Clowning around with Pierre at shows in South Shields

Pierre the clown at Whiteleas County Infants School in 1966.
Pierre the clown at Whiteleas County Infants School in 1966.

When it came to clowning around, Pierre the Clown must have been one of the most popular ones to perform in South Shields over the years.

For going back to the 1960s and ’70s, the grease-painted funny man not only popped up at local schools (giving lessons about teeth hygiene), he also made appearances at the town’s Binns store – on this occasion making a “return visit to launch a nine-day gala period at the much-missed shop”.

Pierre the clown shows Joanne Grainger aged 7 and Michael Reeder, 8, that eating apples is not only fun but also good for cleaning teeth in 1971.

Pierre the clown shows Joanne Grainger aged 7 and Michael Reeder, 8, that eating apples is not only fun but also good for cleaning teeth in 1971.

Do you remember seeing him? Five-year-olds Amanda Clasper and Sandra Hall did, when he called in to Whiteleas County Infants School in November 1966, as did Joanne Grainger and Michael Redder (both seven) when he showed them how to clean their teeth properly in February 1971.

The little ones look thrilled to see him, but not everyone, it seems, likes clowns.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the relatively recent appearance of clowns in horror films, but the once popular stalwart of the circus is no longer flavour of the month with everyone. Indeed, some people are truly terrified of them, my cousin being one of them.

Mind you, it’s not just clowns ...

Pierre the Clown visited Binns in 1966.

Pierre the Clown visited Binns in 1966.

I recall being out for a meal in a pub (one of those with an integrated restaurant and children’s play area) with her and her husband, when a be-suited brewery mascot suddenly appeared in the doorway.

Dressed in a “cuddly” animal suit, the person inside went from table to table, greeting the customers. When he got to us, one of the diners was missing – my cousin was hiding under the table, shaking like a leaf.

Only when the mascot had moved on did she re-emerge – her face as white as the napkin she was using to mop the sweat from her face.

“I hate those things,” she stammered, “but I hate clowns even more!”

Having said that, plenty of people turned up to see Pierre when he dropped into Binns in South Shields in November 1966. They included Angela Mullen (another clown-hater), who got in touch to say: “I was 11 at the time, but hated clowns.”

Her comment, along with others, came after we posted a picture of the occasion on Facebook recently and asked readers to reminisce about the sadly departed department store.

Nigel Banks posted: “You got dressed up to go down King Street back in the day and certainly looked smart when you went to Binns” while Judith Payne said simply “loved Binns”.

Jean Behling told how: “Many years ago I had my very first professional hair cut at Binns. I had to wait until I was 16. Our father wasn’t happy that his four daughters would loose their plaits.”

Pauline Smith worked in Binns from September 1963 to March 1966. She said: “I don’t remember the appearance of the clown, must have been after I left.” Helen Lillico took to Facebook to say: “I loved Binns, we have a small department store here in Morpeth, like Binns used to be” while Graham Henderson suggested “Bring back Binns, it’ll save King Street!”

Please get in touch with your memories of Binns.