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October 21st 1975

“Trip to London – Audio Fair = great!, Design centre = yawn!, London Motor Show = great bar crawl!”

I wish I had commented on who I went with and how we all got to London. The latter I suspect would have been via the train, but surely I didn’t venture to all these things by myself?….

I think this was my one and only London Audio Fair. I remember feeling daunted by all the stereo equipment on show and how everyone looking at and testing the new shiny boxes were all so very much older – and thus, to my mind, wiser – than me.

The only online reference I could find to the show was a review of it published in the December 1975 edition of Gramophone Magazine, which I have précised below, acknowledging their copyright in the content…

DISAPPOINTMENT could be seen on the faces of most people at this year’s London Audio Fair: it could even be read between the lines on the faces of those salesmen accustomed to dissemble, ie hide their true feelings behind a mask of bonhomie and apparent optimism. The number of exhibitors was disappointing. The quality of exhibitors was just as varied as usual, but there were many more British absentees than foreigners in proportion and this produced a rather uncomfortable air of being transported to other shores. The poor showing by British manufacturers seemed particularly ironic in view of the recently launched “Buy British” campaigns. Attendance was disappointing too, despite the programme of pop concerts and disc-jockey radio items. This must in part be because advance publicity was rather sparse this year, and the 75p admission charge may have put some people off. 
(© Gramophone Magazine Dec 1975)

Looks like a I wasted a whole 75p?!

Oh how I wish I could relive certain portions of my life… like today when I visited the London Design Centre

The London Design Centre was an offshoot of the Council of Industrial Design, itself dreamt up by the British government’s Board of Trade at the tail end of the 2nd World War. The Council’s objective was to promote the improvement of design in the production of UK-manufactured goods.

The council was renamed The Design Council and in 1956 the Design Centre was opened to the public in London’s Haymarket. It combined floating exhibitions with examples of stand out British design and proved popular with both regular consumers and manufacturers (looking for ideas for their products) alike.

This day in 1975 I described my time there as “yawn” suggesting it was a boring side event to the day’s proceedings. I am hugely embarrassed by this as I am sure that – now – I would be old enough to fully appreciate it and describe it with abject glee instead. Such is a teenager’s mind!

It may be that I was ‘saving all my concentration’ for the Motor Show, specifically the described ‘great bar crawl

The first British Motor Show took place way back in 1903 and it was held every year in London until 1976 when it moved to the vast National Exhibition Centre (N.E.C.)  in Birmingham where it became a biannual event. The show got cancelled in 2009, other events undermining its appeal to traders and the public.

The shows were a chance for vehicle and accessory manufacturers to show off their new wares, sometimes aided by a plethora of scantily-clad women who would drape themselves, somewhat unflatteringly, across the bonnets of the cars.

The cars on show would vary from the mundanely ugly (like the hideous Austin Allegro Mk.2 – seen below on the left) to the stunningly beautiful Series 3 E-Type V12 Jaguar (below right)

Other well-known cars which made their debut at the 1975 show include the Lotus Esprit (one of the most famous cars – along with the Aston Martin DB5 – to appear in James Bond movies), the omnipresent Volkswagon Golf and the Jensen Interceptor Coupe.


But, like I have said, my fascination we probably less for the cars than the huge number of bars that surrounded the display floor, all offering ‘liquid beverage’ and all, apparently, extremely lax in checking that their customers were of a legal drinking age. You gotta love Britain in the 70’s!

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October 9th 1975

“Theatre Trip Billy Liar. Theatre trip was bloody good. Scenery incredible, coach trip a real grin. Drunk Again!!!”

Billy Liar was originally a book written by newspaper columnist turned novelist Keith Waterhouse.

It has enjoyed something of a charmed life since its first publication in 1959 and has been adapted into a play, a movie, a musical and even a TV series.

I think it can be described as a ‘fantasy dramedy’. It revolves around a character named Billy Fisher, a working class teenager who lives with his parents and endures a humdrum life. To escape this humdrum he indulges in a series of fantasies, mainly about becoming a comedy writer in London.

His fantasies evolve into such outrageous spells of lying that he ends up being engaged to two girlfriends whilst simultaneously being in love with a third, refers to his father as being a retired naval captain and is always boasting of the scripts he has sold.

Naturally I can remember little of this trip to London other than my diary remarks – the result maybe of being (as I state) “drunk again”!? Even the scenery, considered ‘incredible’ in 1975, failed to leave any lasting impression.

Online research reveals little other than we might have witnessed Michael Crawford in the lead role, fresh from his success playing the luckless Frank Spencer in the smash-hit TV comedy series “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em

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September 18th 1975

“Nothing much happened all day. Phoned everywhere enquiring about The Who. Holly had to go to Boys Brigade (??)”

Well I know I have never seen The Who play live (much to my chagrin, Keith Moon being one of my favourite musicians ever) so I must presume I was unsuccesful in my quest for (again presumed) concert tickets.

Online research reveals that The Who were not scheduled to play anywhere locally (i.e. Southampton, Portsmouth or Bournemouth) in 1975 so maybe I was considering tramping up to London to catch one of their planned shows at Wembley Arena?

I’ve been let down by women for all kinds of reasons in my life, but it takes a lot to beat being ignored in favour of attendance at a Christian organisation that is… only for boys?!

Maybe there was something Holly hadn’t told me… or which I hadn’t yet ‘discovered’ for myself?!!!

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July 29th /30th 1975

●”Dad’s b-day – Gave him beer kit”
●”Went to the Royal Tournament at Earl’s Court – Quite Good!”

It feels peculiar to me to be writing about my Dad’s birthday because we were celebrating his 46th…. 6 years younger than I am now! Where does the bloody time go?

It looks like we had a nice pair of days though. On his actual birthday I gave him a beer making kit which, admittedly, may have had more to do with my own teenage love of alcohol than his grown-up one. As I recall it involved a set of bottles, jugs and a barrel which, whilst the mix fermented, had to be kept safely in the hall closet for fear of it exploding. Nothing like having some kind of unlikely incendiary device in the house is there?

The Royal Tournament was a military pageant held by the combined British Armed Forces. It was first presented in 1880 and ran annually (excepting breaks for wars) until 1999 when its running costs started to outweigh the monies it usually made for charities such as the The British Legion.

It was broadcast by the BBC and every year Mum, Dad and I would sit down and enjoy the spectacle of military bands and troops going through their well-practised routines. I was never a huge fan of the music but the visuals usually impressed me… and remember this was on a little black & white telly!

This year however we decided to see it in person, trekking up to the massive Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in west London.

There was a reason for the family’s fascination for this annual pageant. One of its undoubted highlights was the Field Gun Competition, a traditional trial of strength and agility which celebrated the 1889 siege of the British garrison in Ladysmith, South Africa during the Second Boer War.

In that long 120 day siege the Royal Navy transported and landed a number of field guns over almost impossible terrain for use against the Boers. One of the many stories involved sailors carrying one of the so-called 12-pounder field guns (which weighed considerably more than their name suggests) 2 miles after one of its wheels collapsed.

After years of merely presenting the guns in a parade, the field gun display evolved, contested by teams from various Royal Navy commands, where each had to transport a 12 pounder field gun – and all its relevant limber – over a series of difficult obstacles. The guns were complete at the start of the race – which is always against the clock – where they were pulled, complete, over a 5 foot wall before being dismantled for transportation across a 28 foot chasm. The pieces and all the crew members were then lifted up on what is known as a “wire and line” and sent across the chasm. The team and equipment are then passed through a hole in a wall – representing enemy territory – before the gun is rebuilt and three rounds are fired off. If that wasn’t enough the whole thing is then reversed.. the gun dismantled, back through the hole, across the chasm and up & over the wall to ‘safety’.

As can be seen from the above video of the competition from 1994, it’s a gruelling test of strength and endurance for the teams taking part and was an event taken very seriously by everyone involved…. which one year – I am very proud to state – included my Dad!

He competed in the Field Gun Competition in 1949 at Olympia, representing the Portsmouth Command in a four-way battle against Devonport Command, Chatham Command and the Naval Air Command. My Dad wasn’t amongst those on the pitch but he was the team’s First Aid officer, a hugely important role in the backroom. During the exhaustive rehearsals he had to treat one bloke who lost the tip off one of his fingers (who nevertheless continued to compete) and another who broke BOTH legs whilst hauling the gun over the wall. (Who I’ll guess didn’t compete that year?!)

A competitor from the Devonport Command suffered a worse fate when the 900lb gun barrel fell off the hook & line and killed him. Yes, despite this, the show still went on.

My Dad tells me they won on two out of the three days events, but that some kind of mistake on the third day cost them the ultimate trophy, with Portsmouth Command ending up second overall.

So, on this day in 1975 he doubtless sat in the arena watching the Field Gun competition with a hint of nostalgia in his mind, remembering his involvement 26 years earlier. I probably sat there cheering on Portsmouth too – perhaps the one and only time I could ever admit to that!

To make matters better/worse Portsmouth won that year!

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July 17th 1975

“Didn’t go to college – returned LPs to Virgin & got 6.89 credit” / “Disco – Got off with Lorna. Dedicated make me smile to Lorna + got virginia plain dedicated to me”

Virgin Records was the new major dealer in Southampton to satisfy my vinyl needs.

I wrote briefly before about how Richard Branson’s retail chain got its leg up to the High Streets of Britain (and later, the world), but its founding deserves further reportage.

Virgin Records & Tapes’ first opened in London’s Notting Hill Gate, run by Branson and his first business partner Nik Powell. Their first official store however was at the Tottenham Court Road end of London’s busy Oxford Street, initially above (I believe) a shoe shop. A while later they took over the ground floor. Here, and unlike most other record stores in 1971, the vibe was decidedly ‘laid back’, customers often crashing on the floor listening to albums and smoking substances both legal and illegal.

The first Virgin Records store in Notting Hill Gate

Branson decided to grow the chain after Post Office strikes threatened to take away his (primary) livelihood gained via the mail order business. He opened other stores in and handful towns and cities across the country. Few of them were in prime locations, Branson preferring to drive traffic to the stores rather than enjoy natural public footfall.

The response from the record buying public was pretty instant, the stores offering a breath of fresh air to people who had grown tired of the more staid HMV shops, places like Woolworths and the lack of choice in many independents. Virgin also specialised in imports, both cut-price (known as ‘cut-outs’) from America and titles which were not officially available in the UK.

Branson was also quick to take advantage of the removal of government-controlled ‘retail price maintenance’ which had kept the price of records and tapes artificially high since the sixties, discounting popular titles to create turnover whilst making most of his money from the stores’ depth of catalogue titles. It would be a record business model which many others – chains and independents alike – would emulate in succesive decades.

The Southampton Virgin store opened in what was a very much “off the beaten track” location at 16 Bargate Street, at one end of the town’s pedestrian precinct and hidden round an almost blind corner from that precinct. To make matters ‘worse’, it was situated across two floors linked by a very inhospitable and closed-in staircase.  The ground floor was given over exclusively to albums, whilst the much smaller upstairs was the singles/tapes/posters/accessories department. It was very narrow, the space between the racks little more than 7 or 8 feet. Indeed, the two floors combined probably totalled no more than maybe 1000 sq feet, a far cry from Branson’s later retail ventures.

I fell in love with its choice of albums almost immediately, attracted too by the fact that my old friend/adversary Neville (remember him?) had nabbed a part-time cashier’s job there and was able to pass on his generous staff discount of 20%. It was like red rag to a bull and I quickly went on a vinyl buying frenzy.

This store would eventually form an integral part of my post-college career – more on that later – and once again Neville would be involved in a way that was positive for me but unfortunate for him.

Today in 1975 it seems as if I had returned some unwanted – maybe faulty? – albums and received a credit note. (Virgin was once notorious for not wanting to give cash refunds to anyone, Branson’s policy was that once the money was in the business, it should somehow stay there)

I thought I would have a good picture or two of how the Southampton Virgin store looked in 1975, but research of my photo albums drew a blank… well, other than one of me stood outside it a few years later which I’d prefer to save for a future post.

Thanks to the ever-reliable Google “street view” application I can present a current-day pic of where the Virgin store was located. It looks very salbrious these days, despite being mere yards from two of Southampton’s main tourist attractions – the old walls and the West Quay shopping centre. The presence of all those steel shutters – the shop windows hidden behind them – certainly make the locale seem less than appealing.

In other news, it seems I got “lucky” at tonight’s disco, getting off with Lorna, with whom I subsequently enjoyed a short term fling. We were sorely mismatched and split up after just a few weeks. Her parents owned a fish & chip shop but I swear that wasn’t the main attraction.

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May 16th 1975 (II)

… continued from last post…

John, Paul George, Ring0… and Bert” Programme from 1975

What do you think a “movement consultant” does? I wonder if that is the equivalent of a stage director? It sounds awfully vulgar… “Hello, what do you do?”…. “Oh, I consult people on their movements”…. “Ewwwwwww!” (The Gillian McKeith of his era perhaps? *heh-heh*)

Willy Russell’s play started life at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in May 1974 before moving to London’s West End a few months later.

The chairmen and managing director of the Lyric Theatre were all well-known entertainment impresarios.

Sir Lew Grade (real name: Lev Winogradsky) had been involved in the inception of ITV (Independent Television), was part owner of Associated Television and ran ITC, a hugely succesful television corporation responsible for bringing such hits as “Thunderbirds”, “The Saint”, “The  Persuaders” and “The Prisoner” to our small screens.

Toby Rowland had produced plays in London since 1955 and was a highly influential theatre owner whose biggest ‘public’ claim to fame was that he discovered treasured Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett

Louis Benjamin was also managing Director of the famous London Palladium and had brought the Royal Variety Performance to that stage for years. He was also the chairman of the succesful Pye Record label and was instrumental in developing the careers of singers such as Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield.

That “Robert Stigwood” is the same Robert Stigwood who kickstarted the recording career of Cream and was later responsible for a couple of movie musicals you may have heard of: “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease”. He IS the “R.S. in RSO Records.

The Lyric Theatre sits on London’s prestigious Shaftsbury Avenue in London’s West End district and still retains many of its original features. It first opened in 1888. It is the oldest existing theatre on the street. It was built behind an original 1767 house facade, and backs onto Great Windmill Street. The building was Grade II listed by English Heritage as early as 1960, showing its importance to the city of London. It seats a modest 967 on four levels and still uses an electric pump to operate its iron curtain. Yes, iron.

More “John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert” programme nonsense tomorrow…

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May 16th 1975 (I)

“John, Paul, George, Ringo & Bert. Got drunk. Bloody good musak all.”

This was a college trip to London’s West End and the Lyric Theatre. I was amongst a coachload of students, many drinking copiously on the way up, then – despite our age – hitting a pub or two before getting to the theatre. Those were the days my friend, sometimes they had to end!

“John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert” was Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell’s first big ‘hit’. Russell would later gain fame and notoriety for penning such smash plays like “Educating Rita” which was turned into a movie starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine. Other stuff he is known for include “The Blood Brothers” and “Shirley Valentine”

JPGR & B’s story arc has been describe elsewhere as “an accurate and honest account of the Beatles’ rise and fall, culminating in an abortive attempt to stage a reunion concert. The show was notable for it’s ironic juxtaposition of songs against dialogue, and the author’s sparkling Liverpool humour“. I’ll have to take their word for it because not only are we dealing with my notoriously poor memory here, but we are also dealing with it whilst it was originally under the effects of a few pints of London’s finest! My review of the performance – “bloody good muzak all” – could just as easily have been based either alcohol consumption as much as fact, something I will leave you, dear reader, to decide.

Yes, for what ever reason, I have held on to the programme from this 1975 evening’s event, and yes I plan to share the contents of it. It’s a fascinating document of its era, not just for the adverts it contained but also when you realise who I saw perform in this play and who else was involved in it…

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