A couple who hit the small screen as dancing stars are still swinging 60 years on as they mark their diamond wedding anniversary today.
Jean Slater and Billy Henderson met for the first time at South Shields seafront fair ground when she was 16 and working at Newman’s as a machinist and Billy was two years older and working at Westoe Colliery as a shift foreman.
After dating for two years, they got engaged and married a year later at St Cuthbert’s Church, which stood on King George Road in South Shields.
During their courtship, they began rock ‘n’ roll dancing and still enjoy ballroom dancing each week at the Cleadon Club.
Their moment in the spotlight came in 1957, when they were chosen to appear on the Six Five Special Saturday night rock ‘n’ roll television show after they were spotted at the regular dance held at Tyne Dock Youth Club.
Presented by Josephine Douglas and Pete Murray, it also featured the boxer Freddie Mills and the pop and jazz singer Cleo Laine, with Don Lang leading his band for a performance.
We’ve always been true to each other, loved each other and always loved to dance, I think that’s what makes us.Jean Henderson
“I still have my ticket today,” said Jean.
“Billy and I loved dancing to rock ‘n’ roll.
“It was just great, fantastic and wherever we went, people would ask us to get up and dance, even when we were on holiday in Spain and we’d always win a bottle of wine.
“I can’t rock ‘n’ roll now, but we still enjoy ballroom dancing together.”
Jean’s love of dancing began with tap as a youngster and she and her brother Hugh Slater, now 81, would perform together and she also appeared in the Pier Pavilion shows.
Her passion also rubbed off on grandaughter Ashley McVey, now 29 and nee Brennan, who was a member of Pamela’s Dance School based at Harton School, with Jean taking her to competitions and making all her outfits.
Meanwhile, Billy worked at the pit for a total of 36 years until it closed, going onto work for South Tyneside Council for 12 years as a heating engineer, while Jean worked in a chemists in Whiteleas before she and two friends took it on the premises and turned it into Trio Styles hair salon.
In their retirement, the Harton couple, who are parents to Michael, 59, Jaqueline Brennan, 56, and Lesley Wallace, 52, grandparents of six and great-grandparents of five, enjoy taking breaks in their caravan.
To mark their anniversary, they had a party at the Armstrong Hall, where £350 was raised for the Alzheimer’s Society,
Jean added: “It’s magic, absolutely magic.
“We’ve always been true to each other, loved each other and always loved to dance, I think that’s what makes us.”