Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


[115] Just Fade Away

It’s over a year since I finished this blog and I wanted to remind old readers of my memories and inform new readers.

There is a Full List that will take you to any of the over a hundred posts covering everything you always wanted to know about the Fifties and Sixties. If you like them, please share them with your friends.


I have added a few more thoughts and I have picked some of the things that have disappeared gradually – things that we just assumed kept going but then suddenly we may notice that they have gone.

Of course the main things that we oldsters will reminisce about are the intangible things like respect for authority; the innocence that came from not knowing about the World, and children being able to walk to school.

Just a few years after I started this blog, I note now that there were things that would have been recognized ten or twenty years ago as very old-fashioned but that the younger generation now would not even understand – things like: cameras with films and negatives; typewriters with keys; carbon paper; films in cinemas with projectors; landline telephones that were fixed to the wall; cathode ray tube televisions; printing presses; fountain pens and radios.

But here are some things that we had everywhere in the Fifties, things that people of my age will remember, but things we don’t have any more. They disappeared gradually. We didn’t notice them going but now they have become unfashionable or unnecessary – or are obsolete because of technology – or for some reasons are just not the way we do things any more. They may still exist but be much less common than they used to be. Some will be listed below with comments and some without. Some may have been mentioned in earlier blogs. The order is very random. (Yes, I know, ‘random’ can’t be qualified like this. Language is not as precise as it used to be!)


Cheese Rind

It must be the way they make cheese now.

Bacon Rind

Cream on the top of Milk

Car Bumpers

Cars were always very similar, generally black. They had chrome bumpers at the front and rear. First the chrome went – becoming plastic. Then the bumpers got smaller and smaller. Now they have gone altogether.

Hub Caps on Cars

They used to be chrome like the bumpers. People don’t have time to polish chrome now.

Back Doors

The milkman and baker always came to the ‘back door.’ It may have been at the side of the house but all houses had a front door and a back door. (We never locked the back door in the daytime.) New houses don’t have a back door but they probably have French windows [or French doors or conservatory doors. I won’t go into the language.]


I don’t think there is a word for them but bedrooms had a small window at the top that was always open to let in the fresh air. Modern houses don’t have them upstairs or downstairs. It’s all to do with central heating.


This is related. Cars used to have small windows, especially one beside the driver to get some air circulating – before cars had such good heaters with air-conditioning. Many drivers smoked and it was not unknown to have cigarette ends thrown out through the quarter-light. Of course we did not have electric windows in cars. [OK, cars used to have ash-trays as well – not any more.]

Shop Windows

No, I’m not obsessed by windows but almost every shop used to have a shop window displaying some of the things they were selling. These have gradually disappeared.

Net Curtains

It must be a fashion thing.

Privet Hedges

Tin Openers and Potato Peelers

I suppose I could also put hand whisks here.


Repairing shoes used to be common.

Street Cleaners

Men used to go round pushing their trolleys on wheels with a broom to sweep up litter. Now it’s hard to find anywhere without litter.


The End of the Central Line from Epping to Ongar

I suppose if I still lived in Ilford I would have noticed but it came as a surprise when I did find out.

Telephone Kiosks

Most of those that are left are listed buildings used for defibrillators or cash machines.

Ticket Sales and Ticket Collectors on Railways

Fixed Prices for Trains – or Coaches or Aeroplane Flights

You used to be able to know the price of a ticket from one station to another. Now you need to book online and give the exact date and time and then you may still have a choice of various ticket types. If you check the next day you may get different options or different prices.

Fireworks at Home

Cap Guns

Luminous Watches

I think this another ‘Health and Safety’ thing. It was radioactivity that made them luminous. Even watches are disappearing now. We have mobile phones or Fitbits that tell us the time. [You don’t see many large clocks out now either.]


Policemen’s Helmets

Ice-cream Vans


They would play their familiar jingles. You could get wafers or lollies or choc-ices.



Short trousers for boys

Skirts for schoolgirls

Public Conveniences

Perhaps the number of shops providing toilets have made these buildings obsolete. They must be expensive and difficult to maintain. I can think of several locally that have been demolished or turned into restaurants or just closed.

Deck Chairs

I suppose the week long English seaside holiday on the beach has gone too.


Most have closed or become restaurants.

Pub Signs

We used to play Pub Cricket on long journeys. I won’t give the full rules but you counted the number of legs to get runs in cricket. The ‘Dog and Duck’ would be six runs, four for the dog and two for the duck. With plurals like the ‘Fox and Hounds’ you had to see the sign to see how many hounds there were. Now those pubs that are left have either changed their names to sound like restaurants or have given up the pub sign. The very few remaining signs are almost all just a name with no picture. (Of course you can’t play Pub Cricket on motorways anyway.)

Football Pools

Holiday Camps

Free Meals on Aeroplanes

Tea Cosies and Tea Strainers

  1. Continue reading


[114] It’s only words, and words are all I have

I make no apologies for putting in a sort of epilogue about language after all my other blogs. I am intrigued with our Language, its origins, its rich variations and the way it changes. It is not going to be easy to give a feel of how language was different fifty or more years ago. Many of the changes have been very gradual. This is a very personal view of some of those changes.

But first, I will go back a bit.

The Bible

As you know, some of my fond memories of the Church and religion in my early days are associated with the archaic and stylistic language of the Bible and the hymns and prayers we used to use. It’s not just the use of ‘Thou’ and ‘Thee’ with word endings like ‘sayest’ and ‘doeth.’

One of my favourite examples comes just before the Magnificat, when Mary was visited by an angel. (It was an unusual greeting. The angel didn’t say, “Hi, Mary,” he said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”)

For her response, Luke didn’t say, “Mary was surprised,” or “She was like: What the …” He said,

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying,

and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

[Luke 1:29 Authorized Version, about 1600]

Here are some modern equivalents.

  • She was greatly agitated at his words, and wondered what such a greeting meant [Weymouth Bible (1903)]
  • But she was deeply troubled by what he said and wondered what this greeting might mean. [New English Bible (1970)]
  • Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant. [The Good News Translation, formerly the Good News Bible or Today’s English Version (1976, American)]

They don’t quite have the same aura of wonder and respect.

Anyway, I digress. (I’ve been doing it for three years so I’m not stopping now.)


Although William Shakespeare (around 1600) introduced many words to the English language that we now use all the time, his plays still use many obsolete words and use old ways of speaking and can be incomprehensible at times.

When the eponymous Hamlet speaks the words,

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”

We can still work out that he is actually saying, “Shall I kill myself?” but it gets more difficult to follow when it goes on:

“ … For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th’ unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life …”

I wouldn’t like to give a modern day version of that speech. (OK, I admit it. I passed all my GCE “O” Levels – except English Literature.)

Jane Austen

When we get to Jane Austen (about 1815) we find that the words are more or less familiar and the language is almost modern but people speak in a way that is decidedly old-fashioned. It’s more formal.

In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet says to Mr Darcy, in language that would now seem very convoluted,

“From the very beginning – from the first moment, I may almost say – of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

And his speech is equally lengthy.

“I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding— certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

Of course in those days speech was formal, so much so that we have to look very hard to find that Mr Darcy even had a first name. It occurs twice in the book. He was certainly never addressed by it as a name. Mr and Mrs Bennet and many other characters exist only as surnames.

Victorian England

[We think of the Victorians as English. I don’t know how they viewed the United Kingdom but I think they would have thought of themselves as British. They still had India and the British Empire.]

We can blame a lot of our modern grammar and spelling on the Victorians. They formalized some of the rules that pedantic linguists thrive on. They had rules like not ending sentences with prepositions. (Oops! I just did.) They made the rules about apostrophes and redefined some spellings the way they thought they should be. Words like ‘debt’ and ‘subtle’ had lost their silent letters. The Victorians put them back to make them fit their Classical origins.

(While people argue about ‘a hotel’ or ‘an hotel’ and it is seen as uncouth to pronounce many words without an initial ‘H’ sound it’s worth noting that none of these words actually came directly from the Latin form when the ‘H’ was significant. They all come via French and had long lost this sound before they reached us.)

Mr Adlam

I am going to go back to Mr Adlam at Highlands School to show you that some changes were already underway. Language change can be slow and school may be one of the forces trying to make it slower.

Some of the things I remember from Mr Adlam are these.

  • Never use contracted forms like: don’t, can’t, would’ve … in written English. You will have noticed that I now completely ignore this rule. I produced quite a lot of formal documents when I worked and I have pretty well ignored this rule for at least twenty years. Now avoiding these contractions makes a document look overly formal.
  • Never use ‘got.’ This is quite complicated but the problem is that informal or slang American usage is ‘got’ where we would say ‘have got.’ While “I’ve got something here” is correct, “I got something” doesn’t fit the grammatical models. My comment here is that when English as a foreign language is taught abroad it is often American English. I have seen references where such teachers were instructed not to ‘correct’ American usage such as ‘I did got’ for ‘I did have’ or ‘I had.’
  • Watch out for the American pronunciation coming across the Atlantic with glottal stops instead of ‘T’ sounds.

I think you could sum these up by saying that informality and Americanization were coming our way. Both of these predictions were true. Now that we have automatic grammar and spelling checks as I write it is noticeable that changes have been faster than the software can manage. When I do a full style check I reject most of the suggestions as being too pedantic or old-fashioned.

Style and formality

We were also taught to use strictly correct grammar and spelling. But this changed somewhere around the Seventies with changing ideas in schools. Ideas and intelligibility were considered to be more important than mere spelling or accuracy. Even in subjects like English or French, answers were no longer marked as wrong just because the spelling or grammar was wrong.

Also now we have the ability for anyone to write their own documentation without the opportunity for trained secretaries or typists to correct simple mistakes. I have seen very high level managers issuing important documents with glaring mistakes.

I have already written about Formality particularly the ways we addressed and greeted people. I remember the first time I went to a shoe shop on my own. I must have been about fourteen. The shop assistant called me ‘Sir’ every time he spoke to me. That was the way we expected to be spoken to. (Another sentence ending in a preposition!)

When we first had supermarkets the assistants said little. I remember the surprise in French lessons when told that in French shops you were greeted with ‘Bonjour’ and you left to ‘Au revoir.’ Much later we had ‘Good Morning’ in UK supermarkets. When this changed to ‘Hello’ I felt mildly insulted at the informality. When it became ‘Hi’ I was shocked. (I still can’t cope with cold callers on the telephone who say ‘How are you today?’ That’s a very personal question from someone I don’t know. I do what I always do with such callers – say nothing and put the telephone down.)


Context is important. We have always tried to say that written language should have a different style to spoken language but now we have messaging, texting and chat areas in on-line games. Here the language is written but is far less formal than even normal spoken conversation.

I write a lot in chat for computer games. It took me months to realize that I would still be understood if I missed out the final full stop. Then I stopped bothering with capital letters, left out question marks and generally abandoned all punctuation … apart from the use of three dots … Now I unashamedly use words like ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’ … (I still flinch mentally when I hear ‘wanna’ and correct it in my mind to a clear ‘want to.’)

I see others writing with very inaccurate use of spelling in chat but it doesn’t matter. I can understand what they mean. Some people still think that ‘would’ve’ is ‘would of.’ Maybe we will eventually spell it that way.

New and Changed Words

Ok, so let’s look at some words we have that someone from the Fifties would not understand, either new words or old ones with new meanings. I won’t attempt to list them all, I’ll just make some general comments.

  • Technology – There are many new and changed words relating to the new technological advances and new products. I made a list over fifteen years ago and some of these have already come and gone. Young people today may not have seen a computer ‘mouse’ or a ‘video’ or ‘fax’ machine! We have lots of new words that someone in the Fifties would not have understood because the concepts did not exist – mobile, tablet, icon, download, streaming, blender, drone …
  • We have items of clothing that did not exist then – gilet, anorak, hoodie, tights, snood, chinos …
  • Almost all of what we eat and drink is new – cappuccino, yoghurt, qinoa, tiramisu, …
  • Things we do (bunjee jumping, mugging, chilling …)
  • Places we go (supermarket, disco …)


I am going to say something now that not everyone will agree with. (Another sentence ending in a preposition!) When I was young nobody used the word ‘fewer.’ The opposite of ‘more’ was ‘less,’ whether used with countable or uncountable nouns. (We think of ‘more’ as the comparative form of ‘many’ or of ‘much.’ In the same way ‘less’ is the comparative of ‘little’ or of ‘few.’)

There came a time when supermarkets tried to help their queueing process with a separate checkout for those with, ‘Five items or less.’ Marks and Spencer, in their wisdom, insisted on ‘Five items or fewer’ for their notices. I think this sparked a trend to the modern use of ‘fewer,’ taken up by those pedantic about language. Now television reporters and newspapers have adopted it because they don’t want to appear uneducated. I think they are wrong. I stick to ‘less.’

Here is what Wiktionary says on the subject.

“Some regard the use of the determiner less with quantities to be incorrect, stating that less should indicate only a reduction in size or significance, leaving fewer to indicate a smaller quantity … In typical usage this distinction is absent, and less has been widely understood and commonly used as a synonym for fewer since it first appeared in Old English as ‘læs.”

Political Correctness

Many changes have come through feminism and the desire for political correctness. We used to use words like ‘actress’, ‘manageress’, ‘conductress’ to distinguish women from men in a way that was not at all pejorative but now this usage has become undesirable. Words that seemed to imply men rather than women have also disappeared. When we used to say ‘chairman’ or ‘spokesman’ we now say ‘chair’ or ‘spokesperson.’ (I remember women who were quite happy to be addressed as Madam Chairman.) Workers of indeterminate gender have become ‘operatives.’ And, of course, in the Fifties, no one questioned the use of Mrs or Miss where now the term is generally Ms.

I can’t understand all the changes but those we used to call ‘coloured’ (because we thought ‘black’ was pejorative) are now called ‘black.’ Those we called ‘Indians’, ‘Red Indians’ or ‘Redskins’ are now ‘Native Americans’. ‘Eskimos’ have become ‘Inuit.’


We have familiar terms and slang expressions that we may just use in family circles. Some of these have spread to general use. It’s as if the people who try to sell us things want to appear like close friends.

One example is the word ‘kid,’ for a child. We might have referred to children in our close family as kids but we would never presume to do so for other people’s children. Shops sold Menswear, Womenswear and Childrenswear. Gradually the word has spread and now clothes come in kids’ sizes, food comes in kids’ portions. In a retail context the word ‘children’ has disappeared.

Other slang terms have come in via abbreviations. We used words like ‘television’, ‘photograph’, ‘examination’, ‘aeroplane’, ‘telephone’ and ‘University.’ Now we have ‘TV’, ‘photo’, ‘exam’, ‘plane’, ‘phone’ and ‘Uni’. [Yes, I do mean ‘aeroplane’, not ‘airplane’. One is English, one is American.]

I went to University as did most of those I knew at school. It was not until over fifteen years later, when the Australian series ‘Neighbours’ first appeared, that I first hear the word ‘Uni’.

In youth culture there seems to be a tendency sometimes to use words in unusual ways to confuse the older generations. But eventually the adults catch up and use the same slang terms. Another thing Mr Adlam taught us was to try to avoid the vague word ‘nice’ for something we liked. It has largely been replaced by the word ‘cool,’ originally part of youth culture.


The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language,’ is generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw in the Forties although several similar claims have been made by others. We both call it English but there are many differences.

(For those interest in language the main differences are in vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation. The other notable difference is in the use of singular or plural verbs for a noun representing a collection of people. We might say that ‘Manchester United are playing Chelsea today’ when Americans might use the word ‘is’.)

Increasing communication and, in particular, television and films, have led to a tendency for American usage to prevail in ways that are too slow for people to notice. While we used to talk of going to see a ‘film’ the almost universal term now is ‘movie’. ‘Cinemas’ are becoming ‘theatres.’ Sometimes now we talk of ‘apartments’ instead of ‘flats.’

When it comes to new words it still happens that the United Kingdom and the USA pick different words for new things and the differences generally remain. While stockings have been replaced by ‘tights’ here, America still has ‘pantyhose.’ While America has ‘Automated Teller Machines’ (ATM) we have ‘cash machines’, ‘cashpoints’ or ‘holes-in-the wall.’ We have ‘cling-film,’ where Wikipedia tells me it’s called ‘plastic wrap’ in the US.

Changes in pronunciation may be copies from American usage, or may be a similar laziness creeping into our language. The American habit of not pronouncing medial ‘T’ became obvious with the emergence of what they call the ‘Inner-net’ and traditional Britons would call the ‘Internet’. While this usage is not yet universal here it is beginning to take place – noticeable in words like ‘twenty’ which is rapidly becoming ‘twenny’.

Similarly there are changes with the pronunciation of ‘U’ sounds losing the English style ‘Y’ sound which often precedes. ‘News’ for example is increasingly often pronounced ‘nooze’ rather than ‘nyooze’.

The change I dislike most about Americanization is with the words ‘billion’, ‘trillion’ etc. When I was a boy a billion was a million million (and 1 000 000 000 was a thousand million.)

We never really talked about such large numbers so to most people it didn’t matter. Now we have to use large numbers to talk about the UK economy and the American usage has been adopted. We now have a National Debt of about 1.5 trillion pounds sterling or £1 500 000 000 000. I would have called this figure 1.5 billion. (It’s a lot however you say it.) You will note my use of the pound sign (£), which was universal for our currency and could be done on a typewriter. Keyboards have changed, we now use the Euro sign (€) and often now resort to GBP for our pounds!

Reduced Spelling

As laziness creeps in and pronunciation continues to degenerate, particularly for longer words, there has been a recent trend for spelling to reflect actual punctuation. Now it is not unknown to see ‘gonna’ written for ‘going to’ and ‘wanna; for ‘want to’. We even now have the word ‘wannabe’ for ‘(those who) want to be’. Back in the Fifties speech was probably just as lax as today but writing did not reflect this.

Similarly, back then, anything printed followed the conventions of grammar which we used to be taught then. Names and titles always started with capital letters (and names were made of letters, not typographical symbols). Abbreviations used full stops to show that they were abbreviations such as ‘Mr.’ ‘Dr.’ ‘B.A.’ Now we have far too many abbreviations and acronyms to worry about such things.

Names of Places

Changes here are due to changes in spelling style and changes promulgated from the countries concerned, perhaps associated with political correctness. In the Fifties, Beijing was known as Peking, Mumbai was Bombay, Kolkota was Calcutta and Myanmar was Burma. Many other cities and countries of the World have changed their names. Some changes have just affected pronunciation. The country of Kenya now pronounced ‘Kenn-ya’ used to be ‘Keen-ya’.



The media of television and cinema are very good at research for set design. Programmes and films set in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties generally get their street scenes and house decorations almost perfect. But without people like me to advise them they are not so good at expressions. I often spot people saying things they would not have said. (If you weren’t there it’s hard to know.)

I should have been taking notes of these but the only one I can remember from recently is someone saying ‘numeric dyslexia’ back in the Fifties. The word ‘dyslexia’ may have existed then in psychological circles but the general public would not have used thus word. The idea of numeric dyslexia was even later.



So much of our language is based on sayings, often with no literal meaning, and these expressions come and go. Every day I see people using expressions that are either new or changed. It’s not that we would not have understood. We just would not have said it like that. I assume that many of them came to us via popular television but this begs the question of how they got there.

So, in no particular order here are some.

  • ‘In no particular order’ – This comes from the slow reveal process when TV shows reveal who has been eliminated.
  • ‘Sick as a parrot’ – From Football journalism.
  • ‘Bit and bobs’ – We used to say ‘bits and pieces.’
  • ‘Odds and sods’ – Ditto: ‘odds and ends.’
  • ‘Roller-coaster of emotions’ – We just never had the intrusive journalism that asks such questions.
  • ‘No way’ – an American import.
  • ‘Whatever’ – meaning ‘It doesn’t matter’ in a pejorative sense.
  • ‘I’m good’ – This one needs an explanation. It was absolutely clear when I was young that when someone asked how you were you could say, ‘I’m well, thanks,’ but you should never say. ‘I’m good.’ That would mean that you were saying you were a good person in a way that was very un-British. I always used to say ‘I’m fine,’ which was also acceptable. Somehow ‘I’m good’ has become acceptable in the last few years.
  • ‘So much’ – meaning even more than ‘very much.’
  • ‘Engage with’ – This now seems to mean the process of talking to someone or dealing with them in a sympathetic way that implies understanding and good intentions. It’s one of several expressions that have emerged in general use after their introduction in business circumstances.
  • ‘Yeah, no’ – is the new meaningless expression. We used to be told to avoid ‘um’ or ‘er’ in interviews or important meetings. They were noises that people made when they were deciding what to say next. I don’t know about general use but in interviews on television now we just get repeated ‘yeah …’ or the even more meaningless ‘yeah, no…’
  • ‘Like’ – Again I could write much on this. When I was young ‘like’ was a preposition (as in, ‘a damson is like a plum.’) but there was a tendency coming from the USA to use it as a conjunction (as in, ‘do it like I do.’) There has been a form of slang, originating in California High Schools a few years ago that uses ‘I was like …’ to mean almost anything. It can mean, ‘I said …’ ‘I thought …’ ‘I decided …’ @I started to …’ … Sadly, it seems to have crept almost everywhere now into general use.

There was a song called ‘Words’ by the Bee Gees, released in 1968, that and ended with the repeated lyrics:

It’s only words, and words are all I have

                                                                        To take your heart away …                         



Thanks for reading. It has been fun. Over a hundred blogs and 200 000 words.

If you like my blog please share it to your friends. The picture above from the early Sixties shows my class at Ilford County High School. One of them is me. (I’m the good-looking one.)




[113] All Manner of Things Shall be Well

I am coming near to the end and I want to do a broad summary. It will be a bit rambling, without any pictures and full of sweeping generalizations. I have put in lots of links so you can find out more details.


I don’t want to give you pages and pages of Terms and Conditions as we seem to get nowadays but I just want to make it plain that these are my views. For the Fifties they are the memories of a young boy brought up in a large family in Ilford with no knowledge of life outside my family and school. Even in the Sixties I knew little outside my small world. News and information from television and newspapers was far more restricted than today


We had virtually nothing of modern technology. There were fixed line Telephones, which we hardly ever used – more or less just for occasional local calls. Our house had Electricity but we didn’t have many uses for it. We had an electric iron and very, very occasionally in winter an electric fire might be used. Basically electricity was for lights. All the things you now think of as automatic just didn’t happen. We survived without Computers.

If you wanted to write anything you used a pen or pencil. Offices used Typewriters, which were only used by typists and Newspapers were produced by a complex, cumbersome labour-intensive process taking several hours.

For Photographs we had cameras and photographic film. You might take 36 shots in a week’s holiday and then wait a week for a single tiny print of each one. We did have Cinemas producing films but people did not make their own moving pictures.

(Perhaps the most automation we ever had was in traffic lights. They were very simple with no fancy stuff like lanes or filter lights or pedestrian signals. Some of them were able to detect when traffic arrived to hasten on the next change.)

Standards and Authority

Attitudes were more Formal and Standards were different especially our views about women, children, ethnic minorities, animals and sexuality. (‘Ethnic minorities’ is a modern term. We didn’t have them. There was some open racism towards ‘black’ people – and Irish!)

We respected the Authorities even though we had no knowledge of how they worked. (There was no Internet!) We trusted and believed doctors, teachers, policeman and generally vicars. If we didn’t there was no way we could question what they said or did. If something went wrong we accepted it – we didn’t think of suing anyone for damages.

Most people more or less accepted the Church and there were many more believers and regular churchgoers. The Church played a significant part in our education and our attitudes to Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Sundays. St. Andrews Church at Ilford played a significant part in my life.


The government and Civil Service covered much, much more than today – coal, gas, electricity, railways, telephones, television and national savings. Education, doctors and hospitals and local government services were more centrally controlled.


Families stayed together. Men and women stayed married. Men and women were different. The man of the house worked; women stayed at home and were housewives; children grew up with their parents. More complicated family situations were rare. Homosexuality did not exist. (I am talking about generalities and public perceptions. It was not openly acknowledged or accepted.)

Most married women were housewives and there were few opportunities for work for women. Women expected to get married and raise a family at home and were generally happy with the situation. Housework (making beds, shopping, preparing and cooking food, cleaning and laundry, together with looking after children) took most of the average housewife’s day – and a lot of the evenings and weekends! Men were expected to do little at home and probably did even less.

Children, particularly those below school age, were looked after by their mothers because there were no alternative arrangements. Growing Adolescents remained in the care of their parents and could not vote until twenty-one.

While the man of the house earned an income and paid for regular bills (gas and electricity, rates, telephone etc.), he would pay a housekeeping allowance to his wife to cover basic food, cleaning and probably children’s clothes. In general, this allowance did not include anything for the wife to buy clothes or cosmetics (although most generally saved enough to look after their basic needs).

There was still the attitude that men made the major decisions for the family without consulting their wives, and wives just followed their husbands. The marriage ceremony included the promise for wives to ‘… love, honour and obey…’

[A major difference that affected all aspects of family life was that Contraception was not easy and abortion was illegal. It was not considered ‘right’ for unmarried women to have children.]

Law and Order

My impression is that there was much less public disorder and crime, but this may be partly from the innocence of youth. Police mostly operated on foot. There were no police cars. All they had was a police whistle to call for assistance.

There were different standards but crime, like other aspects of life, was more local. We didn’t have fast cars or easy roads.

Food and drink

Families ate together at home eating simple foods cooked by the housewife of the family.

Restaurants were up-market, much rarer than today and for special occasions and the rich. Eating at a restaurant was a more formal occasion and a more formal process. Except when on holiday, ordinary people rarely ate in restaurants or hotels. (Restaurants in those days were limited to British or perhaps French Cuisine. Foreign restaurants started to emerge in the sixties with Indian and Chinese restaurants.)

The only ‘fast food’ in the fifties was fish and chips, and for most people this was the only experience of eating out. The fish and chips were usually taken home, wrapped in newspaper, but there were facilities to eat in the shops. This would have been a much more informal and cheaper experience than eating in a proper restaurant.

The first equivalent of the American revolution that was fast food hit England in the early sixties. It was the Wimpy Bar. This was a glorified coffee bar which served hamburgers in buns (‘Wimpy’) but not exactly in the Macdonald’s takeaway fashion. They were served, with chips, at tables and on plates, with knives and forks – a downmarket version of restaurant service. The real takeaways such as Macdonald’s did emerge, in their full American format, until the seventies. After that came Pizza and other culinary imports from the U.S.A.

Pubs were much more common. They were crowded with men (not women) who drank pints of bitter and smoked. Pubs did not mess around serving food. Alcohol at home was less prevalent.

By modern standards, cafes were non-existent. When shopping in Ilford Mum might have a cup of tea at a department store café. That was it.


Almost all early Television was live, not pre-recorded. (The only real exceptions were programmes repeated a day or two after their original broadcast.) Also, in a way which is not easy to define, there was a much narrower range of programmes, only what the middle class establishment of that time would consider to be in good taste. This consisted of news, information and entertainment based on ‘Variety’ (i.e. singing, dancing, comedy, magic, circus acts etc.) Sports broadcasting was virtually unknown as technological limitations made ‘outside broadcasts’ (anything not done from the central studios) both difficult and expensive. Back in 1950 there was no choice of viewing, no television advertisements no phone-in programmes, no Soaps, no reality television, no live football, no morning television.

We had one channel for a few hours each day with very poor quality black-and-white pictures on a nine-inch screen! My memories of Children’s Television date from these earlier days. By the late sixties we had three channels, still not broadcasting all day and still without the reliability and picture quality we expect today.

I have a whole series of blogs about particular stars of television – from David Attenborough and Doctor Who … to David Attenborough and Doctor Who!

Of course in the Fifties Radio was just as important with Mrs. Dale’s Diary and Two-Way Family Favourites.

General Entertainment.

At home, people spent some time watching television, listening to the radio, reading and perhaps making their own music. Pianos were nowhere near universal, but were far more popular than today. Cinema was more popular. If people went to the theatre, it was a far more special night out than now. People more often just went out walking together.

Pop Music hadn’t really started. Televised sport was almost non-existent – apart from the weekly football results.


I have said a lot in my blogs about Primary School, Secondary School and University life all of which were much more formal than today. I can only speak for Grammar School education, which may have some similarities with the few remaining Grammar Schools today – including my alma mater, Ilford County High School, which still exists. Teaching was based on chalk on blackboards, reading from textbooks and writing in exercise books. Our most sophisticated visual aids were – coloured chalk.

We had just the traditional subjects, formal homework, end-of-term examinations and hand-written reports.


We had simple local ShopsGrocers, Bakers, Butchers, Newsagents, Chemists, Hardware shops and Post Offices were common. Big towns had Department Stores but there were no Supermarkets. If I take an example, the baker might sell half a dozen types of loaf (only one of which would be sliced and packed,) white rolls or brown rolls and a few types of cakes. We were not burdened with Choice. There was, of course, no on-line shopping.


There were no motorways, just narrow roads going through the centres of towns so that long-distance travel was a series of traffic jams. For local shopping parking outside the shops was easy and free.



We used cash and coped with pounds, shillings and pence and it was all done by mental arithmetic. Shopkeepers gave us the right change. Credit was virtually non-existent. Banks managed all their calculations without automatic calculators or computers.

By way of a diversion, here are some typical prices from the Fifties (or perhaps early Sixties) from memory. I have converted pre-decimal money to approximate decimal equivalents.

  • 1p would have bought a cup of tea. (Coffee was 2p.)
  • A stamp for a letter was about 1½p. (There was no distinction then between First Class and Second Class post!)
  • A Mars bar was 1½p, a Kit-Kat 1p. (Most other chocolate bars did not exist then.)
  • A bus ride started at 1p and was unlikely to be more than 10p. (Buses were double-decker and had bus conductors.)
  • A small loaf of bread was about 4p.
  • A haircut (for men) was about 5p.
  • A pint of beer in a pub was about 5p.
  • A cheap plastic ball-point pen was about 10p (and probably still is).
  • Single records, when they started, were about 33p. LPs (33 rpm) were about £2 to £3.
  • A three-course meal in a restaurant would have come to between 50p and £1.
  • A gallon of petrol was about 25p. (That’s a gallon, a bit more than four litres!)
  • A black-and-white television set (9 inch) was about £60-70. (This figure has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years.)
  • A 4-bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs of London was about £250.

(The Retail Price Index has risen by a factor of about 25 since the mid-fifties. Most of this inflation took place in the Sixties and Seventies.)



There were virtually no plastics so things now made of plastic would have been made from wood or metal.

Packaging, when it existed, was simple, perhaps a rectangular box. Bread, meat, fruit and vegetables were sold loose or perhaps wrapped in tissue paper.

We knew little of some modern health concerns and Health and Safety was not a major consideration. Substances like mercury, DDT and asbestos, now considered very dangerous, were uses routinely. The same can be said for lead in pipes, paint, toys and petrol. Smoking was common, ubiquitous and accepted.

Here are some of the evils of the modern world, which we did not have in the Fifties.

  • Consumerism and advertising were much less significant. There were no three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free offers.
  • We had and no junk mail.
  • There was no cold calling on telephones.
  • Utilities – gas, electricity, water, telephones, television – were state controlled and there were no choices of tariffs.
  • Banks and building societies were similar to each other – offering few choices at identical rates.
  • Telephones did not have premium rate calls – but then all non-local calls were difficult, unreliable and expensive.


Something younger people find hard to understand is that we knew so little of the nastier side of life that we trusted people.

There were no school runs by the parents. Children as young as five walked to school on their own. When we were seven or eight we were sent to the shops at Beehive Lane on our own. Women with babies would leave them in prams outside the shops.

[I know. I said no pictures. I changed my mind.]

We played in the streets or spent the day at Wanstead Park Recreation ground – without mobile phones and without even watches. We came home when it was time for tea.



I have put in a lot of links but there is a lot more in the blogs including some about Christmas, my family, politics and some miscellaneous odds and ends … and language. I still think the best way to read then is to start at the beginning and work forward.

My last blog … in a week or two … will be about language.


The title of this blog comes from the quotation ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ from Revelations of Divine Love, the first book in the English Language known to be written (about 1395 AD) by a woman.

We know little about the authoress, Julian of Norwich. Even her name is uncertain. She lived in the second half of the Fourteenth Century as an anchoress in a cell joined to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, which is probably the source of her name – although Julian was a common name for women at the time.



As this is almost my final post I want to acknowledge my sources. Apart from my own memory I have just two sources.

There may be an odd exception but almost all of the background information and most of the pictures come from Wikipedia.

The rest of the pictures – apart from a few of mine – come from Facebook, generally from the rapidly growing number of groups devoted to nostalgia about the Fifties and Sixties.



[112] Rock Around the Clock

I wanted to do a whole blog talking about all the different ways of playing and recording sounds and video but this would be mostly things we didn’t have in the fifties that have come and gone since then. So I have truncated it a bit and added some other topics.


I want to start with Music, something we take for granted now, just streaming it automatically over the Internet. But of course we didn’t have the Internet then. Apart from actually making your own music (usually this would be playing a piano) there were only two or three ways you could hear a piece of music. For the youth of the fifties and sixties the music revolution came with record players so let’s look at records.



You may not even know what a record was. A Record was what we now call vinyl, a hard disc-shaped object with a spiral groove. If you rotated the disc a fine needle in the groove could pick up the recorded sound for playback and amplification by electrical means.

They had been around in various formats for some time but these were the standards of the Fifties:

[A] Singles were 10 inches (about 25 cm.) in diameter and were played at 78 revolutions per minute. (RPM) They lasted for about two and a half minutes. [You could turn it over for another song on the other side.] Most of the developing pop music was available as singles. They cost 6s 8d each through the fifties and sixties. (That’s about 33p but in those days that was a significant amount. Maybe you could afford one new tune a week.)

[B] Extended Play (EP) were 7 inches (about 20 cm.) played at 45 RPM. They were hardly ever used. Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles is the only one I remember. They played two or three single songs on each side.

[C] Long Playing records (LP) were twelve inches (30 cm.) played at 33.33 RPM. (Now you may know them as albums.) They would have about ten tunes on each side (as you can see in the picture above) so might last for something less than an hour overall. An LP cost about £2 10s. (£2:50)

[I am talking about pop music. Classical music could have much longer pieces on an LP – perhaps a complete piano concerto as two movements each side.]

[D] For completeness I have to say that there was a standard of 16.67 RPM. It was obsolete then.


A Diversion – Clockwork Toys

I have just realised that you probably don’t know about clockwork. Many years ago, when we didn’t all have mobile phones, we had clocks and watches to tell us the time. They were mechanical devices without a hint of batteries or electricity. (I know, there are still clocks but we don’t need them. Every device including TV and ovens may have a display showing the time. Everything now works by electricity or batteries.) Clocks and watches were powered by what we called ‘clockwork,’ using internal springs that were wound up and allowed to uncoil slowly – with a complex escapement mechanism.


So from time to time you had to wind them up. Most clocks and watches needed winding every day but some would last for a week.


We also had clockwork toys, cheap metal things with a removable key to wind them up. The simplest ones were tin plated cars, which would actually move like cars for maybe up to a minute after being wound up.



Back to music. Records were played on gramophones. The amplification of the sound worked by electrical devices but I remember from my early school days that sometimes the turntable was powered by clockwork. The teacher would wind them up before playing us a tune. Gramophones were fairly simple. You loaded the record by hand, played it and took it off when it was finished. dansette

Record Players

The revolution came in the late fifties with the Record Player and the Dansette shown above was the standard model. I was given a Dansette for my twenty-first birthday. I still have it in the loft. You could load it with up to ten singles. As each one finished the next one would drop and play. So we could play ten consecutive different single pop tunes. It was almost like what we might now call a playlist.

The record-player could be set to play at four speeds but generally it was used at 78 RPM for singles. [It was generally accepted that LPs were too heavy, valuable and expensive to risk possible damage by dropping them. The multiple play option was only used for singles.]

Don’t laugh – but these record-players were called ‘portable’. If you imagine that records of twelve inch diameter were played you can get an idea of the size of this machine. They were big and heavy but you could close the lid and carry it by the handle that you can see on the right. No, it wasn’t that easy. You had to tighten two transit screws with a screwdriver first to avoid damage to the mechanism by shaking! People didn’t actually treat them as portable but you might very occasionally take one with you to visit a friend.

Later Changes

There have been many changes in the formats for providing recorded music.

Seven-inch vinyl singles playing at 45 RPM replaced the older 78s in the late fifties. (The earlier bigger 78 RPM records were not made of vinyl. They were heavier and more fragile.)



Then we had Cassettes, magnetic tapes that wound slowly from one spool to another, from the mid-sixties to the seventies. A cassette was about five inches long so it was easily portable in its plastic case. The cassette player was also much more portable than a record-player.

Without going into the precise history, these systems changed very slowly so we still had records all through the cassette era. Things like cassettes (and radios) were developed and installed first for cars – with push button controls that were easier when driving. It was never possible to play records in a car but a cassette player was generally available with the car radio.

After cassettes we had CDs, then DVDs, then iPods, then mobile phones of increasing sophistication, and now live streaming.



I have said a little about early Radio, the other way we sometimes heard music. It was very limited by today’s standards and a radio set was about as portable as the ‘portable’ record-player shown above. Ours was bigger and much heavier. The only radio services were from the BBC – the Home Service (pre-dating Radio Four,) the Light Programme (now Radio Two) and the Third Programme (classical music, now Radio Three.)


There was not much music on the radio and none of the developing pop music culture that was soon to emerge.

For us the high point of the week was Two-way Family Favourites.


Pop Music

Now is the time to talk about popular music or Pop Music, which arose from about the late fifties, helped by the new record-players but driven by the emancipation of youth. Boys and girls of sixteen used to be – boys and girls. The age of majority was 21 and adolescents below this age had little freedom or independence or money to squander on themselves. The culture of youth emerged gradually from the late Fifties.


We had Skiffle Groups from the mid-fifties, typified by Lonnie Donnegan and Tommy Steele, They made music with a tea-chest bass, an acoustic guitar and a washboard.


Rock ‘n Roll, also from the mid-fifties came with Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and The Comets. This was the pre-cursor of modern so-called Pop Music.


From 1960 we had all sorts of different dances like the Twist, immortalized by Chubby Checker, the Locomotion from Little Eva and many others.




[Acoustic and Electric Guitars]

It was a time of rapid change in music and one of the technological changes that helped the development of Pop Music was the electric guitar. An acoustic guitar is a plucked instrument. Even with a plectrum it is much quieter than a violin. It is shaped with a large sounding board to magnify what little sound is produced and it’s usually played sitting down.

The electric guitar, which came into its own with Rock ‘n Roll, picks up the tiny sound and amplifies it electrically (in much the same way as a record-player amplifies the sound made by its vibrating needle.) The guitar was connected by a cable to large powerful amplifiers although modern guitars don’t even need cables. It was much louder and made a different sound but it was so much easier to use than the acoustic version.

[The Spotnicks were an instrumental group from Sweden who, in the early sixties, produced an unusual sound with Orange Blossom Special. They were ahead of technology with cable-less guitars but it was not perfect and produced an unusual sound.]

Pop Stars and Pop Groups

I am going to have to name names. Some were short-lived. Some lasted for decades. In the late fifties and sixties the British and UK pop worlds were different with some overlap. Often a massive hit would be covered the other of the Atlantic from its origins.

In no particular order here are some Early Rock ‘n Roll and other popular music artists from the Fifties, some American and some British – Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Tab Hunter, Pat Boone, Bobby Darrin, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis, Buddy Holly, Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Johnny Tillotson, Cliff Richard, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Harry Belafonte.

[This includes some that may have been called Rhythm and Blues or jazz or easy listening ballads.]

A few more from the Sixties – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, The Hollies, Cilla Black, The Shadows, (Cliff Richard’s backing group but also an instrumental group in their own right,) The Moody Blues, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel.

There were many others. Apart from a few singers they were all men.

Radio Luxembourg

Apart from the BBC radio we could hear popular music on Radio Luxembourg. This was broadcast from the tiny country of Luxembourg and you have to remember that radio then was not the quality that we get now from FM radio (or digital radio.) It used Medium Wave at a wavelength of 208 metres (1439 K Hz) and the signals had to travel the distance from Europe. We could only hear it after dark when the signal bounced off the ionosphere to the UK. [That’s enough science. You can look it up yourself.]

From the early Sixties, Radio Luxembourg effectively broadcast continuous pop music from records to its audience in the UK – from about sunset to around 11:00 pm. (In those days we were a more 9-to-5 society. Television stopped before midnight. Pubs closed at 10:30 and people went to bed. We didn’t have discos, nightclubs or entertainment continuing after midnight. Luxembourg did continue to the early hours of the morning but it changed to slower easy listening, ballads and jazz.)

Unlike BBC radio, Luxembourg was a commercial radio station with frequent adverts. Most famous to our generation was the voice of Horace Batchelor advertising his Infra-Draw method of winning on the pools. It was a statistical method, which almost certainly did not work, but he kept trying to sell it. We would hear the same advert again and again we all heard him repeating: “Horace Batchelor, Department One, Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M, Keynsham, Bristol.” I think that everyone of my age knows that Keynsham is near Bristol and knows how to spell it!


Pirate Radio

After the effective monopoly of Radio Luxembourg Pirate Radio sprang up in the mid-Sixties, notably Radio Caroline. These channels broadcast pop music from ships moored in the North Sea in an attempt to evade legislation. Unlike Luxembourg they could broadcast in the daytime.

The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 removed the other pirate stations from the air and soon after that the BBC bowed to the demand for pop. Radio 1 started to broadcast pop music from 1967. (At the same time the other channels were renamed as 2, 3 and 4.)


Early television did not add much to our opportunities to hear pop music. I have covered Sixties television including Juke Box Jury, the Six-Five Special and Top of the Pops. In those days, as you will read below, pop music was just the sound of the music from records. Accompanying video performances did not exist.


Recording Moving Pictures

There was nothing like the ability to record or play videos then. Your only realistic options were to see Television live or go to the cinema. (A few programmes were repeated a day or two later but most were just broadcast once.) When video recording did come in we had a war between the different emerging standard formats. Betamax and VHS both came in the mid-seventies and they kept on in parallel through the nineties. (It’s Video Home System according to Wikipedia but I have never heard of this. It was known as VHS.) Both were cumbersome systems using tape reels much bigger than cassettes. Betamax was generally considered to be a better standard but VHS won the war. Betamax disappeared.

As well as using these tape systems to record from television you could hire pre-recorded tapes of films sometime after their general release in cinemas. This was a more common use and video hire shops sprang up in most towns. These have now disappeared with Internet downloading as the easier method.

VHS continued into the Twenty-First Century but was itself made obsolete by another new system – Video CD. (Compact Discs) Then we had DVD, Blu-ray and eventually modern systems and mobile phones!

The ability to record your own video came a bit later with camcorders. Again there were various recording systems, generally using cassette tapes later transferred to VHS so that you could actually display them on your TV screen. Camcorders were originally much larger than cameras but I won’t go into details. They are obsolete now with mobile phone apps producing excellent quality video recording.


There are a few more unrelated topics I want to cover in this blog, which is more or less the last one.


Please note that I am not attempting to say what is right or wrong. I’m just saying what it was like then. Standards were different. I am making the usual sweeping generalizations based on what little I saw of the world then.

We see people with disabilities all the time now and in sport the Paralympics covers many disabilities. But to consider the Fifties and Sixties we have to put things into perspective. Medical technology and expertise then did not provide much in the way of helping those with disabilities. Their quality of life was worse and their life expectancy was much worse. Babies with severe disabilities simply did not survive at birth – or were not particularly encouraged to survive the first few hours.


It won’t surprise you that we talked about things differently. Those with Down’s Syndrome were called mongols (the term used originally by John Langdon Down) until 1965. [Since 1975 the term Down Syndrome is also used.] Those with Cerebral Palsy were called spastic, a word generally used among children as an insult, but it was not until the mid-Nineties that the Spastic Society renamed itself as the charity Scope. Those with Learning Difficulties (also known as Intellectual Disabilities) were mentally subnormal or mentally deficient or Educationally Sub-Normal. (ESN)

[Words such as idiot, imbecile, cretin and moron, previously used for severe intellectual disabilities, had already descended to use as general playground insults.]

We had never heard of Dyslexia or ADHD.



Wheelchairs were simple and cumbersome – and not electric! They could be pushed or the occupant could turn the large wheels by hand. One of the reasons we didn’t have wheelchair athletics was that we didn’t have athletic wheelchairs. Crutches were not much more than wooden sticks. They were made to fit under the shoulders and aid walking.

That was about all the technology to help those with physical disabilities. But in general you didn’t see disabled people out and about or in work environments.

Homes and Education

This is, of course, an over-simplification but children born (and surviving) with severe disabilities were not considered the responsibility of their parents. They were taken away to various Homes (institutions under health or social security authorities) and we didn’t see them. Their only education came from such institutions. There was no attempt to educate them in the general school system.

claybury_mental_hospital_or_london_county_lunatic_asylum claybury-hospital-tower-from-claybury-park


Mental Health

Mental health problems were largely treated in psychiatric hospitals and the severely affected were held in old Victorian asylums. There was one at Claybury, shown above. All we ever saw of it from school (Ilford County High School) was a distant view of its tower.

Wikipedia tells me that it was the fifth London County Council Asylum, opened in 1893 when they were still called Lunatic Asylums. From 1893 to 1918 it was called Claybury Asylum, from 1918 to 1937 Claybury Mental Hospital, and from 1937 to its closure in 1995 Claybury Hospital. As schoolboys we had less complimentary names for it with visions of lots of ‘mad’ people being locked up.

[‘Mad’ is another word that has virtually disappeared because of its pejorative connotations. Now we talk of mental disorder, mental illness or psychiatric disorder.]

The word ‘asylum’ implies that the patients were there for their own protection and that was partly true. To a large extent we didn’t know how to treat those with mental problems so they were kept in institutions. There was also an element of protecting society at large from the actions of mental patients.

It was not until the Eighties that we moved to a system of community care and most of the old mental hospitals were eventually closed. At the same time Homes for children disappeared with increasing use of foster care and the education system moved to including most children with disabilities.

(You will have read about Dr Barnado’s and the Home near to ICHS at Barkingside when I talked about Wimbledon.)

It is not always easy to survive without the care provided by these psychiatric hospitals and we now have the situation where a large proportion of our prison population have mental problems. (Yes, I know, it’s a sweeping generalization. I am not an expert.)


We had a similar hospital near Gloucester, Coney Hill formerly the Gloucester Second County Lunatic Asylum. It also had a tower, which could be seen from a distance. It opened in 1883 and closed in 1994.


Just a few things I missed out when looking at Holidays [US: Vacations] earlier.

We also had some holidays at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Clacton. It was very similar to the fictional Maplins as portrayed in the Eighties sitcom ‘Hi-de-Hi!’ The Clacton camp was open until 1983 when due to package holidays and changing tastes, it was closed and sold. It was reopened as a theme park called Atlas Park, which lasted a year. The land was then sold and redeveloped with housing.


When I was a little older we sometimes went to Southend-on-sea for the day. It was (and presumably still is) a typical seaside resort with its promenade, fruit machines and ice-cream. From Ilford station it was the only such place near enough for a day-trip. Its main attraction was its pier, still the longest in the World. There is a train running the length of the pier – over a mile!

Later still, in the mid-Sixties, I had some walking holidays using Youth Hostels. We walked across Dartmoor one year and did Mid-Wales another year. In those days their bedrooms were primitive dormitories with bunks. You were expected to use your own sheet sleeping-bag. You had to cook your own meals in a shared kitchen and you might be asked to do chores such as cleaning before leaving the next day. Some were more primitive than others and one or two in Wales did not have electricity.


Professional Wrestling

Somehow, in all my blogs about Television and Sport I have missed out Professional Wrestling. I have been saving it for later.

Let me start with Kent Walton, who used to be a disc-jockey on Radio Luxembourg. His voice was known to us all from his commentaries of professional wrestling on ITV from 1955 to the late Eighties. At its peak in the Seventies it was shown on Saturdays between the half-time and full-time football results and had viewing figure over ten million.

(That was when we had no football coverage on radio or television and all the league matches took place at the same time.)

There were rules but some wrestlers managed to get away with a lot of cheating out of sight of the referee. There were many familiar figures. Some were ‘goodies’ and some were ‘baddies’. It was entertainment and it was never quite clear how much the results were ‘fixed’ but the general opinion was that most bouts were fixed in some way.

The biggest of the heavyweights were Big Daddy, (Shirley Crabtree, 1930-97) definitely one of the goodies, and Giant Haystacks. (Martin Austin Ruane, 1947-98) shown in the two pictures above.


Here are two more – Mick McManus (William George Matthews, 1920-2013) and Jackie Pallo (Jack Ernest Gutteridge, 1926–2006) who often fought each other. McManus was the typical baddy.


Not quite finished. Two more to come.




[111] It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

I have been putting this one off because it could involve a lot of research – but I have to do it. I want to try to explain how much political geography was different in the Fifties and the best way to illustrate it is to say something about how it has changed since then.

By way of background it is worth reiterating that we knew very little about what was actually happening in the World. There was some international radio and we just about had some limited unreliable telephone contact abroad – but there was no Internet and no international television. Even within England we relied on news from newspapers printed overnight after laborious typesetting.


My knowledge of countries overseas came from two sources – a World atlas and stamp collecting. I think that stamp collecting was a more common hobby for boys then. I had a stamp album and I think there was a little shop somewhere. I used to get a small packet of mixed stamps for a few pence.

So I learned the names of lots of foreign countries – in their own languages. I knew that Magyar was Hungary and Osterreich was Austria. And, of course I also learned the units of foreign currency.

Political Geography

The World was very different. Britain still had an Empire which included much of Africa and a lot of other dependent territories such as Aden (now Yemen) and Cyprus. France had dependent territories abroad which also included large parts of Africa. There were other dependent countries belonging to Spain, Portugal and Belgium.

I will do a whistle-stop tour round the World. Please understand that my one-line comments often summarize fifty or sixty years of complex History. They may be wildly inaccurate or just woefully inadequate. And, of course, whole countries will be left out.

South America

I start in an area of little dramatic change. Countries and their borders through this continent remain have unchanged although there have been political revolutions. This is not the place to talk about Evita, well-known now from the musical production and film – or the Falklands.

There has always been the trio of countries on the Northeast coast. British Guiana became an independent Guyana in 1966. Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) is now part of the Netherlands and French Guiana remains part of France. (It’s the way France has always worked. It doesn’t have overseas territories. They have the same internal status as other parts of France.)

I have already mentioned Brazil. Its capital used to be Rio de Janeiro until vast chunks of Amazon rainforest were cut down to make Brasilia.


In the Fifties almost all of Africa was still looked after by European countries. Independent African states emerged from about 1960, more often than not accompanied by minor uprisings or long and bloody civil wars. I can’t begin to consider the reasons but the process has been dramatically badly managed. Here it is in vaguely North-to-South order.

Morocco was under Spanish and French protectorates until 1956; Tunisia was part of France until 1956 and Algeria was part of France until 1962. I remember the Algerian freedom fighters were always in the News until they won their independence.

French West Africa until 1960 included the modern countries of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Fasso, Benin and Niger. Similarly French Equatorial Africa has become Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Congo and Gabon.

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was effectively a British colony until Egypt persuaded Britain to give independence in 1956. There was then no Aswan Dam and the Nile flooded every year in Egypt. (The emergence of South Sudan as a country is much more recent.)

The Belgian Congo has been independent since 1960. I remember the television news when it went straight into a bloody civil war. It is now Zaire.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika were British until given independence in the early Sixties. (Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar to become Tanzania.) Kenya is the only country I can think of that has changed its pronunciation without changing the spelling. The first syllable used to sound like ‘keen.’ Now it is ‘ken.’

North and South Rhodesia, British colonies, are now Zambia and Zimbabwe. I remember the Universal Declaration of Independence of 1965, when the colony tried, without international acceptance, to detach itself from Britain. It was resolved eventually in 1980 when independent Zimbabwe was accepted.

Angola was Portuguese. Its independence in 1975 started a long-drawn-out civil war. Mozambique was very similar!

South-West Africa was a largely uninhabited area administered by South Africa. It has been independent since 1988, now known as Namibia.

Madagascar was also part of France – Independent since 1960.

South Africa was a country dominated by the ruling white people, of mixed British and Dutch (Afrikaans) origins. It became a republic in 1961, still part of the Commonwealth. The black and Asian races that formed the main population had few rights under a system of Apartheid, which defined everyone by their racial origin. Apartheid left the country in isolation internationally with boycotts and sanctions, which worked very slowly. Eventually in the Eighties and Nineties Apartheid was relaxed and the transition to a fairer black politics was more or less peacefully managed.

The countries now known as Lesotho (Basutoland), Swaziland and Botswana were separated from South Africa in the Sixties.

[Language note 1: Europeans largely ignore the problems of different languages. The large numbers of African languages are completely different to the Indo-European languages we know. They use suffixes in a way that we don’t attempt to understand. For example, the main ethnic group of Botswana is the Tswana people, hence the name Botswana for its country. The people as a whole are Batswana, one person is a Motswana, and the language they speak is Setswana. Similarly Lesotho and Basutoland are cognate words used for the people who speak the Sotho language. We use Swahili for the widespread language properly called Kiswahili. Of course, Lesotho is not pronounced Lesotho – it sounds like Lesootoo. Let’s not worry about that.]

Middle East

It gets more difficult as we move on geographically because we knew virtually nothing about what happened in Asia.

We knew Persia as a country ruled by its king, known to the British as just the Shah of Persia. He had a playboy image and his name came up most often as an owner of racehorses here. He reigned for 26 years before staging his coronation in a lavish ceremony in 1967. He abdicated and fled the country at the end of the Seventies in a state of progressive ill-health and died shortly afterwards. The country almost immediately became the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aden was a British protectorate. It is now the country of Yemen. (For a time it was split into two. Its Eastern and Western parts were known, confusingly and inaccurately, as North Yemen and South Yemen.)



Israel is another long story. It had been independent since 1948. The Six-Day war of 1967 led to changes that have continued without ever being agreed. Peace talks continue. The map above is for illustration. I am not trying to attempt resolution of the conflict. The Sinai Peninsula is a desert of sand, now returned to Egypt. The Golan Heights are also uninhabited, maintained as a defensive buffer between Israel and Syria. The Gaza Strip and West Bank territories have had various changes of status and are associated with the State of Palestine (not yet a full nation under the United Nations.) The divided city of Jerusalem is an added complication.

Indian Subcontinent

Until 1947 India was part of the British Empire. It was so important that Queen Victoria was styled Empress of India and we always had the letters IND IMP on British coins. At its independence it was split in some haste into two countries in an attempt to partition its religious differences – India and Pakistan. Pakistan was a country of two parts – East and West Pakistan. After another bloody war of liberation, Bangladesh gained its independence in 1974.

[Language note 2: Europeans tend to modify foreign names. Mumbai was known as Bombay until 1995. Kolkota was Calcutta until 2001. Others are not so obvious. Chennai used to be called Madras. Gradually India and other countries are reclaiming their original names.]

The tiny Indian province of Goa in India used to be Portuguese until 1961.

Tibet, to the North of the Himalayas was an independent country until occupied by China in 1950.

Far East

Communist China with a population then of 600 million (when India was just 200 million) was by far the most populated country of the World. But it was so controlled and secretive that we knew nothing about it. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have always been the USA, the UK, France, Russia (USSR in those days) and China. But until 1971 China meant the Republic of China on the island of Formosa, what we now call Taiwan. The Kuomintang (Guomindang) government had fled from Mainland China with the rise of communism but they still claimed to be a government in exile.

[Language Note 3: Romanization of Chinese is another problem. There are different systems and in 1982 the standard changed. We now call the capital city Beijing. It used to be Peking. It hasn’t changed but the way we now pronounce it has changed. I suspect that both versions are equally wrong. Similarly we used to call their leader Mao Tse-Tung. Now he is known as Mao Zedong. Of course most westerners are still unaware of the reversal of name order so that Mao is the part we would call a surname!]

In the mid-Fifties the colonies of French Indo-china became independent as Vietnam (earlier North and South Vietnam,) Laos and Cambodia. There have been continued conflicts in that area. (I know, I am glossing over lots of important history.)

Hong Kong used to British but technically it was just on a 99-year lease. I think we assumed that it would always be British. But we negotiated our exit and in 1997 it became – well, not actually part of China but a sort of complicated semi-autonomous region. Macau (Portuguese) suffered a similar fate.

Countries sometimes change their names. Siam has become now Thailand. Its name internally did not changed. Similarly Burma changed the English transliteration of its name to Myanmar in 1989. The Western world seemed to reject this change for a long time because it was associated with its military dictatorship although it seems to be generally accepted now.

[I suppose that was Language Note 4.]

The Soviet Union

You can read about the Soviet Union, NATO, the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War in Blog [51] about Two-Way Family Favourites.

On the map of Europe the main changes were the division of Germany into East Germany and West Germany and the unification of the Balkan states as the country of Yugoslavia. These areas did not change until 1991.


That has been a quick tour and I have missed out some such as the island archipelagos of the Pacific and the Suez Canal. You can perhaps understand why countries around the World have English, French, Spanish, Portuguese as one their official languages.

But I haven’t quite finished yet.


The European Union did not exist in the early Fifties. I can’t begin to look at its various components, its history or its growing number of constituent states. Even its name has changed many times. It continues to add new official languages as new countries join and it now has 24.

The UK joined in 1973 and held a Referendum in 1975 to confirm the decision. I don’t comment on politics but I have to say that I don’t believe in government by referendum.

Local Government and Devolution

Local Government had largely been unchanged for a century or more. Governments have made up for this since the Sixties with at least two separate complete changes to the counties of England, Wales and Scotland; a shake-up of all local authority structures and devolution for Scotland and Wales.

The Referendum about Europe mentioned above was the first ever UK referendum but we have had a few since then. I am not sure that the electorate ever wanted devolution but, briefly, here are some more ideas the government has put to the people by referendum.

For Scotland, a devolution referendum in 1979 failed to meet the threshold for devolution. Another one in 1997 produced a majority in favour with less than half the electorate saying ‘yes.’ We now have a Scottish Parliament. (A further referendum in 2014 voted against independence.)

The position for Wales is fairly similar. A referendum in 1979 voted against. For Wales the second referendum in 1997 produced less than 51% in favour from a turnout of less than 51%. (Yes, just a tiny bit over a quarter voted in favour.) We now have a Welsh Assembly.

The vast percentage of the UK population (from England) were not consulted about these changes.

(You may just detect some of my views on devolution.)

With little experience of Ireland I can’t begin to comment on the position of Northern Ireland. There were conflicts from the Sixties involving the IRA and British troops and an agreement in 1993, which led to a power sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. The UK constitution is so complex that it is no surprise to see different political structures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – with no England equivalent!


It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

It may be a bit incongruous to end with this Seventies sitcom, based on a British army concert party company in the Indian Subcontinent and Burma. It is not now seen as politically correct and has not been repeated.

But it does to some extent show how the British and other colonial countries saw themselves – as benevolent and paternalistic in a friendly sort of way. I don’t think the native populations saw it in the same way.



[110] Dedicated Follower

I’m nearly done. Next on my diminishing list is the subject of Clothes and Fashion and we need a bit of a background summary first.

In the post-war situation of austerity people were relatively poor and choice of clothing was quite limited. It was more a matter of buying clothes than anything to do with fashion. (Of course there was fashion and it may have appeared in the news and the newspapers but it was for the rich. Remember that my blogs are mostly sweeping generalizations about my upbringing.)

I will make my usual comment that the pictures I find are generally too modern but they are the best I can do.

There is always the danger that this could be quite a large list of what we didn’t have then – but I won’t let that put me off. I’ve done it before!


Before I start, this may be difficult for those from the US. I may miss out some but here are some examples of UK clothing terms.

Trousers are pants. Pants are underpants.

Waistcoats are vests. Vests are A-shirts.

Braces are suspenders. Suspenders are … no exact equivalence but suspender belts are garter belts;

Tights are pantyhose;

A Dinner Jacket is a tuxedo (although it generally means a suit not just the jacket.) A tuxedo may be a white Dinner Jacket.

Y-fronts are jockey shorts.

Knickers are panties. French knickers are tap pants.

[Of course Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries may use other terms.]


I will start with clothing for men. You will remember way back at Blog [5], which looked at winter clothing. People in general dressed in similar clothes.

For men, we had grey trousers with turn-ups and creases and shirts – often plain white. That was about it. Outside the house men always wore jackets and ties. (I think many men always wore them inside as well.) Jackets were plain and greyish and ties were simple designs, often stripes.

pullover  sleeveless

When it was colder we had pullovers – long-sleeved or sleeveless knitted woollen tops that went over our shirts. We used the terms jumper, woolly or pullover interchangeably. They all looked much the same. Quite a lot of them were actually knitted by housewives. [You will note in one picture that smoking a pipe was a positive feature in advertisements, portraying a relaxed feeling.]

Shoes were black leather laced shoes – what we would now call brogues. Men might have been seen with black or brown leather brogues but never any other styles.

Summer Clothes

As a sort of diversion I do remember sometimes wearing T-shirts and (brown leather) sandals bought for when we went on holiday. I’m pretty sure only children wore T-shirts and my father only ever wore sandals on holiday.

Work Clothes

Everyone dressed much more formally all of the time so suits were more common. You did sometimes see three-piece suits that included a waistcoat. There was a less formal jacket called a sports jacket, maybe a bit thicker and warmer than an ordinary jacket.

(I worked in the Civil Service. Even in the Seventies and Eighties we were still more or less expected to wear a jacket and tie to work and this was true for clerical and similar jobs. Higher grades always wore formal suits and professional men such as doctors and lawyers always wore suits. Dress codes began to collapse in the Nineties and I started to go to work without a tie. I still used to put on a suit and tie when meeting people from other organisations.)

Rain and Weather

There was a thing called a raincoat. It was a long, straight dark grey (or very dark navy blue) coat that stopped the rain. We may have called them waterproof but under modern rules for more accurate labelling they might be considered water resistant. If you had a group of men wearing raincoats they would all look the same.

raincoat overcoat

There was also an overcoat, much the same shape as a raincoat but thicker and warmer (and not waterproof,) generally brown.

As people walked more (or used the busses) it was much more common to see umbrellas. An umbrella was a long, black rolled up device. (Don’t be silly, there was no choice!) For office workers a rolled up umbrella was almost part of the ‘uniform.’ From what I sometimes saw on early television I think that workers in the City of London routinely wore bowler hats but the fashion for hats more or less disappeared around the sixties.


For men, pants meant Y-fronts and there were matching vests, which we all wore. We had never heard of boxer shorts.


(It’s old money. 6s 6d became 32p on decimalization.)

The trend has moved to not wearing vests. This may be a function of warmer temperatures, warmer outer clothing or less walking outside but I think it was supposedly triggered by a film [US: movie] in which the romantic lead male was shown without a vest. I can’t find the reference.

Everything Else

OK, think of some of the things you wear today. These are some things that were unknown in the Fifties.

Jeans were not seen until the sixties and then just for adolescents. I have worn jeans most of my life but I never see anyone older than me wearing them. (Of course we didn’t have denim jackets either.)

Track suits were worn by athletes and you might see them on television. They were plain (definitely without any trace of adverts) and were taken off just before the start of a race. They were not worn by the general public or seen in shops.

Running shoes were presumably worn by athletes. I am not sure what they looked like. They had spikes to help the grip as athletes ran on cinder tracks. They were not fashion items and not available to us. We had those black tennis shoes (plimsoles) from China you could buy at Woolworths – just for PE at school.


Anoraks, parkas and all forms of zipped jackets – no. Just plain woollen button jackets.

[I am struggling with zips. I think there were some but they were not common. None of our clothes had zips. Jackets had buttons. Trousers had button flies.]

Forget most decoration or colour and especially writing on clothing. Clothes were plainly designed, perhaps just stripes or check.


There were fashion shops and I earlier to list the local Ilford shops that I remembered. But we bought basic clothes from department stores.


Women spent much less money on clothes than now and less time in shopping for clothes. There was no such thing as ‘retail therapy’. It has to be remembered that married women did not possess their own money. Most women were housewives. [As far as Income Tax was concerned a married man included any income of his wife as if it was his income. Joint assessment from about the Seventies was gradually replaced by the modern system.] For their clothing women could save and accumulate money left over from a housekeeping allowance, or ask their husbands for money to buy clothes, or rely on occasional birthday or Christmas presents.

So choice for women’s clothes was much less than now. There were fewer shops selling a narrower range of clothing, mostly utilitarian rather than fashionable. Even in the Fifties most of the fashion shops dealt with women’s clothes rather than for men.


As a man I couldn’t tell you much about fashion for women now and I’m even more lost back in the Fifties and Sixties when I have to go on early memories. I do know that Mum wore fairly ordinary clothes at home, often covered with a protective apron or pinafore. Nan mostly wore a housedress, which was far more plain and basic than anything I can find in a picture. She had a red one and a blue one so that she always had one while the other was ‘in the wash.’

Women wore fairly plain dresses or skirts.

For women, trousers were unheard of in the Fifties, except for some slacks for informal wear. Trouser suits for women for formal occasions started to creep in from the Sixties, when they were considered very daring. After a long transitional period, by the late Nineties it was unusual to see women in the streets in skirts or dresses. Those still not wearing trousers were either over about fifty (wearing long skirts) or under about twenty (in attractive short skirts) or obviously in formal attire dictated by their work. Since the turn of the Century most dress codes for working women have changed to allow trousers.

The last to change has been uniforms for schoolgirls. Even around 2000 they wore short skirts but now trousers are usual.

Underclothes and Lingerie

I am doing women’s clothes in a different order because I think some changes in outerwear may have been associated with changes in underclothes. I knew little of this subject as a young boy but I can generalize mostly from advertisements in the newspapers but also from my mother and sisters.


Women wore something called a girdle. Wikipedia is failing me because they no longer seem to exist. Modern girdles are not the same. The nearest equivalent is a corset but they were far removed from Victorian corsets. They were foundation garments that controlled and shaped in a way that must have been tight and uncomfortable – but they were not designed to be seen. As you can see in the picture above the bra could be equally unattractive and uncomfortable and sometimes the two were combined into one garment.

You can also see in the picture that these girdles had suspenders – to hold up stockings. Women wore stockings and in the fifties they were still often those with a seam. Without intimate knowledge of adolescent girls of the time I’m guessing here that those who didn’t need the control of a girdle wore suspender belts instead.

I am sure tights were available but they were not generally worn or cheap. Tights rapidly replaced stockings from around the Sixties with the advent of mini-skirts.


Sometime after tights other variations appeared in various lengths such as pop sox and self-supporting stockings. The picture above is included purely for academic information.

[I can’t speak with any real knowledge of lingerie in the Fifties as opposed to everyday underclothes. I am sure it existed. I think it is much more of a significant market now. Now it is advertised to men to buy for their loved ones at Christmas and other occasions. In many large stores the lingerie department is next to menswear and not by the womenswear. It is also true now that what women wear all the time is designed to look attractive and sexy (perhaps to make them feel more attractive and sexy) and more like lingerie. Of course I only know this because of extensive research done for my blogs! I found the picture below in my research.]


Miniskirts and Hot Pants

Miniskirts appeared in the early sixties and soon became popular, at least for the younger generation who felt able to wear them. It was presumably necessary to wear tights rather stockings for mini-skirts so the change to tights continued in parallel with fashion changes. As with many fashions, more mature women tended to stick with what they knew rather than adopting new fashions. (See above for jeans and trousers for women.)

Dorchester Debs


Short shorts for women also made a brief appearance in the seventies, known as hot pants. Since then shops seem to be selling all sorts of alternative womenswear all the time. Fashions now change more rapidly.


The picture above is from a fashion show. These were reported a little in television, newspapers and glossy magazines (not as early as the Fifties.) Actual clothes available in shops came a little after the fashion shows and were generally less outlandish – but fashions did change.


You will not be surprised to learn that fashion in clothing is much more relevant for women than for men. I still belong to the old school of thought that when I buy new clothes (a rare occurrence) I avoid anything fashionable. I don’t want something that will be out of fashion in a few years and I would never discard old clothing just because it is no longer fashionable. Women are different. They like to be fashionable.

(I think that men believe women dress to make themselves attractive to men. It’s more probable that they dress to be seen as fashionable by other women.)

Since the seventies as women have obtained more equality and more spending power they have become a target for consumerization. There are more shops selling women’s clothes than anything else – and far more than those catering for men.

A quick look at Wikipedia has given me several terms for clothing fashions that have come and gone – and some that are still relevant. But none of these existed in the Fifties. (Not all are for women exclusively – and: Sweeping Generalization alert!)

Boob tube, crop top, hoody, chinos, leggings, leg-warmers, ra-ra skirt, sarong, cagoule, anorak, parka, Duffel Coat (Sixties), gilet, poncho, shrug, flip-flops, crocs.

Finally on the subject of womenswear I am pretty sure that slips and petticoats used to be much more common. I think there is something about clothing technology that has rendered them obsolete.


The picture for children was similar, with reliance on housekeeping funds and the Family Allowance paid by the government as a benefit for children (usually collected by the mother). Children’s clothes were bought by their mothers. They were utilitarian rather than fashionable. With the age of majority at twenty-one, even 18 to 21-year-olds may not have had their own income. The idea of fashion did not exist for children (or babies.)

The other big difference in the Fifties was that boys used to wear short trousers up the age of about eleven or twelve. Nobody would have considered putting a boy or a young baby in full-length trousers.

Black Tie

A final little diversion about formal wear. There have long been the two standards of formal wear for special occasions.

White Tie with a long tailcoat has been reserved for very formal occasions (including the groom and best man at some weddings) and is now even more rarely seen than in the Fifties.

Black Tie goes with a formal Dinner Jacket and is normally reserved for formal evening dinner functions and some weddings. It remains the most formal attire on cruise ships that still have formal dining. I can only comment on Black Tie as I have occasionally attended such functions since the Sixties. (In those days I went to Dinner Dances once or twice a year with my father under the auspices of Freemasonry. More recently I have enjoyed cruises in my retirement.)

Wikipedia gives the standard for Black Tie as: a black dinner jacket of very specific design; an optional evening waistcoat or cummerbund; a white dress shirt; a black bow tie and black dress shoes (sometimes patent leather).

While this remains the standard various alternatives have crept in. I believe that changes started in the early Sixties when Anthony Armstrong-Jones, The Earl of Snowdon was seen to attend a black tie occasion with a heavy woollen roll-neck white jumper instead of a shirt, tie and jacket.

Perhaps the biggest changes are in the tie. Actual tied bow-ties are long obsolete but the tie no longer even looks as if it could be tied. There are various simpler shapes, some with wing-collar style shirts. Often the tie is not black but a dark red or blue. Dress shirts are not always white. And it is now common to see a white dinner jacket (but the trousers remain black.)

I won’t attempt to comment on women’s Black Tie dress codes, which used to include very formal long dresses, except to say that from around the Sixties formal trouser suits are considered acceptable.


Dedicated Follower of Fashion is a 1966 single from The Kinks. It lampooned the contemporary British fashion scene of the Sixties and mod culture in general. It starts like this.


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.



[109] Growing Up

In an attempt to get things finished I am sorting out what’s left into (probably) six more posts, which I will try to write at the same time. (But, of course, it may be five or seven before I end!) This one will look at some of the things that entertained me – from early childhood to late adolescence. It’s roughly (only roughly) in chronological order.

At Home

I will start with what I remember as a young child at home. Toys were very much what we would now call gender biased so boys played Cowboys and Indians and had cap guns. Girls had dolls.

The two things I remember liking most were jigsaw puzzles and colouring books. Jigsaws came in different sizes and levels of difficulty and I worked my way up. I still like them and generally do a 1000-piece one at Christmas.


I think I must have appreciated precise two-dimensional shapes in a way that combined these two interests. For colouring books I had Lakeland pencils in a set with far more colours than the picture above. I would fill the shapes precisely to their edges.

(I am not what you would call artistic. I can copy, not very well, and I can colour in precisely. I used to love the idea of Painting by Numbers but I never had a set – maybe one day I will buy myself one.)

I also remember Airfix models and it looks as if they are still available. They were models of aeroplanes made by assembling lots of tiny injection moulded plastic parts with glue. I have said so often that we did not have plastic – so Airfix were setting new standards in the late Fifties. Wikipedia makes it clear that as the range grew in the Sixties it included vintage and modern cars, motorcycles, figures, trains, model railway accessories, military vehicles, famous ships, rockets and spaceships, as well as an ever-increasing range of aircraft.

Early School Games


As a very young child the game I remember playing was what we called ‘Gobs.’ After years of failure to find them, the picture above has appeared at last on the Internet. It was a version of the game of ‘Fivestones’ and we used small cubes with toothed edges like these. Basically you had to pick them up from the floor with one hand and catch some of them on the back of the hand.

As we grew older I saw other groups using what we called ‘Jacks.’

1024px-jacks  jacks

These pictures are modern versions. Jacks were metal and there was a single ball, probably made of rubber. I never learned this more modern version.


We also played Hopscotch. Chalk was much more common. Teaching was done in chalk on a blackboard. You just needed a layout something like this chalked out on the pavement or playground at school. You hopped forwards and backwards – I can’t remember the details.

Mostly in the playground we ran around and played what I know now as ‘Tag.’ We just called it ‘It.’

conkersfruit  conkestrung

In the autumn we played ‘Conkers.’ You must know what conkers are – the fruit of the Horse-Chestnut tree. I suppose some of the fun was in finding and preparing you own. You had to drill a hole through them, after taking off the outer shell, using a long metal skewer and then thread a string into them. We knew and talked about methods of hardening conkers, either with vinegar or by baking in the oven, but I’m not sure that anyone actually did this. Modern ‘Health and Safety’ regulations seemed to have banned this game in many schools.


At home we used to have a dark wooden combined bureau and bookcase. Dark stained wood like mahogany used to be fashionable. I can’t remember a time before we had it and it is the only piece of furniture still in the family. The bookcase was always full of books that Dad must have acquired when he was quite young. They never changed.

There was a large chunky dictionary – Funk and Wagnells. I don’t think we used it much because it was American.

I remember a paperback book ‘One, Two, Three … Infinity’ by George Gamow about Mathematics and Science. Wikipedia says it was printed in 1947 aimed at intelligent laymen. There were others probably in the same series in astronomy and basic nuclear physics.

There were some large general books on anthropology and a five-part encyclopaedia. I can’t remember the name of the encyclopaedia but I remember its components. They were called: ‘A-Eng’, ’Eng-Hor’, ‘Hor-New’, ‘New-Sal’ and ‘Sal-Zyr.’

And there were the books Hoyle’s Card Games for One and Hoyle’s Card Games for Two.

[I remember these two books but we must have had a book with card games for four players. You will read further on about Solo Whist and Bridge.]

I probably read all of these, not all at once, but not all of the Encyclopaedia.

Early Card Games

As a family we grew up with cards. Mum must have taught us the early games. (I didn’t read the Hoyle’s books until much later.)

We started with Beggar-my-Neighbour but we didn’t call it that. I think we called it Beat my Neighbour. This is the sort of card game that depends entirely on luck – a two-player game that always finishes. (I remember this game from Great Expectations, where they called one of the cards the Knave. Even my memories don’t go far enough to remember when people used this word. It’s the Jack. But I do now know some older people who still call it a Knave!)

We also played Snap and we learned Patience. (As far as our family was concerned Patience meant the solitaire game known as Klondike. We never called it anything other than patience although later we sometimes played a type of Clock Patience.)

When we needed a game for more than two players we started playing Sevens and then simple versions of Rummy (not Canasta). These were games that had a bit more of a skill element and we learned about tactics. Sometimes going for what you want is not the best tactic. You have to prevent others from getting what they want.

bezique  beziquepair

Mum’s favourite game was Bezique, which she taught us. It’s a game for two players that came in a little box with its own set of cards.


Nan liked Cribbage, an older two person game that I think used to be the only card game that could legally be played in pubs. We had the scoring board that went with it.


At Boar Close we played outside because it was an open green without any traffic. I think we knew the other children but I can’t remember much from those days.

When we moved to the next house it was not practical to play in the street. (There was still virtually no traffic.) We were allowed to go to the park – Wanstead Recreation Ground next to Ilford Golf Club. The park is still there on the map and I don’t think it has changed much but the North Circular Road was not in the way then! Wanstead Park Road was a quiet road and we just walked to the park as we walked to school. We were unlikely to be troubled by any traffic. At the age of about eight I went there with my two brothers and sometimes stayed for hours. We went across the open grass, crossed the river and would just wander along the Roding in the woods.


Sometimes we took little fishing nets on bamboo poles fishing for tiddlers. I don’t remember ever catching anything. We didn’t have watches but were expected to be back in time for tea.

When we were older we went to Valentines Park, which is slightly more difficult to reach. We had to cross Cranbrook Road. This is a much larger park with ornamental lakes, a café and it even includes a cricket ground. I remember seeing squirrels there and we played at the children’s play area.


They just had swings and a rocking-horse and roundabout similar to the picture above. I suspect that modern Health and Safety regulations have seen the end of these!

Prior to 1967 Essex County Cricket did not have its own grounds. They used several cricket pitches in the county in rotation including the one at Valentines Park. [Yes, an early series of the Great British Bake Off was filmed at Valentines Mansion in the park.]


Here is something else Health and Safety would not have liked. When it snowed and we found somewhere where the snow had been trodden into ice we could make a slide. I am sure we used to have something like this outside Highlands School.

Board Games

As young children we played Ludo and Snakes and Ladders but I don’t think they were very popular. We also had Chess and Draughts [US: Chequers] sets but these didn’t get used much either.

The one we did like was Monopoly, which we must have acquired somewhere around 1960. It lasted a lot longer than the others and could cope with any number of players in our family. The family did also try Cluedo a bit later.

More Reading

I think I read quite a lot and I read some of the children’s classics like Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, the Wind in the Willows, the Water Babies and Treasure Island. But there were some that escaped me.

Once I reached Ilford County High School I made use of their library and read a lot.

I liked Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially his Tarzan books but also read the Mars series starting with a Princess of Mars. I must have also liked Science Fiction from an early age. I found the C S Lewis trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength but somehow I was not aware of the Narnia series.

I won’t list all the Science Fiction I read but much of it dates from the Fifties and Sixties. I remember John Wyndham – The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos, the Chrysalids and the Trouble with Lichen. The Death of Grass by John Christopher was another similar post-apocalyptic novel. I also read a lot by AE Van Vogt and Kurt Vonnegut of which the most famous is Slaughterhouse-Five. It was the era of Science Fiction, much of which in the form of collected short stories.

[Now some of what was Science Fiction has become science fact but much of it has been proved impossible or unlikely. We can no longer write about human-like civilizations on the Moon or Mars. We are left with endless Science Fantasy series set in semi-magical alternative realities.]

I read stories by Agatha Christie including And Then There were None. (I dare not give the original title, which is unacceptable now, but at the time I don’t think anyone considered it to be offensive.) I think my favourite author was PG Wodehouse, not only his Jeeves stories, also the Blandings Castle ones and Psmith. (I think I read some Bunter stories by Frank Smith but the character is much more linked in my mind to the television series.)

Later Books

I still have a lot of reading to consider from the late Sixties. Certainly from the Sixth Form and through University I aimed to read at least one paperback book every week.


Many of these were the black paperback Penguin Classics – The Canterbury Tales, Pilgrim’s Progress, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gulliver’s Travels, Crime and Punishment, Revelations of Divine Love … and many more.

I particularly remember four blue paperback books that I read from cover to cover. Animals Without Backbones in two volumes introduced me to the science of animal life – and Man and the Vertebrates also in two volumes completed the elementary introduction. Both were written in the Thirties so my knowledge of taxonomy isn’t completely up-to-date.

More Cards

As we grew older we moved to the varieties of Whist games. For several players there was Knockout Whist – starting with seven cards each. You had to get at least one trick to go on to the next round and it went down each time – six cards down to one. Crazy Whist started with eight cards and again went down each round – but this game was scored. Before each round you said how many tricks you hoped to make. You scored one for each trick with a bonus of ten if your prediction was right.

We learned Solo Whist played with four players and using all 52 cards each round. You had to bid to make things like Abundance (nine or more tricks) or Misere (no tricks!)

There was also a game called Napoleon a bit like a five card version of Solo Whist.

Later as a family we learned to play Bridge, a game I now still play several times a week. Dad taught us and sometimes we played until one or two o’clock at night round the snooker table. With three brothers and two sisters we usually had enough to play. I think we started with Auction Bridge, learned from a book, but very soon changed to the more modern Contract Bridge. The game has changes a bit but I always enjoyed it.


I can’t complete this blog without a few words about films. The ones I remember from the cinema were the Carry On series but from earlier I still remember the old films that were shown on television on Sunday afternoons.

There were some that seemed to come up again and again.

I Remember Mama, from 1948, was a melodramatic film about bringing up a family in hard times, remembered for the scenes where Mama counted the pennies and announced, “We won’t have to go to the bank.” (We learn at the end that there is no bank. But they survived.)

Mr Blandings Dream House, also 1948, was a comedy starring Cary Grant.


My favourite was Bringing up Baby from 1938, described by Wikipedia as a screwball comedy, starred Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. I still class this as the second best film ever made (after It’s a Wonderful Life.) Just to give you an idea of it, you have to know that ‘Baby’ is someone else’s pet leopard, which at some time escapes and gets confused with a really wild escaped leopard. To recapture Baby Katherine Hepburn sings I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to it. And the film ends with the hero and heroine on top of the skeleton of a brontosaurus as it collapses.

I suppose I should mention Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers but I think this has been long enough already.