How Carole was a tower of strength for the stars

On call: Carole Leader at work
On call: Carole Leader at work
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LaSt night we told the story of telephonist Carole Leader and the stars she met at the Grand Hotel in Sheffield. Tonight we tell of Carole at the Hallam Tower, her friendship with Bob Monkhouse and the night David Bowie sent an intimate message...

FOR 25 years it was the city’s top hotel. Rock stars, footballers and Sheffield’s high-fliers held court in the bars and bedrooms of The Hallam Tower.

David Bowie, Shirley Bassey, Adam Faith, Freddie Trueman and Roma FC all stayed there and they all talked to one woman - some saying a lot more than they should.

Carole Leader was telephonist at the Hallam Tower in Fulwood, Sheffield from 1967 to 1974 and no-one made a call from The Hallam Towers without her knowing about it.

But there was a bit of a sticky start for the former Grand Hotel telephonist.

“I went for an interview at the Hallam Tower and had to trudge through muck and bullets on a building site to a Portakabin where they interviewed me,” said 70-year-old Carole at her home in Wisewood.

“I would run the switchboard on my own at times and it was hard work but I loved my work. I met a lot of people staying at the hotel but we couldn’t get too friendly, we had to treat them as guests.

“We had all sorts there, football and cricket teams, singers, actors, musicians. It was quite the place to stay in those days ansd I would have to put their calls though to them and connect them if they wanted to call an outside number.”

Among the many callers, rock star David Bowie once made a late night call from his room that Carole Leader will never forget.

“That David Bowie could be a bit naughty,” said Carole, now 70-years-old and retired.

“One night he called me late on switchboard and asked to send a telex, which had to be dictated and would print out at the receiving end.

“He dictated it to me and I was very embarrassed by its content and I had to write it all down and then read it out to a lady at the Grosvenor Hotel in Sheffield who had to send it off from there.

“It was about him and someone he had met in Sheffield in some intimate detail and I had to repeat it to the woman at The Grosvenor so that she could send it on!”

Most days it wasn’t like that, most days it was hard work and lots of laughs, says Carole.

So who were the top tippers in the best Sheffield hotels of the sixties and seventies?

The Beatles? Max Bygraves? David Bowie?

No, Nana Mouskouri and the lads on the way to the St Leger in Doncaster, reckons Carole.

“Nana Mouskouri made a lot of telephone calls when she stayed,” said Carole, mother of Stephanie.

“She gave me a £20 note one time, I’ll never forget that, it was a lot of money in those days. She was a really big singing star at the time so I suppose she was earning a lot of money.

“A lot of the stars appearing at the Fiesta and Bailey’s clubs in Sheffield would stay at the Hallam Tower. I think we had them all there at one time or another, Max Bygraves, Shirley Bassey, Val Doonican, Des O’Connor.

“Adam Faith was a lovely lad. He stayed at the Grand when I worked there and later at Hallam Towers. Come to think of it, he still owes me for two calls he made to Germany when he as at Hallam Towers!

“I think he was into drugs by then though, that was a shame, he was a lovely lad and Joe Brown was a nice cockney lad.

“The best tippers of all were the people who came up for the St Leger and the races at Doncaster. They were always popular. There were some real characters. The manager at the Grand was a man called Farquhar McLeod who used to have late-night parties in his rooms but he would be down for his Bloody Mary cocktail for breakfast the next day.”

And the worst guest?

“There were one or two stinkers but the worst would definitely have been Wilfred Pickles. He stayed at The Grand in town when I worked there and he was a big star in the late 1950s.

“I remember he was on stage with Violet Carson who was later Ena Sharples in Coronation Street but she was known as Mabel On The Piano back then. Wilfred Pickles was a mean bugger and a rude and nasty man, I didn’t like him at all.

“Shirley Bassey, Max Bygraves, Val Doonican and Des O’Connor, all stayed at the Hallam Tower and they were all very nice

“Val Doonican was a nice, quiet man but he would only allow one phone call to be put through to him and that was a certain lady.”

Carole left Hallam Tower Hotel in 1974.

“I worked at the Royal Hospital and Presto Tools in between and after the Grand and Hallam Tower hotels and the hotels were definitely the highlight of my working life,” she said.

“I had a great time and it felt like you were part of something special. Strange thing is that all the places I worked ended up being pulled down,” laughed Carole.

“What does that tell you!”

The Hallam Tower Hotel, Fulwood Road, Sheffield opened in 1965 ahead of the World Cup in 1966 and closed in April 2004.

A proposal to redevelop the site was approved in 2009 but the building still stands derelict.

Comic great was drawn to distraction

BOB Monkhouse had ‘a thing’ for Carole Leader...

Not a crush, though they did become quite friendly, but a cartoon ‘thing’ that the multi-talented comedian drew himself for Carole.

The two met during Carole’s time as a telephonist at the Hallam Tower hotel and Bob Monkhouse discovered that they had a lot in common.

“Bob Monkhouse was a lovely man who was very nice to speak to and the reason I got talking to him was that my dad used to write to him,” said Carole.

“I had a disabled sister Margaret who died when she was 21 and my Dad knew that Bob Monkhouse had a disabled son.

“My dad would write to him in his old-fashioned copperplate writing and they would swap letters.

“When he came to stay at the Hallam Tower I spoke to him and told him who my dad was and he was very nice to me. I knew he did cartoons and sketches that were very good. He asked if there was anything I would like and I told him that I would like him to do one of his cartoons about there being a ‘thing’ in the switchboard.

“A little later he sent me a letter with a cartoon done on Hallam Tower note paper and a lovely note with it.

“He was such a nice man and an absolute genius. His cartoons and his handwriting really were works of art.

“He was my favourite guest Hallam Towers, a really lovely man.”