10 things we all remember about swimming in the 1970s

With the constant threat of people bombing onto your head, Vosene shampoo burning your scalp and an overwhelming smell of chlorine on your skin, it’s a wonder that anyone survived swimming in the 1970s. Goggleblog editor Chris Price looks back to the pools where he learned to swim with fond memories…

will patrons kindly refrain from

How many remember this poster from the 1970s? And how many thought that law-breaking Will Patrons was a real person

1. Will Patrons Kindly Refrain From poster

Swimming pools in the 1970s were packed. I’d like to think it was because we were all inspired by Olympic heroes like David Wilkie who won gold in the 200m Breaststroke in Montreal in 1976. But in truth I suspect it was because there wasn’t much else to do. It was either go round your friend’s house on your bike or go swimming. There was none of this organised sport and holiday camps you have now.

As a result, swimming baths (see below) were always, always full, especially in holiday time. And where you get hundreds of bored teenagers all congregating you obviously get all sorts going on. People jumping on your head, ‘friends’ trying to drown you by pushing your head under. Hence the classic poster above telling you what you couldn’t do. That Will Patrons certainly was one naughty fella.

lifesaving-survival-inflation.250x210 (1).jpg
2. Your pyjamas were something you had to blow up!

If in the 1980s everyone was scared of catching Aids, in the 1970s drowning was our biggest concern. As a result, we all had to take courses in blowing up our pyjamas to use an inflation aid.

To get your Bronze, Silver, Gold and Honours personal lifesaving badges you had to be able to tread water in the deep end for what felt like hours, blow up your pyjamas to use as a float and head down to the bottom of the pool to swim through a big hoop and rescue a black brick.

I now know if I’m ever on a capsizing boat I’ll be absolutely fine as long as I’m wearing my pyjamas and I drop a brick on the bottom of the ocean.

3. Public information films 

Poor Dave you have to feel sorry for him. ‘He wishes he didn’t keep losing his birds’ (his words, not mine). The reason? He can’t swim, of course. Which is presumably why the latest ‘bird’ in question has gone off with geeky looking Mike who ‘swims like a fish.’

You see in the 1970s, being able to swim was associated with being sexy. Well it wasn’t really, but this was an age when loads of people drowned every year, mostly larking around in the summer, so public information films like this made out that if you swam well then you’d instantly be attractive to the opposite sex.

David Wilkie

The Budgie Smugglers are back. Sales of tight swimming briefs, like those worn by champion swimmer David Wilkie in his day, may be on the rise.

4. Budgie smugglers 

Talking of sexy, the 1970s was all about budgie smugglers or Speedos. Only of course they weren’t called budgie smugglers back then – they were just called trunks. It was the norm back in the 1970s to wear tight fitting trunks and if your eyes hurt when swimming underwater you just closed them because hardly anyone wore goggles either. Even if you did wear goggles, they were usually so badly made that the foam seals came off after a few swims!

5. Swimming badges you sewed on to your cozzie

I’m sure you can still get swimming badges, but it’s a long time since I’ve seen anyone with them sewn onto their trunks or swimming cozzie. Perhaps Mums (and maybe a few Dads) are too busy checking their smartphones to find time to sew them on to their children’s swimwear. Or maybe most kids just get a certificate to mark their swimming milestones, rather than little bits of fabric. But it’s a great shame.



6. Vosene shampoo

Everyone in the 1970s used Vosene Shampoo and you always had to use it in the showers after swimming. I think it was the law. No wonder so many people I know who swam back then are now bald because this stuff was so strong it could be used to strip wooden floors if you didn’t put it on your head. Absolutely lethal if it got in your eyes and not much better on your skin either.

7. Diving

We live in a health and safety obsessed age, where insurance risks mean that today’s kids are rapped up in cotton wool. Or so it seems. In the 1970s, this definitely wasn’t the case. Most swimming pools had diving boards up to 10m and swimming in the deep end meant your feet were nowhere near the bottom – by contrast you are lucky to find modern pools with a deep end much more than 5ft today. Diving was of course dangerous, relatively speaking, but the thrill of surviving a dive off the 10m board without belly flopping was quite something.

8. Overwhelming smell of chlorine

I know it seems obvious, right, because all indoor swimming pools smell of chlorine, but in the 1970s it was overwhelming. Alan Carr makes a joke in one of his stand up routines about school swimming lessons and how you virtually changed sex swimming a width across the baths because of all the chemicals in the water. He wasn’t wrong.

poppets.jpg9. Poppets

I don’t what it was about Poppets but, feeling ravenous after a big swim, Poppets always hit the spot. That sense of the packet hitting the pull out drawer of the vending machine and having to tear the corner of the cigarette-sized box to get at the little chocolate raisins. It stays with me forever.



10. We called it Swimming Baths

Tell younger folk now you are going to the swimming baths and they look at you like you are kind of stupid. Why are you going for a bath at the swimming pool? But back then we all called them ‘Swimming Baths’.

I guess it was a hangover from the Victorian age when Swimming Baths would contain actual baths where you went to get clean (cleanliness being next to Godliness and all that) as well as a swimming pool where you could swim.