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From wet t-shirt contests to smoking indoors - Kent nights out were different in the 80s and 90s, says reporter Sam Lennon

After our reporter Millie Bowles described her night out at a trendy Dover bar, colleague Sam Lennon began reminiscing about the town’s clubs in the 1980s.

From wet t-shirt competitions to smoking indoors and falling in rivers, it was certainly a lively scene…

Reporter Sam Lennon, pictured at Images nightclub in Dover in 1989, has been reminiscing about nights out in town over the decades. Pictures: Justin Preston / KM
Reporter Sam Lennon, pictured at Images nightclub in Dover in 1989, has been reminiscing about nights out in town over the decades. Pictures: Justin Preston / KM

Dover was the only place on a night out where I got attacked and at another time I fell into a river.

Despite such dramas, I have regularly frequented its pubs and clubs since moving to the town in the 1980s and most nights have been enjoyable and undramatic

The atmosphere is usually agreeable and the locals are often friendly and talk to you.

But the single nastiest moment was New Year's Eve 2018, when I got attacked for trying to take photographs of a disturbance outside The Duchess in Bench Street.

One of the louts threatened me with violence as I raised my phone camera.

The Sir John Falstaff in Dover, which has since been renamed Les Fleurs. Picture: Paul Skelton / dover-kent.com
The Sir John Falstaff in Dover, which has since been renamed Les Fleurs. Picture: Paul Skelton / dover-kent.com

My path with the hoodlums crossed again in Folkestone Road. One knocked me to the ground with a single punch to the back of the head and marched off. I was left with a broken wrist.

In contrast, the episode that caused the most hilarity was when I fell into the River Dour on the night of my 24th birthday on May 12, 1988.

Colleagues and I had been in the Sr John Falstaff (now Les Fleurs) in Ladywell and I left with two of them.

One thought of taking a shortcut alongside a part of the Dour, where there was no footpath. We walked sideways on a wall, holding onto wire fencing.

I lost my grip and down I went – luckily it was a warm evening and this was just a chalk stream no more than half a metre deep.

Reporter Millie Bowles recently visited The Art Club on her first ever night out in Dover
Reporter Millie Bowles recently visited The Art Club on her first ever night out in Dover

Next morning out came the jokes in the office: “Sam, why is that fish sticking out of your pocket?”

I’m glad colleague Millie Bowles’ first night out in Dover was, in contrast, normal and undramatic.

But having socialised in Dover town centre since the 1980s I have seen how drastically it has changed.

Smokers, until July 2007, were allowed to puff away inside, which annoyed others having to inhale the fumes and endure the smell sticking to their clothes.

When I moved there from London in 1987 the main nightclub was Images, later renamed Snoops, in Castle Street.

Images nightclub in Dover in the 1990s. The bespectacled man in the centre is radio DJ Caesar the Boogieman. Picture: Justin Preston
Images nightclub in Dover in the 1990s. The bespectacled man in the centre is radio DJ Caesar the Boogieman. Picture: Justin Preston

It was only two years old by then and locals nicknamed it Damages because of the drink-fuelled fights there, though that can happen in any pub or club.

A quirk of Images was that DJ would play the most unboogie-able tune to signal closing time – We Are the Ovaltinies, a song from a 1930s children’s radio programme.

Celebrities also made special appearances such as the boxer Frank Bruno in the Nineties who tried his hand on the DJ’s turntables and an extremely colourful professional disc jockey Caesar the Boogieman from Invicta FM.

Some of my visits were for professional reasons, such as to cover a double hip-hop show by Neneh Cherry and the group Bomb the Bass on December 3, 1988.

They appeared from behind a cloud of coloured smoke, said they had come to “shake the White Cliffs of Dover” and provided a lively, electrifying night.

Club Karma nightclub in Adrian Street, Dover, previously named Nu Age
Club Karma nightclub in Adrian Street, Dover, previously named Nu Age

The following October I was sent to cover, and also co-judge, a wet t-shirt contest there. But the editor decided the pictures were too racy to print.

The nightclub finally closed on August 31, 2002, and it was knocked down 10 years ago.

By the 1990s revellers could also go to the Nu Age nightclub in Adrian Street, mischievously nicknamed Under Age by some Dovorians.

Its speciality was that it had two floors and space for a total of three rooms of music for different age groups right into middle age.

It was later renamed Club Karma, Studio One and finally Deja Vu when it closed in 2016.

The dancefloor at The Funky Monkey in Dover was packed here on August 28 2022 - but just weeks later it had to shut. Picture: The Funky Monkey
The dancefloor at The Funky Monkey in Dover was packed here on August 28 2022 - but just weeks later it had to shut. Picture: The Funky Monkey

Fire wrecked the derelict building in July 2018 and it is likely to be replaced by flats after planning permission was granted in 2021.

The Funky Monkey nightclub in Bench Street thrived from 2006 to 2022 and was demolished last year.

That terrace had a punchball machine. Boozy guys feeling particularly macho would give it the hardest wallop to get the highest score.

The bright red frontage could be seen hundreds of feet up from the overlooking Western Heights.

Today, I don’t think you have the same choice about where to go because there are far fewer pubs.

The Funky Monkey nightclub in Dover on August 28, 2022 a few months before it closed. Picture: The Funky Monkey
The Funky Monkey nightclub in Dover on August 28, 2022 a few months before it closed. Picture: The Funky Monkey

In the year 2000 there were about 60,000 across the country but, two decades later, this fell to 46,800.

In one estate, Clarendon and Westbury, the Engineer and Westbury Hotel have been replaced by housing, leaving only the Malvern.

Others gone include The Orange Tree in Maxton, the Cherry Tree in London Road and the Britannia in Townwall Street, close to the present St James retail and leisure park.

The Britannia pub in Townwall Street, Dover, in January 2011, shortly before it was knocked down
The Britannia pub in Townwall Street, Dover, in January 2011, shortly before it was knocked down

The Dover pub with most likely the shortest life was the Webb’s Hotel in Folkestone Road. It was only open for 17 years before it was knocked down in 2006.

It had been used as an audition venue for the matchmaking TV show Blind Date on Valentine’s Day 1990.

Who knows how Dover’s nightlife will change in another 30 to 40 years?

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