Ivor's Insights Part 15
INSIGHTS ON IVOR
The end of the war was celebrated throughout the country with street parties organised for the children. We had one in Wedmore Road and I remember the occasion well. Tables and chairs were arranged in the road outside our house which
was conveniently situated equidistant from beginning to end of the road. There were Union Jacks proudly displayed everywhere and the feeling of utter joy and relief pervaded the whole atmosphere. The strain and worries etched on the faces of many of the adults resulting from the six years of war seemed to be slightly lifted as the realisation and significance of this day gradually sank in.
There was one incident on that glorious day which I’ve always remembered. It happened when a soldier, a complete stranger, strolled down our road and not only joined us in our celebrations but also surprised us by singing a well known popular song called ‘Together’. I like to think this is a song for anyone who’s lost a loved one, a fact which is evident in the poignant lyrics. I see them as symbolising someone recalling good times past and gone forever but not forgotten. The words start by specifying particular things they enjoyed together and ends in a uplifting positive manner by asserting that the memories of those times will remain everlasting.
We never did know who this soldier was or where he came from but I can’t help wondering if he was one of the many who had lost someone dear and found comfort, solace and strength in these heartfelt moving lyrics!
After the euphoria of the war ending the colossal task was one of coming to terms for both victors and vanquished with the terrible aftermath. The rebuilding of lives, cities, economics and infrastructures presented a formidable task requiring many years of hard work for all concerned. In Britain we had a General Election in July 1945 and despite all the efforts of the one man who lead us and the free world to victory, Winston Churchill was not elected to carry on as Prime Minister. That job went to the leader of the Labour Party, Clement Attlee, a veteran from the First World War. Although Mr Attlee was small in statue and a mild, slightly insignificant looking man, he had a firm resolve, deep conviction and determination to tackle the enormous task of picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild a New Britain.
Before that election, in May, there was a marvellous uplifting sight for all of us cricketing fans when an Australian team – made up of players just out of military service – came over and played five Test matches against England. This happy event was known as the ‘Victory Tests’ there were no Ashes involved, it was just a wonderful occasion for everyone to forget the war. One person who captured everyone’s hearts was a dashing Australian named Keith Miller. He was a RAF fighter pilot, flying Mosquito aircraft in which he had survived quite a few narrow escapes. On the cricket pitch he was a revelation, a batsman who hit the ball with great ferocity to all corners of the ground. As well as that he was a brilliant fielder and a top medium to fast bowler. There is a story saying that he once heard someone make a remark about the pressure of batting in a Test Match, to which he is quoted as replying ‘What pressure? I’ll tell you what pressure is – pressure is having an enemy plane up your tail, that’s pressure’ although I believe he used a different word to tail!
In 1946 Miller was joined by another Australian fast bowler, Ray Lindwall – who had a beautifully smooth bowling action - and the two of them together were the scourge of many an English batsmen then and for many years after. I remember the 1945 Test match at Lords for two reasons. Along with a pal of mine, also a cricket fan, I queued up outside the ground eagerly awaiting this cricketing spectacle. The second reason I remember it is because as we stood waiting to enter cricket’s hallowed ground we couldn’t avoid seeing a giant poster advertising a new film – which considering the spectacle of seeing Miller and Lindwall in action was very appropriately called – ‘Spellbound’. Directed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, the film starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. This is one of Hitchcock’s top films and is still worth watching when it appears on television.
Rationing of food, clothing, confectionary (of vital importance to the children!) and many other items was to continue for years after the war. In January 1946 the first post war consignment of bananas arrived in Britain. Many children had never seen a banana before. Sadly one little girl in Yorkshire died after eating four, which had been given to her as a treat. On a lighter note hit songs of the period included ‘Cruising down the river’, ‘We’ll gather lilacs’ ‘A gal in Calico’ to name a few. Cinema audiences were queuing up to see ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Blithe Spirit’ but my favourite was one called ‘State Fair’ this was a good old fashioned feel good homespun piece of Americana type of film. The music was by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the best remembered song from it was ‘It might as well be Spring’
The film starred Dana Andrews, singers Dick Haymes and Vivian Blaine and a gorgeous girl named Jeanne Crain. The lush Technicolor and full Hollywood make-up turned her into a goddess to us fourteen-year-old schoolboys. My sister used to read a film magazine called ‘Picturegoer’ and one week its cover picture featured Jeanne Crain. Some of us boys wrote a letter to her requesting a signed photograph but alas no reply was received. I suppose being a goddess doesn’t leave much time to get involved with adolescence infatuation.
Some of the popular radio shows around this time were ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’ ‘Much Binding in the Marsh’ (a comedy starring Kenneth Horne and Richard Murdoch as RAF officers on a RAF camp), ‘Stand Easy’ an Army oriented comedy starring Cheerful Charlie Chester, ‘Water-logged Spa’ – a Navy comedy starring Eric Barker and ‘Take it from Here’ starring Jimmy Edwards, Dick Bentley and Kitty Bluett and later, June Whitfield.
In the theatres two big American shows hit London. The first was Irving Berlin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ followed by a show which changed the face of musical theatre, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma’. The star of this show was a young, unknown to us, baritone named Harold Keel who subsequently changed his first name to Howard, went to Hollywood and the rest is history. Another show which also opened at this time was ‘Starlight Roof’ where a twelve-year-old girl made a big impression with her singing. Her name? Julie Andrews.
By this time my earlier interest in the cinema had continued to grow and I learnt a lot about the history and birth of the early days of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, The Keystone Cops etc and the subsequent coming of the talkies. Fortunately my friend Graeme also shared this interest and we became frequent cinemagoers resulting in us becoming quite knowledgeable about films and the people who participated in the making of them. This interest led to Graeme buying a cine camera and projector. Now fired with ambition we decided to make our own movie. Another friend joined the ‘cast’ and between us we thought we’d try to make a gangster type film. It was decided that as I could portray getting shot and ‘dying’ the ‘best’ then I would play the villain. We needed a scene where I walked into a large building so off we went on location to a large block of flats along the Western Avenue. Dressed in a Humphrey Bogart/George Raft type raincoat with the collar turned up, and wearing a hat, borrowed from Graeme’s dad, pulled down, I walked down the entrance path and entered the doorway into the flats. Graeme thought he saw one or two enquiring faces peering down from their windows at this young ‘film star!’ as he captured my actions on his camera using 9.5mm black and white film. All went well with that sequence but after that we ran out of ideas. So my big scene of being ‘shot’ never got recorded onto film thus denying posterity the pleasure of seeing my Oscar winning performance!
But later that year (1946) a film came out called ‘The Jolson Story’ this was Hollywood’s version of the life of singer Al Jolson. He was one of the biggest singing stars of the twenties and thirties appearing in vaudeville and Minstrel Shows. This entailed him blacking up his face, and adopting a voice and accent similar to that heard in the Deep Southern states of America. In 1927 he made history by starring and singing in the World’s first sound film ‘The Jazz Singer’. During WWII he made frequent visits overseas to entertain the American troops. Hollywood’s Warner Brothers and Columbia studios decided to make a film of this extraordinary entertainer’s life but by this time Jolson was getting a little old and although his voice was still strong the studio decided they wanted a younger man to take the part of Al Jolson. So, they bought in a lesser known actor named Larry Parks. He could sing a little but nothing like Jolson, who could anyway? So it was decided that Larry Parks would sing along with recordings made by Jolson but by clever cutting Parks’s singing voice would be cut out. This method proved very successful and it was generally agreed that the end result was the best example of dubbing ever seen.
So, now you are thinking what all of this has got to do with me and Graeme and our foray into film making. Well, I’ll tell you. We enjoyed the film and marvelled at the dubbing so much that we thought we would have a go. We bought an Al Jolson record, I blacked up my face with burnt cork, borrowed (again) not a hat but a pair of white gloves from Graeme’s Dad and performed and sang along to the record whilst Graeme filmed me. Now at this point I must tell you that in those days our film was silent. So, once the film was developed we would run it back through Graeme’s projector onto a screen and at the same time play the original record of Jolson singing. Because the projector was a hand operated machine Graeme would try valiantly to keep turning the handle in synchronisation with the screen image of me opening and closing my mouth as I cavorted around matching the sound of Jolson’s voice booming out from the record. No easy feat I do assure you. Tragedy and laughter would sometimes happen when the film would get stuck in the gate of the projector. This jamming would ‘freeze’ the screen image but because the film couldn’t move on it would overheat in the projector which manifested itself by producing a series of brown holes on the screen. As the heat intensified so the holes got bigger and bigger before our very eyes. This forced Graeme to frantically turn the projector’s handle faster and faster in a mad effort to free the affected jammed piece of film before the Fire Brigade were called. Whilst this fiasco was going on, the frozen screen image of what was me manfully jumping around miming my head off, following the age old tradition of the show must go on, was rapidly disappearing under the intense heat.
As well as being a good singer Jolson would sometimes cup his white gloved hands together and whistle a chorus or two in some of his songs. So, nothing daunted I thought I’d have a go, hence the borrowing of Graeme’s Dad’s white gloves.
As it turned out that was one of our worst mistakes. During my frenzied attempts at whistling I got some black marks from the burnt cork on my face onto the pristine white gloves! I bet they never had that trouble with The Jolson Story.
Although Graeme and I never made another film together I did, later in life; acquire a camcorder to record family occasions and holidays etc and by using two tape recorders and editing machines I produced VHS tapes combining images with music and narration for playing back through my VHS tape player, and not a white glove in sight. But that’s another story for another day.
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