‘Piano bashing’, camel racing and barrels careering round the town: Cromer VEO chairman Tony Shipp remembers carnivals of years gone by
PUBLISHED: 15:56 29 June 2018 | UPDATED: 20:01 29 June 2018
Archant Norfolk 2013
When Tony Shipp was asked to organise a day of children’s events for Cromer carnival in 1971, it was the beginning of almost fifty years of dedication to local life that saw him made an MBE for services to the community.
As the town gears up for its annual action-packed week of fun for all the family, KAREN BETHELL spoke to him about his fondest carnival memories.
Brought up in Yoxford, Suffolk, Mr Shipp spent much of his childhood wandering the grounds of a local country estate, where his father was head gardener.
After leaving Saxmundham Secondary Modern School, he travelled daily by steam train to study for A Levels at Ipswich before taking a job at a local solicitor’s office.
He then enrolled at teacher training college in Scraptoft, Leicestershire, and, after qualifying, spent six years working at a south Leicester primary school.
Having spent many happy childhood holidays in Cromer, Mr Shipp continued to visit the town during the summer throughout the 1960s, working as a lifeguard on the beach and teaching swimming at a local school.
After deciding on the spur of the moment to go along to a town meeting while on holiday in 1971, he signed up as the organiser of a programme of children’s events and his carnival career began.
“As you do, I put forward a few ideas, I was asked to take on the job and it just carried on from there,” he explained.
“After I had done the children’s week, I then ended up announcing events on the microphone and, after that, things just snowballed.”
He continued to spend his annual summer holiday helping out with events and, after taking a teaching job at Sheringham Primary School and moving to the town permanently in 1976, joined Cromer Voluntary Entertainments organisation - which runs the carnival - as vice-chairman.
He took over the chairman’s reins in 1985 and has since spent most of his spare time working on carnival projects.
“It is a year-round job,” he said. “We start planning for the following year more or less as soon as the carnival ends.”
With Mr Shipp at the helm, the carnival has grown beyond all expectations and its “tried and tested” programme of traditional, family-orientated events now attracts around 40,000 people every year.
But, while some attractions have stayed on the carnival calendar since the 1970s, others have fallen by the wayside, including ‘piano bashing’ – where competitors had to break up a piano and post every piece through a small wooden frame - and the pub-based game Dwile Flonking, involving a chamber pot full of beer and a beer-soaked cloth on a stick.
“We also had a regatta and barrel races round the town, but, after one or two cars were narrowly missed, we had to move them to the prom,” Mr Shipp remembered.
While he says his enthusiasm for the carnival has never waned, Mr Shipp has had the odd challenging moment, including in 2000, when he found himself on the back of a camel, racing against the vicar of Cromer.
With no saddle and little to hold on to, Mr Shipp ended up being thrown off his mount and spent three months off work with a broken arm and a fractured pelvis.
I have had moments, but I enjoy the carnival very much and, over the week, we always try to involve all the community, which has always been one of my aims as chairman,” he said.
Already thinking up ideas for next year’s carnival – which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cromer Voluntary Entertainments Organisation - Mr Shipp says the years have “flown by”
“It is amazing how quickly the time has gone, but it is a credit to everyone involved that, as an organisation, we have stayed together and kept going for so long,” he added. “I’d like to think that, as a team, we have made Cromer people feel it is their carnival and that they are part of it.”
Cromer carnival kicks off on July 30 with the first of two children’s weeks, with the soapbox derby running on August 5 and carnival week running from August 11-17. For more information, visit www.cromercarnival.co.uk