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Dances and the flicks: Take a look back at nights out in Norwich before TV took over

PUBLISHED: 19:31 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 19:31 14 September 2017

Dancing the night away at the dear old Samson & Hercules. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960.

Dancing the night away at the dear old Samson & Hercules. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960.

Norwich 1945 to 1960

Ssh... it’s midnight on a Saturday in 1950s Norwich and just about everyone has gone home... even Prince of Wales Road is as quiet as a mouse.

Norwich skiffle kids on stage at the Industrial Club in 1957. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960 Norwich skiffle kids on stage at the Industrial Club in 1957. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960

The pubs have called last orders, the cinemas closed, the Samson & Hercules has shut the front doors along with the Lido (Norwood) and the Industrial Club (now The Talk) and the social clubs.

And if anyone was still wandering about the deserted streets the chances were that a member of the Norwich City Constabulary wanted to know why.

The story of life in Norwich and Norfolk during that decade of such huge change is told so well by the people who lived through it in the new best-seller Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes.

At the start of the 1950s a trip to the “pictures” was still the main form of entertainment. Across Norwich there were some magnificent cinemas, works of art in themselves.

The Lido and the Capitol Cinema on Aylsham Road, Norwich, in the summer of 1954. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960 The Lido and the Capitol Cinema on Aylsham Road, Norwich, in the summer of 1954. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960

Many people went to the cinema more than once a week and on Saturday mornings the children took over. Many had their own clubs and songs where “grown-ups” were banned.

Until 1954 the people of Norwich bucked the national trend and kept supporting their cinemas because we were lagging behind the rest of the country when it came to getting televisions.

Around 75,000 Norwich households had a wireless licence, but only 17 per cent also had a TV licence. Local cinema owners said the public would not desert them - they were wrong.

As more and more television sets arrived the stalls emptied. Between 1956 and 1961 seven city cinemas closed. The Regal, Mayfair, Gaumont (Haymarket), Theatre de Luxe, Capitol, Norvic and Ritz.

Clowning around. The circus always attracted big crowds in the 1950s. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960 Clowning around. The circus always attracted big crowds in the 1950s. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960

The ones owned by national chains did better because they had more money to spend on their “palaces.”

The Norvic on Prince of Wales closed in 1961 after showing Elvis Presley in Wild in the Country. It had been planned to shut at 10.30pm but when they heard a gang of Teddy Boys were planning to smash the place up – as they did with the Theatre de Luxe four years earlier – they closed earlier.

This was also a tough decade for live theatre also struggling to compete against television. The Hippodrome closed on St Giles and was knocked down to make way for a car park and the Theatre Royal was showing films.

By 1960 the city had no professional theatre. Theatre lovers were appalled. Many also feared for the future of the Theatre Royal but it survived and is now one of the best-loved and highly respected theatres in the land.

Queues forming outside the Norvic Cinema on Prince of Wales Road in 1950. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960 Queues forming outside the Norvic Cinema on Prince of Wales Road in 1950. Photo: Norwich 1945 to 1960

At the time some people were predicting the end of live theatre. Television ruled.

There was a good jazz scene with several clubs and pubs – The Rhythm Club played at the Lido, the Norwood Rooms on Aylsham Road and thousands danced the nights away to the sounds of the bands run by Billy Duncan, Chic Applin and Trevor Copeman. The Samson was also buzzing with some great music and big names.

This was also the decade which saw the arrival of skiffle thanks to the likes of the brilliant Lonnie Donegan who also came calling and inspired a generation.

Boys were getting cheap guitars from places like Willsons, borrowing mum’s washboard and making a double bass from a tea chest and broom.

The Carlton Cinema/theatre on All Saints Green, Norwich, in all its night-time glory where Bill Haley & His Comets raised the roof 60 years ago. It became the Gaumont and then Mecca Bingo before being pulled down recently. Photo: George Plunkett The Carlton Cinema/theatre on All Saints Green, Norwich, in all its night-time glory where Bill Haley & His Comets raised the roof 60 years ago. It became the Gaumont and then Mecca Bingo before being pulled down recently. Photo: George Plunkett

And they were good. We must also remember and honour our very own Beryl Bryden. The Norwich-born queen of skiffle.

The Industrial Club, also the known as the Federation, held skiffle competitions and Norwich had top groups visit.

Bill Haley played the Carlton (Gaumont) on All Saints Green in 1957, followed by Cliff Richard and The Drifters (Shadows) and this heralded the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll with more local bands being formed and jive competitions at the Samson & Hercules and The Gala on St Stephens.

Are you ready to rock – they shouted. We certainly were...

• Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity by Frances and Michael Holmes is published by Norwich Heritage Projects.

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