Li­dos’ de­cline killed off our Aqua Shows

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS -

I write in re­sponse to your re­cent ar­ti­cles on the long-gone Stew­poney Lido.

Long be­fore leisure cen­tres were dreamt up, the num­ber of open-air swim­ming pools or li­dos that had spawned the aqua shows a decade be­fore the war, had been on the de­cline.

The fact that most of them were open air venues didn’t auger too well for the com­fort of the pay­ing pub­lic. The in­clement British weather en­sured that the swim­mers weren’t the only ones who got wet.

The pub­lic en­tered via a turn­stile where im­me­di­ately a man­tle of peace de­scended, en­gen­dered by sooth­ing mu­sic and the calm­ing sound of gen­tly run­ning wa­ter.

The very rea­son­able en­trance fee en­abled one to spend all day there, re­lax­ing with friends. In­deed some par­ents with a young fam­ily and mod­est means would take their hol­i­days at the lido, com­mut­ing by bus that was part of a well in­te­grated ser­vice in those days.

A post-war Bri­tain lacked to­day’s tech­nol­ogy that is es­sen­tial in sus­tain­ing such at­trac­tions. Un­like the high pro­file im­age of a Torvill and Dean, whose rou­tines es­tab­lished a bench­mark in ice skat­ing, no such icon ex­isted for aqua shows, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Brian Phelps, the diver who won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympic Games.


The fact that a por­ta­ble ice rink could be trans­ported to a venue was a fa­cil­ity that could not be ac­com­plished with a swim­ming pool, al­though Jack Lambert, a south Lon­doner, used to tour a por­ta­ble glass-sided div­ing pool to galas, though its scope was lim­ited.

The fi­nale of an aqua show was pre­dictable. The divers gath­ered on the var­i­ous high­boards then took off in uni­son, a spec­ta­cle that lasted only a few sec­onds. This was not ex­actly redo­lent of an Es­ther Wil­liams type spec­tac­u­lar but, with­out the lav­ish­ness that only Hol­ly­wood can pro­vide, the ad­di­tion of a lo­cal bathing beauty com­pe­ti­tion was tame fare by con­trast.

The ever-chang­ing face of show busi­ness also led to its in­evitable death. Nowa­days, the ubiq­ui­tous theme parks with their mul­ti­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties of­fer a more ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive and, al­though the aqua show is no longer with us, it was in­dica­tive of how some peo­ple spent their leisure time in a less fre­netic age.

Robert Broad­field, 2A Wheeler Street, Stour­bridge, DY8 1XJ

Right: Robert Broad­field prac­tises an Olympic style rou­tine at Stew­poney Lido

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