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BLETHER: When Mary took Tarzan’s place at the top of the pool high board

Andy Walker’s latest poser has undergone much scrutiny from myself and the DCT archives team.

But, before any of that was undertaken, he had to pass the first test.

That examination was to verify if this latest sortie was about sport — a standard given for this column.

And, by the tiniest of margins, it just made it!

Andy opened: “After the Second World War, the British public clamoured to be entertained.

“Anything that would help them forget the harshness and horrors of war.

“The attendances at cinemas, theatres, dance halls and football stadia were packed nightly and weekly.

“The entertainment venues had notices up – ‘sold out’, ‘admission by ticket only’ and ‘book early to avoid disappointment’.

“In Dundee, the public were no different from the rest of Britain as they wanted stars to appear.

“Frank Sinatra obliged, and the local ice rink brought to the fore the Dundee Tigers, who took on a massive following.

“Other areas around the city joined in the jamboree of entertainment and, notably, Arbroath was one.”


Andy Walker

Andy continued with a startling revelation, and one I had never heard of.

He went on: “The local council arranged for movie star Johnny Weissmuller to come to Arbroath to entertain their public by diving from the top board of the Arbroath Outdoor Swimming Pool.

“When it was confirmed he would appear, ‘Tarzan-mania’ swept Angus and surrounding districts.

“A posse of approximately 20 from Lochee cycled down (my late brother being one).

“The travelling group were mostly teenagers from the newly-built housing scheme of Dryburgh.

“It was a cracking summer’s day to go cycling and the crowds were streaming into the seated area.

“Many just got seated as the allotted time for Weissmuller/Tarzan to appear neared.”

Backstage, however, there seemed to be a problem, as Andy continued: “Many in the audience could not hear the heated exchanges between agents, promoters, pool officials and Weissmuller’s management team.

“After a while, out of the blue, a young teenage girl from Lochee — totally bored with the hullabaloo —pushed her way through the crowd, who were fast becoming uneasy at the delay.

“She snarled and shouted: ‘Let me through’ and ‘oot wi the Tarzan’ and proceeded to walk to the ladder at the foot of the highest diving board.

“In no time, she was at the top.

“She composed herself and effortlessly executed a perfect dive into the pool.

“The girl who surfaced to a rapturous applause was Mary Pilling, from Tipperary, Lochee, and who recently moved to Dryburgh.

“Mary, who stood 5 ft 1 in when wearing her ‘Double Dooners’ (wellies) swayed past the arguing party with the remark: ‘Well . . . follow that Tarzan’.

“Knowing he would not do so, as she knew that the argument was about him not being insured to dive from that height.

“When the movie star eventually did dive, it was from the lower board.

“However, the crowd did not care as they saw Tarzan dive at the Arbroath pool.

“After a break for refreshments, Mary rejoined her friends to cycle back to Dryburgh.

“As the posse headed westward into the sunset back towards the promised land, the County of Angus was subjected to about 1,000 attempts to copy the Jungleman’s call.

“Back in Lochee, as word spread about Mary’s deed, she was the talk o’ the washie, the berry fields, at school and the tattie fields.

“Anybody who claimed they could dive over the bannister at the Lochee baths were called ‘Kailpots’ and asked: ‘Do yeh ken wit Mary Pilling done?’

“The summer of 1950 was definitely one to remember.”

Andy also intimated that Mary has passed away, but her brother David recently celebrated his 80th birthday.

Now to the subjects mentioned in my intro.

This story just makes ‘sport’ as the venue was a swimming pool and the core subject was a ‘high dive’.

However, our archives team can’t find any indication of this event taking place, checking Dundee and Arbroath newspapers.

What they did note, when looking through files, is that Weissmuller’s reign as Tarzan came to an end around that time and that another actor, Lex Baker, took over.

There is no also evidence, though, that he came to Arbroath, but maybe there was a publicity drive by the studio or something at which a look-a-like appeared.

Anyway, don’t let the facts get in the way of a great story, which might still be true, as Andy concluded . . . “There are those in Lochee that, to this day, are still adamant this event took place.”

So, once again, it’s over the BwB family for confirmation. Can you help?

This article originally appeared on the Evening Telegraph website. For more information, read about our new combined website.