Jeff Martin - The
Story Starts Way Back
By Jeff Martin
I suppose the start of my DJ life goes back to the early 1950s when I had just left school. I ran my own radio station called Radio Thingwall (the area I lived with my parents on the Wirral, near Birkenhead). I didn't have very many listeners. In fact, I was the only listener, with maybe my parents in the other room, as my Radio Thingwall was in my bedroom: turntables, 78 records, 45's and a few LP's. There was a programme schedule and the times of the programmes on my bedroom door.
I joined the forces on National Service duty in 1956 when I was 18. During training in Devizes, Wiltshire, the radio in the room used to play Anne Shelton's 'Lay Down Your Arms' - I wish I could have done!
I was sent to Germany and things went from boring to interesting. I played piano in a local group and we entertained the Officers and NCO's at their dance nights in the messes. I helped out in the local army cinema and chose the background records played before the film started.
The British Forces Network (BFN) were looking for some help with playing records in the morning at their studio in Cologne (where Cliff Mitchelmore used to be on 'Two Way Family Favourites' on a Sunday lunchtime). The Commanding Officer initially refused to let me take any part in it, but he relented and I went for several months as an unpaid DJ at BFN.
I also took part in a live broadcast at Radio Luxembourg at their studios in Luxembourg, the programme was called 'Juke Box Jambouree', not unlike 'Juke Box Jury' on TV. The presenter and DJ was Barry Alldis, sadly gone now. During my stay in Germany there was also DJ Chris Howland, a delightful person to
meet. He was on a German radio station playing records and speaking in the most appalling German, but the Germans loved him. I wonder what happened to him?
Back home in England the 1960s were just starting. Pete Murray was still presenting the 'Top 20 Show' on Radio Luxembourg every Sunday night, the BBC was still drab, but the scene was just starting for unused cinemas etc to be turned into dancehalls and discos.
I got a job as DJ at the Majestic Ballroom, Birkenhead, the manager was Bill Marsden. All the top groups played there nightly, including the Beatles who made their debut performance of 'Love Me Do' before it entered the charts. They used to relax at the Conway Arms pub opposite the Majestic. The Beatles were just beginning to hand out autographed photos. They gave me one which,
regrettably, I gave away a little later (today it's worth a fortune).
Opposite the Majestic was a cinema/theatre, the Ritz. One night Bobby Vee was appearing. I persuaded him to pay a visit to the Majestic, but it nearly caused a riot with fans.
I was DJ at other halls on Merseyside. Famous in Chester was the Riverpark Ballroom, whose manager was Ken Hignett. They used to have bingo sessions almost every night and used to panic to get the bingo people out quickly so the room could be ready for the groups arriving. Gerry & the Pacemakers used to play. One night Cilla Black arrived to sing. I still clearly remember her arriving, so small, so young. I can't remember what songs she sang, but she was still unknown to the public. I had more connections in Chester, which comes later.
Back to Merseyside - Bob Wooler was a good friend of mine. We used to meet often at the late night coffee shops after our stints at the ballrooms. We were the only DJ's at the time. Later on in the 1960s a guy called Derek Jeffrey came on the scene. He did a little work in the halls. I don't know what happened to him, but I'd love to know.
The Orrell Park Ballroom was managed by Ralph Webster. It was a regular spot for me to play the records before and after the groups. I wasn't permitted to bring and play my own records here. Ralph
Webster wanted pre-recorded tapes to be played. In fact they were tapes recorded off the BBC hit parade and were so badly recorded and faded out that you could hear the BBC jockeys speaking. This was embarrassing to present, but the OPB (as it was known) was so packed with people and noise, I don't think anyone noticed.
I was writing a regular column in Mersey Beat. Bill Harry had great ambitions for this weekly pop paper. I saw a mock up of the Mersey Beat office at the Beatles Experience in Liverpool recently and it was so good, with pleasant memories of the past.