Christmas in Preston during the 1960s and 1970s
Festive hits and how the city celebrated Christmas time
Local historian Keith Johnson recalls what was top of the charts at Christmas and hwo the people of Preston celebrated the festive season in the 1960s and 1970s
Adam Faith with ‘Lonely Pup In A Christmas Shop’ was a hit in 1960 and no doubt many a child yearned for a pet at Christmas. Hall’s Pet Shop in the Jamieson’s Buildings on Church Street was a great place to visit with rabbits running around in the window. Many a budgie or goldfish was sold at Christmas time and that year budgies were the top selling pet nationally.
In 1961 Nat King Cole got us in the mood for the festive season with his ‘Christmas Song’ about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, turkeys and some mistletoe. Well the chestnuts were on offer at 2/- a 1lb on those busy Preston market days and if you didn’t roast them you could stuff your turkey with them.
Elvis Presley was telling everyone to ‘Return To Sender’ address unknown in 1962. Although the local Christmas Day postal deliveries had ceased, return to sender was only a last resort for the Preston GPO staff. It was the postal workers last Christmas at Fleet Street with the new sorting office at West Cliff opening in 1963. On Christmas Eve the Post headline was ‘Deep - Freeze Christmas’ and so it was with the temperature dropping to minus 6C, although it didn’t deter the last minute shoppers despite a brisk easterly wind from Russia.
In 1963 Dora Bryan was singing ‘All I want For Christmas Is A Beatle’ a sentiment shared by many. There was no doubting their popularity in Preston after their appearance at the Public Hall in September. No surprise really that for the next three years they would top the Christmas chart.
In 1964 for the first time Christmas shoppers had the opportunity to get their seasonal presents in St George’s Shopping Centre, opened partially in November, with more than 20 retailers trading. One of the outlets open was the new Preston Gas Showroom where gas cookers and fires were on sale if you wanted a blue flame Christmas as Elvis Presley soared in the UK charts with his ‘Blue Christmas’ song. And snowflakes were falling in the county with some roads blocked over Christmas.
A popular Christmas record in 1965 was ‘Merry Gentle Pops’ by the Barron Knights it was their satirical version of a Christmas party for pop stars. It was a cold frosty Christmas but there were plenty of Christmas parties in town to warm the hearts with the Preston Royal Infirmary, St Joseph’s Hospital, Sharoe Green Hospital and Whittingham Hospital among those who gave the patients a treat with turkey, tinsel and tuneful choirs. It was a very special Christmas for former Preston boxing champion Johnny Sullivan as his wife June gave birth to a son early on Christmas Day morning in Preston Royal Infirmary.
Elvis Presley was singing how it would feel ‘If Every Day Was Like Christmas’ in 1966 the catchy tune all about church bells, choirs and children telling Santa what to bring. Rudolph’s sleigh being loaded with the likes of Action Man, Tiny Tears and the board game Twister in those days. Locals in Avenham had a new public house to visit as the Brunswick opened its doors in December.
In 1967 The Beatles gave us ‘Christmastime Is Here Again’ with the Fab Four sending their personal Christmas wishes to their many fans, although it was their single ‘ Hello, Goodbye’ which topped the charts. It was the year the GPO reminded us to add the newly introduced post code to our Christmas cards to ensure delivery, although only 15 per cent of the Christmas mail conformed. There was Christmas cheer for the residents of Ingol as the new Ingol Labour Club opened in December.
The Scaffold sat at the top of the Christmas chart in 1968 with ‘Lily The Pink’ a catchy tune hard to get out of your head. Certainly Preston North End were not in the pink that year as they struggled near the foot of the Second Division. A Christmas double header versus Rotherham United saw PNE draw 2-2 at home on Boxing Day and lose 0-1 at Rotherham two days later. More than 18,000 spectators turned up at Deepdale despite the debate at the time over the minimum admission price at matches that had risen to five shillings, the equivalent of a packet of cigarettes, two pints of beer, a double whisky or almost a gallon of petrol.
In 1969 Jimmy Durante sang about ‘Frosty The Snowman’ as Lancashire had to endure freezing fog and icy roads along with a flu epidemic. With one fifth of Preston Post Office staff off sick some Christmas mail only arrived for the New Year. Attracting many Christmas shoppers was the Gem Super Discount Centre in Dundonald Street with a free bus service from the town centre for shoppers. It was a foggy Christmas Eve when Santa came to town and the presents beneath the Christmas trees were diverse and delightful, following the moon landing we had lunar rockets, space capsules and pioneer rockets reflected the days of space exploration.
Christmas 1970 saw the song ‘Feliz Navidad’ by Jose Feliciano prove very popular, perhaps it was the way he sang those Spanish lyrics wishing us a Merry Christmas which captured the Christmas spirit. Teenagers had a disco to entertain them over Christmas with DJ Jason Dee providing the music for only three shillings at the Top Rank while the Club Royale catered for the more sophisticated with wining, dining and dancing on offer.
John and Yoko And The Plastic Ono Band sent out a hopefully message with their popular Christmas song ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ in 1971. Although it was Benny Hill and his song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) which was top of the charts at Christmas. With Led Zepplin appearing at a packed Public Hall in Preston before 2,000 fans just weeks before Christmas their ‘Four Symbols’ album was a perfect Christmas present for young rock fans.
In December 1972 there was a Christmas treat with a concert featuring the Spinners shown on television from the newly opened Guild Hall in Preston. For Christmas shoppers the new Market Hall opened in October was a welcome attraction not only were butchers and fishmongers offering seasonal fare, but there were plenty of stalls for gifts galore and for the first time it was decimal coinage necessary to pay. This was the year when Jimmy Osmond soared to the top of the Christmas charts with ‘Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool’ catching the imagination.
Looking back to 1973 Slade released ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ which would become an annual Christmas classic. Their festive cheer did brighten the gloom at a time the property boom was over, the stock market was in free fall, the banks were close to collapse, an oil crisis unfolded and by mid-December a three day week. Preston still had three town centre cinemas to visit for those wanting to forget the doom and gloom with the Odeon showing ‘Mary Poppins’ in Odeon One and ‘Blue Movie’ in Odeon Two, the Ritz screening the lovable ‘Dumbo’ a Walt Disney classic and the ABC Cinema presented Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in ‘Magnum Force’ a classic if not a festive one. While Norman Vaughan starred in the Christmas pantomime ‘Mother Goose’ at the Charter Theatre beginning a tradition which continued for decades.
In 1974 there was still no multi-channel choice with BBC1, BBC2 and ITV the only alternatives, and all with the Queen’s Christmas Message at 3pm. Val Doonican, Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Cooper and Mike Yarwood among those who shared the Christmas limelight mostly in colour by that year. Mud provided the Christmas favourite with their ‘Lonely This Christmas’ with Brady’s on the corner of Crystal House having all the latest vinyl records in stock.
Greg Lake captured the Christmas spirit in 1975 with ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ and was only kept off the top spot by the Queen and their ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. By then you were as likely to get your music on a cassette tape as a vinyl record and the portable cassette player was one of the year’s most popular gifts. For the children who did believe in Santa Claus there
were toys aplenty, among the favourites that year were Pet Rock, Pong and Othello.
‘When A Child Is Born’ sung by Johnny Mathis was the number one song in December 1976, although it was Abba with three number ones that year who had us on the dance floor with ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’. At the Guild Hall the Syd Lawrence Orchestra got you swinging and singing. It was the year when the Co-op opened their new superstore Lothian House in Market Street,where Starchhouse Square once stood, with the first floor dedicated to family fashion, perfect for those Christmas outfits.
Christmas 1977 was a wet one with showers not snow after a Christmas shopping bonanza, the tills having rung merrily for weeks. Despite the rain those that stayed at home had their share of turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies and for those who liked their television there were plenty of films from the ‘Wizard Of Oz’ to ‘ Funny Girl’ to keep them entertained. Wings gave us the Christmas Number One with ‘Mull of Kintyre.’ Not everyone stayed at home with the travel agents reporting that foreign holidays at Christmas were on the increase and another sign of the times was the start of the January sales on Boxing Day.
The Boney M song ‘Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord’ was a top of the charts in 1978, a tune which has lingered long at Christmas. The popular panto ‘Puss In Boots’ was performed by the Preston Drama Club at the Playhouse on Market Street in 1978. The Christmas of 1978 will be best remembered for finishing with the coldest weather in living memory as Preston Docks froze over. The New Year starting with snowfalls aplenty throughout Lancashire and traffic chaos.
In 1979 Paul McCartney released his ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and in Preston choirs of children sang their songs, including the Tulketh High School Band which toured the town centre. It was a period when the ‘Wonder Of Woolies’ advertisements attracted shoppers galore to the Woolworth store on Fishergate. Meanwhile, Argos was offering everything from the carriage clock to a cuddly toy from their store in St George’s Shopping Centre.
Keith Johnson’s book ‘Now That’s What I Call Preston’ is published by Amberley priced £15.99.