We’re all doomed or gloomed to grow up somewhere. Most of my school days were at the Bognor Regis Grammar School and then the first two years in the life of the new comprehensive school. Bognor Regis is down on the West Sussex south coast of England. In the 1960s it was still the time of decaying amusement arcades, the opening of the new Butlin’s Holiday Camp and bucket and spade seaside holidays. In fact, early on in the 1960s, Tony Hancock and cast had spent some miserable, rain-filled weeks filming the rather sad, ‘Punch and Judy Man’ film there. If I don’t blink, I can even just spot myself as one of the young kids on the beach who got the chance to be ‘film extras’. Actually though, if you like slightly seedy, run-down seaside resorts, the film provides a pretty accurate bit of social history.
Bognor Regis is often remembered for a variety of mostly jokey images. One: King George V was meant to have muttered, ‘Bugger Bognor’ (or something far ruder) as he died. Apparently, he’d just been told that he might soon be well enough to return to convalesce in the town (he’d given it the ‘Regis’ bit in its name after his successful earlier convalescence at Craigweil House in the winter of 1929). Two: The tune that begins Desert Island Discs, is actually entitled ‘By the Sleepy Lagoon’, which Eric Coates penned about Bognor, around 1930. Why the title, one has to ask? My artist mate, Andy Wood, has come up with answer. Andy told me: “I have a passing interest in all things BBC and I recently visited Selsey Bill near where Coates lived and discovered the blue plaque there dedicated to the writing of ‘By the Sleepy Lagoon’. I found that Eric’s description is of Bognor as viewed from Selsey as a ‘pink hued enchanted city’. His son, Austin Coates, remembers it being inspired by the view across Pagham Lagoon, and the sea at that time being an incredibly deep blue, almost of the Pacific. It was that impression, looking across at Bognor, which looked pink, almost like an enchanted city, which gave him the idea for the ‘Sleepy Lagoon’. Three: Tony Hancock had been an early star of the summer show, ‘Flotsam’s Follies’. During that stay in 1949 his warped humour led him to describe Bognor as: ‘…bright black, with here and there a vivid streak of grey’. I rather like that. Four: The rock band Genesis produced a song called ‘Harold the Barrel’. In the song, a Bognor restaurant owner, Harold, feeds his toes to his customers and then tops himself. Suitably black humour. Five: Some have also suggested that Morrisey’s line, ‘In the seaside town…they forgot to bomb’ from the song ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ is about Bognor. Six: More to my own taste, Frank Zappa, mentioned Bognor Regis in ‘Once upon a Time’ as one of the places God had created in order to supply the giant oak floor to support an out-of-control, mutant, giant maroon sofa.
For a brief time in the mid to late sixties, at the end of the mods and rockers’ heyday of motor-bikers in leathers and mods in parkas, Bognor’s seafront housed the Shoreline Club and the Caribbean Hotel, billed as Europe’s first ‘Teen otel’. During our last years at the grammar school a lad called Nicholas St John Foti joined my form. Nick told us that he was one of a large number of children adopted by his dad who had something to do with Arundel Castle and the Duke of Norfolk. Adopting children appeared to be part of ‘daddy’ Eric St John Foti’s Sicilian Catholic way. Nick started to become particularly interesting when we realised it was dad who was running the Shoreline (to the right, the hotel terraces in the photo) at the old Beaulieu Hotel.
Nick and all his siblings were the ‘staff’. For your admission charge into the Shoreline, you became a club ‘member’ and were then allowed to stay the night in the ‘crash pad’ spaces. Some of us who were not grounded by our parents, or could tell white lies about ‘staying with friends’ risking parental and school wrath, actually attended gigs there. The mods and rockers were real enough. In rather superficial terms, rockers were more likely to favour raw rock n’ roll, rock-a-billy, wore leathers, smoked cannabis and rode motor-bikes. Mods were supposedly fashion-conscious, wore parkas, Italian suits, rode on scooters and were ‘into’ bands like the Who and the Small Faces, ska, soul music and took amphetamine pills, sometimes referred to as ‘doobs’ or ‘doobies’, ‘bombers’ and ‘blues’. It’s also where the terms’ ‘dexys’ (Dexedrine) and ‘bennies’ (Benzedrine) come from. I think though, that there was a lot of blurring in musical tastes. Both mods and rockers seemed to like many of the so-called rhythm and blues bands such as the Pretty Things, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. Sociologist, Stan Cohen, later made his name with his thesis that the mods and rockers were ‘folk-devils’ and that their existence spread ‘moral panic’ amongst the mainstream society. In reality, the local people living in seaside towns such as Bognor Regis, Brighton and Margate did indeed become frightened, frustrated and angry at the regular influx of hundreds and even thousands of bike and scooter gangs to their holiday resorts.
Often the Shoreline gigs were promoted as ‘All-Nite Raves’. Were they the first, or among the first, ‘Raves’ in the UK? I only went twice. The gig I really remember was the Pink Floyd. This was early 1967, the Pink Floyd in its original line-up with Syd Barrett as singer. It was a mind-bending night of liquid wheel projections and familiar songs like ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’ punctuated by long jazz-style improvisations. Very spacey even if you hadn’t participated in the freely available drugs. I can’t remember if I blagged my way in as a friend of Nick’s. Looking up the Foti clan on the web, it seems as though son Nick ended up as one of the final members of Freddie and the Dreamers.
But looking into our past is a bit easier now with the advent of the internet. Another ex-school friend, David Sangwine, spotted that Felixstowe TV has been broadcasting a staggering 20 plus, ‘This is your life’ type interviews with Daddy, Eric St John Foti, who is now approaching his nineties. He’s led some life, having been an inventor, manic collector of memorabilia (a lot of it of 60s rock including the Freddie and the Dreamers poster and drum kit and Shoreline ‘wall’), and photographer – which he used to display at ‘Collectors’ World’, near Downham Market in Norfolk – which he sold, and is now closed. He’s been an entrepreneur and patron of various charities including a Sail Training School. But he’s a true colourful eccentric. Anglo-Italian, in fact. As a ‘for instance’, last year he pleaded guilty in absentia for clocking up 99 miles an hour. Eric St John Foti in pic, was aged 88 at the time of the offence on December 18, and was driving a Lexus LS 600H when caught by a speed camera at 10.50 a.m. on the A14 in Ipswich. Still living life in the fast lane!
Anyway, back to the Shoreline Club round about 1965-67. Bernie Smith was a member of the local band, Johnny Devlin and the Detours. I knew their guitarist, Arthur Biggs, who had worked in ‘Roberts’, the wine shop my parents had run in Bognor’s High Street. Bernie recalls: “The 50s were for the Americans, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, all those guys over there. In the late 50s we had Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde, people like that – and then it changed in the 1960s.
It was the permissive society. We even had a teen hotel in Bognor. Can you imagine that! We had the mods and the rockers. The Who came down to Bognor and Brighton, and it was a time when there were massive changes. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones changed the whole landscape. A lot of English bands were doing covers, but they started writing their own music. It started encouraging more and more bands to perform.”
Eric St John Foti tells us more about what led to establishing the Shoreline. In episodes 13 and 14 of his interviews with Mike Ninnmey:
“We kept on adding to our family, we were mummy and daddy to them…they weren’t free for adoption…we gave them an opportunity for them to have a family. We had a very large family, it was a privilege. We just dealt with Lambeth Council.”
Eric and his wife Marion had been living in Seaford, but needed somewhere bigger for their ever-expanding family. In the interviews, Eric tells of chance meetings leading to more boys and girls coming to live in his ‘family’. Peculiarly, at least to me, most seem to have taken the family ‘name’ of St John Foti. And ultimately this provides us with the link to Bognor. A Monsignor brokered a deal for Eric to talk with the Duke of Norfolk at his large home in Arundel Castle. The Duke had been planning to put up some of his wife’s horse-jockeys in the now empty St Wilfrid’s Convent. But Eric persuaded him that the needs of his large family – about 15 children and growing in number – was a social priority. And with interest-free funding from the Monsignor (and possibly the Catholic Church) he took over the 70 rooms and renamed the old nunnery, ’Arundel Priory’. Eric takes up the story,
“We did the work ourselves. It was a very old building. We started with just three rooms…a young decorator asked to come and work for me, aged 15 or 16. Between us we did the electrics and decorating of the rooms…I had to keep up with the income. I’d drive to Seaford and teach at the convent…I started my inventions again and I was the official photographer for the Theatre Royal in Brighton and sold postcards of my photographs to many hotels.
For food we used to economise…we never had roast on Sundays, we had spam. We never had a child run away…we had no heating in the individual rooms, but a huge greenhouse heater, with a five or six foot high chimney in the main hall. The huge walls kept the heat in.”
The Shoreline ‘youth club business’
“And then I entered the ‘youth club business’. The young people didn’t want table-tennis and darts, they wanted loud music. So we started a new kind of youth club in the big hall of the Priory (in Arundel). We used to have large groups, we built a stage, we had a projector and showed psychedelic lights. This was the days of the mods and rockers…it was then we bought the Dutch in – girls who wanted to learn English – au pairs to look after the children. It cost £15 for a beat group to play and we played records…because the club was so successful, Bognor Council asked me; ‘Would you please open a youth club in Bognor?’.
They had five hotels along the seafront, with Butlin’s staff in them. They turfed the Butlin’s people out…presented me with five hotels. ‘Use those as your youth club’.”
The Bognor Council appears to have seen Eric St John Foti as their saviour from the mods and rockers’ problem which was frightening tourists away from the seafront. In Mike Read’s book ‘The South Coast Beat Scene in the 1960s’, the writer (maybe or maybe not Mike R), says, “The council let Eric Foti have the old Beaulieu and Beaulieu Downs hotels at a rental of two thousand pounds a year, with Eric having to put up the initial ten thousand pounds for the conversion into the Shoreline Club and the Caribbean Hotel.” St John Foti immediately set about recruiting dozens of teenagers to ‘do up’ the old hotels. The club and the hotel opened at Easter 1965 with ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ presenter Cathy McGowan, performing the honours. Eric commented, “We had to knock through all the linking walls – we propped them up when they started falling down. I was on the sledge hammer! Wouldn’t get away with it now…We had lots of new ideas…the Caribbean Hotel had space for 70 boys and 70 girls to stay…We aimed it at those causing bother…We had three dance halls. A Snuggery. A row of shops. Hairdressers. We were very strict. We were quickly packed to the seams. Mike Read was one of our youngsters. He played guitar in a BBC film (‘Whole Scene Going On’)…The film won awards”
‘Women’s Own’ magazine published an article praising the club and including quotes from teenagers, who said of the club, “People don’t lecture us. We just enjoy ourselves and no-one treats us like kids…There’s tons to do…it’s fabulous.” And ‘The Listener’, the BBC’s magazine, reported that, “…this (the Caribbean Hotel) will become Britain’s first international holiday centre for teenagers…there were doubts among the police and local councillors, but 17,000 teenagers have already been through without a single incident…since the Shoreline Club opened the crime rate in Bognor has dropped significantly.”
In his book, ‘Seize the Day’, BBC DJ, Mike Read remembers:
“Every teenager working at the place had to participate in the menial and day-to-day jobs necessary to keep the place going…The Shoreline was a unique place, where you could chat, hang out or even play a bit of guitar with some seriously interesting guys. The media, of course, had a field day, assuming it was a den of iniquity…The place had a cast of characters you couldn’t have invented, with all-nighters full of mods popping pills not for kicks, but simply to keep awake.”
And Eric comments,
“We had the first video jukebox (a Scopitone). TVs everywhere showing groups playing. Three groups on three stages…You could go from one area to another…you could eat as much as you like – beans on toast.”
But he had his challenges. First from what he calls, “Bognor’s own version of the Kray Brothers…I took them up to the Priory, showed them what we were doing and they became helpful…Had a 70 year old lady on the ticket office…Went and got off-duty Military police – we paid them as bouncers.”
However, one gets the impression that Eric St John Foti was either very naïve or a very clever entrepreneur. He suggests, “We never seemed to have lot of drug problems. But I was very innocent…the Council were very supportive…a ‘News of the World’ reporter spent a week at the club and couldn’t get the girls’ side (and gave us a good review)…but the police were very cross, as we jammed up their (sea) front.”
A friend of mine from Bognor, Roger Nash, who has stayed put in the area, promotes local music festivals, and has even been the town’s mayor, reminisces, “My first car was an old Police drug squad Ford Cortina, about 1967 and when I used to drive up and down the seafront, I saw quite a few people scattering and diving behind hedges thinking it was the Drug Squad!” Eric remembers, “We had youngsters coming from as far away as Scotland, even from the continent…Residents didn’t like this sort of thing…The ‘Sunday Express’ sent down a reporter to investigate complaints. I told him he could stay and see what it was like. He stayed one hour and went back to the station…on 6th June 1966, they published a story that said that (our) ‘seaside youth hotel faces sex and drugs charges’. I shut down the club and successfully sued the ‘Sunday Express’.”
Eric St John Foti
This closure did happen, but only temporarily. So, while the Felixstowe TV account implies that this was the end of the Shoreline, actually many of the main events at the Caribbean/Shoreline occurred after this date. From the ‘Sussex History Forum online’ we learn from ‘pomme homme’:
“Promoted under the by-line, ‘The Only Beatscene on the South Coast’ and ‘Bognor’s Teen Hotel Club’, the Shoreline Club on the Sea Front at Bognor Regis had something of a reputation in the sixties. It also appears to have attracted some of the better known acts of the time, such as:
22 June 1966 David Bowie (and The Buzz)
26 March 1967 Pink Floyd (apparently an all nighter)
22 April 1967 & 15 July 1967 The Move
13 May 1967 The Who (although one source suggests that they did not appear because the stage was too small)
27 May 1967 Jeff Beck Group
Amongst the less well known acts to have performed there were The Untamed, whose only claim to fame seems to be that they included onetime BBC Radio One DJ Mike Read!”
The beginning of the end…
From my own personal memory, the so-called ‘summer of love’ of 1967 was actually still quite scary around Bognor. The large numbers of teenagers, particularly mods, who had made the Shoreline one of the favoured national destinations were not local. And they weren’t very loving! Though it was a time of change, and in the next year or three, large numbers of rockers and mods took to smoking dope, wearing their hair longer and sporting kaftans and beads. The sheer numbers involved in invading the south coast resorts, as in this photo from Brighton, were pretty awesome. The 1979 Franc Roddam film ‘Quadrophenia’ is a pretty accurate social documentary of the mid-sixties. It may seem pretty weird now, but at the time (roughly 1965-68) Bognor’s own local youngsters were only rarely visitors to the Shoreline. The Rex Ballroom in Bognor, Bognor’s Westloats’ Lane Youth Club and the Top Hat in Littlehampton with its glass stage, were more likely venues for local kids. Sadly, it meant that we missed the chance to see Van Morrison who sang with Them, and even very early performances from Elton John, David Bowie, plus Arthur Brown, the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and many, many more. What a list! But my school colleague, David Sangwine, shared with me his yearning to have been far more involved:
“I remember Jerry Sherman (part-time Mod) who rode a flashy new Series 3 Lambretta. Also a contemporary local Mod luminary known as The Moonman who rode a stripped-down Li 175 and was famed for having a fist-fight duel with an out of town ‘greaser’ on the beach opposite the Shoreline in the summer of ’67?
The local Mod scene was ‘part time’ and fairly low key, but I yearned to be part of it with my uncool old LI 150 bought from Colin Crouch!”
‘The Shoreline Hotel (the only teenage hotel run by teenagers for teenagers in Bognor)’
“The Shoreline Club was a ground floor dance area (several rooms knocked into one) and hotel rooms above ( not mixed sex ) . I had no money for such things and slept rough on the beach, meanwhile after that escapade some months later I had to appear at Bow street Magistrates court the result of being caught bleary eyed at Victoria station trying to avoid the train fare back from Bognor. Timeline here is 1966 ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys.”
My old head of English from the local Bognor Regis Grammar School, Colin Crouch reminisces about the Shoreline, saying,
“The staff at BRGS wrapped their gowns more tightly round them when the Shoreline was being discussed!”
(Left) Blair Montague-Drake, the 21 year-old Shoreline Assistant Manager and club photographer, and the eldest of Eric St John Foti’s clan of children in Arundel, wrote to me from Australia, where he now lives (and thanks, Blair, for use of the Shoreline/Caribbean pics):
“I doubt if any of the (local school) staff entered the premises. If so it was no doubt borne of fear. I was the assistant manager and we ran a very tight ship so to speak. There was STRICT segregation of boys and girls in the sleeping arrangements, in that one side of the hotel was for girls with a security guards on duty 24/7. We did not serve alcohol and drugs of any kind, other than cigarettes, were utterly prohibited.
We believe we served a vital role in youth development by providing a safe place to be, thus ensuring they were not roaming the streets. Any profits made were donated to charity. Many of the staff worked for very low wages plus keep because they believed in the aspirations of the company. It was fun, exciting and unique as an experience for everyone involved. There are a thousand stories to the Shoreline and Caribbean, this is only one of them.”
The Southbeats were the resident, house-band at the Shoreline (above) and lived-in. Joe Saliba, the lead singer, became a prominent DJ known as ‘Little Joe’, playing a lot of soul and Stax and Motown. Tracks like, Eddie Floyd’s Things get better’ and ‘Ain’t too proud to beg’ from the Temptations. And from ‘The South Coast Beat Scene in the 1960s’ book, we learn that:
“Beyond the two dance areas, was the entrance, where the membership cards were shown, money handed over or undesirables ejected. Basil Ragless was in charge of the bouncers, none looking tougher than Basil himself; his swarthy looks and ‘Popeye’ arms with their bulging muscles, belying his gentle character.”
1966 was a challenging year for Eric and his Shoreline team. The Bognor Regis Urban Development Committee and the local police were unhappy with the club. One member of the committee referred to living near to the club as like, “living on the edge of a volcano.” The focus of concern was not only what went on inside the club, but perhaps more on the impact hundreds of scooters and mods along the Bognor seafront was having on locals and tourists.
Under mounting pressure from the local council as well as from the national and local media, on October 29th 1966, Eric St John Foti signed over the Shoreline and the Caribbean to Harry and Barbara Pendleton, who were running London’s famous Marquee Club. According to the Eric St John Foti in ‘The South Coast Beat Scene’ book, “I didn’t get a penny from the Marquee lot. I could and probably should, have sued, however I tried to keep the situation positive by finding someone else to take it over. The people I thought were the right people were the Naylors, who had a nursing home in Slough…they sent in a guy called Philip Hamilton to oversee the place, they were pretty hopeless.” Mike Read’s book then informs us that the Naylors were actually called McPherson and there were serious financial question marks hanging over them too.
But the ‘piece de resistance’, has to be the following article that I found after a lot of hunting online, from Ray Baker, now in Australia. It’s all about his band ‘Frenzy’, who later morphed into ‘Heaven’, and whom I later saw play live at the Isle of Wight Festival. Methinks I’ve uncovered something closer to the ‘truth’ (whatever that is!). Ray writes:
“Another very notorious gig haunt of ours was ‘The Shoreline Club’ at Bognor Regis. New Years Eve 1967/8 saw me playing with two ex Royals, Ray Brook on Tenor Sax and Rick Semark on drums plus the ‘Gentle Giant’ Ray Todd on Bass. Just after midnight a huge ‘on stage’ brawl broke out between us and some drunken locals who wanted to get up on stage and sing and they demanded that we give them our instruments to play. Tenor sax player Ray Brook was quite a big guy who rode a Vincent Black Shadow motorbike and I can tell you now that it is a very unwise thing to demand of a very stroppy young guy like Ray Brook that you want his saxophone, particularly if you are standing looking up from the dance floor and he is standing above you on stage. Ray was pleased to oblige but ‘bad accidents’ can (and sometimes did) occur …Have you ever seen the damage that the vertical flange joint under a saxophone can inflict upon a guy’s forehead if he should suddenly jump up onto the stage and the sax ‘accidentally’ strike his head with great force? I can tell you that it’s not a very pretty sight to see a guy slowly slide down off the stage as his forehead opens right up between the eyes… Ooooh! very nasty and in that horrible key of B flat as well !
After several minutes of bloody battle that night, I ended up with an old-style solid glass Coke bottle smashed into the back of my skull which rendered me unconscious and during which time I had my night’s earnings of about five quid stolen out of my trouser pocket. Fortunately I’d had the very good sense to put my Strat safely away before launching myself into the melee. Further punishment of several hours at Bognor hospital emergency unit with a very unsympathetic, typically obese Matron shaving my long locks off and digging glass out of my skull with a scalpel and pick without any anaesthetic brings back very nasty and painful memories. I think I got off lightly compared with the two poor buggers that were ‘Selmered’ in the head by Ray Brook’s Tenor sax. Fortunately there was no police follow-up at all although my Dad was absolutely furious at the theft of my wages and he swore for weeks afterwards, ‘I’m going to pour 5 gallons of petrol round that bloody Shoreline Club and set light to the f*****g place’. I think it did eventually burn down a year later… didn’t it? Oh the joys of being a young muso eh? I can still feel that scar on my head to this day.”
From the ‘Portsmouth Music Scene’ website.
The end of the Shoreline does indeed seem to have been in 1968. I checked on the West Sussex County Records Office website and they have a record, from the local Bognor historian, Gerard Young’s collection (GY/PH 1959), of the Shoreline (Beaulieu) Hotel being demolished in 1968.
Some days – and nights! Rave On. R.I.P. the Shoreline Club and the Caribbean Teenotel.