Published by Timereel Studios
Approx. 55 mins long
Exempt from age classification
As a recent birthday gift, I was given a DVD called Southend Past : The Town Our Parents Knew. The friend who so thoughtfully and kindly gave me this DVD has a good and deep understanding of my fascination with the history of my home town, especially from the 1950s and 1960s.
Excited about hopefully being taken on a time trip through the Southend-on-Sea that I hold such fond memories of, I slotted the DVD in place, clicked the play button, and sat back, watching with interest.
The DVD begins with a couple of scenes from 1909, then moves somewhat erratically back and forth between subsequent decades. There is a narrative background, spoken by a young-sounding female whose voice did grate on my nerves somewhat. I had the feeling that her almost elocuted presentation was quite stilted, using a style of speaking deliberately designed purely for this DVD, as I could underneath the borderline posh pronunciation, detect something which told me that in her day to day life, she has one of those voices which sounds like a Telly-Tubby or that she's snorted a sizeable amount of helium....in other words, her narration didn't sound flowing or natural.
As I sat and watched, bearing in mind the DVD is only 55 minutes long, I was eagerly expecting footage of old haunts and stamping grounds, such as The Kursaal Funfair, Peter Pan's Playground (now Adventure Island), the High Street, our old long gone Talza Market, parks, squares etc. These things were covered briefly, but a lot of attention - too much in my opinion - was centred around the pier and Southend Airport. Also, a lot of the narrative concentrated on explaining social issues prevailing at various times from 1909 up until the 1960s, such as poverty versus affluence, and I felt that to be largely irrelevant to Southend-on-Sea's history, as such were national issues and not specific to my old home town.
There is one large chunk of footage on this DVD of planes (during the 1940s and 1960s) taking off from and landing at Southend Airport, plus a fairly lengthy in-flight interview with a pilot. Yet again, I felt that the reporting wasn't specific to Southend as a town, because it provided information on how the holiday industry in the UK was moving away from seaside towns,, casting its net further afield across to Europe as people had more money to spend, this being common to the whole of the UK, not just Southend. I was also rather alarmed to see clips of somewhere which looked like Italy, and I felt this to be unnecessary and irrelevant.
Yet another large chunk of footage was that of the electrification of the railway which runs from Southend Victoria Station into London's Liverpool Street Station. Of course I feel such to be historically important to Southend, as it did change the way commuters carried out their journeys to and from work, but I'd have preferred it if such had been brushed over quickly, rather than - like the Southend Airport footage described in my previous paragraph - taking up so much space on the DVD with what largely is irrelevant, its nostalgia value quite likely only appealing to railway enthusiasts.
Onward.....what I personally feel to have been another huge waste of space on the DVD is the intense coverage of the Queen Mother's 1967 visit to Southend when she opened what was then the new Civic Centre. Again, I do believe it is important that such an event should have been included, but this section of the film went on for far, far too long.
I do appreciate it is probably likely that no footage exists of certain aspects of Southend in more halcyon days, but I also feel that the space on the DVD could have been used far more wisely, homing in on nostalgia rather than it being put across as if it was a public information film.
Quite a lot of time on the DVD is spent on Southend's pier, but for me that is reasonably acceptable, as it (being the longest pleasure pier in the world) has, despite it falling to pieces now, has been one of the town's primary features. It was interesting for me to learn why the pier was built so long in the first place, as I had no idea it was due to ships being unable to cruise to the shoreline because of the mud banks.....hence, any maritime business which had to be carried out was done at the end of the pier. It also was good for me to watch this pier footage, as it took me back to a time when I remember the old green and cream coloured pier trains shunting along the rails, conveying people from one end to the other, and it reminded me of how the end of the pier, one-and-a-quarter miles out into the Thames Estuary, was a hive of entertainment. Back in the old days, there were several restaurants and cafes on the end of the pier, plus a maritime museum, a couple of amusement arcades, a dance-hall and lots of little stalls selling saucy postcards, candy floss, hot dogs, cockles and souvenirs.
I was reminded of a few things I'd forgotten through watching this DVD, such as the open-topped white buses which used to cruise along the sea front, and I can remember as a child it was a huge treat to be taken for a ride on one. Also, I'd forgotten all about those days when Southend was a very popular day-tripper seaside resort, the sandy parts of the beach would get so crowded, that people would lie and sunbathe on the slanting concrete slats which led from the pavement of the Esplanade down to the water's edge. For me, it is those little things which hold the greatest importance for me in the area of nostalgia, not socio-political issues, royal visits, marching bands or viewing the inside of the cockpit of an aeroplane as it takes off from Southend Airport.
For me and many other Southenders of my age and older, the heart, soul , power-house and no.1 focal point of the town was the now long-vanished Kursaal Funfair, and on this DVD there are only a couple of very, very short Kursaal scenes. I do know that more comprehensive footage of the Kursaal exists, so I haven't a clue why it wasn't used - or at least some of it - on this DVD. I guess it could be down to copyright, but I at the same time feel some sort of agreement could have been reached between the producers of this DVD and the owner(s) of existing footage.
I'd also like to have seen more focus on Southend High Street how it once was. People used to come from all over Essex to shop in what was our lively, smart High Street which was full of interesting and myriad shops (all now long gone) ....again, these are the things that memories are made of, the day to day stuff which filled our lives and created our memories.
There is one piece of the DVD which is filmed in Southend's Southchurch Park, but sadly it solely concentrates on a cricket match between Australia and Essex....also, this section is too long. Many people have fond childhood memories of Southchurch Park, yet no scenes were shown of the boating lake, the long-gone little zoo, the pleasant little café which nestled in the middle of a copse of monkey puzzle trees, nor the rickety wooden bridge built of criss-cross thick slats which stretched over the boating lake and rocked back and forth whenever it was crossed over. For me and many of my peers, those are the fond memories we have of Southchurch Park. I was also rather alarmed to see no mention at all of, let alone footage of, Southchurch Hall Park which is about five minutes' walk along the road from aforesaid Southchurch Park. Southchurch Hall Park, which has now become the domain of crack dealers, drunks and junkies, was a beautiful, picturesque little haven of peace in the middle of a busy town. An old 14th century (I think it's 14th anyway) manor house still stands in the middle of the park which is now a museum, but during my childhood, it was a library. Anybody and everybody who lived in the vicinity of Southchurch Hall Park back in the 1950s and 1960s, has powerful and very fond memories of the place, and I'm startled as to why it wasn't even mentioned on this DVD.
However, despite all that I've said above and many other omissions which if I harped on about them would make this review of eternal length, there are some good pieces of nostalgia, albeit short, on this DVD. For instance, there are some lovely shots of the old Westcliff Swimming Pool, a few of the Golden Mile part of the sea front as it used to be, and some of our annual carnival from back in the days when it was a really special event at which people would go to enormous trouble decorating their floats and lorries elaborately.
Back in 1964, Southend celebrated its golden anniversary, and although I didn't attend it, there was a massive fireworks display along the sea front. Part of this is included in the DVD, and that was another good thing to see. Also, a decent amount of attention is paid to how intricate and stunning Southend's illuminations once were.
I was also fascinated to watch children being taken on a tram ride through the town. Trams vanished from Southend just a couple of years or so before I was born, so their nostalgic value for me on this DVD is nil, but what I liked about it is seeing real, ordinary people doing real, ordinary things. To me, those are the best parts of this DVD, not royal visits, aeroplanes taking off and landing, cricket matches and the electrification of the railways. OK, these things were of major importance to the town at the time and I feel should be mentioned, but the amount of time spent on the ins and outs of them is bordering upon ridiculous.
It does sound as though I'm looking a gift-horse in the mouth, but far from it. I'm very happy that my friend took the time and trouble to choose a present for me which promises a wealth of nostalgia from the early years of my life, and she is totally unaware of much of the actual content. I shall treasure the DVD for the better parts of it, and enjoy watching those better parts over and over again.
Inside the DVD case is a small leaflet which advertises other material available from Timereel. Similar DVDs have been made of many British towns and cities, and if you are interested in the history of your area, you may be able to find something which appeals.
At the time of writing, Southend Past can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-
New: from £8.43 to £29.97
Used: from £7.82 to £24.09
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
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