§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Dartford)
At Question time on 28th October, I referred to the lack of initiative in popularising the Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens in 1952 and asked for an assurance that something better would be introduced in the 1953 season. I went on to make the point that if the Board was short of ideas, I should be prepared to supply them.
The Minister, in replying, stated that the Board had spent £35,000 in 1952 on advertising and that he would endeavour to see that I had a discussion with the Board on the matter. This seems to have created some misunderstanding. For instance, "The Times" editorial the next morning said that the Minister had invited me to give ideas which would result in the spending of more of the taxpayers' money. To anyone who has the orthodox approach, that is understandable, because they think of posters, newspaper advertisements, handbills, leaflets and so on, but I had no such idea. I had in mind that with new technique, and as a result of the introduction of novel and attractive methods, it would be possible to get a better form of publicity with more newsy items, particularly in the Press.
Before I make any further remarks about this, I must say that it is my opinion and the opinion of most people in the show world that Sir Leslie Joseph, the Chairman of the Board, is one of Britain's greatest showmen, if not the greatest showman in this country, and nothing that I say should detract from the good job which he has done in very difficult circumstances. However, it is a stark fact that on a venture where showmanship in the highest circles is essential he is the only member of the Board who can claim to be a practical showman, and it is essential that at least one other practical showman should be added. In 1951 there were two.
Those who know something about this business—I claim to do so, having spent 1361 nine years building some of the biggest trade exhibitions in Great Britain—are absolutely amazed—this is the main reason for my introducing the subject—at the lack of knowledge of the higher lights for the 1953 season. There was some excuse in 1952, because Parliament did not make up its mind soon enough. In those circumstances, advertising costs more and one does not get the results that are possible when one has elbow room to introduce schemes.
Does the Board realise that in November and December, 1952, there are countless numbers of works and other organisations and Coronation committees who are making decisions about what is to happen in 1953? Yet there is no sign of any attractive prospectus from the Board which ought to be considered by those who are now making those decisions. That really would be the main criticism that most people have got of this at the present time.
I submit that, cutting out the orthodox publicity for a moment, there are many forms of publicity providing the right technique is used. The first thing to be remembered is that this venture belongs to the people. The taxpayers are the people who are putting the money up, and in that respect there are openings for the Board that probably would be non-existent if it were a wholly private enterprise venture.
I have discussed with the first citizens of a wide area in North-West Kent a proposition which has evoked a good deal of enthusiasm, and in the few minutes I have got I would put it in this way. The Mayor of Dartford, Alderman F. Pirman, has authorised me to give an invitation in this House to the Board to send a representative to Dartford. As Mayor he will chair the meeting, and as has been done on other occasions, he will invite representatives from the many works in the locality, many organisations well-known to the local authority and the Coronation Committee to meet in the council chamber, where there will be a gathering of people all of whom are interested in the Gardens.
The representative of the Board will have to know something of the attractions which can be presented. He will have to be ready to give information about bus and railway parties, and he will have to give an undertaking that if 1362 the town has a big outing to the Gardens, there will be an official welcome given to it, whether it is from works or from the town. Some time during the afternoon or evening a fuss could be made of some of the visitors at some special spot and the visitors presented with some souvenirs which might only be certificates. Following that up, there could be items of local news from month to month passed to the various localities.
I speak as a Co-operative Member of Parliament and one who is a former Co-operative publicity manager. It is with some pride that I recall that on 11th October of this year the London Co-operative Society was almost given a free hand to organise a Co-operative day to the Festival Gardens, and Mr. Axon, the public relations officer, and his staff brought out all sorts of crowd-drawing attractions. It was the L.C.S. machinery which was used and it did not cost the Gardens a penny piece. The attendance that day was the highest of the season except for the two Bank Holidays. It was estimated that the effort brought at least 20,000 people to the Gardens.
In 1953, why not a co-operative week? The L.C.S. is only one of 12,000 societies, although it is probably the largest in the country. There is an immense fund of good will in the Co-operative movement for the Gardens, and a readiness to use the machinery to popularise them. A Co-operative week could be organised without cost to the Gardens and, of course, there are other organisations, too. Why should they not be approached exactly on the same lines? These Gardens belong to the people, and it is up to the Board to recognise the opportunities, which will cost little or no money and from which great results can be obtained.
When the Board's representative comes to Dartford, the Gardens, if they get nothing else, will get two or three columns on the front page of two of the county newspapers of Kent and all for nothing. That will be infinitely more valuable than any advertisements or poster sites that might be put up. What can be done in Dartford can be done in hundreds of other places, starting from the fringe of London and working round.
I expect the Minister will give some elaborate figures in reply to me to show 1363 that in 1952 there were 12,000 column-inches about the Gardens in the daily newspapers and 1,858 news items in the provincial newspapers. For some of those I was responsible, and not the Board, and so were other hon. Members who have spoken about the Battersea Gardens. This week I asked a Question in the House and it had a lot of publicity. It is quite possible that there will be a lot of publicity after this Adjournment Motion. That all goes to swell the column-inches in the newspapers.
Anyhow, the publicity should have been three times 1,858 inches. That publicity could be obtained three or four times without any expense to the Gardens. I do not want to cut down legitimate advertising, because I should get into trouble. I say that for £35,000 we could get infinitely more publicity and get more people to the Gardens as a result.
These are the things that make news. If the Board do not like them, I can supply others. There is a need now to begin the publicity. For example, there could be a beauty competition for Coronation year. There are umpteen organisations throughout the country who are ready to stage the earlier rounds, so long as the final, which would be very attractive, could be held in the Gardens. We could use a stage coach. We could get hold of some of the riding schools to provide horses, with people on horse-back wearing masks. The riding schools would like to have their names in the papers. What about a decorated bus? Let it make a tour of each district and be received by the mayor and corporation. It could stay to answer inquiries and get bookings. Let us get a little imagination into this matter.
We must get people to come. They will like to let their hair down and do a bit of "Knees up, Mother Brown." Everybody does not want to do it. That is the trouble with some of the people who get to the top of these things. They do not realise that the majority of people want to do it. Whatever Government are at the helm for the next few years, there will be need for the mass of the people to be able to let their hair down now and again for the things that the Gardens will give them.
Take some of the cycle and athletics people. Have a cycle run around Britain, 1364 or a Coronation torch run. Those are the things that give columns in the provincial local weekly newspapers. The nationals may give them a few inches. These things are being neglected. What about a helicopter? I used one in my propaganda campaign. Of course, there were obstacles. All the civil servants wanted to stop it, but I had it in Dartford, Wanstead Park and Gravesend. I did not hear anybody object. There were advertisements on both sides of the helicopter. What is needed is a little imagination; not cash, but common sense and imagination.
If I had the job I could do it quite simply. Why not have a helicopter? If it will not land on the Gardens, we can get one of the barges on the river to let it land there. A helicopter can land on a pocket handkerchief. If we want a textile or cotton queen, there will be plenty of people in Lancashire who will pay all the expenses because they would get their names, with the name of the Gardens, into the news items. That is what brings people. Curiosity, if nothing else, will swell the crowds. Everybody knows that the more people there are the better the show. That is typical of the people.
When it comes to the big attractions, I have discussed this with the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain—they offered me the job of publicity manager—and the Amusement Caterers' Association, and they are prepared. Mr. Murphy, the secretary of the Showmen's Guild, is willing to introduce into Battersea Park this next season one of the most sensational roundabouts in this country. He can have it made in time if the approval is given. Five cars can run abreast, if necessary, in which the passengers are the people who control them.
Mr. Bates, the Vice-President of the Showmen's Guild, will introduce the sensational roundabout which was seen at the famous Munich Fair in October of this year. With the exception of several parts which would need to be imported the rest could be built in Scotland and could be ready for the Gardens when he gets word that approval is given for it.
There is the question of the Service Departments, and I believe that much more could be done with them to provide attractive events in and around Battersea 1365 Park in connection with a recruiting campaign. It might also be done in connection with the Home Guard. That would, indeed, be bringing these recruiting campaigns to where there are a large number of people. They should be harnessed to the Gardens.
I have been told by people who know something about it that the greatest use has not been made of educational authorities for bringing school children to the Gardens, as they brought them to the Wembley Exhibition and to other places. I have discussed this matter with educational authorities and, like myself, they are amazed at the deadness of approach in all these matters. There are other aspects also where not more cash is required, but common sense.
One of the biggest handicaps to Battersea Park is the terrible transport facilities. People travelling by bus have to be dropped about a quarter of a mile away and then picked up again. Coach parties are in the same position. It is absolutely fantastic and anyone might think that those who introduced it had in mind to strangle the venture. There is a great need for common sense and co-operation from the Commissioner of Police and the transport authorities; especially when inside the Gardens is a road which would take 500 buses and which would provide the better facilities which must be provided, especially for people getting away in the evening.
The river services could be improved. There could be more done between Victoria Embankment and Greenwich and Hammersmith. What is required is more imagination and colour and, if I may say so, though I know the Minister will laugh, more music, with colourful bands playing seductive gypsy music or other attractive music.
The price of food in another point, "Hot dogs" at 10d.; doughnuts, 6d.; cups of tea, 4d.; sandwiches, 2s. 0d.—that is robbing the people. There is need for the lowest possible prices for refreshments and food and admission charges should be kept as low as possible.
To the carping critics I would say that fairs are part of the British way of life. Something like 200 to 250 fairs are held in this country every week each year between Easter and November. Some of them have been running for 700 years 1366 under charters granted by King John. In my native town of Newcastle this year an all-time record of over a million people saw the annual fair on the Town Moor. Every civilised country provides such an attraction. Paris has its Luna Park; Stockholm and Copenhagen their Tivolis; New York has its Coney Island; Rio de Janeiro has its—I do not know how to pronounce the word but I will have a shot at it—"Copacabana." San Francisco has the Barbary Coast and Los Angeles its Hollywood, and those who have seen them declared that Battersea Pleasure Gardens is the best of the lot.
In conclusion, I should like to quote one of the greatest columnists we have ever had in this country, the late Ian Mackay. Before his death, which we all regret he wrote:The place is not only gay and graceful, but at night, when all its banks are gleaming, it hangs like a jewel on the bank of the river.He went on:… that is why I am ashamed of my fellow Londoners—they are not using the Gardens as much as they should—unless they wake up spoilsports and sourpuss politicians will close the place down.His final remarks were:If the Cockney lets the place go, there is no health in them, and I hope that it rains every Saturday for a million years. Come on Cockneys, Marie Lloyd and Albert Chevalier are looking down on you!"—and they are by now probably joined by Ian Mackay.
I do not ask for the spending of more cash for publicising the Gardens. If I had more time, I could put forward more ideas, but I say to the Minister that if these that I have given are not good enough, he can give me a week and I will produce a lot more. By all means use all the orthodox advertising methods, but also introduce a new technique that will help to ensure a good dividend for the taxpayer and, above all, make the venture the greatest show on earth.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. David Eccles)
The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) told the House that he was an expert in showmanship. I do not think that any of us will quarrel with his title to that expertise. I am grateful to him for his ideas. He has in fact, already put them to the managing director of Festival Pleasure Gardens, Ltd., and he has found out that the 1367 great majority of them have either been tried or are under consideration. However—
§ Mr. Eccles
I am sorry, I must continue. We must thank the hon. Member this afternoon for giving the Company some free publicity, for which the Board will be very grateful.
The hon. Member says that he wants publicity that does not cost money. We all agree with that. I am not an expert in advertising, as is the hon. Member but I have found in my business life that publicity usually ends somewhere or other in costing money—not always, but usually—and that some of it pays and some of it does not. The difficulty is to strike a balance between the enthusiasm of the publicity expert and the limited resources of the Company.
I cannot think that things like cycle runs all round Britain, helicopters, torch runs and that kind of thing can be done for nothing. If they can, we will try them.
§ Mr. Eccles
The hon. Member says the Co-op., his old employers, put up a wonderful show. So they did, but my information is that 20,000 Co-operators came to the Gardens but that the amount spent on publicity to get them there was more than the Co-operators spent when they got into the Gardens. As the hon. Member admitted, all the publicity to get them there came from the dividends of the Co-operative movement. If they like to spend money on publicity to get people into the Gardens, who am I to object? Indeed, if they would do it on a larger scale next year we would be glad.
In the first year of operation, the Gardens hardly required to advertise themselves because the South Bank Exhibition did the job for them. Last summer, there was no South Bank to hand on visitors to Battersea. In the season, the company spent £35,000 on publicity. It can be argued that that was too little or that it was not well spent—that is a matter for those who are experienced in this sort of thing.
1368 As against all the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, the House may be glad to know that the Amusement Caterers' Association were asked what they thought of the publicity in this last season, and they gave their opinion that even if more money had been spent, or if the money that was spent had been used differently, it would have made practically no difference. That is the view of the people who are operating at the Gardens.
§ Mr. Eccles
We differ in this matter. If the hon. Gentleman was in my shoes he would be interfering with this Company all the time. He would be running it. I do not think that that is the business of the Minister. In my view, we must select a good Board and leave it to them. It is wrong that the Government should mix themselves up in beauty contests and things of that kind. None the less, the Gardens held a beauty contest last year. They have plans for one next year. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will send him the date and, if such be published, a race card of the competitors and he may go and, I hope, enjoy it.
There are one or two points raised which I should like to meet. I also have confidence in Sir Leslie Joseph. I have considered this question and I do not think that I can find another member of the showman's profession who would strengthen the Board. In my view, we can fully trust that side of the business to Sir Leslie. On the question of the publicity, we have on the Board Sir Gerald Barry, who has a deservedly high reputation for publicity. But I think that the Board themselves, including Sir Gerald, are considering whether they might be strengthened there. That matter will receive further attention.
I think that the hon. Gentleman was quite unfair about the co-operation of the London boroughs and local authorities. That has been done on a considerable scale. We will now cast the net wider. We will welcome the Mayor of Dartford and anybody else who will 1369 come from Dartford, pay the 2s., and go through the turnstile. We have already accepted this. Almost everything the hon. Gentleman has mentioned today has already been done and is out of date.
Let us take the question of more sensational acts. The hon. Gentleman speaks as if Mr. Murphy, with his new sensational roundabout, had been trying to get into the Gardens and could not. Nothing of the kind. No application has been received from Mr. Murphy. The Company has now contacted Mr. Murphy and if he wants to come in they will be very interested.
The same is true of Mr. Bates. No application was received from Mr. Bates. It is no good saying that it is a bright idea of the hon. Gentleman's that Mr. Bates should come. The Company themselves have approached him and said, "If you are ready and have been able to construct this racing car which was made on the Continent, and can get one or two parts imported"—I believe that is arranged; I do not know—"we will have it." I mention these matters only because most of them have been under active consideration. It is not correct for the hon. Gentleman to come here and launch them out as though they were new ideas which only he had thought of.
The prices charged for food were mentioned. The hon. Gentleman talked about prices for "hot dogs" and sandwiches, and that kind of thing. I have had these compared with the prices charged at Olympia and Earls Court. Battersea comes out well on the comparison. The season there is short, and this is not very economic catering. I also think that this business was started on too big a scale. It may well be that the caterers require more experience at Battersea before they can get their affairs working efficiently. I hope that they will succeed. I agree that 1370 it seems a lot to pay for these small snacks, but perhaps next year that can be made better.
On transport, the hon. Gentleman has one very good point. I want to say, first of all, that the co-operation we have had from the police has at all times been most helpful. We have tried hard on this question of transport, but it is not easy to get this transport better. It would be necessary to take away more of the park to make parking places. Naturally the public there resent that.
It is not easy to get extra bus services. The hon. Gentleman may remember that the L.C.C. have a substantial interest in the Gardens. We are very fortunate in their representatives on the Board. They have done their best to help us, and they know about London transport. If they have encountered great difficulties in improving the service, it cannot be that this is something which has just been neglected. Again, we are trying next year.
The hon. Gentleman complained about the misleading comments in the Press. I do not mind much about that. The essential thing about the Press is that it should be free and should remain free. Of course, we must pay the price, which is a certain amount of criticism. We are quite willing to criticise each other in this House. Why should we resent being criticised by the Press from outside? The only effective answer to Press criticism is a successful season next year, and that is the object of the Company. It is the object of all who wish it well. I end by assuring the hon. Gentleman that all his ideas, new and old, will be carefully considered, and we are grateful for them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes to Five o'Clock.