RETRO: 1963 - The Beatles, Cleopatra and a promotion near-miss

The Beatles at Sunderland Empire in 1963.
The Beatles at Sunderland Empire in 1963.
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SUNDERLAND’S new lifeboat – the William Myers and Sarah Jane Myers – was launched in 1963.

The £40,500 vessel, boasting a top speed of nine knots, replaced the ageing Edward and Isabella – which had served Wearside’s swimmers and sailors for 28 years.

Hundreds of people flocked to watch as the new lifeboat was named and dedicated during a ceremony at the North Dock on July 4, 1963.

Built by Cowes-based boatyard J Samuel White, using money from a legacy left by Saltburn resident Emily Myers, the lifeboat was handed over by Emily’s sister, Annie.

“I hope it will mean the saving of many lives,” the 83-year-old, from Middlesbrough, told the gathered crowd.

In other news back in 1963, demolition plans were unveiled to tear down the old conservatory at Backhouse Park to make way for an extension of the College of Art.

Compulsory purchase orders were issued in the Downhill area, to snap up land for 700 houses, and the Queen Mother opened Hetton Lyons Boys’ Club in June this year.

Sadly, seven men were killed in pit accidents across the area, while the Parkin family of Harold Street were revealed to be “living in hell” – with 21 crammed in six rooms.

Plans for one-way systems at Roker Avenue and Mackie’s Corner were announced too, and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated National Productivity Year in the town.

HRH laid the foundation stone for the Royal Naval Association HQ in Roker Avenue during his visit, and also made an unscheduled trip to the tanker Borgsten.

The 80,000-ton vessel was under construction at Thompson’s shipyard at the time, and caught the Duke’s eye as he toured the North Sands yard and talked to workers.

“Yard officials had not expected HRH to visit the ship, and had arranged for a 56-ton deck section to be lowered into place by two cranes as he passed,” reported the Echo.

“But the Duke said he would like to go aboard, nimbly mounted the gangway and toured about half the deck – chatting informally to workers.”


THE year 1963 proved one of great note for Wearside music fans – as some of the biggest stars in the industry headed to Sunderland.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, Helen Shapiro, Billy Fury, Joe Brown and Karl Denver all performed in the town this year, as did The Beatles – three times.

Gerry and the Pacemakers took the Sunderland Empire by storm in 1963 too, just weeks before singing their way to the top of the charts with You’ll Never Walk Alone.

And four mop-haired lads from Liverpool made a brief appearance supporting teenager Helen Shapiro early this year – returning months later as the star attractions.

One of the saddest musical tales of the year featured Adam Faith, who lost his guitarist Johnny Rogers in a car crash on May 27 – just before a gig at the Empire.

Faith, who had previously “brought the house down at the London Palladium,” held auditions for a new player at the theatre – with hopefuls travelling miles to try out.

It was 19-year-old Hartlepool musician Mod Rogan, better known to pals as John Rogan, who finally won the job. He was to remain with the Roulettes until 1967.


Jan 14: The locomotive Flying Scotsman made its last scheduled run.

Jan 29: French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UK’s entry into the EEC.

Feb 8: Financial and commercial transactions by US citizens to Cuba made illegal.

Mar 21: Alcatraz Island federal prison in San Francisco Bay closed.

Apr 7: Yugoslavia proclaimed a socialist republic.

Apr 10: US nuclear submarine Thresher sank 220 miles east of Cape Cod. 129 died.

Apr 12: Martin Luther King arrested in Alabama for parading without a permit.

Jun 21: Pope Paul VI succeeded Pope John XXIII as the 262nd pope.

Jun 26: John F. Kennedy gave his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech in West Berlin.

Jul 12: Pauline Reade, 16, abducted by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady in Manchester.

Aug 8: The Great Train Robbery took place in Buckinghamshire.

Aug 28: Martin Luther King delivered I Have A Dream speech at Lincoln Memorial.

Sep 5: British prostitute Christine Keeler arrested for perjury.

Nov 18: The Dartford Tunnel opens in the UK.

Nov 22: US President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Nov 23: John Kilbride, 12, abducted by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady.

Nov 24: Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of John F. Kennedy, shot dead.

Dec 12: Kenya became independent, with Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister.

Dec 19: Zanzibar gained independence from UK as a constitutional monarchy.


WEARSIDE film fans mourned the loss of yet another cinema in 1963 – the Marina in Fulwell.

The Sea Road picture house – the first in Sunderland to boast double “love bird” seats for courting couples – became the eighth cinema to close in the town in two years. 

More than a dozen cinemas had once enjoyed great popularity and prosperity across Sunderland. The loss of the Marina left Wearsiders with a choice of just five.

But, although UK cinemas were dying a death due to the increasing popularity of TV, UK film-making was riding high in 1963 – with Tom Jones scooping four Oscars.

The comedy, adapted from Henry Fielding’s classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, featured Albert Finney in the title role and proved a world-wide hit.

The top-grossing film worldwide also had English connections – Cleopatra, starring British-born Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall and Rex Harrison.

And the sixth highest grossing film of the year – Sword in the Stone, the last cartoon produced while Walt Disney was still alive – was even set in Britain.

Over on the small screen, a British institution made its first appearance in 1963 – Doctor Who – which premiered on the BBC on November 23.

William Hartnell was the first actor take on the Time Lord role – with Sunderland-born William Russell among the supporting cast.

Other TV highlights of 1963 included the screening of a BBC television play called The Madhouse on Castle Street, which was broadcast on January 13.

The cast featured a young singer named Bob Dylan, a novice at acting, who was picked by director Philip Saville after being spotted performing in New York City.


SUNDERLAND fell at the final hurdle in their bid to secure Division One status in 1963.

A finger-tip save by Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, in the final seconds of the last match, left the Roker Men facing yet another 12 months of “second best” football.

“Twice in successive seasons Sunderland have failed to clear the last obstacle barring their path back to the top flight,” wrote Echo sports pundit Argus on May 20, 1963.

“Saturday’s failure was the harder blow, because it came in front of their own crowd in a game which Chelsea reduced to a brawl – and got away with it.”

Argus believed the “pattern of Sunderland’s bad luck was all too clear” and added: “They have made the mistake of trying to reach their target by playing football.

“That is almost frowned upon in the Second Division. No words can ease the disappointment felt by players and fans at falling just one goal short of promotion.”

But Argus also told his readers that he believed the lads had had a chance to take Division Two by storm earlier in the season – but blew it.

“They have to live with that fact. And they have to estimate, too, the extent to which tough tactics prevented them from achieving their target,” he added.

* Sunderland went on to finally win promotion in the 1963/64 season, after finishing second in the Second Division.