What a great initiative: as its contribution to the commemorations of the 50thanniversary of the closure of the frontier, the National Archives has digitised its collection of the Gibraltar Evening Post and placed it online for everyone to enjoy. There are ten months’ worth, from the first edition on Monday 3 March 1969 through to the end of that tumultuous year.
As I browse, so many memories!
Childhood ones of course as I was barely 11 years old when Franco cruelly cut us off from the wider world, far too young to understand how momentous the events of 1969 were. Not just the frontier. We also got a new, modern Constitution and saw Sir Joshua Hassan toppled for the first and only time as Gibraltar’s political supremo. Although he obtained 1,500 votes more in that year’s general election than his Integration With Britain Party rival, Major ‘Bob’ Peliza, he was unable to form a government and had to settle – briefly – for the role of leader of the opposition.
Naturally I was only vaguely aware of all of this. Instead, what I do remember well from reading the Evening Post as a boy are the everyday things. They may be banned today but eye-catching, page-dominating cigarette advertisements were all the rage 50 years ago and must have tempted more than a few to sample the vile weed.
Long-gone eateries also did their best to seduce. Take this example from a newly-opened Lotus House in Main Street: “Her desire is that you should be satisfied for her only wish is to satiate your Chinese appetite”. Meanwhile Le Coq d’Or at 4 Cornwall’s Parade offered, “Fresh large prawns served to suit your individual taste”. And you could get a four-course meal at the Casino Royale Restaurant for 25 shillings: £1.25 in today’s money.
What brought back the most vivid memories of all, though, was the Post’s coverage of everything to do with the Football Pools. Younger readers may not even be familiar with the term but back in the 1960s people dreamt of getting rich by “doing the pools”. Sure, the government lottery already existed but the first prize was just £3,000: a tidy sum but hardly a fortune. On the other hand, for a modest stake the pools held out the tantalising prospect of winning hundreds of thousands of pounds.
There were numerous ways of playing, but if you wanted a chance of hitting the jackpot you had to correctly forecast eight score-draws from (usually) the English and Scottish professional league matches. (During the close-season summer months Australian league fixtures would be used). Pools agents would drop off a coupon at your home at the beginning of the week and collect it a few days later, together with your stake, after you’d filled it in with an ‘X’ for every match you selected. You then waited expectantly for Saturday evening to listen to the football results on the radio (no live matches on TV then), jotting them down on your coupon as you did so. Unlike nowadays, when games are stretched out sometimes from Friday to Monday, all matches were held on Saturdays with the same kick-off time.
Now in those pre-FM days, radio broadcasts were plagued with crackle resulting in many a score being missed by punters. And that’s where the Evening Post came in. The Saturday edition was eagerly awaited, as it would publish a pools coupon replica with all the results neatly filled in. My dad would methodically check his own completed results against the newspaper’s hoping, I expect, that those he hadn’t heard properly had ended in a score draw, edging him closer to that coveted “first dividend”. Needless to say it never happened.
The Post’s pools-related coverage wasn’t limited to Saturdays either. Midweek it published the next match-day fixtures, suggesting its own tips, and announced the dividend forecast from the previous Saturday’s results. Ads by the major pools companies – Littlewoods and Vernons, Zetters and Copes – added to the mystique, with intricate explanations of their “plans” and “perms”. It was all fascinating stuff for a young adolescent getting his first glimpses of the adult world, and I have the Gibraltar Evening Post to thank for it.