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Changing Times | Eighties were decade to remember for town

As YOU read my articles each week, everyone will have different opinions on the content of them. For some, it will be, ‘all that is before my time’, either because of your age or because you have moved into the area later.


This week, my article is for you, as we look at the 1980s, not long ago some may say, but remember it is over 30 years ago and so much has changed both locally and nationally in that time.


As the 1980s began, the Esplanade Theatre was hosting its final show before it was finally demolished, much to the consternation of locals who could not believe that they would no longer have the continued enjoyment of their cosy little theatre.


However, in March, 1980, the Duke of Norfolk opened the Bognor Regis Centre. Throughout the 1980s, the centre proved to be a constant talking point – its usage, who was funding the centre and what types of events were to be staged there.


Also during the 1980s, town twinning ceremonies were being carried out as Bognor Regis embarked on its link with St Maur des Fosses. During 1980, one of our eminent councillors of the time announced she would be holding a demonstration in The Steyne as plans were being announced that this area was to be a ‘pay and display’ area in the town. This, she claimed, should not occur, as


The Steyne was a conservation area. It is interesting to see how the press over the years have summarised annual events and made them newsworthy.


Another one of those ‘interesting facts’ – or so I thought – was that it was announced that local telephone numbers were changing and that either ‘8’ or ‘86’ was to be added in front of the four or five digit telephone numbers. This, apparently, according to the press report, ‘was to be part of a plan that would ultimately allow us all to dial friends and businesses nationally, without the need for a dialling code’. I wonder what happened?


Another name was to start to appear in the press at this time, that of Zootopia, which publicised the arrival of a two-year-old tigress, but throughout the decade they took charge of a wide range of animals and birds to delight local children and visitors alike.


It is sometimes difficult to equate national events with local activities. However, the 1980s was certainly to change that with the Falklands War. A number of local families were unfortunate in that their loved ones didn’t return. For others, they now live in Falkland Way, so named by a local builder to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the conflict. This also resulted in many local people attending rallies to demonstrate with their ‘Ban the bomb’ banners.


The year 1982 brought with it interesting visitors such as Esther Rantzen playing Dick Whittington at the Regis Centre and including the controversy of her husband, Desmond Wilcox, passing negative comments about the town. It is thought he was trying to following in the tracks of King George V.


There was a large amount of interest on the Aldwick Bay Estate when it was learned Earl Spencer was to purchase property on the Estate. It was thought that when his daughter Diana was eventually to visit her father with her children they would come here to play with their grandfather, as Elizabeth did with her grandfather, King George V.


Sometimes, when you read the papers, some of the comments make you believe you are reading today’s paper. One such is when a pensioner in Middleton claimed the local bus service was ‘plain daft’ because the buses would arrive at the railway station five minutes after the trains had left. The buses are, of course, still featuring in the news.


During the course of the decade, shops and premises closed and others took their place. For example, during 1982, Cambridge House was to be demolished in Clarence Road, while the town lost a number of shops, such as Wood’s, Hepworth’s and the Hilton shoe shop. However, during the year, a large new store opened – that of Presto’s, then Safeway and today, Morrisons.


Can you remember which year we had the water strike? It was actually 1983 and standpipes were brought into use for a few families in Rose Green. During the year, water was again in the news when Butlin’s opened its £200,000 fun pool and, still connected with water, we had a worrying time when Weymouth announced it would like to take the Birdman Rally away from the town.


As the decade drew to a close, we were treated to many special press publications announcing who was who in the town – companies such as Jennings Office Equipment, the main Rosemount Engineering Company and Weir Electronics. Sadly, these have now gone from the scene.


One of the events I can well remember from this period was the annual trade exhibitions that took place within the Regis Centre and an outside marquee. The first of these was in 1983 and were of great interest to residents, but also a good ‘shop window’ for many of our local companies.


Local house prices are always quite interesting. During the early 1980s, we could have purchased a detached seafront bungalow at Felpham for £37,500. There were also ‘period cottages’ available in the town centre for a mere £34,950! However, flats were much cheaper with a two-bedroom property in the town centre for £28,950.


The year 1987 saw the town celebrating its 200th anniversary as a purpose-built seaside resort; in 1989 there was a celebration for the 60th anniversary of the ‘Regis’ suffix. Campaigners were trying to save the Victorian railway station and others were trying to stop the building of the refuse site at Lidsey. There continued to be uncertainty over the Regis Centre and town councillors were fighting to stop the town hall being sold for development.

Posted in Lifestyle.