Clubber’s life for me
Article by Chris Titley for the Yorkshire Evening Press. Dated: May 7, 2001
Reproduced courtesy of the Yorkshire Evening Press,York
Neal Guppy has been organising York’s social life for so long, he has transcended living legend status. He’s become a city landmark. “People who go away to university or to find a job come back and they say, ‘we know there are three things that are going to be here in York: the Minster, the Bar Walls and you’,” he says. “My response to that is the other two are dead.” Neal, by contrast, is full of life. His somewhat younger than the Minster, and far more youthful than his 62 years, energised as he is by his passion for people. It is 40 years since he launched his first social club. Today, Guppy’s Enterprise Club on Nunnery Lane is thriving, and Neal asserts that he is enjoying himself now as much as when he started.
His entrepreneurial debut came on April 7, 1961 when he organised a dance at Clifton Cinema Ballroom. The young people of York had been making that perennial complaint: nothing to do. Neal was never one to sit around moaning, so he booked the ballroom and started promoting the dance. It is a night etched on his mind – and in his neat record books. They reveal that room hire was £7 7s. Other outgoings included two tins of salmon (15 shillings), ten bottles of squash (£1 10s) four jars of poster paints (4s 8d) and a five shilling tip to the caretaker. He set up a club, charged 40 members five shillings admission for the 8pm – midnight dance – and made a loss of £3 15s 3 1/2. It didn’t put him off. His next event was a jive party at the Woolpack on Peasholme Green (now home to London York Fund Managers Ltd).
This smaller scale affair turned in a profit, despite his having to pay a fee to the gram operator – the term DJ had yet to be coined. The Clifton dances “started with just records. Very soon we got young people, largely from schools, wanting to perform with live bands. This was at a time when Shadows-imitation bands were forming. “One of the first groups I booked was called The Morvans. On the first occasion they came for free, on the second I paid their transport, thereafeter I paid fees to groups. I realised that pop groups were an up-and-coming thing.” Other bands he booked in those early days included Steve Cassidy and the Escorts, Gerry B and the Rockafellas – featuring the man who later found TV fame as Dustin Gee – and Roy and the Zeroes from Pocklington.
His Woolpack jive parties were the forerunners of discotheques, a word he couldn’t use until 1963 “because people would have laughed at me – using a French word would have seemed pretentious in those days.” “I used to programme the music so that it would slow down a bit in tempo about half an hour before the evening ended, then slowly the tempo would edge up so the last one was manic. It was great – you got that sense of excitement when it finished.” From that day to this, Neal has always restricted entrance to his events to club members and some guests. It allows him to keep control, and offer security to women. When the club began, he asked for suggestions for a name. The most popular two responses were The Pudding Club and the Stork Club. He chose the third choice:
The Enterprise Club, which suns it up nicely – a club for its members’ enterprises. When he reminisces about his life, it becomes apparent that he has made a habit of forming clubs. As a child he was mad-keen on aeroplanes, and set up a model aircraft club at Archbishop Holgate’s School. He left school to join the Bristol Aircraft Company as an apprentice aeronautical engineer but became homesick and realised “it was people I wanted to deal with not machinery”. Neal returned to York and enrolled for teacher training at St John’s College. Then National Service intervened. He was far from a model soldier and rebelled against the “totalitarian regime”. But even in the Army he set up a club – devoted to, of all things, classical music.
On returning to civvy street and training as a teacher, he took a post at Derwent Secondary Modern. In 1962, while still teaching full time and he opened his first permanent premises for his club at 56 Walmgate. He put on live groups and discos in the cellar room: York’s Cavern Club, he called it. The ceiling was only 7ft high: Neal remembers with grimace accidentally bashing his partner’s head during an energetic jive session more than once. He would publicise the club with posters at the main student hang-out, the Stonegate Coffee House (now Mulberry Hall). The club took up so much of his time that he gave up teaching in 1966. Nine years later Neal bought his present premises, the former Britannia Inn on Nunnery Lane. It is a deceptively large building, boasting umpteen rooms in which all manner of activities are pursued.
Pass through the bar, and you come to a back room boasting a table football machine. On this the skills of two university table football champions were honed.Upstairs is a large spacious dancefloor, where Neal still takes jive classes. A smaller room dominated by two huge speakers, is where the York Classical CD Club listen to recordings. Guppy’s Enterprise Club, better known simply as Guppy’s, is home to an astonishing range of pursuits. The York Computer Club and the Argosy Club may be long gone. But they have been replaced by such as: York Movie Makers; Ted Heath Music Appreciation Society; York Poetry Workshop; and York Esperanto Club. Stored in a locker are the models used by the War Games Society, and the equipment of the Amateur Radio and Plastic Models societies. During the day, York University and the W.E.A. host adult education classes at Guppy’s. On a higher floor is Neal’s bedsit. His 65 hour working week involves being doorman, barman, bookkeeper, and dance teacher. His main role, however, is as the enthusiasts’ enthusiast: to “act as a catalyst to enthusiastic people”, whatever their passion.
His philosophy is that his club will never be subsidised. To earn a living he takes the admission fee and a cut of the bar takings, and runs a removal buisness. Neal salutes all those who have helped him make the club work, includung ex-wife Kay and his partners since.
I hope to fall down and die while I’m working ,” he says. “I hope that will be more than ten years away. Fifty years – that’s my aim. Otherwise it can’t be called a club of any longevity.”
The Ultimate Guppy
Article by Daniel Mayo for the Y Magazine, 29th May 1991
Neal Guppy is something of a living legend in York after running a club in the city for 30 years.
Daniel Mayo met the man behind Guppy’s Enterprise Club, and a successful removals company.
Reproduced courtesy of the Yorkshire Evening Press,York
Mention the name Neal Guppy to any fortysomething adult in York and they may well remember him as their youth leader. That was the case 20 years ago as Neal ran his Enterprise Club for the youth of the early ’70s. But it had been running since 1961. After the club’s humble beginnings in friends’ houses, Neal eventually moved to a permanent home in Walmgate – a cellar that could be reached only through a dark passage. Soon, 56 Walmgate became the full – time base for the Enterprise Club and many people passed down the side passage and through its door looking for an escape from childhood to adulthood. “I wanted to fill the gap that existed at that time,” said Neal. “It included those people who had just left school and started a job and who thought themselves too old for a youth club but were too young to go to a pub. “The cellar provided an adult atmosphere with no – one treating the youths like children. What also helped was that one room was licensed and the other was not.” “This gave the 16 and 17 – year – olds the feeling they were in a bar and they felt more grown up than they would going to a church hall for the same activities.” Neal found that out fast. He organised dances in church halls for three years running and no – one turned up at any of them. When he moved the dances to a house or a room in a pub, they were packed out.
He puts this down to his theory that people one or two years below the legal drinking age wanted to feel they were acting like adults and moving away from adolescence. Neal was originally a trainee teacher at the York campus of the College of Ripon and York. He realised York offered little for young adults and decided to do something about it. So the Enterprise Club was formed in 1961.
Over the next few years, it grew into a full-time commitment and Neal had to leave his teaching job in 1964, after great deliberation. “I enjoyed teaching and it was a difficult decision to leave, but the club was getting bigger,” he said. The kind of entertainment open to Guppy’s club goers was very different to that of today. In the cellar, two types of music were played to the two different groups which Neal described as the boppers and the freaks. The boppers were interested in the pop music of the day, and Neal’s freaks were the long-haired blues lovers. He also put on live entertainment as York was then thriving with bands. Famous names such as The Spinners have been through the cellar, and the late Dustin Gee, then known as Gerry B, also made appearances at Guppy’s.
Neal also added: “The boppers used the cellar room and listened to their music from records and danced. The freaks listened to their music and talked. There was never any violence in the club between the two different cultures, whereas other dances around the city often ended in some sort of fight. “The club broke new ground as no others had mixed groups in close harmony. We used to argue like mad in the coffee bar in the club and nights would go on until 1a.m. or even 2a.m. in arguments.” The arguments were often about drugs, especially in he late ’60s when flower power and psychedelia were at there peak. Neal said “In 1969 I had to ban about 30 people for using pills. They were known as the In Crowd and after the ban my club suffered immensely. The numbers dropped from about 120 to 40 and this lasted six months.” But Neal was determined not to have any drugs in his club. He knew the boppers used pills and the freaks smoked cannabis but he laid down the law the no-one used drugs in his club. He argued against people using drugs. But, he added: “People did not realise that the way drugs were used by the youth was exactly the same way that alcohol was used by parents. It was only a few who were seriously into drugs.
“Drugs was a taboo word in those days and people preferred to ignore the situation and refuse to believe it actually went on. When I enforced my ban I was nearly ruined as the club gained a reputation that drugs were used there. “If I hadn’t have taken some action it would have got worse and worse, but after six months things started to pick up and people returned,” he said. Because of these experiences, Neal joined the drugs liaison committee in York as he thought his knowledge could help combat people’s ignorance.
After the dust had settled in 1970, Neal had the freaks’ room licensed as the club goers were getting older and over the age limit. This helped create the adult atmosphere and the younger members could think they were mixing with more mature people. Neal insists he was not the reason for the club being so popular: “I was just the catalyst for people to use their own initiative and enthusiasm. “It was the members’ own enthusiasm and their desire to get involved that made the Enterprise Club what it was.” he said.
Nowadays, 56 Walmgate is no longer the seedy club it was 30 years ago. Neal has moved to Nunnery Lane and the Brittania Inn which gives him more space to offer more acivities for the community. He bought the Brittania, known as The Old Brit, in 1978 and for a while ran the two places together before giving up the Walmgate site.
Neal is now one of the busiest men in York as he also runs a removal business, which he started when he left teaching to support the club financially. Different clubs and societies use The Old Brit every day of every week for meetings and discussions. All ages are involved, from 15 upwards. Even some of his old members from the ’60s still go to his club to socialise. Today’s club seems a far cry from running a dance in a friends room. To Neal, enjoying himself and helping others is still his life.