Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Memories, Music and Movies – 1976 – The Harbour Lights, Cowes, Weekend Invasions, Bay City Rollers and Abba by Sally Cronin

I cannot remember a time when music and movies where not a part of my life.

The Harbour Lights, Cowes, Weekend Invasions, Bay City Rollers and Abba

It is 1976 and we have arrived on the Isle of Wight at the beginning of the year to manage a Whitbread Pub; then called The Harbour Lights. It was strategically positioned at the entrance to Cowes Harbour and with its two large balconies was a popular yacht spotting destination for both sailors and locals alike.

The couple that we were replacing had been at the pub for about 30 years from what I can remember and we were delighted to take on such a well-established business. My job as joint manager was to provide the catering and the arrangement was that I would pay a nominal rent to run the catering side of the services.

We had come from a very busy Schooner Inn and were used to a packed house most nights. We were slightly taken aback to find that out of season in Cowes in those days meant that it was quiet….. Very, very quiet. It did perk up at the weekends when the yachtsmen would arrive but it was not until Easter that we really picked up the pace.

A lot happened during the year but one or two incidents stick out in my memory.

First it was the ‘Tartan Army’ as I referred to them. The Bay City Rollers had created a massive following and some of those who loved the ‘Bovver Boy’ image took this a little too far. On Saturday nights the ferries would head out of Southampton on booze cruises, depositing their passengers, already worse for wear, on the dock at Cowes and then swabbed the decks down waiting for their return.

The police were out in force as a tidal wave of red and black tartan flowed down the narrow high street, peeling off into every available hostelry. We were at the end of the street but because we stood out with our two balconies at the entrance to the harbour, many of the partygoers headed determinedly in our direction.

The first night that we faced two hundred drunken skinheads was a night I will never forget. Food service was suspended and our regular locals headed out of the door as fast as they could. By law we were not supposed to serve customers who were already drunk so you can imagine that our three bar staff were feeling the heat.

‘That’s when the fight started’ Since the local constabulary were very much occupied elsewhere action had to be taken. We could lose our licence for allowing drunk and disorderly conduct on the premises and having only been in charge for a few weeks this was do or die.

As the besieged bar staff and my husband stood powerless behind the bar, I picked up a pick axe handle from the beer store in the back garden and sort of lunged into the middle of the mass with it above my head. I then formed a circle around me the length of the bat and began shouting at the top of my lungs for silence. After a few minutes the sight of this mad woman, red faced and swinging a very large bat had the desired effect. There was a general exodus leaving several relatively sober ‘guests’ who were then served.

Here is the Bay City Rollers singing ‘Marlena’ one of their quieter numbers in honour of their fans that are now grandparents and have had to let their tartan trousers out!

From then on a Saturday night was relatively peaceful and the police would park their van outside whilst going about their work further up the high street. This was a great deterrent and I understand that word got out that the mad woman at the Harbour Lights had an ‘attitude adjuster’ and was not afraid to use it.

Apart from that small hiccup things went quite smoothly and the summer months were certainly much busier. Thankfully in those days we closed at 3pm and reopened at 6pm until 11.00pm. Sundays we only opened 12.00 until 2.00pm and then again at 7.00pm. I am not sure I could cope with today’s ‘open all hours’ policy and certainly admire anyone taking on the challenge.

I was cooking the lunches in my small kitchen with one other member of staff… It was order and pick up and the meals were fairly basic. Chicken and chips, scampi and chips, Fish and chips all in a basket, saving on the washing up! I could get through anything between 50 and 100 a day depending on the weather but that was a conservative estimate during Cowes Week in the August.

It passed in a blur until Firework night when we followed the instructions of the previous managers. The furniture was removed into storage just leaving empty floor space in the pub and on the two balconies. All the pictures were removed and hot food service was suspended and there were not implements except for plastic spoons for anyone who wanted tea or coffee (fat chance)

Bouncers were employed during that entire weekend… Luckily Parkhurst was on the doorstep and warders moonlighted all over the town.

We survived and I will never forget squeezing my way onto the top balcony to watch the fireworks for a few minutes just out to sea and right in front of the pub. I looked up and the roof was covered with people… Health and Safety would have a fit today….It certainly gave me a worrying couple of hours.

It was great experience and the busy times in the summer and various bank holidays when I cooked solidly all day, stood me in great stead for my job a couple of years later as the cook housekeeper at a private school in Sussex, cooking for 140 three times a day.

There was not much time for the movies during that year. We sometimes took a quiet Wednesday off and left the bar staff and my assistant to cope and hit the cinema. The only film that I recall going to see was The Eagle Has Landed. To be honest there was more than enough action and drama in my own backyard.

We did however manage to head out to friends from time to time after closing and I still had enough energy for dancing. Thankfully Abba were happy to oblige  BA


Thanks for dropping by today and I hope you will join me again tomorrow for the next episode.. Sally.

55 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Memories, Music and Movies – 1976 – The Harbour Lights, Cowes, Weekend Invasions, Bay City Rollers and Abba by Sally Cronin

  1. Amazing memories, Sally – I never could understand the Bay City Rollers and their followers. You’re a brave lady. I’ve always been a big Abba fan – we love them in Australia. You look STUNNING in that photo. Toni x

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  2. Haha…I now have a mental image of “MAD LADY WITH AXE HANDLE” but those Bay City Rollers had such innocent faces who would have thunk that their fans would be such a handful although booze has done that too many of us…Hugs xx

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  3. Wow!
    What a memory.
    How brave to confront all those drunken rollers!
    The Bay City Rollers were a little after my time.
    My sister loved them a DonnY Osmond
    Abba!? Anytime is their time.

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  4. What an exciting time! Although maybe not the night requiring the ax handle. I’m sure you had a few choice words to go along with it! The Bay City Rollers were in Chicago the weekend my husband and I came for interviews – he at various hospitals in the city for a residency and I for a post-doc position at Northwestern. The daughter of my post-doc advisor to be, where we were staying, went to the city very excited and came back enthused by the concert!

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  5. So, in addition to their crimes against music and fashion, the tartan twits were responsible for endangering public safety? Add it to the charge sheet, officer…

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  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up.. 14th – 20th November 2021 – Boosters, Thanksgiving, Hits 1982, Green Kitchen, Ghosts, Book Reviews, Bloggers, Health and Humour | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  7. Fun times. Although you certainly worked hard those days. My son liked the Bay City Rollers when he was a young boy. In Canada, they were not associated with bad behaviour. He moved from TBCR to Kiss. So they were considered very tame. ABBA is timeless.

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  8. I’d like to think that I’d wade into a crazy brawl, swinging a pick axe handle, but I suspect I’d have been behind the bar praying that someone like you would come along! Love Dancing Queen. xx


  9. I don’t think I would have ever managed, Sally. I am sure you must have been a scary sight, Sally, and I wouldn’t dare cross you (not that I drink but…). It was quite a year, so not surprised you didn’t manage to watch many movies. Thanks for sharing more exciting adventures, Sally!

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