Blue Genes Club
Gene Hartley was pivotal in recognising the need to provide Ilkley’s youth with a meeting place which reflected their own needs and responsibilities, and at their own level.
During World War 2, as a 20 year old, she served as a land girl outside Bedford, near London, and enjoyed the dances held weekly at the Corn Exchange. These featured Glenn Miller and his Orchestra broadcasting live to the allied forces in Europe.
Gene recalls one night in particular when her view of the band was obscured and Glenn Miller himself came down from the stage to hoist Gene onto the piano, so ensuring a perfect view.
A few months later Glenn Miller famously embarked on his unscheduled flight from Bedford to Paris and was never seen again.
The 1950s found Gene as a leading light in Ilkley’s Congregational Church and organised The Fellowship Club in a cellar under Riddings Hall in Riddings Road. Identifying a need to modernise the church’s outlook towards teenagers, she forwarded an idea to rename the club ‘Blue Jeans’ which the church elders rejected on the grounds that ‘Blue Jeans’ sounded somehow subversive!
On a girl guides’ trip to Anglesey in 1959, one of the other leaders, Bronwen Edwards, suggested to Gene a solution whereby the name ‘Gene’ could be substituted for ‘Jean’, hence ‘Blue Genes’. which was accepted by the church authorities.
The new image proved a great success and teenagers flocked to socialise on Thursday evenings and dance to records that went beyond the confines of the Top Twenty.
With the upsurge in live music, by 1963, Gene had introduced bands to the Blue Genes, and many local musicians honed their craft there. Bands included ‘The Tarantulas’, ‘Moldy Warp’, ‘The Dolomites’, ‘The Frends’, ‘The Knight Owls’, and many more.
She also organised numerous charity dances held at Ilkley’s Stoney Lea Hotel and remained active within youth circles well after the demise of Blue Genes, which finally closed its doors on 17th February 1966 after the church elders reacted harshly to the ejection of two interlopers who had previously been involved in an incident in the town centre.
Gene re-married in 1966 and became Gene Bowen, one of her children from her first marriage, Gabrielle, is currently in charge of costumes and make-up on the successful BBC series ‘Call the Midwife’, and Gene’s son Heathcliffe, from her second marriage, is a respected and popular local councillor.
Gene Bowen is now over 90 years old, still active and independent, and so grateful to have been young when she was. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world” – sentiments we can all endorse!
Blue Genes Jiving competition January 1962
Blue Genes refreshments
Blue Genes dancers