Street Life: It Pays to Advertise

The fifties was the era when advertising came to cinemas and right into our living rooms, with the sole purpose of charming money from our pockets.

From 1953, Pearl and Dean became synonymous with picture going. The novelty of seeing familiar names from our local high streets, superimposed on stylish footage, entranced unsophisticated audiences.

At home, commercials were the price we had to pay for the popular music not available on BBC. Radio Luxembourg broadcast on medium wave where reception was patchy. But somehow, the Ovaltiney’s and Horace Bachelor with his ‘Pools’ Infra-draw method, managed to penetrate the static when the music couldn’t.British advertising’s greatest leap forward came in 1956 with the inception of ITV. Not having the ‘technology’ to receive Granada at first, my sister and I were late joining the advert junkies.

Until the novelty wore off, we begged to be allowed to stay up for the next commercial break. Our family didn’t use Pepsodent toothpaste, nor did we have a car, but we happily sang along with the jingles ‘you’ll wonder where the yellow went’ and the ‘Esso sign means happy motoring’.You could learn a lot from adverts. For instance, how to fortify the over forties, and that Turkish Delight is full of eastern promise. Before commercials, who knew Murray mints were the ‘too good to hurry mints’, or that everyone ought to ‘go to work on an egg’.The early 20th century circulation wars between newspapers were responsible for an idea that agencies pinched in the fifties. The free gift phenomenon produced such promotions as Daz roses. Strange as it sounds, those free gifts were an unintentional perk of my father’s job as manager of a GPO canteen. Manufacturers invariably included the equivalent quantity of the current free gift with bulk orders. Initially, the canteen ladies and our neighbours welcomed the unlikely coloured, plastic roses, but soon it became impossible to give the damn things away.

My favourite free gift was a metal waste paper bin adorned with ‘cave paintings‘. For over 60 years, I kept one as a souvenir from the dozens dad brought home.

The nation’s letter boxes became the battle ground in the fifties Soap powder wars.  It seemed that every day a ‘2d off’ coupon for Surf, Omo or Fairy Snow landed on the door mat. Sometimes you would come home to find a sample sized detergent packet, plus ‘money off next purchase coupon’, left on the door step.The trend toward pre-packaged goods was used as an advertising opportunity by manufacturers. The backs of packets soon featured prize winning competitions where the ‘decider’ was a slogan. It didn’t matter that the winner failed to set the advertising world alight, because dedicated sloganeers had already bought the product in order to enter.

Breakfast cereals exploited the pester power of kids by incorporating cut-out models in the packaging. Later, collecting plastic figures from cereal packets became a national obsession. A plastic nuclear submarine which ran on baking powder was one of the most popular Kelloggs ‘giveaways’.Then there were the ‘send away for’ offers. My husband has never got over the half crown (twelve and a half pence) he paid out for one that took six months to arrive. The correctly addressed package containing the, elastic powered, swamp buggy, had toured two continents before reaching Blackpool, only to break almost immediately.

Packet token collecting was not confined to kids. Many a Black and Greens (the family tea) packet top was exchanged for china tea sets or similar. When the cost of a postal order with its ‘poundage’ charge, plus p&p, was taken into account, the items would probably cost less from a department store.

In the great outdoors, colour changing electric signs, flashing out their advertising message, had returned after six years of blackout. And sometimes we were lucky enough to spot an aeroplane trailing a banner across the skies. Men down on their luck had the opportunity of earning a few shillings by walking the streets carrying ‘sandwich boards’ bearing adverts.

Advertising hoardings varying in size from the enormous to small newsagents’ boards, were a common sight around the streets. A welcome splash of colour in the drabness was provided by the enamelled tin shop signs, put there to attract customers and maintain brand awareness.Travelling by train, my sister and I always looked out for a clever amalgamation of shop sign and billboard. It was a couple of workmen (up to twice life size) carrying a plank advertising Hall’s distemper (paint), as they apparently strolled across a field.

Speaking personally, today’s adverts don’t have the charm of the ones featuring Joe, ‘the Esso Blee dooler’, or the Hoover which ‘beats as it sweeps, as it cleans’.

 

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Crossing a Line

The footpath between New Moston and Failsworth nowadays passes beneath the Oldham Metrolink line by a fairly insignificant subway, notable only for constant flooding in heavy rain.In the 1880s, this spot had a notoriety now long forgotten…

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway had proposed a branch from Newton Heath to the rapidly-expanding coal and cotton district of Hollinwood in 1872. Powers to build it, with an extension to Oldham, were granted in 1875, construction beginning the following year. Although it provided an easier route than by the fearsome incline from Middleton Junction to Werneth, the Hollinwood Branch nevertheless involved some stiff gradients and major earthworks, with many cuttings and embankments.

The section near Wrigley Head, Failsworth, was the only stretch level with the surrounding land and coincidentally met the existing footpath here, so a gated level crossing was provided. The line was opened in May 1880, two years behind schedule, but a major flaw was soon exposed. The crossing, past which trains were travelling at their fastest, had no signal box or lights, only ‘Whistle’ warning signs for engine drivers, about 70 yards either side. The railway company had evidently assumed there would not be many people using the crossing, and that anyone wishing to cross could easily summon a gate attendant: they were wrong on both counts.At that time, just off Wrigley Head, there was a small group of dwellings, known for a time as Bridge Street, and at one of these lived coal miner John Cooper, his wife Elizabeth and four children. Elizabeth was given responsibility for attending to the gates, evenings only, but all day on alternate Sundays. For this, the L&YR paid an allowance of 2s 6d per week. A full-time attendant was provided, but only during the day. It should perhaps have been obvious that, even part-time, entrusting the crossing to an ordinary citizen, no doubt with distractions of her own, was hardly a reliable system.

At around 11am on Friday, 10 September 1880, Elizabeth Salt, a fish-seller from Elias St, Miles Platting, had been showing her wares to the crossing keeper and set off towards New Moston, despite seeing a train approaching from the Dean Lane direction (Failsworth did not yet have a station). She was repeatedly warned to wait until the train had passed, but decided to chance it – she was struck by the engine, travelling at about 25 mph, and killed instantly.An inquest was held on Monday, 13 September at the Sun Inn in Failsworth, at which the coroner (Frederick Price) returned a verdict of accidental death, but criticised the L&YR Company for having wholly inadequate safeguards at what was already proving to be a very busy – and dangerous – crossing. It was stated that several hundred people crossed the line every day, for work, shopping or to attend schools. Elizabeth, 38, was buried at St. John, Failsworth, two days later.

Failsworth station opened in April 1881 and later that year the railway company applied for powers to build a footbridge to replace the crossing. At some stage the company decided instead on a subway, which could be made wider and accommodate carts. By February 1882 work had still not begun, and the Failsworth and Moston local Boards were pressing the company for feedback.

So, to the night of Thursday, 30 August 1883. Two boys aged nine and eight, Stephen and Henry (Harry) Bullows of Ricketts Street, New Moston, were sent on an errand by their father to buy bread in Failsworth. They were joined near the crossing by a friend, Samuel Stringfellow from Jones Street. When the boys returned, about 8:20pm, it was getting dark and, seeing no-one at the gates, Sam crossed first but heard an Oldham-bound train approaching and called to the others to wait, which they did. What they did not see, or hear, was that another train was bearing down on them from the Oldham direction. Perhaps its sound was masked by that of the receding train.Sam’s last view of them was of Stephen attempting to hold Harry back. As the trains disappeared into the gloom, Sam could not at first see his friends, but then noticed a shredded handkerchief lying on the track. He raised the alarm and John Cooper, coming out to see what the commotion was, discovered one of the boys, decapitated, beside the line; the other lay badly mutilated nearby, and died shortly afterwards. Sam ran to Ricketts Street, met on the way by a couple of other friends, to give John Bullows the terrible news that his lads had been killed.

Another Sun Inn inquest followed, conducted by the same coroner as in 1880 – this time, although no individuals were blamed, the failure to replace the crossing after the first fatality caused the company to come in for severe criticism. They were ordered to put the subway work in hand as soon as possible, in consultation with the Failsworth Board, and to install lights and permanent watchmen at the crossing in the meantime. The brothers were laid to rest at St. Mary’s churchyard, Moston.After a couple more false starts, the subway was eventually built (1884-5), the Bridge Street properties being demolished to make room for it. It was renewed around 1910 and lasted in this form until 2010, when the side walls and decking were replaced during Metrolink conversion, giving its present appearance. The path remains as busy as ever, but few people now give the subway a second glance, or have any inkling of its dark history.

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North West Theatre Arts Company – Live, love, dream, believe

It seems an age ago but, on Thursday 12th March this year, I went to see Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at NWTAC’s theatre on Lightbowne Road. Not for the first time, they took me by surprise.

I was late, distracted by news of the spreading virus, so I grabbed a drink at the bar and went to find my seat; through the doors and stopped – the entire auditorium was completely different.

Gone were the tiered rows of seats. The ‘stage’ was positioned in the centre rather than at the far end of the building. Seating was arranged around the edges, creating a true ‘theatre-in-the-round’.

The usher led me to a ring-side spot that put me inches from the performers, who were taking their positions. When the lights went down I could pick out the faces of my fellow audience and catch their expressions.

From start to finish there were clever connections to Manchester. Reflecting on the similarity between our own Piccadilly Gardens and the court of Athens, where Shakespeare opens his play. Queen Titania’s ‘cohort of fairies’ were portrayed as our famous worker bees.

They buzzed through their performance and I was mesmerised.

As ever, the acting was superb. The young performers slipped into character with ease and professionalism; engaging the audience, drawing them in. And, as the play unfolded, the stage was transformed into flower-covered woodland in front of our eyes as if by magic.

Two hours flew by. Before we knew it, we were leaving the theatre into the chilly night air. We left the dreamy world created by Prab Singh’s team behind us. Lockdown began just days later and, against all expectation, dragged on for months.

NWTAC has 10 years’ experience of adapting to change. It’s made them resilient. Their doors were closed but not all the ‘lights’ went out. Almost straight away they launched a series of on-line activities; fitness sessions with choreographer Katie Gough called ‘Dance Along with NWTAC’. Musical Director, Beth Singh, began ‘Story Time with Beth’ reading out Roald Dahl books. And on Friday evenings she ‘wowed’ us with her ‘Lockdown Live’ concerts.Rehearsals continued remotely for the theatre’s students using the on-line meeting platform, Zoom. The empty theatre was re-painted and steam cleaned in readiness.

In August, term-time resumed in line with government guidelines and a month later NWTAC re-opened its doors to the public to perform Factory Fest, a show originally scheduled for May…and I had a ticket!

Once more I arrived to find a transformed auditorium, only this time to make it Covid secure. Socially distanced tables had replaced the tiered seating, with waiter service only taking orders from the bar. Temperatures were checked prior to entry and all the doors were open so you could go straight to your allotted table without touching a thing. Masks were mandatory. Even the performers kept within their peer groups to avoid mixing.

Factory Fest was a full on indoor festival concert, a dizzying compilation of hits and routines, all brilliantly performed. Harmonies, choreography, variety, comedy. New students performed for the first time alongside the more experienced and together they knocked our socks off. Lockdown and six grim months had gone by but it was worth the wait; for the second time this year all thoughts of Coronavirus were left behind.

So many industries have been hit hard in recent months, performing arts is just one of them. We need it though, now more than ever and it needs us.NWTAC are continuing to work on projects including ‘The Sound and Soul of Hitsville Mowtown’ to be staged in November and the pantomime ‘Puss in Boots’ throughout December. This weekend, for two nights only on 16th and 17th October, Beth Singh will perform live at the theatre.

Keep an eye on social media for updates and, if you missed them first time around, you can still access Dance Along, Story Time and Lockdown live through NTWAC’s Facebook page.

Tickets for this weekend and future shows can be booked by calling the box office on 0161 207 1617.

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