THE NAME of BSR is one that will live on in Black Country industrial history for many years. Thousands of people were employed by the company at their works in Old Hill and Wollaston, making record changers, turntables, tape decks and other audio equipment.
At it is height BSR made 87% of all the record turntables sold in the world, exporting their components to all the leading manufacturers of record players. In recent months we have featured several items on BSR, with readers' memories and photographs of their days with the firm. Now we are grateful to Arthur Nicholls of Camberley, Surrey, former BSR publicity manager, for supplying these images of Ken Dodd on his visit to the Monarch Works in 1966.
Arthur, 71, was publicity manager from 1965 to 1968. He was born in Lower Gornal and attended Redhall School and Dudley Grammar School. On leaving school he went to work in the town clerk's office in Birmingham before completing his national service with the RAF. From there he worked at J. T. Price in Brierley Hill, the National Federation of Ironmongers in Birmingham, and Cannings of Birmingham, all the while still living in Gornal, before joining BSR. Arthur was responsible for the company's corporate image, promotion and public relations. He organised exhibitions and trade shows in Britain and abroad, and any special events that would help generate outside interest in the business.
When BSR came to launch their new minichanger, their range of compact record changers, Arthur thought of approaching Ken Dodd to help promote them. Ken was then appearing in the pantomime Humpty Dumpty at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Arrangements were made and on 26th January, 1966, BSR took a party of children from the Fairhaven Children's Home in Wordsley to see the show (see front page). After the show Garth Wooldridge, the sales manager, presented Ken with the first three minichangers available in the UK. One was to go to the Over 60s Club which met in Highgate Street in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, while another was to go to the Jubilee Old Age Pensioners Club in Firfield, Liverpool, of which Ken Dodd was the vice-president.
Ken Dodd was then at the very height of his fame. He was the star of hit TV and radio shows and had recently been made Variety Club Personality of the Year. In 1965 he had wowed audiences with his record-breaking 42-week residency at the London Palladium and his record Tears had sold over two million copies, staying at number one in the charts for five weeks. After the presentation at the Hippodrome Ken agreed to visit the BSR Monarch Works at Old Hill, but because he was so busy his visit could not take place until 1st March, 1966.
Arthur went to fetch Ken from Birmingham in the company Rolls-Royce, which BSR kept to impress customers. Dr McDonald, BSR's founder and chairman, habitually drove a Mercedes but felt that a Rolls-Royce was more in keeping with the BSR image. Arthur remembers people lining the streets to see the star comedian when they arrived in Old Hill, and in the factory Ken was mobbed by enthusiastic BSR workers, as you can see in these pictures. In one picture you can see Ken, famed tickling stick in hand, pushing through the crowd of happy BSR workers. The fair-haired man, visible behind Ken's head, is Arthur Nicholls, caught up in the fun of the day along with everyone else.
Ken told the BSR work force that he had come "to discover what made his records go round" and he was taken on a tour of the factory. Ken Dodd had sold millions of records while BSR had sold many millions of record players. Ken's records had come into contact with BSR turntables many times before but this was the first time that the two million-sellers met, as it were.
While on the tour Ken was given a gift by the BSR workers. It was presented by 21-year-old Dorothy Williams, a packer on one of the minichanger assembly lines. Because of the date, 1st March, St David's day, Dorothy had dressed in traditional Welsh costume and you can see her with Ken in one of the photographs.
After the factory tour Ken gave an off-the-cuff performance for the workers and the pictures show him entertaining his BSR audience. At the end of the show one of the BSR directors, F.H.C. Wise, presented the comedian with another record player. This was a battery operated portable featuring the latest BSR minichanger and Ken was clearly pleased with the gift.
In one of these photographs you can see Ken with his arms around two young ladies while surrounded by some of the 1,500 women that were employed at the BSR Monarch works in 1966. Does anyone recognise themselves or can they put a few names to some of the faces?
Many thanks to Arthur Nicholls for supplying these pictures and providing the details behind the tale of how the Squire of Knotty Ash came to visit the good folk of Old Hill.