FROM pop giants like the Bee Gees, to soul stars like Harlem Shuffle hitmakers Bob & Earl, rock icons Thin Lizzy, genuine bluesmasters such as Howlin’ Wolf and reggae giants like Desmond Dekker... all passed through an intimate Bournemouth nightspot on their way to take their place in history.

The Ritz, a low, bow-windowed 1950s ballroom which stood just above the beach huts and beyond the promenade where the BIC now dominates the seafront, was part of Starleys Hotel in the long-gone Cliff Cottage Road.

Bought by Len Wallen in January 1966 and opened the following month, for nearly four years it brought an impossibly hip array of live music talent to Bournemouth.

In 1970 it changed its name to The Hive and surrendered weekday nights to the prevailing disco sound, although it still booked bands at the weekends.

“From the age of 14 to 18 I was immersed in this wonderful world of bands and musicians,” says Len’s daughter, Hilary Goodinge, now an English teacher at Milton Abbey School.

“The Ritz was a magical place because it was small enough to be a smoky club, but we could thow the doors open to the beer garden, which looked out over the sea and the fire regs gave us permission for a thousand people. Well, a thousand people at a pound a time in 1969 meant we could afford some really quite big bands.”

As a student a Poole College, Hilary always had her ear to the ground for the next big thing – The Ritz had the good fortune to have Fleetwood Mac booked the week Albatross went to number one.

“The head of the Student Union at Poole College was a guy called Nigel Armstrong who always knew what was coming up. He turned us on to bands like Velvet Underground, who we just wouldn’t have heard otherwise and he used to run coach trips to London to see these really hip artists – he was really into the blues. So I’d tell my dad who he should book.

“Dad also had a venue in Lyme Regis and did a lot of bookings with Mel Bush because they could offer groups two dates at a time. And, with the hotel where we all lived, the bands had somewhere to stay as well.”

Which brought its own legends.

“You can imagine the scene the night after one of these gigs when someone like Fleetwood Mac would come down to breakfast – all these holidaymakers sitting there and in walks Mick Fleetwood with these wooden balls dangling off his belt and Jeremy Spencer with his long curly hair.

“I can remember drugs raids at the hotel and my mum, bless her, running up to the rooms shouting at the groups to flush their stuff down the loo! Of course, the police never found anything – much to their frustration.”

Hilary was a child of the times, out every night. She used to collect records for Andy Peebles, the house DJ at Samantha’s night club (now Bumbles), who went on to work for Radio 1 and was the last person to interview John Lennon, just two days before his death in 1980.

“Bournemouth was a very sophisticated town musically in those days. Andy used to have records sent over from the States so he always had the very latest Soul sounds to play in Samantha’s. Then there was Le Kilt, which had a tie-in with another Kilt in London, Papa’s at the Lansdowne. So these clubs used to feed into the live music venues and create an appetite for music you wouldn’t hear otherwise.

“Also you had a wonderful mix of locals, students, holiday makers and language students with their continental fashions – I’d never seen Lacoste t-shirts in Bournemouth – it made for a really good mix of people.”

Of course, times change and fashions move on. The Hive was decorated in purple and red with sweeping arches meant to echo the inside of a beehive. It was certainly creating a bit of a buzz as Hilary went to university, but although she continued to help out, it was a different era.

“Disco was so much cheaper – you paid a DJ fifty quid, charged a pound on the door and still packed the place. We had bands at the weekends, but by then the big bands had priced themselves out of our league and were playing venues like the Winter Gardens.

“Nowadays I see the significance of it all and sometimes I wish I’d kept a big autograph book, but when you’re in it and living it you don’t realise what you’ve got.

“I saw some amazing groups there – for sheer getting the crowd going my favourite had to be Geno Washington. And he’s still doing it!

“The biggest disappointment was the Bee Gees, though. I wouldn’t say they were boo-ed off but they were a big let down, their voices were too weak. Maybe they needed a bigger stage and more equipment to project their voices.”

With the hotels, villas and flats around it, the Ritz/Hive surrendered itself to progress and was flattened in 1983 as the area was cleared to make way for the BIC. The Bee Gees – and many others – found that bigger stage.