Memory Lane: Insults, demos and rock

Cliff Michelmore with a 6ft stick of Blackpool rock at the 1963 Illuminations switch-on
Cliff Michelmore with a 6ft stick of Blackpool rock at the 1963 Illuminations switch-on
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THE political party conference season is upon us, and while Blackpool might regret not basking in the limelight now enjoyed by other locations, it does not miss the venom dished out over the decades by those working in the national media.

Insulting remarks have always been a mainstay of Blackpool critics at conference time, but exactly 50 years ago today The Gazette reported how cruel comments had reached new heights.

Broadcaster Cliff Michelmore, who two years later would be cheered by the crowds when he switched on Blackpool Illuminations, interviewed journalists James Cameron and Bernard Levin, who were attending the 1961 Labour Party conference at the Winter Gardens. He was asking the questions in London and they were in the temporary Blackpool studio built for the conference.

Mr Michelmore asked how Blackpool compared with that other conference town Scarborough. James Cameron replied: “I have never been to Scarborough but I am sure it must be an improvement on Blackpool.”

The question was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail, headlined Oh Hideous Blackpool, in which Mr Cameron summed up the resort as “the most hideous centre of human habitation”, and grumbled that the train up from London had no dining car.

Bernard Levin was equally scathing on the TV programme, describing Blackpool as “ugly beyond human belief.”

He added: “So many people come here under the serious belief this is the best thing life offers. They are wrong.”

Mr Michelmore smilingly said: “I don’t fancy your chances when you walk out of the studio tonight. When you get outside, I think the whole of Blackpool will be waiting for you!”

The Gazette also reported how three Daily Mail readers had jumped to the defence of their town, rising strongly to its defence in that day’s issue.

One of them accused Mr Cameron of forsaking the principal of unbiased reporting, and, referring to his hunger on the train journey north, concluded: “his jaundiced eye refuses to see further than his gastric hallucinations will allow.

“If he is to be taken seriously, heaven forbid, it is a pity he didn’t throw his typewriter and article off the end of one of the piers. It is the obvious end for his abusive tirade against a fine town and its occupants.”

As a footnote, Mr Cameron confessed: “I am in so much trouble through having been beastly to Blackpool. I will keep my mouth shut, except to say I am now most cordially lodged in the best hotel in town and shall hear no word against it.”

Fastforward to the 1963 Lights switch-on ceremony, when 70 members of the Blackpool Labour Party filtered through the Talbot Square crowd in peaceful demonstration, carrying banners with such slogans as “Sack Mac – bring employment back”, and “Local Unemployed Want Work”.

Local party president Coun J Mysercough said: “Although this is a night of gaiety, the unemployment situation in the town is getting worse every winter. Last year, there were 4,325 people out of work.”

As for the Illuminations launch, a self-deprecating Cliff Michelmore, had the crowds in his hands when he told them: “I can think of a dozen reasons why I should not switch on the Lights. I am the biggest idiot when it comes to electricity.”

His journey back from Blackpool to London proved a harassing one when he was hit by a wet dishcloth as he passed through the lounge at Manchester Airport. It had been thrown by a kitchen worker at a colleague who ducked, and it went through the open door, striking the broadcaster.

Mr Michelmore said: “I was more concerned about a 6ft stick of rock with my name written through it. I was worried how I was going to get it on the plane.” And worry he might, because airline bosses charged him £1 4s 7 1/2 d (£1.24) in excess baggage...