Two big days in the history of Bexhill, 75 years apart

One of the most famous images of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill was taken in 1936 and printed in the Daily Mirror. The scene showed the Daily Mirror Eight dance troupe performing in the centre of an enormous crowd.

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 10:15 am

On Bank Holiday Monday in August 2010, the De La Warr Pavilion successfully recreated this scene to mark its 75th anniversary, with the help of a freerunning group, top photographer and crowds of visitors.

The Bexhill Observer produced a special edition on August 6, 2010, ahead of the big day to celebrate the milestone.

The commissioning and building of the De La Warr Pavilion as a centre for culture and entertainment had boosted Bexhill’s profile in the golden age of seaside holidays, before the dark days of the Second World War. The building was then lovingly restored by the pavilion’s charitable trust in 2005.

The scene at the De La Warr Pavilion in 1936, the Daily Mirror Eight dance troupe performing to a huge crowd

The 75th birthday party in 2010 exploded in a riot of music, costume and dancing. Around 1,500 people packed along the balconies, jostled on the terrace and some lucky few sat comfortably in deckchairs as top London snapper Sheila Burnett was winched five metres into the air on a cherrypicker to take the shot which re-created the famous 1936 image.

Eastbourne-based freerunning team Urban Shadows wowed crowds with a series of backflips, vaults and controlled tumbles before forming the circular pattern, to match the Daily Mirror Eight in the original picture.

After a weekend in which Pavilion staff counted 10,000 visitors to the Tomoko Takahashi retrospective on show in the galleries, supporters of the building claimed the huge crowds were a reply to criticism it did not connect enough with the local community.

Photographer Sheila, who marshalled crowds into position, was delighted with the results. She said it could not have gone better.

De La Warr Pavilion staff on the balcony. Picture: Ben Higgins

A choir and orchestra of around 120 people, led by choir leader John Langridge and musician Mike Hatchard, a strong round of applause before DJ Nikki Beatnik kept crowds dancing with a series of 75 songs, taken from each year since the building opened in 1935.

The original brief for the architects who entered the competition to design the De La Warr Pavilion was simple.

“No restrictions as to the style of architecture will be imposed, but buildings must be simple, light in appearance and attractive, suitable for a holiday resort. Heavy stonework is not desirable.”

This fired the imaginations of several eminent architects of the time but there was one entry which stood out head and shoulders above the rest.

Photographer Sheila Burnett prepares her picture. Picture: Ben Higgins

The partnership of Erich Mendelsohn, who had fled Nazi Germany and its persecution of Jews, and BBC interiors architect Serge Chermayeff embraced the ground-breaking Modernist movement – and they were swiftly commissioned to take on the project.

Commentary in a 1934 edition of The Architect’s Journal praised the pair for their ‘masterly handling’ of the designs. The original sketches showed they were true artists, as well as engineers.

Built using cantilevers of welded steel to support the walls, the inherent strength in the fabric of the building allowed Mendelsohn greater aesthetic rein. It was the first of a kind in Britain.

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

The scene as preparations are made to recreate the 1936 photograph. Picture: Ben Higgins

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.

Crowds on the balcony in 2010. Picture: Ben Higgins