Bodicote fireworks have become a popular annual institution

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‘Firework display is amazing’ was a significant caption on page ten of Bodicote News for December 2009/January 2010, which is edited by John Washburn.

The event concerned is of course the annual bonfire and firework bonanza that is now in its 41st year. This is a village enterprise that over the years owes much to two stalwarts, Arthur Coles and Derek Hirons. Remarkably it has always been held on November 5, whatever the weather.

In the beginning this was no more than “a few Roman Candles and some big rockets”. John Washburn styled it ‘Arthur’s bright idea’. This evolved out of Arthur spotting a poster about a fund raising event as he drove through Abingdon. It seemed like a fun way to generate income to provide much-needed kit and equipment for the Bodicote football team.

Compared with the 2010 occasion the Guy Fawkes celebration of 1970 was a modest effort. A box advertisement in the Banbury Guardian said encouragingly: ‘Bring the Family to the £100 Fireworks Display and Bonfire on Kingsfield’. Admission cost 2/6d (12½p) if tickets were bought from Mr Sands village grocery store in advance, or alternatively 3/- (15p) on the gate. As for the fire, this was made up of garden rubbish provided by villagers who queued with their truckloads along the considerable length of White Post Road.

November 5 went off well but not with a bang. A few crackers were all that distorted local sound waves. This was just as well as the fireworks were hand ignited and were known to be ‘temperamental’ on occasions. In more recent years those responsible for the electronic detonation have had to be specially trained by Luton-based firm Fantastic Fireworks.

By 1976 Tim Tallent had convinced all involved that the word ‘famous’ was a selling point in area advertising. So it proved. Encouraged by a modest entry fee of 20p (25p on the night) people came in considerable numbers, drawn by the additional attractions of a fair and a disco in the nearby village hall. All this was on top of the main reason for coming to Kingsfield, which was to enjoy the £250 display of fireworks.

Since that year the crowds have grown considerably. The Banbury Guardian report of 1984 pronounced the occasion “another roaring success”, with 3,500 people to enjoy the 45-minute firework spectacle. The outcome from the playing field committee’s point of view was that the event raised enough money for a tractor shed to store equipment.

The 1993 event was even more memorable but not necessarily for entirely the right reasons. Plans for the firework party nearly went up in smoke when the bonfire was set alight before the day.

Thankfully fire crews managed to save most of the materials. Two notable highlights of the same year were a special effects light show by Top Sound and a competition for the best Guy Fawkes. The latter was especially tempting for children of 11 years and under as they could obtain free entry to the field if they entered a guy. Again the Guardian captured the right spirit when they called the occasion “a night to remember”.

Two years later in a crowd of more than 7,000 was six-year-old Hannah Renals. Today her triumph in winning the best Guy Fawkes competition will be an outstanding memory. She was not the only winner; the Bodicote Welfare fund benefited to the tune of £6,000. No wonder Arthur Coles was heard to remark that “the event was one big bang”.

Since then the march to Bodicote has taken on the appearance of an annual pilgrimage. Once there, all eyes are fixed on the cold night sky as “whizzing rockets illuminate the scene”.

One other thing is certain, that is the display of 2010 will have owed much to the early efforts and abilities of Arthur Coles, Derek Hirons and Martin Buzzard to raise the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ factor.

l My thanks to Arthur Coles, Derek Hirons, Martin Buzzard, Christine Coles and John Washburn.