Celebrating five decades of the Comet: A look back at 1971

Comet mastheads through the decades

The Comet is celebrating it's 50th anniversary today! - Credit: Archant

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Comet - briefly named 'the Sun' before a certain well-known brand threatened legal action - we take a look back at what made our front pages five decades ago.  

Having flipped through a number of old editions, it has become clear that some of the issues affecting our communities in 1971 and the decades that followed are not dissimilar to those of today.

Introducing the paper to readers, a note on the front page states "why a new paper? because times change and reflect the community as it is, not as it was 20 or 30 years ago". Long before the days of news sites and social media, the industry didn't know what was coming.

Message introducing brand new Comet newspaper in 1971

A message from the Sun team following the rebrand of the newspaper in 1971 - Credit: Archant

The very first front Hitchin Sun, following the rebranding of the Hertfordshire Pictorial, reported on a housing crisis in the town.

The editions that followed continued to follow Hitchin's housing saga . At the time, 375 people were in the queue for one of Hitchin Urban Council's 2,500 homes.

Hitchin Sun front page May 12 1971

The first ever Hitchin Comet (Sun) reported on a housing crisis in the town - Credit: Archant

Today, demands for vacancies still exceeds supply in North Herts. The district council transferred its housing to housing associations such as Settle - which has the most stock at around 8,500 homes.

There are around 2,800 applications currently on the housing register in North Herts. 

Hitchin Comet housing crisis

The Hitchin Comet reported on a housing crisis in 1971 - Credit: Archant

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The Comet brand officially launched just two weeks after the Sun - we got there in the end!

Ban on selling council houses the comet 1971

Stopping the sale of council houses to sitting tenants was the Labour group's first election promise - Credit: Archant

Throughout 1971, the Comet featured a huge variety of stories from a ban on the sale of council houses and a boom in house prices in Stevenage, to who would be crowned the year's 'Miss Stevenage'. 

Housing prices story The comet

The article reads that buyers flocked to Stevenage for its "stable employment", sending house prices up from £5,600 to £7,150 to between £6,274 to £7,274 - Credit: Archant

A big story for Stevenage in August 1971 was the news that there would be an end to free parking in the town centre in the months ahead. 

Controversially, drivers were facing the prospect of paying 5p for each entry into a car park in the town centre - £1 for a monthly ticket or £2.50 for a quarterly.

Comet front August 1971

1971 spelled the end for free parking in Stevenage Town Centre - Credit: Archant

At the time, the charges applied to all existing car parks, and would be enforced at the St George's Way multi-storey which was set for completion in September 1972. Stevenage Council opposed the move made by 'a corporation'. 

One thing that hasn't changed in 50 years is our love of a good picture spread in our print products. Seeing smiling faces gathered at an event, or the passion of campaigners protesting, never fails to tell the story and highlight what our communities are about.

Stevenage Carnival 1971 comet clipping

Stevenage Carnival 1971 - Credit: Archant

Stevenage Carnival took place annually from 1962 to 2003, when it was axed due to increasing costs and health and safety issues - unsurprisingly so. In July 1971, the Comet ran a double page spread on the carnival, showing people enjoying the festivities and the various floats going by. 

The coverage was accompanied by a report, headlined 'Drama as big day starts', which explained how a 13-year-old boy had fallen from one of the floats and broken his ankle. 

A few months later, a local pastor led the way with an "anti-porn" march, later denying it had flopped after only 150 people of an anticipated 1,000 turned out for the protest. It was reported in the Comet that organisers pointed to "the apathy of Stevenage people". 

Anti-porn story the comet 1971

An anti-porn protest took place, which was met with a counter march in Stevenage, September 1971 - Credit: Archant

Baldock Council appointed its first ever female chairman in May 1971. Dr Nora Burgess, and Independent councillor, made it her first order of business to advise her fellow councillors to be "non-political". 

First female chairman Baldock 1971

Baldock Council elected its first female chairman in 1971 - Credit: Archant

The prospect of paying 40p for a pint - due to the potential extension of pub hours -  made national news in 1971. The Comet spoke to the managers of some of our local boozers at the time about the ordeal. The manager at Peartree pub, Mr G.E Laight said "opening 17 hours a day might be warranted in London, but it was not worthwhile in Stevenage".


40p a pint the comet

"Sends a cold shiver down your spine, doesn't it? Beer at 40p a pint - what a nightmare." The Comet reported on the national story of the cost of beer in pubs going up in 1971 - Credit: Archant

Comet pride campaign

Let's have a bit of pride! The Comet campaign to draw attention to all the things Stevenage should be proud of in 1971 - Credit: Archant

The Comet launched a campaign to encourage Stevenage residents to take pride in their town, claiming that the quality of life was getting better all the time. 

50 years on, while there are still some who largely focus and comment on the negatives in Stevenage, from the perspective of the Comet, there are wonderful people doing wonderful things across all of the towns we cover, and certainly more good than bad. We echo the sentiments of our predecessors -  perhaps its time to have pride once again. 

Enjoyed our round-up from The Comet's first year? Our look back will continue in a fortnight, with past stories from 1981.

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