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Celebrity Shop Openings
Basildon Town Centre:
The first shops in Basildon Town Centre opened in August 1958 at Market Square, Market Pavement and Town Square. At that time South Walk, East Square, East Walk and Southernhay were all under construction and ready for occupation by 1959.

Some of the first to open were established businesses like Henbest and Charsley who traded in Laindon and hardware dealers Knibbs and Mayes from Vange and Wickford. These traders were already known to the locals but other Essex businesses and the big national concerns attracted by the prospects of a shop in the new town soon began to occupy the newly completed units.

One way to attract new custom was to invite a celebrity to a special opening event aimed at promoting the business to the locals. Even in the late 1950s celebrity shop or other business openings were nothing new but Basildon has attracted its fair share over the years.
John Walton
Location: 74-76 Town Square
Opened: Saturday 6th December 1958
Celebrity: Arthur Askey (06/06/1900 – 16/11/1982)
One of the first celebrity shop openings, if not the first, occurred in December 1958 when radio, film, stage & tv personality Arthur Askey opened the mens and boys clothing shop John Walton. The diminutive comedian, famous for his catchphrase "Ay-Thang-Yaw" (I thank you), starred in a number of television productions as well as films including the The Ghost Train from 1941. The shop was on two floors (mens ground, boys 1st floor) and for many years supplied school uniforms. At the time of opening, John Walton, which was established in 1912, had outlets at Bethnal Green, Bow, Barkingside, Dagenham, Edmonton, Forest Gate, Plaistow, Tottenham and Harlow New Town. It survived into the 1980s becoming John Kent before eventual closure later in the decade.
Location: 5 East Square
Opened: December 1959
Celebrity: Jill Ireland (24/04/1936 – 18/05/1990)
Rising film actress Jill Ireland was perhaps the first female celebrity to visit the town centre when she made an appearance to open a branch of Stewards. She was married to fellow actor David McCallum who accompanied her on the visit. Her film appearances at the time included Hell Drivers, The Big Money and Carry on Nurse. Stewards were probably the biggest success story in the early days of Basildon Town Centre. From humble beginnings in High Road Vange they expanded with shops at Wickford, Whitmore Way, Timberlog Lane and in the town centre at East Walk, Southernhay and East Square. They sold electrical, household goods, garden equipment, mopeds, prams, toys, chinaware, records, tapes etc. and were run by Jack Shepard who also organised the Basildon Carnival. Unfortunately it wasn't to last and the business folded around 1965.
Location: 36 Southernhay
Opened: Saturday 27th June 1964
Celebrities: Adam Faith (23/06/1940 – 08/03/2003), P.J. Proby (06/11/1938), Alan Freeman (06/07/1927 – 27/11/2006) and Tony Hall (01/04/1928 – 26/06/2019)
A whole host of stars were in town for the opening of Leytonia. The biggest of these was the pop singer turned actor Adam Faith, who had family connections in the town. Faith, born Terence Nelhams Wright, had a succession of hits in the late 1950s/1960s including two number one's with "What Do You Want?" and "Poor Me". His films included Mix Me a Person, Never Let Go and What a Whopper. This appearance was to promote his latest record "I Love Being in Love With You", recorded with the Roulettes which went on to make No.33. American born actor and singer P.J. Proby relocated to England for a time in early 1964. His first success here was a cover version of the 1933 song "Hold Me", released on 15th May 1964, which reached No.3 on the hit parade. He followed this with "Together", "Somewhere" and "Maria", which all reached the UK top ten. Though his career would later decline in popularity he continued to perform well into the 2010s. Australian born Alan "Fluff" Freeman had relocated to Great Britain in 1957 where he worked as a disc jockey (radio announcer) for both the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. At the time of this appearance he was presenting the long running BBC radio chart show "Pick of the Pops". He was famous for his catchphrases "Greetings, Pop Pickers" and "not arf" and remained in Britain for the rest of his life. Tony Hall, at the time of this appearance, was working as a record company executive with Decca Records but would have been familiar to the public through his other job as a disc jockey on the then popular Radio Luxembourg radio station. He later went on to band management where among others he managed The Real Thing. The shop was part of a small 8 shop chain with branches at Harlow and Welwyn Garden City selling electrical goods including records. Unfortunately, despite the celebrity opening, Leytonia failed to live up to expectation and closed within a year on 19th June 1965.
Location: 32 Southernhay
Opened: Saturday 6th September 1969
Celebrity: Mary Rand, M.B.E. (10/02/1940)
In September 1969 British Olympic gold medallist athlete Mary Rand, M.B.E. visited Basildon to open the latest Schick beauty salon. Competing in track and field events she won seven medals including two gold between 1958 and 1964. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics she become the first Great Britain female to win three medals in a single Games. The new shop, named after the company's founder Col. Jacob Schick who patented the world's first electric shaver, was styled as a 'personal care and good grooming centre'. It sold wigs, hair dryers, shavers, Carmen rollers and a range of spares and accessories. Despite getting off to a good start the business failed to make an impact in Basildon and closed in the early 1970s.
Location: Great Oaks
Opened: Tuesday 23rd November 1971
Celebrity: David Jacobs (19/05/1926 – 02/09/2013)
David Jacobs, disc jockey and T.V. host of Juke Box Jury and early editions of Top of the Pops was the special celebrity employed by Tesco to open their latest store in the newly completed block shared with the ABC cinema. Tesco remained here until the 1980s but faced increasing competition from Sainsbury's Savacentre store which opened in March 1980. Tesco already had a foot in the town having first opened a shop around 1965 at 8-10 East Walk which closed when the Great Oaks store opened. The Victor Value supermarket in Market Pavement was later rebranded Tesco in 1969 and for a time became a Tesco Home 'n' Wear shop selling carpets etc.
Jackpot Bingo Club
Location: 4 High Pavement
Opened: Thursday 6th July 1972
Celebrity: Jimmy Young (21/09/1921 – 07/11/2016)
BBC Radio One disc jockey Jimmy Young came to Basildon to open the Jackpot Bingo Club at 4 High Pavement. The popular dj, whose mid-morning show had been running since the station launched in 1967, was also a successful singer scoring two number one hits in the 1950s with "Unchained Melody" and "The Man from Laramie". The bingo hall was the first High Pavement premises to open as part of the development corporation's Block S project. Sweeneys discotheque, the Heighway public house and a dance school studio would soon follow. The club, with seating for 650, is operated by Jackpot Automatics (Essex) Limited. It survived to the 1980s and later became Basildon Bowl and Quaser Centre having been converted to a 20 lane bowling alley and Quasar indoor laser arena. It closed suddenly in September 2015 and has since been converted to apartments.
Location: 65 Market Square
Opened: Friday 17th August 1973
Celebrity: Anne Aston (01/01/1948)
Television's 'Golden Girl' Anne Aston, hostess of ATV's The Golden Shot came to Basildon in August 1973 to open a new branch of the electrical rental company D.E.R. She joined the show, hosted by Bob Monkhouse, in 1967 and such was her success she began taking small acting roles in productions like Up the Chastity Belt and Jason King. By 1973 colour television sets were taking off and D.E.R. - Domestic Electric Rentals - were taking advantage with rental schemes from £6.20 a month including free installation. The shop did very well for many years eventually closing in the 1980s.
Downtown Discount (Records and Tapes)
Location: 42 Southernhay
Opened: Monday 8th July 1974
Celebrity: Noel Edmonds (22/12/1948)
Radio One DJ Noel Edmonds was the special guest to open this latest record and tape shop in the town centre. Edmonds was hot property at the time having taken over Radio One's flagship 7 to 9am breakfast show the previous year from Tony Blackburn. The shop, which often had racks of second hand albums in front of the store, survived well into the 1980s having branched out into video hire. They also made promotional film clips which were shown at the Basildon ABC cinema.
Location: 36 Southernhay
Opened: 1979
Celebrity: Mike Read (19/01/1940 – 29/07/2007)
Men's clothing outlet Baccus was opened by the comedian turned T.V. personality and actor Mike Read. Read, who began his career as a stand-up comedian, had branched out into acting via a role in T.V.'s Yus my Dear and at the time of the opening was host of the children's T.V. show Runaround. Baccus opened as a menswear shop reflecting the fashions of the day. It initially traded on the goodwill established over many years by the previous occupant, gentlemen's outfitters Bernard Rae. The shop survived well into the 1980s. This was the second time that 36 Southernhay played host to a celebrity opening; the first being in 1964 when the shop became Leytonia.
Price Slasher
Location: 50/52 East Walk
Opened: April 1984
Celebrity: William Roache (25/04/1932)
William 'Bill' Roache, better known as Ken Barlow from Granada Television's Coronation Street, was the special celebrity invited to open this new discount furniture store in East Walk. Rosebys soft furnishings would later occupy the double unit.
Liberty Shopping Hall
Location: Great Oaks
Opened: May 1984
Celebrity: Henry Kelly (17/04/1946)
Henry Kelly from the popular T.V. show Game for a laugh visited the town in 1984 to open the Liberty Shopping Hall. When Tesco vacated this building an indoor shopping hall was created which took its name from a pre-new town property that once stood in the former Hotwater Lane, an unmade road that ran on or near the present Great Oaks. Over 30 small units were created before the venture closed in the late 1990s. Discount retail chain QD (Quality Discount) then took over the building for their Basildon store and continues to trade there to the present.
Aquatic and Pet Shop
Location: 81-83 Southernhay
Opened: Saturday 3rd November 1984
Celebrity: Johnny Morris (20/06/1916 – 06/05/1999)
The pet shop originally occupied unit 81 but expanded into the adjacent unit which was re-opened by the television presenter Johnny Morris. Johnny Morris was well known to animal lovers having previously voiced the characters in Tales of the Riverbank as well as hosting Animal Magic for the BBC from 1962 to 1983. The business was begun by Ray Hyland who opened the first shop at No. 7 Nether Priors in August 1962. Facing hard times the shop later returned to a single unit and after nearly 50 years in the town centre closed on 19th March 2011 as a result of competition from out-of-town shops like Pets at Home in Pitsea.
Location: Eastgate Shopping Centre
Opened: Saturday 28th September 1985
Celebrities: Des O'Connor (12/01/1932 – 14/11/2020) and Joanna Lumley (01/05/1946)
For the opening of Allders in 1985 the town centre played host to two very high profile celebrities; these being Des O'Connor and Joanna Lumley. London born Des O'Connor had previously worked as a redcoat at Butlins before making a name for himself in show business as both a singer and television chat show host. His popular self titled chat show The Des O'Connor Show on ITV ran for ten years from 1963 and he enjoyed huge success as a singer recording over 30 albums and reaching No.1 in 1968 with the song "I Pretend". Former model turned actress Joanna Lumley had enjoyed a long career in both films and television where she played the role of Purdey in the popular ITV series The New Avengers with co-stars Patrick Macnee and Gareth Hunt. Another prominent role was the part of Sapphire in the ATV television series Sapphire and Steel with David McCallum, who himself had appeared at a celebrity shop opening in Basildon in 1959. She later went on to play the character Patsy Stone in the BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous and in 2022 was recognised as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (D.B.E.). Phase II of the Eastgate Shopping Centre which opened to the public on 9th September comprised an additional 70 shops on two levels plus 42 upper level gallery units. The centrepiece or 'jewel in the crown' of this development was Allders department store which had its entrances on two of those levels. The company had a long history dating back to 1862 with stores in many of the major towns and cities around the UK so its move to include Basildon was seen as a major coup for the Town Centre. Unfortunately after a period of national declining sales the store closed in March 2005 and the company entered receivership. The building then became Debenhams until they too closed in May 2021 when the company was sold off with the exception of its retail shops. The building has remained empty ever since.
Location: 22 Eastgate Shopping Centre
Opened: Thursday 29th November 2001
Celebrities: Paul Clarke (1976) and Paul "Bubble" Ferguson (07/06/1976)
The opening of the HMV store in Eastgate was seen as a major boost to the centre, which along with the Virgin Megastore, now had the presence of two of the leading music and dvd retailers. The HMV name, short for His Masters Voice, was founded by the Gramophone Company in 1921 and included television and radio sets as well as a record label as some of its earlier brands. The two celebrities performing the opening - Paul Clarke and 'Bubble', had only recently achieved fame earlier in the year after appearing as housemates on series 2 of Channel Four's new television reality show Big Brother. The opening was also broadcast live on popular radio station Essex FM. The store, which was later shared for a time with the bookselling chain Waterstones, has continued to prosper despite a wave of closures in 2013.
Text researched and written by William Cox, 2013.
Copyright © 2013, B. Cox - Basildon History Online. All rights reserved.
Page added: 06/06/2013
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