes. I get into deep trouble for staying out late.
Easter - 1957 and the family gather to celebrate an engagement, but a dark family secret is revealed, and I shall never feel the same again.
I leave the Grand and go to work at Cann's Music Shop in Dixon Lane. I would love life to be like the musicals I see at the cinema, and daydream that we are all dancing on the counters, even old Mr. Sinclair in the musical instrument department - but not the snooty Miss "I'm cousin to Mr. Cann" Brodie. And, happily, I still get to meet visiting stars that come in the shop.
Then I discover that the City General Hospital are looking for a laboratory assistant, to work in the PDC (Pregnancy Diagnostic Centre) - and against the odds, I get the job - working with giant toads!! (Diagnosing pregnancy took an average 10 days - and even in the late 1950's 11 years olds are making babies.....). This is more serious stuff, I agree to study and take 'O' levels and the musical imaginings have to go!
Fan club fever has bitten me - and by 1959 I'm running five of them! The King Brothers, The Mudlarks, Craig Douglas, local lad - Dave Berry, and little-known singer Billy Raymond (who, sadly, remains little-known!) I make friends with other fan club secretaries and meet even more Pop Stars - The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, etc. (just before that fatal taxi journey). I start to correspond with Jenny, who lives in London and works for Pop Impresarios Kennedy and Parnes. And almost 40 years later, I discover a strange correlation between myself, that fateful accident, and Jenny.
I become involved with the 'Teenage Page' of the Sheffield Telegraph & Star, Eddie Holland invites me to form a committee which will help to arrange 'welcoming parties' for visiting pop stars. I also discover the meaning of the wartime saying 'loose lips - sinks ships' - idle chat to the Teenage Page reporter, results in my humiliating ejection from the church choir!
The 'Pop Club' at the Gaumont Cinema on Saturday mornings begins, anyone can go up on the stage and do their bit - I become part of a singing duo! Dave Berry is definitely the star - and he asks me to start a fan club for him. I become part of his 'retinue' - an enviable position, and I go to all his 'gigs', parties, and for Chinese meals. Over to his house - over to mine...
I seem to spend as much time in the A & E section of the City General (now the Northern General) with various work related complaints, as I do working in the laboratory, the toads are giving me nightmares and studying is getting in the way of my social life! Something has to give...
So now I'm a telephonist at Bassett's Sweet Factory in Beulah Road, I've been here for eighteen months, made lots of new friends and met up again with old ones - unexpectedly, I come face to face with Keith, and he's in shock!. My social life is great - lots of all night parties (much to my mother's dismay). But petty jealousies arise which, incredibly, result in me getting the sack! I'm devastated, but it's the 'kick up the rear' I need to set me off in a different direction. London beckons, but in the meantime I look around for something temporary and different. I consider the possibility of becoming a children's nanny and start going for interviews at the big houses on the other side of Sheffield. Just as I begin to wonder if this is really what I want to do, I receive a call from a lady who needs my services immediately! The family live out in the remotest part of Wharncliffe Side, and I'm concerned about how it will affect my social life, never-the-less, I give it a go. But, the lure of London proves too strong, and with Jenny's encouragement, although mum is dead set against it, I find my self a job as a telephonist in a Kensington Hotel - and then my education really begins!