Joy Parry was Britain's answer to Lotte Hass. She started diving with her husband Ron in the '50s. The Parry family dominated the dive scene in Weymouth for decades, and her son Kevin now runs the O'Three drysuit company - one of the UK's top diving brands - with his business partner Sean Webb. Louise Trewavas caught up with her in her Portland home.
The Joy of Diving
"I started diving in 1959. Scuba diving today is unrecognisable in comparison. It really was another world. My husband Ron encouraged me to learn - though at first I was terrified of being out of my depth! He worked as a commercial diver, so he had a good idea about the possibilities for scuba as a hobby. He helped start Weymouth Underwater Club - it was one of the first in the country."
So was it like a BSAC club?
"All I can tell you about it is that of all the people who joined, nobody seemed to end up with the same partner..."
"Well you had to be a fairly adventurous sort to get involved in diving. To be fair, there were just a few girls who actually dived, the rest came for the social. The first dive I remember Ron doing was on the wreck of the Himalayas - they now call it the Countess of Erne - in Portland harbour. He was wearing a pair of jeans, and a jumper with an extra pair of trousers on top. We anchored the boat and off he went, down the anchor line."
"Oh yes, they hadn't invented buddy diving yet. Most people had to share equipment, so diving in pairs didn't seem particularly practical."
No wetsuit then?
"We didn't have wetsuits to start with - we had to make our own. Ron started selling suits in kit form as early as 1959 and he also made weights and weightbelts. The first suits were made from rubber - the only neoprene we could get was the stuff used for airline seats. We bought Evostick in gallon cans and we used to paint it onto one side of the neoprene to provide a lining. You can imagine the fumes from all that glue! We had some good times making those suits...
"We would use melons and grapefruit to try to shape the suits for women, Ron was always experimenting and trying to improve the design. Kevin's the same at O'Three - always looking for ways to improve the product."
So did the melons work?
"Well, they gave a better result than rolled-up socks, which was another trick that people used at the time. You have to believe me when I say that it was a work of art getting a wetsuit on and off people in those days. That was what you really needed a buddy for - dressing and undressing. We tried Fairy Liquid, chalk dust... we also used liquid soap to help seal the face masks on."
Were there quite a few people wanting to dive?
"Most people knew nothing about scuba. But then a James Bond film came out, and suddenly loads of people wanted red wetsuits. Those Bond films really encouraged the growth of diving.
"Our big break was at Pontin's Holiday Camps in the 1960s - Ron got a contract to carry out try-dives for people in the swimming pool. We had some ex-firefighting equipment which we took up there to train people on. Most people had never seen anything like it and we always drew a crowd. "Apart from that, we used to run boat trips to Newton's Cove for spearfishing and freediving. A half-day trip was 10 shillings and at that time the cove was absolutely packed with life."
So Newton's Cove was your diving hotspot?
"Oh no - in the 1960s we borrowed a compressor, rented a VW camper van and drove to Gibraltar. Then we discovered that you weren't allowed to dive without a permit from the Head of Police - Spain and Britain don't really see eye to eye over Gibraltar so it was like a military zone and they thought diving was like spying or something. Luckily, when we showed him our Weymouth Underwater Club membership cards that was suitably official to get the permission. We had no idea where the dive sites were, so we just pitched up in the camper van and got on with it. I'm not sure whether anyone had actually dived there before. The other place we visited was Malta. Ron made his own cases so that he could do underwater photography. I think my deepest dive was at Komino in Malta. I can't actually tell you how deep we went because we didn't have any depth gauges... I just remember looking up and realising that we were a long way from the surface.
So did that stop people from getting into too much trouble?
"Not really. We had the problem of a lot of people converting from freediving to scuba. They didn't want to get involved with any training so they had no understanding of decompression illness or correct ascent rates. They'd plunge in and then coming rushing back up to the boat 20 minutes later.
"I've seen a lot of people injured through diving, but there seems to be even more incidents now. In the 60s there seemed to be a lot more build up before people went diving. Now there is such a variety of activities on offer, people don't seem to stick at diving for as long as they did in the past."
I hear you trained quite a few celebrities
"Oh yes, Weymouth was on the star circuit then. We would take people in the pool first to get their confidence up, and then take them out on the boat with an aqualung. and a hamper picnic with wine for lunch. In the afternoon, they'd do some fishing. We had the Hollies, the Goodies, Alvin Stardust (Shane Fenton as he was known at the time)... I particularly remember the actor Albert Finney, dribbling Beaujolais. That was quite a sight.
I think the scariest part for people was jumping off the boat and trusting that the equipment would work. Usually I'd jump in first to encourage them when they saw that I was OK that put them at ease. Most of the celebrities were pretty good, they did as they were told.
I don't suppose you'd get that today would you.