Category Archives: 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.

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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.

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

What would you do ? (9) 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 in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out 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 has been called “A dilly of a pickle”.

Here’s the situation:

And here’s the Orange Box, still awaiting the result of the paternity test:

For what it’s worth, I haven’t got a clue, but I do have a Page Two where the answer is given for all and sundry:

So there we are. Take your boots and socks off. Tie them to your belt and climb down, or up, barefooted. I really would like to see somebody try that !!!

Oh, and by the way, the paternity test was negative. The search goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pictures from my past (2)

Last time we looked at bubble gum cards. There are still a few I haven’t talked about. In the late fifties, there was a TV series called “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Richard Greene played Robin Hood :

The person who impressed me most, though, was the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham who was played by Alan Wheatley. I was unable to find the relevant card from the  “WHO-Z-AT-STAR?” series. The one I admired as a little boy had the Sheriff wearing his leather jacket covered in metal studs. Here’s the jacket in a still from the TV series:

I couldn’t find the card I remembered, though. So here’s a near miss:

One of my favourite ever images came from a comic called “Beezer” which wasn’t really the most academic of publications, but every year, at Christmas, it produced a book containing not just everybody’s favourite cartoon characters but also one or two special features. These were invariably linked with warfare and famous battles. It was a book for boys, after all!

In 1962, they produced a double page picture of the Scots, aka the Picts, attacking the Roman garrison on Hadrian’s Wall. For me, this was one of the very best images that I took from my childhood years. It’s not Rembrandt, but I loved it:


It even had an insert explaining that Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 128 AD to keep the Scots out of England. It is 73 miles long and took 15,000 men six years to build. And I just loved this picture. It has everything a picture should have. Just look at that  centurion, up to his knees in angry Scotsmen:

“Picti” means “painted” and these Scottish warriors must have spent considerable amounts of time at the local tattoo shop. But look at that Roman soldier below. Haven’t you always wanted to do that if you ever came home, went upstairs and found a burglar trying to break in?

And what about their weapons of choice? Never go to a Peace Rally without at least one of them, but if you have a choice, then steal a Roman sword:

Here’s a beautifully made lump of stone on a stick:

And here’s how the Romans invented the boiled egg:

And just look at the determination on the face of this long haired reveller (bottom left), as the barman announces that the bar will close in five minutes’ time. He’ll get in if it kills him. And don’t miss the massive club that some clown has dropped (centre). That’s really dangerous and it might hurt somebody:

“Oh no! It’s all going pear shaped! Quick soldier!! Ring CMIC (or CMII in the Iunctae Res Publicae )

What on earth is all that about ??? A clue…….”Numeri Romani sunt.

“Next time, “Where’s Wally?” has the chance to go to a famous battlefield.

 

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, military, Nottingham, Personal

Pictures from my past (1)

I don’t know how my memory works other than to say that, nowadays, for the most part, “It doesn’t”. That’s just a question of age, though, and the fault of some of my prescription medicines.

Some of my earliest memories are pictures. Pictures that somehow have remained in my mind for year after year, decade after decade. They come from many sources. Books and comics. Films and TV programmes and sport as well. And rather disconcertingly, as I have done the necessary research for these blog posts, many of my longstanding memories have actually proved to be rather false.

My earliest recollections come from the very few bubble gum cards that I had. In the late 1950s, a company called Chix did a very nice set of footballers, and I was captivated by the card depicting Jeff Whitefoot, whose name absolutely fascinated me. With all the cowboy  programmes we used to watch on TV at that time, I suspect that I came very close to believing that Jeff was a member of some obscure tribe of English Red Indians who lived in the Black Hills of Manchester:

The best example of what might be termed false or mistaken memory is the card showing a player called Cliff Holton. My recollection as an adult is that as a child I was fascinated by the strange colour of Holton’s shirt. He played for Northampton Town whose shirts were an unusual purple-very dark violet-maroony colour. But now, with the help of ebay, I have discovered that Chix only ever portrayed Holton as an Arsenal player, with an ordinary red Arsenal shirt. So, for what it’s worth, here’s Cliff Holton, that well known Arsenal centre forward. Let’s be generous to an eight year old, though. Perhaps some of the cards had a more purple tinge than others, especially when it came to those hooped socks:

Other distant images that have stayed with me include a few from a series of bubble gum cards which were rather snappily entitled “WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” . One card was of a young actor called Edmund Purdom, the star of “an adventure show” I used to watch entitled “Sword of Freedom”. It was not particularly popular in the industrial East Midlands of England. I suspect that it may have been too heavy handed an allegory of the Cold War and the Dirty Repressive Commies. The tights clad hero was “a maverick freedom fighter, prepared to die for his belief in a free society.” He was busy fighting “the tyrant who exercises control over 16th century Florence, the tyrannical Duke de Medici “.

Where I lived, within easy walking distance of at least half a dozen coal and clay mines it was pretty difficult to identify with “a city of poets and painters, wealth and marvels”. What I did like, though, was our hero’s rapier which looked as if the baddies were being stabbed by a yard long toothpick.

Here he is!

The same series provided a card depicting Conrad Phillips in the lead role of “William Tell”, complete with his rather strange sheepskin coat and crossbow. As a small child, I always felt rather unsettled because he never seemed to have proper sleeves in his coat, and I used to worry that he would catch cold, up there in those Swiss mountains:

Another card in the same series depicted Willoughby Goddard, who portrayed the gigantic Gessler, the villainous Austrian ruler of Switzerland. I was fascinated by the piece of information on the back of the card that when he went by airliner, he always had to buy three tickets for three seats to avoid crushing other passengers. At that time there was an incident in one episode that I didn’t understand at the time. William Tell had Gessler at his mercy, but let him go free. Tell’s little son asked his sheepskin clad Dad why he hadn’t got rid of the evil Gessler once and for all. Tell replied that there was a risk that if they ever killed Gessler, the Austrians might send somebody who was competent and then the Swiss would be in trouble:

Two puzzles to finish with. Which member of our family persuaded us all to watch “The Four Just Men”? an English TV series which was allocated its own card in the WHO-Z-AT STAR ?” collection.

How can the plot have been any more complicated ? The Four Just Men were Richard Conte, Dan Dailey, Jack Hawkins and Vittorio De Sica. Except for Jack Hawkins, I have no idea which one was which :

There were five assistants for the Four Just Men, played by Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in Goldfinger), Lisa Gastoni, Andrew Keir (Professor Quatermass), Robert Rietti and June Thorburn :

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The list of guest stars in the series, though,  was simply amazing :

Judi Dench, Alan Bates, Leonard Sachs (Manuel), Patrick Troughton (Dr Who), Donald Pleasence (Blofeld), Richard Johnson, Ronald Howard (son of Leslie), Basil Dignam, Roger Delgado (The Master in Dr Who), Charles Gray (another Blofeld) and Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) :

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Next time, the pictures I remember from my comics.

Meanwhile, fill the lonely hours with………..

 

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

What would you do ? (8) 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 in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out 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:

And here is the yellow box enlarged:

And that answer on page 2 was:

“A referee is completely in charge of what is happening in the ring. No one else has the authority to stop a fight. A second may show his wish to have the bout brought to an end by throwing in the towel. But the referee need not take any notice of the gesture. In this case, the referee simply kicked the towel out of the ring—and Harry went on to win.”

So there you are. I wouldn’t have thought that such a fundamental rule of boxing has been changed in the last forty years, but perhaps somebody out there knows better……..

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What would you do ? (8) 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.

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:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

So…… a question about the protocols of boxing.

I just hope that the answer, published inside the comic in 1963, is the same as it would be today, in a much more safety conscious era. That’s not a hint, by the way. I haven’t looked yet!

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What would you do ? (7) The Solution

Here’s the emergency from last time:

And here’s the situation:

So, twenty seconds have already passed, and it’s already a dilly of a space pickle.

The space craft is still floating helplessly after the failure of the atomic motors. The crew have their space suits but they have had very little time to start the repairs to the motors before the alarm suddenly goes off. An extremely large meteorite is approaching them at ten miles a second. The time remaining before impact is less than forty seconds and decisive action is required.

What can the crew do ?

Well, page 2 of “Boys’ World” says that the correct solution is:

“There is only one thing they can do. They re-open both doors of the port airlock, allowing all the air to rush out of the ship. The rushing air acts like a rocket jet in the vacuum of space, and propels the ship away from the meteorite. Later the ship can be re-pressurised from their emergency air cylinders. “

And just to prove it, here’s the slightly blurry page of the comic:

“Why”, said the nine year old Ridley Scott. “What an amazing idea. When I’m a famous Hollywood director, I shall make use of it.”

“Stop daydreaming”, said his mother. “Have you done your paper round, Ridley? And have you done your English homework? That story about that woman on that space rocket?”

One intriguing thought is that Ridley Scott is known to have been a subscriber to “Eagle” comic. Did he used to read “Boys’ World” as well?

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What would you do ? (7) 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.

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:

The blue box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the blue box enlarged:

So, a dilly of a space pickle. The space craft floats helplessly after the atomic motors have failed. The crew are in space suits but they have very little time to start the necessary repairs before the ship’s alarm goes off. An extremely large meteorite is coming towards them at ten miles a second. The time left before impact is less than sixty seconds and counting.

What can the crew do ??????

 

 

 

 

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A nice German in Woodville

I have been friends with Chris since we went to Woodville Junior School when we were seven years old, almost sixty years of friendship:

He recently told me the following story. It fits in so well with my previous two posts on this subject of Germans and/or Nazis in Woodville that I would like to include it here. I have kept to Chris’ original words:

“A few years ago my mother told me the story of an event during the Second World War.

One day she came home from work to find a German Prisoner of War in the living-room drinking tea.

My grandfather introduced him as “Gerard”. I imagine his name was actually Gerhardt. My grandfather had met Gerhardt walking up the railway line from Ensor’s brickyard where apparently he was working. (I was not aware that POWs could be required to work for what was to them the enemy but your blog entry confirms that they did.)

“Gerhardt was on his way to Woodville Tollgate to wait for the transport back to the camp, which I think was near Etwall, and given that he had almost two hours to wait, my grandfather invited him in for tea. My mother was horrified since she thought that it was probably illegal to have an enemy POW in the house  – fraternising with the enemy and all that.”

“It transpired that Gerhardt’s ‘plane had been shot down; he and most of the crew bailed out before it crashed. From what I gather, Gerhardt was a reluctant combatant and was quite relieved to be hors de combat. He obviously spoke English, since none of my family spoke German, so he must have been relatively well-educated.”

In any event, Gerhardt finished his tea and went on his way. They never saw him again.

I wish my mother had told me this story years ago because I would have tried to find Gerhardt and see what happened to him subsequently.”

It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility that Chris might have found Gerhardt. If he was born between 1910-1920, he may have lasted beyond the Year 2000. My own Dad was in the RAF in 1941, around twenty years old, and he lasted until 2003 when he died aged 80.

Ensor’s brickworks is long gone, but here is the Victorian nineteenth century map of the area :

The railway whose course Gerhardt was following runs from bottom left to top right and Ensor’s Pool Works is just to the south of the middle of the railway. Gerhardt would have been walking to the north east along the railway.

My friends and I all played in that extremely dangerous industrial area from, say 1962-1968, although by then the Pool Works had been demolished. We did play on the majestic slopes of “Milk Hill” though, which was an enormous pile of clay, made from, I presume, several million tons of the sticky stuff. You can see “Milk Hill” in the middle of the right hand side of the map. And we went down into the clay pit as well, which was even more dangerous, because of the lakes of wet clay with a deceptive thin dry crust on top. And if there was one “air shaft”, there would have been more. Still, just like many boys, and indeed fully grown men, (if there is such a thing) “Danger is my middle name”.

At the middle of the top of the map is “Jack i’ th’ Holes” which is a very strange name and, to me, has supernatural connotations, Jack very often referring to Satan himself.

On the map the seven  little  circles in the Pool Works are circular kilns. Here is a picture taken in the Pool Works showing some of them. When he left school, my Dad, Fred, aged then only thirteen or fourteen, worked as a junior in the offices at Ensor’s Pool Works. He is standing to the right of the man with the shovel. Notice how two men have climbed one of the kilns to be in the photograph :

In later years, Fred was not the only person to be disgusted that Freckleton, the son of the business’ owner, was to remain at home throughout the Second World War, hiding his cowardice behind the spurious claim that his job was a reserved occupation. It wasn’t.

Some time before the outbreak of the war, Fred was to witness an incident when a workman, for some unknown reason, had hit Freckleton hard in the face, and knocked him backwards into a puddle. Freckleton was drenched with muddy water and his magnificent suit was ruined.

Needless to say, the workman was dismissed on the spot, and, given the connections which existed between factory owners at this time and were renewed every time there was a Freemasons’ meeting, he was unable to find work anywhere in South Derbyshire ever again.

Incidentally, I did a little research about the location of the Prisoner of War camp, and found that there were a number in the area, along the side of the River Trent, where digging tunnels was more likely to result in death by drowning than freedom. Sites included the Weston Camp in Weston-on-Trent (top right), but the likeliest site for Gerhardt, in my opinion, was the section of Weston Camp in King’s Newton. Here’s the Orange Arrow, Herr Orange Pfeil, released early for good behaviour. Woodville is bottom left:

It’s funny looking at that map, which is perhaps ten miles square. I spent all of my life until I was eighteen in Woodville, yet I’ve never ever been to Twyford or Ingleby or King’s Newton or Newbold or Coleorton or Heath End. I was once on a bus going through Peggs Green, and it was so countrified that when an old lady that the driver expected to be at the bus stop wasn’t there to catch the bus, he went and knocked on her door to tell her to hurry up, or he’d have to leave her.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (11) Two short stories

Today, I’m just going to let you read two short stories from William Bottrell’s “Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall— Third Series” which Bottrell self-published in 1880.

The first story is told about a young farmer called Richard Vingoe who was targeted by fairies, for no good reason other than it was within their power to do so, near Treville Cliffs in West Cornwall:

“After wandering for five hours over places which appeared strange to him, Richard followed the path through the rocky bottom or glen into an underground passage or cavern, from which, on emerging, he found himself in a pleasant looking country.”

“Walking on, he heard the sounds of merrymaking and came to a place where people appeared to be having a feast. He noticed a great number of persons playing bowls. Being fond of that game, he was about to run and seize the silver ball as it fell near him, when a female darted from behind a rock, which had screened her from view, and made eager signs for him to stop playing and to follow her. She went into an orchard near at hand. He approached and saw that she was a young lady who he had once loved, but who had been dead for a number of years. She told him she was changed into the fairy state by having trespassed on the fairies’ domain, and that he had narrowly escaped the same fate.”

“She was disposed to save him for the sake of their former attachment. When the persons playing bowls and spectators of the game had all gone out of sight, she conducted her former lover to the upper world by a shorter road than that by which he entered; on the way she told him that, as he was engaged to be married within a few weeks, she had no desire to detain him. She advised him, however, to defer his wedding three years, that he might be sure he knew his own mind. When Vingoe promised to follow her advice, they passed through an opening in a carn, and he saw Nanjizal” (which is a real place):

His conductress then said good-bye, and vanished. Being fatigued with his journey, he lay on the grass, near the spot where he again saw the light of day, and there he was found asleep nearly a week after. Vingoe was never the same man again, for he took to hard drinking and he died unmarried.

Notice how many of the usual themes are introduced…..

………wandering for hours, disorientation, caverns in the rocks, a distant feast and merrymaking, an orchard, playing bowls, a dead person who is not dead but has been captured by the fairies and finally, the poor innocent victim who, like all the rest, is affected by his time with the fairies.

The map below shows you where Nanjizal is, thanks to the efforts of the Orange Arrow. This is the very last bit of England (hence Land’s End) and the dark grey shading in the top right represents the western edge of the town of Penzance. As an area, it is full of magic and witchcraft, even nowadays, and it must contain at least fifty Stone Age circles and other types of monument.

The second story concerns a servant girl called Grace who has been tricked into going to work for a human sized fairy:

“Grace told her master (the human sized fairy)  that she wasn’t used to going to bed so early. He answered,  “Please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you want to.”

He then brought her a basket of fruit and told her to eat what she pleased of them. Afterwards, he gave her a cup of fruit juice that she found delicious. By the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills. She forgot her brothers and her sisters, her father and her mother even. She no more remembered her former life, and only thought of her kind Master and the delightful place in which he lived. She dreamed of it that night and nothing else.”

This last tale could well have been something from a science-fiction short story. Not only do we have the familiar tale of eating or drinking something, and then there is no escape ( rather like the Greek Persephone) but we also have that feeling of lethargy yet total happiness, and a forgetfulness that leads to a perfect life, almost as if Grace had joined a modern day sect:

If you ever see the gentleman in the picture, make sure that you tell him what a “helter-skelter” is in England. It’s not what he thought it was.

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