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.