IT’S the early 1960s and Sheffield is about to get swinging. For a certain switchboard operator, life among the celebrity guests at Sheffield’s Grand Hotel had also taken off. Here, 50 years on, is the first of two instalments of one telephonist’s tale of 1960s Sheffield.
CAROLE Leader was on a tea break when a skinny, scruffy-looking young man walked in to her switchboard room to ask if he could use the phone.
She looked up to see the face of a homesick 20-year-old, one of the growing number of young musicians staying at the hotel while they played at the City Hall.
“Of course,” said Carole, showing him to a seperate, more private desk.
But then curiosity got the better of her.
“Do you ever have a bath?” she asked the semi-familiar face whose carefully constructed wild-man image suggested that he actually might not.
“Of course I do,” he protested.
“Oh, I wasn’t sure, with the way you look. Fancy a cup of tea?”
That’s when 21-year-old Carole shared her tea and packet of Arrowroot biscuits with one Michael Philip Jagger, Mick to the rest of us.
Looking back now at the age of 70 from her home in Dykes Lane Wisewood, Carole shakes her head at the memory.
“I didn’t really know him as a member of the Rolling Stones then,” said Carole.
“He was just another young man with one of the groups playing in town, there were loads of them coming through. He looked so rough that I had to ask him but he was quite posh when he spoke.
“He was only phoning his dad, nothing racy. His dad was very posh too when I put him through, I think he was a sports master in a school in Surrey or Sussex. Mick came in twice to make calls, he was nice enough and we had a chat each time but they weren’t big stars or anything then, just another hopeful group passing through.
“I wish I’d asked for an autograph or a picture with him but I didn’t really see it that way then. They were exciting times, they were leading a different kind of life and we felt part of it. It wouldn’t have seemed right to ask for autographs.”
Later Carole did get some autographs and has a collection of signatures and signed pictures of some of the era’s biggest names.
Cilla Black, Ken Dodd, Cliff Richard, Gene Pitney, Pele, the Harlem Globetrotters and Frankie Howerd all stayed at the Grand – which stood where the Fountain Precinct is now between the City Hall and Leopold Street before it was eventually demolished in 1973.
In those days before mobile phones and automated switchboards all guests had to be connected by Carole and her colleagues to make their calls home.
“I started at The Grand when I was 15 in 1957,” said Carole.
“My mum wouldn’t let me work in a factory so I got a job as a commis waitress there and was eventually promoted to lift operator. It was very formal and old-fashioned then and we used to have to wear all black with a white pinny and cuffs and the guests were treated like royalty, though it became a bit more relaxed later on.
The Grand guest list reads like a Who’s Who of the 1950s and 60s – and Carole has a story about most of them.
“Cliff Richard stayed at the Grand. He was a nice lad and a big star even then. I remember one time he asked for decaffeinated coffee and no-one knew what he was talking about! We’d never heard of it but someone in the kitchen came up with some from somewhere.
“I remember screaming, silly girls phoning up asking to speak to Paul or George when the Beatles were staying at the hotel. We used to tell them they weren’t staying there.
“We weren’t allowed to put calls through to their rooms – the only calls allowed were press calls.
“Dusty Springfield used to make long late-night calls to Madeleine Bell in America and I would put her through. Dusty always travelled with loads of boxes, as did Shirley Bassey. We didn’t realise at first but the boxes all contained wigs they wore on stage.
“The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts never said a word. He would sit in the bar with a face that could stop a clock. he didn’t speak to anybody. He’d just sit there with the face on. Talk about deadpan!
“It was a nice life. We used to have to work hard and there were some lovely people and not so lovely people.
“I wish I could go back sometimes and stay at a hotel and be as well looked after as we looked after our guests then.”
Do you have memories of the Grand Hotel? Write to the editor at 1 York Street S1 1PU or to email@example.com
‘Matt Monro was just little and fat’
WHEN certain star guests called telephonist Carole Leader they often had more in mind than a phone connection...
Carole had her fair share of admirers while she was at the Grand Hotel and a few of them made it quite clear how they felt about her.
“I suppose I used to think I was attractive in those days, I was young and it was an exciting life at the hotel.
“Some of the men were terrible with the things they got up to. I remember walking from the office in my four-inch heels one day when Matt Monro was coming out of the lift talking to the hotel manager Farquhar McLeod.
“He was a big star at the time and he asked the hotel manager to invite me to a party that night.
“I wasn’t very keen on him. He was just little and fat to me and nothing to be proud of. I didn’t go to the party or anywhere near him.”
In view of the way society’s attitude towards sex changed in the late 1960s does Carole think she might have done things differently if she had been born 10 years later?
“Not really no,” says Carole after a moment’s thought.
“I was brought up in an era when people didn’t do that kind of thing lightly. I don’t think I would have felt any different if it had been 10 years later. It was just the way we were then.”
Though there was some serious testing of those 1950s morals in the shape of a certain former West Indian test cricketer. “He was very attractive and very keen. We chatted and he asked me back to his room but although I was tempted I didn’t go. I stopped myself from going in, it just didn’t feel right.’’
Glory of the Grand
Built in 1910 demolished in 1973 to make way for the Fountain Precinct.
Visiting football clubs, cricket teams playing at Bramall Lane – including test sides – musicians and actors stayed at the Grand or the Royal Victoria.
Many steelworks held their annual and Christmas parties and dances there.
During an installation of a new lift in the 1950s a medieval well was discovered in the cellar – and promptly filled in.
The hotel’s ‘Smoke Bar’ was run by a lady who also had a newagents at Highfields. She was the only female allowed in the ‘Gentlemen Only’ bar.
Factfile information Courtesy of www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk