The Major swings into action at 
giant festival

Tim and Helen Handley. 581C
Tim and Helen Handley. 581C
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THE remarkable double life of Grantham couple Tim and Helen Handley reaches a highpoint next weekend when the pair take a fantastic journey back in time.

Tim, 52, will set aside the overalls and tools of his trade as a car valeter, for a much more dashing get-up.

And his wife will adopt the style of a glamorous film star as she prepares to accompany her husband on a much anticipated weekend.

Because it won’t be Tim and Helen who will be arriving at one of the biggest Bank Holiday events anywhere in the country, but their alter egos, dance hosts Major Swing and his vivacious partner Kitty.

The duo will be appearing along with hundreds of other entertainers at Europe’s largest vintage festival at Twinwood Airfield near Bedford.

The vintage music Djs will be playing hits mainly from the thirties and forties for a huge audience of enthusiasts at an all-day tea dance in the festival’s colonial marquee.

Tim was this week adding the final touches to the musical programme for his show on the final day of the three-day festival, determined to keep the 16,000ft dance floor humming with something for everyone – vintage ballroom, fifties jive, hot American swing and jump jive, and boogie woogie.

Tim said: “This is a big opportunity for us and we are proud to be taking part. It’s a bit like a local band being asked to perform at Glastonbury. It’s a real chance for us to make a name for ourselves.”

The audience will certainly be the biggest Major Swing and Kitty have played to in the four years since they adopted the role of time-travelling Djs.

The journey began when Helen, 51, persuaded Tim to visit a 1940s weekend at the Great Central Railway in Loughborough.

They enjoyed it so much, they went to a similar event the following week and after seeing the joy of enthusiasts dancing to the music of the period, the couple determined to have a go themselves. In every spare moment, they flung themselves into researching the era, collecting the clothes and learning the steps.

The pair, who have two sons aged 22 and 18, spent hours at their home in Peascliffe Drive poring over DVDs and YouTube videos to learn moves that had previously appeared unfathomable to Tim, whose only previous dancing experience had been shuffling around to Northern soul and Tamla Motown tunes.

So successful were they, that the couple were invited back to Loughborough the following year to demonstrate dances to the Forties crowd.

In the meantime, Tim realised that much of the music played at nostalgia dances was geared to line dancing – the lindy hop and jitterbug, for example.

Tim felt audiences were missing out on the authentic sound of the ballrooms of pre-war Britain, when favoured dances included the foxtrot, waltz and Gay Gordons, for example.

He saw an opportunty and began to carve a niche for himself and Kitty as DJ/dance instructors.

One of the results of Tim’s research was the revival of an almost forgotten dance depicted in an old newsreel from more than 70 years ago. Major Swing and Kitty have since taught more than 200 people the Palais Stroll, which had not been danced since 1938.

By coincidence, that is also the vintage of the large, distinctive BBC microphone at the centre of Major Swing’s Art Deco stage props.

For larger shows, Tim uses the latest equipment to play CDs, but he also has more than 500 78rpm recordings which he plays on wind-up gramphones.

Helen meanwhile ensures the Major and Kitty are suitably attired.

Tim said: “The fashions are a big part of the appeal. When we dress up we feel like completely different people. Going back in time makes people talk and behave differently. For some it’s just acting, but others grow into it and act this way all the time.

“I suppose I am somewhere in the middle, but we often wear vintage clothes when we go into Grantham and can attract some strange looks.”

Fancy dancing to the Major’s music?

Major Swing and Kitty are resident djs at several major annual Forties weekends - at Leyburn, Ingleton, and Pickering, the country’s largest, at at war weekends at Rauceby and Rufford Park.

They particulelrly enjoy playing at nursing homes, school and village fetes, and garden parties.

They will be providing the entertainmnet at a vintage tea dance on September 30 at Walton Girls High School to raise funds for St Barrnabus hospice in Grantham (ring 01476 591010 for tickets).

An annual new years tea dance, now in its fifth year, is held at Carlton Scroop village hall, in the first week of January.

It attracts dancers from a wide area, but until now only a few from the local area. Tim says: “We would really love to see a few from grantham.”

The couple say they would love to support more local events, particularly charitable occasions.

More details about any of these events are available by calling 01476 565199 or by visiting the majorswing.com