50 years of Christmas celebrations in Suffolk − when was it OK to give someone a snake as a gift?
PUBLISHED: 11:00 21 December 2018
Can you remember what you were watching on Christmas Day years ago? Remember when we had only three channels?
Steven Russell got a Man from U.N.C.L.E. spy briefcase for Christmas 1968, with fake Luger pistol, plastic grenade and invisible-ink pen. These days, it’s socks. (More PC but less fun.) He looks back at Christmas over half a century: how we lived, what we watched, and more
Steven Hillyard asked for a boa constrictor for Christmas, as you do, and his dad got him one for £7. It was named Sammy. Er…don’t they grow to six feet or so?
“He’s not really dangerous,” dad John, a diver (honestly) from Dunlin Road in Ipswich, told us in 1968. “Boa constrictors are not poisonous. When they kill, they crush their prey – so as long as you handle them carefully, they are safe.”
The Star of Bethlehem looms large in the story of Christmas, but 50 years ago folk were focused on a different celestial body.
On Christmas Eve, we were reporting how America’s Apollo 8 spacecraft had the previous evening moved “into the sphere of influence of the moon”. Its three astronauts had shot from Earth’s gravitational grip at 21.29 BST, travelling at 2,223mph.
It would then pick up speed and move to within 78 miles of the moon, where it would begin a series of orbits before heading back to Earth.
“It’s an historic moment,” said a spokesman for mission control at Cape Kennedy, Florida. “For the first time, men are literally out of this world, under the influence of another celestial body.”
Back on terra firma, it had been looking as if commercial television would be blacked out over Christmas (though regulator the Independent Television Authority insisted it had arrangements in place to keep stations on the air, in the event of a strike).
It was all about a claim for an extra £3 a day allowance for station engineers working on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Happily for viewers, peace broke out at last-ditch talks.
The media-saturated millennial generation will laugh about the number of TV channels we had in ’68. A perfectly-formed three. And one of them was a relative newcomer. Mind you, it had style: Our listings pointed out that BBC2 transmitted “all programmes in colour”. (Assuming you had a colour set.)
We didn’t have 24/7 entertainment then. Christmas Day TV on BBC1 started at 8.55am with Carol Story. Later came story-telling show Jackanory, while at 10.15am we could watch “A Spoonful of Sugar: Visits Harrogate and talks to disabled patients”.
Top of the Pops was at 1.25pm – a staple still, as is the Queen’s message. There was also The Black and White Minstrel Christmas Show (not PC these days), Billy Smart’s Circus and Disney Time. The evening brought Christmas Night with the Stars, Doddy for Christmas (comedian Ken Dodd), and film Some Like It Hot.
BBC2 (Europe’s first channel to broadcast regularly in colour, actually – woo, woo) began Christmas Day at 11.20am, with children’s programme Play School. It showed Christmas morning at Windsor, where the Queen was… followed by a three-hour break. Later delights included The Royal Ballet with The Nutcracker, film Lords of the Forest: Masters of the Congo Jungle, operetta The Merry Widow and The Harry Secombe Show.
Commercial station Anglia came alive at 9.15am with The Romper Room. Evening fare included talent show Opportunity Knocks!, Coronation Street, and, at 10.45pm, The Sex Game: “Hippy-Hilly-Who-Cares”. Very festive.
More from 1968
The Aldeburgh lifeboat made its traditional goodwill visit to the Shipwash light vessel, eight miles south-east of the town. Halfway across, the crew realised they’d left the turkey behind. An urgent radio message was sent and a longshoreman saved the day.
Here’s a surprise: Four Post Office sorting offices in Birmingham were closed and 250 temporary postmen laid off because of a big drop in Christmas mail – 18.7% down over seven days in the city. It was a similar story elsewhere.
An EADT front page advert trumpeted a Boxing Night concert at Westhorpe Hall Hotel, near Stowmarket (phone Bacton 288). It starred Margarett Terry, “the girl with the Golden Voice, direct from the London Night Clubs”.
Ipswich Town, then in football’s top division, were looking forward to their Boxing Day clash with Chelsea at Portman Road… In the squad was new £15,000 signing David Best, a goalkeeper who’d go on to make the spot his own. Mick Mills was also there.
Pantos? Oh yes. Colchester Repertory had The Babes in the Wood and Bold Robin Hood. (Tickets from five shillings to eight.) The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, offered The Sleeping Beauty. The Snow Queen was at Ipswich Arts Theatre. (“Baby-sitter service available.”)
Odeon Ipswich: The Jungle Book. ABC: Julie Christie in Far from the Madding Crowd. Ipswich Gaumont: The Sound of Music.
Abbey National Building Society was advertising for a male trainee (sic) aged 19/24 (sic again) for its Queen Street branch in Ipswich. Candidates needed four O-levels, including English and maths. The salary offered at age 20 was £625 a year.
Seventy-five visitors from Sweden arrived in Ipswich on December 22 for a Christmas weekend – and started shopping almost immediately. They stayed at the Post House and Crown and Anchor hotels, and were sailing home from Felixstowe on Christmas night. This was the latest in a series of mini-trips organised by Tor Line.
By now, the festive season definitely had a harder commercial edge. Debenhams, for instance, booked a two-page ad in the EADT and Evening Star’s 24-page festive supplement full of quizzes, TV schedules and more – plus announcements of post-Christmas sales.
Debenhams’ sale started at 9am on Wednesday the 27th. A 5ft, sprung-edge, Silentnight divan was down from £294.95 to £144.95.
There was a special selection to tempt early-birds – the “Doorbusters 9am sharp” shoppers – such as a Tricity chest freezer for £50 (from £127.95) and a Sony radio/cassette (usually £65.95, now £25). “One item per person.”
1978 Christmas Day TV
BBC1 included The Flumps (for children), The Spinners at Christmas (music group), Top of the Pops 78 with Noel Edmonds, Larry Grayson’s Generation Game, film The Sound of Music, comedy Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, and The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show (with Abba).
BBC2 featured Anne Hughes – “film re-creating the 18th Century life of a young farmer’s wife”.
On Anglia we could catch children’s show Pipkins (animal puppets), Christmas Day at Crossroads Hotel, film Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the Muppets, James Bond film Diamonds are Forever, and The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.
At the cinemas
Ipswich Odeon had The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Force 10 from Navarone, with Harrison Ford and Barbara Bach, started on Boxing Day.
The town’s ABC had Superman, and Confessions of a Sexy Photographer. (Hmm.) Opening between Christmas and New Year was Jaws 2.
Pantos: The Gaumont in Ipswich was hosting The Co-op Juniors in The Queen of Hearts. The Mercury theatre in Colchester had Puss in Boots; Ipswich theatre The Gingerbread Man.
The EADT of Saturday, December 23 told how a threatened Christmas strike at the BBC was called off at midnight. Eleven suspended film processing staff were due to be reinstated.
Meanwhile, a 12.5% pay rise for all 26,000 BBC employees was being recommended by the Government’s Central Arbitration Committee.
Love match: British tennis player John Lloyd and American star Chris Evert were planning a spring wedding.
US president Jimmy Carter was facing surgery for very painful piles.
There was hope a national strike of fuel delivery tanker drivers, set for January 3, would be averted after 2,000 Esso men were recommended to accept a pay offer and halt their overtime ban.
Britain’s seamen voted to accept an 8.75% rise.
Tragedy on the coast
On the 22nd, firemen entered a blazing bungalow at The Uplands, Thorpeness, and found the body of Miss Lesley Ogilvie, 66, dead on the sitting room floor. The alarm was raised by a neighbour.
No trains would run between East Anglia and Liverpool Street on Boxing Day as some staff now said they were unwilling to be on duty, apparently.
Wheels and deals
We could buy a three-bedroom, modernised, thatched cottage on the edge of Brantham, near Manningtree, for £23,950, and a detached bungalow between Colchester and Sudbury for £27,500.
Kerridges of Halesworth offered a pre-owned 1977 Datsun for £2,250 and a 1974 Vauxhall Viva estate for £1,450.
Christmas jollity was muted because of the Lockerbie tragedy. On December 21, terrorists blew up a Pan-Am jumbo jet en route from London to New York.
It crashed onto part of the Scottish town of Lockerbie. All 259 people on board died, as did 11 people on the ground.
The national news in the Christmas Eve papers was dominated by the repercussions. Transport Secretary Paul Channon was criticised for going on holiday to the West Indies less than 48 hours after the disaster. Questions were also being asked about why non-specific warnings about a possible plot to blow up a jet in mid-air had not been passed on.
* Surrealistic artist Salvador Dali was in hospital after suffering a small haemorrhage and vomiting blood. He’d been in hospital two weeks earlier, with serious heart and breathing problems.
* Royal Mail had handled a record 1.5bn letters and cards in the Christmas rush, and parcels hit an all-time high of 60million items.
Many firms in Suffolk and Essex reported high levels of sickness, with school pupils and teachers also badly affected.
Illness hit postal workers in Chelmsford, with managers putting out an SOS for volunteers to help keep mail moving. Insurance broker Willis Faber, in Ipswich, saw the number of staff off ill rise by nearly a third, compared to 1987. In November, 400 people from its workforce of 1,800 had been ill – mainly with flu and colds.
Ipswich engineering firm Cranes was dealing with record levels of sick pay issues. Suffolk County Council had faced higher than average absence levels – mainly down to viral illness, including shingles.
A work permit was ready for Russian international defender Sergei Baltacha. The footballer was likely to join John Duncan’s Ipswich Town early in the new year.
Actress Pauline Collins (ex-Upstairs, Downstairs) was in Woodbridge to support the local Round Table’s Jewell in the Ground fundraising project, which was helping the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Appeal, of which she was patron.
Sir Harry Secombe joined forces with fundraisers striving to save Holy Trinity Church at Long Melford. Oak timbers were severely decayed and vital work was needed, but there wasn’t the cash. Supporters launched an appeal to raise £100,000.
Sir Harry accepted a role as patron after filming part of his religious TV series Highway in Long Melford.
Mini-bus drivers with Eastern Counties could earn an average of £130 a week. A cleaning job at Tower Ramparts (shopping) Centre in Ipswich paid £2.51 an hour – “The preferred age range is 30-45”. (Thank goodness we’ve moved on – officially – as regards age discrimination.)
An office supervisor at East Suffolk Health Authority, doing clerical and secretarial work for two teams of social workers, earned £6,015. A typist with Eastern Electricity, based at Wherstead, could get £5,591 to £8,832, depending (oh dear) on age and experience.
What to buy?
New Mazda cars could be bought for £5,679 to £17,499 from Garneys & Hill of Ipswich.
A new five-bedroom house at Brockford was on the market for £155,000. New retirement homes at Claydon started at £54,500. A three-bedroom bungalow at Kesgrave could be rented for £280 a month.
A new Persimmon Homes house at Yoxford – a two-bed semi with garage – was on the market for £67,850.
The Co-op’s Great Winter Sale offered a Hoover automatic washing machine at £259.99 and single 12-tog quilts for £16.99.
On the box
We now had four to choose from! Channel 4 had joined the party six years earlier.
BBC1’s Christmas Day offering included It’s a Charity Knockout, EastEnders, film Back to the Future, comedy series Only Fools and Horses, Bread, and The Russ Abbot Christmas Show.
BBC2: Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert, from Wembley and featuring Sting, Richard Gere, Wet Wet Wet, the Bee Gees, Dire Straits.
Anglia: Christmas Blind Date, film The Empire Strikes Back, Ten Years of Alright on the Night, fire-fighting drama London’s Burning.
Channel 4: Historic family drama The Waltons, sci-fi series Lost in Space, The Snowman
Cinema: Harwich Electric Palace had Jungle Book after Christmas and Coming to America. Leiston Film Theatre: Police Academy 5. Felixstowe’s Top Rank Film Centre: Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Cannon at Bury St Edmunds had the same, plus Willow. Halstead Empire: Vice-Versa and Buster. Aldeburgh Cinema: The Snowman, The Little Mermaid and Big. The Quay, Sudbury: Masters of the Universe.
On stage: Riverside Theatre, Woodbridge, had The Care Bears Magic Christmas Show. Ipswich Odeon was home to The Co-op Juniors in Alice in Wonderland.
Our Christmas Eve editions delivered sad news: The deaths of two East Anglian servicemen in Bosnia, when their helicopter crashed near an air base. Pilot Captain Philip Jarvis was 27 and from Colchester. Sgt David Kinsley, a 34-year-old air technician, lived in Woodbridge. He was married, with three children.
Their Lynx had plunged into a former minefield 40 miles west of Sarajevo. The pair, and a third man who was left seriously ill, were based at Wattisham Airfield, near Stowmarket – home to 4 Regiment Army Air Corps. There was no suggestion the aircraft had been attacked.
Nationally, Tony Blair’s Labour government was hit by the resignations of Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson and Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson. The former had borrowed £373,000 from the latter as a home loan.
Both men insisted they had done nothing wrong, but Mr Mandelson felt he had to go to protect both his and the Government’s integrity.
Stansted Airport was reporting a record number of Christmas Day flights: 14 return services to places such as Amsterdam, Munich, Prague and Milan. Travellers had to make their own way to the Essex airport, though, as public transport links were not operating on December 25.
George Burley’s Ipswich Town were due to train on Christmas Day, ready for hosting Portsmouth on Boxing Day – a football match that looked like being a near-sellout.
BBC1 Christmas Day fare included film Miracle on 34th Street (1994 version), The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (from 1973), Changing Rooms at Christmas, film Babe, comedy Men Behaving Badly, film Carry on Girls.
BBC2: Casablanca, Twelfth Night.
Anglia: The Spice Girls Live at Wembley (presumably not playing on Christmas Day), Who Wants to be a Christmas Millionaire?, Christmases from Hell, The Godfather: Part II.
Channel 4: Alternative Christmas Message by the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence; films The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery, The Omen.
A fifth channel! Channel 5: Film Scrooge (1951, with Alastair Sim), Calamity Jane (1953, with Doris Day), Noises Off (Michael Caine)
And satellite channels, too!
Sky Premier had Batman and Robin. Sky Moviemax, Spiceworld: The Movie. Sky Sports 1 showed Cliff Richard Pro-Celebrity Tennis. UK Gold had Crossroads, The Bill, Dallas. Discovery: History of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Stage & screen
West Cliff Theatre, in Clacton-on-Sea, was gearing up for Goldilocks & The Three Bears on stage; Ipswich Wolsey Theatre had A Christmas Carol (ending on January 5). Aldeburgh Cinema had Mulan; The Regal, Stowmarket, Cinderella after Christmas. Bury St Edmunds ABC had The Prince of Egypt, Babe: Pig in the City, Antz and Rush Hour. Virgin Cinemas in Ipswich had most of those, plus The Mask of Zorro, and was even trumpeting Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace trailers.
Jobs and roofs
New Persimmon Homes three- and four-bedroom houses and bungalows at Harleston, near Diss, cost from £59,995.
A cleaning job in the Colchester area was paying £3.60 an hour. A temporary telemarketing operator on a three-month contract in Ipswich could get £6.50 an hour.
A heartening story for Christmas Eve: Kyle Knights had suffered severe head injuries when he and another moped-riding teenager were in collision with a car in Ipswich in 2007. He was left in a coma, days after his 16th birthday.
Doctors feared he would never improve, but after months of rehabilitation – involving learning to walk, talk and write again – he was able to return home and go to college.
Meanwhile, around Suffolk, many independent retailers said a late spending spree had helped turn things around after difficult December trading. That said, Stowmarket was hit by a power cut during the day on December 23, and a dozen business properties in St Nicholas Street, Ipswich, also lost several hours of trading.
Nationally, it was clear that banking system failures were hurting. Tea and coffee merchant Whittard of Chelsea, which had 130 UK shops, went into administration after 122 years. It followed the collapse of Woolworths and MFI, and came on the day figures showed the UK economy was shrinking faster than predicted. (Sound familiar?)
Christmas Day TV
BBC1 included The Two Ronnies 1997 Christmas special; Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Doctor Who (Cybermen, Victorian graveyard, and sometime Suffolk resident David Morrissey); The Royle Family Christmas special, when Denise tries to cook Christmas dinner…
BBC2: Film My Fair Lady. ITV1 Anglia: Film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Dancing on Ice at Christmas.
On stage: Basil Brush in panto Aladdin at Ipswich Regent.
Well, we’re living it. So all that’s left to say is: Merry Christmas!