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Open Features: An Unwelcomed Musical Medley

Frank Healy recalls how he flooded a big department store with a bedlam of musical sounds.

Christmas is coming. Amidst all the shopping and planning this is the time to take the kids to see Father Christmas.

My grandchildren have grown to an age when they no longer want to go and see him. In this magical time we adults have one less opportunity for reminiscing. But then a visit to Santa's grotto in this modern age is a less spectacular event than when I was young.

Back in 1956, for some six months after leaving school, I worked as a lowly junior in Busby’s department store in Bradford. As a child I was taken to that store to see Father
Christmas. The grotto was a magical place back in those days. It was extensive, being located in the service corridor which ran almost the full length of the store.

Nowadays we are accustomed to piped music in stores. Back then it was provided by Disc Music Boxes, and only at Christmas time. The discs were over two feet in diameter. These machines were positioned around the store and in the Grotto. During the rest of the year they were stored in the gent’s cloakroom, along with the stuffed
reindeer.

As a bumptious 15-year-old, eager to learn, I wanted to find out how these music boxes worked. Older men encouraged my curiosity. I managed to open one of them. The locks on the boxes were old. A bit of wire solved the problem. I hasten to add that this did not mark the start of a life of crime.

I got one of the boxes to play, then left it going when I returned to my department. A supervisor was quickly despatched to turn it off.

A few weeks later, after more egging on from the adults, I opened all of the boxes, wound them up and started them playing. They could play for several hours on one winding.

There were around a dozen boxes. When they were all playing I locked them and made myself scarce.

One box playing on its own was not too much of a problem. Twelve, each one playing a different tune, definitely was.

Contrasting sounds flooded the store. A supervisor was soon investigating.

The boxes were locked! Where were the keys?

Questions were of course asked. The people who encouraged me at least had the decency to deny all knowledge of what had happened. I was the chief suspect, but there was no proof that it was me.

The discs were taken away from the boxes. Just in case!

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