Beatles to bubble cars - new book looks at swinging 60s in Sunderland

The Tornados who topped the hit parade in the 1960s.
The Tornados who topped the hit parade in the 1960s.
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In 1962, Sunderland-born George Bellamy was a guitarist with the Tornados when they topped the Hit Parade with Telstar.

Despite having just completed five weeks at No 1, the Tornados did not even appear on the bill advertising the Mammoth Star Show at the Odeon, in Holmeside, on November 13, 1962. The group were the backing band for Billy Fury and were only allowed a three-minute solo spot to play Telstar.

The wonderfully shaped bubble car.

The wonderfully shaped bubble car.

The music scene played an important part in the lives of Wearsiders and is one of the themes of Sunderland in the Swinging Sixties by Alan Brett and Philip Curtis, the latest book from Black Cat Publications.

Teenagers could listen to the latest records on juke boxes at coffee bars Club 11 in Villiers Street and El Cubana in Toward Road. Theatres and later night clubs in town hosted stars such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Emile Ford, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

You could also see Helen Shapiro, Del Shannon, Acker Bilk, The Who, Pink Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Sunderland had its share of Beatlemania, and local man Bill Barron recalls a close encounter with the Fab Four at the Empire in November 1963.

The new book by Alan Breet and Philip Curtis.

The new book by Alan Breet and Philip Curtis.

Four Bede schoolboys – Don Airey, Mick Grabham, Nigel Olsson and Dave Stewart – found fame in groups such as Deep Purple and Procol Harum. Don Airey learned his trade on the Hammond organ at the Ivy Leaf Club.

The 1960s were a time of promotion for Sunderland AFC, half a dozen seasons in the top flight and massive crowds for FA Cup ties.

World Cup matches were held at Roker Park with Italy, Chile, Hungary and the USSR all playing on the famous turf.

Off the field, visitors enjoyed a two-week run of the Georgian State Dance Company at the Empire, the La Strada opened in the afternoons and the Locarno held a World Cup Ball.

The influence of fashion icons, Twiggy and Mary Quant, reached Sunderland and the legendary Marlene Dietrich appeared on stage for two nights.

Austin’s Pontoon, a landmark on the river for over sixty years, was towed across the North Sea to start a new working life.

The 60s also saw the Central Railway Station rebuilt, the Town Centre Redevelopment completed and new schools, pubs, factories and shops all constructed. Multi-storey flats went up all round town.

Old pounds, shillings & pence were earned by lady welders, the town’s first traffic wardens and thousands of workers at Brian Mills in Hendon all feature in the book. Wages were spent in shops like Joplings, Blacketts, Wades, Saxons, Binns, City Stylish, VIVO Superstore and the Arcade.

Celebrities came to town, including Cathy McGowan, Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street), wrestler Shirley Crabtree (later re-branded as Big Daddy), the West Indian cricket team, Freddie Trueman and even the chimps from the PG Tips television commercial.

There was also homegrown talent – gymnast Monica Rutherford competed at the Tokyo Olympics, Kate Adie went on to report from the world’s trouble spots, John Tennick ran coaches all round the country following The Lads and comedian Bobby Thompson packed theatres and clubs.

Bubble cars could be seen in John Street, Wimpy Burgers were a tasty treat, Sykes’ Pop was still delivered to the door, and youngsters spent innocent hours on their Bogies.

The Bamboo was the first Chinese Restaurant in town and ladies demonstrated they were the most skilful at Find the Ball and Bingo.

There were unusual stories such as The Horseman and the Best Car in the World, Job Vacancy for Mary Poppins, Two Bob TVs and a Red House man Caught up in the Vietnam War.

Led Zeppelin were booked to play the Bay Hotel until promoter Geoff Docherty received a phone call from their manager, Peter Grant, to say they would not being appearing as they were flying off on a US tour. Led Zeppelin crossed the Atlantic for a breakthrough tour that established them as a supergroup.

Geoff did finally get the group to play Sunderland two years later when they received £2,000 instead of the original booking fee of £75.

Sunderland in the Swinging Sixties is available from Waterstone’s, Sunderland Museum, Sunderland Antiquarian Society and www.summerhillbooks.co.uk. Price £4.99.