Ivor's Insights Part 18

Part Eighteen
   After the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games had finished, the next games, scheduled for 1940, should have taken place in Tokyo but due to political reasons they declined and Helsinki was substituted. Unfortunately the advent of the Second World War (1939-1945) intervened and no games took place until 1948 and London was the chosen venue for their return. Germany and Japan were banned from entering and Russia declined the invitation. But despite of this there were still over 4,000 competitors – of which there were 355 women – representing 59 nations. The availability of food and accommodation were, if anything, worse than during the war, Britain ’s athletes trained at Butlins holiday camps and many RAF stations provided accommodation
   Despite all the austerity and lack of resources Britain pulled out all the stops and the games were a triumph over adversary and a heart warming tribute to the sheer determination and hard work of the organizers and participants. The final medal table showed that Britain finished in twelfth place by winning a overall total of 23 medals, 3 gold, 14 silver and 6 bronze. I remember seeing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth opening the games (I even remember John Mark, the final athlete who had the honour of carrying the torch into Wembley Stadium and igniting the Olympic flame). The athletics and field events took place in the Stadium, the Empire Pool Wembley hosted the swimming events, rowing was at Henley on Thames and sailing at Torbay in Devon .  The estimated total cost was around £732,000 against the £11 billion cost when the games returned to London in 2012!
   Of course colour television hadn’t arrived in 1948 but even in black and white it was still a thrill to see the world’s best athletes competing in this magnificent sporting spectacle. Two people I remember are McDonald Bailey, a fine sprinter from Trinidad and a remarkable lady from Holland with the equally remarkable name of Fanny Blankers Koen. This lady or ‘The Flying Dutchwoman’ as some wits called her, dominated the ladies track events by winning four gold medals, the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and as a member of the 100m relay team, which this was certainly not bad for a 30 year old mother of two.
   The year 1949 bought the end of clothes rationing which was imposed in 1941. The ban on coloured lights, floodlights and neon signs was also lifted but the most popular, with children at least, was ending of confectionery rationing.  I remember the Wimbledon Tennis Championship coming alive that year when an American lady named Augusta (Gussie) Moran shocked the old brigade and caused a near riot amongst the court side press photographers with her lace trimmed panties peeping out beneath her white dress. Designed by Teddy Tinling her daring outfit resulted in her being asked to open garden fetes, beauty contests and even hospitals. I believe she even had a race horse named after her. She wasn’t exactly one of the top tennis players as such but her appearance had many wondering what the deuce she was doing causing many glasses of Pimms, to say nothing of punnets of strawberries and cream to be spilt at this, the home of tennis. But at the end of play I think we can say she was a smash hit who taught us, to love all, which served to her advantage by winning the game, set and match.
   The world’s first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet made its first flight test in July 1949 at Hatfield, Hertfordshire when pilot Group Captain John (Cats Eyes) Cunningham took the plane up. In September that year another first flight occurred when what was considered to be the world’s biggest aeroplane, the Bristol Brabazon, at one hundred and thirty tons, powered by eight Rolls Royce engines, with a carrying capacity of one hundred passengers frightened the life out of many birds when she took to the skies. The interior of the plane proudly displayed a cinema, cocktail bar, a lounge and dining room, sleeper berths and separate men’s and ladies dressing rooms.  Despite it flying for some time the sheer cost of travelling on it, allied with much political intrigue and shenanigans it was deemed, at the time, to be a white elephant and not a commercially viable proposition so in 1953 it was scrapped.
    In complete contrast, at about the same time as the Brabazon flights – or maybe it was because of them? - a flock of starlings decided to have a meeting on the minute hand of Big Ben. This caused the clock to lose four and a half minutes; it’s slowest in ninety years.
   Another disaster struck in September when the economic situation worsened and more belt was required. Sugar supplies were cut to eight ounces per person, per week. Milk and tobacco supplies were also cut and, much to the dismay of us children, confectionery was back on ration at four ounces per person per week.
   Tommy Handley the Liverpudlian comedian who did so much to raise the morale of the British people during the Second World War with his Thursday night radio show ‘ITMA’ died aged 56 on January 9th 1949 from a brain hemorrhage.  The BBC first launched this show for a trial run of 4 episodes in July 1939.  As the months went by and the daily news became full of Adolf Hitler’s march across Europe the press began referring to him as ‘It’s that man again’. The BBC brought the Tommy Handley show back on September 19th  and decided to use the Hitler phrase in it’s abbreviated form ‘ITMA’ but this time the man in question wasn’t the madman Hitler seeking world dominance but someone who bought laughter and hope to the whole nation during its darkest hour. In 1941 the whole cast were invited to perform a special edition at Windsor Castle to celebrate Princess Elizabeth’s 16th birthday. Some of the regular cast members included Maurice Denham, Jack Train, Deryck Gulyer and Hattie Jacques. To illustrate the huge debt the people owed Tommy Handley and the high esteem in which he was held it is estimated that along the six mile route from the private Chapel in Westbourne Grove in London to Golders Green thousands mourned his passing.  In addition memorial services were carried out in St. Paul ’s Cathedral and, appropriately in Tommy’s home city, at Liverpool Cathedral.
   The final years of the 1940’s saw the coal industry nationalised in 1947 followed by the railways in 1948. This year also went into our history with the advent of mass immigration into Britain when around 500 people from the West Indies traveled from Jamaica aboard the SS Empire Windrush and arrived at Tilbury Docks. Even though many of them, had already visited Britain before when they came over to join the armed forces during the war, they decided the future prospects for them and their families lay within the UK . This was an historic event which took a long time for all the involved parties, immigrates and the British, to adjust and accept the different attitudes and cultures, to say nothing of the weather which was vastly different from Jamaica . But eventually it worked out with housing and work prospects being readily available it wasn’t long before others made their exodus from their Caribbean homes seeking a new life in Britain .
 There is no doubt with Britain still in disarray and  turmoil from the war the extra labour force they provided allied with their happy-go-lucky natural demeanour, colourful life style and artistic talent was a very welcome aid which eventually broke down any prejudices and barriers felt by some. Those early pioneers from the SS Windrush could never have envisaged the impact their 1948 journey would have and would be amazed if they could see the integration and multi-racial Britain of today.
---End of Part Eighteen--- 

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