Lidos’ decline killed off our Aqua Shows
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