Tribute: Peter Maddock – in charge of Great Yarmouth’s Wellington Pier during its days of glory
PUBLISHED: 16:10 28 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:21 29 April 2019
Morecambe and Wise, Cliff Richard, Tommy Cooper, Bruce Forsyth and Val Doonican were among the stars who appeared there. Did you see them?
Peter Maddock made his career in the seaside world of smiles and sparkle, where entertainers helped folk forget everyday concerns for a while by having a laugh or tapping their feet to a well-known tune. Not so many years earlier, though, life for him had been far from carefree. Then, he'd been risking his skin to combat tyranny.
He was still a teenager when he first pulled on a uniform. Peter flew in aircraft such as Wellingtons and Mosquitos and was sent overseas – to India, Burma, Borneo, Singapore. There, he flew 40 sorties.
Abroad when the war ended, he took part in a victory parade in September 1945, and there was a flypast the following month when the American fleet arrived.
His military logbooks tell of days filled with risk and, sometimes, tragedy. One record tells of 600-plus hours of daytime flying. And then there's a list of colleagues from 110 Squadron who would never return home: killed on take-off… killed over target…
One can imagine this wartime experience putting life firmly in perspective and helping shape the young man's character.
Peter would become general manager of Great Yarmouth's Wellington Pier in 1957 – there for the glory days of the British seaside, when stars such as Morecambe and Wise enjoyed long summer seasons at the pier's Pavilion Theatre.
Another Peter, Peter Cresswell, was his deputy from 1968 to 1973. He says his boss “was a first class manager to work for; he was completely unflappable.
“That was highlighted on an evening in 1971 when we received an ominous bomb threat which necessitated us evacuating the pier. Fortunately it was a hoax.
“I certainly learned a great deal from him, for which I will be forever grateful.”
Peter Maddock was born at Christchurch, near Bournemouth, in the spring of 1921. He went to grammar school and then joined the RAF in the early part of the war (certainly before his 20th birthday). He was sent to Alabama, America, for three months, for training.
Peter became a navigator (qualifying a couple of weeks into 1942) and flew a dozen sorties in Boston aircraft, which had a crew of three.
Later, after six weeks at a training unit at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, Peter linked with 418 (City of Edmonton) Squadron – part of the Royal Canadian Air Force – at RAF Bradwell Bay, near Maldon, Essex.
Later still came an 18-week wireless operator's course at Cranwell in Lincolnshire. A commissioned pilot officer, he also spent time at the advanced flying unit at Wheaton Aston in Staffordshire – one of the RAF's biggest training sites.
Those overseas postings followed. The war finally won and things settling, flight lieutenant Peter returned to England in 1946.
He became a member of 418 Squadron Association, but daughter Georgina Dalton says her father rarely talked about his wartime experiences – not an uncommon reaction.
“I sat down with him and had a long session at one stage, several years ago” – piecing together the jigsaw of dates and places – “and my sons sometimes got more out of him. But, generally, he didn't say much.”
At the time of the millennium celebrations, the Government paid for ex-service personnel to go back to the places where they served. Georgina accompanied her dad to Singapore. They enjoyed tea on the British High Commission lawn, but the republic had changed hugely in half a century and for Peter little was recognisable.
To Yarmouth, by steam train
Back in England, demobbed, it was in Margate that Peter had started his career in entertainment management. He married Kent girl Mary, whom he'd met in the forces. (Georgina thinks her mother, whose parents had a pig farm, had been a military driver.)
After Margate, the family moved to Tynemouth, Northumberland, where Peter was director of entertainments. Georgina, aged two when they left Kent, says her dad's duties included managing the swimming pool (actually in the sea) and the boating lakes.
Then, the move to East Anglia. In 1957 Peter became general manager of the Wellington Pier.
“We came down on the train – a steam train – and it took the best part of the day to get there,” remembers Georgina. “We were put up in the Star Hotel and then he was given a council flat, I think in Sidney Close, which we lived in for several years. Then my mother and father bought a property which was being built at Caystreward, in Caister.”
The 213m (700ft) pier on Marine Parade was just over a century old when Peter took over. It was bought for £1,250 by the Great Yarmouth Corporation at the very end of the 1890s, and in the summer of 1903 a new pavilion opened. The Winter Gardens were secured for £2,400 when a project in Devon went pear-shaped. They became part of the Wellington Pier offering.
Peter ran things until 1974. “His management of the Wellington Pier was during the halcyon years when stars such as Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth, Harry Secombe and Val Doonican appeared at the Pavilion Theatre for a 17-week summer season,” says Peter Cresswell.
“In those days, the Wellington Pier complex incorporated a roller skating rink, catering outlets and the Winter Gardens, which was converted into a biergarten in 1966.”
Georgina thinks life on the east coast was probably her father's favourite time in the entertainment business. She recalls his delight when Eric and Ernie – his favourites – were in residence. “He'd say he'd go in 'just to check things out'… and hover – because they always made him laugh.”
Life was busy
The family grew while they were in Norfolk, with the arrivals of Victoria, Phillip (who, sadly, would die at 51) and Sally Ann.
At one point – the start of the 1970s, perhaps – Peter, Mary, Georgina and her late husband John pooled their resources, energies and expertise and bought rundown Ormesby Lodge at an auction.
“It was a dilapidated property, covered with ivy. Water pump in the kitchen,” says Georgina. “We gutted it and turned it into a restaurant and country club.”
Her husband was a chef, and she had worked in the hotel sector. They ran the “back end” and her parents concentrated on front-of-house.
It was a good time, business-wise. Great Yarmouth was benefiting from the offshore oil boom and the country club secured a Burmah Oil contract that could see the company block-book all nine bedrooms.
Peter was still working at Wellington Pier, where the hours could be very long during peak season. “He often used to come home quite late at night and have his meal at Ormesby Lodge,” says Georgina.
They also socialised with some of the stars on the bill at the pier. “Because we had Ormesby Lodge, we entertained in style.” Singer Vince Hill was one day having a meal with Georgina's parents when they heard she had gone into labour. And that's how Vince Hill ended up toasting the birth of her daughter Sarah.
Harry Secombe she remembers as a lovely man. The parade of big names during the Great Yarmouth years also included Leslie Crowther, Bruce Forsyth and Cliff Richard.
TVs and high-chairs
Ormesby Lodge wasn't the only business the family had. They'd started a hire service on Vauxhall Holiday Park.
“At that stage, people used to come to Yarmouth on the coaches and we hired out sheets, televisions, irons, high-chairs, pushchairs, cots (and more),” explains Georgina. “Caravans were basic in those days and people didn't bring things.”
They started a property management arm, too. It probably began at Sundowner Holiday Park, Hemsby, and also took in nearby Belle Aire. The management service included cleaning chalets, maintenance, and getting them ready on changeover day. It involved several hundred chalets.
Later, they bought the Sundowner freehold and started to buy chalets. A field was transformed into a camping area, too.
The family had Ormesby Lodge for only about three years. Georgina's husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. They sold the country club and concentrated on the chalet business.
In 1974, Peter and his wife said goodbye to Wellington Pier and he became director of leisure in Weymouth, Dorset.
“I think they always wanted to have their last job down south. They looked after my children every summer so I could concentrate on running the business. By then, we used to manage a lot of the holiday parks.”
He lived a good life
When Peter retired, he and Mary lived at Ottery St Mary, Devon. Not that he put up his feet, permanently… Peter set up a business with a friend who was a patent lawyer, and took care of the administration. His involvement continued until he was about 90!
Widowed, and still quite active, he moved back to Norfolk about seven years ago, to live with Georgina and her family in Norwich. A Christian since childhood, he would go to St Stephen's church in the city.
Peter always loved following football and cricket. He was a committed Norwich City fan, relinquishing his season ticket only about three years ago when it became hard to get up the steps and spectating proved too cold.
Georgina says her father had deteriorated since Christmas. On the morning he died, he asked her to help clean his teeth and shave him. “I walked him to the chair and when I'd finished shaving him, he said 'Can you call the ambulance now?'
“Within five minutes the ambulance was here, we got him to the hospital at half-past nine, and at half-past 12 he died.”
A week before, he'd been with members of the family, sitting on the cliff at Cromer, eating fish and chips. “And the Saturday before that, we were at The Swan hotel in Southwold, having a wonderful meal. He lived a good life.”
Peter had 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “Family was important to him.”
Quietly content with life
Peter Cresswell has many fond memories of his former boss – both professional and personal.
“In the days we worked together, it was all cash transactions. His financial acumen was outstanding. Peter Maddock was a thoroughly decent and genuine man who it was a pleasure to work for.”
Georgina says her father was “always a very placid, calm, organised person. He had a deep faith – he'd been with the Boys' Brigade, and church, at school – and that continued.
“He was very private and quietly content with life. He was very easy to live with, and really grateful for everything you did for him.”
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