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What was Suffolk like at Christmas 20 years ago?

PUBLISHED: 19:05 02 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:18 03 December 2019

Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows (repeated) continued to be popular fixtures in the festive TV schedules after the death of Eric Morecambe  Picture: PA

Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows (repeated) continued to be popular fixtures in the festive TV schedules after the death of Eric Morecambe Picture: PA

Archant

How much were houses in Ipswich? (You'll cry.) Who topped the pop charts? Was festive TV rubbish?

Market day in Bury St Edmunds, in December 1999  Picture: ANDY ABBOTTMarket day in Bury St Edmunds, in December 1999 Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Look! A semi-detached two-bedroom bungalow at Kesgrave, near Ipswich, for just £87,995 - complete with 20ft conservatory and 27ft lounge/diner. Meanwhile, a three-bedroom town house off Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, is on the market for £62,500, while a modern four-bedroom home at Bixley Farm is £139,500.

Pity it's 1999. Snapping up a property at those prices would prove a nice early Christmas present today. Two decades too late, though…

Much changes - like house prices - but much stays the same. Carols from King's is still on TV on Christmas Eve. Thank goodness.

Take a gander at these snippets from our December 1999 archive and see what memories stir…

TV heaven or hell?

Never again moan about the Christmas TV schedule. The festive fare 20 years ago looked decidedly lukewarm.

The Ipswich Round Table Rudolph float has thrilled children for many, many years. Here it is on Ipswich Cornhill in 1999  Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVEThe Ipswich Round Table Rudolph float has thrilled children for many, many years. Here it is on Ipswich Cornhill in 1999 Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Christmas Eve telly on BBC1 included Airport with Jeremy Spake, but was balanced by Dinnerladies and The Vicar of Dibley. There was Carols from King's and the 1959 film Some Like It Hot on BBC2. But once you got past the highlights, the offerings on most channels were underwhelming.

Over on Anglia was The Muppet Christmas Carol, Emmerdale, Coronation Street and The Bill. Channel 4 gave us TGI Friday, Christmas at River Cottage and Brookside. Channel 5 had The Best of It's a Knockout and a Peter Kay comedy special.

Christmas Day brought films James and the Giant Peach, Jumanji, and The Italian Job on BBC1. There was also The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (a repeat), more Vicar of Dibley (including a pregnant Alice), and The Royle Family.

BBC2 had films White Christmas and Singin' in the Rain. Anglia's schedule featured Coronation Street, Who Wants to be a Christmas Millionaire?, and A Touch of Frost.

Channel 4 had films The Woodlanders and Time Bandits, and Ali G's Alternative Christmas Message.

Channel 5 - Night Fever: Christmas (a karaoke gameshow); and Deadly Summer (black comedy starring Francesca Annis and Pauline Quirke).

Some of the Co-op Juniors team, ready for Cinderella in 1999  Picture: Andrew HendrySome of the Co-op Juniors team, ready for Cinderella in 1999 Picture: Andrew Hendry

What to buy?

Late and lamented ironmonger and tool merchant Martin & Newby was still open in Ipswich, in Fore Street. It was advertising a combination tool-set for £6.99.

Toyworld - the mourned shop no longer part of the Heath Road/Foxhall Road scene in town - offered Who Wants to Be a Millionnaire board games for £24.99 - and millennium fireworks, too.

Oh yes. It might be Advent, but we had half an eye on the Millennium (mathematical disputes about whether 2000 was really the dawn of a new millennium notwithstanding).

Ipswich brewery Tolly Cobbold (how we miss it) was still going. And its charity bottled beer, Countdown, was proving popular. It had won a place on the shelves of Tesco. Money raised from its sale went to the British Horological Institute.

If you wanted to do something special for the New Year, Suffolk coach company Galloway offered a four-day trip to Disneyland Paris for a New Millennium Party. The fare for an adult reveller was £299.

Electrical retailer Bennetts had lots of present ideas, including a Panasonic Nicam stereo TV (with Teletext) for £299, a PlayStation package (console, gamers' pack and controller) for £139, and a Sharp three-disc, remote multiplay, CD mini hi-fi system at £99.

Martin and Newby - a legendary Ipswich store. It was still open in 1999, but shut for good in 2004  Picture: OWEN HINESMartin and Newby - a legendary Ipswich store. It was still open in 1999, but shut for good in 2004 Picture: OWEN HINES

Fun and frolics

Eastern Angles were bringing laughs to the Sir John Mills Theatre in Ipswich with show Jonas Quick and the Temple of Time. Reviewer Carol Carver said it was the only professional show in town that Christmas (though the slick but amateur Co-op Juniors troupe had Cinderella at the Ipswich Regent).

Hardly seems credible, 20 years on, now that we're used to The New Wolsey's annual rock and roll panto.

Meanwhile, at the Debbie Garrod Stage School Christmas show, Callum Hale was the only boy in its class of 90 girls.

The 10-year-old from Otley had performed once in the school's last concert, two years earlier, but now had five dance spots at the 1999 show at Debenham High School.

He said: "At school, sometimes, people tease me a bit, but I get used to that. I keep telling them it's not bad to be a boy and dance, but they still think it's a bit silly."

Westlife topped the singles chart at Christmas, 1999  Picture: Ian West/PAWestlife topped the singles chart at Christmas, 1999 Picture: Ian West/PA

Woodbridge dancer Paul Berry, then 22, would doubtless have agreed. He was resting up ahead of a big year. On the last day of January he'd begin a British tour with West Side Story that would run until December 1, 2000.

Earlier in 1999 he'd danced at a Michael Jackson concert.

And still on the drama scene, December 7 saw hundreds of people saying a final goodbye to Felixstowe's Mr Entertainment.

Dennis Lowe ran a shop, but was widely known as an actor, singer and dancer who was part of the town's theatrical life for more than four decades.

In 1999 he was busy with a number of productions, including preparing his own pantomime, but died on November 27 after feeling ill for a few days.

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He left wife Sylvia, daughter Suzanne, then 15, and stepdaughter Allison. The family said the panto (Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood) would go ahead.

Dennis Lowe training his junior chorus for the Mother Goose pantomime at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion in 1969  Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVEDennis Lowe training his junior chorus for the Mother Goose pantomime at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion in 1969 Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Christmas pop chart

1 I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun, Westlife

2 The Millennium Prayer, Cliff Richard

3 Imagine, John Lennon

4 Cognoscenti vs Intelligentsia, Cuban Boys

5 Two in a Million/You're my Number One, S Club 7

Dennis Lowe was an actor, singer, dancer, writer, director... and even made lovely costumes for theatrical shows  Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVEDennis Lowe was an actor, singer, dancer, writer, director... and even made lovely costumes for theatrical shows Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

More to tempt us

Allders department store was then in the Buttermarket Centre in Ipswich. Its festive offerings included a Vidal Sassoon hot air styler for £11.99 and a Remington Aroma Whirl footspa for £39.50.

Not everyone dreamed of glitzy gifts. Ince's of Stowmarket advertised safety boots (black or brown leather) for £29.95.

Martin and Newby might have gone, but Elmers Hardware is still going strong at Kesgrave. Two decades ago we could have bought a four-and-a-half-inch angle grinder for £12.99 and a three-piece stainless steel saucepan set for £44.99.

And this sounded interesting: Marilyn's Lingerie in Stowmarket held a "men only night" on December 14…

Mobile phones have moved on in 20 years… massively. In 1999, 1st Point Communications at Needham Market offered a clunky-looking pre-paid digital Motorola. For £99 we got 12 months' rental, 250 minutes a month, a leather case and in-car charger.

In other news…

Of course, we couldn't put "normal life" on hold just because Christmas was coming. The news agenda kept rolling: some of it happy, some sad.

Something heartening was the story of Terri Calvesbert, the three-year-old Ipswich girl terribly burned in a house fire. She learned she would be allowed home for Christmas, after earlier fears she might be kept in hospital, pending more treatment.

Well-wishers touched by Terri's plight and bravery continued to send her gifts, and money to an appeal designed to safeguard her future.

Former Westbourne School pupil-turned-sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn continued working on a statue of ex-Ipswich Town and England football manager Sir Alf Ramsey. It would be unveiled outside the Portman Road stadium in 2000.

The imposing gasholder in Patteson Road, Ipswich, was taken down. The 130ft structure had been a dockside landmark for 102 years.

There was mixed pre-Christmas news on the business scene. A rise in the BT share price - powered by the internet revolution and an expansion of the telecoms sector - meant shareholders were sitting pretty; and it was good news for many BT workers at Martlesham Heath.

Meanwhile, in Ipswich, the remaining staff left as Allied Mills shut the waterfront business of Cranfields - closing the book on more than 100 years of history of flour-milling there.

Seed firm Thompson & Morgan, based on the edge of town, learned it was being taken over by American firm International Garden Products.

Former Beirut hostage John McCarthy and his wife moved to a house in New Street, Woodbridge. He'd been snatched from a Beirut street in 1986 and held for five years by Muslim captors.

Angry families in Milton Road East, Stowmarket, spoke of their shock after learning - a few days before Christmas - that their homes would eventually be demolished. They would make way for a £10m relief road.

Sadly, by December the hunt for the killer of Vicky Hall had lasted more than 70 days. The 17-year-old had last been seen alive in the early hours of September 19 after an evening at a Felixstowe nightclub. Her body was found a week later, in a ditch at Creeting St Peter, near Stowmarket.

And finally…

Thieves stole 50 raffle prizes in broad daylight from under a Christmas tree at Ipswich Hospital. Cancer patients had donated them, aiming to raise money for Somersham Ward.

Ipswich Town's 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion on December 18 saw them end the day third in what was then the Nationwide League Division One table. Ahead were Manchester City and, top, Huddersfield. Norwich were 11 points behind Town, in mid-table.

Photographer Eric Palmer was preparing to open his Fotostop Ipswich shop, near the docks, on Boxing Day so people could get their Christmas snaps developed and printed as quickly as possible.

It was the first time he'd contemplated it, but was looking forward to the change in routine. "So many big stores open on Boxing Day and I thought I'd join them," he explained.

Any chance of a white Christmas? The short answer was no, according to forecasters.

Mind you, Suffolk was shivering. The overnight temperature on December 20 dropped to -4C.

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