Written on 01 June 2019
I wrote this anecdote for one of my former Blogs in about 2011 but I never published it. I have just come across it in my archives and I publish it now by way of penance for an occasion 60 years ago, when three of my colleagues and I behaved in an un-officer-like manner.
I’ve just been listening to one of the wonderful Pam Ayres' broadcasts on the BBC. Listening to some of Pam’s recollections from her early years about her broad accent, reminded me of one particular Saturday night in 1960 when I went to what was then one of Doncaster's well-known nightspots. I had arrived at nearby RAF Finningley only three days earlier, a newly-commissioned pilot officer about to join his first flying squadron. I had no car of my own so someone who had his own large estate car invited me to join him and two others from the Officers Mess for a Saturday night out "on the town". They been at Finningley for some months so I assumed they would know the best places to go for a good time.
We went to one of the several dance halls in the centre of Doncaster. We bought tickets at the door (half a crown each I seem to recall – that’s roughly 12.5 pence in today’s currency) and entered a crowded, noisy, and extremely smoky ballroom. The central dancing area was surrounded on three sides by upright wooden chairs; the fourth side was a stage where a very average small band was performing. Groups of unattached men were standing against the walls, checking out 'the talent' who were mostly sitting on chairs. Our group stood out from the rest because we were the only males smartly dressed in suits. There was a bar in a small ante-room off to one side where beer was being sold at considerably higher prices than we paid in the Officers’ Mess.
After viewing the field while we drank our first round of beer, which I had paid for, one of my friends pointed out a good-looking girl who seemed to have been sitting on her own for quite a while. I had already caught her looking at me several times so I finished my pint, crossed the floor and asked as nonchalantly as I could : “Want to dance?” She looked me up and down and then replied, “Eee nah, luv, Ah’m all sweaty!”
I beat a hasty retreat and re-joined my Finningley colleagues who were grinning. “No luck then, Tony?” one asked. I was about to make some sort of reply when another said, “Did she tell you she was all sweaty? She comes here every Saturday night and says that to all the men – that’s why she’s always sitting on her own!”
I realised I had been set up, but I assumed it could only improve after that. Indeed, I had a good time and when the occasional Lady's Choice dance was called there was no shortage of girls who wanted to dance with me. As midnight approached and it was time for me to select a partner for the Last Waltz, I picked on a rather plain looking girl. After two or three circuits of the ballroom, she said, loudly, in my ear, “Tha’ thinks tha’s goin’ to bed me – but tha’s bloody mistaken!” Actually, she didn’t use the word ‘bed’ but instead used the ‘f’ word. That night we went back to Finningley, without any accompanying girls, immediately after the National Anthem had been played.
It was not a good introduction to Doncaster night-life. I discovered the next day back at base that the particular ballroom my ‘friends’ had taken me was where young officers occasionally played a very cruel game called a Grimmy Contest. The object of the game was to select the grimmest girls they could find and invite them back to Finningley for a late drink or two in the Officers’ Mess before being driven home. If the ploy worked, any other officers drinking late in the Mess bar would vote on who had won by selecting the grimmest girl. It was particularly cruel when the girls learned that they had been the objects of the game.