Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Cyril Smith vs rock and roll

Embed from Getty Images

Britain was a little wary of rock ‘n’ roll in January 1957. The previous autumn had seen the film Rock Around the Clock spark riots across the land, and next month the stars of that movie, Bill Haley and His Comets were to land in Southampton, bringing real-life rock to Britain. The consequences were uncertain.

In the lull before the anticipated storm, the spotlight turned on various dancehalls that were running lunchtime rock ’n’ roll events. These were simple affairs: admission cost threepence, tea and soft drinks were available, records were played, and people danced. A good time was had by all.

But, as this old post by Alwyn Turner on Lion & Unicorn tells us, not everyone was happy with these lunchtime events.

Among the critics was a 26-year-old -Labour councillor from Rochdale called Cyril Smith. He was chairman of the governors of two technical schools - one for boys, one for  girls - a "stone’s throw" from the town's Carlton Ballroom:

"Rock 'n’' roll is hitting youth club work," he said. "At the Lea Hall Youth Club we have had to recruit a completely new netball team. The first team are rocking 'n' rolling on Saturday afternoons. Youth club attendances have dwindled alarmingly.’

Smith’s main concern, though, was the age of the dancers at the Carlton:

The management assured me that only those of sixteen would be on the dance floor, but that was not so, for I recognised many as schoolchildren under sixteen. The girls had changed quickly into dresses from school uniform to deceive the management. And on the balcony, to where the under-sixteens were directed, there were twenty-five couples, many as young as eleven, rocking 'n' rolling.

His conclusion was that this had to be stopped. "I propose to recommend that the premises should be placed out of bounds to schoolchildren during school hours," he told the press, and he was as good as his word. The following month, the Carlton’s licence came up before the Rochdale Licensing Justices, and Smith was there to make his objections.

Smith was successful. Alwyn Turner records that the Carlton's music licence was amended to stop the lunchtime dances, permitting it to open only between 2 pm and 11 pm (or 11.30 pm on the weekend).

Turner wrote his post in 2019, when Smith's career as an abuser of boys and young men was in the headlines. 

He tells us that Smith

retained his interest in youth activities, however, and by the beginning of the 1970s – now returned to the Liberal Party, whence he had come – he was chair of the council’s Education Committee, its Youth Committee and its Youth Employment Committee, while also serving on the committees of the Rochdale Youth Opera and the Youth Theatre Workshop. 

Where he had been a governor of two schools, he was now on the board of twenty-nine. And then there was the Cambridge House hostel that he had helped found and that was the site of much of his abuse.

When Cyril Smith died in 2010 I blogged that I had heard him

address a public meeting in Sutton Coldfield in 1982 and he was a terrific speaker. His style of oratory, which no doubt came from Nonconformist preaching, now seems a world away from today's culture of soundbites and glottal stops.

What I remember more today is that he began his speech by saying that he had attended the ninth World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park in 1957.

This won him murmurs of approval and pleasure from around the hall, but it makes me cringe today,

No comments: