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When 100 million viewers watched Shrewsbury compete in It's A Knockout final

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Shrewsbury nostalgia | Published:

Beaten. By the Germans.

Give us an S... The cheerleaders in action.

For the crestfallen Shrewsbury It's A Knockout team it was hard to take.

There had been months of intense training and preparation, and the town was in a state of high excitement.

An estimated 100 million watched live on the BBC as, in a thrilling finale, Shrewsbury tied with the German team from Wolfsburg.

Taken by surprise by the unexpected draw, and with there only being one winner's trophy, organisers hastily arranged a tiebreak in the form of a rerun of the wheelbarrow game. The Germans won and were presented with the trophy.

The Shrewsbury team which beat Chester at the Quarry in May 1969.

"The anticlimax was terrible, absolutely awful," recalls Bernice Williams, who is now 67 and at the time lived in Sundorne Road.

"We went back to the hotel for the after-games bash."

Then something extraordinary happened. She noticed the German team having a word with the Shrewsbury manager Stuart Lister.

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"The German team came into the reception with the trophy and handed it to Stuart."

Shrewsbury's Tove Fjeld – a Norwegian who was training in Shropshire to be a physio – stays cheerful as the Germans top the podium at Blackpool

In a remarkable display of sportsmanship, the German camp, who had felt uncomfortable about how the competition had been decided, had agreed among themselves to hand the winner's trophy to Shrewsbury, so long as they were given a replica.

So Shrewsbury became the first British team to win, albeit jointly, the "Jeux Sans Frontieres" European final of the hit television show It's A Knockout, which was a series of madcap games.

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10,000 in the Quarry

That final took place on September 3, 1969.

And now Bernice is trying to get the team together again for a celebration dinner marking the golden jubilee of the start of Shrewsbury's It's A Knockout adventure, which had begun with a local heat at Shrewsbury on May 18, 1969, before a crowd of 10,000 in the Quarry. Shrewsbury beat Chester that day in the first round of the competition.

The 50th anniversary dinner is at the Lord Hill Hotel, Shrewsbury, on May 25 at 6pm, and Bernice is hoping to trace "lost" team members, including the cheerleaders, to invite them along. They can contact her on 07817 529750.

Back then she was Miss Bernice Davies, and worked at the Shirehall. She left the county town six months ago and now lives in Southam, Warwickshire.

Denise, left, and Bernice look through some memorabilia.

"If you ask anybody of a certain age in Shrewsbury about It's A Knockout, it's a landmark thing. Everybody remembers it. And everybody asks what happened to the fountain."

There was supposed to be a celebratory fountain created in The Square, but the idea disappeared under red tape.

When it was first suggested that Shrewsbury enter a team into It's A Knockout, with the late Stuart Lister being team leader, there was huge enthusiasm and locals flocked to take part, including members of the rugby club.

For Bernice there was a particular attraction.

"I wanted to go to another country and couldn't see another possibility of my going abroad. Ours was an ordinary family and I had been to Wales on holiday and Scotland in the caravan."

Her travel ambitions were destined not to be realised as the European final was held on the lido at Blackpool – not that Bernice minded a bit.

Tough training

Another of those who came forward was Mrs Denise Williams, now 68 – she's not related to Bernice by the way – who was back then Miss Denise Parry living in Monkmoor Road and working in admin at Shrewsbury's Silhouette factory.

"It sounded good fun," said Denise, who lives now in Gains Park.

"I was very sporty and liked anything I thought was going to be sporty."

Training, much of it at Shrewsbury Technical College, was tough, some fell the wayside, and particular strengths emerged.

Training hard at Shrewsbury Technical College in April 1969.

Bernice, at 5ft 8ins, was earmarked for the tug of war.

The home win at Shrewsbury was followed by victory in heats in Edinburgh in July.

"It was brilliant. The town really got behind us. It was like Shrewsbury winning the cup – that was the kind of atmosphere there was," said Bernice.

With the highest scoring British team going forward to the European final, Shrewsbury had a nailbiting wait, but kept training hard and, with the prospect of there being a lot of water games, Shrewsbury swimming pool was put at their disposal every Saturday.

Then came the joy of discovering they had made it to the final to do battle with teams from countries across Europe.

Mrs May Bryant made "Oggie" as a mascot.

Mrs May Bryant of Copthorne Drive, mum of Stephen who was one of the team, made a gonk called Oggie to be the team mascot.

There was a full dress rehearsal at Blackpool (in which Shrewsbury were runners up) before the real thing, and there was one game which Shrewsbury could see they would do badly in, as it depended on strength – and the German competitor was a professional hammer thrower who was so strong that he actually broke the equipment.

So with permission from the organisers there was a last-minute recruit to Shrewsbury's ranks in the form of a 17-stone Blackpool lifeguard and professional wrestler, called Barry Shearman.

Denise's role in that glorious night was winning the sack race, along with Ruth Elcock, while Bernice was a winner in the bottle game which was crucial as it was towards the end.

"At the end it was a tie, and I don't think it had happened before and they didn't have a plan, and only had one trophy," said Bernice.

However, there followed that heartwarming twist thanks to German sportsmanship.

Shrewsbury's team members each got a small amount of cash for their achievement – Denise thinks it was £20, while Bernice heard it was £50, but doesn't remember.

Today Shrewsbury's It's A Knockout trophies, won for Blackpool and also the Edinburgh triumph, are on display at the town's museum and art gallery.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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