IF you were a young man or woman in the 1960s, 70s or even 80s, then you won’t need an introduction to the Dial House Club.
Nor will you need an introduction if you’re a Swedish Def Leppard fan, or indeed an American rocker on a tour of the Sheffield band’s old haunts.
But while international Leppard fans hound Sheffield Local Studies library staff for directions to the Dial House - where Def Leppard played their earliest gigs - many Sheffielders below a certain age don’t know the club even existed.
But the Dial House Club didn’t just ‘exist.’ It was one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the north of England.
In its heyday, the Dial House Club in Wisewood was THE haunt for Sheffielders. From flat-capped men and their bespectacled wives to glam 20-somethings with backcombed blonde barnets, the Dial House was a bustling, jiving, dancing hive on any night of the week.
It’s not all forgotten, however.
Although it’s been nearly 70 years since Bill was collecting glasses as a young lad at the Dial House, he remembers it well. Sparked by the Star’s recent feature on Menschen in Sheffield, a German documentary filmed in 1965 about the Steel City and - predominantly - the Dial House Club, Bill, 80, from Aston, avidly revisits his past. “
That’s Alfie ‘Alfredo’ who was in the house band,” he says, pointing to the first scene on the grey-scale speckled film in which the house band including lap steel guitar player ‘Alfredo’ play to the crowd. “It was a great club, you used to have to walk in through an old kitchen on an old flag stone floor.”
“And that’s the barmaid I used to fancy,” he says, pointing to a pretty blonde girl with beehive hair and kohl-defined eyes. “I’ll never forget one time walking in there as a kid while collecting glasses - my dad was sat with a group of his friends in the corner and one of them let off wind. They shouted ‘Awwww Bill’ in front of the barmaid and I was so embarrassed that she believed it was me. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.”
This was in the early to mid 1940s, when Bill was a young teenage boy. His father, George Hewitt, was one of the trustees of the club. The Dial House Club was part of their life, as Bill’s sister Sheila Beatson, 74, from Parson Cross, recalls: “Our dad was the number two member after Jack Goodison, who was the secretary. It was great. We used to go on the children’s holidays organised by the club. There would be 30 sharabangs queued up waiting to take all the children away. You were given half a crown of spending money, a bottle of Coke, some crisps and when you arrived in Cleethorpes you’d go for fish and chips. They were the only outings we got as kids.”
Their father was also the man who established an annual dancing competition, for which the winning couple would be awarded the ‘George Hewitt Cup.’ “My dad won the Irish Sweepstakes in 1938 or 1939 and he bought that cup. That’s him in the picture giving it to the winning couple,” she says, looking at the old photograph of her father in the Dial House.
And, much like a dial itself, the Dial House Club was ceaseless. Even throughout the war, the club stayed open, with Bill collecting glasses. “After the Blitz in 1940 we only used to have air raids every now and again. In those days there were lights across town. An auxiliary alarm was a precaution but the purple light meant there was going to be an air raid. And a red light meant the raid was imminent.”
It’s hard to imagine that, while the sirens, warning lights and cataclysms of World War Two raged, the Dial House Club continued to serve the public. Built in 1938, it didn’t take long for the club to become a central part of the Sheffielder’s life.
Bill said: “It was great - there’d be as many three turns on a Saturday night. There was always something going off in every room. And if you weren’t there by 7.30pm you wouldn’t get in - it was that busy.”
The Dial House Club was founded by Charles Goodison and 25 friends who wanted to create a club that provided sociability, entertainment and benefited the community. It had a bowling green, billiard room, cricket pitch and a football team. By July 1939 the club had 50 paying members. By the end of 1964 the club had as many as 2,400 men and - warranting a separate list, of course - 800 ladies.
In the space of 26 years the club had become a successful enterprise, netting more than £86,000 in one year, equivalent to £1.3 million in today’s money. By the 60s there were four shows a week and two evenings of dancing and cabaret.
Sadly, there is no Dial House Club today, only the shell of its former glory. In 2005, after being taken over by Bar 24, the club closed its doors for the last time. It had been trading at a loss of £30,000 a year, a far cry from the £86,000 turnover - £1.3 million - of the mid 1960s.
The club was closed in spite of huge local backing to keep its doors open, as many as 1,200 drinkers joined a campaign in 2003 to stop their beloved Dial House closing.
But while the Dial House doors may be shut - its memories are very much alive, certainly in Bill’s and Sheila’s minds - and the thousands of Germans who watched Menschen in Sheffield, the Swedish and American Def Leppard fans and, of course, the Local Studies librarians that have to direct foreign rockophiles across the city to the Dial House, in Wisewood, S6.