RETRO: Looking back at 1953 - a right royal year

Members of Sunderland Round Table Coronation Scout Troop at work on building a new headquarters in the grounds of Sunderland General Hospital.
Members of Sunderland Round Table Coronation Scout Troop at work on building a new headquarters in the grounds of Sunderland General Hospital.
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CORONATION fever gripped Wearside in 1953 – with torrential rain failing to dampen patriotic spirits.

“Parties were the order of the day, only ranking second in importance to the Coronation ceremony itself,” reported the Echo on June 2.

“Groups of neighbours huddled around TV sets early this morning, anxious not to miss a moment of the day’s events as the Princess was crowned Queen.”

Also making headlines this year was the opening of Sunderland’s new-look Binns – a five-storey shop which took three years to build and “towered” over Fawcett Street.

The two original Binns stores had been destroyed by Nazi bombers on April 10, 1941, but from the ruins of the blitz came a new shop to dominate the skyline.

“The emphasis of the store is on women’s wear,” reported the Echo. “The basement will also house women’s shoes, while on the ground floor are dress silks and hosiery.

“Millinery, gowns and coats will be on the first floor and, on the second, will be underwear and a modern women’s and children’s hairdressing salon.”

Other stories of 1953 included the opening of Thorney Close Secondary Modern School – part of a £1million-plus post-war project to transform education in the town.

Two-week holidays were introduced for pitmen in this year too, with Horden – then home to Britain’s biggest pit – reported empty as mining families enjoyed their break. The artist L.S Lowry also won a legion of admirers after making Sunderland his ‘second home’ in 1953 – staying at the Seaburn Hotel and painting river views.

And Hawthorn Combined Mine, near Murton, was opened by the National Coal Board in this year as well, to draw coals from Murton, Eppleton and Elemore pits.

But a significant piece of Sunderland’s architectural heritage was bulldozed in 1953 – 17th-century Thorney Close Hall, which had originally been home to George Storey.

And the year also saw the passing of Sunderland’s own history man, James Watson Corder, who devoted almost his entire life to researching the town’s rich heritage.

“He documented the lives of Sunderland’s 19th-century families, leaving behind a unique legacy of social history for the benefit of future residents,” reported the Echo.

WORLD EVENTS

Jan 7: President Harry S Truman announced the US had developed a hydrogen bomb.

Jan 20: Dwight D Eisenhower succeeded Harry S Truman as US President.

Mar 5: Joseph Stalin died after suffering a stroke on March 1.

Apr 13: Ian Fleming published his first James Bond novel – Casino Royale.

May 9: France agreed to provisional independence of Cambodia.

May 29: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first to reach Everest summit.

Jun 18: Egypt declared itself a republic.

Jul 5: The European Economic Community held its first assembly.

Jul 27: The Korean War ended with the Lorean Armstice Agreement.

Sep 12: US senator John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier.

Sep 25: First German prisoners of war returned from Soviet Union to West Germany.

Oct 1: UNIVAC 1103 first commercial computer to use random-access memory.

Nov 5: David Ben-Gurion resigned as prime minister of Israel.

Nov 21: Skull of the “early human” Piltdown Man found to be a hoax.

Dec 1: Hugh Hefner published first issue of Playboy magazine.

MUSIC

THE rock ‘n’ roll revolution was getting nearer as Wearside music fans welcomed in 1953.

Big band sounds and dance numbers were still hugely popular at the time – with Al Flush and his orchestra drawing dancers by the dozen to The Rink each week.

But there was a hint of things to come, as music from Bill Hayley and His Comets filtered over from America – and Crazy Man, Crazy became the first rocking No1.

Waiting in the wings for a chance to shine was a Memphis high school graduate, who popped into his local recording studio to make a record for his mum in this year too.

The acetate disc cut by 18-year-old Elvis Presley, called My Happiness, caught the ear of Sun Record boss Sam Phillips – but his time in the spotlight was yet to arrive.

Other stars making musical headlines included US country singer Hank Williams, who officially died from heart failure at 29 – although his death remains a mystery.

Chicago-born Frankie Laine set an all-time British record after three of tunes, Answer Me, Hey Joe and I Believe held the top spot for a combined total of 27 weeks.

And 1953 also saw the birth of The Platters, the start of James Brown’s career and a huge hit for Canada’s The Four Lads – with Instanbul (Not Constantinople).

TV & CINEMA

THERE was simply no escape from Coronation fever in 1953 – with the event sparking the biggest demand for televisions ever recorded in Sunderland.

Once the ceremony was over, however, there were plenty of shows to keep Wearsiders entertained including the Good Old Days, Panorama and Quatermass.

Several old favourites – such as Muffin the Mule, Come Dancing, Candid Camera, What’s My Line and Television Newsreel – were regular staples of TV programming.

And the BBC even made history on December 2 by broadcasting a Television Symbol – the first animated TV symbol presentation in the world.

But, while America started to produce new-fangled colour TV sets – at a cost of £6,400 today, the UK would struggle on with black and white for years to come.

Over on the big screen, however, colour dominated the box office hits – with the biggest draw of the year proving to be Disney’s magical cartoon adventure Peter Pan.

Biblical epic The Robe hit No2, while From Here to Eternity – a drama dealing with the troubles of soldiers – made it to No3 and relaunched Frank Sinatra’s career too.

Other highlights included musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which saw Marilyn Monroe given an iconic performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

And Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn made a dazzling step into the limelight in this year too, with a starring role in the No9 film Roman Holiday.

SPORT

SUNDERLAND’S 1952/53 season was one of “opportunity squandered by indecision”, according to the Echo’s football critic Argus.

The team “escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth” and, never one of hold back on criticism, Argus was obviously hugely disappointed by the team’s performance.

“Trial and experiment over the entire season has failed to produce a solution to any of the several outstanding problems,” he wrote in May 1953.

“We started with the minimum requirements of a top-class full back, centre half and outside left. The season ended, however, without any of these positions being filled.”

Argus believed the team’s performance had started to go down hill from December 1952, when “other weaknesses showed themselves as well.”

Indeed, he wrote: “Once again no firm action was taken, and the snowball of decline was allowed to reduce the club to one of the most moderate in the League.

“Results speak for themselves. In the last five away games one goal was scored, against 22 conceded. If no action is taken, this will happen again next season.”

Sunderland stars Trevor Ford and Len Shackleton had only “moderate” seasons according to Argus, despite sharing goal-scoring honours, and new blood was needed.

“My verdict is that the season’s opportunities have been entirely wasted upon an indecisive board and management,” Argus added.

“It will be interesting to see how honest the board is prepared to be in writing off its own failures. That course must be taken if the way is to be cleared for re-building.”