THE entrepreneur who created a legendary Woking dance hall died on Friday last week at the age of 94.

Bob Potter was famous in recent years for his Lakeside Country Club at Frimley Green, which became known as the “Home of Darts”.

In and around Woking, he was renowned for opening the Atalanta Ballroom, which staged popular dances in the 1950s and later featured concerts by bands including the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and The Who before they made their names in the pop music charts.

The “Ata” was in Commercial Road, the pedestrianised street that is now called Commercial Way.

It was a popular place for a night out for an age group that was starting to be called teenagers, and was one of the few venues in the area that had a sprung wooden dance floor.

Knaphill print company owner Jon Davies was a regular attender at the Ata as a teenager and a friend of Bob Potter in his later years, when he was chairman of Woking Football Club and Bob was president of Aldershot Town FC.

“From seeing the Rolling Stones to enjoying a visit by the Daleks from Doctor Who, the Atalanta Ballroom was such a large part of my life when I was growing up in the 1960s,” said Jon.

“My friends and I have a lot of wonderful memories to thank Bob Potter for. We had some great times at the Ata.”

Bob grew up on his family’s farm in Mytchett, near Camberley. They also had a haulage business and, during the Second World War, Bob drove the firm’s lorries that had been commandeered by the army.

By this time, he was playing drums in a dance band that had plenty of bookings at military camps. He returned to work on the farm and for its transport business and had also become busy with music activities. He soon had three bands on the road – The Bob Potter Band, The Rhythm Aces and The Aldershot Aces. 

Bob set up a pool of musicians and was able to take on any type of booking. He and his bands played throughout the UK and in Europe.

He then moved into running music venues, his first being the then popular Aldershot dance hall the Palais de Dance. This was followed by the Agincourt Ballroom in London Road, Camberley, and then the Atalanta. 

Bob continued to play in bands and, during a concert at the Atalanta, its caretaker told him she had heard he was looking for a new pianist. 

She suggested Bob gave her son – who had been playing with the RAF dance band the Squadronaires – a try. Bob agreed and had discovered Les Reed, the Woking-born acclaimed songwriter, arranger, musician and light orchestra leader.

By the early 1960s, the dance band era was on the way out, replaced by rock ’n’ roll and then pop music, and a new generation of musicians were on the scene.

A young Welsh singer called Tom Jones went to Bob’s recording studio in Mytchett to audition and it was fortunate that Les Reed was there to hear him sing. 

Les’s song It’s Not Unusual, co-written with Gordon Mills, was offered to Tom. He recorded the number and it topped the “hit parade” in 1965.

With the song riding high in the charts, Bob paid Tom £100 – a handsome sum at the time – to appear at the Atalanta and pack it full of pop music fans.

Bob staged all-nighters at the Atalanta on Saturdays, when the music continued until 5am. There were live band concerts and dancing every day of the week, with popular bingo sessions filling in any gaps.

The Atalanta Ballroom was established in two of buildings, one of which was a former church. Its days ended when it was demolished at the start of the the Woking town centre redevelopment of the early 1970s.

 Bob Potter turned his attention to buying the Wharfden Estate at Frimley Green, where he created the Lakeside Country Club in 1972.

The club, which was soon hosting top acts, was destroyed by a fire in 1974. Bob rebuilt it and welcomed show business stars from around the world and members of the Royal Family to a venue that can seat more than 1,000 people.

Lakeside is best known for hosting the Darts World Championships from 1986 to 2019 and then again from 2022. Bob was made an OBE in 1993 for his role in helping develop British and world darts.

A post on his Twitter feed after he died last week read: “Bob Potter was a true entertainment icon, having built an empire that few could match over the course of seven decades.

“He came from humble beginnings, but his hard work and dedication to entrepreneurialism and the entertainment industry led him to become one of the most respected figures in show business.”