Super Piece from Rod Paine on “My First Days at Stevenage Locarno”

The following post came in from Rod Payne as a comment – but we have added it to the main body of Locarno Boy – hope you don`t mind Rod. It follows on from Colin Ball`s recent post on his Mecca days at Stevenage Locarno.

Great Site Colin. Not sure if I know you but feel I should as I was a regular at the Locarno (and the Tudor Suite) at least 3 or 4 nights a week from the day it opened until it no longer functioned as a Ballroom but gradually fell by the wayside and became a Bingo Hall. In the photo showing the Stage the tables to the right under the stairs where I and my friends would sit when the dancing was going full swing. Ballroom, Jive, Twist, we enjoyed them all ….. I can almost see Wally Johnson and his Orchestra playing their session and then the stage revolving so we could be entertained by a group or a DJ.

Upstairs facing the stage with the bar handy behind us was a favourite spot to watch the Groups.and the Tudor Suite for a quite drink and smoochy dance. I still have the ID Photo from my Tudor Suite Pass. I was wearing a LeatherJacket and black shirt instead of the obligatry suit and tie as I had to nip down on the motorbike at lunchtime from work to get a Pass for a hot date that evening. I also have my wife’s Tudor Pass intact with photo.

I doubt that anyone would remember me as “Rod” back then as when I moved to Stevenage in August 1957 to take up an Apprenticeship at English Electric, one of the other apprentices that started the same day, for some reason best known to him, kept calling me “Fred”. The name stuck and I was known by everyone (other than close family) as Fred Paine. There was even one period when I lost my Security Pass to EE and the Chief of Security (I believe his name was Brown) had a replacement with the name Fred and I used it for over a year before the error was picked up.
I was most interested to read Ray Nye’s comments of April 3, as my wife June (ne Cover) was on the switch board at W A Saunders at that time and in fact we were married on Boxing Day of that year at St Mary’s Church at Shephall, behind the Red Lion pub.
Ray, you mentioned the famous lights and I can only think you mean the ceiling lights …. If that is the case, you may remember Elmer Smith (Manager?) in his Penguin Suit, telling everyone each evening to look up and see the 20,000 little blue lights come on followed by the 20,000 little red lights and the 20,000 little yellows, etc. etc. etc.
Amongst my souvenirs of those days I still have a number of the imitation gold charms that were given out to patrons on special occasions such as Easter and Christmas and a First Day Cover and stamp postcard purchased at the Lacarno and sent back to me after being franked in Jamaica when Miss Jamaica won Miss World.
Also Ray, do you have a relative named Roger as there was a Roger Nye did his Apprenticeship with me. I think he might have lived in Sish Lane at the time.
Hope I haven’t bored everyone to tears but I was just so pleased to find this site.
One other small detail June and I emigrated to Perth, Western Australia in 1974 and have never been back to Stevenage.

Little did I realise how the Mecca Ltd legacy of the of the past still meant so much today.

I began working at the Hull Locarno during the last months of its era. It was tired. Something of an anachronism. Bailey`s cabaret club had opened. Presenting ballroom dancing with live bands was becoming less viable, and the Locarno was going to close.

Of course the building was to remain; this time fitted out as Tiffany`s. Still offering a limited amount of ballroom dancing, as well as cabaret, but with the addition of Annabella`s  discotheque. Formerly the Locarno balcony area.

But before all this I would sit for hours on that balcony with the manager, Brian Train, listening to his stories of Glasgow, Belfast, Miss World Competitions, Portsmouth, The Lyceum, and an eclectic mix directors, managers, band leaders, etc . Some tales to make you cringe. Many to which not to be repeated!

It was during one of those conversations that Brian gave me a booklet entitled “Mecca Ltd Party Catering”. I thanked him and kept it safe.

Little did I realise how the Mecca Ltd legacy of the past would mean so much today.

The imagery on the outer pages below may be dated, but the end result was tens of thousands of people each week enjoying a special occasion at their local dancehall

76 Southwark Street London S.E.1 was one of the best known addresses of its day. Managers dreaded being invited there, while every customer had access to it and to Managing Director Eric Morley.

Interesting to note that the opening of the Hull Locarno allowed its future customers time to recover financially from the annual “wakes weeks”.

Listed below are the Mecca dance halls of the early 60s, where you will see that the Leeds Locarno had Jimmy Saville as its manager – I wonder if we will ever know what really happened there!

It is my understanding that at least 11 of the  30 venues/locations are still trading as nightclubs. Many of the managers became the industry legends of the time. Music changed; fashion, technology and customer aspiration moved on, but the heart of the industry remained constant.

Brian would have been just as successful as a manager today, as he had been in the past, for which there is indisputable proof  –

But that`s a story for another day




My First Days at Stevenage Locarno

Well where do you start – first of all must say a big thankyou to Dick for masterminding this site – all the stories are great which has inspired me to remember some of the great times

But I suppose I should start at the beginning – Stevenage Locarno (pictured below) – late 60’s – when yes – the ‘revolving stage’ was one of the main features and the dj secondary to the band. No bars in the main room but through double doors called ‘The Tudor Suite’. I joined part time to supplement my full time job so I could save to be able to buy my first car – a ‘Hillman Imp’ – top of the range eh!

The policy at that time – Monday – Spin the disc from 7.00pm to 11.00pm and no bar.

Tuesday – Bingo and selling the Mecca ‘Dance News’ was the job everyone wanted as you did not want to work on the ‘tea bar’.

Wednesday was the highlight of the week with all the top groups appearing live for the pricely sum of 5 shillings – for those not into £sd that works out at 25p. The queues used to start at about 6.00pm and go ‘around the block’. The night was even greater for me when you were asked to operate the lights or the old fashioned Rank spotlights on each side of the balcony. Names that come to mind The Beatles – Rolling Stones – The Who – and latterly The Drifters – the band that the manager at the time tried to rebook for a repeat appearance – but he refused as they put the fee up from £500 to £1000.00!!

Thursday was always private functions where we used to cater for up to 1000 sit down banquet – Lord Mayors Ball – Butchers Federation – etc.

Friday was always the big night when we used to open the ‘Ponytail bar’ in the ballroom – memories of rolling the barrels from the store and lifting them over the counter and never having enough stock in the bar – those were the days – with minimal cooling – lager was not available and the favourite was ‘light and bitter’ for 1s11d – not even 10p!!.

Saturday was for the older age group and the feature always were the resident bands – Danny Leno opening the night and closing – not much fun for the dj in those days.

Sunday back again to the fantastic bingo operation in the evening. A right pain putting carpet out all over the dance floor with the tables and chairs. Then in the afternoon the Serious dancing took part which also featured some of the ‘Come Dancing’ shows/heats.This was always difficult as the dance floor had to be perfect for them. I can remember ‘Jim the buff’ on that floor for hours to get it right.

As part of the Mecca operation we had many heats of Miss England/UK which in later years when starting full time led me to become involved with Miss World and the celebration after at The Lyceum ballroom.

So Stevenage was my first taste of the business under the direction of Maurice de Jonge and catering manager Geoff Parkinson who as an ex regimental sargeant major was a relevation to say the least!!!

One interesting person I first met when I was appointed ‘Trainee Acting Asst Bar Manager’ was Michael Guthrie who went on to bigger and better things within Mecca.

Stevenage was the first and will always hold strong memories for me as it taught me quite alot about the diversity of the business and took me into a career that certainly was interesting to say the least!!


Images from – The Who and Stevenage Locarno


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