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Complainant Name:
Mrs Mary Cassaday

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Guernsey Press and Star


Mrs Mary Cassaday, the wife of Sydney James, and their daughters Hayley James and Cindy Lawson, complained that a Lookback article about St George's Hall had failed to acknowledge the significant contribution that Mr James had made to the venue.


The complaint was resolved by the publication of the following letter:

FOLLOWING your Lookback publication of 24 February, may I say that islanders of my generation may have a rather different recollection of events.

Norman Piette Saw and Planing Mills had granted Sydney James the lease of St George's Hall from the late 50s onwards because - as has been confirmed again only recently by its surviving co-director - ‘they wanted someone who knew what they were doing and Sydney James was that man'.

When my husband took the venue on, it was a notorious trouble zone, but he overcame this problem by implementation of a teenage club scheme, i.e., in order to attend the pop events and dances, teenagers had to join the club, and a club membership required that an existing member must first act as your guarantor.

Thereafter, if ‘one' member misbehaved, both were automatically barred for a month. This clever device kept the teenagers beholden to each other for fear of missing the forthcoming dances and iconic pop performances by groups such as the Stones, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc.

Former police of that era will confirm that Police Chief Cyril Eley was delighted by the success of this clean-up operation, as the force had been struggling to cope with the problems. He not only congratulated Sydney for keeping the kids off the streets, but effectively cemented his approval by holding the annual police balls at St George's Hall.

Sydney had also renamed the venue the New Theatre Ballroom, to further distance it from its troubled past. It rapidly became a musical Mecca. Famous big bands such as the Ted Heath and Sid Phillips orchestras appeared there, as did Johnnie Dankworth, Cleo Laine and many others.

The much loved Olde Tyme Music Hall shows were also staged there up until 1964 and even attended by the BBC representatives who bombarded Sydney with questions throughout the performances. The familiar formula was soon to be repeated in its long running TV series ‘The Good Old Days'.

Mr James would neither have expected or permitted his artistes, whether fellow professionals or otherwise, to perform in a substandard venue. I myself was a Columbia recording artiste when I first appeared at St George's and would never have appeared there again, much less become Sydney's co-director, if it had been anything less than the top UK venues I was enjoying by that time. The buzz there was truly phenomenal.

Sydney had invested considerable sums of his own money to transform the hall from its basic state. Amazingly, all his ventures were acts of private enterprise, i.e. unsubsidised by the States. Here, as at his other venues, he also raised many thousands of pounds for charity.

My memories are not rooted in bias. Extensive research and references confirm the extent and the quality of Sydney's refurbishments and just how much he invested - and risked - financially to achieve his vision.

Sydney's achievements won him many plaudits from numerous customers, hoteliers, tourism officials, charities and artistes over the years. The Jersey impresario Dick Ray, who is still producing successfully today, said, ‘He took risks that would have scared the pants off me,' and upon Sydney's death published a touching tribute in the Jersey Evening Post referring to him as ‘the daddy of them all.'

My husband wanted islanders to have the best of everything at a price affordable to all pockets. Indeed, years later (by which time he was producing cabarets), he would chuckle to see that even the Blanchelande College convent was charging higher admission prices for its school performances than he was for his professional shows.

I feel privileged to have been a part of that magical golden era, which daily lights up the faces of islanders who still stop this family eager to reminisce.

Thank you to all those who commented to us directly.

MRS MARY CASSADAY (nee James, aka Marshall), Sydney and Mary James Productions Ltd, GY8 0AE.

Report: 79

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