Of all 10,400 or
so lighthouses in
the world, which
can boast
the loveliest...?

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Whitley Bay & Tynemouth Guide 2009 Archive

A former resident of Whitley Bay, Ian La Frenais needs no introduction. But, for the benefit of anyone who has not watched television over the past 45 years, Ian, with writing partner Dick Clement, is certainly most well-known for writing and scripting many shows, The Likely Lads, Porridge, Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads? and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet have all proved an astonishing success with the adoring television-viewing masses, as has Ian's adaptation of the Lovejoy books. The pair have also written screenplays for many movies including The Commitments and Goal!
The Last Summer
by Ian La Frenais
Well, it wasn't really my last one in Whitley Bay but at eighteen, with A-level results around the corner, and a future that would include the Army and travel, it was the last time the sea front and the Spanish City would be the epicentre of my vicarious social scene.

I say vicarious because while I was trawling the fairground and the amusement arcades, my parents assumed I was at the Rugby Club or some nice tennis club dance in Gosforth. But I was too fascinated with the sounds and the sights and the smells (oh, God, candy floss!) of the sea front. Teenagers, who had just been invented as a social and spending force, ruled the roost, turning the weekends into a catwalk for their fashion parade and sending families with kids and sunburn off to see the lighthouse or walk the promenade.

And there were girls, of course, hundreds of them, none of whom would give me the time of day. Girls from Tyneside in pencil skirts and black lipstick who chewed gum and looked deadly; girls on holiday with thick Glasgow accents who chain smoked and drank beer from the bottle; girls on day trips who wore floral dresses. "Wallpaper on the march," as Terry Collier once described them in the first ever episode of The Likely Lads.

The Teds fascinated me most, they moved in packs in their drainpipe pants and velvet collared jackets, brocade waistcoats in some more exotic cases. They worked in shipyards or electric plants like Parsons which inspired Bob and Terry's work setting. There were fights, brief skirmishes really, although I do remember once that some gang from Wallsend desecrated our floral clock!

They'd all left school at fifteen and had money in their pockets and attitude to burn. I was still at school at eighteen and had to wear sensible grey flannel trousers and a black blazer with a prefect's gold brocade. Once, however, I gave two pairs of said trousers to a friend whose mother was a dressmaker. She narrowed them to a fourteen-inch cuff and I got a second hand jacket in a scout jumble sale that looked reasonably cool — or "far out" or "gone" or whatever the word for cool was in those days. I had two problems, one, how to get into the trousers and two, how to get in and out of the house without my father spotting me.

Some local Teds befriended me. Why, I've no idea but they were great. One was actually called Ted and he was a Mister Universe contestant — he may even have won it — so borrowing one of his jackets was out of the question as he had an eighty-inch chest [see Ted left]. His pal Dickie was small and wiry like Frank Sinatra with an accent so thick I really only understood half of what he said. Joe had a broken nose and broken front teeth and I'm sure he would lose many more over the years.

They took me to the Plaza ballroom, a vast barn of a place on the front at Tynemouth which doubled as a roller-skating rink. The jiving was fantastic, the floor throbbed and the walls shook. I watched from the sidelines of course, my jiving efforts being confined to my bedroom with a Dansette record player and a Buddy Holly track. Dickie, on the other hand, was later to win first place in a jiving contest at Butlins Holiday Camp. I'm sure no-one could understand his acceptance speech. I'll never forget the Plaza or those ballrooms like it — the Empress in Whitley Bay, the Memorial Hall in Wallsend and, the ultimate mecca of glamour, the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle. Big bands, smoke, sweat and cheap perfume.

When the musicians took a break they played records by British pop stars: Tommy Steele (forget it), Marty Wilde (a true rocker) and Billy Fury (brilliant). A very short time later, four lads from Liverpool would be honing their craft in Hamburg and the sixties would sweep our pop idols into overnight obscurity.

Waiting for exam results I got a job at the Spanish City! To me I was no longer the voyeuristic outsider; this made me "in", surely. Truly working class and part of the whole holiday vibe. What could be cooler than working on the dodgems; hanging onto to the pole of a moving car, managing to give change, chew spearmint, and smoke a ciggie all at the same time. Not to be. The owner realized I was not roustabout material and I was assigned to the scenic railway. Driving four dozen infants around fairy grottos and Aladdin's cave. I shared duties with a guy called Terry who was also a smudger that's a photographer who takes snaps of tourist on the seafront, usually without any film in the camera.

One day, trying to pretend I was a mechanic and not a kiddie carer, I greased the wheels of the whole train. Unfortunately, during my tea break, Terry did the same thing. I drove the train on my return. The wheels skidded and spun and we took off like an Exocet from a rocket launcher. We derailed about half way round, next to a jungle clearing with waxwork Africans sitting around a pot over a fake fire while a stuffed lion peered through fake bushes. The kids were either scared or enthralled but either way I had to lead them down the tracks. This took much longer than the customary train time so that when we finally emerged into the sunlight I was confronted by a hysterical mob of outraged parents.

I left the Spanish City, knowing that what had happened had certainly killed my chances of ever working the dodgems. But I did pass all my A-levels and was ready, I thought, for the real world. Was it my favourite summer? Perhaps not, but a close contender. And I can still jive!
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