The Glorious Fifties

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The Glorious Fifties
When you look at us now you may see that we have lost a bit of hair, a few teeth, we may be a bit stooped and a bit saggy around the middle, we may even have a metal knee or hip. You might think, look at that poor old wreck but don’t pity us, rather you should envy us for those of us who were teenagers in the 1950s have won the lottery of life because the fifties decade was the pinnacle of all the decades and we were the ones luckily enough to be on hand to enjoy them.

They trot out black and white documentaries of the fifties on T.V. that show an austere world of primitive domestic appliances and utility furniture, nine inch tellies, hair nets and curlers, dads seated in their chairs smoking pipes and reading newspapers still uncomfortably attired in full suit and tie. But that wasn’t us, they were the tag end of the generation before us, the ones with the richly deserved tag ‘the greatest generation’ and they really knew what austerity was about after living through a depression and two world wars. They had seen off the Germans and the Japs for us and now they were gracious enough to hand over a beautiful new world for us to enjoy; and didn’t we know how to do it! We exploded onto the scene with bright colours and great music.

Every generation of teenagers since then have looked back and said their music was the best – they would wouldn’t they? But our teenage era of music really was the best (it did spill over into the 60s a bit but it was well over by the 70s). Some may argue other decades were better but just consider how many contemporary TV adverts use 50s music in the background: Buddy Holly, Eddie Corcoran and Roy Orbison to name but a few. The unmistakable soothing sound of a fifties ballad has the power to sooth the savage beast, and we were in at the start of rock and roll too. When Bill Hayley came rocking and rolling over the ocean waves we danced in the aisles to ‘rock around the clock’.
We were the ‘Teddy Boys’ with the slicked back oiled hair with just a little bit pulled forward in the middle at the front and a parting at the back like a duck (DA). Regaled in finger tip length jackets of pastel pink or powder blue and string ties complemented with drain-pipe pants and thick crepe soled suede shoes. When you hit the town in a rig like that your heart soared to the heavens and we were set up to dance. (They did look a bit naff when they filtered down to be work-a-day clothes). The girls too were stylish in their crisp white blouses, ballerina shoes and pencil slim black skirts all tied around the middle with thick three inch elastic belts to emphasize tiny waists. And above the belt great pointed appendages, (whatever happened to those). Janet Leigh used to make my eyes pop out!

We were no angels but we never did drugs, life was good enough already. I wouldn’t have recognised a ‘drug’ if it had jumped up and bit me on the nose. We were lucky in that there was no shortage of work everyone had a job. We whistled while we worked hard through the week and let our hair down at the weekend. Beer was 1/6 a pint the equivalent of seven new pence. There were no nightclubs in Leeds – I recall that The Ace of Clubs at Woodhouse was the first club on the scene but that was too late for us; instead we had the dance halls – Mecca, Scala, Majestic, Astoria, Capital, 101, Mark Altman’s and The Leeds School of Dancing near the Corn Exchange. We jived, bopped and rocked to the big bands, Ted Heath, Ken Mackintosh, Jack Parnell on records and Charlie Marcos live at the Scala. We smooched the night away under the great silver glitter ball to the sounds of the great fifties ballads of: Frankie Lane, Guy Mitchell, Dickie Valentine, Connie Francis, Ronnie Hilton and the rest: Blow me a Kiss from Across the Room, Teen Angel, Hold My Hand, A Blossom Fell and more. If you were lucky you might get to walk a girl home with just the possibility of a goodnight kiss, then you had to walk the rest of the way home on foot – no taxis, they were not in our plans or matched our pockets.

In the midst of all this some of us were lucky enough to experience the incomparable comradeship of National Service, live something entirely different and see something of the world in the process. And if that was not enough we had BLACKPOOL a rite-of-passage for every fifties teenager. Of course it helped that we were young and fit enough to enjoy the fifties but that is the prerogative of all teenagers of all the decades. It’s a sad guy or gal who didn’t enjoy their teenage years.
So please don’t dismiss us for the geriatrics we appear to be, inside we are still rocking the fifties away!

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6 Responses to “The Glorious Fifties”

  1. Jackie hainsworth Says:

    I remember the 50s and 60s oh so well ! It was a time of hard work and enjoyment and we did enjoy life the pubs around east Leeds full of life music and laughter we had such a good time the Prospect Slip Inn White Horse and The Chreey Tree were some of my favourite with live music and packed with people just out to enjoy the moment!Friday night was dance night for me and my friends usually the Scala.Week nights we spent at Ossie YMCA .Sunday Night was at The Slip Inn with the Johnson Brothers their closing number Goodnight Sweetheart.

  2. Bill Sowry Says:

    Bill Sowry lived at 4a Templeview Grove, Leeds 9… now I live in Australia with my Aussi wife… remember me? Victoria School, East Leeds Meths soccer team under 16, beat Leeds United Storm Cocks in the Grand Final

  3. Eric Says:

    Some great recollections Pete, I remember almost all of them now that you’ve revived them. Wow, weren’t we lucky to experience such a treasure trove and, as others have said, all the more enjoyable because we worked hard as well as played hard.
    Great stuff

  4. peterwwood Says:

    Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. We had our Old East Leedser’s reunion last Tuesday and I spoke t Jackie Overfield and Vince O’Donnell who both remember you fondly. Jackie actually played in the match you suggests but believes the opponents were Corpus Christie who actually knocked Stormcocks out in the semi final.

  5. aussiepom Says:

    The fabulous fifties! O if only I could turn back the clock. Just thinking of all the music, dancing and pubs we went to brings a smile to my face. The dress code was great too and fashions as all eras looked good if you had the figure to wear them. Noticeably Teddy boy suits caused a few laughs on some guys who didn’t have the height or figure to wear them, and hair styles of the girls needed a can of hair lacquer to keep it in place but they all looked pretty smart when they went out on the town.
    The ladies who attended the Melbourne Cup at Flemington race track this year all wore 50s/60s style dresses. Looks like waist lines are back in fashion, pity I no longer have one. Nor can I balance on stiletto heeled shoes but boy of boy do I have lots of happy memories.
    Good on you Pete for reminding me of how everything was exciting and eager to see what the world had to offer. Never regretted burning the candle at both ends when I had the energy to do it.

  6. Doug Farnill Says:

    I was born a bit too early to enjoy the 50″s as a teenager Peter, but after reading your description, the East Leeds 50’s would be one of my destinations if there were time travel. But the late 40’s weren’t too bad either – many great dance evenings at Barnbow, and somewhere I think was called the Middleton Hall. Doug

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