PEOPLE of a certain age will remember ‘50s Saturday nights at the Ventnor Winter Gardens.

Up to 1,000 people would arrive at the cliff top dance hall. Many by coaches from across the Isle of Wight. Those lucky enough would travel by car and taxis.

Scroll through our gallery of pictures above to see more of the stars who appeared at the venue...

It was also the haunt of footballers who headed for the venue after their earlier matches.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Dick Emery was among the visitors to the Winter Gardens.

Many weren’t great dancers but most of them had the instant chat up lines for ladies who were looking for partners. Many romances started in that steamy ballroom.

The Winter Gardens was built on the sight of the former Ventnor Parsonage. The original building was demolished in 1935 and the art deco building, as we know it today, opened in 1936. It was inspired by the design of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, Sussex.

In 1936 the Bright Times concert party was transferred from the nearby town hall, which later became a popular venue for summer repertory companies.

Rumours suggest the Winter Gardens first nighters saw the show and were daubed with new paint that hadn’t dried.

Up until the Second World War the venue welcomed summer season shows, visiting orchestras, famous big bands, star celebrity concerts and talent nights.

The 1950 resident summer season show was called Ventnor Vanities and starred a very young Dick Emery. The County Press advertised it as “The Gayest Show On The Island.” How times have changed!

The Ventnor Winter Gardens certainly became a part of the swinging Sixties and some popular stars of the era came to perform. These included The Who, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Screaming Lord Sutch, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, the Pretty Things and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Some of these were promoted by Radio Caroline.

One of the support bands who appeared on a few occasions was Davy Jones and the Lower Third. He quickly changed his name to David Bowie. I once met an Isle of Wight lady who got to know him very well.

When the Temperance Seven arrived at the peak of their fame all box-office records must have been smashed. The machine counting the numbers was obviously a little faulty that night.

Lots of local bands were popular at the Gardens. Particularly, when the Island’s top group, the Cherokees, moved their popular 69 Club there for a while.

The Knights and Zodiacs had regular spots and the Ventnor-based Shamrocks, who went on to German success and a recording contact that produced an album, made many appearances there, as did local rock ‘n’ roll singer Johnny Vincent.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Ex-Shamrocks Bern Roberts and Pete Channing making a nostalgic return.

Cowes-born singer Pat Reader, who recorded for the legendary Joe Meek, was also a resident singer.

When wrestling became all the rage there were some entertaining evenings in the Winter Gardens and crowds flocked to see the top names.

There are some unprintable stories about a few of the guys who came to fight.

In the mid 1980s they tried a series of cabaret shows starring some light entertainment stars of the day. The Bachelors were by far the most successful and sold out three nights in a row.

Others who came included Helen Shapiro, Eve Boswell and Roger Kitter. When Colin Crompton and Don Estelle came the night proved a disaster. It was not their fault, they were both in fine form but on the very same evening Danny La Rue was playing to 2,000 people a few miles up the bay at Sandown Pavilion.

You never knew who might turn up at the Winter Gardens. There was great excitement in 1980 when the legendary David Bellamy came for one night.

During our interview he revealed the Torrey Canyon marine disaster turned him into a television star. He was the only scientist currently working on the pollution of the sea and had to appear in all the news bulletins.

Trad jazz was always so popular over the years and the three giants of the industry, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber and Kenny Ball were regular visitors. I can still vividly remember the Barber band when they had Kenneth Washington, a guest jazz and rhythm and blues singer from America. He was sensational.

They continued to present variety shows and the Felix Bowness Give Away Show was always a hit. The punters lapped up his insults. He had earlier found fame as Fred Quilly the jockey in Hi-de-Hi.

They also produced a series of professional repertory plays when the town hall closed.

For some years the venue was a multi-purpose unit. It was used for badminton, dance classes, exhibitions, festivals and by the Ventnor Film Society.

Its links with the past were also revived with the visits of pop stars such as the Christians, Midge Ure, Belinda Carlisle and UB40.

They also welcomed the Antiques Roadshow, with Michael Aspel, and an edition of Radio 4’s Any Questions.

When I ran the County Press Theatre Awards for 17 years I saw some brilliant local amateur productions at the venue. Some were worthy award winners. By far the most outstanding show I saw was the Ventnor Theatre Group’s superb production of Buddy.

It brought tears to my eyes and was better than some professional productions I had seen of the musical. Their younger members also performed a stunning version of Les Miserables.

Sadly, in a way the Winter Gardens has always been somewhat in the shadow of the nearby Shanklin Theatre and Sandown Pavilion.

Ironically, it has outlived Sandown Pavilion. Long may it continue to flourish.

Like reading stories about the Isle of Wight in bygone days? Click here to visit our Looking Back section.