Our double dip of ‘75

MP Denis Healey gets a word of advice from a pensioner on a visit to a Labour club in the 1970's
MP Denis Healey gets a word of advice from a pensioner on a visit to a Labour club in the 1970's
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You could buy fish and chips for 32p at Stanley Park cafe in the 1970s – the last time the UK entered a double-dip recession.

A sign still advertises the prices.

Shaun and Barbara Gallagher – who now help daughters Francesca and Sinead run the Art Deco Cafe – were living in Zambia then. Shaun, a teacher, had taken home £48 from his first month’s wages in England and decided it wasn’t enough.

“We escaped from what was happening in Britain at the time,” he admits. “Certainly when I returned years later to help kids I saw deprivation on a scale I’d never seen before.” Today the family is planning how to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and put some “fun on the menu” in a recession.

Elaine Smith, now chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust, ran a clothes shop in Poulton in 1975, the base for a network of 40 ladies running fashion parties in homes.

She also hit on a niche market to beat the recession: Birmingham Bags for boys. The baggy trousered look took teenagers (and she had two of her own) by storm, and one suggested she open a shop just for them.

“I did,” adds Elaine. “The Lads’ Pad. And we did really well, but the price was right. Nothing over a fiver.” Within a couple of years she had raised enough to buy a joint share of a guesthouse.

Economic pundits didn’t call it double dip recession back in 1975.

Officially, they called it recession. The Fylde coast had it bad although Blackpool bucked the trend – in tourism.

The scale of what we faced has just been revealed by Cabinet papers. Lord Balogh, the Labour Government’s economic adviser, warned chancellor Denis Healey the country was on the verge of “possible wholesale domestic liquidation”. Which makes double dip sound like a soft option.

The country had limped through mine blockades and oil embargoes, trade union revolt and state control of mines, steelworks and shipyards. Lord Lucan had also done a runner.

Ted Heath’s Government had pushed inflation to above 20 per cent and interest rates into double figures. Then, as now, the fault lay with unsustainable debt-fuelled economic growth.

Chartered accountant Charles Bryning, founding partner of 40-year-old Fleetwood firm Jones Harris, says: “I don’t think the underlying economy was as bad then as it is now. We’re seeing the economic death of the west now, and the east in ascendance. Back then it was UK-based, lots of union unrest.

“We used to turn our office lights off, no computers then, use car batteries to power strings of light, and paraffin heaters for warmth. It was bleak, but not as bad as today.”

Harold Wilson was back at No 10 and Margaret Thatcher elbowed aside Heath in February that year. Amongst those glad to see the back of him was Enoch Powell in Blackpool for the Get Britain Out (of the Common Market) campaign – although the North West Industrial Development Association urged Britain to stay put.

In Blackpool, 1,200 delegates from the Union of Post Office Workers heard general secretary Tom Jackson warn the post office faced 24,000 job losses thanks to the 10p price of first class mail.

“Our jobs, our conditions, our earnings exist because, at the right price, people post letters and parcels ... there is no other reason, we have no other independent existence.”

The Armed Forces Pay review board announced pay rises of up to 29 per cent. Police rejected their own pay scales. Granada telly-land was blacked out by ITV technicians striking. The Evening Gazette’s Women’s Circle failed to appear because the National Graphical Association stopped the presses.

Our snapshot of 1975 shows Blackpool sports car firm TVR was pushing for the Japanese market. Local councillors were trying to induce “by incentive and persuasion” residents out of under occupied council houses. Others wanted voluntary Lights collections on the Promenade. One fought a ban on smoking in committee meetings.

Two young dads picketed Blackpool Town Hall to protest at meagre social security benefits. An inquest heard how an elderly woman died while her file was left unattended by social workers for 11 days. An enterprising 15-year-old was fined £2 for taking four golf balls from a dyke on Blackpool Park golf course – his mum explaining he didn’t realise it was a crime. Two other teenagers beat up a 44-year-old dog walker in South Shore.

Fleetwood Docks doubled its losses; trawlermen warned the industry was dying, but trawler firm J Marr and sons ordered four new ships to be built at Selby and Goole. The British Aircraft Corporation said the MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) would bring more jobs to Warton.

Marks and Spencer and Woolworths reported decent profits, while Abingdon Street market stall-holders fought proposed rent rises of 450 per cent.

Blackpool North railway and Coliseum coach stations were packed with Bank Holiday trippers, 15,000 people coming through North one day alone. A second class Inter-City return from Blackpool to London cost £8.47.

Mary Chipperfield brought the “largest collection of animals ever seen here” to the Tower Circus. Among “new faces” at North Pier were Paul Melba and Millican and Nesbitt, “dynamic singing star” Tony Christie was at the ABC Theatre, Mike Yarwood at the Opera House – ticket prices 40p to £1.25. Two new bingo halls were given the go-ahead.

Thousands sunned on the beach, and snagged an extra day’s hol, thanks to the good weather, said tourism director Bob Battersby. One of his young assistants, Mike Chadwick, moonlighted as a DJ at “groovy” Cleveleys disco Gallopers. Landladies had 12,000 concessionary tickets to issue to pensioners on discount fortnight’s leave.

A Blackpool Corporation driver was lauded by Lancashire textile workers after writing “made in Hong Kong, supplied by Blackpool Corporation” on the back of his new overalls.

Britain’s dole queues grew, but Blackpool’s dropped because of seasonal work. The Carpet House of Bispham urged locals to “walk on inflation”. You could buy a terraced house in Marton for £5,700, a pack of butter for 13p, a new Triumph from Dutton Forshaw for £2,600 and earn £48 for a five-day 40-hour week at Springfields Atomic Energy base at Salwick.

Hoteliers blamed “sneaky” holiday flat owners for the rise in homeless families, evicted for summer.

Another claimed hotel staff were paid “over the odds”. Yet more objected to listing tariffs in the holiday guide because high inflation meant “unscrupulous” visitors were shopping around for the cheapest deal.

Welcome to our world, 1975.