Essex Carriers were always getting their transport jobs in the local papers so it seemed a good idea to indulge in more public relations. Nearby Southend-on-Sea had an annual Carnival parade in aid of the town hospital, and for years we had provided trucks for floats, most entries were either straight advertisements or some sort of set with people sitting about waving. We decided to do something silly, in fact the sillier the better, but it needed organising properly.
I devised the various entries for the carnival, usually built around one of the mobile cranes. Our first effort was making a huge body to enclose the truck with my head sticking out, the shoulders and flexible arms carrying a sort of bowl. I drove the contraption the distance to town very tediously at about six miles an hour to the amazement of a traffic cop who couldn’t find anything in the book to say a fork-lift on trade plates was committing an offence. I drove the parade route with my brother-in-law in the bowl wearing silly clothes and hat and waving in what we hoped was a comical manner. The makers operating manual said on no account should you pump the forks up and down while moving so that’s what I did. It seemed to go down (and up) well.
So, in the following years the cranes and Curly Ford came into their own. For instance, because Flying Saucers were in the news for some reason, our flying Cup and Saucer was a large cup in a four metre wide saucer on a large ball joint on the top end of one of the cranes and Curly and I (in silly hats) rushed from side to side so it lurched, tilted and went round. Looking back it was insanely unsafe but it worked.
What would be required in safety gear today, from hard hats through harnesses to steel-toed boots, would rather take the joke out of it.
The following years saw a giant stork with Curly hanging from its beak in a cradle, in a diaper as a baby already started on smoking, with the slogan in large letters “We deliver anything except babies.” I drove in full nurse’s uniform rather spoiled by my moustache.
At the time of the Festival of Britain a feature was the Skylon, some sort of suspended spike. So, we had the Skyloff, an airship with a dinghy for a gondola, with me in the bows as captain with beer-bottle binoculars and Curly as a pirate rowing mightily.
A short newsreel clip showing the ‘Skyloff’ with Eddy and Curly can be viewed at the bottom of this page, courtesy of British Pathé.
Another year we clad the crane in clouds and hanging below was Curly as Cupid with his bow (in diaper) and me as an angel with harp, and both of us with haloes and wings. I contacted the Peter Pan‘s Kirby‘s Flying Ballet to fit us up and they declared it was impossible to fly while on the move.
It was some time before my cries were realized as not part of the act and I was just saved from infertility in time.
So I got a local tarpaulin maker to run us up canvas corsets which worked fine in rehearsal but on the day itself my lace-up at the back got tied off on to the suspension and the further we went the tighter I got squeezed. It was some time before my cries were realized as not part of the act and I was just saved from infertility in time.
When the prototype jump jets became known as Flying Bedsteads we had one that was a four-poster. I sat in front in Biggles gear on a bicycle pedalling away to turn the propeller. Curly languished behind most inelegantly.
I cannot recall how the House on Fire worked but think it involved a smoke machine that reeked of used motor oil and greatly distressed the folk on the floats behind us.
There was a low bridge on the route and we would motor up to it with the jib elevated and while the crowd shouted “Look out!“ we would lower at the last moment and just skim under.
We managed to win some sort of prize every year, and for the “Torchlight“ parade we would string 60 watt bulbs all over and tow a generator. One year it rained buckets, and everyone who touched any metal bits got a good 240 volt belt.
Rather like wet paint, the more we shouted warnings the more they had to try it!
Southend put on a Town exhibition and I built the back of our stand out of cartons of all the national and other brands we carted about, with a sign in large letters “You bought it, we brought it“. We got the RHA to make this into stickers and it appeared on trucks for a while but never caught on. Since a lot of leaflets and samples were given away, I had sturdy carriers given out, printed with, of course, “Essex Carriers” in large orange letters. These were about the town for quite a long time afterwards.
Click this link to view British Pathé newsreel clip of Southend Carnival 1951