My memories of ciggies will never go up in smoke

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SOMETIMES someone sends me an old photograph which makes me smile and sometimes even laugh out loud as I recall memories of days gone by.

The one on this page showing three young men at a dance in Dewsbury Town Hall did exactly that for me.

What I found hilarious was the fact that all three were quite openly smoking in a public place, something which was perfectly permissible in those days, but not today.

People could smoke anywhere they wanted, in buses and trains, cinemas, dance halls, restaurants and even in hospitals and maternity homes.

The smoke coming from cigarettes was regarded as of little consequence in towns like Dewsbury where chimneys were belching out smoke day and night.

We had no thought for what cigarettes were doing to our health, and doctors were amongst the heaviest of smokers.

I remember as a child going with my mother to the doctor’s surgery, and the first thing he did was take out a packet of Senior Service and offer her one.

There they sat discussing mother’s ailments with the cigarette smoke swirling around their heads, totally unconcerned about what it might be doing to their lungs – or mine! Imagine that happening today.

Smoking was socially acceptable among all classes, Royalty included. I remember seeing Princess Margaret light up when she visited Mirfield’s Community of the Resurrection in the 1960s.

Well, she didn’t actually light the cigarette herself, it was one of her aides, who then swiftly pushed our photographer to one side to make sure he didn’t capture it on camera.

In mentioning these things, I don’t advocate a return to the days when smoking was acceptable, far from it. I mention it to show just how much our social habits have changed.

This photograph taken at the annual Police Ball in 1954 also shows how much the policing of Dewsbury has changed.

In those days Dewsbury not only had its own police force, stationed in the town hall, but also its own Chief Constable. Yes, times have changed.

In those days there was a ball or dinner dance going on nearly every other week in Dewsbury Town Hall. The butchers had one, the licensed victuallers, the firemen and the local government officers (NALGO), there was also the Press Ball and the St Pat’s Ball, to name but a few.

And there were dances every Saturday night which helped raise large amounts for local charities and organisations.

TOWN Hall dances on Saturday nights not only provided entertainment, they also raised huge amounts for local charities. Sometimes as much as £60 a time – a good amount in those days.

But by the late 1950s the conduct of people attending these dances became so bad, a ratepayer’s petition was sent to the council asking them to sort it out.

As a result, stringent regulations were brought in, including no rock’n roll and no licensed bar, and policemen on the door.

Attendances slumped and promoters made a loss, and often so few tickets were sold, dances had to be cancelled.

But things began to change for the better in 1962 when a professional dance promoter from Otley, Mr D Arnold, booked the town hall for a dance for teenagers.

It attracted more than 400 people and the style of dance was rock’n roll and twist. There were competitions, and the music came from live rock bands.

According to the Reporter journalist who attended, the behaviour of the teenagers was impeccable.

He wrote that the Victoria Hall looked impressive with trellis work placed behind the rock’n roll group on stage and there were also coloured lights.

Some of those present said they had stopped going to town hall dances because rock’n roll had been banned, and they had gone to Wakefield instead.

THE following week a letter was published in the Reporter praising the conduct of the young people and the fact that town hall dances had returned.

It read: “Dear Sir, On Saturday, the vice chairman of the Council’s corporate property committee, Councillor Alfred Ramsden, and myself, were able to be present at the Dewsbury Town Hall dance.

“May I through the courtesy of the Reporter Series, and on behalf of the many Young Socialists who were at the dance, sincerely thank and congratulate Mr D Arnold (dance promoter) for his efforts in supplying the youth of Dewsbury with an opportunity to jive in their own town hall.

“During the past two weeks, Mr Arnold has been successful in attracting a fair proportion of Dewsbury’s young people back to the town hall, and as this trend continues, the organisations in the town can look forward to monetary assistance.

“D G Daniel, Hon Sec Dewsbury Young Socialists.”

THE internet can be a wonderful thing and can bring people together who haven’t seen each other for years.

This week I was able to bring two men together who once lived and worked in Dewsbury, Ray Brace and Bill Stephenson.

Unknown to each other Ray and Bill, who haven’t seen each other for more than 50 years, have been living only a few miles from each other. Both men have been communicating with me, via e-mails, for some years, and I’d no idea they had both worked at Dewsbury Empire.

Bill, whose father Richard Stephenson ran the Empire, was manager at the theatre when it closed in 1955, and Ray was stage manager. The two men were known to be the youngest manager and stage manager of a major theatre in the country.

They met this week and had lunch together in Milton Keynes where Ray now lives. Bill lives only a few miles away in Tring.

It is thanks to Ray that I have been able to use the two pictures on this page, and in coming weeks I hope to write more about their connections with the Empire.

l May I thank all the people who have bought my book, Dewsbury in Food and Photos, in aid of the Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice. Sales have been brilliant, but there are still some left. You can order by email at mwrecipebook@gmail.com or buy direct from the Reporter office, WH Smith, Dewsbury Minster and the library and museum.