Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the day, 50 years ago when Lancashire and the world stood still and all eyes turned to the skies
On Monday, July 21, 1969 the Lancashire Evening Post headline read thus - ‘A Giant Leap For Mankind’ and went on to describe the delight of American astronaut Neil Armstrong on becoming the first man to step on to the moon surface.
Earlier that day, along with millions worldwide, the people of Preston had been glued to their black and white television sets as the historical drama unfolded. Conveniently, the event occurred during the annual Preston holiday fortnight and those who remained in the town had been treated to an enthralling adventure.
Able to view the images flashed back to earth to our television sets we were treated to the very best of coverage from the three television channels that existed in those days. Throughout the entire mission which had begun four days earlier the BBC had James Burke and Patrick Moore presenting and, on ITV, David Frost and Alastair Burnett were describing matters.
The LEP ensured readers were up to date with a pull out entitled ‘Moon Post’ included for your five old pennies. It included pen pictures of the three astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and described the dangers the Apollo 11 astronauts faced.
It also recorded how the Soviet Union had greeted news of the American success with a lukewarm acknowledgement in Pravda, their morning paper, wherein merely two paragraphs were sufficient to describe the event.
The Post was also happy to recall an article that had appeared in the paper in October 1952 under the headline, ‘There May Be Men On the Moon in 25 Years Time’, written by Merrick Winn.
It was at that time a brave prediction, considering man had not even scaled the summit of Everest never mind touched down on the moon. Yet Winn had described the events to come with unerring accuracy, with talk of a towering rocket and helmeted space suits.
One Preston man who was to hit the national headlines on that day in July 1969 was David Threlfall. The 26-year-old, from Broadgate, was whisked off to the television studios in London to be presented with a cheque for £10,000 (equivalent to £160,000 in today’s money) from bookmakers William Hill. It was his reward for a £10 wager on the moon landing made a few years earlier at odds of 1,000-1.
But speaking after collecting his cheque Threlfall admitted: “I’ve no idea why I decided to place the bet. If I’d known I was going to win I’d have thought up a good reason. It’s the one question everyone has been asking me.”
Sadly, David Threlfall had little time to celebrate his windfall, as he died in November 1970 in a car crash.
Back on Planet Earth, in Preston, things were just continuing as normal. There was a walkout at Preston Docks after the sacking of a worker. At the Preston division of the British Aircraft Corporation they announced a record £10m worth of exports in the previous month.
At Leyland Motors things were going well with £1m of orders for chassis for a number of buses, while the workers at the Courtaulds factory at Red Scar agreed to go back to normal working with the lifting of an overtime ban that had threatened production.
Agricultural workers were also in dispute as they campaigned for a minimum wage of £16 for a 40 hour week. At the same time the future of the agricultural show piece, the Royal Lancashire Show, was under threat. Having been allowed to use the old Stanley Park Aerodrome for 15 years they now found the municipal authorities were earmarking the area for a zoo. For the horse enthusiasts there was the Preston Holiday Horse Show taking place on Avenham Park.
If you were out shopping on moon landing day then the Maypole had cooked shoulder, lunch tongue and jellied veal, all for less than 2s a quarter pound, but the bargain of the week was apparently rhubarb at 1s a pound.
At the Tesco store in Church Street they were given away Green Shield Stamps with every purchase. The price of a large loaf was down by 3p and Typhoo tea was just 1s 4d for a quarter. While the Home and Colonial Store on Friargate Walk had Lancashire Cheese on offer at 2s per pound.
If you wanted to celebrate the moon landing with a night out then the town’s three cinemas were open with ‘Thunderball’ on at the Ritz, the ABC Cinema showing Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’ and the Odeon screening ‘Ring Of Bright Water’ in glorious Technicolor.
Of course, if you preferred to stay at home you could watch more of the lunar landings, along with the Magic Roundabout and Z Cars on BBC 1, or perhaps see what was going on in Coronation Street, or what Bamber Gascoigne was asking in University Challenge on ITV. However, by midnight all the television channels had said goodnight, sleep well, God Bless.
As for the Post, before the month was over the paper was reporting on the next stage of space exploration with pictures from Mars sent back by the Mariner 6 spacecraft. Somehow the world would forever seem a smaller place.
* Keith Johnson’s book about the Swinging Sixties, ‘Preston In The 1960s’ is available from Amberley publishing priced £14.99.