In the fairly drab days of the 50’s and 60’s an excuse to play at being rich, just for one night was irresistible. My mom and dad, Olive and Ken Belcher both worked hard and loved an excuse to enjoy themselves.
Many of the larger companies had one special night a year which was called an “Evening Do” or a “Dinner Dance”. The invites would arrive in the post printed on the finest cotton gold edged paper with elegant scrolled writing inviting you to the “Do”. The fancy food menu would be referred to and it ended with “Carriages at 1:00 am.”
Introduction to the Chairman 1958
It usually involved the chairman giving a speech after the meal, sometimes a guest speaker, prizes being given out, a tombola [raffle] and general merriment all round. With dancing to the finest band available. The men had to wear evening shirts and jackets shiny patent leather shoes, with “Dickie Bows” and other items like cummerbunds. But more importantly the girls got to wear extravagant evening dresses, their finest jewellery, delicate handbags and accessories and if you could afford it a fur [usually Mink] stole.
Enjoying night out at Sutton Town Hall [Olive & Ken centre] 1967
Plans for this event were usually in the hands of the female. She would organise and oversee the men’s attire which was usually rented from places like Dormie Dress Hire.
But her plans for her own dress would take weeks and weeks to organise. What colour should she wear this year? Didn’t so and so wear blue last year? What kind of hand bag etc. Oh and the shoes??? All this would culminate in the hair appointment on the day, whilst father went to the bank to get cash, the car washed and the suit collected. Baby sitters sorted and for some a driver hired for your own Jaguar to be majestically transported to the venue [and back of course].
Penns Hall 1974
The night would sometimes involve being announced to everyone as you walked up to greet the Chairman and his Lady, shake hands and a little chat. This was when the chattering classes went into overdrive. As a man I was never party to this but I overheard some of the best one liners I have ever heard from the Ladies commenting on the new arrivals.
The men would wander around sticking their chests out saying hello to all and sundry, being introduced to people they don’t know [business prospect don’t you know]. Buying Tombola tickets by the dozen to impress everyone.
Still in love QEII 1997
As the years went on the organisations changed and as you got better off your table got bigger and more expensive. Definitely all run on expense accounts. After his first quite successful year in business around 1959 Dad was quite flush and it was rather unspoken that he would treat Mom to a Mink stole for Christmas.
I remember that Christmas day so well. Dad took us out in the car and showed us the new Auchinleck House being built at 5 ways Edgbaston.
He stopped the car and turned to Mom and said quite tearfully “ Olive, I know I promised you a Mink stole as soon as I was doing well. But a few days ago I had the chance to hire that hoist out to the builders of this building but it had to be new AND it’s going to be on hire for more than two years. It’ll make a fortune in hire! So I’m sorry your Mink stole is up there but I’ve got you a nylon stole for this Christmas and I promise to get you a Mink one as soon as I can.” Mom replied also tearfully “Oh don’t be so daft Ken. Business comes first.”
That Xmas card