Remembering dating in the 1950s

Like so many other things in a rapidly changing world, the way to meet members of the opposite sex has changed too.Who would ever have believed that you could look on a list of possible matches and choose one you fancied? Or a few of them come to think of it. In a world now dominated by shopping online, it’s the same sort of thing.

Monday, 23rd September 2019, 12:16 pm
Updated Saturday, 28th September 2019, 4:11 pm
The final of the rock 'n roll contest at the Sheffield Telegraph Farm Grounds Gala in August 1960
The final of the rock 'n roll contest at the Sheffield Telegraph Farm Grounds Gala in August 1960

I had the procedure explained to me by my young hairdresser who showed me a long list of young men she had for consideration.

As she explained, it takes all the hard work out of choosing a partner. You can find out if they have the same interests as you, if they are into religion, or sports or music. What kind of background they come from and most importantly if you like the look of them!

Being a bit of a cynic and having recently read that yet again internet romance scams are reported to the police every three hours in the UK, with the favourite one around at the moment being a gang using the photograph of a US Army Paratrooper to target lonely women and persuade them to part with their savings, I urged her to be a bit cautious. She assured me that it was the older woman who was the most gullible and that it was a fool proof scheme when you were young.

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Dating today is far removed from dating as we knew it through the 1950s and 1960s. Dating was an American phenomenon at first, with its own unique customs in that country like the presentation to the girl of a ‘going steady’ ring which was then expected to lead to an engagement and marriage.

Dating was much different in Britain before the 1920s and 1930s, certainly for the middle and upper classes.

A man would ‘call’ upon a woman, usually when the family were having an ‘at home’ and present his card to the maid who would give it to the young lady. She would then decide whether to let him in or make an excuse. Refreshments would often be served together with light entertainment often to demonstrate the piano playing skills of the young lady in question.

As the lower classes were unlikely to either have a maid or a piano, they started their own form of courtship which became known as dating.

When my mother was growing up in Ireland, going out with a young man was known as ‘Doing a Line’ with one of the main considerations of suitability as far as her parents were concerned that he was Catholic. Protestant suitors were not welcome.

It must have been a bit of a shock for them when she married my father, who was not Catholic, although as there was little likelihood of her family attending the wedding which was in Sheffield during the war, she may not even have told them!

Before the Second World War, many towns saw the ‘Monkey Run’ when young single people would walk up and down a street eyeing up member of the opposite sex on the other side. A book published by Sheffield Libraries, written by staff and borrowers of Firth Park Library, called ‘From Bandstand to Monkey Run’ includes a description of the Sunday evening perambulations on Stubbin Lane at Firth Park. It would have been the young man who had to make the first move, possibly asking the young lady of his fancy if she would like to go for a Vimto or Sarsaparilla at the nearby Mikado Milk Bar, before walking her home.

From the beginning of the war when there were not as many men around and with many young women contributing to the war effort by working in steelworks or agriculture, the practice of finding a boyfriend by that means came to an end.

After that, young people were meeting members of the opposite sex without the need for parents to be present and the term ‘going steady’ was introduced, although it didn’t necessarily have to lead to marriage, although looking back it is frightening to realise how many young people started a lifetime commitment at a very young age which may well explain the high rate of divorce among pensioners today.

Social life in the 1950s consisted of youth club and church dances when the ability to ‘bop’ was a great asset once rock and roll hit the UK. We were a few years before the opening of Club 60 or the Mojo Club.

My friends and I took our flat shoes out with us in what were called at the time ‘train cases’ which were a kind of vanity case with a mirror inside the lid.

We wore wide skirts with, if we could afford them, stiff petticoats with lots of frills. My first attempt at a fashionable look was to thread wire through the hem of my rather ordinary underskirt. It buckled when I sat down and my friend had to help me straighten it out when I got up to dance.

The year 1955 has always been considered the start of the ‘rock and roll era’ when the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’ featured Bill Haley and the Comets with ‘Rock Around the Clock’

In 1957 ‘Six Five Special’ burst on to our television screens. We hadn’t owned sets for long anyway and this was revolutionary! It was on every Saturday night between 6 and 7 pm featuring stars like Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan and Marty Wilde. It was followed by ‘Oh Boy!’

Around this time, I was asked on my first date. It was to go to the Saturday morning film show at the Gaumont Cinema in Barker’s Pool. Unfortunately, the young man in question had to look after his younger brother and so brought him along also. His brother sat in between us. It wasn’t exactly wining and dining, but he did buy the tickets!