AS IF IN MANNER BORN
Once every four weeks Mr. Harold Platt gets dressed up to the nines in tails and a white bow tie and at half past six on a Thursday evening steps smartly across the thickly carpeted threshold of the Town Hall council chamber carrying with him a sort of glorified cudgel called a mace.
He pauses for a moment while the councillors within, gathering themselves after their buffet tea, note his presence. And in the resultant hush he requests them sonorously to please be upstanding for His Worship the Mayor.
As official macebearer, council steward and mayor’s officer in Blackburn for a quarter of a century, Mr. Platt carries off this sort of formality as if to the manner born, and he enjoys it.
As a youngster of 17, he knew he was cut out for it, announcing people, being master of ceremonies, oiling the wheels at public functions. He was at St. David’s Ball in his native North Wales, and someone got him up stage and let him have a go at announcing the next dance.
“Ladies and gentlemen...take your partners please for a valeta,” he said, and straightaway knew that here was something he might be good at.
His talent for organising people shone through in the war when he was “a sort of butler” or what he calls “the red braid” at an officers training camp. It’s also talent long recognised around Blackburn because of his work as a professional toastmaster—he’s a member of the Institute of Toastmasters and very proud of it.
Harold has held the strings at hundreds of social functions since he was first made an assistant mayor’s officer, the first ever appointed Blackburn, in 1950, and since 1966 when he became the mayor’s officer, responsibilities have increased.
His job’s not just a matter of playing a star role in winged collar and tails at all the quaint old mayoral ceremonies—or even of being personal bodyguard to the Mayor, or keeping in mint condition the four mayoral gold chains (which are each insured for up to £20,000 incidentally.)
He has to play ring master at official town hall functions and—this is his real work—he has to shepherd the mayor and mayoress through a thousand social appointments 365 days a year—getting them to the right places at the right time, introducing them to the right people, briefing both sides on what’s going to happen, and last but not least, getting the mayor and mayoress away without causing offence.
Harold will shortly be working with his 26th mayor—Coun. Jim Swanton who is installed next month—and he still has the same sense of vocation as when he started in a job in which he says “you can’t count the hours.” His approach is as straightforward and uncluttered as his address, which is simply “Town Hall, Blackburn.” He has a flat on the top floor of the old Town Hall building overlooking King William Street.
Surprisingly he is only the third mayor’s officer there’s been in Blackburn. A husband and wife team were first appointed in 1913 as town hall steward and town hall matron in charge of everything from cleaning and catering to staff recruitment. They lasted until 1940 and the next mayors officer right up to 1966 when Mr. Platt took over.
“This job is my life,” he says. “I have taught myself how to do it over the last 25 years.”
“I enjoy the work tremendously, but it can be exhausting. After the Mayor’s Ball when I’ve been dressed up to the hilt and have had to announce 150 people, I’ll get back to the flat at three o’clock in the morning, and just kick of my shoes and unwind completely.
Typically, Harold is a thorough researcher before social occasions when he has to announce long and complicated names and titles belonging to distinguished guests “Whitakers Almanac is my bible,” he says “I have to make sure what all the various initials mean, for example, and I need make a few notes to refer to when I’m announcing people. It’s better that way than to get it wrong and cause a lot of embarrassment while there are 200 pairs of eyes focussed on you.”
In his time Harold has been in charge at social events held in honour of visiting royalty as well as the Prime Minister and a host of other government ministers. There’s been afternoon tea for the Princess Royal at the Town Hall, dinner with Harold Wilson, and lunch in the Windsor hall with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, for example—and when the mayor’s officer was in charge of the public halls of course there were plenty of opportunity to see other kinds of stars—pop and showbiz.
“Part of the pleasure of the job is meeting famous people,” says Harold “I thrive on these occasions. I get excited of course, but it’s controlled excitement, and I don’t suffer from nerves provided I am given some information before the event and I know what role I am expected to play.”
Harold doesn’t single out any particular memories of the VIPs he has met. “One of my best memories is the first Royal Lancashire Show to be held in Blackburn in 1951. I was in charge of the Mayor’s and President’s Tent and my wife was with me. We had four glorious days, it was wonderful.
“I’ve met some fantastic people, but all my fondest memories are of the times when my wife was with me” says Harold. Mrs. Platt died after a long illness two years ago.
With his normal application, Harold as gone into the history of the Town Hall, the mayor’s chains and robes and regularly gives talks on his work as mayors officer to local organisation. “With respect, no one bones about where he stands on matters of tradition. “With respect no one can alter my opinion on these things” he says “I am a staunch believer in proper ceremony, in tradition and in protocol. If people want to do away with tradition then it is their loss.
The Mayor, he says, is a sort of lesser royalty. “He represents the Queen when he is on official duty—besides representing his town of course. He has to remember each time he puts on his chain that he is the chief citizen of a town of 140,000 people.”
It is an important part of Harold’s job to help get a new mayor over the initial nerve-wracking days in office.
“It doesn’t come easy to everyone to dress up in robes and a cocked hat in front of their friends in council. And very few mayors realise before they start just how much work is involved.
“When you are attending a different function every night and they go on till one o’clock in the morning, you have to take it easy and get away fairly early otherwise your energy is soon sapped.
I think any mayor would tell you that there is no 12 months to compare with it. My aim is that when they have finished their stint they can go out and say they really enjoyed it—and I have never had one yet who hasn’t.
Blackburn Times Friday April 18th 1975