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Page updated July 2016
The imposing façade of the Winchester Lido (Palladian style)
on the image above for the official Lido website
- courtesy Hants.gov.uk
- courtesy Hants.gov.uk
Also try this new link by clicking LIDO
Despite the lack of decent summers in the UK, you could find open air swimming pools all over the country and I have fond memories of the old Southampton Lido on Western Esplanade near the city centre. Apart from the regular school trips, it was always packed throughout the hotter summer months although it took some while to creep into the freezing water! The pool gradually declined and was later replaced by a brand new Olympic standard indoor swimming pool a short distance away and situated near the entrance to the New Docks. Many old swimming pools were used for staging shows, concerts, boxing tournaments, exhibitions and much more by the dual purpose method of draining the pool and covering it all with rigid boards to provide a temporary floor.
One of the best
ballrooms for the emerging local pop groups of the early Sixties was situated up
the old A33 some 13 miles away in Winchester - the old Anglo Saxon capital of England (Wessex area)
before London took over. The city is very popular with tourists and it
features such historical items such as ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’ and the
beautiful Winchester Cathedral which was immortalised in song by the New
Vaudeville Band in 1966. It also
contains the tomb of Jane Austen a local girl who did rather well for herself
back in the 17th/18th century and well worth a visit.
Winchester was also voted the ‘best place to live’ in a 2006 Channel
4 programme that listed many towns and cities across the UK! Not
forgetting the connection with King Alfred The Great who allegedly 'burnt the
Not forgetting the connection with King Alfred The Great who allegedly 'burnt the cakes' etc.
The Lido on Worthy Lane was built in the early 1930's and designed as a Club House and Swimming Pool For a more detailed history – you may wish to click on the main picture at the top that will take you to the current local website. During the war The Lido was used for military use and handed back to the City in 1945 when it became a Dance Hall and later a Bingo Hall and the swimming pool was finally demolished during the Seventies.
Since starting off my website, I have been pleasantly surprised by many people from all over the world who have discovered my memories of the 50s/60s music scene amongst other facets of my entertainment profile. I received a great e-mail from Tony Pragnell, whose family leased it from the local authority and ran the Winchester Lido ballroom for some 15-20 years during that time and I am indebted to him for supplying more stories about this popular venue. His father Rex was an astute businessman and was more than aware of the great potential in the superb ballroom facility and made sure that his own profits were maximised although working in conjunction with local promoters etc. Rex ran a tight ship and he employed everybody instead of risking any outside interference or 'problems' although rented the venue out for the occasional event or function such as dog shows, horticultural shows etc. An unusual hire included an annual summer outing for local Jehovah’s Witnesses who would commandeer the Lido swimming pool to ‘dip’ their converts as part of their baptism ceremony!
HANTS & BERKS GAZETTE 1963 - thanks to John Revell (Basingstoke Beat etc) and see below for more info.
"Oh what a night- late December back in '63...."
The show ended in a mini-riot as the bouncers whisked the Stones offstage and back to dressing room behind the curtains where they allowed a lucky few to pop in for autographs, including Tony who just merrily signed his name as part of the most successful band on the planet! Rex came in and went berserk at his son for daring to gatecrash the show and autograph session but then burst into laughter as he saw the funny side of it, not to mention thoughts of the massive profits on a relatively low fee for the Stones at that time!
February 2010- this article has just been published in Winchester Echo and I will update this with info
courtesy Southern Echo
I appeared at the Lido with a few of my old bands, most of whom were booked by Len Canham of Avenue Artistes and Royal Pier fame – please look at the other pages for info on these aspects. One of the funniest things we all recall was whenever each group on the bill were getting changed into our stage wear, Len would always come waltzing into the dressing room/kitchen to fry up some food on the grill just as we were dropping our pants!! It became a standing joke and we often used to sneak off to the nearby public gents toilets for a quick change before walking back to the dressing room and noticing Len’s disappointment! He was a real gentleman and nobody was ever too worried about this kind of behaviour that was still not talked about in company back in those fairly straight laced days. Len was a great character and anybody who dealt with him has fond memories of this great showman who was an inspiration to any budding musician who was lucky enough to have known him back then.
Tony Pragnell also helped promote the Teen Party Nights along with Len Canham and Ken Batley at various dance halls including the Lido plus the Oddfellows Club Southsea, Conservative Hall Fareham, the Empire Ballroom Totton and Corn Exchange Newbury amongst others. This is a copy of a local Echo press clipping ( Royal Pier) and maybe very early Sixties judging by the lineup of bands plus a 3 shillings entrance fee (15p in today’s money!) These same shows were staged at the Lido and elsewhere but it gives the flavour.
Tony Pragnell also purchased a
Bedford Dormobile (classic group van then) for transporting the bands between
venues and I recall that us groups sometimes performed two or even three times a
night in nearby dance halls and clubs etc! He also has fond memories of
Len Canham’s ‘boys’ especially Barrie James (Strangers) who had a
great voice and Tony remembers Barrie backstage and launching into the old standard
show song of “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – a standard
song for quite a few bands in amongst the more raucous pop tunes! Barrie
stopped after a verse and Tony commented how good it was then Barrie raised the
key and sang it much higher to great effect, followed by a quick rehearsal with
the band before trying it out to the live audience in the packed dancehall.
This became a showstopper from thereafter and many fans will recall Barrie’s
vocal talents across a wide repertoire of classic songs.
Tony Pragnell also purchased a Bedford Dormobile (classic group van then) for transporting the bands between venues and I recall that us groups sometimes performed two or even three times a night in nearby dance halls and clubs etc! He also has fond memories of Len Canham’s ‘boys’ especially Barrie James (Strangers) who had a great voice and Tony remembers Barrie backstage and launching into the old standard show song of “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – a standard song for quite a few bands in amongst the more raucous pop tunes! Barrie stopped after a verse and Tony commented how good it was then Barrie raised the key and sang it much higher to great effect, followed by a quick rehearsal with the band before trying it out to the live audience in the packed dancehall. This became a showstopper from thereafter and many fans will recall Barrie’s vocal talents across a wide repertoire of classic songs.
Len Canham also had dealings with top promoter Reg Calvert whose early stable of stars included Duffy Power, Johnny Gentle, Vince Eager, Dickie Pride and Marty Wilde who all later joined the Larry Parnes Organisation. You might try searching on these stories and you will discovers some dodgy deals as well as Reg Calvert being murdered for whatever reason one believes from the murky goings on behind the scenes! Tony Pragnell also recalls the look on Len Canham’s face when Tex Roberg finished some work on the cruise liners - turned up at the Lido and dropped the bombshell about just having just married a girl! The more famous pop stars of the day tried to keep such career-destroying details away from their jealous adoring fans so we’re not sure if that was the reason for Len’s reaction or maybe he just thought it crazy for Tex to ‘buy a book, when he had free run of the library’ to coin an old fashioned phrase!
Early 60s advert - 5 bob (25p) to get in!
Tony also has fond memories of two local lads (formerly Totton) - the teenage Brook Brothers Geoff and Ricky, whose mother used to work at the Lido and so this provided a great practice room as they were just starting out during the skiffle boom of the late Fifties. The lads and their pals sang and bashed away on the usual home made bass setup of a packing case with a string attached to a broom handle placed on the top then plucked like a kind of one string double bass along with the washboard played with metal thimbles! Due to a shortage of established bands, this new group soon took off and played regular paying gigs at the ballroom before Geoff and Ricky went on their own with great success and hit records in the early Sixties including 'Warpaint' a great disc that reached no 5 in the charts. They also recorded on the Pye label with legendary songwriter/producer Tony Hatch but the blossoming pop group scene eclipsed many solos and duos in favour of guitar based acts led by the Beatles and others.
Early record sleeve cover
Tony believes that the elder of the Brooks later went into the family trade with his father who had a furniture upholstering business in Staple Gardens Winchester as the duo's career declined. Tony also recalls that Mrs Brook had been offered a budgerigar but couldn’t afford a cage so Rex gave her a spare one as the Pragnell budgie has recently died. If anybody knows of Geoff or Ricky’s whereabouts – he’d like it back if they have finished with it!! In fact, I have been in touch with Ricky who emigrated to Canada and re-emerged in recent years as a traditional folk singer in the Ontario area. He kindly sent me a CD and really great sound with Irish, Scottish, Celtic themes amongst other classis songs but he never sings the old 60s hits...yet....... Geoff has stayed in the South near Bournemouth and I gather he still makes music with a small recording studio and it's good to see that You Tube has some great clips of the Brooks in action during their chart days as well as their vinyl recordings being very collectable! "Warpaint" still sounds as good as ever and has featured on odd movie soundtracks in recent years.
Len Dearlove and his dance band were firm favourites although slowly being eclipsed by the younger pop groups and singers that were emerging through these exciting times. Rex also had the good business sense to organise coaches to bring in loads of local soldiers stationed at nearby Army bases such as Barton Stacey, Stockbridge and other camps plus the Navy lads from Worthy Down along with American servicemen stationed at the old Aldermaston base up in Newbury. One can imagine a few more international punchups when the Yanks hit town (‘overpaid,oversexed and over here’!) and chatted the local girls up to the annoyance of their regular admirers.
The Pragnells also ran another venue- the Horse Hall (!) at Windsor and Len Canham also supplied most of the bands for the successful weekly dance nights. Tony helped out as part of the tightly run family business and he recalls one night where a young lad by the name of Freddie Heath called by and asked if his new group could have a tryout. Rex usually let new 'unknown' bands have a short 15 minute set in the interval and he told the guy to be there the following week for an audition with promises of paid bookings if they were up to scratch. The following week saw an emergence of a great new pop group as they took the crowd by storm and played over their allotted time, much to Rex's consternation as nobody was buying drinks - the whole audience was transfixed by these 'new faces' in town. Rex saw another opportunity and with his sidekick Len Canham , they quickly booked the lads to appear at the Winchester Lido on Wednesdays, then Windsor on the Thursday as well as Len booking them into the Royal Pier Southampton on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Tony recalls that the band members were paid around one pound ten shillings a night (around £1.50 in 'new' money) with Rex and Len raking in around £1,000 per night as the place was heaving whenever this group appeared at any of the three main venues! This contract was booked for about 5/6 months in advance, in which time the unsigned group were quickly snapped up by the London managers/agents etc and became overnight stars as their records shot into the charts which guaranteed sellout shows at the three main dancehalls but still on the same wages as per contract! Rex and Len were constantly badgered to release the boys from their contract and there was talk of some £2,000 being offered to release the band - quite a considerable sum of money back then. Tony thinks that a few brown envelopes were passed around and that the lead singer also received a 'goodwill' payment as the group carried on playing the same circuit, although they could have possibly got out of it by 'breaking up' then reforming or any other well known wangle. This was a common story in those days when many an 'unknown' singer or band were booked to appear on average money but then got catapulted into fame and fortune but stuck with the small dancehall shows that were in the book. Oh - the name of this new and? JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES! All dressed the part with a swashbuckling Johnny wearing his trademark eyepatch and swinging a cutlass as part of the act!
First hit was a terrific rock'n'roll song 'Please Don't Touch' followed by 'You Got What It Takes' both got to no. 25 in the charts but followed by one of the classic rock records of all time that still sounds great 'Shaking All Over' which all of us new bands covered as well! A few more minor hits followed with another superb hit of 'I'll Never Get Over You' in 1963 which made no. 4 but then the hits dried up as the new Mersey Sound was sweeping the country and changing music forever. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates continued to play for several years before his untimely car accident in Bury near Manchester later in the decade.
Other memories of the Lido include such names as Harry Gold and Eric Delaney ( the band stand had to be enlarged to accommodate his drums) Acker Bilk, Screaming Lord Sutch, Ray Ellington, with Marion Ryan, Nat Gonella and many more. Another major attraction was a visit by a very well endowed young lady by the name of Sabrina, which will bring a misty-eyed reaction to those of a certain age – you could say she was a double attraction! One description of her famous bosom was comparing her frontage to a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado bumper! If she had fell into the Lido, she certainly would not have drowned and if she had been on the Titanic (nice pun?) she would have saved half the crew!!
Tony Pragnell has promised to dig up some more information on the Lido and he mentioned the popular ballroom dancing days which were boosted by the BBCs 'Come Dancing' programme and saw local people flock to see their favourites 'live' and in colour as opposed to a small 6"grainy flickering black and white television screen! Here we are in 2007 and now witnessing the revival of the very same show hosted by Bruce Forsyth bringing some real showbusiness back into the nation's living rooms. At the same time we have many of the original 60s/70s bands appearing all over the world although not having the full lineup that had the girls screaming away all those years ago...funny old world isnt it?
Rex also used his keen business sense when the country went mad to buy the new fangled television sets in readiness to watch the live 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. He set up a television, projector and a 4x3 foot screen then paid a technician double time to sit by the set for the whole event without moving! The Lido had some 400 excited people through the door paying a pound each (lot of money back then) to see this novelty which might have turned out for the worse as Winchester was just outside the fringe transmission area and the reception might not have been strong enough for a decent signal! Rex and family drew great sighs of relief and then enjoyed counting the takings including refreshments, sale of flags and much more!
Tony Pragnell also commented how times have changed, when he recalls loads of the girls being picked up from the dance hall by the odd few parents who had cars (!) or escorted home by the lads as well as many of them making their way home on foot for some considerable distance. He cannot recall any problems such as we have in these modern times of binge drinking and the dangers of walking through city streets and even dark country roads! It really was a 'golden age' back in those carefree days when youngsters could enjoy themselves and just get 'high' on the music alone...........
The Lido also featured the very popular All In Wrestling nights that gave the chance for people to watch their TV favourites in a live atmosphere that was much better than watching the box. Just like the Royal Pier, they featured such big names as Jackie 'Mr TV' Pallo, long hair flowing out of his pony tail and swaggering around the ring as the cockiest fighter in the game. London tough guys Steve Logan and Mick McManus really got the crowd booing all through the bouts as they 'cheated' and bullied the poor fighters that faced them in the ring - especially when featured as a tag team. Others included Johnny Kwango-a superb fit African wrestler whose amazing skills were mixed with so many laughs - I have also been in touch with Colin Pickett who helped the Pragnells out at the Lido on many of these events and was also roped in as a referee and 'second' to these great entertainers and he is well up on the various tricks and acting skills in the ring!
The Pragnells set up the wrestling ring for the night, but this had to be dismantled at the end in readiness for the cleaners the next morning and Tony recalls having designed the main spotlights over the ring which meant him climbing up into the dark dusty roof section to lower the lighting rig down toward the main area as well as replacing other blown bulbs around the whole ballroom area! He also remembers the major job of organising Christmas decorations and roping in staff to blow up around a thousand balloons that were loaded into the net in readiness to cascade down onto the revellers below by pulling the string!
One of the best known Lido characters was a giant of a man known as 'Oscar' who worked at the nearby Brazils Pork Pie factory at Winnal. Built like the proverbial brick toilet (you know what I really mean) with massive shoulders, shaved head and reckoned to be the strongest man at the factory - they didn't need fork lift trucks with him around! Oscar loved the wrestling and attended most of these packed out nights and Rex had a quiet word with this fearsome looking local and set up a public 'challenge' from the ringside seats which saw Oscar climbing into the ring to face the fierce Mick McManus - one of the real 'bad boys' in the game. Half of the factory staff were in the audience and gave Oscar a fantastic boost with nonstop cheering, whistling and foot stamping as he gave Mick a really hard time despite his amateur status. The first match was very close and both fighters were exhausted as this bout ended in a 'draw' to a rapturous applause although the opponents did have a quiet word in the dressing room just before the actual clash of the Titans. Pep talk or 'planning' what would happen- who knows (ahem)
Mick McManus - would YOU have taken him on??
Following on from this first match, a few more return 'grudge' matches were arranged and Oscar learned a few more tricks of the trade getting there early to talk through the 'fight' as well as using that well know stage prop of the fake 'blood' capsule that could give the impression of a blood-splattered wrestler staggering around the ring and much more! Mind you - whenever the really top stars faced each other there was an unofficial code of conduct that the 'champion' would retain his crown for a while although the opponent would often breach this understanding and cause some real animosity between them. This would guarantee an even more keen fight on the next occasion, which pleased Rex immensely when looking at the ticket sales!
April 2014- a great e-mail from Robin Millard, who found this page and has added his own personal memory:
Colin Pickett has also supplied some more great stories of the wrestling nights including the match featuring Johnny Kwango whose face was contorted with 'pain' as he was being held in the much feared Boston Crab move. Johnny was face down on the canvas with his opponent standing over him, sat on his back and facing the opposite way with legs pinned under the other fighter's arms and being bent over backwards. Johnny looked up and saw Colin's aunt Ivy sat in the front row eating liquorice allsorts in between shouting at the nasty man who was 'torturing' her favourite fighter. He then forgot his pain and scrambled across the ring, reached out and pinched some of her sweets! Colin also remembers Big Bruno Elrington a giant of a man from Portsmouth who pushed his way through the baying crowd and up into the ring, wearing a huge dressing gown with leather and brass belt plus shoulder straps. Colin was his second for the match but got knocked out of the ring himself when Bruno took off the gown and threw it across the ring into the corner where Colin was standing! In fact, I used to visit Bruno's own gym near Portsmouth railway station opposite the Guildhall in my early teens and even had a few grappling lessons from the great man himself as our family knew him personally. I liked the showbusiness element of it all but wasn't too keen on getting hurt so I gave up after a few trials - the older fighters used to call me 'Rembrandt' as I was always on the canvas!
I also knew and loved these great showmen from visiting the Royal Pier at Southampton with my dad - I can still remember the fun and the whole atmosphere of it all. Colin also mentions the hilarious Les Kellet and many more, so perhaps you might wish to search through many websites that give much more information on the early days when All-In Wrestling swept the UK. Colin also laughed when his family and friends were sure that their favourite wrestler would 'win' the match as he knew much more about the backstage 'arrangements' and could always 'predict' the results of any fight!
Colin got the second's job from his brother David along with other seconds including pals such as Paul Green (of Peter Symonds Grammar School) plus John Miller and Barry 'Sparks' (Sam) Jackie Mr TV Pallo raised his eyebrows to see Colin - just a kid of seventeen helping him out in the corner and sang 'Fings aint wot then used to be' before laughing and getting on with his very entertaining antics in the ring.
Colin has fond memories of the Pragnell family who looked after their staff at this family run business and keeping them well fed and watered plus being allowed to come back on the pop group nights to watch the famous bands of the day. He even recalls getting a round of drinks for him and his pals in the upstairs bar, offering a pound note and getting 19/6d change back - it must have been a regular mistake by his other pals working behind the bar.............
Having said that - there were quite a few injuries sustained and Tony Pragnell recalls a real grudge match between 'Dangerous' Danny Lynch and Spencer Churchill where Danny got thrown into the air, bounced off the ropes and sent flying headlong into the steel chairs by the ringside. Scrambled back into the ring with a nasty gash on his face, which then stopped the match followed by Rex having to take the bleeding gladiator to hospital in his brand new Volvo and worrying about any stains on his pride and joy!
OK - that's it for now but I'm sure that I will get more mail and info to add on to this page dedicated to a favourite ballroom and is an important part of Winchester's modern history. Just like the Royal Pier and dancehalls across the country, the Lido must hold many happy memories for people who probably met and fell in love across the dancefloor. For us musicians, it was just a great prestige gig and we enjoyed playing to the big crowds that flocked there to enjoy a terrific atmosphere that one rarely sees these days.
I have had a few e-mails as old Lido fans have found this dedicated page and the latest message from a John Revell who has been researching the Basingstoke 60s group days. He had a particular interest in the Winchester Lido and has sent me a great list of 1964 visitors so here it is! Published by the old Hants & Berks Gazette but only listed the attractions for that year, so maybe more will surface in the future? Many familiar names with a mix of local groups plus a few that later hit the charts!
WINCHESTER LIDO 1964
Rockin’ Henri & The Hayseeds/Brian Fisher & The Raiders (October 4th 1963)
The Modern Bob Chisnell Orchestra (‘Palais Night’ October 5th, 12th and 19th 1963)
The London Zephyrs/The Threeways (October 11th 1963)
Gene Antony/Johnny Keeping & The Lonely Ones/Pete Mystery & The Redcoats (October 18th 1963)
Johnny Milton & The Condors/Tim Fane & The Images (December 1st 1963
Dave Dee & The Bostons/Tony Wyell & The Classics (November 8th 1963)
The Bob Potter Band* (‘Palais Night’ November 2nd and 9th 1963)
The Rolling Stones/The Strangers (December 20th 1963)
Mike Berry & The Innocents/The Strangers* (December 22nd 1963)
Tony Wyell & The Classics*/Ritchie Peters and the For-tunes (December 27th 1963)
Dave Curtiss & The Tremors/Daniel Boone & The Emeralds* (January 17th 1964)
Frank Kelly/The Dowlands (January 24th 1964)
Robb Storme & The Whispers*/Plymouth Sounds (January 31st 1964)
The Contrasts/Kevin Scott/Gary Young (February 28th 1964)
The Rattles ‘direct from Germany’/The Classics (February 13th 1964)
Chants & Harlems/Johnny Keeping & The Lonely Ones (February 21st 1964)
Johnny Milton & The Condors/ Johnny Anger & The Wild Ones (February 28th 1964)
Grant Tracy & The Sunsets/Johnny Anger & The Wild Ones (April 3rd 1964)
Chris Sandford & The Coronets*/Johnny Dee & The Falcons (April 1964)
The Searchers* (April 1964)
Manfred Mann/Daniel Boone & The Emeralds* (May 22nd 1964)
The Undertakers/Brian Fisher & The Raiders (May 8th 1964)
Pat Wayne & The Beachcombers/The Ace Beaters (June 12th 1964)
The Kinks/Roy Starr & The Cherokees* (June 26th 1964)
Pretty Things*/The Missing Links (July 17th 1964)
The Fairies*/The Coronets* (July 24th 1964)
Daniel Boone & The Emeralds*/The Rock-A-Fellows (July 31st 1964)
The Others/The Companions (August 7th 1964)
The Pickwicks/The Dynamos (August 14th 1964)
The Troggs*/The Daisies (Sunday, August 16th 1964)
The Rebounds*/The Travellers (August 21st 1964)
The Missing Links/The Ivy League* (Sunday, August 23rd 1964)
Rory Blackwell & The Blackjacks/Brian Diamond & The Cutters (August 28th 1964)
Dave Dee & The Bostons/The League Of Gentlemen (September 18th 1964)
The Soul Agents/The Crescendoes (spelt thus in the advert) (September 25th 1964)
The Roulettes ‘Adam Faith’s backing group’*/The Ten Feet Five* (October 2nd 1964)
Brian Poole & The Tremeloes/Ricky Vernon & The Pathfinders (October 9th 1964)
The Merseybeats*/4 Hits And A Miss (October 30th 1964)
The Mojos*/Pete Rivers & The Kingfishers (November 20th 1964)
E-mail from Steve Flux:
Please contact me via my e-mail contacts on this and other pages if you have anything to share with me and the world!
August 2007 I received the amazing story of the early days and how this ailing enterprise was turned around
Just click on this link, which will lead you to a story of intrigue, shady deals and much more............
LIDO THE EARLY YEARS
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