From crowd surfing to the Beatles and Marlene Dietrich - the 60s were swinging in Sunderland

Crowd surfing at Roker Park in the 1960s.
Crowd surfing at Roker Park in the 1960s.
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Picture the scene. There’s 61,000 people around you in a packed Roker Park and you’re not feeling great.

What’s the best course of action? Crowd surfing.

Marlene Dietrich appeared at Sunderland Empire for two nights in 1966.

Marlene Dietrich appeared at Sunderland Empire for two nights in 1966.

Back in the 1960s, when Sunderland’s ground was crammed to the rafters, there was a simple option for getting people to pitchside from the open terraces of the Roker or Fulwell Ends.

They would be passed over the heads of the fans. It was the easiest way of getting to medical attention.

And that’s just one example of a time gone by which is spotlighted in a new book which gets its final spotlight in Wearside Echoes this week.

Sunderland in the Swinging Sixties was very much a place to be. The celebrities of the time certainly thought so. After all, they came in their droves.

Del Shannon on the bill.

Del Shannon on the bill.

Singer Emile Ford, who topped the charts with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For, was here and so was Julie Driscoll – who had the hit This Wheel’s On Fire.

She performed at La Cubana which also attracted Long John Baldry and The Spencer Davis Group.

Pat Phoenix, better known as Coronation Street character Elise Tanner, was in the city to open the new March Ladies Shop in Crowtree Road in 1962.

The Beatles made three appearances in town in the space of 10 months.

In the May, they topped the bill at The Rink while their hit From Me To You was at No 1. You could still get to see them for five shillings.

And by the time they made their third appearance of the year on November 30, 1963, Beatlemania was in full swing and they were back at No 1 with She Loves You.

Cue the screaming girls – and they kept up the decibels when the Rolling Stones appeared at the Odeon the next year.

Helen Shapiro was another star to arrive, and by September 1964, we had another new venue which was pulling in big names of its own.

The Blue Note arrived and had the likes of Little Eva and The Fortunes on its bills.

Television personality Cathy McGowan – who shot to stardom with Ready, Steady, Go – opened the new Teenage Boutique in Blacketts on February 25, 1967.

American star Del Shannon appeared at the Porama in High Street West in 1967, just a few years after his hit Runaway was in the charts.

Tom Jones, T. Rex, Pink Floyd and Engelbert Humperdinck, they all pulled in crowds.

But was there anyone more glamorous than stage legend Marlene Dietrich, who did two nights on stage at the Empire in 1966?

Stage, screen and disc celebrities weren’t the only VIPs. These were the days when footballers when rapidly becoming household names in their own right.

And with the 1966 World Cup in town, it gave city residents the chance to see players from Italy, the USSR and Chile. Surprise package North Korea, who were in the same group, played all their games at Middlesbrough.

Sunderland got into the World Cup spirit. Joplings and Binns were among the places that put up flags and buntings to welcome the world.

The Top Rank Suite in Park Lane staged dances for the different countries, while The Locarno held a World Cup Ball, and pubs across town opened to serve meals and coffee.

World Cup teams trained at Roker Park and Peterlee-based crisp company Tudor produced giant-sized one shilling packs of cheese and onion, ready salted and potato stix with a World Cup theme.

We got to see the stars. Lev Yashin was in goal for Russia and if results had gone slightly differently, football legend Pele could have played a quarter-final at Roker Park.

* Sunderland in the Swinging Sixties has been produced by Alan Brett and Philip Curtis, is priced at £4.99, and is the latest book from Black Cat Publications.

It is available from Waterstone’s, Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society and www.summerhillbooks.co.uk.