The genteel sound of satisfaction

AT 12.34pm the crowd stood as one for the National Anthem, taking their signal from the man in the black frock coat up front.

To some it may have appeared anachronistic, but not in Eastbourne. The south-coast resort is the only one in Britain to have a band season throughout the summer, playing in the 1930s art deco bandstand in the centre of the Victorian promenade.

In a world of cheap foreign package holidays, television and the Internet, Eastbourne's stubbornness in clinging to a 1950s innocence may seem quaint. But it works. The resort attracted 1.8 million visitors last year, with 70 per cent of holidaymakers returning for another break and recording the highest satisfaction levels, according to the English Tourist Board. Its 11,000 hotel beds are booked up.

Eastbourne aims to provide a traditional family holiday complete with sedate promenade, floral masterpieces and tea-rooms where waitresses still wear Victorian costumes. The four theatres put on summer seasons of Ray Cooney farces and Agatha Christie mysteries starring Bob Grant "from TV's On The Buses".

And it knows how to keep up its standards. Don't even think about going topless here.

But most of all there is the bandstand. "People book their holidays around the bands," said John Wilkinson, the bandstand and deckchair manager (the deckchair hire alone nets pounds 100,000 per season). "They find out when their favourites are coming like the Blues and Royals or the Lifeguards and make sure they are there that week."

He added: "We do have a very traditional clientele in Eastbourne. We attract the more mature holidaymaker and they always enjoy the bands. Some of our younger customers don't appreciate it as much. But we're the only ones who do it."

Captain Jim Taylor, who leads the Normandy band, has been coming to Eastbourne since 1977. "It's exactly the same as it was then," he said with satisfaction. "That's what people like, it doesn't change. You know what to expect. It's nice and quiet and gently- go-lightly. We know what to play for them - they like best all the ones they can sing along to. They can listen to us for an hour-and-a-half and go home happy."

Alan and Margaret Stoneham, from Essex first came to Eastbourne on their honeymoon 47 years ago. "Yes we love the bands," said Mr Stoneham. "We thought it was lovely when we came on our honeymoon. And it's nice because it's so flat, there's not many hills."

"It's very clean," said Claire Collict who has brought her young son to Eastbourne for the day. "It's good for family holidays because there is lots to do for the kids but it's not nasty like Hastings or Brighton."

But how do young people get on? Sixteen-year-old John Mitchell insisted: "It's all right. There's always loads to do on a beach. I'm just here for the day though - I don't know whether I'd want to stay all week."

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