Leicester Forest East service station marks 50th birthday

Leicester Forest East service station in 1970 Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption Leicester Forest East opened in February 1966 and was one of the first motorway service stations in the UK

A "once glamorous" motorway service station on the M1 is celebrating its 50th birthday.

Leicester Forest East opened on 14 February 1966 with "waiters in sailor suits and a pianist on a baby Grand."

At its heart was The Captain's Table restaurant in the bridge over the M1 - now replaced by fast food outlets.

The once-innovative design is unlikely to win many admirers now, but Crap Towns author Sam Jordison has praised its "refreshingly upfront" ugliness.

"As there are fewer and fewer buildings like this we come to appreciate them more," he said.

"Let's hope it lasts another 50 years."

Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption The service station boasts a walkway which allows visitors to admire the M1 from above
Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption The once-innovative building is on a section of the M1 between Junction 21 and 21a in Leicestershire

When it opened, just seven years after the first phase of the M1 was completed, it offered diners the opportunity for silver service on the motorway and marked a move away from the traditional roadside cafe.

Terry Waite and Steve Davis

Professor Joe Moran, of Liverpool John Moores University, said: "[Service stations] used to be very glamorous places, just as the motorways in the 1960s were excitingly novel places to drive.

"When it opened in 1966, Leicester Forest East had a Terence Conran-designed restaurant with waiters in sailor suits, d├ęcor like an ocean liner, an open balcony on to the motorway like a ship's deck, and a pianist playing on a baby Grand.

"It was really the first attempt to turn the motorway meal into a gourmet experience.

"Needless to say it didn't last long, but motorway services are an important part of our social history and cultural mythology."

Staff have recalled how working at Leicester Forest East sometimes provided opportunities to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption In the 1960s, diners were treated to a silver service experience at The Captain's Table restaurant
Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption Weather permitting, visitors were even able to enjoy their food outside - overlooking the M1

Suzanne Chapman, who works in a newsagents at the service station, said: "Terry Waite, Steve Davis, they've all been through.

"We've had loads of celebrities, David Frost came, but he didn't come to the till, he sent his driver and he stood in the background."

X Factor winner Sam Bailey also worked at the newsagents before becoming famous.

Image copyright Leicester Mercury
Image caption The building itself appears to have changed little over the decades

Some encounters have proved to be more unexpected than others.

Former employee Jayne Gardener recalled: "We were going over to take some stuff over to the store room one day.

"Five young fellas held the door open for us and we didn't think anything of it as they were pleasant fellas. But when we got back one of the girls in the office was going crazy.

"We said 'what's the matter' and she said 'Westlife are in' and they'd held the door open for us and we didn't know who they were."

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