THE weekend marked the 37th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.
The King of Rock and Roll was 42 when he died in the bathroom of his Memphis home, Graceland, probably of heart failure caused by years of over-eating and prescription drug abuse.
The news broke in Britain late on Tuesday, August 16, 1977, when the final edition of what was then the Evening Advertiser had long since been printed.
By the time of the first edition on Wednesday, just about everybody in the world was aware that Elvis was dead, and evening newspaper editors felt they had to develop the story.
The Adver, picking up the latest dispatches from Tennessee, opted for a front page story beneath a huge headline: “ELVIS THE ADDICT.”
We wrote: “Elvis Presley was heavily addicted to drugs and haunted by fears that drove him into seclusion, a former aide and bodyguard said a few hours before Presley died.
“‘Sometimes I couldn’t believe it,’ Delbert ‘Sonny’ West added. ‘Elvis would be sitting there, his head hanging down, his mouth open – and he couldn’t even manage to get his eyes open.’”
If running such a tale – however true – was likely to stir controversy with the man barely cold, our opinion piece was a masterclass in misjudging the mood of vast swathes of readers.
After conceding that his death was sad, we added: “That Elvis Presley gave a lot of people pleasure is undeniable. That he set rock music on a long-lived course is also true.
“But that he did any real good to balance the hysteria, the exploitation of sex and the lowering of entertainment standards by the sheer exploitation of youth is very doubtful indeed. Not the happiest of epitaphs for an overweight pocket money millionaire.”
The outraged readers who wrote in to complain included one who accused us of shameless scandal-mongering, to which the editor replied that other newspapers had printed similar stories.
Other news that week – locally, at least – was refreshingly positive.
A good example was a story headlined ‘Miracle Family,’ which appeared on the front page of the Friday edition.
Aside from using what is now an archaic term that sticks out like a sore thumb, it made for inspiring reading: “Proud parents Malva and Peter Bambrick will never hear their only child talk, laugh or cry.
“And, although five-year-old Bobby speaks normally to them, they can never fully reply.
“For the Bambricks, of Bridport Road, Park North, are both totally deaf and dumb.
“And their success in bringing up Bobby, who can both hear and speak perfectly normally, is a mini-miracle.
“The Bambricks, who have both been deaf and dumb from birth, were warned that any child of theirs might also be deaf and dumb. But they took the risk.
“Now Bobby, who goes to Park South School, answers the door, acts as interpreter and speaks to his parents through the deaf and dumb sign language.”
Bobby, we said, used to have a microphone and a light rigged near his pram as a baby, so his mum and dad would know when he was crying.
We’d love to hear from the family or from anybody who knows them.
Over in Penhill, meanwhile, a clergyman had brought an exotic culinary device home from a trip abroad.
“The Walker family have been eating doughnuts ever since they returned home from holiday in France.
“The Rev Douglas Walker, vicar of St Peter’s Church, Penhill, bought himself a do-it-yourself doughnut maker from a French market, and according to his wife, Rita, that’s what’s on the menu every time someone calls.
“But the freshly-made goodies went like hot cakes when the vicar set up his stall at the church’s summer fete.”
The vicar and some of his satisfied customers were pictured next to what was at the time a device seldom seen in this country.
Also pictured in the Adver that week was Kevin Fry, Swindon’s British Rail Apprentice of the Year.
He received his plaque, depicting a locomotive, from mayor Bill Turpin, who spoke of Swindon’s enviable global reputation for engineering.
We wonder what happened to Kevin and whether he still has his award.
At the other end of the age spectrum, we ran a story about an engineer called Fred Pearce, who’d built dozens of working model engines over the years, machining the components himself at his Rosebery Street home.
His latest was a petrol unit intended for his model boat, and we hope every one of his magnificent machines survives to this day.
IN OTHER NEWS...
MONDAY, AUGUST 15, 1977: “ATTENDANCE at Wootton Bassett Show slumped to less than 4,000 on Saturday, when it was held at Lydiard Park for the first time. Only about a hundred people used the free bus shuttle service linking the showground with Wootton Bassett... a fifth of last year’s passengers to the Hay Lane showground. ‘In recent years attendance has been as high as 7,000. We’re very disappointed, especially as the show has cost nearly £2,000 to stage,’ commented Mr John Hicks, for the Young Farmers show committee. Wootton Bassett Rugby Club, whose members manned the beer tent, reported poor business.”
TUESDAY, AUGUST 16, 1977: “A MISCHIEVOUS kitten may have started a mystery blaze which partially wrecked a new Toothill council house. This was one theory put forward by experts probing yesterday’s blaze in Markensfield. Tiddles, who may have knocked over an electric iron, died in the flames. ‘This is the sort of thing going through our minds as a possible explanation,’ said divisional officer John Gentleman of Swindon fire brigade. ‘But we are still puzzled about the cause at the moment.’ The blaze, searing in its intensity, broke out during the afternoon when the tenants were out. The lightning blaze gutted the lounge and dining room and the rest of the house suffered heat and smoke damage.”
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 1977: “CHILDREN on skateboards and motorcyclists are terrorising residents. They have turned a sloping footpath between Avonmead and Churchfields in Haydon Wick into a ‘practice run.’ Fences have been broken and youngsters and adults have narrowly escaped injury. Now residents are asking for barriers to be pout up to stop the menace. As an added danger empty property at the back of the Avonmead houses has been turned into an adventure playground with children playing on dead trees.”
THURSDAY, AUGUST 18, 1977: “RAF Lyneham’s Hercules aircraft proved the star attraction for under-privileged children visiting the base yesterday. The children sat in the cockpit, tried on head-sets and gasped in awe at the complicated controls. Their visit strengthened an 18-year-old association between the 70 Squadron stationed at RAF Lyneham and a home for deprived children in London.”
FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 1977: “THAMESDOWN Riding Club is holding its second annual gymkhana on September 10 at Brook Farm Stables, Haydon Wick. The club is hoping to repeat the success of last year’s event at the Polo Ground, Marlborough Road, which attracted 250 entrants and a large crowd of spectators. The forthcoming show will have 22 gymkhana classes, six jumping classes, two best turned out classes, (one more than last year) and two clear round jumping classes.”