Van-Dels who smashed it every Saturday night

They were The Van-Dels, and if you were a regular at one of Shropshire's top nightspots in the 1960s, they offered a smashing evening of entertainment.

This picture of the group in action, minus Lesley, may have been taken at the staff bar at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Pwllheli.
This picture of the group in action, minus Lesley, may have been taken at the staff bar at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Pwllheli.

The Van-Dels were the resident band every Saturday night down at Terry Heath's Town House, which will be fondly remembered by with-it Wellingtonians of a certain age.

And they were fronted by a talented local schoolgirl who was barely in her teens.

Our publicity photo of the band dates from the end of 1964, at a time when the popularity of The Beatles had spurred a beat group explosion, with The Van-Dels just one of a large number of groups across the county.

The Van-Dels, from left: Pat Horton, rhythm guitar, Lesley Whitehouse, in front Bruce Holcroft (drums), Clive Roberts on bass, and lead guitar and singer Les Darrell.

And we carried it in March 1965 with a story from our pop correspondent which read: "If you need fans to break into big time showbusiness then Wellington's Leslie (sic) and the Van-Dels are halfway there.

"For I received so many letters from readers asking for more news about the group that it appears a properly organised fan club is called for. And so – even though Leslie has been featured before on this page – here is another picture of the four lads and 13-year-old schoolgirl Leslie Whitehouse from Rosegrove, Wellington.

"The group came fourth in the big beat contest held at Wellington two weeks ago. They still play regularly at the Town House, Wellington, on Saturday nights and Leslie tells me that she is hoping to record some original tunes in the near future.

"Backing her on a tape, which will be sent to recording studios, will be the Van-Dels.

"Young Leslie has matured in just a few short months to be an accomplished stage performer."

The name is surely correctly spelt Lesley, although to be fair it's spelt Leslie on the band's publicity material which invites potential bookers to "write to The Van-Dels, c/o Buildwas Road, Ironbridge, Salop."

It may be that Lesley only fronted the band when they were playing at Terry Heath's Town House in Wellington, as the regular members were 18-year-old student Clive Roberts, bass guitar, of The Rookery, Madeley; rhythm guitarist Pat Horton, a trainee estate agent of The White House, Buildwas Road, Coalbrookdale; lead guitarist and singer Les Darrell, an 18-year-old student of Castle Road, Dawley; and 19-year-old building worker Bruce Holcroft, of Buildwas Road, Coalbrookdale, on drums.

The manager was 21-year-old Jim Brookfield, of Station Terrace, Madeley.

What became of them? Lesley, who was born in the Black Country – either Dudley or Tipton, reports vary – and moved from Wellington to Newport, became a successful professional singer under the name Louisa Jane White.

As for Shropshire's The Van-Dels, we know that at one stage in the 1960s they had a booking in the staff bar at Butlin's at Pwllheli, but presumably they eventually went the same way as other Shropshire pop groups of that era, although it is interesting that there are modern groups called both The Van Dels and The Van-Dells.

This picture of the group in action, minus Lesley, may have been taken at the staff bar at Butlin's Holiday Camp, Pwllheli.

The Town House, incidentally, had been officially opened on June 11, 1960, and was used for various events and functions, including political rallies.

A report of the opening in the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News said: "The Town House, designed on classical lines on the cube principle, is undoubtedly the foremost building of its type in the county.

"Terry Heath, who is well known in the catering and confectionery worlds, has travelled extensively in Italy and America and the building embodies many of the most modern ideas to be found in those countries.

"Cost of the project is in excess of £25,000 and there is indeed an international flavour about its appointments.

"There is marble from Trieste, the reproduction of a 15th century fireplace has a surround of Bologna granite, and wood used in wall columns was in tree trunks floated down the Irrawady River in Burma six years ago.

"And, to add the final Bohemian touch, are the cut glass chandeliers from Czechoslovakia."

Terry Heath, from Shifnal, died in 1993 aged 68.

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