Pop music lovers in the 1970s were well familiar with the bright orange labels that adorned the discs of RCA Records.
Everyone from the Sweet to David Bowie released records on the famous record label.
But none of the artists on RCA’s roster were bigger than Elvis Presley. The mid-1970s saw the “The King” in full-on Las Vegas cabaret mode, but he remained the brightest star in the pop firmament.
Meanwhile, Washington New Town had been home to a giant factory churning out RCA records since 1970.
A report in the weeks before its opening announced: “The whole mammoth operation will be staffed by local workers.”
Indeed, during the early years of the decade, over 300 local people were employed there.
They helped the factory produce more than 18,000,000 records a year by Elvis, Bowie - and a whole range of pop and classical performers.
However, the changing face of the leisure industry began to take its toll. Sales of vinyl began to fall, and the introduction of the music cassette ate into the record market.
In 1976, only six years after the factory opened, the writing was on the wall.
In July 1977, RCA announced that 94 staff at the Washington plant were set to lose their jobs, with the entire 350 workforce about to be put on short-time working.
Negotiations between unions and bosses were frantic and heated, but there seemed only one ending in sight – closure.
The following month brought news from the United States that shocked the world - but would give the factory a reprieve.
Elvis Presley died on August 16 in Memphis at the age of 42.
As crowds gathered outside his Graceland home, people rushed to record shops around the world and cleared the shelves of every available disc The King had produced.
Word went out from RCA headquarters to its plants across the world that production had to increase, and Washington, being the most modern plant, was in the forefront of meeting the unprecedented demand for records.
Elvis records were effectively sold before they were pressed, and 12-hour shifts became the order of the day as the factory went on to 24-hour working, seven days a week.
A year after the King’s demise there were still 300 working at the factory.
Sadly, the boom was temporary and record sales continued to fall. In 1981 RCA sold up in Washington, and Dickens set about building the biggest DIY complex in Europe at the location.
Today on Washington’s Armstrong Industrial Estate, 37 years on from Elvis’s death, a B&Q home improvement store dominates the site where millions of copies of Jailhouse Rock were produced.
- Meanwhile, at 5.30pm on Thursday, September 4, Marek Norvid and Ritchie Lattimore would like to welcome anyone who worked at, or was directly associated with, the Washington plant to a small reunion at RPM Music. The Newcastle record shop is situated in 4 Old George Yard, just off High Bridge.