State Visit will celebrate close royal and historic ties between the United Kingdom and Spain, says British Ambassador Simon Manley

The British Ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, has welcomed the announcement of a State Visit to the United Kingdom from the 8th to the 10th of March 2016.

“The British government is delighted that Their Majesties King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain have accepted the invitation from Her Majesty The Queen,” said Mr Manley.

“This State Visit will celebrate not only the long and deep royal and historic ties between our two countries, but also our strong relationship as partners in the European Union, NATO and United Nations.  We enjoy close connections in terms of culture, trade, investment, security and defence. This is an opportunity to celebrate and deepen those links.”

This is the first State Visit by King Felipe and Queen Letizia to the UK. They will stay at Windsor Castle. The programme will be announced in due course.

The last State Visit was when King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited in 1986.  HM Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh returned with a State Visit to Spain in 1988.

Since then the Spanish and British royal families have paid a number of formal visits to each other’s countries. In 2002, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia attended the annual Order of the Garter Ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, including a dinner at Windsor Castle given by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

In 2011, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall paid a three-day official visit to Spain that was hosted by Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. A few weeks later Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia attended the wedding in London of Prince William to Catherine Middleton.

The British and Spanish Royal Families are directly related through the marriage of Alfonso XIII of Spain to Princess Victoria Eugenia, known as Ena, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in 1906.  Victoria Eugenia is the great-grandmother of King Felipe.

Today, the United Kingdom and Spain are close partners in the EU, NATO and United Nations, among numerous international organisations; and cooperate together through the UN Security Council, of which Spain is a current member.

The two countries are also major partners in trade, worth a total of 40bn GBP in 2014, including British goods and services worth 14.6 bn GBP exported to Spain, and imports from Spain to the UK worth 26.1bn GBP.

Spanish companies have invested heavily in the UK’s open economy, including Santander, which employs more than 20,000 people in the UK; Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power; and Ferrovial, which operates Heathrow and three other airports.

Nearly 300,000 Britons are registered as residents in Spain and 15 million visitors came from the UK last year, whilst an estimated 131,000 Spaniards are resident in the UK and two million visited in 2014.

The UK and Spain will also enjoy a major cultural connection next year, which will mark the 400th anniversary of the deaths of two of the countries’ most famous writers, William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, who both died in April 1616.


The Beatles on Tenerife

Beatles on Tenerife

It was not until 15th October 1963 that the Daily Mirror introduced us to the word Beatlemania.

Accordingly there was no Beatlemania in evidence when three of the boys, Paul, George and Ringo, holidayed in Puerto de la Cruz between 28th April and 9th May of that same year.

In fact there was no reaction whatsoever.


That was then – but now is now and Tenerife historian Nicolas G. Lemus with a little help from his friends organised a 12 day Beatle bash to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this inconspicuous visit from three members of the group which was to become probably the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed act in the history of popular music.

The guest of honour at the opening ceremony was Klaus Voormann (below, right), one of a batch of people who can claim the title of the 5th Beatle. He had met the group during their stay in Hamburg. More importantly for this article, his father was having a villa built in La Montañeta on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz. After recording their first LP, Please Please Me, the boys needed a break and as Klaus was in Tenerife for the purpose of furnishing the villa the three Beatles thought it would be a good idea to join him.

During the opening ceremony both Klaus and Nicolas touched on the episode where the boys offered their services free of charge to perform a gig at the San Telmo Lido Night Club on the sea front. The British owner, David Gilbert, apparently refused, saying that he didn’t want a group of long haired youngsters at his exclusive venue. I spoke to David’s daughter, Melissa. She laughed. Refuse them he did – but not because of their appearance – he had no choice. This was Franco’s Spain and it would have been impossible to get the necessary permission in time, if at all. To take the risk would have been stupid. Police informers and the dreaded “work inspectors” were here, there and everywhere. The club could have been closed down.


Adrian McGrath and Klaus Voorman


We also had a guest speaker from Liverpool who is a guide on the famous Magical Mystery Tour Bus which shuttles visitors around the city pausing at birthplaces and venues, finally finishing at the Cavern Club. His name is Adrian McGrath (above, left), a lecturer with a difference – he’s fluent in Spanish, English and Scouse. The theme of his lecture was The Beatles – from Liverpool to Hamburg. But this was no ordinary lecture. Adrian added a little seasoning to his fayre which was the question – “What if”. There are many coincidences which occur during the early lives of the boys. Adrian pointed them out. Here’s an example: – What if George’s family hadn’t moved to Speke, where Paul was living, in 1950. What if George hadn’t won a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys, which Paul was already attending, in 1954 causing them to travel on the same bus every day? They might never have met. The talk was littered with examples of synchronicity. A line from “All you need is love” – Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.

In Puerto we had our own “What if” to add. What if Paul had drowned off our notorious Martianez beach? This is a terrifying experience for anyone who’s been there and brings Stevie Smith’s poem, I’m not waving, I’m drowning, to mind. (No it wasn’t Sylvia Plath who, incidentally, had committed suicide in the previous February).

This is how Paul described the incident – I got washed out further and further away. I yelled for help but those blighters on the beach just didn’t seem to hear anything at all. Sure, it seems quite funny now, especially when I tell you that I nearly came to blows with George and Ringo when I did finally get myself back on shore. Truth is, though, I really did feel I’d had my lot out there. It’s pretty scary when you think you’re in serious danger of drowning.

One of the final acts in the celebrations occurred on a beautiful Sunday lunchtime at the Dinamico Bar, Plaza de Charco when an appreciative gathering, including some day trippers, was entertained by the Puerto de la Cruz Municipal Band playing Beatle’s hits. The band was superb. At our table there were a few moist eyes when favourites were played. Nostalgia ruled for a while but we pulled ourselves together for Hey Jude and performed our na-na’s in various keys.

Was the Beatle’s Celebration a success? Personally I thought that it could have been supported better by the ex-pat community, but the festival had not been pitched in that direction. It was a Spanish occasion and the organizers are to be congratulated for their enthusiasm. Nicolas G. Lemus, supported by the vice president of the Association of Hotels for the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Enrique Talg, has proposed to the island Government that Paul McCartney be declared an Illustrious Visitor to Tenerife.

My friend, local artist, José Desamers made the pencil on paper drawing (top) to celebrate the visit, with the Beatles leaning over the sea wall with the famous old church in the background. He acknowledges that he has included John Lennon but insists that it’s his tribute and he can do what he likes. José presented the original to Klaus Voorman.

And therein lies the rub. The Beatles didn’t visit Puerto de la Cruz, 50 years ago. They were one short.


Mrs Thatcher on Tenerife

Mrs Thatcher on Tenerife

On this historic day, our correspondent Ken Fisher gives an account of The Iron Lady’s visit to Tenerife shores. – Ed

On 28th December 2002, Baroness Thatcher and her husband Denis paid a visit to the English Library in Puerto de la Cruz. The Thatchers were staying in Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque in the South and were in the hands of the Guardia Civil for any journey they made, although they had a Scotland Yard protection officer accompanying them. Due to my festive season arrangements, I was unable to attend. However, in the wake of her recent passing and in the light of the subject matter of my articles, I have pieced together details of the visit from a couple of members who were present that day.

Mrs T leads them down the garden path (I can’t resist it! – Ken)

Where better to start than with the man who was the British Consul here at the time, Mr David Ward. He had been detailed to escort the famous duo whilst in Puerto and so I contacted him by email. Here is his reply:-

In December 2002, only a few months after my arrival in Tenerife as British Consul, I was to have the privilege of arranging a day for Mrs Thatcher in Puerto de la Cruz. Now in the House of Lords, Lady Thatcher had asked to meet the British community whilst she was here on holiday. The English Library and the British Games Club responded enthusiastically to this proposal and laid on receptions for the benefit of their members.

The first engagement was the Library where the scheduled time for the visit ran over by an hour or so. Lady Thatcher (in constituency mode) and her husband Denis enthusiastically worked the rooms learning about the history of the Library and its ongoing important role in the life of the community. It was only with great reluctance that a transfer was effected to the nearby Games Club premises where an equally excited and warm welcome was extended to the couple. Denis insisted on finishing his G and T and his conversation with Michael Hindley-Maggs on aerospace matters before following in Lady Thatcher’s wake! However it was the ever thoughtful Denis who later caringly recognised the signs when it was time for them to leave. His death the following year was to be a great blow to Lady Thatcher and her family.

A framed photograph commemorating the visit and a signed book can still be seen in the Library to provide fond memories to members of the Thatcher’s only visit to Tenerife.

The lady seen presenting the bouquet to Mrs Thatcher, Mrs Jane Stewart certainly has fond memories of the visit. She tells me that there were about 150 members and friends present. A buffet was laid on for all but the Thatchers gracefully refused to partake. It was rumoured that they had stopped for lunch en route, maybe at the Hotel Botanico. If this is so, her bodyguards were not invited as they tucked in merrily while their charges fraternized with the members. As she left the Library to walk to the nearby British Club, Mrs Thatcher spotted a group of members on the lawn and strolled across to acknowledge them. They gave her an appreciative cheer. Jane agrees with Mr Ward – Mrs T knew how to work a room.

This may have been Mrs Thatcher’s first visit to Tenerife but she had been to the Canary Islands before. In 1967 she was part of a Parliamentary delegation consisting of 4 M.P.s who were having a short stay in Las Palmas before travelling on to The Gambia to present the Speaker’s Chair to their newly formed Parliament. This was a common practice to show friendship from the British Government to all members of the colonies on reaching independence.

William Lucas (the father of John Lucas owner of Sitio Litre Orchid Garden) was the manager of Maritima Medway SA based in Las Palmas. He was informed of the visit and instructed to look after the party during their stay at the Hotel Reina Isabel on Sunday 24th and Monday 25th September. William, in turn, passed this on to his young daughter Rosalyn who, judging by the letters received, carried out her duties to perfection.

On her return to London, Mrs Thatcher wrote on House of Commons paper the following:-

Dear Mr Lucas and Roslyn.

Thank you for a wonderful time on the island. You have both gone to a great deal of trouble on our behalf and we have thoroughly appreciated it. I had no idea that the islands were so beautiful and we were lucky to have perfect weather.

We shall all look forward to seeing you in London and returning your hospitality.

A note addressed to the House of Commons, London SW1 will soon find us.I know that Johnny is writing to you sending the ashtrays. I just wanted to say a special thank you as I have seldom had a happier time.

Yours sincerely

Margaret H. Thatcher MP.

Note. – The ashtrays referred to were special House of Commons souvenirs, unavailable in shops.

William Lucas was an old hand when it came to entertaining ex- Prime Ministers. In 1959, when Winston Churchill visited the islands with Aristotle Onassis on the yacht Christina, Lucas was detailed to take care of arrangements. The letter he received later from Churchill’s Private Secretary was full of praise for his attention to detail. Eight years later, taking care of a future Prime Minister would have been a doddle.

Photos courtesy of The British Library


Poirot Meets the Saint on Tenerife

This month Ken is “Watching the detectives” as he uncovers how two famous crime writers found themselves on Tenerife and neither, it seems, succumbed to the island’s charms… Ed

Hotel Taoro, Puerto de la Cruz

Agatha Christie (1890 -1976)
In 2007, Puerto de la Cruz celebrated the 80th anniversary of the visit to the town of the renowned mystery writer, Agatha Christie. There was a week long programme of events including a guest appearance by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard. Mr Prichard unveiled a bust in La Paz in honour of his grandmother. The La Paz area of town was chosen because she wrote a short story called ‘The Man from the Sea’ which featured the Cologan house. It was published in the collection entitled ‘The Mysterious Mr Quin”. We also now have a street, Calle Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie festival

1926 had proved to be an annus horribilis for Mrs. Christie. Following the death of her mother, her husband told her of his love for another woman which caused her to act in a strange way. In December, after abandoning her car, she disappeared for 11 days and, as a result, received a bad press. To escape from this stressful situation, in February 1927, Agatha, accompanied by her daughter Rosalind and secretary Charlotte Fisher arrived in Tenerife.

She stayed for a week in the Hotel Taoro but suddenly upped sticks and left

The explanation appeared in her autobiography written in 1973:

Orotava was lovely. The big mountain towered up; there were glorious flowers in the hotel grounds – but two things about it were wrong. After a lovely early morning, mists and fog came down from the mountain at noon, and the rest of the day was grey. Sometimes it even rained. And the bathing, to keen bathers, was terrible. You lay on a sloping volcanic beach, on your face, and you dug your fingers in and let waves come up and cover you. But you had to be careful they did not cover you too much. Masses of people have been drowned there. It was impossible to get into the sea and swim; that could only be done by one or two of the very strongest swimmers, and even one of those had been drowned the year before. So after a week we changed, and moved to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

Puerto still cannot control its weather but the César Manrique designed swimming pools and the Playa Jardin Beach have taken care of her second objection. It’s many years now since “masses of people” have drowned – if they ever did.

Agatha Christie, Mystery of Blue Train

Nevertheless, during her visit, the author finished her novel, ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train”. This was the turning point in her literary life. She made a decision – “I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well. I have always hated ‘the Blue Train”.”

Agatha, sorry you were down in the dumps when you were here, but we still love you and will continue to honour your visit to our wonderful island.

Leslie Charteris ( 1907 – 1993)
Leslie Charteris also had his problems. He was born in Singapore of a Chinese father and English mother. Educated in England he had written his first published novel by the time he was 21. He moved to the USA in 1932 but was disqualified from permanent residence due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of “50% or greater” Oriental blood. So, every six months he had to renew his visa which may account for him spending the winter of 1935/36 in Tenerife researching for one of his Simon Templar novels…

The Saint, Simon Templar

What a busy time he had. No time to moan and groan. He was staying at the Orotava Hotel, in Santa Cruz and one day he came across the memoirs of the recently retired bullfighter Juan Belmonte, who had just had his autobiography ghosted. It was called ‘Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas” (Juan Belmonte, killer of bulls: his life and deeds). According to Charteris, he bought the English language rights and translated it immediately. The Orotava Hotel had a flat roof which he rented as a private sun deck to complete his translation. The man had style. His book was published in 1937.
In addition to this he seemed to have some fun with a certain General Franco. Here’s what he has to say about this:

He (Franco) was in exile there, plotting with his buddies, and more than once I had drinks with them in one of the waterfront cafés, which was run by a large German with a swastika in his buttonhole, who when he got loaded would proclaim loudly how Germany was going to rule the world. There were a lot of Germans with swastikas working there at the time, and the head waiter at my hotel, also a German, told me that they gave him a hard time because he wasn’t a Nazi. Franco didn’t let me in on his plans, but I thought that he was not a very bright character, and I was really surprised when he started his civil war. This shows you how sharp I am at picking winners…

Well, we know that two parts of the statement are correct – he was staying there when Franco was first exiled to Tenerife and he spoke Spanish fluently.
As for the rest, it will be great fun searching for the German bar owner with his swastika buttonhole.

It does seem to be quite a tall story but then again after he left Tenerife, Charteris claimed to have flown on the maiden flight of the Hindenburg passenger airship to New York in May of the same year. A check on the passenger list confirms this. He was 28 years old and his wife, who accompanied him, 24. At this early age he had written 18 Simon Templar Books. The 19th featuring Tenerife he called Thieves Picnic which was changed to The Saint bids Diamonds.

We’ll leave the final word to the man himself.

“My personal impressions of Tenerife as it was at the time, not very flattering, are all in the book”

He must have had a touch of the Agathas.

Quotes are from ‘the Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film, and Television” by Burt Barer


The British Match That Ignited The Spanish Civil War

As the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, continues to rake in revenue in US and UK box offices, Ken turns his Shifting Sands gaze to the real world of international espionage. Alerted to the story when reading John Reid Young’s ‘The Skipping Verger And Other Tales‘, Ken’s curiosity was piqued and he delved deeper to uncover an uneasy truth about how Franco managed to leave his base on Tenerife to lead the Spanish Civil War without alerting the authorities. ED

Did the British MI6 assist Franco to escape from Tenerife and lead the rebellion which led to the Spanish Civil War or was the General spirited away from the Canary Islands by right wing Catholic sympathisers? The research is hampered by many a smokescreen but here are the hard facts of British involvement as I see them.


General Francisco Franco was not made the Military Governor of the Canary Islands in March 1936 without reason. He was a thorn in the flesh of the newly elected republican government in Madrid. So some bright spark thought of sending him out of harm’s way to the far flung Canary Islands. Franco chose Tenerife as his headquarters. He spent the next few months, if not dodging bullets, at least wary of assassination. In the meantime the anarchists and communists of the republican movement had turned against the Catholic Church and acts of vandalism against the churches were increasing throughout Spain.

Over lunch at Simpsons-in-the-Strand in Piccadilly, Douglas Jerrold, the Conservative Roman Catholic editor of the English Review met with a fellow journalist, Luis Bolín, London correspondent of the monarchist ABC newspaper of Madrid. They were hatching a daring plot. Speed was of the essence.
Jerrold knew of just the man to carry this out.

Major Hugh Pollard had retired from the army and was living a quiet life in the English countryside writing books and employed by the Country Life magazine as sports editor. He and Jerrold were old friends and both men belonged to well established Catholic families. Jerrold spoke of the plan.

He told Pollard that they were looking for someone to take charge of a small plane which was to land in the Canary Islands. The plane would then be used by General Franco to fly to Spanish Morocco. The mission would have to be top secret. The flight would be registered as a pleasure trip and to add some credence to this, Jerrold suggested that a couple of girls should join the party.

Jerrold and Bolin had already organised the plane, a DH-89 Dragon Rapide chartered to the British company Olley Air Service at Croydon Airport. The pilot was to be Captain Cecil Bebb.

Pollard had to move quickly. Surprisingly he engaged the services of his 19 year old daughter, Diana, and a friend Dorothy Watson to act as his fellow joy-riders.

The plane took off from Croydon airport, near London on July 11th 1936. Pleasure trip? It was less than 10 years since Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic.


In order to avoid Spanish air space they flew by way of Biarritz, Oporto, Lisbon and Casablanca. The last hop was from Cape Juby to Gran Canaria.

Pollard and the girls caught the ferry to Tenerife and booked into the Hotel Pino de Oro. Pollard had been given a password in order to convince Franco of their authenticity and was instructed to proceed to the Clinica Costa in Santa Cruz and ask for Dr. Gabarda. The password was Galicia saluda a Francia (Galicia greets France). Gabarda paid no attention, possibly because Pollard pronounced this badly. However, the password written down, according to Bolin, was Galicia saluda a Franco (Galicia greets Franco) which makes much more sense as Franco was born in Galicia. Pollard told a reporter three years later that, when he gave the password, Gabarda looked scared to death. No wonder – he’d been confronted with an incorrect password. Pollard was told to return to the hotel and wait until he was contacted.

This happened almost immediately and Pollard confirmed to Captain Bebb he was to take the new passengers on to Tetuan in Spanish Morocco

To maintain a semblance of normality, just before he left Tenerife, Franco played golf with Mrs Moore, the wife of the director of Fyffes.

Franco made his escape. He took over the Spanish Army of Africa which heralded the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Hugh Pollard was an experienced member of the British secret services being a firearms expert who had served in wars and revolutions in Ireland, Mexico and Morocco, sometimes posing as a journalist. He spoke Spanish fluently. His comical lack of the command of the language must have been part of the act.
Luis Bolin described Pollard in his memoir of the venture as a bluff officer type who spoke no Spanish.

Pollard’s friend Douglas Jerrold was also a leading figure in MI6. Had the plot failed especially in these tempestuous times, Pollard and company would probably have been shot. The Catholic connection would have been too brittle to escape death, but it served to deceive their co-plotters ““ the Spanish monarchists.
But why on earth did this man include his daughter in such a dangerous mission? My only guess is that she had joined the service.

I can find no record of how they returned to Britain.

Captain Cecil Bebb also came across as being a simple adventurer. He lived to be 97 and in a television interview in 1983 declared that he had been “approached by a gentleman from Spain, who asked me if I was prepared to go to the Canary Islands to get a Riff leader who was to start an insurrection in Spanish Morocco. I thought what a delightful idea, what a great adventure.” Who are you kidding, Captain Bebb?
Both Pollard and Bebb were awarded medals by Franco at the end of the Civil War.


If Ken’s account has now piqued your interest, you can read the full story of how the whole dastardly deed was orchestrated in Peter Day’s revelatory account, ‘Franco’s Friends‘. ED

Dragon Rapide image courtsey of Arpingstone; Dragon Rapide poster courtesy of TVE


A Remarkable Family on Tenerife

This month Ken takes his Shifting Sands on a journey that relates how one remarkable family have woven themselves into the very fabric of Tenerife society, giving their time, energy and unrivalled knowledge of their adopted home to preserve its precious heritage. From the enduring enigma of Tenerife’s pyramids to the mysterious case of the camel bones, Ken introduces us to the Baillon family. Ed

Austin Baillon passed away on May 23rd 2012 at the age of 92. He is sadly missed by all who came into contact with him.

Casa Aduana, Custom House, Puerto de la Cruz

When Austin retired to the town of his birth in 1975, he set about collecting everything he could about the local history. He was a fount of knowledge for all the young historians and reporters who asked for his help. His door was also open to visitors from overseas in their various quests. Austin and Julia, his wife, rescued the old Customs House in Puerto de la Cruz from its dilapidated state and made it their home. His book Misters: britanicos en Tenerife is a pictorial masterpiece of life in the Orotava Valley at the beginning of the 20th century. However, Austin wasn’t the only member of the family to lend a helping hand to visitors and friends.

It all began when Alexander Baillon, Austin’s father, was the manager of Fyffes banana plantation in southern Tenerife at Hoya Grande. During the summer of 1915 he was visited by Dr. Earnest Hooton, an anthropologist, who had been sent by the Peabody Museum of Cambridge, USA to collect and bring back some Guanche remains. Hooton headed for the many unexplored caves in the south west of the island and, after being transported there by the Fyffe’s steamer, had the added good fortune of meeting Baillon

Alexander organized expeditions in the hills between Adeje and Guia de Isora in search of caves, most of which were difficult to reach. Employing the local men, who Baillon called “the chamois“, they soon collected all the samples which were necessary. These were boxed, labelled and prepared for shipment to the U.S.A.


Then disaster struck when the Governor rescinded the permission to Hooton to export the samples. He was reacting to protests in the press. Hooton was disconsolate. Baillon promised to help him. A sergeant of the Civil Guard arrived at the Fyffe headquarters with orders to confiscate everything. However, the sergeant’s heart softened (I’ll leave the reader to guess why) and he suggested to them to package all the bones that were surplus to requirements. He would then deliver them back to headquarters. Unfortunately, this deal fell through when both Hooton and Baillon refused to sign a sworn declaration declaring that the boxes delivered amounted to the complete stock. Hooton returned to America bone-less to tell his superiors that he’d failed. Baillon was ordered to deliver the boxes to the Town Hall in Adeje which he did.

Here the story takes a twist. The Secretary of the Town Hall was an ex-employee of Fyffes and very friendly with Baillon. The two hatched a plan. A few days later, in the dead of night, an identical number of boxes were delivered to the Town Hall, deposited there and the originals were returned immediately by the same means of transport. Baillon quickly shipped these to the Peabody Museum. There were no repercussions, ever. Alexander later explained that the replacement boxes contained bones of camels, donkeys and horses. In 1925, Hooton published, The Ancient Inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the book that established his glittering career in the field of physical anthropology.

Austin and Julia’s son, Andrew, continued the family tradition.
Gordon Kennedy is an organic farmer in California. He is also one of the foremost experts on the pre-Hispanic history of the Canary Islands and has collected a massive archive on all things written about the Guanches, the extinct indigenous race who were finally conquered by the Spanish in 1496.
Imagine his excitement when in March 1990 he read in a newspaper printed in Tenerife in English an article entitled “Pyramids in the South: The Mysterious Terraces of Chacona“. There were photos of stepped pyramid structures together with the declared opinion that these were of Guanche origin. Gordon needed to make contact and wrote 2 letters ““ one to the newspaper and one to the author through the newspaper. Neither received a response.

In a later issue Gordon was attracted to a headline – “Andrew Baillon makes sure the King of Rock is not forgotten“.
So Andrew was an Elvis fan too. Acting on impulse Gordon wrote a letter to Andrew saying that he needed photos of the pyramids situated in Guimar and in return promised to ship Andrew a parcel of Elvis memorabilia. The letter was addressed simply to Andrew Baillon, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife and sent more in hope than anticipation.
Gordon had no idea that the recipient was a member of one of the best known families in the north of Tenerife. Naturally, the letter was delivered.



In January 1991 Kennedy received a packet of photographs as requested. Gordon duly sent on the Elvis memorabilia to Andrew.
Gordon Kennedy when told of Austin’s death wrote, “They were a remarkable family”. They still are. Julia allowed me to read the unpublished memoirs of Alexander Baillon for this story.

Gordon has written a superb book on the Guanches called The White Indians of Nivaria

The above image of Andrew Baillon standing on top of the Chacona pyramid pre-dates Thor Heyerdahl’s connection with the Güímar pyramids and is one of the photographs in Gordon Kennedy’s collection .


Tenerife’s Golden Age of Cabaret

I’m so excited that my moving finger keeps hitting the wrong keys. Following up my mention of Go Pontinental in the last article, I was pointed in the direction of Eastenders star Polly Perkins and sent an email to her via her filter system – her son Tim Arnold. I asked Polly if she remembered her cabaret days in TenBel and her reply, almost by return, was an explosion of joy. So much so that here it is in full.

Polly Perkins

Hi Ken I hope this finds you well. I did cabaret for Fred Pontin through his booking agent Bridie Reid in the70s and 80s. Christmas in Tenerife was great. There were really excellent musicians in all the Pontins resorts – a definite plus and I always took my two sons along who also loved their holidays at Pontins in Torremolinos, Estepona, Greece, Morocco and Sardinia. Everything ran smoothly offstage and on – the bluecoats were hardworking and fun for the kids. The entertainment managers really knew their job. Mel Williams on the Costa del Sol and of course Shane Ritchie both top class entertainers. It was always live shows, top class entertainers and musicians – no backing tracks or miming!!! Possibly the last bastion of variety before the hype of the X factor type show.
Good performers, big names or simply first class acts. I loved it. What could be better than singing to an audience of happy holidaymakers in the sun? The food and facilities were pretty good too. A stint doing a Pontinental gig set me up for the months ahead. I even turned down a TV show and a pantomime rather than cancel my Pontinental season!!!!! Kind Regards Polly x


Polly Perkins

The first impression we get is that Pontinental was a massive operation and fun to work for. We also have to remember that for thousands of visitors this was their first trip abroad thanks to the new cheap charter flights. Fred’s whole idea was Blackpool with sun for £50. The Bingo stays in.

The second is Polly’s devotion to her sons which continues to this day and is returned in spades ““ I know.

I wondered what Polly had done between Cabaret and Eastenders and discovered that she’d starred in the ill-fated BBC series Eldorado as – oh no ““ a washed up cabaret singer.

Stars and Garter, Tenerife

Whilst Polly was wowing the happy punters in the South, I had a hefty share in a night club called the Stars and Garter in the Edificio Belair, Puerto de la Cruz. It was a non-profit making concern due to reasons too painful to mention. However, during its short existence we had a lot of fun.

Lennie Peters, of Peters and Lee fame, appeared there in April 1982, and filled the club nightly. I had arranged this gig personally but we needed continuity and after a brief interlude hired a booking agent in the UK. Lord luv us! I don’t know where he found them. But the disasters were not one sided.

Ricky Valance (Tell Laura I Love Her) came to do a week’s stint. One night he was late for his spot and we sent a waiter to look for him. Ricky was found stuck in the lift of the Belair – a quivering wreck (both the lift and Ricky). But he was a trouper and, a couple of slugs of cognac later, Ricky appeared on stage asking us to pass the message on to Laura; and no one was any the wiser. There was a loud cheer from the staff as he completed his hit tune.

“But as they pulled him from the twisted wreck
With his dying breath they heard him say
Tell Laura I love her tell Laura I need her
Tell Laura not to cry my love for her will never die

His hair turned white round about this time. Fair play to him though ““ he’s still going.

Talking of troupers, Polly worked at Battersea Funfair when she was 14 and at 15 became the youngest nude to appear at the Windmill, Still in her teens she was the first presenter of the cult TV show Ready, Steady Go. I have it on record that she taught the aforesaid Ricky Valance a dance routine to use in his act. She drew the short straw there.


Polly and I talked on the phone recently about the early days at Battersea. “I miss the hungry years,” I said, quoting from the song of the same title; “I don’t!” she replied adamantly. We both laughed.

Catch up with her at Polly Perkins

Credits: Above image of Rose Cotton © BBC EastEnders 2011/2012. Grateful thanks to Polly and her family for the use of their wonderful photos. Thanks too to Trevor Jones for the Stars & Garter image.


Shifting Sands, The London Boys

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

This month’s Celebrities Corner features two London boys who left their footprints on Tenerife.


Tom Keating (1917 ““ 1984)

Whilst we lotus eaters in the north were living the dream, Lewisham born Tom Keating was slaving away at the easel in his villa in the southern village of Vilaflor (above) happily churning out Samuel Palmer pastiches. These were being delivered to London galleries and auction houses by his girl friend at an alarming rate. She provided the provenances simply by re-inventing her family history.

Palmer (1805 -1881) painted 80 landscapes of Shoreham, Kent. Keating painted 80 more. In 1972 there were 14 Palmers circulating in London. This raised eyebrows and questions. Fraud was suggested.

By the time Keating had been uncovered as the perpetrator in 1976, he and his girl friend had already split up and Keating was back in England.

Tom Keating was not sent to jail. His girl friend, Jane Kelly, died tragically young and you can follow the full story by reading Matthew Sweet’s article for the Independent, The Faker’s Moll.

Keating wrote a best selling autobiography called “The Fake’s Progress” According to his friends he didn’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Many years ago I made a half-hearted attempt to trace Keating. The idea was to uncover one of his “Sexton Blakes” as he called his forgeries, hanging in a bar in Vilaflor, the highest village in Spain. Late in the day I found that he drank in El Médano on the coast. By then I was tired and fed up. Maybe I’ll try again soon.

Fred Pontin (1906 -2000)

Fred Pontin in Tenerife

Fred Pontin was proud of being a cockney. He told me so.

In the 1960s Pontin decided to expand his holiday business to sunny Europe to meet the challenge of the package holidays. The enterprise advised holidaymakers to “Go Pontinental”.

By the 1970s he was keen to expand Pontinental, so in 1972 Pontins acquired 6 new sites through the purchase of a Belgian holiday club. One of these was Tenbel at Costa del Silencio in the south. Get it? Ten”“Bel, Tenerife-Belgium. You could now ‘Go Pontinental’ to Tenerife.

By all reports this was not a great success but it’s difficult to find folks who stayed there. However, Fred was a great gambler in business and, as he had won the Grand National with his horse Specify the previous year, he must have felt his luck was in.

His other venture into Tenerife was in Puerto de la Cruz in 1977 when he introduced solar heating panels. The party took place on the lawn of Ray Baillon’s house in the Taoro Park. The installation was called Pontin’s Sunsoaker. I think the sun sank on that one.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and John Lucas asked me to greet Sir Fred and Lady Pontin in the Orchid Garden as he had been delayed in La Palma. Sir Fred was wheelchair bound but he and his wife, Joyce, were full of fun and enjoying themselves.

We immediately got on so well that I plucked up the courage to ask him if there’s any truth that during a Pontin’s reunion when a medical research charity were presented with a sizeable cheque, the recipient on behalf of the charity said in front of a couple of thousand Pontin’s campers ““ “I’d like to thank Mr Butlin”¦”¦”¦”
“Right”, said Fred (good name for a song).
Sir Fred also wrote an autobiography entitled “Thumbs Up” which was his gimmick on the Pontin’s TV advertisements and repeated in our photo (above). He died later in the year and was a lovely man.


Shifting Sands, Celebrities

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

Celebrities on Tenerife

Celebrities lived in the Orotava Valley ““ Jack Jackson the daddy of the DJs had a recording studio in his house in La Montañeta and sent a cassette recording of his programme home by air every week to the BBC. Jack had a cat, Tibbles, in the studio, but it was a “virtual” cat; he was the first radio DJ with studio gimmicks.

I often met him in the Red Barrel bar when he and his wife, Eve, came down from the hills for a lunchtime bevy. We almost had a deal put together where I would ghost his biography but in 1973 he discovered that the Tenerife climate was worse for his lung complaint than the UK and left the island for good. He died in 1978.

When checking him out on the internet, I find that there are two versions of his place of birth ““ the first in Belvedere, Kent and the second in Horsley, Derbyshire. I would love to claim him as a fellow Derbyshire man.


Jean Batten, Garbo of the Skies

She was one of the Daily Express’s top 5 women of the year in 1936.

In 1972, she owned a small apartment in the Avenida Aparthotel yet very few people, including me, knew who she was. The lady was Jean Batten, the Garbo of the Skies, the title of a brilliantly researched book by Ian Mackersey. Why was she honoured by the Daily Express? In 1936 she had made the first solo flight from England to New Zealand. She was extremely photogenic. Hers is a fascinating story. The poor woman is buried in a pauper’s grave in Majorca. Her mother, who died in her arms in San Marcos, is buried in the British Cemetery in Puerto de la Cruz. It’s all in the book. She once nodded graciously in my direction and I nodded back

Find out more from the documentary of Jean Batten’s life, including an interview with Annette Reid

During the 70s Kenneth Williams and his mother paid several visits to Tenerife. Puerto de la Cruz was his preference. I met him one lunch time in the Harp Bar. He asked me my name. I told him ““ Ken ““ and no he didn’t say “stop messin’ about“. He was in a sombre mood as he’d just discovered that there was to be a strike of hotel employees in a few days time. So it must have been 1978.

Louie, his mother, was taking things in her stride and was good company. “Kenny says we’re jinxed, “˜cos last year we were sitting in a little bus at the airport waiting for the luggage to be loaded when that terrible Jumbo crash happened. The bus shot off like a bat out of hell and forgot all about the cases” As we talked a few customers came in and one or two made a bee-line for him. One poor chap got a bit tongue tied and said, “I’d like to shake the hand that’s given so much pleasure to so many people“. One of the two Kens said, “I beg your pardon” ““ modesty prevents me from saying which one. However, when the penny dropped, Ken W. roared with laughter and I left while I was ahead. I never met them again.

Many years later, after his death, I discovered that he hated being approached by the public and, at times, was quite rude. This particular day, nothing could be further from the truth, he was humble and charming


Lady Mollie Abercromby

However we were not short of our own local celebrities. Lady Mollie Abercromby (above – where she always preferred to be, in the company of men) was a legend in her own life time. She was a member of the Smith family who had owned Sitio Litre since the 1850s. Her favourite bar was the Red Barrel which she visited regularly at lunchtime.

A happy, generous lady she made friends easily with the tourists and would often invite some of them to her stately home for lunch later on in the week. On arrival at the allotted time she would often greet them with ““ “What are you doing here?” Or if she didn’t recognize them, “What do you want?” An embarrassed shuffling of feet occurred before one of the party reminded her of her invitation. But she never failed to get Pancho and Maria to rustle something up and the wine flowed.

Mollie was the first person on the island to fail the breathalyser test when after a lazy lunch in Santa Cruz with her friend Desmond she was stopped whilst driving down the motorway at 20km an hour.


Shifting Sands, Tenerife in the 1970s

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

Tenerife 1972 – Seven Peseta Island


Dorada Pilsner was 7 pesetas a bottle if you stood at the bar, 10 pesetas at a table. I never did find out the price if you stood on a table.

Local cigarettes with black tobacco which made them healthier, I don’t think, 7 pesetas a pack. You could buy a brand called Boxeador for 3 pesetas a pack but these had an acquired taste and were sensationally anti-social.

Everybody smoked; everywhere. Any bus journey was a health hazard but we didn’t care because we didn’t know. We were still in the age where smoking was said to calm the nerves and, by God, there were plenty of those on the buses. It certainly brings into question the passive smoking theory. I still have a newspaper advert where Stanley Matthews (of all people) stated that he preferred Craven A.

Petrol was 7 pesetas a litre. The latter didn’t interest me as I had no car, like 80% of the people living in Puerto de la Cruz at the time. As for the rest, let’s break out the booze and have a ball. There were 172 pesetas to the pound.

A good, clean, fully fitted apartment could be found for as little as 5,000 pesetas a month (£29). This included a bathroom with a bidet which most people thought was a foot bath.

Early Tourism
Tourism was solely for the winter months, many businesses, especially restaurants, closed for the summer. This all changed in 1974 with trouble in Europe. The Turks invaded Cyprus which also affected Greece, and Portugal was in the middle of the Carnation Revolution so alternative destinations had to be found and quickly. Tenerife fitted the bill.

Buffets in hotels were unheard of; waiter service at every meal. Here’s an actual lunch menu from the Las Vegas hotel:

  • Consommé with Sherry
  • Fried Sole a la Meuniere
  • Grilled Sirloin Steak Maitre d’hôtel with Pommes Frites
  • Peach Melba: Coffee

Our modern tourist couldn’t face it but half board didn’t exist. If you were going out for the day, each guest received a huge lunch-box which contained much more than an apple and banana. Guests dressed for dinner and later graced the bars and night clubs looking worth a million dollars.

There was also a dress code for the street. Tourists (usually British) were stopped by the police and told to dress in a respectable manner.
Angry Tourist: “All right keep your shirt on!” Policeman: “That’s my line”

Entrepreneurs were beginning to take notice of the rise in Tourism. An astute young German businessman, Wolfgang Kiessling, spotted an opening in the tourist market and Loro Parque was inaugurated on 17 December 1972. The legend had begun.

My favourite story of these times was that Spanish law, as always an ass, decreed that to open a Park it was obligatory to have a Spanish Partner. To open a hotel this was not necessary. So Loro Parque started life as a luxury hotel with a park. Sir Anthony Eden and his wife spent three months as guests at the hotel.

If you’ve been entertained by these memories, why not share some of your own ““ we’d love to hear them.

Next up ““ Celebrities and locals

Image of pesetas published under creative commons; image of Craven ‘A’ from Free Images