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Personal Memories of Blackpool continued... 1957-1961 By Anthony Hurley

Updated: Jun 27


The build up to the British Championships was and still is I imagine for today's competitions a yearly ritual with much preparation in addition to the lessons and practise.


For us Fay would be concerned with designing the dress with her dress maker. I would make sure the tail suit would make one more British, and all the dress shirts and collars were laundered. No plastic collars in those days and definitely no pre-tied bows. One of my first lessons as a Junior with Frank Alback he asked me “do you tie your own bow”. He then proceeded to show me how on a single ended bow.


1957

With the excitement and anticipation of Blackpool upon us we loaded the car for the long journey to Blackpool. No motorways so it was quite a trip. Checked into the Carlton Hotel, which was within our financial limits, but it was a very popular Dance Festival hotel.


Monday the first day of the Festival and as competitors we would rush to buy a programme to see who was judging. Morning practise in the ballroom, catching up with friends over coffee and finally returning in the evening to the ballroom to watch the first event of the week which was the Closed North of England Championship. Unfortunately my records and memory cannot recall who were the finalists in this very popular and fiercely contested Championship. The magnificent trophy similar to Eros on a Column, is now used as the Professional Rising Stars trophy.


Thursday the British Amateur soon comes around, 166 couples were entered and only two did not turn up to dance 12 judges were in action but in panels of nine so sometimes your best judges were on the sidelines. Once again Fay and I made the Semi-Final with eight marks to the Final finishing 10th overall a slight improvement from the previous year.


Dennis Udell and Joyce Brampton won the coveted British Amateur Championship and announced they were turning professional.


As always, the Friday night was much anticipated and the records show that Bobby and Peggy short made the final in Quickstep which was very popular with the audience, and Sonny Binick and Sally Brock regained their title,


So, another British came to an end.


Going home with the fabulous music still ringing in our ears and wondering how we can make that elusive final next year.




1958

The Festival keeping it’s tried and tested format, but regrettably readers I do not have a detailed record of the year except that Fay and I made the Final and finished fourth. However, it was reported that it was one of the most exciting and memorable finals resulting in a win for Eric Donaldson & Edna Barnet who held of the challenge of Peter Eggleton & Diana Cradwell. 3rd Michael Houseman & Valerie Waite, 4th Fay & I, 5th Michael Needham & Pamela Curtis, my ex Junior partner , 6th Kit and Phyllis Hallewell.


It is interesting that once again it was an All-British Final and as I mentioned earlier the overseas invasion had yet to be experienced.


Friday, the Professional, and all the big guns were dancing. The atmosphere in the Ballroom was electric, I had never seen The Empress Ballroom so full. The story goes that book makers were making a book on the results. It was really no surprise that Sonny Binick & Sally Brock retained their title.




1959

Still staying in the Carlton Hotel, which had become a most entertaining week, so many dancing personalities and adjudicators. Each evening after returning from the Winter Gardens everyone enjoyed the very late evenings eating and drinking to the early hours. Not to mention the snooker competition final at the end of the week, between Alex Moore and Alex Warren which ended so my father told me as the sun was rising.


It is interesting to note that once again in those early years the overseas invasion had not yet started albeit a few welcome couples were beginning to make their mark. The Empress Ballroom was always filled to capacity and the Blackpool atmosphere and magic was already well established.


So once again having enjoyed the various Championships during the week we waited patiently for the traditional Thursday British Amateur Championship.


Once again Fay and I were delighted to be in such a prestigious Final and winning the Tango. Eric Donaldson & Edna Barnet won their second Amateur title and turned Professional. It seems even in their fifties A British Amateur Title is a stepping stone to a successful Professional career.


The Friday morning cocktail party was a special occasion this year as Fay and I announced our engagement. During that week we had bought the ring in Leonard Dews the Jewellers in Blackpool. They are still trading.


The Professional Championship was to witness a new era as the Binick, Davies years of successes had come to an end due to their retirement. New champions Harry Smith Hampshire & Doreen Casey won their first British Title one they would hold for three years.


So, another Blackpool came to a close, as did the fifties, so now we look forward to a new decade. For Fay and I it would be the super sixties.


1960

The invasion from the overseas couples had started and was eagerly noted when buying the program which was also getting thicker and heavier.


Some readers may wonder why I have not mentioned or included any reports on the Latin American style. The answer is simply this popular style was not included in the festival week until 1964.


As my article is entitled My Personal Memories, I will be forgiven if I go directly to the Thursday evening of the Festival.


In the buildup to the British many close battles were enjoyed from 1st to 6th places, so it was anticipated that the 1960 Championship would be extremely exciting.


So, with the qualifying rounds having reduced the couples to 96, we took to the floor for the first of the evenings five rounds to the music of the Tommy Jones Orchestra. This is the moment; you pray it's going to feel good for the entire evening.


As the competition progressed it was clear that a major struggle was taking place on the floor and the audience gave their all in support of their favourites.


In those days the length of the dance for finals was measured in how many choruses not in physical time. So, you had to be prepared for at least 2 choruses per dance with 2 1/2 for Quickstep. PJs Richardson announced the six couples who would contest the final and already the audience were shouting for their favourites. Over the years of dancing in both Amateur and Professional Finals I don't think I have heard many that captured the excitement and vocal support of this Final, one could hardly hear the music for the verbal encouragement that all the couples enjoyed. It was simply outstanding.

So, to the moment that PJs moved to the microphone to announce the results, a hush fell across the ballroom.



His announcement. “By being first in the Waltz, first in the Slow Foxtrot, 2nd in the Tango and 2nd. in the Quickstep the New British Amateur Champions are Anthony Hurley & Fay Saxton.”


The tie being broken by the new Scrutineering Rule 11.


Pandemonium broke out, I remember picking Fay up and that’s about all until I was holding that magnificent trophy. And realising that we had achieved our goal within the time we had allotted ourselves from 1955.


2nd place. Michael & Valerie Houseman.


3rd Len Armstrong- Welch


4th Coad/ Thompson.


5th Wesley’s


6th Considine/ Woods


As the week came to a close the Annual Fashion show that the ladies seemed to enjoy had become an integral part of the traditional cocktail party. With the Mayor of Blackpool in attendance, one was aware that the Festival was a very important event in Blackpool’s yearly calendar. It was particularly special for Fay and I this year receiving the congratulations from friends and fellow competitors.


The Friday Professional Championship was once again won by Harry Smith-Hampshire & Doreen Casey.


Driving home and coming back down to earth we realised we only had a matter of weeks to finalise the arrangements for our wedding.




1961. Some forward thinking.

In writing these memories I cannot forget the wonderful friendships that one developes over the years of competitive dancing. I am happy to say many of those friendships still exist. One in particular is my very good friend Len Armstrong. We first competed together as Juniors with our first partners in 1952. We went through the Amateur and Professional ranks together, and now some seventy years later we are still lucky enough to be friends. As one gets older it is inevitable that we lose some of those friends who made such a mark on the domestic and International dancing community.


I for one could not envisage the sudden growth the Blackpool Festival was about to embrace. The reputation of the British Championships were now respected throughout the dancing world, hence the large increase in couples from abroad the word “open” is now very much associated with the Championships.


It has always been for me a sense of pride that so many overseas couples accompanied with their coaches and supporters place their competitive performances exclusively under a panel of British adjudicators.




Back to 1961.

A sad note to record. The wonderful PJs is Richardson announced his retirement as chairman of adjudicators and compare, a position he held for thirty years. The Tommy Jones Orchestra played “ A Fine Old English Gentleman” to the delight of the audience that prompted a standing ovation.


Also, we were to witness the introduction of the fabulous Charles Barlow Orchestra, some of the tunes he introduced are still being played by the ever-popular Ashley Frolick and the Empress Orchestra.


To complete “Memories” of 1961 I am happy to print the result of the Amateur Championship.


1st. Anthony and Fay Hurley


2nd. Len Armstrong & Elaine Welch


3rd. George Coad & Patricia Thomson.


4th. John & Betty Wesley.


5th. Brian Isaacs & Gaye Biffen.


6th. Jack and Anne Reavely.




1962. A taste of the future.

A new chairman of adjudicators and compere was introduced as Arthur Franks, from the official board of ballroom dancing.


I must record that a new Professional era was the highlight of the Professional Championship. New Champions were,


Bill & Bobbie Irvine winning the dual with Peter Eggleton & Brenda Winslade. two couples who were destined to delight the purists of competitive ballroom dancing and two couples who Fay and I were honoured to share the competition floor in our professional years.



Anthony Hurley.


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