Birmingham in the 60s

Birmingham in the 60s: Smallbrook Ringway

Birmingham was radically developed in the 60s. There was a new ring road system, which, like most city centres, was of a unique design and took practice to master. Smallbrook Ringway, left, was one of the first sections built. The buildings were designed by J A Roberts.

The Bullring Shopping Centre (which has been redeveloped recently) was also a 60s development. It replaced a historic market with a modern design. The Rotunda, also designed by J A Roberts, was started in 1960. It was a circular tower of 24 storeys. There was a rumour that it had a slight list, making it the leaning tower of Brum.

Architectural critic, Ian Nairn, was complimentary about Birmingham and the Bullring. He thought Birmingham was much improved for the development and that the prosperity of the 60s suited Birmingham well.

HRH The Prince of Wales, however, was less than complimentary about the 60s architecture of Birmingham; now there's a surprise.

In 1974, the IRA planted a bomb in the Mulberry Bush Pub situated in the ground floor of the Rotunda. This, and another bomb at the Tavern in the Town in New Street Station, killed 21 people. This incident will forever be known as the Birmingham Pub Bombings.

On a lighter note, I remember a life size model of King Kong in Birmingham in the 70s. I wonder if anyone can shed any further light on this?


Birmingham in the 60s: Another view of Smallbrook Ringway Birmingham in the 70s: Repertory Theatre, built 1971

Comments on Birmingham in the 50s and 60s

"I grew up in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. There used to be a menswear shop on the corner of Navigation Street and John Bright Street called Chetwyns. If you could afford it, they sold imported suits, jackets, shirts, ties etc directly from the United Sates and loose drape jackets cutaway collar shirts etc. Then in the early sixties the fashion changed. Most young guys got their Italian style suits from Burtons or Colliers, although Chetwyns did survive with the American look. I myself couldn't afford to shop there, but would visit the shop to check out the gear." Andrew Eves

Above Chetwyns was the The Whiskey a Go Go, a club hosting live bands. Local bands played there as well as Motown and R&B bands from the US. Their Friday and Saturday nights went on until 8am the following day. See www.brumbeat.net/letters for more details.

The club above Chetwyns in 1963, before it was Whiskey a Go Go was -- Lora Dixon's: rock and roll, no booze only soft drinks or tea or coffee. The pub in Hill Street and on the corner of Swallow Street was the Eagle, now gone. I have cine film of it. Gordon

I know about Lora Dixon's because I got engaged to a girl I met there in January 1963. Besides I worked for the GPO till mid 62. In 1963 the Beatles appeared on the balcony (above entrance) of the Odeon - new street. I frequented Billy Ponds Dance Studio in Green Lane, Small Heath opposite Millward Street where I lived then. Gordon

On the corner (right) where Coventry road joins Digbeth by the railway bridge and the old flyover was the Dolls Club. A night club at the time where booze could be purchased, entered through turn stiles like at a football ground. This opened in the 50s Gordon

"I remember the big King Kong statue in the Bullring. I believe it is up North somewhere and belongs to a car dealer." Chris J

Some more on Birmingham nightlife in the sixties...

"You might be interested in the night life in Brum in the 1950s/1960s. In the 1950s night life in Brum was very austere due mainly to the fact that Lord Cadbury was on the Birmingham watch committee and being a devout Quaker did not believe in entertainment and booze for the masses. You won't find a pub in Bournville the home of Cadbury. Anyway, when he died Birmingham started to become alive at night. "

"Up until the 1960s there was only really the Westend Ballroom, I believe, in Suffolk Street. There was the Reservoir Ballroom in Reservoir Road, Ladywood. Then, in 1961, they opened the Locarno ballroom at the bottom end of Hill street and Monday night was Rock'n'Roll night. They would play the records of the current top 20 artists. I had just left school so every Monday without fail dressed in my winkle picker shoes, Italian styled mod suit and bright red narrow tie of course (and we thought we were the Bees Knees). "

"I left Brum in 1963 then returned in 1966 and the night clubs were happening. There was a club in Great Hampton Street, Hockley (I cant remember the name). It was owned by Eddie Fewtrell he and his brother. They were the gangsters of the time. Then there was the Rum Runner just off Broad Street; you went down an alley way, it had a gambling casino on the left hand side. The nightclub had a huge patronage it cost 10 bob to get in. Yes, those were the days; you could have a good night out for a fiver or less. "

"Further up Broad Street, down at the end of Gas Street, was a nightclub called the Opposite Lock. Even though it was opposite a lock on the canal the terminology was taken from the motor racing language. The club attracted the motor racing fraternity and it was an older clientele than were attracted to the Rum Runner. "

"Then in the late 60s the Fewtrell brothers opened a couple of really large night club venues one in Lower Severn Street, just up from the Hippodrome and the other just off Broad Street. I think it was somewhere near the old Bingley Hall Centre. Both clubs had girls names [Rebeccas in Lower Severn Street and Barbarellas up off Broad Street] they were fairly large and attracted a large following from older teenagers up to late 20s and early 30s. They would attract International stars mainly artists that were currently in the charts. Of course, suits and ties were the dress of the day. Although dress codes were getting more relaxed, although ties were mandatory you could get away with a leather jacket and trousers (No Jeans of course). "

"I spent many a late night in most of them, not only was the entertainment good, but the drinks were always reasonable and they attracted lots of single females. In those days very few had their own transport, so if you had a car you were pretty right."

"I did spend a helluver lot of nights clubbing around Brum late 60s and early 70s. There were a couple of great pubs, besides the Tavern in the Town, which was a regular watering hole for me. There was a pretty large pub on Hill Street Close to Navigation Street, where you would go around 9:30pm at night for a few bevies before venturing on to the clubs at around 10:30pm -11pm, then getting home at around 4 to 5 am. What a life! "

"In the early 70s the fashions were changing. Shirts had those large penny collars flared trousers were happening. Also there was period where the smart dressed man wore a double breasted blazer with a matching tie and shirt rather wide ties. If I remember, with the girls wearing platform sole shoes, they were taller than the men. So platform shoes became the style for men. Of course, by the mid 70s men wore skin tight see through shirts open to the waist."

Andrew Eves

Read more:

Eddie Fewtrell was Birmingham's night club king in the 60s and 70s. There is a book about his life available on Amazon, right.

There is also an article on Wikipedia about the Rum Runner night club in Birmingham see Rum Runner - Wikipedia.

"I worked in the top room at Rebecca's in the 60's as a barmaid on both sides of the room...it was one of the most exciting times. Initially I started working weekends only since I had a full time office job but it soon developed into more and more evenings. loved the work and it was one of the best times of my life. Finally I sat at the door on reception along with the bouncers admitting guests. That was the most fun! We would just be so professional all dressed in our evening gear..and the guys were so handsome in their suits...that was how we dressed in those days..the ladies wore long to the floor dresses too! There were huge long lines at the weekends to get into the clubs..Rebecca's was no exception. I worked at Barbarellas for a stint but the "magic" wasn't like at Rebecca's. Rebecca's was also three floors with dedicated music on each floor..The Sin Bin at the bottom, the Blue Soul in the middle. There was never a dull moment on our club scene. On the weekend we always went on to another club after work or for a curry at the Eastern Moon or ended up at the Tow Rope on Broad Street for breakfast. I had a million friends and after I quit (exhausted)ha,. I had a standing invite to come whenever I could..Oh what I would give to relive those days!" Eileen

"As the 60's came to an end I DJ'd at Rebecca's between 1971 and 1974. I started in the Cabasa on the top floor then 'graduated' to the Blue Soul on the ground floor which was a fabulous club room. John Fewtrell was my boss and other jockeys at the club were Pat Martin, Pete King, Bob King, Pete Allen and Sam T. We were also occasionally seconded to Barbarellas or the Cedar Club. I remember Nick and Ken on the door. I have never stopped DJing since and am always respectful and grateful of being able to do my 'apprenticeship' working for the Fewtrells. The King Of Clubs book is good reading by the way."DJ Barry John

"Reading all about Rebbecas takes years off me. It’s four o clock in the morning as I took over running my favorite place after john got moved to run Barbs. All the names mentioned bring very happy times back to me. What a good night it would be if we could all meet somewhere. My last contact with Eillen was in Canada where Tony Leung and Jane is wife past members of the clan. It was a time and place like no other. It’s great to have been there at the time I hope somebody will contact me sometime."Tony Hallam

"Wow, u have ressurected a lot of memories for me! The Whiskey used to be just off the Ringway from what I can remember, with that dodgey staircase? Do u remember the West End at the old cinema just up from 5 ways island at the end of the Ringway? With the bouncy dancefloor? Every Monday nite down the Locarno....great! I used to go with my first love Pauline, what a berk I was to lose her!!!!!

Then it was the Top Rank club, Tuesdays! Do u remember the Midnite City, Digbeth, then on to the all nite cafe in the Midland Red bus station. Saw the Who at the City, that was an all weekender! I'm lucky I survived that one!!!! Then there was the Apollo in New st, West Bromwich, Walsall Town Hall, Spencer Davis band, thanks Pat! Riding around from one club to another on our scooters. But the best was the Surfside Stop at the bottom of Constitution Hill, Crazy Horse strip club above it.

Of course everyone will remember the Mulberry Bush and Tavern in the Town, in the late 60's they were the pubs! Who can remember the pub that used to be opposite Lewis's just on the circle, set back in the shopping centre?

Remember the Heartbeat at the ice rink off Husrt Str? As for suits there was only one tailor...Philip Collier, Smallbrook Ringway, Mohair and Wool, I had a chocolate brown one, that cost me 21 quid back in 66,and considering I only earned 5quid a week it was a hell of a sacrifice, but worth it. 12 in centre vent, just the business, then my mom stuck it in the washing machine about 6 months after I had it....buggered it completely! I was inconsolable for weeks!!!!!

Not forgetting the Metro down Livery str either. But the best of them all was the Locarno, fantastic Motown, walking round anti-clockwise, top button done up with a certain swagger. The tiniest knot u could get in ur tie. Sat mornings down the Diskery, with Erskine T, I'd spend all day in those telephone boxes listening to the imports from the States...Ursulena with ur washing machina by Bill Cosby, and all those...great!

I was born in Aston, B'ham then moved to Great Barr late 50''s (Up the Villa), then on to Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield. I've lived in South Africa for the last 20 years.

Does anyone remember the Friday nite down at St Andrews, where we were supposed to shout and scaream as Paul Jones from Manfred Mann, came in on the back of a limo? He got pelted with whatever we could lay our hands on...Jesus Christ Superstar I believe....anyway after about 3-4 attempts they slung us all out and aborted the mission, we ended up down the Surfside.

Me & my mate Al, worked as glass collectors and barmen at the Opposite Lock club in '72 / '73 then at Barbarellas, Rebeccas and The Tower Ballroom, those r yet more memories!

What great memories. Lets have some more! "John Dangerfield

"Does anyone remember the Heaven Bridge Chinese restaurant in the walkover across Smallbrook Ringway? I use the word restaurant very loosely...!"John

"What about: Victor Sylvester's ballroom under the Odeon in the city centre The Cavern by small heath park The Ritz in Kings Heath"sue jagger

"Remember the Cedar club and was it le metro under the railway arch in snow hill. What about the rainbow suite over the co op? The dolce vita was pretty smart in small brook ring way and had great acts"Robert Cotterill

"In the late 1950s I was a student at the College of Arts & Crafts (as it then was) in Margaret Street. One regular haunt used to be the Second City Traditional jazz club that had several locations - perhaps the best being in Digbeth. I spent many a splendid night there, after being welcomed by Madge (by the way, for many years I have tried unsuccessfully to track down a recording that was made called tribute to Madge any info would be most welcome) I would head for the left hand side of the stage where most of the arty crowd hung out and search for Stevie with her bright and ever cheerful smile for a nights dancing. All the stars appeared here - George Melly, Humph, Ken Colyer and others, but still my favourite was the house band. I have lived in Canada since the late 60s but still miss Brum. Memories, memories, memories. " Maurice

"I was born at Bel barn rd in 1952 then in 1954 we moved to 4/74 Irving st and i went to Bristol st school i wish somebody had some photos of the school and put them on the website i loved that school it was demolished in the 60s i only have my memories Wat a brill time to grow up happy days. "Peter Marriott

"Hey, Lora Dixons, I learned ballroom at her Dance Studio above Chetwyns (I think that was before the Rock and Roll era) I was about 14/15 at the time (1950'ish) and one of the quickstep favourite tunes was 'Mountain Greenery'. I can remember the tram terminus from the Bristol Road was right opposite and by the tram stop was a wall, which I could just see over, which hid the New Street railway lines (pretty much the same now I think." Colline

"Can anyone recall the location, in the 50's, of the Masque Ballroom. I have a thought that it may have been in Erdington but could be wrong!" Ken

" I remember the Tower Ballroom in the 1950's especially the New Year's Eve Dance where we all queued outside for hours, rain, hail or snow to get a ticket to go in where a live band played. It was great fun with a wonderful party spirit and everyone was happy and we rock and rolled to our hearts content. Me with my very flared skirt and stockings and suspenders showing in front of the band where I thought I was the cats whiskers!

I also spent every night of the week ballroom dancing, rocking and rolling at the West End ballroom, Saturday included, which is where I met my husband. Mind you there seemed to be a shortage of young men until the last dance, when they rolled out of the pubs - (ladies did not frequent the pubs much in those days. The idea was for them to ask us for the last dance and then ask if they could walk us to our nearest bus stop! (Very crafty I used to think!) The only problem I had, although I was aged 20 years, I used to be warned by my mother that I had got to be back home by 11.0.pm, much to my disgust, so unfortunately I had to leave the dance before the dance had finished" Margaret Blake (nee) Sanders

"really glad I've found this page, I was begining to think that my mind was going. I've spoken to lots of people about the westend at the top of the queensway, and the sprung dance floor but know one remembered it. but now it's been mentioned in other letters. days of our lives, I also used lora dixons, the whiskey a go go. my era in town was around 1962 the music was the best there's ever been. on my side of town we also used the atlas ballroom (the telstar club ) the macadown in tile cross. and mothers in erdington. we were out dancing 5 nights a week, my girlfriend then was a girl called joan xx she was the best but I messed that up. the sixties were the best days of my life. Bob." Bob Gilchrist

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