Rewind...March 10-15 1972

David Odey and his young cousin Paul Browne. In 1792 David led Paul from a burning house in Gloucester street

David Odey and his young cousin Paul Browne. In 1792 David led Paul from a burning house in Gloucester street

First published in Rewind: A look back on life in Swindon
Last updated

THIS week in 1972 was one a teenager called David Odey would never forget.

We wrote: “A five-year-old boy was led to safety by his older cousin when fire broke out at their Swindon home.

“Fifteen-year-old David Odey and his cousin, Paul Browne, were alone in the house when David spotted the fire in the kitchen of their Gloucester Street home.

“He woke his sleeping cousin and led him to safety, just as Mrs Browne returned home at 11pm.

“She raised the alarm and Swindon firemen were quickly on the scene. But they could not save the staircase of the house from being completely destroyed.

“The kitchen was gutted.”

Another story from that week shows just how much everyday life has changed in the decades since.

In 2014 it’s a rare child indeed who can’t operate a computer, a games console or a smart phone. In fact, since as long ago as the early 1980s it’s not been uncommon for the children of a household to be better than their parents at operating its gadgets.

Compare this to an article we ran exactly 42 years ago today, about something called Dial-a-Book at the old Seven Fields Junior School: “It is an imaginative method of teaching young people to use the telephone.

“A couple of phones outside classrooms are linked with a small exchange in the library. A pupil wants a book on, say, steamships. Like house captain Kevin Wilkinson, aged 11.

“He picks up the phone and puts through a call to chief librarian and head girl Christine Burroughs, 10.

“Christine consults her very efficient filing system and tells the caller exactly what books on that subject she can offer.

“Staff, too, use the system, says headmaster Mr RA Perkins.

“But the big point about it is that it helps youngsters to use an instrument they’ll have to live with for most of their lives – the all-intrusive, infuriating, yet vital telephone.

“The telephone equipment, kindly installed by the GPO, was bought by the school’s very active parents’ association.

“They have also raised funds for another piece of equipment. This is a television video recording machine. It costs £200, but it’s money well spent.”

We pictured teacher John Morgan with the device, a bulky reel-to-reel machine used to preserve school broadcasts and at least one Apollo moon walk.

Also heavy on miraculous modern technology were the shiny new services at Leigh Delamere, still the first rest stop on the M4 if one heads west from Swindon.

“Each customer,” we revealed, “can choose a meal from an extensive list of hot meals and snacks, place his order with a counter operative and have his choice, freshly cooked, placed in front of him within a minimum of 15 seconds and a maximum of 50.

“The restaurant’s fantastic space-age cooking programme is possible because of the latest in electronic preparation equipment, micro-wave ovens and conveyor belts.

“The customer makes his choice from a visual display board, the counter operative takes the ready-prepared meal from a freezer cabinet, selects the correct cooking time for that particular meal and places the food on the belt.

“The belt carries it into a micro-wave oven and then out to the customer. The ovens will poach an egg in ten seconds and cook a steak in about 45.”

We’d love to hear from any surviving staff and customers from those early days.

As one era in travel began, another ended. We ran a sequence of three photos showing the demolition of the old Swindon station booking office. We captured the moment when one of the ornate chimneys familiar to generations of Swindonians fell.

Interestingly in our modern safety-conscious era, there wasn’t a demolition ball in sight, with much of the work done on an up close and personal basis by men wielding large hammers.

The replacement building, we revealed, was to be around the corner in Station Road.

That week also saw the announcement of a new chairman for Swindon Hospital Management Committee, one Sir Maurice Dorman.

These days when such an announcement is made we expect to hear that the person worked their way up the NHS in assorted management roles before winning the top spot.

In 1972, things were a bit different. The 59-year-old Sir Maurice, our readers learned, had previously been assistant to the Lieutentant Governor of Malta, Principal Assistant Secretary in Palestine, Director of Social Welfare in Ghana, Acting Governor of Trinidad, Governor General of Sierra Leone, Governor of Malta and Governor General of Malta.

The letters after his name included GCMG, KCMG, GMC and GCVO.

He lived until 1993.

In other news...

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 1972
“THE resignation of a Labour councillor has thrown into doubt the outcome of the vote for Swindon’s new mayor. Coun Thomas Mirams, Labour member for South Ward, is expected to announce his resignation tomorrow night – the night of the vote. This will reduce the Labour majority in the council to one. The resignation will give Labour 23 votes in the council. The Independents and Conseratives can muster 22 votes. Independents claim there is a split in the Labour group over whether to vote for the Labour man, Coun Peter Furkins, or the Independent candidate, Alderman Mrs Margaret Leckie.”

TUESDAY, MARCH 14, 1972
“A SWINDON hairdresser has won a major championship for the second year running. She is Rosalind New, 19, of Devon Road, who won the National Junior Hair Styling Competition at Reading last night. She works at the Regent Street salon of Maurice Hawkes. It is the sixth year running that a girl from the salon has won the National Junior Trophy. Apprentice Sue McDonald, of Weirside Avenue, Wroughton, won the apprentice cup – also the sixth time a girl from the salon has won this cup.”

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15, 1972
“SWINDON Council’s monthly news sheet, Civic News, was accused of political bias at last night’s council meeting. Coun Stuart Macpherson, leader of the Tory group, said a recent report on council house rents showed political bias. In a question he sought an assurance that in future editions of Civic News, ‘reports of council policies, whether by omission or otherwise, cannot be criticised as showing political bias.’ Coun Alf Bown, chairman of the policy and finance committee, rejected the accusation. ‘I was so shocked by the suggestion that I consulted my colleagues and can state definitely that, in our view, the article is absolutely fair and non-political,’ he said.”

THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 1972
“IT’S not unusual, say the Lyneham weather men, but as far as Swindon is concerned, summer is here. Anybody sunning themselves in Athens yesterday would have been better off in Swindon. Athens could only manage a mean 55F and in marvellous Madrid they had to put up with a cloudy 46F. The temperature in Swindon at 2pm was 62F (17C). Swindonians took to the streets without their overcoats – mini-skirts and legs have been sighted in Regent Street.”

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 1972
“A FLU epidemic among nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon, has meant a cut in the number of patients admitted. The staff shortage – also hit by leave and secondment – resulted in 112 nurses being off in one week, and admissions have been restricted to urgent cases. General surgical and orthopaedic departments had been hardest hit.

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