Monday, August 14, 2006


I have received the following email:
Dear Peter,

I reached your excellent blog through reading Frank Mee's memories on the BBC site - The Peoples' War.

I am just starting research on a new BBC series called Britain on the Move. This is an archive-film based series on a century of British people dancing.

I would very much like to ask if any of your contributors would like to get in touch with their memories of dancing during the Second World War. Would this be possible?

Yours sincerely,

Chloe Thomas
Producer, Britain on the Move
Illuminations Production for BBC TV

Let me know if you have anything to contribute.


Blogger Tomcann said...

Peter / Chloe

My early attempts at dancing was under the tutelage of my three elder sisters who felt that my brother and I should be more aware of the social aspects of life instead of running after a soccer ball all day long.
As a consequence we found ourselves being pushed uncermoniously around our kitchen, which taught us that we had one right foot and the other was left and it was to remain so.
We finally moved down to Birmingham for war work and I found myself on nightshift making Tanks etc when a colleaque felt that we should go to the saturday night hop at the local hall, this was complete with girls -Music -of a sort - lights and a circular dazzler in the centre of the ceilng.
The local girls did their best with us and we became quite proficient in all the dances of the day - I should stress that this was strict Ballroom dancing, and not this head jerking half nude nonsense which we see to-day, and particularly the "novelty chicken" type of dancing.
On finding myself in the army at Barnard Castle sometime later and a Ballroom Dancing Academy at Darlington which charged the sum of 1/6d per hour of instruction with a general dance in the evening for yet another 1/6d with a free cup of coffee, I soon became an expert and with five colleagues were the rage of the friday night dances at the barracks when girls were imported from miles around Barnard Castle.
Unfortunately duty called and off we went to dance to a different tune overseas - with no dancing until we attempted to entice the whole village of Strassburg in Austria into a dance on a sunday afternoon. We made the fatal error of serving refreshments at half time - the hall cleared when the food was gone !
We were left to dance with each other, and I must say that both Al Offord from London and Willy Moore from Leeds made excellent female partmers !

Monday, 14 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Unlike Tom I was taken to the dance prewar because the baby sitter for my younger sister and I said I was a little monster.
I have no idea why she said that apart from throwing my supper at her biting her and being a general wiseacre at the age of nearly ten.
Dressed in my best suit and told to watch it, We walked down the village Mum in her long flowing dress she made herself Dad in his Tuxedo to the CO-OP Hall in Leven Road, still there but closed up. They sat me in a seat and I became mesmerised by the wonder of it all and was hooked for life.
Between the competition dances there was some general dancing and some of the ladies would get me up, I was tall for my age and a very quick learner, this was something I really wanted to do.
It was of course strict Ballroom or Old Fashioned Dancing. In the interval they played some records for Modern Dancing and so I learned to modern waltz quickstep and foxtrot.
When the competition dancing ended with the war there were Church halls and youth clubs in school halls in the years ahead, we had plenty of places to go under strict supervision of course and so I served my time always well ahead of the rest of the lads. This got me in well with the girls mainly much older than me so dancing with the good dancers I progressed.
Life for me in those days was something that happened between dances which I lived for.
Great times and great memories, wish I could do it all now but Tempus Fugit.

Monday, 14 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Dancing in Austria can be strenuous particularly around October when all the harvests are finaly in the barns and time is hanging heavily on the young men and women
I attended two such dances in a place called Althofen in Stiermark and I must admit that as a 22 year old 100% fit soldier - by 3 a.m. I was quite willing to call it quits after having been dancing since eight p.m. the previous evening - but no - this went on until 7 am, with people hanging on to anything solid in order to gain some support. These dances were termed "excellent".
But perhaps the most beautiful dancing I had ever seen was at the gardens of the Kursaal in Vienna when the Vienna Philharmonic played Strauss and the Vienna Ballet company demonstrated how to dance the Vienna Waltz.
This was beauty personifed and unforgettable, later the efforts of Shearer - Fonteyn and Tennant with either Nuriyev - Ballanchine or anyone else paled in comparison. A wondrous time.

Monday, 14 August, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...


I made the mistake of posting off a story direct to Chloe before I spotted this thread.

I've also given Chloe the link to Frank's excellent offerings on the subject on the old BBC site so, stand by Frank, you are about to be famous one more time :)

Tuesday, 15 August, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...


I think it may be better to post any contributions direct to Chloe, especially if they are to be used by the BBC. I don't want some future nutter accusing the BBC of lifting stories from a blog. We have seen instances of this in the past. We Four should email Chloe direct, other Members could perhaps intimate their interest here.

Tuesday, 15 August, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Hello guys,

A very interesting request from Chloe. It's been great to read all your comments about dancing, formerly one of my great passions. I started ballroom dancing at the age of 4, literally following in the footsteps of other family members who were into all the different dancing styles. Originally my older sister did ballet, tap, Latin American, Ballroom and Old Time (Sequence). I never had any interest in ballet or tap so I was only ever a ballroom dancer (including Old Time). I retired as a competition dancer at the grand old age of 17, and then took up athletics.

Of course, still being a relative youngster (a 40-something!) this was well after the war, in the 1960s and 1970s. However, one of my relatives, Andé, was one of the top Ballroom and Latin dancers during and after WW2. Andé's partner was Walter Laird and they used to demonstrate for the Victor Silvester Dance Orchestra. One of Andé's best friends is Peggy Spencer who is current President of the ISTD. I feel Andé and perhaps Peggy might be able to help Chloe's project. Peggy is still occasionally on the TV and radio about dancing so she may already know about it. I'll pass the information on to Andé and see if she has heard about the project from Peggy, and if she would like to be involved. I posted 3 stories about dancing to the "People's War" website on Andé's behalf.

Some of the dancing books written by Victor Silvester, Walter Laird and Peggy Spencer are still widely used in dancing circles. I've just been going through some of Andé's dancing photographs although most of the better ones seem to be from just after the war.

As I had a dancing background I can understand the history and terminology of dancing a little better than that armoured tank brigades. I've given away a lot of the books I had about dancing, but I do still have one or two. The 1940s and 1950s seemed to be a 'Golden Age' for Ballroom Dancing. I feel anyone who was around in those days had some great opprtunities for dancing. When I got going in the 1960s there were still a lot of places for dancing, but such a lot of them have since disappeared. There are signs Ballroom / Latin dancing is making a come-back, especially after the "Strictly Come Dancing" programmes on the TV.

Peter, thanks for passing my e-mail details on to Chloe. I'll pass on the information to Andé and her husband Franklin, whom I am in regular contact with.


Saturday, 19 August, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

JR has two interesting stories about his relative, Andé Lyons, and Walter Laird in the BBC WW2 Archive. They can be accessed here and

Saturday, 19 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

I think this is exactly what Chloe wants, She asked me about pictures or film and seems keen on getting some so those stories will be great.
People forget film was almost impossible to get during the war. My Uncle stockpiled some for his business and managed to get a ration because he took official photo's
We had two cars at one time but we never owned a camera until the 1950's so there is no record of my dancing years apart from one photo in Port Said.
I think Chloe will be pleased with this input.Well done Ritson, leave the armour to us.

Sunday, 20 August, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Yes I think you are right about the relative scarcity of many types of wartime photographs. Andé has a lot of photographs from when she was dancing professionally in the 1940s and 1950s. She was in the right circles for photographs being taken.

Andé and Walter appeared on many of the Victor Silvester TV programmes after the war. Whether the BBC has any of these archived anywhere I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if they have archived any of the wartime radio broadcasts of Victor Silvester either. Perhaps there was not felt to be a need to record and store material of this type at the time.

I've felt for a while that the even the photos Andé has from after the war have some historic value. Certainly, I guess somebody will be looking for these type of photographs in years to come. Frank, your photograph in Port Said is really good at capturing just how, and the way, people enjoyed dancing at the time. It must bring back some good memories for you.


Sunday, 20 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Joseph, you are right I regret now I bought a watch instead of a camera, I could have made a record of my time out there and after. I guess when you are young you do not think of the future and we often thought we did not have one anyway.
I think you should scan those photo's and put them on disc for future reference, they need to be kept safe for people like Chloe. You can still get Victor Sylvestor records, I have some somewhere in the loft as my record cabinet down here is jam packed. I bought a new record player so I can listen to some of my collection. I play the Vienese music a lot remembering those dancing years. As you had some experience of it you will know the joy it brought, it certainly lifted out spirits in wartime.
With my new digital TV I have been catching up on the History channel. In World at War Home Front the other night it showed people dancing in gas masks so they do have archive film.
I never saw that but some of the girls I had to dance with to get cigarettes for the men in the works, (see starting work) would have improved by wearing them. The things we did for the war effort.

Sunday, 20 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
This dancing at Port Siad which you are claiming - fortunately with no photgraphic evidence - would that be when you were with the "Whirling Dervishes Group" AKA the REME ???

Sunday, 20 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Sorry Tom, there is a photograph as Ritson tells you see his reply in the above mails.
As usual my battle dress is open and it does look a bit like the whirling Dervishes celebrating getting away from broken tanks for a while.
I was on leave at Port Said and for ten days forgot the Desert and the SSM.
I saw the sites of Port Said in the company of a motherly Lady from the WVS who helped run the camp for the boys.
Those Ladies brought us back to a normality for a while and probably stopped us from going mad, there were five suicides alone in our base camp. It was not all beer and skittles.
It was rather funny. In the dance hall were quite a few European girls mainly Greek with their chaperons. I had been on the floor as soon as the music started with a WVS Lady who came from near Goathland where my Uncle had his farm, I spent a lot of time there so we knew mutual acquaintances.
The Chaperon would get up come across and say "You will dance with my Daughter" Niece or what ever, as it was an order I would go across and some nubile young lady would be asked to dance.
They were usually as stiff as boards until we got far enough away from beady eye's then it would all go mad until we were back in range. It certainly stirred the hormones but was accademic as there was no way we were walking them home, anyway the key to the chastity belt was firmly round chaperons neck and I did not have my cutting gear with me.
All good fun but the ladies from the WVS were the best dancers so I danced mainly with them leaving the blushing virgins to the other lads, at times having to pop their eye's back into their sockets for them, it was heady stuff to those Macnoons. (Desert Madness)
I have written the story of that leave elsewhere it was so memorable. I will always have fond memories of the WVS, Salvation Army and Church of Scotland Ladies who would look after the troops in places Naafi would not go. Bless them all.

Monday, 21 August, 2006  
Blogger Audlew said...

Dear folk,
Just seen your messages about Dancing. I put one or two of my stories relating to dancing during the 2nd world war onto the bbc World War 2 'People's War' site. If you wish me to quote their numbers or write them again I am willing to do so should you think them suitable as I was only a teenager during the war years.
It would be nice to hear from you again.
Audrey Lewis

Tuesday, 19 September, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Hi Audrey

How nice to hear from you. Your dancing stories would be most welcome.


Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

I have already written a welcome back piece for Aurdey but it seems to have disppeared into the ether
somehow - anyway welcome back Audley and look forward to reading your dancing tales as well as your other tales of youth

Thursday, 21 September, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Hello Audrey,
It all started when we were approached by a lady from the BBC, she is doing a documentary on the social value of dancing pre-war and post-war.
I found some of the dancing stories including yours and sent them to her, I should say telling her where to find them.
There is no reason why you should not put some of your experiences on the blog, we were all teenagers and social dancing started in my case with school hall dancing, it was what we did.
The girls were brought up to be dancers and my wife was still tap dancing into her sixties. She dazzled the grandchildren with her footwork and set them all off learning.
Put some of your experienes on the blog to be read by others, you never know we could all end up dancing for the camera,s, they would need to wind my springs and oil the wheels first though.

Friday, 22 September, 2006  

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