Mark Willerton

is joint owner of The Burtey Fen Collection

Mark is also manager and the 'memorabilia' side of the partnership

 

" My interest in nostalgia began in 1970 at the age of just 10 years old, when I was given a pile of 78rpm records by a relative. The catchy tunes of the 1950s by singers such as Alma Cogan, Ruby Murray and the Beverley Sisters appealed - as did the brightly coloured sleeves the records came in!  At that time it was Alma Cogan who really grabbed my attention - with her cheerful hit songs which included Paper Kisses, Sugartime and I can't tell a waltz from a tango. I began to find out all I could about Alma and learned that she had died tragically young - just four years earlier.

I remembered quite a few of the names, some were still regular faces on television - but for those I didn't know, the next step was to find out what these artistes looked like and the easiest way was to find the sheet music of the song which usually had a picture of the singer on the front.

It was an interesting childhood hobby - which followed a brief interest in collecting coins and stamps. My father commented yet again that it would be 'Just a nine day wonder '  !! - but more than 40 years on the interest has continued.

On leaving school in 1976, I began my working life as a chef - training at Boston College and working my way up to become head chef at Isobel's Pantry - which in the 1970s and 1980s was Spalding's top A la carte restaurant.

 

Above : Mark, circa 1979 - serving a Beef Stroganoff to the current  Miss Anglia.


But back to nostalgia of an earlier time !
.... The past 40 years have seen my collection increase with records, sheet music, photos and show posters of every major star of the period 1940-1970  - totalling thousands of items. During the 1980s I discovered many of the stars were still appearing, usually in nostalgia shows at seaside theatres ... an ideal way to meet after the show, chat about their career and get photos and record sleeves autographed.

My preferred era is 1950 - 1965 with a particular passion for British female vocalists of that time span. In fact I love everything about British culture and entertainment of that period. I also collect records on the 'Embassy' label - the budget Woolworth label of the 50s and 60s, besides artistes who recorded for the innovative record producer Joe Meek. Of all the record formats, I prefer 78s. I only buy CDs if I really have to !

I do collect records and memorabilia of male vocalists too - including favourites Matt Monro, Dickie Valentine and Malcolm Vaughan. Plus a few American artistes - namely Connie Francis and Kay Starr - but for me, British is best !

Although much of my listening time is spent wallowing in the past - I do like some of the current sounds - Amy Winehouse, Scissor Sisters, Michael Buble, Diana Vickers and Dionne Bromfield for instance.

Its been a real pleasure to meet so many singers of the 50s - 60s during the last 30 years including -
The Beverley Sisters, Susan Maughan, Jess Conrad, Helen Shapiro, Eartha Kitt, Ruby Murray, Ronnie Hilton, Petula Clark, Vince Eager, P.J Proby, Barry Ryan and Joan Regan.

 

Spot the star ! Centre - Lita Roza.  From top left clockwise - 2 shots with The Beverley Sisters, Diana Dors, Eartha Kitt gets a grip, Joan Regan, with Kathy Kirby 'at home', Kathy again, hugs from Ruby Murray, a second pose with Ruby, Petula Clark.

 

It was a big thrill to meet Diana Dors on a couple of occasions. I was just 18 and she was the first really big name I met. I took along a colour 10 x 8 photo, taken when she was at the height of her fame, wearing a trademark low cut gown. ' Oh, I haven't seen this one before ' she said ' It must have been taken in Hollywood at a party. Where shall I sign ? Across my bust ? ' - I just managed to stammer ' Erm ... yes please ! '

Meeting the late Kathy Kirby and the late Lita Roza have been the highlights and they became close friends.

Rosemary Squires and the world famous whistler Ronnie Ronalde appeared in sell-out shows at the Burtey Fen Collection during 2007 - proving they are still crowd pulling names !! 

Regrets ? I've had a few .... no, not really - but I would have loved to have met Dusty Springfield and Dorothy Squires.  And not forgetting Alma Cogan - who was such a bubbly personality offstage too.

Besides collecting pop memorabilia, I also collect film memorabilia too - and this can be found on display in the upstairs bar. There are themed rooms at the Burtey Fen Collection - Hollywood film stars, 1940s entertainers, 1950s entertainers and pop stars of the late 50s / early 60s in the coffee bar.

With such a feel for the era, I guess it was inevitable that I would branch out into associated areas - radiograms, 'Dansette' record players, enamel advertising signs, 50s furniture, lighting and pottery including 'Homemaker ' help to create the ambiance of the past at the Burtey Fen Collection.


Of course when I started out I had no idea that my schoolboy hobby would become a life-long interest and the collection would end up on display. The
Burtey Fen Collection building was designed by Nick and myself to resemble a 1930s theatre and is the perfect backdrop in which to exhibit these wonderful items of memorabilia, for everyone to see and enjoy. Hobbies are often solitary private interests and I'm privileged to be able to share my collection with the general public who visit and they seem to find it all quite fascinating. "

Mark has just published his first book, a biography of the 1960s singer Kathy Kirby ...  ' No Secret Anymore - The Real Kathy Kirby '.

 

 

It is Mark's continued ambition to pay tribute to the great stars of yesteryear  - so they are never forgotten.

 

      HOME