ONE of Britain’s most famous TV stars made an appearance in Swindon this week 45 years ago.
Thanks to smash-hit sitcom On the Buses, which still pops up on satellite and cable channels, Reg Varney was instantly recognisable to more than 20 million people.
He kept a low profile during his visit to Swindon, though, as he wanted the spotlight to be kept firmly on somebody else.
Reg’s daughter, Jeanne, was appearing at the Wyvern Theatre in a production of romantic musical fantasy Salad Days, and Reg came to offer support and advice.
We ran a photograph of Jeanne and Reg on the same page as an image of theatre director Roger Redfarn, who was at the helm of a Wyvern Theatre production due the following month.
Called A Head Full of Steam, it was set in Swindon and celebrated the town’s enduring association with Brunel’s railway.
It was written by Swindon teacher and author Ken Ausden and the cast included Anthony Booth, best known for playing Alf Garnett’s Scouse son-in-law in popular sitcom ‘Til Death us do Part.
Roger, a respected director whose credits would include several West End musicals in subsequent years, researched steam locomotives and visited the Railway Village during his preparations.
“I think it’s very beautiful,” he said, “full of character and style. The roads are wide and there’s a feeling of openness and spaciousness.”
Somebody else with kinds words for the town was former Miss Great Britain Yvonne Ormes, who visited for the first time since opening the Swindon 70 Expo exhibition during the year of her triumph. That year had also seen her take seventh place in the Miss World pageant.
By the spring of 1972 Yvonne had another title, Miss Night Club of Great Britain, and she made a public appearance at the newly-built Post House Hotel in Coate. She admired the building and said she was happy to be back in the town.
Her main mission, though, was to spend a day working at Bon Marche – now Debenhams – in a promotional event for food company Swiss.
As was traditional when interviewing beauty queens of the era, our reporter asked whether Yvonne had any plans to marry, but she said that was a secret.
In 2013, Cheshire native Yvonne gave an interview to a local newspaper there. The 64-year-old revealed she had two daughters and two grandsons, and recalled a whirl of glamour during her year as Miss Great Britain, including touring military bases with Bob Hope.
Not everybody featured in the Adver that week in 1972 had positive things to say about Swindon.
One Victor Thorne, in an article for national magazine Property Investment Review, suggested the town needed a soul.
“Swindon,” he wrote, “lacks an essential something, some intangible agent that orchestrates the town’s plus factors and overrides its deficiencies to create what could be a success story of the seventies.”
Warming to his theme, Mr Thorne cheerily set about demolishing any hopes we had regarding he opportunities presented by the newly-laid M4.
“But if this broad east-west route […] leaves Swindon in an enviable central position, it could also be the cause of the town’s undoing by setting it up as piggy in the middle.”
Predictably, his thoughts didn’t endear him locally.
Swindon MP David Stoddart said: “Soul is not a material thing. Soul is the people who live in a town.
“I have not found the people of Swindon a soulless lot. The Property and Investment Review’s Idea of soul is different from the ordinary person’s idea of soul.”
Returning to happier matters, we reported that a 15-year-old daughter of one of the directing staff at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham was celebrating some good news.
Her name was Fiona Fullerton and her news was that she’d been accepted for the title role in a new film version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The supporting cast included Peter Sellers, Michael Hordern, Spike Milligan and – as the Mad Hatter – Australian actor Robert Helpmann, whose turn as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang terrorised generations of children.
The film won plenty of praise from reviewers at the time and is still something of a cult classic.
Its young star went on to enjoy a long acting career and was a competitor in the 2013 series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Racing fans counted the hours until Saturday’s Grand National, and those who preferred to bet on local jockeys had plenty to choose from.
The race was won by Well to Do, ridden by Graham Thorner, although Barry Brogan from Sherston managed sixth with 1971 winner Specify.