STRICTLY – COME DANCING

by

After the City Centre pubs what better than the dance halls. And who better to paint the picture than, Eric Sanderson.

 

 

 

 

                              STRICTLY – COME DANCING

By Eric Sanderson

 

 

 

 

                                  

 

Dancing and dance halls were a popular pastime , and for our group, the late fifties was the zenith of our interest. Obviously, this pastime wasn’t confined to East Leeds or it’s community but several  East Leeds groups seemed to attend these places at the same time around then , switching allegiance from place to place as their popularity and fashion changed. They were also good opportunities to meet & interact with groups from other localities and many new friends were made that way.

           

Saturday night was the favoured time when, with a few bob in your pocket and dressed in best bib and tucker, we sallied forth for a few pints to build our dutch courage and join the “Fishing Fleet” , that is, trawling for a suitable girl with whom to spend the evening in soft embrace and perhaps acquire a  “date” for another day.

 

I don’t think that any of us were really interested in the dancing itself as almost nobody chooses to dance unless slightly drunk, or insane, or both , do they? Nor did “Dancing in the Rain” create much inspiration to any of us yet we were firm believers that you should try everything once – except maybe country dancing and drinking Bentleys Yorkshire Bitter (BYB). No, it was the opportunity to meet the girl of your dreams that was the big attraction and here’s a few of the favoured venues that somehow managed to provide the glitz and glamour which drew us, week after week, like bees around the honey pot.

 

But first of all, it was usual to call at the pub in order to down the obligatory few pints of Tetley Bitter and acquire the requisite bravado & confidence . At the time, none of the dancehalls served or would allow alcohol on the premises, for very good reasons. The pubs had a closing time of 10pm and you were refused permission to enter the dancehall after 10 so it was a fine judgement to time your entrance so as to maximise drinking time but still make the dance. But in addition to timing, any overt signs of inebriation would prohibit your entrance  and so stopped your enjoyment of the last couple of hours, the dances usually finishing at the stroke of midnight. 

Our preferred choice of pub was the Guildford Hotel in the Headrow. At the time it was a  rather up market hostelry and we particularly liked “The Merryboys Bar” which had an appealing atmosphere in which to enjoy our couple of pints.

 

The first venue I ever frequented was Mark Altman’s where the resident band was led by Charlie Marcus , a Danny deVito lookalike who also played the trumpet. I recall this as a somewhat boring establishment and lacking the atmosphere that appealed to younger revellers of the time. Although well appointed, it’s appeal was to the more serious dancers and I believe it closed down in the late 50’s with Charlie Marcus transferring his band to the SCALA ,which was above the cinema in Albion Street.

 

This was altogether a more appealing  place to younger people, the entrance being up a wide and sweeping marble staircase into a brightly lit, large and roomy dance floor. There was a small “bar” just off to the right which sold well watered soft drinks in plastic cups at exorbitant prices.

An abundance of tuxedoed minders patrolled throughout to ensure the rules were obeyed and to quell any trouble which only very occasionally arose.

One the these rules was that only traditional ballroom dancing, waltzes, foxtrots & the like were permitted. No jiving/BeBop or Rock’n’Roll , which was becoming very popular with the youth of the day but anyone caught out was very quickly ejected, (although how you could jive to The Blue Danube I never could fathom). I think this was because that type of music & dance was somehow seen in those days as undermining the moral values of the time                    FORBIDDEN

 

 

The security men were also on the lookout for any sign of drunken or rowdy behaviour and I was once thrown out simply because I was said to be slurring my words, which is unlikely because I was never a big drinker, unlike some of my compatriots who were drinkers of Corinthian standard.

Nonetheless, many a good Saturday evening was had at the Scala.

 

Probably the most popular dance hall at the time was the MECCA, located about midway in the arcade which runs from Vicar Lane to Briggate.

Jimmy Saville was the manager there around this time and was just as outrageous as he was in later life. I remember once seeing him with his hair dyed into a Union Jack Pattern. It’s not uncommon today to see brightly dyed hair of all colours but in those days, it was really breaking new ground.

The Mecca also used to allow a limited amount of modern dancing which is probably why it proved so popular, along with it’s mezzanine which enabled you to have a birds eye view of the floor and select your next “victim”.

 

The MAJESTIC , located at the western end of City Square was probably the most up market venue, it was certainly the most expensive entrance charge. If memory serves me correctly, this opened around 1958/9 ,replacing the cinema after it closed. Again, no alcohol was served or allowed and it was a generally very well run establishment with plush surroundings, lighting effects and a resident band.

 

We transferred our patronage for a short while to the Capitol , located in Meanwood.

There was two reasons for this. The first was the Beckett Arms, located nearby which was one the few pubs in Leeds which at the time had live music. Mind you, it was a jazz band but, any port in a storm. Thankfully, for me at least,  jazz , like boogie woogie,  it got what it deserved and almost vanished from the scene

The second was yet another pub, the Myrtle which , unusually, used to sell a strong draught cider so you only needed a couple of pints to get into the right frame of mind.

An incident which is still vivid involved one of our group who’d perhaps over indulged in the high voltage cider. He’d managed to befriend a new girl and was sitting down with her in the seats which ran around the dance floor, when he was overcome by the gastric challenge of the near toxic cider and threw up all down the front of his new girlfriend’s ball gown.

It brought a rapid conclusion to a beautiful friendship and resulted in him being quickly ejected , the whole incident, I’m now ashamed to admit, causing much hilarity for the rest of us.

In retrospect, it’s not much of a surprise that success rate with the girls was fairly limited and that they weren’t impressed by the lurching around and sweet aroma of stale booze and fags. And it can’t have been easy coping with clumsy footed boys who most likely looked more like dancing bears than silky gigolos. Girls did seem to learn the art of dancing much quicker & more competently but, as Ginger Rogers said, “I had to do everything Fred Astaire did but I had to do it backwards”, so it’s no surprise really.

 

Sometimes, we would leave the Capitol early as there was a late night chippy just a few hundred yards down the road which always tasted so good after a few pints.

We’d then make our back into town and call at yet another late night chippy for another portion.

So Saturdays in those days were pretty close to being paradise , a game of footy, a few drinks with good friends and listening to a live band, the chance of a dance with a gorgeous girl and a double portion of fish and chips. Happy days.

 

The STARLIGHT ROOF was very popular around that time. It was located behind the Shaftsbury Cinema and catered mainly for young people, playing popular music and allowing modern dancing.

Although I never witnessed any trouble, it did acquire a reputation for such with a regular police presence and experiencing several  serious incidents, possibly because of the proximity of a nearby notorious pub and a couple of estates which were no strangers to such behaviour. I believe it had to close in the early 60’s because of falling attendance and it’s reputation for violence.

 

Some Public Swimming Baths closed during the winter months and converted the main pool into a dance floor by placing a sprung maple floor on to beams laid across the empty pool.

York Road Baths never did this but Armley, Bramley & Pudsey did, and possibly others, but they were very popular, well attended and we certainly enjoyed a good few Saturday nights at those places.

 

On one occasion, before going to Armley Baths, we were enjoying our pre dance drinks in the Maltshovel , a nearby pub. One of our friends possessed a prodigious appetite for the amber nectar but what’s more, he could pour it down his gullet as though it were an open drain. He decided to challenge anyone in the pub to drink a pint faster than he could, the bet being for Half-a-Crown (2s/6d). He had a few challengers but we knew just how good he was and he easily  saw off the competition, making himself a few bob into the bargain. Over the space of about 10 minutes ( about 20 seconds actual drinking time) he’d consumed more than my ration for the whole evening but, he was an extremely accomplished drinker.

Oddly enough, this didn’t seem to affect the rest of his evening’s drinking and he was one of the very few people I’ve seen who could properly demolish a Yard-of-Ale !.

 

Fairgrounds were often places where exponents of modern dancing could practice their skills, usually on the decking surrounding one of the fast moving rides where loud and popular music was played continuously.

There was one particular couple whose names I forget but they were really good at it, attracting many onlookers. I believe they both came from east Leeds (or Hunslet) and went on to take part and succeed in National competition. The girl I think later married a prominent Leeds Rugby player.

 

I had a friend who played both the fiddle and banjo ( although not at the same time) in an Irish Folk Band which frequently provided the entertainment at Irish weddings where many of the guests were enthusiastic if somewhat well oiled dancers. As the night wore on and the guests became slightly more refreshed, the band members would often have a bet between themselves as to who would throw the first punch  and he claims one or the other of them would usually prove to be correct. He further said that when the ruckus erupted, they would either just turn the sound up and play through it or, would play a sad song called the Ballad of Willie McBride which was, Arnie said, guaranteed to bring a tear to even a glass eye,  put a quick finish to the fisticuffs and let the dancing recommence peacefully.

 

 

 

                                               

 

Office and Works annual dances were another opportunity to enjoy a swirl around the floor among friends. Unfortunately, there was very often someone (usually a young man)  who’d imbibed rather more than was sensible and would take the opportunity to get something off his chest to his boss.

One young fellow of my acquaintance managed to do this every year. At any other time, he was an extremely pleasant guy, – tall, good looking, a very good footballer and semi professional cricketer, liked by everyone.

But on Office Party Night, he would turn up, looking very elegant  in his tuxedo but slightly the worse for wear. He would always then make a beeline for the then Chief Engineer, who was his boss, and proceed to slag him off for some reason or another. The next day, as always, he was stricken with remorse but he was lucky because the then Chief Engineer was good humoured, very forgiving and had the great sense to see it was just the drink speaking in a harmless bit of banter. 

 

There were many other venues where you could enjoy a dance, if that was your interest, such as Church Halls , nightclubs , Community Halls and even some working men’s clubs  but none of those featured in our particular group’s scope of rendezvous and in fact, we gradually fell away from the traditional Saturday night dance , as did most of the groups that we knew, and graduated to more of a regular drinking pastime – notably at the “Slip” or the White Horse in York Road just below the Shaftsbury cinema. By this time, both of these venues featured decent resident musicians, playing the type of music more appropriate to the youth of the day.

So the dancehalls of Leeds had to learn to manage without support and custom of a bunch of clumsy young men, none of whom could be said to possess 1% of the dancing skills of a John Travolta,  but they were probably better places for it, where the serious dancers could waltz away the evening without having people with two left feet constantly crashing into them.

But do such places exist nowadays.

 

Finally, a tip once received from a successful exponent of the art – always go for the girl with the face of a Saint – a Saint Bernard that is – and your chances of success are multiplied tenfold.

 

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Those were the days Eric. Oh if only we could relive them.

 

Last month’s mystery building. Eric and Audrey got it right it was the Friends Adults Chapel on Pontefract Lane – just lower down than the old Princess Cinema  (now a fish and chip shop) And the name of  the side street was; Hall Place.

 

Now how about this building for September – sent in by Dave Carncross.

 

 

 

                                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  

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4 Responses to “STRICTLY – COME DANCING”

  1. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Dave – I’ll have a pop at the pic. I have two possibilities, the first and most likely being the Market District Club. The second guess is the big clothing factory that was on East St nearly opposite Cavalier House. I seem to remember the entrance to the MDBC being exactly like the one in the photo, so that’s the one I’ll plump for

  2. aussiepom Says:

    Friday & Saturday nights dancing at the Majestic, the highlight of my week when I was a lot younger and 3 stone lighter than what I am now. The weekend couldn’t come soon enough for us girls. Rather an old girl now and the nearest I get to tripping the light fantastic is toe tapping while i’m sat down. Beaut memories though of tight skirts, stiletto heeled shoes and beehive hairdo’s. As an old song says memories are made of this. Thanks Eric.
    No idea at all where the building in the photo is.

  3. Douglas Says:

    Sorry I missed this earlier Eric, but you have stirred many memories of when I had regular Saturday nights at those places in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. The Mecca was the place for good dancing, but as I recall they allowed the occasional Rhumba or Samba. Often, during the soccer season when the away results had come in the Band at the Mecca would sing the score for Leeds United. It was to a popular tango tune. “Leeds United, da da da da da, beat Aston Villa, da da da da da, three-eee nil, oh da de da da, three-ee nil, and Ainsley scored, de da de da de da dot dat. Did you ever go to the monthly dance at Barnbow – the old munitions factory? We took the tram to Crossgates, walked a bit into one of the big workshop areas that was powdered with French Chalk, and then hurried for the last tram back down to York Road.

  4. Peter Lyon Says:

    There was a fairly popular dancehall called The 101, upstairs on New York Street.

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