My teens: the dancing years - but asking a girl to dance was scary and acutely embarrassing

Anthony Buckless in his teenage years
Anthony Buckless in his teenage years

Every Sunday morning in the early 1950s my older brother, Ern, and sisters Nan and Pat and I would go swimming at Woodside Baths, at the top of Haley Hill.

The baths were always packed. Many houses still did not have baths in the ‘50s so there would be two long queues, one for a swim, one for the slipper baths.

Sometimes a murmur would break out in the two lines. The wrestlers Shirley Crabtree and his brother, Max, would be coming out. They went in before the baths opened to the public to swim as part of their training.

Shirley was to become a superstar as Big Daddy and Max also became a top-class promoter, besides wrestling. For us teenagers Big Daddy and his wrestlers were to give us many happy times.

At school, Ovenden Secon-dary, we had dancing lessons and I had to endure the torment of the Valetta at a time when bopping was the thing and the Shake and the Twist were on the horizon.

I hated it! I had two left feet and suffered acute embarrassment. You had to bow and curtsy like someone living in the 18th century while grovelling a “thank you” to your partner, who smiled politely while seething over her bruised toes. All this in the age of the Teddy boys and the Elvis quiff!

With my budding maturity all the girls seemed attractive. Even choosing one to ask to dance was both scary and acutely embarrassing. At heart I was a quivering coward in this department, taunted by crushes most of the time.

Eventually the strain got to me and I refused to take part. The teacher was furious and banged me up against the wall, demanding me to recant. I spent the rest of the lesson in the changing room, traumatised by the thought of my arms round one of the lovely girls. Oh, the trials of youth!

There was a youth club at Ovenden Secondary but I was living at the top end of Mixenden and it was easier to catch a bus into town and go to the club at the Labour Rooms.

It would be packed to the rafters. Big Daddy and his brother, Max, were running it and it was controlled very firmly. They stood no nonsense; naughty boys would fly through the door projected by two burly wrestlers!

Pearl Paling took over the Princess Ballroom – above what is now McDonald’s – shortly after the advent of rock. She took dance classes during the week at a studio in Horton Street and held a Saturday dance in the Princess and took classes there, which were very popular with teenagers. The place was known to one and all as Paling’s.

A friend told me that he and his cricketing and footballing friends had a good time at the Alexander Hall on Saturdays and why didn’t I and another friend, Jim, pop down?

So pop down we did – to be met by a sea of dancing females. I summoned all my courage, walked across the floor and asked a couple if I could split them. “You’ll have a job on,” came the reply.

My ego crumbled and I scampered off into a corner and sipped my Coke.

Shortly I tried again. No, no, no, no, no. Battered and bruised we skulked off but suddenly the doors burst open and the boys staggered in. Many of the ladies were their girlfriends . We danced with everyone who was not taken.

Sometimes we would also pop in to the Marlborough or the YMCA. It would be heaving, and I mean heaving. Shirley and Max were coining it again and they deserved to; top rock acts were booked almost every week.

Uusually, though, we would end up at Big Daddy’s; Shirley, Max and brother Brian had expanded into Crown Street. After an evening stint at the Tech – the Percival Whitley College – we’d finish at 9pm and run into town, go to Big Daddy’s and catch the last bus home.

nAnthony Buckless lives at Sunny Bank Road, Mixenden, Halifax.