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Sale grandma remembers meeting the stars at Stretford Mall
2:00pm Thursday 18th October 2012 in News
A SALE grandma was the lady responsible for persuading a galaxy of entertainment legends, top politicians and sporting heroes to sign a shopping centre’s star-studded autograph book.
For 30 years, Mavis Bretnall, 72, was on the staff at Stretford Mall, starting in the days when it was known as the Stretford Arndale Centre.
She began as secretary to Stretford Mall’s first manager, Ralph Williams, just after it opened in 1969 and one of her jobs was to keep the official visitor’s book up-to-date.
Over the years its pages became crammed with big names such as world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Prime Minister Ted Heath, and England’s World Cup-winning football manager Sir Alf Ramsey.
The dust-covered book was recently discovered by present-day Stretford Mall manager Colin McCrory while sorting through some old boxes in the management suite of the centre.
And Mavis, who retired 13 years ago as the mall’s assistant manager, has been recalling the days when stars were queuing up to add their names to the big leather-bound book.
She said: “We were the first indoor shopping centre in England, so we attracted all the big names of the day to open new shops or to do special promotions.
“One of the first really big stars I remember coming was Muhammad Ali who was there to visit the new Tesco supermarket in the early 1970s.
“I will always remember what a lovely man he was – and very handsome too.
“Other stars who signed the book for me were Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street, and her husband Alan Browning.
“They were very nice people and we put on a big buffet for them in the management suite.
“When Ted Heath came around the same period he talked a lot about his yacht as, of course, he was also a famous sailor as well as a politician.”
Mavis added: “We also got quite a lot of famous footballers coming to the centre – people like Nobby Stiles of Manchester United and Joe Corrigan of Manchester City. They were all very nice people and easy to talk to.
“One set of autographs I wasn’t able to get though was when the monkeys who used to do the television adverts for tea came to do an appearance at the Co-op.
“I don’t think they were up to signing their names!”
Colin McCrory, who has been the manager of Stretford Mall for seven years, said he was delighted Mavis had got in touch with her memories.
He said: “It has been fascinating to learn about what Mavis remembers from her dedicated service to Stretford Mall and of the many famous people we have had through the door over the years.
“The Mall has been at the heart of Stretford for so long now and looking back in this way makes you realise how important it is as a hub for the people of this community who we continue to serve to this day.
“I really have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about its history.”
Mavis went on: “My job at the centre was absolutely lovely from the day I started to the day I left and one of the best parts of it was asking people to sign the visitors book.
“They were great days but I don’t miss them too much now because I’m now kept pretty busy with my four grandsons and grand-daughter.”
Another long-time centre occupant who saw all the stars go past the window of his shop, opposite Tesco, is Terry Jordan, now aged 88 and living in retirement in Stretford.
His travel bureau, Travelwise International, was one of the very first businesses to open in the centre and he recalls seeing a procession of well-known faces over the years, including TV newscaster Michael Aspel, Irish singing star Val Doonican and politicians Harold Wilson, Michael Foot and Tony Blair.
Terry said: “I recall that the day Muhammad Ali came, the centre was absolutely jam-packed with kids who must have come from miles around to see their boxing hero.
“Usually, I just watched as these people visited the other stores but I actually spoke to Michael Aspel and Harold Wilson – I don’t remember now what about – and shook Tony Blair’s hand.”
Terry, who retired 22 years ago, added: “My travel business was one of the first in the area to open inside an indoor shopping centre and other agents used to come in from across the country to see how it was doing.
“I did very well and I eventually sold it to Thomsons in 1975 and then became an area manager for them.”
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