To add to the new phenomenon of Skiffle hitting Britain another craze was to follow with the advent of ‘Teddy Boys’. Originating from the 1940’s this was the name given to teenage boys who wore a mode of clothes as worn during the ‘Edwardian’ period. This sartorial style consisted of long drape jackets with a velvet collar, thin (drainpipe) trousers, varying colours of shirt which was topped off with a bootlace tie. Often their feet would have brightly coloured socks which were then encased in suede (usually coloured blue) shoes bearing very thick crepe soles. This type of footwear quickly became known as ‘Brothel Creepers’ (having never had any desire to visit such establishments of ill-repute I cannot vouch for the authenticity of that description!). To complete their ensemble these lads had haircuts with huge quiffs and sideburns. The obligatory chewing gum and cigarette completed the image.
The phrase ‘Teddy Boys’ passed into everyday language and is still used, often unjustly, today by older people when describing some present-day unusually attired teenager. The popular meeting places for the ‘Teddy Boys’ gers were the coffee bars, which were springing up all over the country, particularly in London. These establishments had coffee machines called ‘Gaggia’ churning out Espresso coffee by the gallon which competed with the musical sounds emanating from popular singers like Londoner Tommy Steele, who had been discovered performing at one of the most popular establishments called the Two I’s coffee bar. Other singers making the girls swoon were Marty Wilde, Terry Dene, Billy Fury and Adam Faith, who went on to become a very good actor. Finally, there was Harry Webb, the Peter Pan of pop music who changed his name to Cliff Richard and much later in life was to become Sir Cliff and is still singing as I write this in 2018.  This Pop culture coupled with the mixture of Skiffle and Trad Jazz gave the teenagers, not to mention some of us more mature people, plenty of variety to choose from.
   It was also around this time that many American singers started coming over to appear at the London Palladium. I must deviate time-wise slightly here to take you back to the year 1948 when the American actor, singer and comedian Danny Kaye came over to perform at the Palladium. He took London by storm, completely captivating the audience just by sitting on a chair near the orchestra pit with a cup of tea and chatting as if he was in your lounge at home, Every now and then he jumped up, chatted a little and sang a song or two but it was his so relaxed, informal laidback approach which won us over. Even Princess Margaret made two visits to see him perform.
   In 1951 whilst on leave from the Royal Air Force I visited the Palladium again where I saw another icon of the entertainment world,  the one and only Judy Garland who took everyone for a ride somewhere over the rainbow. This song from her 1939 film The Wizard of Oz became her signature tune. It also has a special significance for me which will be revealed later in my story.
   My love for the theatre, especially musical theatre continued and I visited the London Palladium many times during the middle of the 1950’s seeing singers and comedians such as Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine, Billy Daniels, Kay Starr, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and the clap-happy, good to be alive singer, Guy Mitchell who sang about ‘Sparrow in the Treetop’ and ‘ wears red feathers’.  Other great artists I saw at this Mecca of stars were the wonderfully droll Jack Benny who could elicit a smile from his audience just by looking at them without a saying a word,  Britain’s Max Bygraves, George Formby and Frankie Howerd.  Every Sunday evening the very popular Ted Heath Band – not to be confused with Edward Heath who was Britain’s Prime Minister between 1970-1974)  - with his singers, Dickie Valentine, Lita Roza and Dennis Lotis would give a big band concert.
   There was much interest in September 1955 when ITV (Independent Television) was first seen on our television screens - This was a commercial television company who - in direct contrast to the BBC - received the money to make their programmes from the companies who were advertising their products on this new channel.
Gibbs SR toothpaste went into the history books as being the very first product to be advertised via ITV on British television. 
   Two of the adverts which I remember became very popular were those from the makers of Mars Bars who informed us that ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ and, staying on the confectionary side,  did you know that ‘Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry Mints’?  
   There were doubts and some consternation from many people who worried that the coming of advertising on television would demean the quality of the programmes but as time passed we all got accustomed to them, in fact, many people often considered that there were times when the adverts were better than the programmes!
  The BBC in an attempt to woo audiences away from ITV’S big opening night let it be known that they were going to ‘kill off’ Grace Archer – a character from their long-running radio serial, ‘The Archers’ but it was to no avail, Independent television had arrived and nothing would ever be quite the same again.
   In the same year as we gained this new television company we, and the world lost a man to whom it can be said millions of people around the world owe a huge debt of gratitude.  I am referring to Sir Alexander Fleming a Scotsman from Ayrshire who died in July 1955. He is the man credited with discovering Penicillin, in 1928 and for which he - along with the work done on this wonder drug by Australian pathologist Howard Florey and German-born biochemist Ernst Chain - received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1945
   In complete contrast to these three men whose pioneering work did so much to save lives, in the same month of Fleming’s death - July 1955 -  a lady called Ruth Ellis, also made history albeit for the wrong reasons, was hung for murdering her lover and is recorded as the last women in Britain to suffer this fate.
   Another pioneer who also entered the record books the same year was Sir Christopher Cockerell who invented the Hovercraft.
      Tragedy struck five schoolboys when after finding a WWII mine on the beach in Swanage, Dorset and boys being boys tried to prise off the top it exploded and killed all of them.
   On the sporting scene, Donald Campbell broke the water speed record when he did 216.2 mph in his boat Bluebird on Ullswater Lake.
   The year is also remembered as the one when Cardiff was chosen as the Capital city of Wales. Naturally, the valleys and beyond were filled with the sound of the many choirs celebrating the news. So, for all people (myself included) from the land of Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Ivor Novello, Bryn Terfel, Tom Jones, Tommy Cooper, John Charles, Ivor Allchurch, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the one and only Harry Secombe it really was Yakki Da and Cmyru au Byth which roughly translated means Cheers and Wales for Ever.
   --End of Part Thirty—

Read more →


Part Twenty Nine
    It probably comes as no surprise to you that because of my varied musical tastes when Skiffle arrived I was also caught up in it and joined the craze by buying my first guitar. This came about through another friend of Brother Bernard’s, Dickie Bishop, who played banjo occasionally with the Barber band, and guitar with Lonnie Donegan.  Dickie had decided to change his guitar for another model and asked me if I’d like to buy his old model. As it was a Gibson, a make highly regarded as one of the best in the business I jumped at the chance. 
    I was also lucky that my brother Bert, who played saxophone and clarinet and had formed his own dance band, put me in touch with a brilliant guitar player by the name of Bert Kirby. I undertook lessons from this virtuoso of the guitar for the princely sum of ten shillings per lesson. This resulted in me mastering about six chords and suffering very red indented fingers as a result of the long hours of practicing. But the suffering was worthwhile because it meant that not only was I able to accompany myself when singing some of the skiffle and country and western songs I was also able to play my guitar along with my father on his mandolin banjo thus swelling the rhythm section whilst Bert on sax and Bernard on trumpet provided the melodies for the rest of the family to sing along to at the Hodgson annual Christmas Festivities.   What wonderful happy memories I have of those joyful occasions.
   At that same period in my life when learning to play the Guitar I was also having driving lessons. I would have a guitar lesson in the evenings and a driving lesson during the day. There was one classic moment when I was having a driving lesson the morning after a guitar lesson the evening before. I was driving along quite comfortably when the instructor gave me some particular instruction which I never heard quite clearly so he repeated it whereupon I said ‘Sorry, I forgot what key I was in’ instead of what ‘gear’ I was in. The incredulous look on the instructors face was a sight to behold. I imagined him telling all his fellow instructors back at the Driving Centre about the idiot he had today who forgot what key he was in and the laughter that resulted. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that somewhere my name is in included in a Driving Instructors Manual entitled ‘Idiots I’ve taught’
    When Lonnie Donegan was with the Chris Barber Jazz Band there would be a half way break when the band was doing a concert. It was at this point when the Skiffle group would take over. This group comprised Lonnie playing his guitar and singing accompanied by Chris Barber on double bass, and I do mean a real double bass not a tea chest, plus Beryl Bryden on washboard.  This Skiffle spot always received great acclaim and its popularity eventually led to Lonnie leaving the Barber Band and forming his own Skiffle Group. They went from strength to strength touring all over the UK , Europe and America where he appeared on the famous Ed Sullivan television show. It was amazing that here was a young British musician taking American Folk music to the land of its origin and introducing it to many of its citizens for the first time and receiving great acclaim for doing it.
   I was lucky enough to meet Lonnie once. This came about through Dickie Bishop. Lonnie had just returned from another successful tour throughout America which included performing in Las Vegas and was appearing at London ’s Prince of Wales theatre. As all tickets for the show were sold Dickie and I were allowed to wait in Lonnie’s dressing room until he had finished his show. At the end Lonnie came off stage and after a brief rest to come down to earth from his highly adrenalin charged performance he proceeded to regale us with hilarious tales and anecdotes from his wonderful tour of the USA .
   Whilst I enjoyed many of Lonnie’s Skiffle songs particularly the religious ones such as ‘Just a closer walk with Thee’ and ‘Precious Lord, Lead me on’ there is one number which for me is his best. Unlike the above mentioned type of song this one comes from a Broadway show, and subsequent film, called Bells are Ringing. The song is called ‘The Party’s Over’ which went on to say ‘it’s time to call it a day’. Lonnie sang this lovely song very slowly and with great feeling and emotion. It was a world away from many of his usual skiffle numbers. Unfortunately, the party was finally over and the time to call it a day came on November 3rd 2012 when Lonnie who was half way through a UK tour, and had a history of heart problems, collapsed and died aged 71 at Market Deeping in Lincolnshire .
   My love for Trad Jazz continued and when my brother Bernard and his Band were engaged to perform every Sunday afternoon at the Hamborough Tavern in Hayes, Middlesex  I would go along and help out by taking the money at the door whilst enjoying the music for free.
   After the Second World War, there was an urgent need for the Government to build more houses to replace the loss of so many due to the Blitz leaving thousands of people homeless, particularly in the London area. It was decided that certain areas of the country would be developed as designated ‘New Towns’. Stevenage and Harlow in Essex were two such New Towns. Another one was Crawley in Sussex . At this time my brother Bernard and his wife Joan were living in a Flat in Greenford and they decided to upgrade and move to Crawley where they bought one of these new houses.  They quickly settled in and it wasn’t long before Bernard, much to his delight; saw an advert for a trumpet player needed to join a Trad Band based in Crawley .
   Although Crawley was, and still is, a town, it was decided that the band would use some poetic licence and so it was that The New City Jazzmen came into being. They were the first band to play at the Crawley Bandstand. This was a big success with the Saturday shoppers and was repeated many times thereafter. The band’s popularity grew quickly and they were in great demand, performing at Weddings, Anniversary and Birthday parties as well as corporate functions all over the Sussex and Surrey areas. L.P records and CD’S were made, copies of which I still have. They were featured and played on the BBC’S Jazz Club. Their success and popularity was to last for the next 54 years ending on the 31st December 2011 when they played, appropriately, their last gig at the Crawley Bandstand. Although it was a dark cold December night the people still turned out to hear them. It was also fitting that one of the numbers they played on that final concert was Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful World’.   It certainly was on that memorable night in 2011. For anyone interested in learning more about this never to be forgotten group of individuals who bought so much pleasure to all devotees of Traditional Jazz I suggest you go onto Google and insert The New City Jazzmen – Crawley England and sit back and enjoy.
--End of Part Twenty Nine --

Read more →


Part Twenty Eight
   British Cornet player Ken Colyer was once a Merchant Seaman and was fortunate enough on one trip to visit New Orleans. When he subsequently formed his own band, the Ken Colyer Jazzmen in and around 1953/1954 he just had to pay due homage to the home of Trad Jazz by recording an LP (Long Playing) record called ‘New Orleans to London’ The cover was designed by his clarinettist, Monty Sunshine. Other members of the band included Chris Barber on Trombone and a young banjo player named Anthony Donegan. The opening track on this record was appropriately called ‘Going Home’ on which Ken Colyer showed his love for the origins of jazz when he sang the lyrics ‘if home is where the heart is then my home’s in New Orleans’ This record is considered by many as the best ever, British Jazz record.  Although I can’t remember what price it was to buy when it came out, probably around the £2 mark, I bought a copy and played and treasured it for many years. Eventually I transferred it onto an audio cassette tape which I still have.  With the passing of time and the phasing out of record players I decided to sell my original record of this masterpiece. I advertised it on Ebay and got £25 for it. As Arthur Daley would say ‘that was a nice little earner my son’
   On the sporting front 1954 is best remembered as the year when Britain’s Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. At an Oxford race meeting and helped by colleagues Chris Chataway and Chris Basher, he finished the race in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The FA cup that year was won by West Bromwich Albion beating Preston North End 3-2.  Czech tennis player Jaroslav Drobny won the Wimbledon men’s title and American Little Mo Connelly the Ladies for the second year running. Australian golfer Peter Thomson easily won the Open and Champion jockey Gordon Richards became Sir Gordon when he was knighted by the Queen, the first jockey to receive such an honour. Talking of jockeys, an 18-year old lad by the name of Lester Piggott became the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby when he steered Never Say Die first past the post.  Lester Piggott eventually went on to win another eight Derby races and became one of the best ever jockey’s of all time.
   In April 1955 Winston Churchill, the man who inspired not only the people of Britain but millions of others around the world throughout the dark and frightening days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill decided at Eighty years of age he had done enough and resigned as Britain’s Prime Minister. His deputy Anthony Eden took over the reigns.
   In 1955 a jockey of a different kind made news when Disc jockey Jack Jackson started giving a lot of air time to a record called ‘The Rock Island Line’ sung by the aforementioned Anthony Donegan, who by now had changed his first name to Lonnie in honour of African American musician Lonnie Johnson, a prolific and influential figure in the world of Jazz, Blues and folk music. At the time of Lonnie Donegan’s hit record he was a member of the Chris Barber Jazz Band, which it became when Ken Colyer left to follow a different course. To replace Ken as the trumpet/cornet player Pat Halcox was bought in and formed a partnership with the Chris Barber Band which lasted for 54 years, only ending with Pat’s death in February 2013 aged 82.  I was very lucky that through my Brother Bernard’s involvement with Jazz I met Pat Halcox on a few occasions. Not only was he a wonderful trumpet player with great feeling and imagination he was also one of the nicest people you could ever meet.
   Lonnie Donegan’s recording of ‘The Rock Island Line’ introduced a new sound to Britain, this sound was called Skiffle and it swept the country. Skiffle is blend of folk and country music, with influences from traditional jazz and blues.
   To play Skiffle was relatively easy. Obviously you had to have some ability to sing, hopefully in tune to a certain degree although it must be said that in many cases, that basic requirement was not always present! As for the instrumentation that was provided by a guitar or two, a double bass and a washboard. Thousands of young lads dashed out to purchase a guitar and started to learn three basic chords, C, F and B7  (known as the three chord trick). Once this was mastered you could use these chords to accompany many simple folk and country songs. The next instrument required was a Double Bass. The cost of buying one of these monsters was out of the question so a cheap alternative was to buy or ‘acquire’ a wooden tea chest, a broom handle and a length of string. You fixed the broom handle to one corner of the chest, tied a length of string to the top of the handle and fixed the remainder of the string to the opposite corner. Once you were satisfied the string was taut enough all that remained was for you to pluck the string and hey presto you had a double bass.
   So now you had a guitar or two and a double bass leaving just a washboard to complete the musical ensemble. Pleading looks to mothers or in many cases, grandmothers throughout the country was the most used approach. Once your washboard was obtained you fixed thimbles to your fingers and by running them up and down the grooved metal edges of the washboard you had a great rhythm section going and spotty faced callow youths were forming their own Skiffle groups all over the country.  I recall singers Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whisky having a big hit with a song called Freight Train. It’s also worth mentioning that many subsequent famous pop singers and groups such as The Beatles and Joe Brown all paid tribute to Lonnie Donegan, the one man who ignited their initial interest through Skiffle. 
   All over the country shops were selling guitars, wooden chests, washboards and thimbles as fast as they could get them in. Songs such as the Rock Island Line, Wabash Cannonball, Worried Man Blues, Tom Dooley, Bring a little water Sylvie,
Midnight Special, The Battle of New Orleans, Nobody’s Child, John Henry, Jesse James and Putting on the Style were attacked with great gusto and enthusiasm if little musicianship!
   I consider myself very lucky that I can enjoy a wide variety of music ranging from Trad Jazz, Classical music and through my father’s and eldest brother’s musical background I grew up hearing and appreciating the wonderful melodies written by popular composers such as Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart (later Oscar Hammerstein II ), Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and many others.
   I also have been lucky to hear and enjoy singers from all sides of the musical divide. Whether it’s Pavarotti or Maria Callas from the world of opera, Hank Williams Senior and John Denver from the Country and Western scene, or Ella Fitzgerald, (especially when joining with Louis Armstrong) Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Britain’s own Matt Monro from the world of popular music, their voices and artistry brought pleasure to millions around the world. Thank goodness they left us many recordings enabling us to still enjoy hearing their voices.
--End of Part Twenty Eight —

Read more →



 Part Twenty-Seven

   The Wimbledon tournament in 1953 saw a new star burst upon the scene when a young American girl named Maureen -  who due to her diminutive height was lovingly dubbed Little Mo - Connelly won the ladies title beating fellow American Doris Hart in the final. The men’s title was won by another American, Vic Seixas who beat Denmark’s Kurt Nielsen.
The American dominance in sport continued into the world of golf when one of the best ever golfers, Ben Hogan,  crossed the Atlantic to not only make his one and only appearance in the Open Championship but walked away with the title by conquering Scotland’s windswept Carnoustie course and won the most coveted trophy in golf.
    But without a doubt the biggest shock came later in the year when the Hungarian football team came to Wembley and gave us a lesson in free-flowing football, the like of which we in Britain had never witnessed before. They beat us 6-3 and became the first team to defeat England on their own ground.  At the end of the game, the stunned crowd slowly filed out of the stadium in an utter state of bewilderment and as if in a trance they queued silently awaiting their bus home, shattered by this unexpected nightmare.
    I know of all this because I, along with my brother Bernard, was one of those poor unfortunate souls standing to wait for our bus to take us away from this disaster. One final thought on this match is that England’s right back that momentous day in 1953 was Alf Ramsay, the man who eventually became the Manager of the England team and guided them to winning the World Cup in 1966.
   Probably one of the most beneficial discoveries for mankind happened in 1953 when British Physicist Francis Crick and American James Watson uncovered the secrets of DNA. Their breakthrough aided by New Zealander Maurice Wilkins was justly rewarded in 1962 when the three men were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
   On a completely different topic, three of the most popular television programmes around this time was ‘What’s my line?’. This consisted of a panel of four celebrities who had to work out what the job was of an ordinary member of the public who came on and gave them a clue by demonstrating a brief piece of mime relating their job. The panel would endeavor to find out by a series of questions. If any of their guesses received a negative answer from the visitor the chairman of the panel would turn over a card displaying the word NO.  The panel was only allowed ten No’s and if they hadn’t worked out the visitor’s job by then the guest was deemed the winner.  Some of the panel members I remember included a well-loved and brilliant magician named David Nixon, a very smart attractive polished lady, Isobel Barnett, an ex-policeman, Gilbert Harding, who made a name for himself due to his rather brusque (rude?) manner when questioning the visitors. Fortunately, his impatience was somewhat tempered by the last member of the panel, Barbara Kelly, another smart, attractive lady, who had left Canada and came to live in Britain with her husband, Bernard Braden in 1949.
   The Braden’s, both born in Vancouver, quickly made a good impression with the British public. Bernard Braden was a very talented man, a writer, actor on stage and radio. It wasn’t long before their natural easy-going charm coupled with their Canadian accent was noticed by the by the BBC which resulted in a series entitled  Breakfast with Braden and later followed by Bedtime with Braden. Barbara Kelly also appeared in these very popular shows. The band accompanying these programmes was Nat Temple and his Orchestra.  I recall that at the end of each show Bernard Braden would sign off with a final wisecrack such as ‘Nat Temple is currently appearing in the Tales of Hoffman but on Saturday Hoffman is getting married and wants his tails back’ Another ending I remember Bernard Braden saying, which he uttered in a plaintive enquiring tone of voice was, ‘Girls, if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island with three handsome men, who would the other two be?’
    During these early days of the 1950’s in Britain, there was a continuation of a revival of Traditional Jazz music which had started in the late 1940’s when people like Humphrey Lyttelton and George Webb formed their own bands and became very successful. They were followed by other bands led by the likes of Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Mick Mulligan, Bob Wallis, Terry Lightfoot, Kenny Ball and Bernard (Acker) Bilk to name just a few. By this time I was a dedicated devotee of this brand of music. This was due to my brother Bernard who fell in love with Trad Jazz from an early age so much so that he became a trumpet player himself and formed his own Trad band. From him, I learned about jazz artists such as Bunk Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, George Lewis and the one and only, Louis Armstrong. One of the highlights of my later life was seeing Louis or Satchmo as he was lovingly called; when he gave a concert with his All Stars Band at London’s Earls Court in 1955. I was in heaven seeing and hearing this supreme artist who injected so much feeling into his music. I only have to hear a few notes emanating from his trumpet to know its Louie. His artistry and influence on the world of music were acknowledged and appreciated by musicians from all genres.
   To me, it matters not one iota what style or choice of music a musician performs. Like the written or spoken word, if the overall sound stirs one of the many emotions lying dormant within all of us, be it happiness, sadness, excitement, longing, melancholy, inspiring, hope, encouragement, then the writer, composer or performer have done their intended job.
--End of Part Twenty-Seven —

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 26

Part Twenty Six
     My decision to leave the American Embassy proved to be a good move because in January 1953 the ex General and Allied Supreme Commander during World War Two, Dwight David Eisenhower, was inaugurated as the new President of the United States of America. One of the first decisions his new administration made was to have a monetary purge by cutting back on staff levels at many of the US Embassies around the world. This drastic move included the Embassy in London where the last three people to join the communications department were made redundant. As I was one of those last three it was very fortuitous that I jumped ship before I was pushed.  Moving from working in Grosvenor Square, a modern upmarket area of London was quite different to working in the City of London, an older and more sedate area but one steeped in Banking history and world famous as the Financial Capital of the world.
   This was an area of London new to me and I enjoyed wandering around exploring such places as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument, Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street.  Shell had moved into St. Helen’s Court in 1914 and decided to make it their London Headquarters. It was quite an imposing building and I remember entering the marbled grand entrance of the building for the first time to be greeted by a very upright uniformed commissionaire. I also noted one of the walls proudly displayed a long roll of honour commemorating the names of all the Shell Personnel who had lost their lives during the First World War. 
    My daily journey to St Helen’s Court entailed travelling on the Underground Central Line from Greenford to Bank station and walking up Threadneedle Street into Bishopgate to St Helen’s Court and entering the Shell offices. Thus began the beginning of my long 36 year career with the company.  
     I was made very welcome by the existing staff members, both male and female, many of them, like me, having undergone TPO training in the services or at the Post Office. Our office was a bit ‘old fashioned’ in style and furniture. Discipline was strict as was the dress code. Men wore suits, ties, with polished shoes and the ladies, who had endured the wartime lack of choice in clothes due to the rationing, which ended in 1949, welcomed the new styles which were coming onto the scene and providing them with more choices but even then they still had to dress in, what was called, ‘a quiet, dignified and tasteful manner suitable for the office environment they were working in’
   Another of the Shell benefits available to all the staff was just a walk away from St. Helens Court. This was a large emporium called Houndsditch Warehouse. It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave displaying a vast array of household it items, all at greatly reduced prices.
      By this time in my life I was a uncle three times over. Brother Bernard and his wife Joan had a daughter who they named Valerie. This was followed by my sister Lily and husband Jack who had their first child, a boy was given the Welsh name of Gareth (Gary) due to Jack being a proud Welshman. The third arrival came when my eldest brother Bert and his wife Ethel followed Bernard and Joan by also having a daughter, given the name of Elaine.   
   The terrible tragedies which befell the country at the latter part of 1952 were to strike again on January 31st 1953 when the east coast of England was battered by hurricane force winds and high tides bringing devastation from Lincolnshire down as far as Kent. Hundreds were killed and thousands made homeless. One report said around 100 people in Canvey Island in Essex were drowned, 500 missing and
thousands were evacuated.  In Clacton, also in Essex, holiday chalets were swamped under 12 foot of water and people, due to sheer exhaustion, were falling from the rooftops into the floodwater. Another report said twelve American servicemen were among 60 drowned in Hunstanton in Norfolk and in neighbouring Suffolk boats were rowed into a church to rescue 40 trapped children.
   Serial killer John Christie was arrested and hanged at the Old Bailey charged with the murders of at least eight women, one of them being his wife. These killings he carried out at his home 10 Rillington Place in the London area of Notting Hill. All of the victims Christie buried in the garden of his home. This horrific and gruesome story made history and was made into a film (1971) where the part of Christie was portrayed by Richard Attenbough.
   Fortunately the year wasn’t all gloom and tragedy. On the sporting field one of Britain’s all time greatest footballers Stanley Matthew (later to become the first footballer to become a Knight) won his first winners medal in the Cup Final. In a thrilling match against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley Stadium, with Bolton leading 3-1 with only 20 minutes to go, Matthews turned on a display of such brilliance that Blackpool scored three more goals and finished as 4-3 winners. This virtuoso performance by Matthews was so outstanding that the match became for ever known as ‘The Matthews Final’
     Just as Matthews had never won a FA Cup winners medal before, the Champion Jockey for many years, Gordon Richards, had never won the Derby race before. So it was only fitting that he should share Matthews’s glory by finally winning his first Derby riding a horse called Pinza.  Just when we all thought you can’t beat that along came the English cricket team who not only dramatically beat the Aussies in  the final match at the Oval when golden boy Denis Compton hit the winning run, it also meant England had regained the Ashes after 19 years. Captain of Englandwas Yorkshire’s wonderful batsman Len Hutton who also made history by being the first professional cricket player to captain England.
   There was great joy amongst the children of Britain in 1953 when, for the second time since the war, all confectionary (chocolate and sweets) was taken of rationing and this time it stayed off.
   But the biggest event of the year occurred on June 2nd when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place. The ceremony in Westminster Abbey and the street processions before and afterwards were examples of Britain at its best. Despite the miserable rainy weather the sheer pomp, pageantry and splendour of this ancient tradition was watched with pride and fascination by thousands lining the route and millions more around the world due to the wonders of Television. My parents decided that, just as we had done during the war years with our Anderson Shelter, to invite our neighbours in but this time not to share our shelter in the back garden but our television set to watch this happy event, even though in those days the pictures were in black and white.
    One of the best remembered sights of that day was that of Queen Salote of Tonga, who captivated everyone with her big smile, despite her open carriage filling up with the rainwater!  The vast crowds outside Buckingham Palacewere cheering and waving Union Jacks as the newly crowned Queen and Prince Philip appeared six times on the balcony in acknowledgement and gratitude to them and the crowds   stayed outside waving and cheering even when the happy couple made their final appearance at midnight. The well known, and sometimes derided,  British reserve was cast to the wind as bowler hats on umbrella’s were waved, balloons were released and along the Thames Embankment fireworks zoomed off in the night sky creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours which was a fitting climax to an unforgettable day in our rich and proud history. Just when we thought nothing could surpass that historic day news came through that Mount Everest had finally been conquered. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing from Nepal, both members of Colonel John Hunt’s expedition team, had made it to the summit on May 29th.  The announcement of this historic news had been deliberately held back to make it a double celebration for the people on Coronation Day.
--End of Part Twenty Six -- 

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 25

Part Twenty Five
      Before the RAF introduced me to the world of Teleprinters I hardly knew anything about these machines. I certainly wasn’t aware of how much they were used in the world of communications, not just in the armed services but also in civilian life. Many men and women learnt the necessary skills through the training they received through the armed services but also in civilian life with companies such as the Post Office, Western Union, Commercial Cable Company, PQ. This quick way of communicating was also used by newspapers, banking and shipping companies. This was bought home to me and many of my colleagues when one of our colleagues at Northwood was demobbed and got a job at the American Embassy in London putting his Teleprinting skills to work and getting paid £7 per week, which in the 1950’s was a good wage. There was one subtle difference, the American system didn’t use Teleprinters as we know them, their machines were called Teletype machines which are different in design and layout but basically do the same thing and don’t pose any problems adapting to them.
   Upon learning this information I decided that when I was demobbed I would also apply for a job at the American Embassy in London.  This I subsequently did and was successful in being invited to the Embassy for an interview.
   Dressed in my best suit and hair beautifully Brylcreamed I marched through the portals of this smart modern building in Grosvenor Square and was ushered into a room where I faced my inquisitor. He was a very pleasant and polite man who had my job application form on his desk. He asked me various questions about my upbringing and interests. When I told him that in my youth I had been a member of the Boy’s Brigade he looked a bit startled. At this point I should inform you that this meeting was taking place in June 1952, a time when the threat of Communist spies infiltrating America was causing widespread panic and unrest. A prominent Senator by the name of Joseph McCarthy was conducting massive witch hunts throughout the country. So the fact that I had been in the Boys Brigade solicited this worrying question from my interviewer ‘What is this Boy’s Brigade, some kind of group activity to overthrow the Government’?   He had never heard of the organisation but when I explained it was no different to the Boy Scout movement he was placated. My application was accepted and I started working at the American Embassy in June 1952.  On reflection afterwards I thought it’s a good job I never mentioned the Mohawks, Zulus, Eskimos and the Hottentots at my interview!
   Once I had settled in at the Embassy I quickly adapted to the Teletype machines and I enjoyed the new working environment. We had a nice mixture of British operators backed up by some Americans handling all the clerical desk work.  I must say the Americans were very easy to work with and generous, dishing out goodies especially at Christmas when they surprised us all by coming into the wire room (the name for where the Teletype machines were located) loaded with cigarettes, chocolates, candies and a bottle or two of bourbon, gin, rum, beer, anything to ensure everyone had a very ‘Merry’ Christmas.  But surprisingly this job wasn’t to last long for me. This quick change came about because one of my new colleagues at the Embassy had previously worked for Shell in London and the stories he told me of how good a company they were to work for made me think. The reader will immediately think, if that is so then why on earth did he leave?  I’m afraid for the life of me I cannot recall the answer to that obvious question. All I can tell you for certain is that Shell offered free meals, sport facilities and best of all a very solid pension scheme. So, although I enjoyed my time at the Embassy I decided perhaps in the long run I would be better off with Shell so at the end of December 1952 I said ‘so long, it’s been good to know you’ to all my ‘buddies’ at the Embassy and joined the Shell Petroleum Company (as it was called in those days) at their London Headquarters in St. Helens Court, Bishopsgate.
---End of Part Twenty Five ---                                                                              

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 24


Part Twenty Four

   The year of 1951 also saw the Peak District being designated as Britain ’s first National Park. This was followed in the same year by the Lake District and Snowdon receiving National Park status. The man who bought Radar – Radio, Detection and Ranging - to the world, Sir Robert Watson-Watt was, quite rightly, awarded fifty thousand pounds in 1951 by a grateful Government. The whole world owes a massive debt to this Scotsman born 1892 in Brechin and died 1973 in Inverness .

   This was also the year when the Government abolished Identity Cards which for security reason had been introduced at the outbreak of the war in 1939. Cheese rationing was cut to one ounce per person per week but Tea rationing ended much to the delight of the whole nation. On July 5th Central London ’s last tram made its final journey from Woolwich to New Cross. I remember when as a small boy, being taken by my parents, on the trams when visiting my Mothers sister and family in Peckham.  Tram riding was a big novelty for me and my brothers on this noisy but reliable mode of transport.

    A shock came when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskill, announced there would be a Prescription charge for Dentures and Spectacles. This charge, which was in contradiction of the National Health pledge of free medical treatment, was said to be due to the financial demands relevant at the time. This surprise act upset Aneurin Bevan, the man who introduced the National Health Service in 1948, so much that he resigned his post as Minister of Labour in protest.

   Meanwhile in London’s West End Agatha Christie’s play ‘The Mousetrap’ starring  husband and wife team Richard Attenborough (later Lord Attenborough – 1923-2014) and Sheila Sim (1922-2016) opened at the Ambassadors theatre on November 25th1951  It switched to St. Martin’s theatre in 1974. Now, in 2017 over 66 years later, it is still running at St. Martins London, obviously not with the same actors and certainly not with the same cheese!

   The next year, 1952 started with a shock when on February 6th King George VI died peacefully in his sleep. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip quickly returned from their holiday in Kenya . The much loved King, who reluctantly became King when his brother King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, was King throughout the Second World War, died from lung cancer aged 56 lay in state in Westminster Hall where thousands of the general public paid their respects. He was buried on February 15th in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle .

   On March 28th 1952 the RAF decided the country could manage without me and I was duly released from my two years National Service and returned to Civvy Street . 

My parents were delighted and somewhat proud of the fact that all of their five children had served the country in the armed forces. My father had of course served in the Army throughout the First World War and somehow survived the horrors of the Western front.  My eldest brother Bert was next,  serving with the Eighth Army at El Alamein in the Middle East in World War Two, my Sister Lily joined the ATS and helped defend London by assisting on the Ack Ack guns, also throughout WW2, my next brother Bernard, who as a member of the Parachute Regiment was sent to Palestine during the troubles there in 1947, my brother David, who despite hating most of his time in the Army, at least did his National Service duty and lastly it was my turn to leave mother and home to complete the circle. Lily, David and I were lucky in so much as at least we didn’t get sent overseas to a war zone although I was extremely lucky not to be sent to Korea .  I remember my Dad saying no one could say our family hadn’t done their bit.

It was a bitter sweet moment when I was demobbed and had to leave all my friends at Northwood. You meet so many different characters and personalities, men and women from all sorts of backgrounds, with different standards and opinions, some not compatible with yours but others completely in harmony with your views. Of course this then makes it all the harder to say goodbye but there are many who you never really forget.  

    After a brief time at home I returned to my old job, shoe repairing at the Express Shoe Repairs shop in Greenford.  I found it difficult to settle back to this life again. My experience was nothing compared to thousands, even millions of those who had been away fighting overseas, many coming home traumatized with injuries, physical and mental, from their experiences whether on battlefields or as prisoners of war. The hardships and agonies they and their families endured trying to readjust to their earlier lifestyle, had become something foreign and never to be quite the same again. It certainly made me realise how lucky I was.  After a few weeks at the shop I spoke to my boss and told him how I felt. He said he fully understood my feelings and wouldn’t try to dissuade me if I wanted to leave. He wished me luck for the future and I left the world of cobbling behind, although I must say my ability to repair shoes was useful in my early days of marriage when money was a bit tight.

   The latter part of 1952 bought a series of disasters in Britain .  In August the people of Devon suffered when heavy rain broke the banks of East and West Lyn rivers. The flood water hit the resort of Lynmouth killing 36 people and forcing many others to leave their homes. The next month another tragedy struck when 28 spectators died when a prototype jet plane crashed at the Farnborough Air Show. As if that wasn’t enough the agony continued in October when 102 people died as a Perth to London express and a northbound train from Euston crashed into a stationary commuter train at Harrow and Wealdstone station. Finally in December we were subjected to dense fog which enveloped London . This ‘smog’ as it was called only lasted a few days but it was estimated that its noxious poisonous fumes indirectly killed around 4000 people, particularly the elderly.


---End of Part Twenty Four —

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 23

Part Twenty Three
   Another pleasant memory of Northwood I recall was the number of pretty WAAF’S stationed there. There was one particular girl who stood out as the most attractive and all the lads fancied her but fortunately for me, or perhaps it was just her good taste!, I was the lucky one she chose to take her out. The first date we had was when I took her to a party being held for one of our colleagues who was celebrating his birthday.
 Many at the party quite naturally over indulged in two many glasses of the old John Barleycorn, including my date, which induced a slightly muddled mind risking a lowering of defences and willpower.  But ever the true gentleman and not wishing to spoil any future dates I escorted her safely back to camp for which she was ever grateful.  Talking of drinking too much brings back another memory of Northwood and a man we had in our billet who took a drink from a bottle of beer before getting into bed and then another gulp or two upon awakening the next morning. 
   We were very fortunate at Northwood having a football pitch and I remember we also had two young cricketers also billeted on the camp. One was medium fast bowler Alan Moss who played for Middlesex and England and Jim Parks who followed his father, also Jim, into the Sussex team. Jim the younger was not only a brilliant batsman playing for England in over forty Test matches but later in his career he switched to being a wicket keeper where his natural athletic ability was given full reign. His sporting prowess also extended to football and I shall never forget the match we played when I played in goal, because no one else wanted to do the job. I was doing alright until I saw Jim Parks bearing down at great speed towards me with the ball firmly at his feet and the look of a man determined to score a goal. That was the moment when it dawned on me why nobody else wanted to be in goal. It would be nice to say I saved his shot at goal but alas the ball hit the back of the net before I could get anyway near it.  He was just a naturally gifted sportsman and a joy to watch.
     The camp also had a tennis court upon which, on our days off duty, my best pal and I many fought many a duel on. It was this same pal who, with me, had a bit of a shock in the summer of 1951 when we were sent on an exercise for a few days, along with a WAAF Corporal in charge of us, to of all places, the vast Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham. You can imagine the ribbing us two RAF lads received from the Sailors and Wrens stationed there. Every time we came into sight we were greeted with calls of ‘Here
come the ‘Brylcream boys’. For those of you unfamiliar with Brylcream, let me explain, it was a very popular hair cream for men, widely advertised, and because the makers of the product sometimes used male models, who were dressed in smart RAF uniforms to increase their sales, it became normal practice amongst the general public to use that phrase whenever any RAF personnel passed by.  After a while we got used to the comment and quite enjoyed it when it came from one of the Wrens.  
      We were very well treated at Chatham and were a little sorry when the four day exercise finished and it was time for us to return to camp. The WAAF Corporal in charge of us told us to make our own way back to camp. Now as it happened, my pal lived near Wimbledon and this was the time when the annual Wimbledon Tennis Championship was in full swing so we decided this was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. So with our hair gleaming with Brylcream we headed for the Mecca of Tennis.
   I remember walking into these hallowed grounds for the first time and marvelling at the pristine condition of the grass courts. There was a feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air of what was in store for the spectators. We watched an American player called Art Larsen arriving for a practice knock up on one of the many outside courts. What surprised us was that as he approached the baseline he was not only smoking but he threw down his lighted cigarette just behind the baseline and proceeded to practice as if this was normal practice. Apparently he was an inveterate smoker but this didn’t impair his tennis ability. He made it through to the quarter finals before being knocked out. The respective winners that year were two Americans; Dick Savitt winning the Men’s title and Doris Hart the Ladies.  We were also lucky in seeing another great American player named, Budge Patty beat Swedish player Sven Davidson in an exciting match.
   Seeing Wimbledon for the first time was something I’ve never forgotten and in all my subsequent years watching this so British traditional spectacle on television brings back those fond memories from 1951.  Unfortunately we were enjoying our visit so much that we slightly overstayed our visit. The end result was that it took us longer than we thought to get back to camp. Our late arrival time back was duly recorded and the next day our Warrant Officer summoned us to his office enquiring as to the reason for our lateness. We meekly apologised and somehow talked ourselves out of it but it was a close call.
   ---End of Part Twenty Three---

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 22

Part Twenty Two
   The UK received quite a shock in 1951 when it was announced that two Foreign Office diplomats, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had been under surveillance by the Intelligence Services as suspected spies got wind of it and fled to Soviet Russia. Meeting at Cambridge University some years earlier, along with Kim Philby, they were all deeply involved in espionage, holding very left wing views of western democracy and passing secrets to the Russians. 
      By this time in my life I had passed my exams at Compton Basset and as a fully trained Teleprinter Operator (TPO) was posted to HQ Coastal Command at RAF Northwood, Middlesex. Naturally I was pleased but at the same time sorry to leave some of the other trainees.  One particular fellow I remember was a chap named Jim Kelly. The reason for this was that when our postings came through he was posted to RAF Jurby which is in the Isle Of Man. This raised a laugh because there is an old song which starts with the words ‘Has anybody here seen Kelly, K-E-Double LY’ and ends with ‘Kelly from the Isle of Man’. Obviously someone in the postings office had a sense of humour when seeing Jim’s surname.    For me RAF Northwood was a blessing, being near Greenford I could easily pop home on my days off. I remember the day those of us from Compton Basset arrived at Northwood and being confronted by a young fresh faced Officer who enquired ‘where are you chaps from’?  Upon hearing that we were Teleprinter Operators (T.P.O’s) from Compton Basset his face lit up and in a burst of unrestrained pleasure exclaimed ‘Oh, T.P.O’s from Compton Basset, Oh, jolly good show chaps’. You can imagine for days afterwards we ‘chaps’ were going around enquiring of each other ‘Where are you chaps from? and the enthusiastic reply which followed, each time uttered with more enthusiasm and additions like ‘Wizard Prang’ or ‘Chocks away’ sometimes added for good measure.
 Our Signals office was based underground on the camp and due to us working shift hours we were billeted in a separate building situated in a field a mile down the road from the camp. This enabled us to come off a night shift and get some sleep away from the hustle and bustle of life on the camp.  .
Our special billet had beds, a coal fuelled boiler in the middle of the room, a kitchen with some basic cooking facilities and bathroom.  There was a regular bus service from Watford which transported us to and from the camp. Being away from the camp in a field allowed us plenty of freedom for a kick around with a football. We had a radio in our billet and I remember we all crowded around the set one glorious night, July 10th 1951, to be precise, and listened to the commentary of a boxing match when  British fighter Randolph Turpin shook the world by beating the ‘invincible!’ American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, one of the greatest boxers of all time, over ten pulsating rounds and became the World Middleweight Champion. Unfortunately Turpin’s triumph didn’t last long because in the return fight, held in New York later that year, Robinson got his revenge and regained his title. 
 My time spent at Northwood was the best part of my National Service. Although I came from a fairly large family, three brothers and a sister, plus spending much of my teenage days mixing with other boys in the Boys Brigade the experience of meeting and mixing with new people, men and women, with completely different backgrounds and accents was for me a wonderful learning curve.  I loved to hear the different accents. It mattered not to me whether the speaker was from any of the regions of England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland (or even Kelly from the Isle of Man!)  I was fascinated, so much so that over the years, I have tried, with some success at times, to imitate some of these different accents. My two biggest successes came when someone said my attempt at a Scottish accent was ‘more Scottish than Angus Mactavish’ (not his real name but I won’t divulge his real identity).  On another occasion, I had to telephone a Senior Officer to give him an important message. My call was answered by his Irish wife who informed me he was out. As she couldn’t quite understand my normal accent I asked her if she might understand me better if I attempted to read the message in an Irish accent. She replied ‘Oh, yes please sir, that would be lovely’  So, bravely or foolishly, off I went in my best Irish brogue without once saying ‘Begorrah, a’tall, a’tall’  Anyway she said she understood it all and would pass it on to her husband Seamus.  I never did find out if Seamus understood it or even got the message a’tall a’tall. 
---End of Part Twenty Two—

Read more →

Ivor's Insights Part 21

Part Twenty One
   In May 1950 petrol rationing finally ended after 10 years. People were tearing up their petrol rationing books and dancing around their cars. The Whitsun weekend of wonderful weather saw thousands take to the roads in celebration. The next month, in typical Government fashion, they put up the price of petrol to three shillings a gallon.
The first self-service shop in Britain opened in Croydon, south London in June 1950. Sainsbury’s described this type of shopping as ‘Q-less shopping’ meaning shopping without waiting in line to be served.  Part of the aftermath of the war was a shortage of labour but fortunately this problem was greatly eased by the thousands of immigrants from the Commonwealth countries, particularly from the West Indies , who had been coming over since 1948. By the mid fifties figures showed up to three thousand per month were arriving seeking work and a new life in the UK .
   Sadly there were some famous people who died in 1950, this included authors Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell the writer of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ fame, and George Bernard Shaw, who’s book ‘Pygmalion’ inspired the musical ‘My Fair Lady’.  At least Shaw took the advice of Scottish singer and comedian, Sir Harry Lauder who advocated everyone to ‘Keep right on to the end of the Road’, and lived to 94. Unfortunately Sir Harry couldn’t heed his own advice, and died aged 77.  
   On the sporting scene we saw American Budge Patty win the men’s single title at Wimbledon whilst fellow American Louise Brough took the Ladies Trophy for the third year running. Arsenal won the F.A. Cup. The golf Open championship was won by South African Bobby Locke for the second year running.  The Grand National was won by Freebooter and the Derby saw a horse named Galcador first past the post.
   Whilst there were many popular films being released such as All about Eve, Sunset Boulevard and King Solomon’s Mines,  Radio was still king in most homes with favourites like Variety Bandbox, Dick Barton – Special Agent-  Life with the Lyons (this programme starred Americans Bede Daniels, her husband Ben Lyon with their two children Barbara and Richard). Bede and Ben had endeared themselves to the British public during the Second War by not rushing back to the luxury and safety of their American home, choosing to stay in London throughout the frightening days of the Blitz, putting out a weekly comedy radio programme called Hi Gang which did a lot to raise morale.
   King George VI opened the restored House of Commons, which had been destroyed in an Air raid in 1941. Whilst on a completely different plane, three generations of the Bowler family attended a celebration to mark the centenary of the Bowler Hat.  
The BBC transmitted TV pictures live across the Channel from France for the first time on August 27th when a two-hour programme was sent from Calais to Dover and relayed on to London. There was only a single, two-second break during the whole transmission and reception was reported to be very good.
   In 1951 another record was set when Britain ’s first jet bomber, the Canberra , crossed the Atlantic to Canada in a time of 4 hours 40 minutes. On a completely different ‘plane’ in Scotland, the Stone of Scone,which had gone ‘missing’ from Westminster Abbey, was found in an abandoned Abbey near Forfar, Arbroath after a 107-day search.  
   The big event of the year was the Festival of Britain. This was held to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. As before, London was of course the main focal point but it was also celebrated, albeit in a much smaller way, throughout the country. Although the King was unwell at the time, he still accompanied Queen Elizabeth to the opening ceremony on May 4th. Despite the austerity, which still existed in Britain , the event was a showpiece for British Industry, Art and Design. It also raised the spirits of the people and gave them hope for a brighter future. Twenty-seven acres of derelict bomb weary scarred land on London ’s South Bank was transformed for the exhibition. There was a Dome of Discovery and floating, floodlit above all of this, like an exclamation mark in aluminium, was the Skylon. This structure had no visible means of support, which prompted one wag to wryly observe that it ‘symbolised Britain ’ at that time.
   By the time the Festival closed in September figures show that around eight and half million people had visited this innovative morale boosting spectacle. One building,  The Royal Festival Hall, was designated as the only permanent structure and it’s pleasing to record that, even today it still serves as a very popular venue for many entertaining functions. As well as working right next door to it for many years afterwards I also visited it many times including once sneaking in without a ticket (they were sold out and it was the only way I could get in to see the Chris Barber Jazz Band with special guest, American Blues and Folk Singer, Big Bill Broonzy, (that’s another story)  Down river at Battersea Park a kaleidoscope of colour in the guise of a giant fun fair was awaiting the thousands who flocked there to forget the years of austerity and rationing for a few hours and enjoyed a breath of fresh air, laughter and freedom.
   The General Election in October 1951 saw the youngest ever Tory candidate enter the contest. Her name was Margaret Roberts, who later made a bit of a name for herself as Margaret Thatcher and later Lady Thatcher. This election also marked the return to power of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister.
   Another big event which occurred in October 1951 was when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip undertook a tour of Canada on behalf of her father, King George VI who was too ill to travel. The Princess and the Prince flew to Montreal and embarked on their tour taking in around 60 cities and towns travelling by train, aircraft and even naval vessels. Everywhere they went they were greeted by vast welcoming crowds.
---End of Part Twenty One--- 

Read more →