The Drill Hall, 177 Holdenhurst Road, Bournemouth
The drill hall at 177 Holdenhurst Road was built in 1897 as the headquarters for the 4th Volunteer Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment. In 1908 the 4th Battalion evolved into the 7th, which in turn amalgamated with the 5th which explains the sign, 5th / 7th Battalion etched into the cement lintel above the left upper bay window. During the Second World War it was utilised by the Local Defence Volunteers or Home Guard as they were renamed by Churchill (Dads Army to you and me). Shortly after hostilities ceased, the building was decommissioned, and stood empty until the late fifties when it was utilised by Reg Calvert for his ‘Fabulous Rocking Jiving Big Beat Shows’.
Reg was an old-fashioned promoter and showman with the gift of the gab who ran Band Box, a stable of groups and singers out of his offices in Portland Terrace, Southampton with his wife Dorothy. He would work his artists virtually every night of the week taking his rock ‘n’ roll shows to towns around the south such as Fareham, Totton, Weymouth, Eastleigh, Winchester, Andover, and Aldershot. Every other Monday he would hire the Christchurch British Legion in Bargates and on occasions, the Branksome Conservative Club, although that particular venue proved unpopular to Reg and his charges because of the endless flights of stairs. The Holdenhurst Road drill hall on the other hand was a piece of cake, as it was on ground level which made for easy unloading of Reg’s cumbersome homemade sound system comprising of enormous speakers and a powerful Leek amplifier, which would boom around the cavernous hall. Forever the hustler, he worked on the assumption that the more people he could attract to his gigs, the more people there would be to spread the word that his shows were not to be missed and to that end, he wasn’t averse to handing out free tickets to ensure a capacity crowd.
His ‘Fabulous Rocking Jiving Big Beat Shows’ would, sometimes but not always, rely on a headliner such as Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Eden Kane, Vince Eager, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Vince Taylor and the Playboys, Wee Willie Harris or Screaming Lord Sutch to pull in the punters, then he would pack out the rest of the bill with his own roster of groups and singers. Reg ran his business along similar lines to the London impresario Larry Parnes, but Reg’s artists were strictly second division with even more bizarre stage names. There was Edward Bennett, a market barrow boy, Elvis lookalike and average singer at best, who drove the girls crazy while wearing a gold satin jacket as Eddie Sex, a short, baby faced black kid called Clarence Fender who went under the curious epithet of Baby Bubbly, Roger Scarrott was known as Rod Ace while fronting The Rapiers and Owen Jones plumped for Ricky Fever. Then there was Geoffrey Gloverwright, a tall, bespectacled Buddy Holly copyist who traded as Buddy Britten with his band the Regents, Dave Hurran took on the nom de plume Danny Storm and with his band The Strollers turned into Cliff Richard and The Shadows clones and Colin Wilsher dropped his surname and became Colin Angel while fronting The Choirboys. The Choirboys were actually The Strollers after a change of suits. Then there were the sibling acts including the Brook Brothers from Winchester, the Nevitt Brothers from Southampton and Bournemouth’s own Dowland Brothers. The Dowlands were originally backed by The Royal Blue Rockers with a future member of The Peddlers, Roy Phillips, on guitar plus Johnny Hammond on drums and Barry Southgate on bass. As the Dowlands gained popularity, the pairing became permanent and they changed their name to The Dowlands and the Drovers. Other Bournemouth groups on Reg’s books included The Stormers, an early Zoot Money group, Johnny and the Giants, The Falcons and Dave Anthony and the Ravers.
A larger-than-life character, Reg wasn’t a violent man, but he wouldn’t shy away from a confrontation. The slightest sign of a disturbance and he would be the first to jump into a crowd of brawling youths and drag a troublesome thug out into the street. Sometimes, it might be a bad-tempered punch-up between a couple of inebriated yobs arguing over a spilt pint, or a jealous boyfriend trying to lump one of his artists for looking at his girlfriend the wrong way, whatever the provocation, Reg always looked out for his boys. Not that he had to get involved that often, as he hired a team of beefy bouncers to keep the peace when the aggro got out of hand between warring factions of Teddy Boys. In the spring of 1961 the Evening Echo ran a story on a girl who was frisked at the door and was found to be carrying a knife in her handbag, she pleaded her innocence by stating the blade was used at work, but the judge was having none of it and she received a fine. There were also repeated reports of troublesome youths being brought before the courts for fighting, drunkenness’ and disorderly conduct. Although nowhere near as bad as the inner cities, delinquency and booze fueled rowdyism was defintentaley on the rise in sedate Bournemouth.
As the shows became more popular, the weekends became fully booked with dates taking place all over the country. Reg, Dorothy and his right-hand man Dave Jay, would carve up the areas with Reg taking on the midlands or London, Dorothy managed Bournemouth (mostly Friday or Saturday nights), Lymington and Portsmouth while Dave would oversee the West Country. As his eldest daughter Susan came of age, she would also chip in with managing the odd gig.
In the summer of 1961 Reg and Dorothy moved their operations north to Clifton Hall in Rugby, where he repeated the successful formula with The Fortunes, The Rockin’ Berries and Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours. Three years later Reg branched out into the world of pirate radio when he founded Radio Sutch with the Screaming Lord of the same name. Instead of investing in an expensive boat like some of the other stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London, Reg commandeered an abandoned World War 2 military installation, Shivering Sands, located in the Thames estuary from which they would broadcast the latest singles and advertise his up-and-coming shows. When Sutch tired of being a DJ stuck out in the North Sea, he returned to live performance leaving Reg to rebrand the station Radio City. All was going well until 20th June 1966 when the joint owner of Radio Caroline South, Major Oliver Smedley and a group of henchmen, stormed the fort and took it off-air while demanding payment for a transmitter he had supplied during an aborted discussion on a merger. Wanting to cool the situation, Reg called round to the Major’s home the next day to try to resolve the issue, but before he had a chance to state his case, Smedley blasted the hapless promoter with a shotgun. The ensuing trial was a farce, evidence and witnesses in Calvert’s favour were suppressed and Smedley, by pleading self-defence, was acquitted by a sympathetic jury and awarded 250 guineas in costs. The then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, saw the murder as good enough justification to pull the plug on the pirates and his Post Master General, Eric Short, drew up the Marine Offences Bill, effectively stopping the pirates from broadcasting at midnight on 14th July 1967. For now, free to air broadcasting of pop music was silenced and the baton was handed back to the crusty old BBC.
In a time when the charts were full of bland Bobby’s, balladeers and drivel, Reg should be remembered for keeping the rock ‘n’ roll fires burning during the fallow years between 1959 and 1962. He was a pioneer, a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer and ploughed a lonely furrow promoting rock music when all his contemporaries in the music business believed it was dead in the water. He was a true one off.
As for the Drill Hall, during the mid-sixties it hosted the odd gig by the likes of The Alex Harvey Soul Band, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes and Dave Berry and the Cruisers, but they were few and far between. Towards the end of the decade the building was taken over by the Bournemouth Technical College Students’ Union and they installed a bar and hosted periodic gigs and Rag Balls by bands such as Barclay James Harvest and Paul Bret’s Sage. The Drill Hall finished its life as an auction house owned by Riddetts until it was sold to developers in 2005. The builders moved in and gutted the interior, turning it into a block of apartments. The facade was saved and can still be seen in Holdenhurst Road.
Most of the photographs on this page are courtesy of Reg Calvert’s daughter, Susan K. Moore. For more on the life of Reg Calvert, read Susan’s trilogy Death of a Pirate: 1. Popcorn to Rock ‘n’ Roll 2. Clifton Hall: School of Rock 3. Shivering Sands: 1960s Pirate Radio available in paperback from Amazon.
If you have any memories you would like to share of the Drill Hall, please use the contact box at the bottom of this page.