A conversation with Douglas Joss, March 2012

Monochrome picture of Prince Charles at the Stadium with Douglas Joss

This is Prince Charles laughing as he is leaving the games, in response to a comment I made to him about whether he would be competing this year. His detective in the middle was bit grumpy. I had my hand behind my back because I was holding one of those enormous early mobile phones, so he was very suspicious of that and wanted me to keep my hands out front where he could see them.

I remember being called into a meeting with the Chair of the District Council. He must have said something like, “The Americans have let us down. You’ve got three months to sort it out; 60 countries will be involved. Are you happy to take this on? You can forget out your main job for the while, just concentrate on this.

Aylesbury, 'Olympic town'

There was no real question of security back then. There were no guards or anything like that, just a few local police about. All the different teams just milled about in Aylesbury; you could tell when you heard them speaking that they were from all over the world; the place was full of wheel chairs for the fortnight; and some people were even getting about on little horizontal carts.” Douglas, games organiser

Aylebury District Council had declared that Aylesbury would be the ‘Olympic’ town and local businesses stepped up to the challenge. Otis Lifts paid for the daily newspaper, “Pursuit” that was published throughout the games. The Aylesbury department store, Narbeths, run by a Welshman, Mr Jones, organised a Welsh choir concert while Marks and Spencers organised a local fashion show, both as fundraisers for the games.

“Prior to the Games in 1984, there were no or very few dropped kerbs in Aylesbury and it was very difficult for people in wheelchairs to get around.  I wrote to the County Council and asked for dropped kerbs to be put in in time for the Games, and we got them as  a result!

Download a pdf of the conversation here

In the following extract from the conversation Douglas recalls some of his memories of the 1984 Games…..

I had had no real experience of organising games before but I was given the job of organising all the local volunteers to help with running the games. I got in touch with the Bucks Herald and we advertised there for volunteers and on the local radio. And we got swamped by offers of help, both locally and from miles away; in the end I had to limit it to 60 people.

I even had one girl contact me from Sunderland and she was going to come down and camp and help as a volunteer. I got in touch with a local farmer (who also built me all the litter bins for the Games out of chicken wire) and she camped on his farm.

I decided to call the volunteers the Blue-Banders. I picked the name almost by chance simply because I found a box of blue arm bands in a cupboard at the district offices and decided we could use them to identify the volunteers. I wrote to Blue Band Margarine after I had chosen the name to see if they might be interested in sponsoring us, but they never wrote back or offered to help.

I had to organise the medal girls; I had six of them and we took them to Marks and Spencer and said, can you sort them out with a uniform? They had to check with their HQ, but then they gave us these smart uniforms for them.

I left it to one of the girls, Rachel, to choose what they wore. I told them “Leave it to her; her taste is very good”. And then they also supplied us with the cushions that we laid the medals on.

My volunteers worked from 8.00 in the morning until 9.00 at night while the games were on. I particularly remember all the kids in the Boys Brigade; they were so good and anything I asked them they would rush and do.

I remember one lady turned up with all her kids and offered them as runners. I asked her, “Will they do as they are told?” She said, yes, so I took them on. This was pre-mobile phones so we always had about 8 runners on hand each day of the games, ready to shoot off with a message to someone the other side of the stadium or whatever.

Some of people who turned up offering their services were a bit suspect and I wondered if they were perhaps only there for the free meals. So I had this little test I used on some people to see if they genuinely wanted to help or not. Between the dining room and the old entrance to the stadium there was a sloping area that was always littered every day with loads of fag ends. So I would say to my would-be volunteers, “Sweep that up; I don’t want to see any cigarette ends on it.” And if they did that then I would give them a proper job like helping to direct the car parking.

There were hardly any car parks as such so we had to go around and identify streets where there were plenty of likely spaces, often in between council flats. It was all very unofficial, filling up whatever spaces you could find; I remember the residents of Henry Road were very tolerant and let people park in their drives. So the volunteers who did that needed to be firm chaps who could direct people around to the nearest spots. I only remember one complaint about the car parking. This chap driving his wife in a wheel chair, he came up to me and said “I want to speak to the person in charge”. I told him that was me. He was irate because he had had to park about a mile away and wheel his wife over to the stadium. I told him, “There’s over 600 disabled people here in wheelchairs; lots of them have had to get themselves that distance from their cars. You are the only person who has come and complained about it.” Of course the whole area was packed for the two weeks of the games and particularly crowded for the opening ceremony.

So many individuals and companies and organisations were so generous;

I was amazed by the kindness. There was one Tring firm who, when I needed a flag for the information tent with a big I on it, not only gave us that but provided a collapsible flagpole as well.

There had been this long tradition with the games at Stoke Mandeville that the people who helped as volunteers were awarded a badge and beneath it you would hang a bar with year of the particular games on. Well I remember many of the volunteers who turned up for the 1984 games were already wearing these badges with sometimes 5 or 6 different “year” bars hanging below, showing just how long they had regularly been turning out to help. These were the people who came and made the beds on the wards where the various teams were put up, or went and met teams at the airport; things like that.

I remember for 1984 there was a decision to make a ‘special’ badge to commemorate it. But they only made so many and then something went wrong with the distribution - various people who shouldn’t have managed to get hold of them and started giving them to their mates; and suddenly they were all gone. So my Blue-Banders didn’t get that formal recognition; all they got for their hard work was some free meals. The chaps who went to Heathrow and places to meet the teams, they were using their own cars and I don’t even think they were paid for their petrol. I used to use them to get people home at night while the games were on.