By Patrick Button- January 2010
The so-called homosexual who played the Hammond organ in the Mermaid Lido, Durban, was called Harry Shakespeare. Harry played the piano and the organ sometimes simultaneously with separate hands as they were placed corner-to corner at ninety degrees to each other and he sat between them. Harry was renowned for his array of funny hats that he wore in his one-man shows. Harry sang occasionally to his own accompaniment.
A photographer, Scotty, always dressed in a khaki pith helmet wandered around outside the Lido taking ad hoc photographs and giving folk a numbered card to pick up their photos the next day. His circular kiosk, always plastered outside with his shots of beachgoers was on the promenade on the hotel/ road side of the lido and Scotty had a wide variety of painted boards with heads cut out of them to enable people to pose as, for example, a muscular weightlifter, Superman or a busty female in a polka dot bikini.
The little top's Uncle Cyril sang a song at the beginning and end of each performance with a lady and it went something like this...
"Come to Durban by the sea
and see how happy we can be.
We'll sing and dance there
and find romance there.
So come to Durban by the sea.
The moonlight's so inviting....
In Durban by the sea.
The little top was an outreach of the Durban publicity association. Durban Transport had a kiosk, circular and similar to Scotty's at which one could book their bus trips to the sugar terminal and the valley of a thousand hills.
Jazz saxophonist Basil Mataxis played in the orchestra at the little top.They also had a drummer, a pianist and, i think, a guitarist at times. Cyril had conducting contests and the baton was flyswatter. Sometimes there was a talent contest. mostly folk sang but every now and then a really talented pianist won. A young teenager once brought the house down with his piano rendition of a then popular tune called "Pipeline."
The Nivea company sponsored the Miss Lucky Legs contest and the contestants held butterfly-shaped masks in front of their faces. Frido sponsored a competition in which one could win a beachball and Cyril oft repeated the phrase "Fun in the sun with a Frido ball". Clover sponsored an ice-cream eating competition.
The shops under the lido, as it were, included the Cherry Tree milk bar and the American Candy Store. This candy store sold freshly made candyfloss and huge piles of coloured popcorn. I wonder how many sticks of candyfloss the owners (Mr and Mrs Wingate, I think) made in their tenure??
The Lido was the source of several Indian waiters, always barefooted and dressed in white uniforms, who tramped the sands with aluminium trays and took orders for tea and greaseproof bags of hot chips or ice-cream. The occupants of the deckchairs who watched the little top shows frequently ordered morning teas and the odd scones from these waiters.
The Lido once housed a noisy dodgem car facility on the top floor.
Thanks for the charming website and bless all the folk who made the Lido what it was...usually grubby but delightful to an English-speaking kid then from Johannesburg and Florida.