THIRTY one years ago, in the early hours of the morning of September 16, 1977, a huge fire broke out in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, pulling most of the fire appliances from the south of London.

Crews at the capital’s other stations were ordered to standby as cover and the men from Blue Watch at Manchester Square W1 took to the road in readiness.

“We hadn’t been travelling long,”

recalled Chris Watts, then a member of London Fire Brigade but for the past 21 years licensee of the Albion Inn, Bath Road, Worcester, “when a call came to attend an accident on the South Circular.

“Manchester Square was what they called an ‘RTA station’ and our appliance was carrying specialist rescue equipment.”

When they got to the scene near a humpback bridge on Queens Ride, Barnes, it was pretty obvious there was no rescuing to be done.

“A woman, who had been driving, was standing by a vehicle that had hit a tree and crushed the passenger,” said Chris. “He was still in his seat and apparently dead. The car was a total mess. Neither of the people involved had been wearing a seat belt. It seemed like the car, which had been a Mini, had failed to make a left hand bend, crossed the road and hit the tree. No other vehicle was involved.

“So we cut the passenger out and he was taken by ambulance to hospital.

But that was just a formality.”

What Chris didn’t know was that he had been in at the death of one of the most flamboyant figures in British pop music of the second half of the 20th century.

“When we rang the hospital later they told us the driver had a broken arm and jaw, but the passenger was DOA (dead on arrival),” he added.

“They said his name was Mark Feld, ‘but you might know him better as Marc Bolan’. That’s when the penny dropped. Although you would never have recognised him at the scene.

Let’s put it this way, he was badly knocked about.”

The driver of the Mini, a purple 1275GT model, was his partner Gloria Jones, once one of Bolan’s backing singers but by then the mother of his 20 month old son Rolan. The couple were on their way back from Mortons drinking club and restaurant in Berkeley Square and only a mile from their home in East Sheen. The time of the crash was 5am, just as dawn was breaking.

So ended the life of Marc Bolan, the founder of glam rock, one of the most bizarre fashion styles British popular music has ever produced. While the music itself was standard, hard driving pop/rock, the performers’ clothes were something else.

Never before and possibly never since, have men taken to the stage in full face make-up with lipstick and glitter, sparkling high heeled boots, feather boas and sometimes frocks.

It was once said of the Rolling Stones: “Would you let your daughter marry one of these?” But as far as the stars of glam rock were concerned you had to work out the gender first. Often the men were prettier than the women.

At the height of his fame in 1972, as his band T. Rex topped the charts with singles like Telegram Sam and Metal Guru, Bolan bought a beautiful former rectory in Herefordshire, where he planned to retreat from the hurly-burly of London, relax and write songs.

The Old Rectory at Weston-under- Penyard, near Ross on Wye belonged to the Hereford Diocese and was put up for sale because it was too expensive to maintain as a clergy house. Bolan spent £67,000 on the 10- bedroomed 17th-century property and another small fortune on renovation, but never lived there. He installed a caretaker and three years later sold it for about £70,000 without hardly ever visiting.

However, those with long memories may recall the touslehaired singer making rather more public appearances in the area a decade before. Together with Steve Peregrine Took, who played assorted percussion to Bolan’s acoustic guitar and vocals, he formed the psychedelic folk-rock due Tyrannosaurus Rex in late 1967 and the following year played two dates in Worcestershire. One was Malvern Winter Gardens – a premier venue at the time because it also hosted the Who, the Moody Blues and the Kinks, among others – and the other was Frank Freeman’s Dance Studio in Kidderminster.

Despite its unlikely sounding name, Frank’s place had been a mecca for Midland’s beat groups for years. Its astute proprietor had recognised as soon as Little Richard uttered the immortal phrase “Awop-bop-aloobopawop- bam-boom” that things were moving on from ballroom.

Radio 1 DJ John Peel – who brought Tyrannosaurus Rex to public attention – ferried Bolan and Took up to Kidderminster for an allnighter on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968, following an appearance on his Top Gear show in London. The couple began their set at 3am and then slept Easter Monday off at the family homes of the club’s disc jockeys Rod Gilchrist and Paul Jennings.

About the time Hackney-born Marc Bolan was enjoying his first major hit, Ride a White Swan, in early 1971, Chris Watts from Shepherd’s Bush joined London Fire Brigade, passing out top of his intake. For the next six and a half years their lives were to continue a universe apart, until late one night they crossed at a sycamore tree by a hump back bridge on the South Circular.