THIS SUMMER marks the 70th year since the first Aqua Show was held at Bournemouth Pier Approach Baths. Many readers will have happy memories of attending these shows over the years.

When the Pier Approach Baths opened in 1937 it was a popular venue for people to get clean, enjoy a swim and compete in swimming races.

"In 1947 the first Aqua Show was produced and presented by Roy Fransen, a diver, then aged 38," said David Medina who performed at the Aqua Show in 1974.

"Roy was in the Guinness Book of records for the highest witnessed dive in Britain, having plunged 108ft into a tank of water only 8ft deep.

"After the aqua shows he continued to do diving stunts at galas. In June 1985 he did a Five Dive at the baths for the TVS television programme Ultra Quiz. Sadly, a month later at Northold Air Show his Five Dive stunt went wrong and he died from his injuries," said David.

A former cast member of his shows, George Baines, then took over the aqua shows. He developed the show from its basic beginnings into the type of show most people will be familiar with. As production manager and star stuntman, George presented the aqua shows annually until 1951, as well as three shows from 1962 - 1964, when he bought an hotel in Great Yarmouth.

Leon Markson ran the aqua shows from 1951- 1961 and then from 1965, for another ten years.

Bournemouth Aquashow promoter Leon Markson diving in 1947

"Leon had seen a number of aqua shows in the United States, and from those ideas he improved the production of the Bournemouth shows a great deal. The story line performances were well established such as Treasure Island and Sinbad and the Sailor, " said David.

By the late 1960s the Aqua Show was a major attraction on the south coast, and Bournemouth was the only resort with a regular summer show.

"One of the highlights of the show was the synchronised swimming routines aided by beautiful lighting effects. There are girls still living in Bournemouth who will have many memories of being a member of the Aquabelles. The 1965 show was the first time that a statuesque Australian female swimmer called Rhonda Parker joined the cast and stayed for three years. In 1968 she appeared in series five and six of the popular TV programme The Avengers playing the part of the bodyguard and driver to 'M', head of the Secret Service," said David.

In 1972 Leon Markson died and the show for that year was continued by his wife Stella who also presented the show the following year.

In 1974 the production of the show was taken over by Alun Roberts. He was to represent Great Britain as a diver in the Mexico Olympic Games but a leg injury from a bad car crash ended years of training and preparation. He had already produced an aqua show in Berlin and Jersey before coming to Bournemouth with his first show Tales of King Arthur. The show was for all the family and was seen by over 98,000 visitors.

"King Arthur was played by John Crease, Guinevere by Mavis Linter and I was Merlin, the speciality act. One of the divers was Mike Potter, he later became a stunt man in many TV and film productions, including some of James Bond films. Denise Wilson, who choreographed the Aqua Maids water ballet in the show, went on to be a stunt girl and stunt arranger for a lot of TV programmes and still gives talks on the subject today. Tales of King Arthur toured the country that following winter,"said David.

In 1977 George Baines returned for the summer season Aqua Show after selling his hotel in Great Yarmouth. He changed the theme of the aqua show to that of an aqua circus or Big Splash with animal acts and other specialities against the pantomimes and productions with story lines that were staged at the baths earlier.

To add extra flavour, circus acts were introduced, the interior tastefully dressed and many other innovations brought in. But the main ingredients remained, 'goonery' and gorgeous girls.

Heading the comedy side was Syd Brooks, the only Englishman to win entry to the Lauderdale Hall of Fame in the United States, a roll which included such celebrities in the swimming world as Esther Williams and Olympic medallist Mark Spitz.

After George's death in 1982, his wife Vera and their daughter, continued to run the shows until the final one on September 1 1984, followed by a big farewell party on the stage.

The development of the BIC with a swimming pool in the mid 1980s sealed the fate of the Aqua Show and the Pier Approach Baths, and the venue was demolished in 1986.