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When Haley Comes to Town – John Jarvis

Cinema and in particular The Regal in Peacock Lane was one of the biggest things to influence my life. I remember the first time i watched “The Jolson Story” starring Larry Parks. It was a wet stormy night September 23 rd 1947 when I went with my mother and Aunt Irene. We had to run over the road from my Grandparents house to avoid getting wet. The impression the film gave me was be an entertainer.                                                                                                                                                                         The next film to do this was the day Haley came to town. Britain, particularly from 1956 like much of the world, went crazy with the eruption of Rock ‘n’ Roll.. We really only heard it when Grays fair came our way to the field at the bottom of Peacock Lane. You knew you were in for a good time because the Dodge`ems would have Rock ‘n’ Roll, blasting out nice and loud.

“Rock Around the Clock”, with its contorted dances and deafening music, was the bible of the rock `n` roll movement, starring Bill Haley and his Comets and co-starring the Platters, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys and Alan Freed. Wherever it was shown, the film created intense excitement, it was the next best thing to an actual concert. Certain cities and towns across the world banned the film from being shown fearing it would spark off violent behaviour. But by now there was no stopping this new phenomenon, rock and roll was surely here to stay.

In 1955 the recording of “Rock Around The Clock” was originally used as the theme to ‘Blackboard Jungle’ the controversial film, starred Glenn Ford and Anne Francis. It portrayed violence and social upheavals created by rock and roll. It was Haley`s biggest hit, and one of the most important records in rock and roll history,

When “Rock Around The Clock” was first shown in this country the headlines in the Daily Sketch for Wednesday August 29th 1957 read “Rock n Roll, 400 Riot in Cinema”. The article went on to read…..”Four hundred rioting teenagers were cleared by police from the front stalls of a London cinema last night. They had flocked to the Prince of Wales cinema in Harrow to see `Rock Around the Clock` the latest film of rock `n` roll – the newest, craziest jive dance”. The main purpose of the film was to introduce Haley to a worldwide film audience. Haley remarked at the time “Everybody hates us — except the kids.”

What started as a Teddy Boys picnic ended in a milling mass of youths attacking police and cinema staff. Police carried small children to safety from the back stalls. Cinema seats were torn from the floor and used in the battle. John Wood the Manager of the Prince of Wales was taken to hospital for nine stitches in his head. He was beaten up when he tried to calm the mob. Crowds of Teddy Boys were still being cleared from the cinema doorways at 11-15 pm.

The deafening music as reported in the Daily Sketch seems a bit tame by todays standards, and after a recent viewing of the film it`s hard now to believe the riots it caused the film is now more likely to spur nostalgia.

I wonder if those now 70- plus year old Teddy Boys can still contort themselves in wild dances. I like to think I can, and even to this day part of my music collection is still Bill Haley with his kiss curl and other artists from that golden era.

The film arrived at the Regal on Thursday February 21st 1957. With all the publicity it received, Mr Pert (The Manager) was taking no chances. The performance I went to had P.C. Tom Payne sitting in the back row with his helmet on his lap. I don`t know how he would have calmed a riot if it had broken out, but him being there was enough to calm us. The local Teddy Boys arrived and the girls with their hoop skirts with Bill Haley`s name embroided on them. Apart from a few unable to control themselves with this wild music and jiving in the aisles, no damage was caused. With one showing on Thursday at 7, two on Friday at 5 and 8, a 2 o` clock matinee on Saturday plus 5 and 8 o` clock performances. With “Apache Ambush” starring Bill Williams as the support and “Rock Around the Clock”, in the whole history of the Regal, was the only film to run six times in three days.

The first Elvis Presley film “Love Me Tender” arrived on Thursday April 25th 1957. With the lack of televisions this was the first opportunity we had to see our idol. This time the girls arrived with Elvis embroided on their skirts. The film ended with Elvis being killed and his ghost standing beside a tree singing the theme song. The amount of tears the girls shed walking up Peacock lane that night because of this ! Bill Haley returned on Thursday July 4th with “Don`t Knock the Rock”, a poor follow up and only made to cash in on the strength of the original. The only good thing about this one was the appearance of Little Richard. Monday November 25th brought one of our british idols, Frankie Vaughan in “These Dangerous Years”.

January 9th 1958 the girls came down the lane this time with Pat Boone`s name written on their skirts. He was showing in “Bernadine”. The highlight of that film had him sitting beside a juke-box singing, `Love Letters in the Sand`.

Monday March 3rd Elvis in Technicolor and Vista-Vision- “Loving You”. I have memories of this one. Unable to control my excitement my twenty year old seat gave way during the film. A very large hole was ripped in the seat of my trousers and it was very difficult that night walking to Percy Eke`s for fish and chips trying to cover my embarrasment.

Others came “The Girl Can`t Help It ” which was the best ever in Cinemascope and colour with a whole host of rock `n` roll stars. British made efforts “The Tommy Steele Story” and “Six Five Special”. It seemed at the time everyone cashed in on the new rage but “Rock Around The Clock” was the first and in my opinion still the best.

Bill Haley`s fame was short lived for that brief period during the fifties but he continued to tour for the rest of his life on the strength of it until sadly he died in his sleep on February 9th 1981. For the 1950`s Elvis will always be known as the King. He was for that decade as Glenn Miller was for the 40`s and the Beatles were for the 60`s.



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