Billy Fury, who visited Reepham in the summer of 1964, was a pop idol at the height of his fame and often dubbed “Britain’s Elvis Presley”. No doubt this was because they shared a similar hairstyle and a certain expertise in hip gyration.
The Reepham Fire Brigade was planning a fête on Stimpson’s Piece on 13 June of that year and wanted a celebrity to open the event and judge a beauty competition for “Miss Fire”.
Billy Fury was appearing in Great Yarmouth at the time. June Betts of the Reepham organising committee wrote to Billy’s agent, Larry Parnes, inviting him and Billy to the event.
They were pleased to accept and made no charge for the appearance, although they did require transport to and from Yarmouth and some stringent security arrangements, including a suggested 12 police officers for crowd control at the fête.
The late Vernon Whall was the designated driver on the day, according to Mrs Betts (although Evelyn Whall says the driver was Herbert Vout). He collected Billy and two minders, but they mistakenly believed they were only travelling the few miles to Reedham.
Panic ensued when they realised they had a much longer journey to Reepham. Vernon, however, calculated that the return journey could be achieved within the timeframe if the contest could be held immediately on arrival and if they could return to Yarmouth soon afterwards.
Fortunately, the timing and security arrangements worked well. Reepham only had two police officers at the time, but the desired number was made up by smartly uniformed fire officers.
There were around 10 contestants in the beauty pageant, most, but not all, from the Reepham neighbourhood and they paraded within the high fencing of the tennis court. A good crowd of spectators milled around outside.
Billy wasted no time selecting “Miss Fire” and a couple of runners-up. A newspaper photographer was on hand to capture the moment when Billy kissed the winner (below) and presented her with a white satin sash.
Billy was presented with gold cufflinks as a token of thanks. He greatly enjoyed a circuit of Stimpson’s Piece on a fire engine before rushing back to Yarmouth for his next stage performance.
The fête continued after Billy’s departure and, although it rained, a good time was had by all and an impressive £145 was raised for the Fire Service Benevolent Fund.
By Merilyn Meads, with thanks to June Betts
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