Category Archives: Personal

Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (4)

The author of the following poem which appeared in the Nottinghamian of December 1940 was Robert Norman Walters of VI Classics. Robert was the son of a “Master Fruiterer” and lived at 159 Cinder Hill Road in Bulwell. He was in the High School from 1930-1941. The winter of 1940-1941 was legendary for its severity and was excellent practice for anybody thinking of taking a winter break in Stalingrad a couple of years later.

SNOW

Snow shall fall and ice

Shall bind the lane in slithering shields

Of white and whitish blue.

Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run

When snow shall whirl and swirl

And formless roofs gleam white.

Yet when this comes,

Let our strong, deep affections

Unfrozen, freeze not.

But with winter seen afar

Retain the burning heat

Of mid-June’s torrid air.

Robert left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics. In the section of his poem :

“Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run”

Robert has come remarkably near the words of Wace, who was possibly Robert Wace, a Norman poet, born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy.

Wace was the first author to speak of the Round Table and the Court of King Arthur :

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I say and will say that I am

Wace from the Island of Jersey”

Wace lived, approximately, from 1100-1180.

James Theodore Lester was the son of a Leather Factor & Manufacturer who lived at 42 Bedale Road in Sherwood and then at Castleton House at 5 Castle Avenue in Arnold. The poem occasionally struggles for a rhyme, but the last verse is lovely.

“When I was six”

“When I was six I’d play at boats

And build a fort with many moats

Which I’d replenish with my pail

And put my little boats to sail.

 

 

Round and round and round they’d go

Till the water ceased to flow.

Then back home I would repair

And sit upon my rocking chair.

 

When it was time to go to bed,

Upon the pillow I’d put my head,

And think and dream of things I’d done,

And call the day a happy one.

 

We’ve already seen Frank Alan Underwood of 51 Charnock Avenue in Wollaton Park with his poem ““Evacuated”. This poem is a lot deeper and a lot more chilling. It was published in April 1943.

THE MIRROR

The dead man lay upon his bed

In the pause at dawn ere the Soul had fled,

And the Lamp burned dim as the East glowed red.

The Soul rose as the man had done

For twenty years at the beck of the sun:

But as yet it knew not that Death had won.

Then still as man and not aware

It looked in the mirror to brush its hair

–Looked in the mirror and found nothing there.

Ivan Keith Doncaster wrote a poem in The Nottinghamian in March 1937 which was pretty good:

 

THE FISHPOND

There’s a fishpond in our garden,

Not very big or wide ;

But fish just love to dart about,

Among the rocks inside.

And if you sit there on the bank,

You’ll see a sudden flash—

A big fat frog has just dived in,

And made a dreadful splash.

 

The frightened fish swim swiftly round

In search of safe retreat,

The frog looks at the golden line,

And croaks his sad defeat.

When ice seals up our gold-fish pond,

Neath winter’s frozen spell ;

We just catch golden gleams below,

To tell us all is well.

 

In summer when the fountain plays,

And sends forth silver rain,

The fish all frolic in great glee,

As cooling showers they gain.

 

We feed the fish with large ant eggs,

And when the days are warm

They jump to catch the flitting flies

Which o’er the pond do swarm.

 

Some happy moments there we spend,

Watching the fish at play ;

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter too,

They move in swift array.

 

Ivan Keith Doncaster only lived from 1923-1944 but he had already succeeded in the previous year in writing the most beautiful piece of poetry by any High School boy, bar none. It summarises how much we love our oh-so-beautiful lives, yet all the time are well aware of the price we will all one day pay as the distant bells toll our inevitable doom.

Keith paid his price in the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster over the German city of Kassel on October 22nd 1943, five days after his 20th birthday.

This poem appeared in April 1936 and had Keith lived, he would have been a great poet. He has a masterful touch and is capable of the most astonishing subtlety.

GATHERING SHELLS

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

I have read that poem literally hundreds of times and I do not even begin to tire of it.

 

 

 

 

 

19 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Literature, My Garden, My House, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Wildlife and Nature

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Four)

As we found with Volume 3, things moved at a rather slow pace for the publication of Volume 4, but you will be pleased to hear that it has finally made its appearance, detailing 25 of the High School’s casualties in World War II.

Don’t think, incidentally, that we were running out of steam. As I mentioned last time, all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

Indeed, Volume 4 contains the detailed story of “Watty” Watson, the Battle of Britain fighter pilot who would die, it was alleged by his colleagues in 152 Squadron, the victim of Irish saboteurs in the parachute packing plant.

This volume, therefore, portrays not just the terrible excitement of World War II, but the backgrounds of these 25 young men who died fighting it. Their families, their houses, their school years with Masters very different from those of today:

You can read about their boyhood hobbies, their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. And all of this is related against the background of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city almost completely different from that of today.

That is not to say, of course, that you will not find all the details of the conflicts in which these young men fought and the circumstances in which they met their deaths. On occasion, particularly in the case of the more peculiar training accidents, I have even attempted to find explanations for events. Most details of this kind were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research.

In this volume, you will meet the ON who was killed trying to defend Liverpool at night in a Boulton Paul Defiant night-fighter:

The ON shot down over West Norfolk by Oberleutnant Paul Semrau of the Fernnachtjagd:

The ON who flew his Vickers Wellington straight into the cold waters of Tremadog Bay in North Wales, for no apparent reason:

The ON who worked for the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying American bombers across the Atlantic:

The ON who left his jacket hanging in the School Archives, where it still hangs today. Alas, it may look as if it is waiting for its owner to come in, a laughing, jovial, chubby middle aged man, who will boast that his school cricket blazer still fits him, but who will be sadly disappointed when he takes it off the hanger and realises just how thin he was back in the day.

Alas, he sleeps now in Tobruk Cemetery:

Another ON perished trying to cross the River Volturno in Italy. He and his colleagues were prevented, temporarily, from so doing by the Hermann Göring Division and the 15th Panzergrenadiers.

The ON whose Whitley bomber crossed the North Sea on a bombing mission only to be hit by anti-aircraft fire and crash, as my researches have discovered, on a hillside near Hüffe Farm south of the village of Lashorst, near the small town of Preußisch Oldendorf in North Rhine-Westphalia, nineteen miles east-north-east of Osnabrück and almost midway between that city and Hannover:

The ON in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place, the Bomb Dump at RAF Graveley, which stored the bombs for the missions of an entire squadron over, at least, a number of days. The time, five seconds before it all blew up.

The ON who fought with the SAS, the Special Air Service and then the SBS, the Special Boat Service. The SAS still do not know how he died.

The ON whose family owned and traded under the name of “Pork Farms”:

The ON, a young man whose “fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”  Alas, six years later, he was one of the day’s casualties “laid out on the ground in front of the church wall” in Hérouville,  as the Allies fought hard to clear another of the many little villages  in Normandy.

And finally, the ON who was a history lecturer at Glasgow University, but who, in October 1941, thought it was his duty to give lectures to the ordinary troops in the North African and Mediterranean theatres about why we are fighting and the world after the war. Backwards  and forwards he criss-crossed the area time and again. And the ordinary men lapped it up. They were so happy that a university lecturer who didn’t need to be there had come to see them and to explain the politics of the day.

And don’t forget, our history writing motto still remains:

“No tale is left untold. No anecdote is ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

 

 

 

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, military, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

November 14th 1960, Derby County 1 Norwich City 4

Apparently, when I was a baby and then a toddler, my Dad used to take me to see the local football team play. They were called Gresley Rovers, and their ground, the Moat Ground, was in Moat Street, Church Gresley, a little village in South Derbyshire. Here’s their stadium in 1972:

I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember my first match watching Derby County, a team who were in Division 2 at the time.

They used to play at the Baseball Ground, so-called because unsuccessful efforts had been made to introduce this popular American sport here around 1900. The stadium was surrounded by thousands of Victorian terraced houses. They’ve moved since then:

The game was on Monday, November 14th 1960. They were playing Norwich City, the Canaries, and so-called because they played in yellow shirts. This was the first step in a journey which I finally called a halt to in 1997, tired of my money being taken for very little worth watching.

I did a little bit of research about that Norwich game recently. The Derby team was:

Adlington, Barrowcliffe, Conwell, Mike Smith, Upton, Curry, Fagan, Swallow, Hutchinson, Parry, Hall.

I have not been able to trace the Norwich team, yet, although the Norwich manager was Archibald Macauley.

The game was a League Cup, third round game, and here is the cover of the programme:

Later, I wrote the score on the cover. Derby County gave me some sublime highs, but they certainly made you pay, both with your cash, but worse than that, with your hopes:

Inside the programme were the teams, with the players expected to play:

And here is the Norwich City team, with the players expected to play:

Nobody in these teams is famous nowadays, at least, not outside their own club. The programme contained pen-pictures of the visiting players. These three were selected as being typical of the fifteen or so in the programme. The thought to carry with you is that, for  John Richards,  Bobby Brennan or Derrick Lythgoe, this could have been the greatest moment of their lives:

There was a League Division 2 table, providing a check on how well the 22 clubs were doing:

The abbreviations Utd, A, O, T, T,C stand for “United”, “Argyle”, “Orient”, “Town”, “Town” and “City”.

The intervening 61 years have not treated all of the teams above very well. There were also lists of the leading goal scorers in each division.

Brian Clough, of Middlesbrough, would one day become manager of both Derby County and their local rivals, Nottingham Forest. He led them to unbelievable glories. Today, a statue has been put up to him in Nottingham:

The programme also contained the results of past matches that season.

And finally, there were the advertisements, often for rather strange things, given that the spectators had all gathered to watch a football match:

Although you might want to fly to Luxembourg after watching your team lose 4-1 !!

Now here’s a trip back in aviation history !

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

 

19 Comments

Filed under Derby County, Football, History, Personal

Famous Adverts of Filmland (2)

Last time I talked about the American magazines which appeared in Albert Taylor’s newsagent’s shop from time to time during the early 1960s. They all had one thing in common. They had advertisements for what we all thought were rather bizarre products which were largely unobtainable in England. On the other hand, had a lorry arrived in our village, full of “Crawling Hands”, we would have been fighting each other for the chance to purchase this amazing toy for only $4.95, plus an extremely reasonable 50c for postage and handling:

Wow and double wow!! It walks across the room and the ring on the third finger sheds light over the floor. What a bargain.  I wondered how much $5.45 in 1960 might be worth today. Well, it’s between $45-$50. In English money, that’s around £34-£37. I repeat. What a bargain!

I’m not so sure about the next one though.  A whistle for dogs?

What kind of trick is that? You can’t hear it but the dog can? What rubbish. How do you know if it works?

And how will you know the dog has heard it if he is habitually disobedient? And why should he obey a whistle that you cannot hear when he can pretend he hasn’t heard it and you are none the wiser?? He’ll just carry on in the same old way and you’ve wasted your money.

This is a much better product. While my friends join the Boy Scouts, I can put on my black mask and become a member of the Judean People’s Front, or perhaps the Judean Popular People’s Front, or even the Popular Front of Judea.

What have the Romans ever done for us ? “Romanes eunt domus“:

As an adult, I can see now that the majority of the adverts appeal, for the most part, to two categories of customer. The first category is that of the person who is perhaps less intelligent, shall we say? He does not know the names of the simplest dinosaurs. He needs pictures to distinguish between a cave BEAR and a Giant BIRD, or between a GIANT WOOLLY MAMMOTH and a thirteen inch long JUNGLE SWAMP :

In the intelligent section of the magazine, however, much more technical language is used. And if you’re intelligent enough to know what a Styracosaurus is, you’ll definitely want one with a wind up motor :

It isn’t the most intelligent kind of person, though, who will pay money for an authentic fingerprint kit, but is unaware that it will be completely useless without access to the FBI fingerprint database and three years at Police College:

Other adverts just offer products for customers who want to frighten people. They want to scare the living daylights out of the last few friends they have. Perhaps they’ll do it with a monster fly:

They’d like a mask that makes them look like their movie heroes:

Or, the only full colour advert that I could find, a zombie mask:

Presumably, they will wear their mask with their eyeball cufflinks:

And what a slogan.

“NO–THEY’RE NOT REAL, BUT THEY LOOK LIKE IT !

Surely that has a future with a publicity hungry plastic surgeon. It’s certainly better than this excessively subtle 1950s ad :

I borrowed that advert from a website which boasts 39 more. Take a look. It certainly shows how attitudes towards women have altered over the years.

Or have they?

24 Comments

Filed under Criminology, Film & TV, History, Humour, My House, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

Famous Adverts of Filmland (1)

In our little village in the early 1960s, all of the various American magazines which appeared from time to time in Albert Taylor’s newsagent’s shop had one thing in common. They had advertisements for products which were largely unobtainable in England. I don’t know if this was in the aftermath of World War II or because of rationing, but none of the shops around where we lived had giant monster feet for sale, and neither did they have giant inflatable snakes.

If truth be told, very few of these American adverts had any relevance to our lives in a grey Midlands mining village. They showed us television programmes we could not watch. We had never seen “Land of the Giants”, still less his snake, and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, “Star Trek”, “Lost in Space”, all of these were still in a distant future. Well, four years or so in the future:

Furthermore, nobody I knew had the money for a film projector, still less the facilities to accommodate a “Killer Gorilla”:

Mind you, I would have been pretty happy to have received an astronaut space suit, even if no size is mentioned at any point. Just look at the blurb:

“Elastic air compression chambers run the entire length of both arms and legs and along the sides of the body. These chambers are easily inflated with any hand pump or gas station air pump through the three air hoses and air lock valves.”

Wow! Elastic air compression chambers !! And three air hoses !!!

And only a limited number available. How many’s “a limited number”? Four million?

 

Some of the things advertised you absolutely could not live without, of course. Just take a look at this radio.  And what does that mean?……..“It does not connect to any source of power”.

Beyond the usual claims, of course, the radio may even be useful during a nuclear war:

“In the event of a power failure the GERMANIUM RADIO will allow you to hear the news & civil defense broadcasts”.

Wow !!No Dirty Commie’s ever going to creep up on you.

Finally, my favourites. The first is the official make up kit, as used by Olivia de Havilland in “Gone with the Wind”:

If you follow soccer, you’ll recognise the man in the mirror as Arturo Vidal who used to play in midfield for Juventus, Bayern Munich  and FC Barcelona and has now moved on to Inter Milan.

My second favourite is a handy inflatable ten foot plastic snake:

And most of all, back to the days of the Raj with your very own pith helmet. It’s never too late to revive the British Empire:

Mind you, if you do want to revive gin and tonics on the verandah, you may want to buy one of these. A snip at the price at $19.95.

Just look at the address you have to write to, if you want a live monkey. It’s Grand Central Station, New York. I bet if you paid a little bit extra for a clever one, he’d catch the train, get off in your town and then walk round to your house.

15 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Personal, Writing

What would you do ? (10) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle.

It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation, as always, explained in the coloured box:

So, you’ve finally been promoted to Rear-Admiral in the US Navy, and you are in charge of a squadron of ships in the Pacific Ocean. It is World War Two and you have just spotted an enemy fleet on the horizon in the growing darkness. They are on their way to invade a nearby island.

You MUST attack but the Japanese fleet has greater fire-power than you have and your chances of defeating it seem slim. What orders would you give, as you sail in to attack?

And the answer is on page 2 and here it is:

So, you order your squadron to manœuvre as per the diagram on the back of my packet of cigarettes. Steaming in the dark, the Japanese suddenly found the head of their column confronted by the American squadron broadside.  The Americans were able to bring all their guns to bear, while the Japanese were only able to fire forward, with their foremost ships. Outgunned , the Japs fled.

Well, well, well. How many of you got that one correct? I know I didn’t. Certainly the most difficult one so far.

 

29 Comments

Filed under cricket, Film & TV, History, Humour, Literature, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

What would you do ? (10) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

This is issue No 18 which came out on May 25th 1963. This was the day that the idea of amateur and professional players in cricket was abolished—and rightly so. It was also the Saturday when Mike Myers was born:

In 1965 it was the day when Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round of their world heavyweight title rematch in Lewiston, Maine:

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here he is again:

And here’s this particular front cover:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. This time, there’s a white circle  to worry about,which explains that the Japanese ships are in two columns.

Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

And in case you are reading this box through a glass, darkly, or perhaps you are colour blind, there is some good news for you. You’ve been promoted to Rear-Admiral in the US Navy, and you are in charge of a squadron of ships in the Pacific Ocean. It is World War Two and the last rays of daylight have just lit up an enemy fleet on the horizon. They are on their way to invade a nearby island.

You know that you MUST attack but the Japanese fleet has greater fire-power than your own and your chances of defeating it in a straight fight seem slim. What orders would you give, as you sail in to attack?

And don’t cheat by asking an expert!!!

For what it’s worth, my squadron will switch all their lights off, and then join onto the two Japanese lines. Our two front ships will torpedo their back two ships. Then our next to front ships will torpedo their next to back ships, and so on, until  we have sunk the lot. Then I will be writing to the Head of the US Navy to tell him that we need more than one torpedo per boat.

 

 

24 Comments

Filed under cricket, Film & TV, History, Humour, Literature, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

Famous Monsters of Filmland (2)

I thought I’d cheer you all up with a few more covers from the American  horror film magazine from the 1960s called “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. There was nothing subtle about them. Here’s Boris Karloff, real name William Pratt, as “The Mummy”:

And here’s the long forgotten film star Duncan ‘Dean’ Parkin in the long forgotten film, “The War of the Colossal Beast”:

They’re all here. King Kong. And tonight, it’s Kentucky Fried Pterodactyl. Save me a wing :

And here’s Lon Chaney senior in the silent film of “The Phantom of the Opera”, still the best version to watch:

And here’s the little Martian guy from “War of the Worlds”, and I don’t mean Tom Cruise. This is the 1953 version, one of my favourite sci-fi films ever, produced by George Pal, one of my favourite sci-fi directors ever:

This is a very stylised cover based on the film “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man” Note the damsel in distress and her gravity defying bosoms:

Having said that, it is arguable that the magazine cover does no more than echo the feel of the original film poster:

In a strange twist the two protagonists are played by Lon Chaney junior (the original Wolf Man, and completely expected) and Bela Lugosi (playing Frankenstein’s monster, an incredible piece of irony, given that Lugosi rejected the chance to be Frankenstein’s monster in the original film and let Boris Karloff take the role. Apparently, the monster wasn’t worthy of his acting talents).

Here are two wonderful Wolf Men (or Werewolves, or perhaps even Werewolfs). (Or even Wolf People). They look as if some buffoon has put them through the wrong cycle in the washing machine. This is the first one:

And here’s his younger brother. What a strange dental arrangement:

Here’s “The Monster from the Black Lagoon”, wishing he’d never used that cheap moisturising cream  :

This cover is about the silent film that does not exist any more in its fullest form, “London after Midnight”. It is available only in a reconstructed version. It looks like it’s back to strange dental arrangements again:

Not all of the artwork is good. Here’s a daubed Frankenstein, painted with a brush big enough to clean the garage out with:

Only the covers of the magazines are in colour, but there are some very striking black and white photographs inside. I have chosen some characters from my favourite horror films, the old 1930s Universal productions:

Here’s Doctor Pretorius. The man with all the best lines:

His toast:    “To a new world of gods and monsters! “

And:     “Do you like gin? It’s my only weakness. “

And:   “Have a cigar – they’re my only weakness! “

And then, in the mausoleum when the Frankenstein monster makes a sudden unexpected appearance:

“And I thought I was alone!”

And here’s the studio where Godzilla trashes Tokyo on a daily basis. Occasionally his Monkey Mate, King Kong, comes along to help him. The original film, “King Kong v Godzilla”, of course, was voted “Best Film for a late night beer drinking session” for eighteen consecutive years:

And finally, John Cleese’s entry in the Christmas Competition at the Ministry of Silly Werewolves:

 

 

 

30 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Personal, Writing

Famous Monsters of Filmland (1)

When I was a little boy of ten or eleven, I used to go up the road to the shop which sold newspapers and magazines to see if anything new had come in. One day, the proprietor, Albert Taylor, had taken delivery of some recently arrived American magazines called “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. In 1963, they were absolutely amazing from a ten year old’s point of view.

They allowed me to meet people I had never encountered before. Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein in the Universal film of 1935, one of the very few sequels better than its original:

I met Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in 1931, with his wonderful line of “I never drink….. wine.”  and  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! ”

Here’s the werewolf who, in 1961, barked at the postman and chased cars in “The Curse of the Werewolf”:

There were also more recent monsters such as Gorgo, who I later found out was, more or less, the British Godzilla:

Here is the demon from “Night of the Demon”, a film from 1957, which certainly spent most of its life in the UK at least, banned completely, as being too horrific even for the censor to watch:

Occasionally, some of the magazines actually featured a compilation of all the monsters. Can you find Christopher Lee, or Claude Rains in this one? Lon Chaney Senior? More difficult to find is Fredric March:

I was actually quite disappointed when I eventually found out that only the cover of the magazine was in colour. This was because the majority of the films inside the magazine had been made in black and white.

In actual fact, the black and white photographs could still be very striking. Here’s Boris Karloff and Una O’Connor waiting for a bus:

Or what about this wonderful shot from “The Bride of Frankenstein” ?:

To finish with, look at Boris Karloff’s spiritual son, Christopher Lee. In this shot, Lee was playing Kharis, the muddiest boy ever to lose his mummy. See how Tommy Cooper on the left is still working on one of his magic tricks:

Who’s Tommy Cooper? Never  heard of him? Well you have a treat in store:

I hope you watched Tommy Cooper. He could make statues laugh. He actually died of a heart attack on stage and people laughed because they thought it was part of the act.

24 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Personal

My Dad, Fred, and the Hollywood cinema of yesteryear

When he was a little boy, perhaps around ten or twelve years of age, around 1933, my Dad, Fred along with some friends, walked the mile or so to nearby Swadlincote, to go to the cinema. Here is the cinema:

That’s not the best of views, so here is the “Empire” but in later years:

Swadlincote has always had two cinemas but never at the same time. The sequence is usually

Cinema 1 open

Cinema 1 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 2 open

Cinema 2 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 1 is reopened by over-optimistic idiot

Cinema 1 goes bust

Cinema 2 is eventually reopened by another over-optimistic idiot

And so on

Anyway, Fred and his pals, all around ten to twelve years old, weren’t there to see any old film. They were there to see Boris Karloff in “The Mummy”, one of the most frightening horror films of that decade. Feeling extremely brave, they sneaked in and settled down, waiting to be frightened:

Fred was not, of course, like the modern child, immured to fear by hour after hour of relentless television, and he came out chilled to the core by Karloff, completely terrified by the whole film. And so did the rest of them.

There could be no sharper contrast, however, than that between this Karloff chiller and Fred’s favourite, and funniest, Laurel and Hardy film. The latter was “Fra Diavolo”, which, again, he would have seen at the cinema in Swadlincote:

One other tiny detail that I can remember my Dad supplying, which must have come from this era, was how, when watching silent films at the cinema, however old you were, you were expected to read the words of the dialogue for yourself. Nobody would help you. If you asked for assistance, you would be told contemptuously, “Learn to read !”

Overall, Fred must have been very interested in the cinema. His collection of old magazines, kept for thirty or more years in the glass fronted bookcase in the front room of his parents’ house, contained ones which featured German expressionist cinema of the 1920s, including both Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”. The stills featured included Rotwang’s house, Maria the Robot and the somnambulist Conrad Veidt carrying his victim high above the rooftops.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On one occasion, Fred was actually able to meet a real, genuine Hollywood star. Just after the war ended, he was in Brighton for some long forgotten reason. He decided to visit a very distant cousin who worked in a local cinema, and who may well have been one of the Sussex branch of the Knifton family.

At the time, this particular cinema was the centre of all attention, as it was being visited by Charles Laughton, the world famous English and Hollywood film actor. Laughton was there to give a little publicity to one of his less famous films, a rather unloved feature entitled “The Beachcomber”, made with his then wife Elsa Lanchester in 1938. All of the cinema employees lined up to meet their famous guest, and Fred, at the urgent bidding of his cousin, joined on to the very end of the line, thereby managing, eventually, to shake hands with the great man:

Years earlier, of course, Fred had watched the inimitable Laughton in the 1933 film, “The Private Life of Henry VIII”. In common with countless thousands of other cinema goers, he had particularly vivid memories of the greedy king eating a whole chicken with his bare hands, and then throwing bits of meat and bone over his shoulder to the waiting hounds:

Who said that table manners were a thing of the past?

But, please be aware. Restaurants of all types seem to frown on throwing bits of meat and bone over your shoulder, and there are very seldom any waiting hounds to tidy up the mess.

19 Comments

Filed under Africa, History, Humour, Literature, Personal, Science