Bob Lewis, 80, was for many years the organiser of musical reunions for former patrons of Swindon’s Majestic dance hall. They raised more than £70,000 for Prospect Hospice. Now the Pride of Swindon award-winner, who is being treated for cancer, is looking for homes for much of his memorabilia. Bob, a widower, lives in Stratton St Margaret and has three children and seven grandchildren.

MANY of Bob Lewis’ fondest memories are of Swindon’s dance hall scene in the 1950s and early 1960s.

“In Swindon you had jazz and dance bands and a lot of venues. We had the Locarno, of course, and The Majestic, which was the one that my age group felt strongest about.

“Most people of my age group would talk about the Majestic days – ‘I wish I was back in the Majestic days’.

“The Majestic was the swimming baths in Milton Road, boarded over. It was the place where everybody went on a Saturday night.

“We had the Town Hall, we had dances at Vickers’ canteen, we had dances at the TA hall, and the Evening Advertiser used to sponsor Sunday afternoon big bands at The Savoy – not for dancing, just for listening.”

“In my early says we had all sorts of bands and musicians at the Empire Theatre.”

The Mechanics’ Institute also held a venue for dance bands, known as The Regal.

“My photographs include these various locations. I made sure I had photographs of them.

“We had a jazz club in Swindon that was started up in 1960 called Club 60, and each week we used to get a pro jazz musician there. That was all held up at the Deer’s Leap.”

Bob was born in Swindon. The family home was in North Street. King William Street School and Headlands Grammar were followed by a career as a metallurgist, first in a Railway Works chemical laboratory and then, for 41 years, with Pressed Steel and its later incarnations as Pressed Steel Fisher, Rover and BMW.

“In my teenage days I developed a passion for two separate things — big bands, which were dance bands, and also small jazz groups.”

Bob is still a fan of stars such as Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane and Count Basie.

“In those days it was long-playing records. We used to buy a lot of our records from Dorothy Sprittle’s shop in Faringdon Road, opposite the park. She was a music teacher as well.”

There was plenty of local live talent, notably Johnny Morgan, the Ken Kitchen Band, Gordon Talbot and, especially, the Johnnie Stiles Band.

“Any musician in Swindon would be happy to say they played with Johnnie Stiles.”

Several local musicians of the era went on to respected careers. Drummer Andy Jarvis, for example, went on to work with Syd Lawrence, while another drummer, Colin Bailey, played with star pianist Winifred Atwell and now lives in America.

It is many years since Bob began chronicling those dance hall days and gathering images, first of artists and then of the young people who packed the venues.

Later, when he began organising reunions, laminated copies of the photos were displayed to add to the atmosphere. Often the people who came along were delighted to spot their younger selves.

Bob believes it is important to preserve what might otherwise have become lost local history.

“When I was younger The Locarno was a dance hall. Peter Reddaway ran it.

“There were bands who travelled the country, so they’d be there for one night and go off somewhere else. He let me have the photographs of them that were put in the doorway and on the way in. I collected those.”

Bob retired at 62. “I’d already done a couple of reunions for Old Town people. I did one for King William Street School, and I did another for what I called Old Old Town. Both were very successful.

“One or two people said to me about a Majestic reunion, and I thought it was a good idea.”

Aided by a small and tight-knit team he’d chosen, Bob organised his first Majestic reunion in 2000.

His wife, who died of cancer shortly after he retired, had been helped by Prospect Hospice, so its choice as a beneficiary for the funds raised was an obvious one. Years later, his partner would also be helped by Prospect prior to her own death.

He didn’t know how many people to expect at the first Majestic reunion, but more than 500 tickets were sold.

“The feeling was brilliant. My intention was for it to be a one-off but everybody was asking me when the next one was going to be.”

Over the next dozen years there were many more reunions, raising about £76,000 for the hospice and earning Bob a Pride of Swindon accolade.

Five years ago, Bob was diagnosed with cancer. Aggressive treatment cured him, only for the illness to return. Efforts are being made to prolong his life, and Bob vows to be around for a long time to come.

He is looking for homes for his collection of laminated photographs, preferably with people who have a connection to them.

“My hope is that people will think maybe they or their mum or dad is in some of the pictures. I’m interested in giving them to people who can relate to them. The people who used to come to the dances knew which photographs they were on.”

Bob can be contacted on 01793 822953.