“BO’NESS IS ITS PEOPLE, AND ITS PEOPLE ARE BO’NESS”. So wrote a good a good friend of mine some years ago. I agreed with him then and heartily agree with his sentiment now, for when it comes to writing about memories of our fair and I have been invited to do that very thing names, peoples names, will appear like milestones along that particular pathway of life..
So – where do I start along that pathway? at the beginning of course always a very good place to………………..
Once upon a time I was a schoolboy, and as such I was chosen to be a presentee from the Public School. My partner, a girl called Petra Johnston, was Toothpaste and I was toothbrush. Memories? My friend Louis Dickson owner of the Hippodrome made a yearly film of the fair which was shown the following week. No sound track, just excited shouts of “thats me” from the packed audiences which filled the cinema twice a night three times on a Saturday! His instructions to all the presentees !As you leave the stage to return to your school look straight at the camera”. I was only 9, and ever since he had caught me stealing apples from his garden, I always did what Mr Dickson said! So after bowing to the Queen I descended the platform clutching my gigantic toothbrush in my left hand ( my right wrist had been sprained playing cricket at the coup) looking straight at the camera, tripped on the grass verge, fell, and in doing so sprained my LEFT WRIST! My claim to fame? Who else has ever walked round Bo’ness in his pyjamas, carrying a gigantic toothbrush, with two sprained wrists and in the procession?
As a teenager I was a Rover Scout, and in 1939 was in charge of the Queen’s escort. Memories? It rained! And Queen Jean Paterson and I sat in her parents home in Deanfield Drive until the decision was made to hold the crowning ceremony at 12 noon. I can’t remember that happening and other year, and the procession also halted when the heavens opened, and Jean was returned safely to Kinneil School.
Came the war, and after 5 years in the RAF, I was demobbed a couple of days before Sadie Potter was crowned Queen in 1946. I got the first train home from Bedford, and along with hundreds of returning servicemen and women I stood in the Glebe Park and thanked God that we were safe, back home in the wee town that we loved. It was probably then I realised how important the Fair is to every one of us, and it is a day that I will never forget.
As a young parent, in 1961. I was invited by Head Teacher Bob Robertson to help organise the Public School’s Safety First float. My son Douglas had been chosen to be the presentee to bow to Queen Nancy Cuthell from the Grange School. I was given the responsibility to make sure that the real workers were kept suitably refreshed with lemonade and tea and all that jazz! My lifelong friend, and Fair enthusiast, George McFarlane and I put our heads together and converted my front garden into a model village, complete with a major road Belisha Beacon crossing, buses, cars, houses, gardens, tennis courts, swimming pools and paraphernalia acquired from ROSPA. It was floodlit, police were directing traffic until midnight on the then much narrower Dean Road, and all of us who had helped (including the policeman!) sat down to a fillet steak breakfast at 4 o’clock in the morning! It was arguably the very first house frontage, and I have got the Special Prize 10/- note to prove it!
1968 was the burgh’s tercentenary year, with ex-Provost Charlie Snedden at the helm. Charlie invited me to produce and direct an Historical Pageant depicting the life of Bo’ness over three hundred years. It needed a cast of several hundred, and Mrs Josephine Turnbull was given the onerous task of recruiting the necessary participants from local organisations. I visualised that the climax of the entire show would have been a floodlit Fair retinue (the performances would have taken place in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival and at night) but sadly Josephine became terminally ill and the whole idea never happened.
Something happened that year, however. The Glebe Park stage was revamped and extended into the shape that it is today, and our old style revels were revitalised into the Royal Command Performance with which my good friend David Cunningham had some considerable input.
When Regionalisation took place in 1973/74, and the Fair was no longer run by our Town Council, I was invited firstly to produce the Royal command Performance, and then subsequently become commentator at the Crowning Ceremony. Memories?
Again, where to start. I remember in 1977 being asked by Andrew Strachan if I would produce and direct the musical “South Pacific” in aid of Fair funds. We ran the show in the Town Hall for a week and it was a sell out. The cast was composed of members of the 1959 show of “SP” and friends of mine from Falkirk, Edinburgh and Bathgate. We borrowed equipment from the American Marine Base in Edzell and invited the American Consul General, Theodore B Dobbs with his wife and family. the Dobbs were so intrigued by the idea of our Fair that they came to see for themselves in 1978! And were so gob smacked! We had, that year, the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, and when they struck up the American national anthem in honour of Mr Dobbs’ visit, I had to pinch myself was all this really happening right here in Bo’ness?
I firmly believe that my job as commentator is an individualistic one, and to quote old blue eyes himself, I do it my way. I also subscribe to the philosophy that you cannot please all of the people all the time, and that mistakes will be made. There isn’t a script, just the names of the characters and their order of entry. So any mistakes are mine.
Although every Fair day follows a similar pattern, every Fair is different. The weather plays an important part. On a sunny day, my task is an easy one. On a dull day, I have one eye on the entry of children into the park and another anxious one on the clouds as they roll in from the west, and pray that we can get the crowning ceremony over without rain. I’ll never forget 1990 when heaby rain made it impossible to carry on, and the entry of the retinue was aborted. Near pandemonium ensued, as anxious and sometimes unthinkable adults blocked the foyer of the Town Hall as efforts were being made to safely escort the children into the hall. I remember literally pulling one very irate mother away from Chairman David Brown seemingly it was his fault that it had rained! David has done an immense amount of work for an on behalf of the Fair before and since, and he rightly holds position of Honorary President.
Despite being indoors, the crowning ceremony was held in a wonderful atmosphere almost as if everyone involved were determined to make this day a very special one for Queen Lisa Welsh. And the beautiful smile never left her face despite all the hassle!
Our Centenary Fair was in 1997, and I was part of a small committee formed in “95 or 96″ to make plans for our landmark Fair. Either Charlie Snedden, George McFarlane or Andrew McFarlane (another Fair stalwart) suggested that I could write a song to commemorate the Centenary. I played around with a few melodies on my piano, and knew that the lyrics would have to be about the Fair and our town, but what to call it? Well, in congregation what made them happy. The usual answers like Christmas, holidays, presents, birthdays were given, then one little boy said, ” The Fair Day, it’s just like Christmas, only better, it’s the BEST DAY OF THE YEAR.” I asked my wife Nan for a pen, wrote it down, came home, went to the piano, and wrote the chorus in less than an hour. Arrangements were made for the formation of a Centenary Choir, I went round the various schools and taught the ten children from each school the words and music. I asked my friend Ian Boulter to arrange the music for brass bands, somehow or other persuaded both Carriden and Kinneil Bands to PLAY THE ACCOMPANIMENT TOGETHER (the caps are international!) recorded it with the children separately and we produced the finished version on a CD. It was sung by the choir at the Coronation of Queen Ashley Oldham and has been played ever since at every Fair. It’s a work that I am proud of for it tells the tale of what our town once was, and still is, a wonderful place to be.
For something like 27 years I produced and presented the Royal Command Performance. In that time almost every TV and Stage star in Scotland came and entertained us Acts from all over the world have appeared. The Ukrainian Dancers, American Marching Bands, French Singers and Dancers, bands from Norway, Denmark, Canada an Aerobatic Display with a musical accompaniment which drowned out my vain attempt to describe what was happening in the air! Happy Days! And none happier than when we have to improvise and put the show into the Town Hall because of bad weather. Remember the Rainmaker? Chris McClure (Christian) was dubbed with that unfortunate name tag, and a nicer guy you couldn’t wish to meet. He was determined to do an outside show and at his third consecutive visit he succeeded and even performed, at his insistence, at a very much reduced fee. I was fortunate that I was able to make many contacts without having to go through the Mr 10%s, due to my friends in “the business”, and as a result many acts came to the Fair at a much reduced rate.
Remember the Drifters? They were a perfect example of a headline act coming here for a comparative song or in their case several wonderful songs! They were undoubtedly the biggest act ever to grace the Douglas Park stage.
I can’t claim full responsibility for the Presentees performing at the Douglas Park, but it was at my request and suggestion that they should “strutt their stuff” just one more time at the Royal Command Performance, and with the necessary cooperation from the schools they have continued to entertain the thousands of spectators for all these years. And Don’t the kids just love it!
As I go around the schools teaching the Fair songs, I am courteously received by every school including tiny Blackness, and it’s a pleasure and a privilege, indeed, to have been allowed to contribute in any small way to the success of Bo’ness Children’s Fair Festival, and would simply like to close by wishing that it should go from strength to strength in the next 100 years. For wouldn’t this town be a poorer place without it.
Go North go South,
go East or West,
No town has got our measure,
Our Fair stands abune them ‘a,
A day that we all treasure.
It is, after all, simply the best!