Once Woebegone, now wonderful Worthing
By Chris Ashley, writer and broadcaster Occasionally Woebegone Worthing (my hometown) from my youth gets a bit of sledging from me. In my defence, I was your average discontented sprog, although, through the mists of time I know we actually had fun, albeit, in this day and age, it would be considered rather quaint. Most of those good times rotated around the beach and the pier.
One of the earliest memories was a 70-ton dead whale named Jonah being put on display on various seaside resort beaches in the 1950s. Did this behemoth visit your neck of the woods? Was it only seaside resorts or did it visit the land of 'dark satanic mills' as well? It did pong a tad, but fortunately, we had a very fragrant end of the pier show called 'Twinkle' to fight the funk.
It was as camp as a scouts’ jamboree in Bruno Tonioli's back garden. There were comedians, jugglers, singers, dancers, ventriloquists and various other novelty acts like dogs jumping over mini hurdles, which would inevitably end up with the mutts fighting or, if I may be so delicate, flirtatiously frolicking.
Generally speaking, as this was a genteel audience, there was not too much larrikinish goings-on, until, during a conjuring act in which pigeons were made to appear from the most unlikely places, a yahoo in the front row started chucking birdseed around. This, as you can imagine, excited the birds beyond belief and showed their gratitude in the manner only feverish feathered friends can.
Now, here's a macabre aside. The ne'er-do-well who did the deed was a local Teddy Boy, who has been mentioned in previous dispatches, named Victor Terry. He, with two criminal associates, robbed a local Lloyds Bank shooting dead an employee in the process. Terry was found guilty of the murder and was one of the last to be hanged at Wandsworth Prison on May 25,1961.
Worthing Pier is where I discovered I liked girls. One girl, in particular, Mary Bartholomew (a distant relation to Eric Morecambe. I'll have you know). I called around her house for our first date, praying her father was- n't home. He was. In a quavering adenoidal falsetto whine, I snivelled; “Is Mary home please?” Pater bawled up the stairs, “There's a yodeller here for you Mary.”
This isn't as seedy as it reads. This is not a Bobby Goldsboro 'Summer' (The First Time) scenario. 'It was not a hot afternoon, last day of June and the sun was a demon.' It was a dull day in December and it was as cold as a divorce lawyer's heart. Trust me, faithful reader, it was a chaste tryst, but it did make me more interested in following girls than Brighton & Hove Albion, although both have given me some heartache over the years.
Another place of interest for us rapscallions was the 'Waldorf Buttery' our local coffee bar. The big magnificent 1952 Seeburg LISTEN TO CHRIS MON-FRI 9-12 ON BR2 GOLD 91.1 FM TORREVIEJA OR www.br2fm.co M100C jukebox was jammed full of American rock 'n' roll imports the BBC never played.
This is where I first heard Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and the sainted Gene Vincent, who turned out to be nothing of the sort.
There was no room for insipid cover versions by UK warblers – yes, I do mean you – Marty, Tommy and Craig, although honourable mention to Billy Fury and the very early Cliff, before he started spookily locking up 'Living Dolls' in a trunk, so no big hunk can steal her away.
Back to not so sweet Gene Vincent (apologies to Ian Dury) I interviewed him some years later for the school mag (Woodward & Bernstein, eat your heart out). He was appearing in Worthing just before he went on tour with Eddie Cochran – and we know that didn't end well. So there I am with my notebook, quill poised, when Darlene, 2nd of Gene's 4 wives caught this callow youth’s eye and captured his beating heart.
We chatted and being a Southern belle doppelganger of Scarlett O'Hara she just loved my English accent (not sure about my wonky teeth, national health specs and zits) It was all very cosy, but bearing in mind Eric Burdon described Gene as an alcoholic pistol packing pill popping paranoid (who in 1968 shot at Gary Glitter because he was getting too friendly with the then Mrs Vincent) this besotted, but I like to think, prescient wimp made his excuses and left.
Kind regards to you Worthing from your wayward woebegone son.