Remembering when Bonfire Night wasn’t a week-long noise nuisance

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guy Fawkes’ Night – or Bonfire Night, if your prefer.

As a child it was something of a non-event in that my parents instead gave me extra pocket money rather than investing in stuff which quite literally went up in smoke.

Thus, from the late Seventies to the mid-Eighties my younger brother Matt and I could be found on the evening of November 5 sitting on the ottoman and staring up at the sky through the bay window in mum and dad’s bedroom.

We watched for free the fireworks being let off from neighbour’s gardens and the distant bonfires.

The explosions may have been smaller and quieter but in truth I was frightened to death of sparklers and preferred to spend any money I had on toy soldiers or Panini stickers.

Back then, of course, Bonfire Night wasn’t the week-long noise nuisance it is now and so November 5 was rather special.

People didn’t tend to let off fireworks at weddings, for Diwali or the Chinese New Year or, indeed, store in their shed enough explosives for their New Year’s Eve celebrations to take out a Challenger tank.

These days anyone with a pet dog, like yours truly, will be seriously considering sedating them for several days in order to minimise the stress caused by the modern-day equivalent of The Blitz.

I recall small community bonfires such as one I attended at Smallthorne WMC but genuinely had no concept that events such as Betley Bonfire attracted thousands of people every year.

What had begun at Betley Court Farm in the 1950s as annual thank you from the farmer to his customers had, by the late Seventies, become a huge money-spinner for local charities attracting upwards of 12,000 people – depending on the weather.

Around that time Stoke-on-Trent’s first council-run bonfire and fireworks display was being staged at Fenton Recreation Ground – as part of a concerted attempt by local authorities to help reduce the number of casualties in backyards and on waste ground.

Meanwhile, the Government was bombarding us with public information adverts on telly which scarred a generation.

Many will remember the one, presumably narrated by Harry Enfield’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner, which started with the words: “There’s a child who’s life has changed in the last year…”

It went on to tell how the boy in question, whose face was obscured, couldn’t play football or cross the road unaided and wouldn’t be able to enjoy Bonfire Night because someone had thrown a firework at him.

Find it on the internet – I guarantee you it’s sure to bring back the nightmares from your childhood.

These days my children are old enough to stay up and appreciate November 5 – and I always make sure I reiterate the origins of this peculiarly British celebration. That is that we celebrate the foiling of a plot by a terrorist to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the King.

Or, depending on your view of life, the capture of “the last man to enter Parliament with honourable intentions.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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