IN 1969, clowns were generally associated with fun, laughter and joyful childhood visits to the circus. They didn’t tend to haunt nightmares, and it would be 17 years before Stephen King’s IT gave them a somewhat unjust reputation as shape-shifting cannibalistic monsters.

Therefore, when perhaps the most famous old-time clown of all visited a school this week 49 years ago the screams were of excitement and delight rather than unmitigated terror.

We said: “More than 150 children at Lethbridge Road Infant School, Swindon, had the surprise of their lives yesterday afternoon when Coco the Clown visited them.

“The children, aged between five and seven, thought they were just going to have an extra Tufty Club meeting to talk about things like kerb drill.

“But in walked the Mayor of Swindon, Coun RA Jones and his wife, followed by Coco wearing his flapping ginger wig and his golden suit.”

As older readers will recall, Tufty Clubs took their name from the red squirrel hero of a series of stop-motion public information films which promoted road safety for children.

Coco the Clown was Russian Empire-born Nicolai Poliakoff, who had joined a circus as a small boy and led what must rank as one of the most interesting lives of the 20th century, which included direct experience of the Russian Revolution.

A car accident prompted the circus star, who died in 1974, to devote much of his life to promoting road safety.

We added: “The children made it plain they were delighted to see this familiar figure in his size 28 boots stomping through their hall.”

Another cheery story was of an entirely different kind.

The late 1960s were a time of widespread tension over immigration and multiculturalism, but Swindon managed a more positive take on the issue.

We spoke to Staya Bedi and his wife, Raj, who were originally from India but had settled in Swindon and opened a grocery shop in Beatrice Street.

They were among a small but thriving Indian community of 200 people.

Mr Bedi explained that the family used to live in Slough, but their car broke down during a day trip to Longleat.

“It was really by luck that I came to a town like this,” said Mr Bedi.

“A man came up and offered to help. He could not do enough for us, and I thought, ‘What a friendly town.’”

The couple’s son was studying aeronautics at Imperial College London, while their daughter was training as a teacher.

Much of our news coverage that week was devoted to the following month’s Swindon by-election, which had been prompted by the resignation of Labour MP Francis Noel-Baker.

Campaigning candidates relish high-profile speaking opportunities, and Liberal candidate Chris Layton was granted one at his party’s conference in Brighton. The applause for his speech in favour of British unity with Europe was led by no less a figure than leader Jeremy Thorpe.

Although Thorpe would fall into disgrace a decade later after being tried and cleared of plotting the murder of a model who claimed to have been his lover, in 1969 he was regarded as one of our most charismatic politicians and a possible Prime Minister.

We reported: “Mr Layton said Europe should understand that Britain came ‘not carrying the usual cartload of British hesitations and difficulties with us’ but with a conviction and a determination to build on the community something more exciting.

“Integration of Europe, he said, would have a creative impact on the world, both setting an example and forcing great changes on the world outside.”

He would win 6,193 votes, some 10,000 behind each of his Labour and Conservative rivals.

Tory winner Christopher Ward would be an MP for only seven months before being supplanted by runner-up David Stoddart in the following year’s General Election.

The week saw an occasion which was a tradition of most councils at a time when countless services since handed over to the Government or the private sector were still firmly under the control of town halls.

Every year, the councillors of Swindon’s Water Committee made a tour of inspection which took in five of the 20 or so installations which were their responsibility.

The committee oversaw eight pumping stations, six booster pumping stations and 13 reservoirs which collectively produced 10 million gallons of drinking water per day.

We photographed councillors Robin Beard, Fred Freeth and John Tanner with deputy water engineer John Cluley, who was demonstrating a strobe light whose flickering beam allowed rapidly-revolving components to be inspected as if they were stationary.

They also examined an assortment of motors, filters, purifiers and submersible pumping equipment.