Remembrance of Things Past

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


[100] Long to Reign over us

There is a danger that this blog will be very long because it’s about a topic that has dominated my life for sixty years – just as it has dominated the lives of all the loyal subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).

Queen Elizabeth II
It will be about the royal family but mostly it’s about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She is also Queen of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; Head of the Commonwealth; and Queen of twelve countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. At ninety she intends to continue as our monarch as long as she can.

While I try to keep impartial and not to reveal my views about politics or religion, I make no apologies for being fiercely Royalist. Perhaps you will see why when you read what follows.

UKMap_1   UKMap_2


For those outside the United Kingdom, perhaps it’s time for a brief political summary. The UK is a sovereign state of the UN and it consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and sometimes our inhabitants refer to these as four separate countries with their own capitals. Their political status has changed over time and they now have significant independence – but they remain part of the UK. (It would be far too simplistic to compare these four parts to the fifty States that make up the USA.)

The geographical island of Great Britain consists of England, Wales and Scotland. The island of Ireland consists of the country of Ireland (also called Eire) and Northern Ireland. (Historically England used to include parts of France, and the word Britain is cognate with Brittany, a region in the North of France.)

Most of the smaller islands around our shores are part of the UK but the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey and some smaller islands) are dependencies of the UK with their own governments. While the UK is part of the EU, these islands are not!

[There are a few small overseas dependencies such as Gibraltar and the Falklands.]

Generally the word Briton is used for a member of the UK or these dependent islands.

[Don’t worry, even we get confused sometimes. In international sporting competitions GB and UK get confused. In Football – that’s Soccer, not American Football – England, Scotland and Wales maintain their separate status. Six Nations Rugby is a bit more complicated.]

Queen Elizabeth


Accession and Coronation

I was too young to be aware of the Queen’s accession in early 1952 and have no memories of her father (except as a head on coinage.) But her coronation on 2 June 1953 was a nationwide event of great significance. Many people bought their first television set to see the Coronation, which was broadcast live. Our television came a bit later. But I remember three things about the coronation.

In our area, every street seemed to have its own street party to celebrate. So just for the residents of Boar Close, we had our own marquee and party. To children in those days a party meant jelly and blancmange. We also had a mini sports day with the usual races – egg-and-spoon, three-legged and sack race.


I have to mention the book Royalty in Essex, which was given to every child at school in the county of Essex. (Ilford used to be part of Essex before the formation of Greater London, which moved it into part of London as part of the new borough of Redbridge.) The book only had a few pages and it just said a little about visits by royalty to places in the county but it was lavishly illustrated with many heraldic shields. Its magnificent colour was far beyond anything we had seen. I always regret somehow having thrown away my treasured copy.

Then there were the newspapers. Remember that in those days they were more or less our only source of news. They were black and white, using ink that almost smudged and came off on your fingers and all they could do was plain fixed text. Pictures were very rare.

As children we had one chest of drawers in our bedroom for clothes. I think the three of us had a drawer each. They were plain, fairly rough wood and to protect our clothes they were lined with sheets of newspaper. (They were all what we called broadsheets with larger pages.) The paper in our chest of drawers was a single double page spread of pictures from the coronation. I remember them as light brown so they may have faded from their original glory – but I often saw these pictures in later years even though I had not seen them at the time of the Coronation.

British_threepence_1967_obverse  Stamp_UK_1952_3p

Coins and Stamps

My earliest memories of the Queen must have come from the faces on our coins and stamps – even though I was too young to be writing letters and most coins would have been from earlier monarchs. To us she was like a young mother figure. (By age, HM is almost between me and my parents but I saw her more as their generation. Perhaps this is because of Prince Charles, of whom more a little later.)


Trooping of the Colour

After reading what I have said about the Church, you will not be surprised, to find out that I love ceremonial events and traditions. I have early memories of the Trooping of the Colour, always shown on television. The picture above is from 1956. Of course the television pictures were just poor quality black and white. I think it would have been narrated by Richard Dimbleby.

I was impressed from an early age to see the Queen riding a horse and using a side saddle.


The simultaneous movements of the troops are also impressive, all done on just one voice command.



I remember much from my early years of the Queen and the royal family and this certainly includes the Maundy Thursday ceremonies, part of Easter week (which used to be much more significant then.) It’s a long established tradition where the monarch offers alms to deserving citizens and distributes special ‘Maundy money’ – specially minted one, two, three and four 4 penny pieces. The number of men and women and the total value of the coins is always the age of the Queen. (Of course they used to be our old pennies before decimalization.)

Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament has always been a day of ceremonial with a grand procession in a royal horse-drawn coach and the Queen delivering her speech. It maintains the illusion of a real Monarchy, while the actual powers of the monarch gradually diminish. The speech is effectively written by the Prime Minister and it outlines government policies and plans for the year ahead.

Royal Occasions

There are so many occasions where the Queen (and other members of the Royal Family) make the news. She travels abroad on State Visits and receives other visiting heads of state, often with lavish banquets. She travels throughout the UK on visits and sporting occasions. Even when just with her family – such as Balmoral at Christmas – she is seen visiting church regularly.

As a general comment I would say that people are less monarchist than they used to be and royal visits and occasions receive less publicity than they used to. You will remember that the news used to reflect the Establishment view more than it does today.


Royal Yacht

I am getting to the stage where I will have to cut out a lot from my original plans. I need to get this blog out fairly quickly. But there are lots of things I can’t miss out. I have to mention the Royal Yacht Britannia, which used to play a major part in the travels of the Royal Family. She was commissioned in the fifties and used a lot for royal travels. The Queen could travel abroad and entertain her guests on this ship in the days when international communication was more difficult. Sadly, she came to the end of her useful life in the nineties and retired to the port of Leith near Edinburgh, where she is on display for the public to visit – well worth a visit and surprisingly small.

Royal1947   RoyalWedding

Prince Philip

I will have to be briefer for other members of the Royal Family but I can’t miss out Prince Philip, always a staunch supporter and companion of the Queen. He was born a member of the Greek and Danish royal families and only realised when he joined the British Navy that he didn’t have a surname. He gave up his royal titles, adopted the surname Mountbatten and married the Queen on 20 November 1947 when he became HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. (In 1957 he became a Prince. The Queen has chosen to continue the more English sounding name of Windsor and the royal family remains the House of Windsor. Non-royal descendants of the Queen are officially Mountbatten-Windsor.)

When they visit crowds they separate. The Queen goes one way and Prince Philip goes off to talk to others. He always seems to amuse and entertain those he talks to – but is occasionally supposed to have made inappropriate comments in his humour.

He has always been associated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, which started in the mid-fifties. This scheme has grown to become an extended alternative to schemes such as the Cadet Force we had at school and Boy Scouts.

Another Diversion – American Pie

The song American Pie by Don McLean, released in the early seventies includes the lines: “And the three men I admire most – The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost – They caught the last train for the coast – The day the music died.” It was based on the death of Buddy Holly.

I always feel that there are four men I admire the most – all strangely linked by unusual naming conventions. One was a Galilean, born in Nazareth, or perhaps Bethlehem, but was known (as was his mother) by a Latin version of his name. One had perfectly reasonable first name Mohandas Karamchand, but was always referred to by a nickname. The other two, who you can guess from this blog, never quite had surnames. (I suppose Post number [73] is about another idol of mine not usually known by her real name.)

NS 2s6d _chas_   _08_ 6d Anne

Prince Charles and Princess Anne

I have early memories of both Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal) from savings stamps. The pictures would change as they grew up. I have a sort of affinity with Charles as we nearly share birthdays, with a difference of one day – and two years. I have watched him grow up as I grew up. His education at Gordonstoun was not quite the same as ICHS but we later went to the same University.

As a child I remember both Charles, the Duke of Cornwall and Anne as children, both quite near to my own age, and loosely followed their upbringing. (Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, came several years later.)

Princess Margaret

As a child you make certain assumptions. Just as I always assumed that Andy Pandy was a girl, I also assumed that Princess Margaret was the Queen’s older sister. She was, of course a few years younger.

I was not aware of her relationship with Peter Townsend in the early fifties but I do remember her marriage in 1960 to Antony Armstrong-Jones, later the Earl of Snowdon. He was seen as a bit of a rebel or perhaps just an innovator in fashion. In the days when many formal events were ‘black tie,’ which means a dinner jacket and suit, (‘tuxedo’ for those in the US,) men were expected to wear a formal white shirt and a black bow tie. Antony Armstrong Jones was once seen in a polo-necked jumper and since then various other styles have appeared – coloured bow ties and ties of differing shapes.


The Queen Mother

The mother of our present queen, always styled Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was probably as well-loved as the Queen. She continued to make royal engagements almost until her death at the age of 101.

Ceremonial Events

I have mentioned the coronation and the State Opening of Parliament but royalty gives the opportunities for ceremonial occasions, enjoyed by the public through the medium of television. I remember the weddings of Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Prince Charles and the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. We also had the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales and the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Queen.

Other Royalty

The Royal Family has always had many of its members involved in public life in various ways. I will just list three of them here. The Duchess of Kent for many years always represented the Queen at Wimbledon in the Royal Box and all players used to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also came up in the news sometimes although they lived abroad. They were the former King Edward VIII and his wife, for whom he had abdicated the monarchy. He was HRH the Duke of Windsor and he died in the early seventies. The Duchess was never formally HRH – I think the Royal Family never forgave her influence on the former King at the time of his abdication.


It is particularly difficult to describe long-term traditions that extended from the fifties to the present because I am not sure how much my memories reflect the period of this blog. (See Christmas.) But all of the people listed above were evident in the fifties and sixties. One of two of the ceremonial events come from later years.

I want to end by trying to convey how much more important royalty used to be to us. Perhaps it was post-war patriotism or perhaps it was old traditions dying slowly but I am sure that royalty were more prominent in the news and more generally popular than now.

    Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015  Prince_Philip_March_2015

National Anthem

For example the National Anthem was much more commonly heard. It was played on the radio before it closed down and in cinemas and theatres at the end of performances. Everyone always stood in silence and respected the anthem.

Like so many things in British traditions it has no official status and no officially defined words. When used as a hymn in churches it generally has three verses and there are other suggested verses but it is rarely heard other than its first verse:

God save our gracious Queen!

Long live our noble Queen!

God save the Queen!

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us:

God save the Queen!




[73] 23 Railway Cuttings

For this blog I will look at many of the people who I remember well from television of the fifties and sixties. Some may have appeared on the radio at first and some continued for many years afterwards. Many of them also appeared in films or in the pop music charts. I will do them alphabetically (by first names) with notes and dates (and most pictures) added with much help from Wikipedia.

As with the short obituaries that I occasionally write, I keep wanting to write ‘fondly remembered’ or ‘well-loved’ for all of these. But some are still living, some still performing.

There is no logical system for selection – just my failing memory. If you can’t see your favourites from radio and television here they may appear in other blog posts or perhaps they slipped through the net.


Benny Hill

Alfred Hawthorne Hill (1924-1992)

The Benny Hill Show ran on television from the mid-fifties to the end of the eighties, including sketches, slapstick, mime, parody and double entendre. His theme tune, Yakety Sax was often shown with a farcical animated chase scene involving Benny and several scantily-clad women. He also made several comedy records and is well known for ‘Ernie, the fastest Milkman in the West,’ which topped UK charts in Christmas 1971. I remember him for his wicked leer, perhaps more from after the sixties. His show was on ITV which we didn’t watch much earlier. (Most of my early memories are BBC.)


Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003)

Initially a comedy writer and comedian, Bob was known later for hosting game shows, particularly the Golden Shot from 1967 to 1972, also Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes and others. He was sharp with ad lib humour.


Brian Rix (1924-)

For most of the fifties and sixties Brian appeared in farces at the Whitehall Theatre, London and these Whitehall farces were regularly shown on television. It’s a form of drama, with improbable and absurd situations, that has gone out of fashion nowadays but was very popular at the time. All the televised farces seemed to star Brian with many other well-known actors and actresses.

He had a long marriage with the actress Elspet Gray, with whom he worked. In 1951 the first of their four children was born, a daughter with Down syndrome (in those days referred to as mongolism.) There was no welfare support for such children and certainly no education. The only offering the state made was to place them old, Victorian, run-down so-called hospitals where “patients” were left to their own devices for hours on end. The Rixes were determined to try and do something better and became involved with various charities. His personal experience and his leading position as a fundraiser led to Brian applying to work for Mencap. When he retired in 1987 he became chairman and later president.


Charlie Drake

Charles Edward Springall (1925-2006)

I was particularly endeared to Charlie because he was even shorter than me. His comedy was often slapstick and his catchphrase was “Hello, my Darlings!” I will leave it to Wikipedia to explain that ‘the catchphrase came about because he was short, and so his eyes would often be naturally directly level with a lady’s bosom. Because of this and because in his television work he preferred appearing with big-busted women, the catchphrase was born.’

His Charlie Drake Show of 1960-61 ended with a serious accident during a live transmission. (Most television used to be live then.) He had arranged for a bookcase to be set up to fall apart during a slapstick sketch but over-enthusiastic workman had “mended” the bookcase before the broadcast. The actors working with him, unaware of what had happened, proceeded with the rest of the sketch which required that they pick him up and throw him through an open window. He fractured his skull and was unconscious for three days. It was two years before he returned to the screen.

After four films, none of them successful, he returned to television in 1963. I still remember the show in which an extended sketch featured an orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, in which Drake appeared to play all the instruments. As well as conducting he featured as the player of a triangle waiting for his cue to play a single strike – which he subsequently missed.

[I know what you are thinking – 1812 Overture – That would have been a good one for Music lessons at ICHS – Of course it was!]

The show also included a recitation of The Listeners by Walter de la Mare.

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller; Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grass; Of the forest’s ferny floor;

And a bird flew up out of the turret; Above the Traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door again a second time; “Is there anybody there?” he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller; No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes; Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners; That dwelt in the lone house then

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight; To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair; That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken; By the lonely Traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness; Their stillness answering his cry,

While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf; ‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even; Louder, and lifted his head:–

“Tell them I came, and no one answered; That I kept my word,” he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners; Though every word he spake

Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house; From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup; And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward; When the plunging hoofs were gone.

He made a few recordings, notably ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back,’ in 1961. (Nowadays, with political correctness, it would not have been seen in the same way with its references to Australian aboriginal culture.)


Dave Allen

David Tynan O’Mahoney (1936-2005)

Coming from Australia and appearing on British television from the late sixties to the early nineties. His shows interleaved pre-recorded sketches with his dry humour directed from a high chair as he smoked and sipped whiskey. (Wikipedia says that it was ginger ale but we were certainly led to believe that it was whiskey.) He had lost half a finger, which he would allude to sometimes with humour. The truth was that it was an industrial accident.

His humour, especially the sketches, was often controversial and frequently featured Roman Catholicism and priests. (By modern standards it would be tame but then standards used to be very different.)

You could never quite tell how much of his Catholic upbringing had stayed with him but he came across as partly lapsed and agnostic. He always ended by toasting the audience with the words, “Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you”, an original catchphrase that included everyone and typified his amiable style.


Des O’Connor (1932-)

I still think of Des as a singer from his records of the late sixties and seventies but he has done a lot more on television – comedy; hosting chat shows and game shows; presenting the Royal Variety Performance; and more recently presenting Countdown with Carol Vorderman. (And also as the butt of humour from Morecambe and Wise!)


Dick Emery

Richard Gilbert Emery (1915-1983)

I am not surprised to find that after some early entertainment appearances, Dick Emery was associated with some of my other childhood memories – Educating Archie, Tony Hancock and Michael Bentine. But he was most remembered from the Dick Emery Show through the sixties and seventies, featuring many sketches in which he appeared as various flamboyant characters. Most famous of these was Mandy, a buxom blonde interviewed with a series of double entendres. She always ended with, “Ooh, you are awful … but I like you.”


Eric Sykes (1923-2012)

Eric started as a script writer and came to fame in the sixties in his series, ‘Sykes and a …’ This was an early situation comedy, featuring Hattie Jacques as his sister and sometimes Deryck Guyler as ‘Corky’ the local policeman and Richard Wattis as the snobbish neighbour Mr Brown.

For most of his career he was almost totally deaf and he continued for many years even with declining sight. He had short appearances in one of the Harry Potter films.


Harry Worth

Harry Bourlon Illingsworth (1917-1989)

A comedy actor with long BBC running television in the late fifties and throughout the sixties. He portrayed himself as a charming, gentle man bemused by life and will be remembered for his visual illusion of levitation, using a shop window. (High Street shops and department stores, particularly fashion shops, used to show samples of their good in shop windows. This practice has now virtually disappeared.)

Remembered, as his comedy character, as a thoroughly nice man. In those days humour was always clean.


Hattie Jacques

Josephine Edwina Jaques (1922-1980)

A comic actress, known perhaps mainly for the Carry On films but also from many other radio and television series – ITMA (before my time); Educating Archie with Peter Brough (mentioned in another blog) and Tony Hancock. For many years she appeared with Eric Sykes (see below) as his sister in his television series. It was, in the words of Wikipedia, ‘a role that endeared her to the public.’


Johnny Morris

Ernest John Morris (1916-1999)

He was a natural mimic and impersonator, who first appeared on television as The Hot Chestnut Man, a short slot in which he was shown sitting roasting chestnuts, while he told a humorous yarn in a West Country accent, often ending with a moral. His catchphrase was used near the beginning of the programme, when he gave his young viewers a brief outline of the week’s story and asked whether he’d told it before: “Didn’t I ? ………… I thought I did”.

Later he was known for many television programmes, mostly for Children’s Television and to do with animals. He presented Animal Magic from 1962 to 1984, co-presented by others including Gerald Durrell, Tony Soper and Terry Nutkins. It was discontinued when his anthropomorphic treatment fell out of fashion.

I absolutely loved his soft, calm voice and his anthropomorphism. While we watched animals, he would not only voice their thoughts (in a humorous, not serious, way.) He would give them extended conversations and human emotions in his intonation.


June Whitfield (1925-)

June has been a well-known (and well loved) comedy actress since the early fifties, appearing in several popular sitcom series. In the seventies and eighties she starred in series with Terry Scott and even in the nineties she appeared with Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous.


Ken Dodd (1927-)

Ken has for many years been a comedian, singer-songwriter and actor, known most for his fast on-line stand-up comedy style, his trademark unruly hair and protruding teeth, his “tickling stick” and his famous, upbeat greeting of “How tickled I am!”. He works mainly in the style of Music Hall, although he has occasionally appeared in drama, including as Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

He has also been a singer recording serious songs, of which the most famous were ‘Happiness’ and ‘Tears’ in the mid-sixties. ‘Tears’ is among the best ever selling singles of the UK.


Kenneth Williams (1926-88)

He came to fame on the radio in Hancock’s Half Hour with Tony Hancock, mostly playing funny voice roles, with his nasal, whiny, camp-cockney inflections and his catchphrase, “Stop messing about … “) He also featured in the radio series Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne.

He continued to work on the stage and in films, particularly the Carry On films; in Radio programmes such as Just a Minute; and on television including the children’s storytelling series Jackanory.


Lenny the Lion

I loved Lenny the Lion and have taken the liberty of not putting him alphabetically under Terry Hall (1926-2007) who was an English ventriloquist credited as being one of the first to use a non-human puppet. Terry appeared regularly on television with Lenny, a very timid lion, whose catchphrase was “Aw, don’t embawass me!”

Terry created Lenny the Lion in 1954 after he visited the zoo while working at the summer season in Blackpool. Lenny was made from an old fox fur and papier-mâché, with a golf ball for the nose. He originally had a mouthful of fearsome teeth, but they were removed to avoid scaring children in the audience.

The Lenny the Lion Show ran on from 1957 to 1960, followed by Lenny’s Den in 1959 to 1961, and the pop music show Pops and Lenny in 1962 to 1963. They remained popular throughout the 1960s, appearing on stage in Blackpool and on television. Lenny advertised Trebor mints for three years. They continued to work through the 1970s, appearing on television in Crackerjack and 3-2-1. From 1977 to 1980, Hall regularly appeared in the educational television programme Reading with Lenny.


Perry Como

Pierino Ronald Como (1912 – 2001)

An American singer often seen on British television through several decades known for his relaxed style, similar in some ways to Des O’Connor and Val Doonican. His hits included ‘Magic Moments’ and ‘Catch a Falling Star.’


Phil Silvers (1911-1985)

An American comedy actor. I remember the Phil Silvers Show, (which I loved) where he played Sergeant Ernie Bilko at Fort Baxter. In the USA it ran for nearly 150 episodes, all black-and-white, in the late fifties. I think repeats in the UK continued for long afterwards.

Bilko ran the Motor Pool but never seemed to do any work, normally gambling and devising other money-making routines. I still remember his henchmen, Rocco Barbarella and Steve Henshaw; camp cook Rupert Ritzik with his loud-mouthed wife and Duane Dobermanm, the archetypical slob. The camp commandant, Colonel Hall, always knew that Bilko was up to something but never quite knew what.


Pinky and Perky

I nearly forgot this pair, as I forgot them in considering Children’s Television. They were stiffly moving puppets, originally marionettes but later animated cartoons, singing and dancing, anthropomorphic puppet pigs with their own television series, created by Czechoslovakian immigrants Jan and Vlasta Dalibor. They were originally going to be named “Pinky” and “Porky” but there was a problem registering Porky as a character name. They were very alike. Pinky wore red clothes and Perky wore blue, but this distinction was of little use on monochrome TV, so Perky often wore a hat.

Pinky and Perky spoke and sang in high-pitched voices, created by re-playing original voice recordings at twice the original recorded speed; a technique also used by Ken Dodd’s Diddymen and the Chipmunks.


Rolf Harris (1930-)

I can’t leave out Rolf, an Australian entertainer whose career encompassed work as a musician, singer-songwriter, composer, comedian, actor, painter and television presenter.

He is well known for his musical compositions Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, which became a hit in Australia, the UK, and the United States, and Jake the Peg. (So says Wikipedia. I have to add Two Little Boys, a song he sang but did not write.) He played the didgeridoo; was credited with the invention of the wobble board; and was associated with the Stylophone. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was a popular television personality in the UK, later presenting shows such as Rolf’s Cartoon Club and Animal Hospital.

I remember his painting on live television shows, usually with a huge canvas and an industrial sized paint brush. His catchphrase was, “Can you see what it is yet?”


Sid James

Solomon Joel Cohen (1913 – 1976)

A South African-born English actor and comedian who came to fame as Tony Hancock‘s co-star in Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran on television from 1956 until 1960, then from the Carry On films, with the top billing role in seventeen of them, and in television sitcoms for the rest of his life.

Remembered for a lascivious persona, sometimes described as “the grand old man of dirty laughter.”


Tony Hancock (1924-1968)

I was tempted to describe Tony Hancock as ‘Arguably, one of the best ever British comedians,’ but in my mind there is no argument. He was our best ever comedian. I have also been dodging round mention of another show – but it has to be said that for the 1951–52 series, Tony was a cast member of Educating Archie, where he mainly played the tutor to the nominal star, (a ventriloquist’s dummy.) His appearance in this show brought him national recognition.

In 1954, he was given his own eponymous BBC radio show, Hancock’s Half Hour, which lasted for seven years and over a hundred episodes in its radio form, and from 1956 ran concurrently with an equally successful BBC television series with the same name. The show starred Hancock as Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock living in the shabby “23 Railway Cuttings” in East Cheam, one of the first of what we now all sitcoms. Most episodes portrayed his everyday life as a struggling comedian with aspirations toward straight acting.

Sid James featured heavily in both the radio and TV versions, while the radio version also featured Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and others.

Tony became an enormous star in Britain. Like few others, he was able to clear the streets while families gathered together to listen to the eagerly awaited episodes.

As an actor with considerable experience in films, Sid James became more important to the show when the television version began. The regular cast was reduced to just the two men, allowing the humour to come from the interaction between them.

From 1959 it became the first television series to be recorded before transmission, something technically impossible earlier.

Hancock became anxious that his work with Sid James was turning them into a double act and the last BBC series in 1961, retitled simply Hancock, was without him. Two episodes are among his best-remembered. “The Blood Donor“, in which he goes to a clinic to give blood, contains famous lines such as, “A pint? Why, that’s very nearly an armful!” The other instalment is “The Radio Ham“, in which Hancock plays an amateur radio enthusiast who receives a mayday call from a yachtsman in distress, but his incompetence prevents him from taking his position.


Val Doonican

Michael Valentine “Val” Doonican (1927 – 2015)

A well-known and popular Irish singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who was noted for his warm and relaxed style. In the United Kingdom he had five successive Top 10 albums in the 1960s as well as several hits on the UK Singles Chart, including “Walk Tall” and “Elusive Butterfly“. The Val Doonican Show, which featured his singing and a variety of guests, had a long and successful run on BBC Television from 1965 to 1986. He had a gentle baritone voice and, according to The Guardian, he had “an easygoing, homely charm that enchanted middle England”.

There were many others. Some I have forgotten. Some are down in my notes to be mentioned elsewhere. I could also have mentioned: Arthur Askey, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Groucho Marx, Joyce Grenfell (“George, Don’t do that!”), Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Prunella Scales, Richard Briers, Terry-Thomas, Terry Scott, (see June Whitfield) Tommy Cooper, Tony Hart, (and Morph) The Two Ronnies, Vera Lynn, Victor Borge (who once over-ran a live show by about an hour and a half – It was so good, they couldn’t cut him off,) Wilfrid Pickles and many others. Some were more famous before the fifties; some were mostly famous after the sixties.

I have to admit I have really enjoyed writing this one. It has brought back memories.

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[72] Anna Cherkasova, 1903-1977

I am fairly confident that none of you have ever heard of one of my boyhood heroes from her maiden name, Anna Cherkasova (Анна Черкасова in Cyrillic) and very few of you will even recognise the English name she used later. Many people in the sixties probably didn’t notice her. I can tell you very little about her and most of the information comes from Wikipedia.

Aankomst Britse langeafstand wandelaarster dr. Barbara Moore op Schiphol *1 juni 1961

She was one of the first Soviet female engineers after the Revolution of 1917 and in 1932, she became the Soviet Union’s long-distance motorcycle champion. She immigrated to Great Britain in 1939, marrying an art teacher, Harry Moore, from whom she later separated. To me and to most Britons at the time she was known as the one and only: Doctor Barbara Moore.

I have no idea why she was a Doctor but she was always referred to as Doctor. She had unusual views, not usually associated with the medical profession. She was always a vegetarian and also a breatharian, claiming that it was possible to survive without food!

At the end of 1959 she walked from Edinburgh to London. Shortly afterwards she walked from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Then she walked the 3387 miles from San Francisco to New York, in 46 days, arriving in the middle of 1960!

It was the walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End that inspired me. I was fourteen at the time. (She was 56.) It made the national news and she appeared a few times briefly in television news broadcasts. Here she is passing through the village of Hodnet in Shropshire.



Many people have walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats or vice versa. (For non-UK readers, these are more or less the ends of the British mainland at its South-east and North-west tips.) When I researched it in 2000, I found somewhere the record of an Elihu Berritt, an American, who in 1863 walked from Land’s to John O’Groats and back again. Perhaps this was wrong, or perhaps the provenance is not good. Now Wikipedia suggests that the first recorded end-to-end walk, from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, was made by the brothers John and Robert Naylor in 1871.

After Barbara’s journey, a few months later in 1960, Billy Butlin launched the End-to-End Challenge, also making national news headlines and 715 people left John O’Groats. (Some of you will remember Billy Butlin from his Holiday Camps of the time. He may have done this to make the News.) With little preparation, only 138 reached the other end. But this started the great publicity surrounding this route which has been tackled in many strange ways since.

If you want to do it now, the End to Enders club will help.

My Journey

I always knew, from the time I saw Barbara Moore, that I wanted to do this walk to follow her inspiration. I grew up with a strong love of walking and walking holidays, and always used to quote one of my ambitions as ‘to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats.’ In spite of some long walks on footpaths, including the 200-mile Coast-to-Coast Walk across Northern England, I always imagined Land’s End to John O’Groats as a walk to be done at speed over roads, taking the shortest route possible – and eventually I did it!

I won’t bore you with the 20 000 word blog I wrote at the time but here is the cut-down version. (All right, it wasn’t a blog! It started as handwritten words in a few notebooks as I went, and it became a word processed document.) If you don’t want to read about me, skip to the end for a few more words about Barbara.


In 1999 chance circumstances left me on my own while my wife went to the USA for ten days. To make use of those ten days I considered the possibility of starting the long distance walk that I had long dreamed of. (I was still working so I couldn’t do it all at once. The ten days would bring me almost to my home at Cheltenham, with two more sections later.) I knew that I could walk well but I needed the confidence that I could do 25-30 miles a day for days at a time.

So I took a day off work, filled a backpack with enough clothes to represent the necessary weight and walked from Cheltenham to Tewkesbury and back, about nine miles each way. Then I told my wife what I was going to do when she was away. (She wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t that unusual for me to do strange things!)

In those days mobile phones, satellite navigation and the Internet were far more primitive than today. (Yes, even in 1999-2000. Mobile phones were just phones. They did text but nothing else. I had a cheap, clunky Nokia and many non-populated areas, some of which I walked through, could not even pick up phone coverage.)

Route planning was not freely available. I used some purchased software, Autoroute and Milemaster, the AA’s equivalent. The software quickly identified the main route, following the A30, A38, A6, A7 and A9. My aim was to go through Bristol and Edinburgh, but avoid other large cities and, as far as possible, main roads. In particular I wanted to go round Birmingham and between Manchester and Liverpool.

For the first section, as far as Gloucester, the obvious route was the A30 to Okehampton, some minor roads to avoid Exeter, and the A38 from Taunton. To plan in detail I bought large numbers of Ordnance Survey maps. At about £5:00, each map covered about one day’s walk. It would be impractical to take all these maps, so I photocopied them and made strips from which I could summarize the whole route at one A4 page per day. These were backed and laminated in plastic to be waterproof. They were of some basic use, but as they only showed about half a mile off the route, allowing for little flexibility.

For the first section I pre-booked stops and this tied me down to some long days. In my back-pack I had my mobile telephone, a Global Positioning (GPS) unit, compass, prepared maps, a first aid box, reflective strips, spare bootlaces and batteries. The laminated map sheets also included lists of local taxis and details of B&B through the route, not just the pre-booked stops. Spare clothes were kept to a minimum. Probably the essentials were a sturdy rainproof jacket, a litre bottle of water and my soft sports shoes – the ‘Desert Island Discs’ luxury I would change into at all stops. After my first test walk, I had a five-week preparation of weekend walks to toughen up the soles of my feet and prepare my legs for long walks each day.


The First Section – Land’s End to Gloucester

I started with two nights B&B at Redruth so my first day was without a backpack. After a train journey and a bus I registered at the start at Land’s End and wrote my entry in the book. (They gave me a transit form to be signed at points on the way to verify my progress.)

I started on almost traffic-free country roads, stopping briefly at Penzance for coffee. At Crowlas, I crossed the path of Ian Botham, famous as an England cricketer and a long-distance walker for charity, fighting my way through his extensive entourage and streets lined with fans. (My first day was his last, walking a similar route in the reverse direction.) He had police motorcycles, several marshals, cars for doctors and physiotherapists, and his family following in a caravan. He collected a lot of money but I am not sure the miles of traffic queued up behind him appreciated that.

My stop for lunch at Hayles, strictly rationed to an hour, gave me a rest in a pub by an open fire. My ‘blog’ from the time details all the stops, all the lunches and drinks, all the B&Bs and lots of statistics, most of which I will leave out. I continued to Camborne, then to Redruth. Day one had been long and difficult.

The second day started with the first of many cooked breakfasts. I started along the A30, not the most exciting walk. Traffic makes walking on major roads more and more dangerous, one of the reasons Ian Botham had made this his last one. Most of the next two days were along the A30. Generally I aimed to cover nearly twenty miles by lunchtime, leaving just a few for the afternoon.

There were some hard days in the first section because I had just looked at miles on the map without considering the hills! Dartmoor, with its ups and downs was the worst section of the entire walk. Walking downhill is worse on the feet that uphill. There were a couple of day in the first section when I stopped earlier than planned and used a taxi to get to the planned B&B, always carefully noting the exact spot to which the taxi would return the next day.

Days continued following a typical pattern – cooked breakfast – start walking as early as possible – mid-morning half-hour coffee stop (often at pubs that were closed) – late lunch, stopping for an hour – few miles afternoon walk – bath and patch feet up at B&B – cooked evening meal – sleep soundly. I always maintain that if you walk twenty-five miles every day you can eat what you want without putting on weight!

My route took me to Okehampton, which I skirted round, then uphill to panoramic views of Dartmoor and most of Devon. The next days were difficult and by the end of day five I was nearly a day behind schedule, using expensive taxis. I stopped for two nights at Bickleigh and moved later stops back a day, making good use of my mobile phone.

In view of my problems so far with the hills of Devon, I opted for the main route via Tiverton and Halberton. I I kept going until four miles short of Taunton, where I was pleased to find that my mobile telephone was working again after a gap of two days. I ordered a taxi to take me to my B&B in Taunton.

The following day I went through Taunton, the first real civilization since Redruth. (I had managed to go round Launceston, Bodmin, Okehampton and Tiverton.) From there the route went back to the A38 and now it had become flat, effectively following the flood plain of the Bristol Channel. I went straight through Bridgwater and on some straight boring bits of road. My B&B for the night was at Wrington, not a convenient stop. I went round Wrington at some distance and headed for Bristol Airport, where I picked up an airport taxi back to Wrington.

The next two days, more or less straight up the A38 still, were accompanied by my son (although for the last half a day I had to leave him behind as he couldn’t manage the pace.) His car enabled me to do the walks without a full pack. The road to Bristol was mostly gently downhill. Even with our map of Bristol we were lost at Avon Bridge, finding our way eventually on the way to Clifton. In general, my route had always been the shortest way possible, avoiding motorways, at times taking an extra mile or two to avoid major roads. Bristol was so much in the way that I made an exception, and we were both keen to aim specifically for Bristol Zoo where we stopped. After paying for entry I had a brief lunch and spent my ‘hour of rest’ in touring the Zoo. It was well worth it.

On the last day of the first leg I kept on, leaving my son behind, through Whitminster, then going through Quedgeley to avoid the traffic on the A38 but the last miles through downtown Gloucester were uninspiring and long. Finally I reached the logical end to this stage, the centre of Gloucester where Northgate Street, Southgate Street, Eastgate Street and Westgate Street meet!

I went on to Gloucester station. When the ticket seller signed my transit sheet, he was so impressed that he gave me a free ticket. I was soon home. My feet felt better that at the end of any of the last few days and I would have been ready to go on for a few more days.

I learned several thigs from the first section. Perhaps the most obvious was not to go in November when the hours of daylight were so short! The remaining stages were planned for the following March and May. I learned to be more flexible about stops, but it was easier to be flexible where stopping places were more frequent. I prepared a list of possible stops and aimed to book ahead perhaps one or two days at a time.

The Second Section – The Rest of England

Four months later, the next section started with two relatively easy days of local transport (sleeping at home in Cheltenham) without a pack. I started from Gloucester station more or less taking the A38. Leaving Gloucester was familiar, and then Coombe Hill to Tewkesbury retracing the route of my first test walk nearly a year earlier. The A38 took me to Worcester and Ombersley, a good first day of 33 miles. The following day continued up through Kidderminster on the A38, then onwards straight past Bridgnorth, stopping about three miles later for another lift home.

The route continued Northwards including the extensive ring road round Telford. I could have stopped at Hodnet, like Barbara but the pub there was too expensive so I went to nearby Moreton Mill. Another long day brought me to Tarporley.

The next day there were some light showers and Warrington proved to be a large town devoid of B&B stops. I ended up searching in light rain for a pub with accommodation in the downmarket end of the town. The pub I did find was not quite sawdust on the floors, but there were no carpets. The rain and Warrington made this a bad day, probably the low point of this section.

I continued through Newton-le-Willows (just Newton locally,) and Ashton (Ashton-in-Makerfield on the map) then straight through Wigan to the edge of Standish for lunch. It was beginning to look more like proper countryside as I crossed into Lancashire. I saw my first views of the Pennines and reached Euxton (pronounced ‘Exton.’) The journey continued round most of the urban development of Preston on to Garstang. At my B&B I mentioned in passing that this was the approximate halfway point for Land’s to John O’Groats, 425 miles each way, and the response was: “They all say that!”

Then I passed through Lancaster and took a diversion through the town and up the hill to the castle, which was: ‘Closed until March 18′. At Bolton-le-Sands, in spite of the name, there were no sandy beaches. I think a muddy estuary was hidden somewhere. After a lunch stop here I was soon at Carnforth for my B&B. The County Hotel and Lodge was quite a large hotel with accommodation in a separate Lodge – the best so far. I was joined for the weekend by my wife. Carnforth marked the nominal halfway point for the section from Gloucester to Edinburgh.

I moved into Cumbria, passed the village of Beetham and followed a tree-lined river into Milnthorpe for coffee, then on to Kendal for lunch – a straggly sort of town with no obvious centre. After crossing the route for the Dales Way, which we had walked a few years earlier (another significant milestone) I stopped at the Plough, Selside, a pub conveniently marked on the OS map, and was collected and taken to another excellent hotel, the Gateway at Burneside near Kendal.

After some gentle rises, there was a long steady climb to the top of Shap Fell (1400 feet), open moorland with views of mountains to the South and East. Although this was a long uphill walk it was so much easier than Dartmoor, where the climbs were short but steep. I came down into Shap, where I passed the marker to the Coast to Coast Walk and found the Crown Inn, where we had stayed on the Coast to Coast Walk a couple of years earlier.

I had enough time to spot a familiar face on a distant wall! It was a signed photograph of Ian Botham with his Leukaemia Research baseball hat. [Too fresh-faced for his 1999 efforts, this must have dated from an earlier incarnation.] I went on to Clifton, a small village about three miles South of Penrith.

The Battle of Clifton Moor was fought in 1745, just opposite this B&B. I went into Penrith and climbed steadily out. That day ended at Carlisle.

After the built-up bit North of Carlisle following signs to ‘The North’, junction 44 marked the end of the M6. It felt a significant achievement to have followed the M5 and M6 for their entire length. Only here was the first sign indicating ‘SCOTLAND’ to the West. To the North Hawick, Galashiels and Edinburgh were marked, but not Scotland.

I stopped at a cafe in Longtown for my final taste of England. It was a Viennese fancy freshly delivered from Gretna (Scotland). Traffic became much lighter at the junction with the road to Gretna. The transition to Scotland was almost unannounced but I stopped briefly to mark the event.

Coming into Canonbie just before noon, I found the Post Office and had my transit form signed and franked. A sudden pain developed and crossing the road back to the Cross Keys hotel was excruciating. In short I had something like sciatica that meant that walking was almost impossible. This section had been going really well until the last minute and least I had made it to Scotland. Fortunately the 198 bus stopped just outside the hotel, taking me to Carlisle station the next day and home. I soon saw my achievement in a more positive light. If I had known about the 198 bus, I could have chosen any point on its route as a convenient stopping point instead of Edinburgh. The final section just needed minor re-planning. (The injury recovered with a few days of rest.)

The Third Section – Scotland

A few weeks later, the long train ride to Edinburgh brought me, via the now familiar 198 bus route, back to the Cross Keys at Canonbie. After lunch I was ready to start and I took this short day at an easy pace, wary of a possible recurrence of the injury which had prematurely terminated the last section. The weather varied between hot and sunny, and cloudy but warm. [It is worth noting that the preceding week had seen some of the worst rain and flooding in recent times for the Edinburgh area! I had been prepared to delay the start, but kept to my original planned date on the basis of a good 5-day forecast.] I chatted to the landlord at Langholm, my B&B. He had gone from Land’s End to John O’Groats by bicycle.

The next morning I followed the fertile valley of the Ewes Water upstream, between low hills topped by moor and coniferous forests. There were continuing primroses, and fields of bullocks and horned sheep. I watched a group of herons fly from a field they shared with sheep to the tops of conifers. The river went through stage of classical meandering, with ox-bow puddles. Further upstream it became a fast-moving mountain stream, steeper and rockier. The third leg would offer far the best countryside views.

After lunch at Mosspaul, I crossed from Dumfries and Galloway to Borders and started to follow the Teviot. By Teviothead the river was already quite strong and it grew as the road went downhill and downstream. The first full day of this section had been a straightforward, if somewhat long start.

The next day started with quite a long steady climb uphill. Nearer the top, there were panoramic views to the East and, looking back, to the South. A few yards later, through the pass, there were similar views ahead to the North. This was an impressive start to some of the great views of Scotland. My GPS showed that I had climbed steadily from 500 to 1000 feet. The way then went steadily down to Ashkirk at 500 feet again. Then it was up and over another hill in continuing hot weather to Selkirk. In the afternoon I crossed the Tweed and seemed to climb steadily while following the river downstream, eventually reaching B&B at Galashiels.

I left and followed the Gala valley, which was idyllic countryside with flat meanders and oxbow lakes, stopping for coffee at Stow. [That’s Stow as in How Now Brown Cow, not Stow as in Low Blow Flow Mow.] I passed the little village of Heriot, went through Falahill and passed the gates which close off the road when snowbound. I was surprised to find that I was at 1000 feet again following a very gentle climb for much of the way. In a day of hot sun I failed to find lunch because the only isolated stopping points seemed to treat Bank Holiday Monday as a day to keep closed. I just kept going to my B&B at Bonnyrigg a little short of Edinburgh.

After an uninspiring walk through the suburbs of Edinburgh, I managed to find Edinburgh Zoo, where I was able to leave my pack at the information desk and change out of my walking boots for lunch stop combined with zoo visit. The café and zoo were both disappointing, not as good as Bristol. Most of the animals were too far away to be seen, or hidden out of sight, or asleep, or motionless. Something about ‘mad dogs’ and ‘Englishmen’ seemed to come to mind. I wandered round most of it and took a few photographs.


The road onwards led through built-up greater Edinburgh, then the busy A90. I took the diversion to South Queensferry, a pleasant little town, not very busy, with good views of the firth and both bridges. I stopped at a pub under the railway bridge. Then I went up and over the bridge, which carried a lot of traffic. Just before the A90 became the M90 I took the slip road to Inverkeithing, pleasant countryside walking. At my B&B the host talked at length about an attempt to run from John O’Groats to Land’s End in record time in the 1980s, which had failed at Telford.

On the next day, bypassing Cowdenbeath, I came to the county of Kinross. For miles the road followed within 200 yards of the motorway, mostly out of sight and sound, hidden in a cutting or behind an embankment. By junction 5 of the motorway I caught sight of my first loch – another one to tick off in the I-Spy book of Scotland. I had already passed enough wool/ tweed/ cashmere mills/ shops to last a lifetime. With lunch at Kinross I continued to the Bein Inn just beyond Glenfarg, an excellent, picturesque location and a good hotel.


The Bein Inn had a book on birds which may have started my interests in amateur ornithology. On my walking in Scotland I had begun to see in fields the birds I now know as Oystercatchers. (The picture, from Slimbridge, is much more recent.)

At the end of the glen the road opened out into the largest bit of really flat land I had seen in Scotland, with huge fields of oilseed rape in flower. On all sides hills were visible on the horizon. As I approached Bridge of Earn the hills started. Most of the up and down hills for the rest of the day were fairly gentle. There was a definite climb up to the complex junction where the M90 split into two, while crossing the A912 and a railway. Here, at the hill top, views of Perth and the Tay opened up. In the distance snow-capped hills were visible!

I went down into Perth where there were lots of nice coffee shops. It was time to sample a scone with butter and jam. The road went up out of Perth, passing Asda, McDonald’s and Perth’s industrial estates. I met the A9, a road I was to follow for two hundred miles! At this point it was a major dual carriageway but not too bad, with wooded banks to each side. Scrimgeour’s Restaurant near Luncarty was a significant find, a real upmarket restaurant almost in the middle of nowhere. It was a hot sunny walk in the afternoon taking me eventually to my accommodation at Birnam.

The next day was more of the A9. Passing the Blair Atholl Distillery, I came into the very upmarket town of Pitlochry. At the cheapest place I could find both lunch and Guinness were the most expensive I found in Scotland. Staying on the old A9 I went up and over the Pass of Killiekrankie (at 14%). There was little to Killiekrankie apart from its Visitor Centre, so I kept on to Blair Atholl, a nice little village for my B&B. As recommended I went to the Loft Restaurant, where the chef was an ex-Masterchef competitor. (That’s the original Masterchef, not the latest Version!)

Now I was able to avoid the A9 for some of the way, using the old A9 which acts as a cycle path. In the middle of this ‘cycle path’ I found a lost lamb, too weak to stand up. I carried it for a couple of miles and delivered it eventually to a local farmer – in the only car to pass me on a six-mile stretch of road.

Just before rejoining the A9, I found a couple of nameless houses – along the continuation of the old A9 where the designated cycle path had ended. Here I borrowed someone’s picnic table to sit down for lunch. At just over a thousand feet above sea level this junction marked the snow gates to one end of the pass. The way continued on the A9, the main road through the eastern highlands. I climbed gradually, almost imperceptibly, up to 1400 feet.

I found my next fortunate stop for the day. Dalnaspidal Lodge was just a house and a farm. A small concrete path led me down to a secluded little spot by a waterfall and a fast flowing stream, under the shade of the A9 above me.

Back on the A9, the road entered the Highland region at Drumochter Pass. From here it was a slow downhill slope, making a long hard stretch – boring but with views of some impressive snow-capped mountains. Even where the road split to a dual carriageway of motorway dimensions, it was marked by 8 feet high snow poles to either side. The descent to Dalwhinnie came through an open plain. There seemed to be hundreds of signs marking the way to this little village, spread over the mile or so before its very long exit road. The first building was the Loch Ericht Hotel. I had booked a two-night stop here well in advance.

In the evening, the meal was a new experience. Here I met the coach party from Leicester, spending a week touring the Highlands in day-trips by coach or train. I shared with them a limited choice fixed price menu. [I had a scheduled Sunday off here. They gave me a front door key so that they could close in the daytime! I took a casual stroll up and down part of the shore of Loch Ericht where the scenery was excellent. In the evening the Leicester coach had departed and I had the restaurant to myself. The chef provided portions which were large enough to feed at least four people.]

The next day I was able to keep off the A9. I followed the minor road from Dalwhinnie, passing its distillery. Where the road met the A9, the old A9 diverged to a traffic-free path, not part of the official cycle path. The path was like a narrow country lane between young silver birches, with the real A9 only about ten yards to the right.

After passing through Newtonmore the last two or three miles to Kingussie were very hot and tough. I had a complex stop at Kingussie, using the local launderette while nipping backwards and forwards for lunch at the Star Hotel. My extended stop had covered some of the hottest part of the day, but the going in the afternoon was still tough and hot. The road through Kincraig to Aviemore stayed off the A9.

The walk was very hot without any shade and I found it hard to think of Aviemore as the centre of skiing in Scotland. I think Aviemore was the hottest point in Britain on a day way when meteorological records for May were being broken. It certainly felt like it.

The next day was full of the scenic variety which seemed to typify Scotland. There were deciduous woods (mostly silver birch); conifers (natural, not Forestry Commission serried ranks); hills and moorland (with heather not yet in flower); lochs and marshland; grass, sheep and cattle; and arable forms – all in an ornithologist’s paradise. I spotted oystercatchers, ospreys and several other exotic species which I could not identify. (This was before by birdwatching days.) Among the wild flowers were more wild violets.

My first stop, Carrbridge or Carr-Bridge or Carr Bridge is named from an old stone bridge which is still there, but no longer used. Using A9 and the cycle path which was the old A9 took me over Slocht Summit (about 1300 feet) and down to Tomatin. Then a hot hilly walk tool me to my B&B at Daviot.

The wide dual carriageway which formed the A9 as it passed the environs of Inverness, with some fairly heavy traffic, was not one of the best bits. I crossed the Kessock Bridge on to the Black Isle (not really an island) and into Ross and Cromarty. At the other side a ‘cycle path’ led down to North Kessock, smaller and nicer than South Queensferry.

I stopped at Tore, then the afternoon section was another difficult segment of the A9. After a steady uphill incline of about two miles there was a steady descent of about five miles. For most of the descent the bridge ahead was visible, but it did not seem to be getting closer! At last I reached and crossed the bridge over the Cromarty Firth. It was a long, low causeway with short side rails. Cross winds made the experience quite frightening!


Well before this point I had decided to call it a day just over the bridge. I stopped at a very convenient tiny car park and ordered a taxi. The evening was to prove a little complex. When delivered to the Novar Arms Hotel, Evanton, where I had booked to stop overnight, I was informed of an overbooking problem. They had transferred my booking to Kiltearn House, a guest house a mile and a half away on the shores of the Firth of Cromarty. The manager of the hotel took me there in his car. The B&B was comfortable in a scenic location, although totally isolated from Evanton. The owner of the guest house took me to Evanton where the Novar Arms provided a pleasant meal. When he could find a spare minute, the owner took me back to the guest house.

Of course my taxi delivered my back to the bridge the next morning. The A9 followed the Cromarty Firth. Locals seem to call it ‘the beach’, but the map’s ‘mud and sand’ is more accurate. Gradually the oil rigs of Invergordon approached. The plain of Invergordon was mostly arable farmland – grass, corn and oilseed rape. I went up and over the top of the peninsular and on to my stay at Tain, a quaint old town with strangely named shops – The Dress Shop, The Chocolate Shop and The Shoe Shop.

Downhill next day to the Dornoch Bridge, less frightening than Cromarty in spite of a steady crosswind. Back on the A9, I could see Golspie some miles ahead, over the next firth. I went down a narrow, curving road to what looked like another major crossing. It was actually a dry causeway followed by a small bridge. To the left was a wild marshy area with a small loch. To the right was a huge sand flat. The whole area was the nature reserve of Loch Fleet, at low tide. Coming uphill at the other side, the road became largely flat, following a flood plain – with arable land to the right, and hills with sheep to the left.

I have to mention this lunch stop the Caberfeidh Inn at Golspie by the sea. [Apparently caberfeidh means ‘stag’s head’, with added overtones of military symbolism. The name crops up all over Northern Scotland.] The only food available was a choice of toasties or pizza. My 12″ pepperoni and onion pizza was one the best pizzas I have ever had. (I wrote that fifteen years ago and it’s still true.) The clientele were very chatty, and one had walked with Barbara Moore from Dunrobin castle down to Golspie. I was impressed! It beat all the Ian Botham comments.

A straight and flat walk, following the sea quite closely, brought me to Brora. Brora and the Braes Hotel did not win any prizes for their qualities. But Brora had a much nicer, upmarket section on the way out. The sea was always visible. When I stopped in the shade of a church for a short rest, I met another couple who were coming to the end of their walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats. They were the only others I met on the entire route! They were doing a much longer route, at a leisurely pace – a total of 1200 miles in about a hundred days, in several sections. As their stop for the day was planned for Helmsdale, I left them and I continued.

Still on the A9, traffic was now light, with straight, open roads. Oystercatchers were becoming a common sight. After Portgower both the road and the railway were almost at the water’s edge. I stopped at Helmsdale for lunch. In the afternoon the road wound slowly up heather-covered hills, continuing in great meanders. I met the LE-JOG couple again and passed them. When Berriedale came into sight there were some long, steep inclines – about a mile down at 13%, then a mile up at 13%. It was too reminiscent of Devon and Bickleigh! I stopped at the Berriedale Llama Farm.

My last full day went via Dunbeath and Latheronwheel. Later I was passed by a convoy of speed cyclists with their support vehicles, presumably aiming at John O’Groats. Lunch was at the Portland Arms Hotel, Lybster. [That’s Lye-bster, not Lib-ster.] With decreasing population, stops were not so easy. At Bruan church I telephoned for a taxi to Wick, where I went to my pre-booked B&B, unpacked, changed to lighter shoes and went in search of a meal. Not finding an interesting cafe in Wick, I went to the Mackay Hotel, near the station for coffee and some homemade shortbread – all for 85 pence! A little later my B&B host gave me a lift back to Bruan.

The last stretch of about eight miles was a pleasant walk in more comfortable shoes without a pack. The road was straight in flat countryside with extensive views to the left. To the right the sea was not often visible, with short hills masking the cliff tops. It was still a long session, particularly the final miles into Wick. I stopped just before the B&B in the now familiar town of Wick, to buy fish and chips to eat at the B&B in the kitchen. It was an unusual accommodation where the host was absent for most of the time – only £12 per night!

I had planned a short last day and was thinking already of an extravagant First Class train journey home. The land was flat, mostly farmland, sheep and cattle. After crossing a surprising pipeline construction I stopped briefly at Keiss. The Sinclair Arms Hotel was the only stop marked on the map for this stretch. It looked open and I went in, but there was no-one there. I chatted outside to a couple making up their own end-to-end in random bits. They seem to have started Scotland by doing a few bits of the coast from Wick to John O’Groats.

The rest was a long, uninterrupted stretch, spurred on by the prospect of finishing, mostly flat grassland with the sea to the right. Near to the end I was passed by a tandem aiming at a record End-to-End passage. Two or three miles from the end there was a gentle, heather-covered hill. At the top of this hill, John O’Groats suddenly became visible and there were stunning views of Orkney and the North Coast of Scotland. I thought these views were worth the 900-mile walk!


Coming down into the village, there were some tacky gift shops before the real village. I kept on to the Groats Inn, no longer a hotel just a pub. I ordered my pint of Guinness and produced my transit sheet for its final signature. Then me wife walked in the door! I was so surprised I don’t think I believed it. She had driven 600 miles, and was to drive back for another 600 miles to take me home. Before we left, I just had time to buy some John O’Groats shortbread and write my entry in The Book. After several days to think about it, I wrote:

I enjoyed every mile of it. Well, nearly every mile. (Sorry, Warrington!) I owe it all to Dr. Barbara Moore. The best holidays I have ever had.

The last stretch had been surprisingly easy, helped by an early start. I think the surprise at the end stopped me from realising the significance of having completed my lifelong ambition, by walking 900 miles. That gradually caught up with me in the following days and weeks.


I estimated my distance at 908 miles in 39 days at just under four miles per hour. If I did it today I would have accurate GPS tracking me with a full map and detailed statistics but realistically I can only say it was about 900 miles.

Barbara Moore

Back in 1960, Barbara had walked through some severe weather conditions, slept in the tent she carried and completed it in 22 days! She had just nuts, honey, raw fruit and vegetable juice for nourishment.

Her beliefs were that people could live to be 200 years old by abstaining from smoking, drinking alcohol and sex. She claimed she had cured herself of leukemia by way of a special diet. To test her health theories, she planned to build a laboratory next door to her home in Frimley. She was drawn into a lengthy legal battle over a sewer and access roads for a nearby housing estate. She spent years and her life savings fighting her case, but ultimately lost in the High Courts. She was jailed for contempt of court after she refused to accept the ruling.

She died in a London hospital on 14 May 1977, bankrupt and near starvation because of her refusal to eat.


[69] Elizabeth Martha

She was born in 1892, in an era that was very different, before aeroplanes, before cars, before the common use of electricity and telephones and, of course, long before computers. She was the second oldest of a family of eleven children. Some of the children died very young.

She started work at the same place as her older sister so there she was introduced as a younger sister. For the rest of her life, her family and friends called her ‘Cissie.’

I don’t know much about her early life but she became pregnant in 1914. Frederick did the honourable thing, which in those days was very important, and they were married a few months before she had a baby girl – the only child she would ever have. If you haven’t guessed already, the child was my mother, of whom a little more will be said in another blog.


Her husband, eight years older than her, had served in the Royal Navy for several years before meeting her and he re-enlisted when the war started, so she saw little of him. He served through the First World War and returned for just a few years before dying from an infection (caught while working for the GPO in sewers) in 1924.

Cissie lived for the rest of her life, another 55 years, as a widow. To us she was ‘Nan,’ and no one ever called her anything else. (Perhaps Mum sometimes called her ‘Mum.’ I’m not sure.) Unlike my other grandmother, who I can only remember seeing once, we saw her often even before she came to live with us. With a family of six children, sometimes in holiday periods Nan looked after two or three of us.

I have one vague memory of visiting where she used to live in Poplar in East London. It was a first floor flat and she had a portable gas fire.

She must have worked for most of her life (before the days of Social Security) but I am not sure where. Perhaps she was working part-time when we knew her first. The only work that she ever mentioned was at the ‘Section House,’ which was Lime Street Police headquarters in London. I’m pretty sure she worked there as a cleaner.

She came to live with us in 1957, two years after we moved. As you know ([54] Halfway up the Drive) we had no spare bedrooms so at first she shared a room with my two little sisters. When my older brother married and left home, Nan had his small bedroom as her own.

I do remember two of her lifetime friends who sometimes visited, Aunt Nell and Uncle Albert from East Ham. In those days friend of adults were always ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunt’ to children. I think they were very close. I found out later that Nan had a brief engagement to a young man who died when they were both seventeen. He was Nell’s brother.

What can I say about my grandmother? She shared a lot of the housekeeping tasks with Mum and always seemed to be busy. She did some of the cooking and sometimes ironed. (I remember sometimes she didn’t use an ironing board. Perhaps they were too modern for her. She put a blanket on the table in the morning room and ironed on that.) She had two housecoats, one red and one blue, and wore them all the time. She had lived through two Wars and her motto was ‘Waste not, want not.’ When we were very young clothes were sometimes patched and she even darned socks. (You may have to look up ‘darn.’)

To us she was always an old lady, at a time when anyone over 65 was more or less seen as infirm and decrepit. In those days people ate their meals together. We used to eat in what we called the Morning Room and we used the Dining room on Sundays. (I may not have mentioned that the Snooker table converted to an excellent dining table.) From the day she joined us, Nan never felt comfortable doing this and would always eat alone in the lounge or the kitchen, even on Christmas Day.

Her health was never that good but she never complained. I remember two or three heart attacks. Our local GP came when called (as doctors did in those days) and recommended a medicinal brandy. I also remember her coming back from the surgery several times and saying that he had told her not to do any work in the house. Her reply to him was always, “Well, I live with my daughter,” which implied that she led a life of leisure, but she didn’t stop working.

She was short and didn’t quite walk with a limp but one leg was shorter than the other. She wore clumpy, leather shoes, which had to be made to order – one had a thick sole to make her stand level. She needed glasses, both for distance and for reading and two pairs were clearly identified by the red and blue glasses cases in which she kept them. She was always losing them and asking us to find them.

She never bothered to tell us that she was completely blind in one eye. It became evident later when the sight of the remaining eye deteriorated with a cataract. (It was the result of an infection many years earlier in a hospital for something insignificant. Nowadays people would make extensive claims for damages but back then the secrecy of the medical profession meant that no one was seen to be responsible.) For her last few years she was completely blind, continuing to live with Mum and Dad.

They say that parents and grandparents should not admit to having favourites but I was without doubt her favourite grandchild. It was said that even at birth I looked like her late husband. I was given his name as my middle name and was always known as Fred at school, Ilford County High School. (There were too many Alans.) I have his Navy medals, in the familiar Christmas 1914 box from Princess Mary, and a sturdy lockable wooden box that went with him on ships over a hundred years ago.

I think she may have brought a few early records with her and from those I date my love of Teresa Brewer as in [26] ‘All I want is Music, Music, Music, Music!’ and [34] ‘Everything I Do …’


In the fifties and sixties, life expectancy was much less. People were middle-aged in their forties and old in their sixties. Old men were seen much less often and typically old women went round with walking sticks. (I never saw either of my grandfathers, who both died before I was born.)

This is as much about being old in the fifties and sixties as it is about a particular person. But I want to show how hard times were by modern standards (and had been earlier still as our grandparents had grown up) by looking at what my grandmother considered to be the luxuries of her very mundane life.

It has always been hard to decide what to buy older people for Christmas or a birthday and if we asked her there were only ever four things on the list. I expect she had a stockpile that she used carefully.


In the sixties there was no such thing as liquid foam bath or bubble bath – or even what we now call shower gel. We just used soap and water. Chemists or shops like Woolworths would sell either bath salts (in a glass jar) or bath cubes in a box. The more up market wrapped cubes would come out at Christmas, definitely a luxury. We didn’t have anything like that at home but one cube a week was a luxury for an old lady.


The main way that Nan maintained contact with her surviving brothers and sisters was by writing letters, as people did in those days. The standard way of doing that was to use writing paper with matching envelopes. Basildon Bond somehow had the aura of being the best but there were other similar brands available.

I’m beginning to see that as well as being luxuries, this small list shows about the only personal things she ever had or used.


As a family, sweets and chocolates were not part of our ordinary daily life. The Duncan’s Walnut Whirls only came at Christmas. We all had our preferences for very occasional treats, just about only for birthdays. Nan like Quality Street, which always had an old-fashioned look.

(Wikipedia tells me that in the early 1930s only the wealthy could afford boxed chocolates, with exotic ingredients and sometimes with elaborate packaging that cost as much as the chocolates themselves. Quality Street was designed to be sold at a reasonable price, available to working families. Different toffees covered with chocolate came in low-cost yet attractive boxes. Rather than having each piece separated in the box, which required more costly packaging, each chocolate was individually wrapped in coloured paper, in a decorative tin. New technology, the world’s first twist-wrapping machine, was used to wrap each chocolate in a distinctive wrapper.

Britain was still feeling the effects of the economic crash and Mackintosh realized that in times of economic hardship and war, people crave nostalgia. Quality Street chocolates were, packaged in brightly coloured tins featuring two characters wearing old fashioned dress, known affectionately as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality. ‘The Major’ and ‘Miss’, two figures inspired by the play’s principal characters, appeared on all Quality Street boxes and tins until 2000.)

Guinness Extra Stout dry Irish-style stout. $9 for six 12-ounce bottles at The Market at Ghent 730 W. 21st St, Norfolk. Bill Manley / Link

For Ena Sharples of Coronation Street it was just milk stout; for the actor Bernard Miles it was Mackeson: “It looks good, tastes good and, by golly, it does you good” (from a long running advertising series); for the Irish it has always been Guinness. The adverts used to say: ‘Guinness is good for you.’ In those days adverts could say what they liked!

She always had a Guinness every morning, poured slowly and carefully from a bottle. It was generally accepted in medicine at least as a tonic and may have been recommended by her doctor. It gave her a short period of relaxation in the day.

This is an example of what older people were like in the fifties. It’s not an obituary. But no one ever had a better grandmother.

It was only when I came to look into my family history some years ago that I found out her name. I never heard anyone use it. She was Nan to us, Cissie to older relatives.

She was Elizabeth Martha G. It’s a nice name and it’s how I think of her now sometimes.


[31] The Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti

This blog is dedicated to some of my boyhood heroes, as seen on television, mostly those who have produced programmes about natural history, in no particular order. I have augmented my memories with some biographical notes from Wikipedia.

Armand and Michaela Denis


You may remember the film, King Solomon’s Mines, made in 1950, starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger, based (loosely) on the book by Rider Haggard. It has been shown often enough since then on television.

Armand Denis had been a cameraman and film director and he travelled to Africa in 1950 with his second wife, Michaela, to work on the filming of King Solomon’s Mines, in which Michaela acted as Deborah Kerr’s double. A few years later the couple started the first of several series of wildlife programmes for the BBC, Filming Wild Animals.

Their early series were based on the couple travelling alone in a Land Rover with technical equipment. Armand, with his strong Belgian accent always narrated the programmes. Michaela added her enthusiasm for wildlife (and probably some glamour for the adult viewers). In later series, it became clear that they used a larger team of cameramen. Through the late fifties and early sixties they revolutionised wildlife documentaries on television. They made several series for both BBC and ITV, including Filming In Africa (1955), Armand and Michaela Denis (1955–58), On Safari (1957–59), and Safari to Asia (1959–61), which were repeated until well into the 1960s. In January 1963, Armand Denis was the first editor of Animals magazine, which later became BBC Wildlife.

My memories were of many programmes that always seemed to come from the Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti National Park with its thousands of zebra and wildebeest; the annual migration of huge herds of animals; and the rush of wildebeest in their attempts to cross the road before the approaching Land Rover. It was probably a major influence in my love of wildlife programmes.

Hans and Lotte Hass

There was an obvious similarity between Armand and Michaela, and Hans and Lotte. Hans was Austrian and in the fifties he made over a hundred wildlife films with his second wife, Lotte. Hans was a diver and most of his filming was underwater.

Much of their work in East Africa and South Asia was shown on British television in the fifties and sixties. They made underwater wildlife as interesting as the African big game parks.

Jacques-Yves  Cousteau

Jacques Cousteau was one of the co-inventors of the aqua-lung used in underwater diving. After leaving the French navy he spent many years on his ship, ‘Calypso’, researching and filming. His television programmes started with ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’  in the late sixties and continued through the seventies.

David Attenborough

They were not all Belgian or Austrian or French and I haven’t forgotten David. But first I have to say something about zoos.

You will remember that attitudes were different then. This was true of many attitudes. We have seen different attitudes to religion, to authority, to women and families, and we have to add attitudes to animals. Some people had pets; most people were carnivorous; some people hunted foxes; some people were vegetarian and many were broadly sympathetic to the wellbeing of animals.

But there were no ideas of conservation and virtually no awareness of endangered species. Animals in both zoos and circuses were considered perfectly normal and acceptable. (We were not aware of how such animals were treated and, as you might guess by now, generally we didn’t ask.) Zoos always included the larger mammals – elephants, lions, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffes, zebras and many more. (We were not usually so common or colloquial as to use words like rhino or hippo.)

Zoo Quest was a series of multi-part nature documentaries broadcast on BBC television between 1954 and 1963. In each series, a young man called David Attenborough travelled with staff from London Zoo to a tropical country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection. The programme also showed film of other wildlife in the area and of the local people and their customs. Attenborough introduced each programme from the studio and then narrated the film his team had shot on location.


I remember, particularly, the search for the Komodo Dragon and its subsequent capture, but I was also impressed by the views of native culture with David in the longhouses of what is now Indonesia and New Guinea.

David moved to become controller of BBC Two in 1965 but after a few years there he returned to produce and present many more brilliant series of natural history programmes.

Peter Scott

You will be seeing a theme developing. I cannot deny a fondness for films and television about nature.

Sir Peter Markham Scott was well known as an ornithologist and conservationist, but he was many other things including a painter and an Olympic sportsman. He was knighted for his contributions to the conservation of wild animals, which including being a founder of the WWF and the WWT.

He was the only child of Robert Falcon Scott, the famous explorer of the Antarctic. When he was two years old, his father in his last letter to his wife, advised her to “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.”

Like his mother (a sculptress), he displayed a strong artistic talent and he became known as a painter of wildlife, particularly birds. He followed his interests in art, wildlife and many sports, including sailing and ice-skating. He represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at sailing, winning a bronze medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

In 1946, he founded the organisation with which he is now closely associated – originally the Severn Wildfowl Trust with its headquarters at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. (It will not surprise you to know that I am a frequent visitor to Slimbridge.) In the following years, he led many ornithological expeditions and became a television personality, popularising the study of wildfowl and wetlands.

His BBC natural history series, Look, ran from 1955 to 1981 and made him a household name. It included the first BBC natural history film to be shown in colour, The Private Life of the Kingfisher in 1968, which he narrated.

I remember his television appearances where he showed his peculiar enthusiasm for ducks. He made water colour paintings of them and talked of how many of the World’s duck species he had seen and how many he had still to see. (This was all fifty years before I took up birdwatching.)


(I can’t do a whole blog post without a diversion.) With films and television (and in the flesh), I find that some people are attractive because of their voices. We have already met Armand Denis and David Attenborough, two such people – I could listen to them just for the sake of their voices. Others who spring to mind are Anne Mallalieu (now Baroness Hilton of Eggardon), who I admired from my days at the Cambridge Union; Professor Charlotte Uhlenbroek (another BBC wildlife presenter); Keira Knightley; Oliver Postgate (voice of both Noggin the Nog and Bagpuss) and my last hero for today …


Jacob Bronowski

(That’s what Wikipedia calls him. I always remember him as Doctor Bronowski.)

Jacob Bronowski was born in Łódź, now part of Poland. (I put that in because, after a brief holiday in Poland I am fascinated by any country where the word ‘Lodz’ is pronounced something like ‘Woodge.’) His family moved to England in 1920 and he became a brilliant mathematician after studying at the University of Cambridge.

He taught Mathematics and during the Second World War, he worked for the UK’s Ministry of Home Security, where he developed mathematical approaches to bombing strategy for RAF Bomber Command. At the end of the war, Bronowski was part of a British team that visited Japan to document the effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He turned to research in biology, became Director of Research for the National Coal Board in the UK, and developed an interest in the biology of human intellectual traits.

He first became familiar to the British public through appearances on the television version of The Brains Trust (a panel show, somewhat like Any Questions, where the topics of questions were often moral or scientific,) in the late 1950s. His had an impressive ability to answer questions on many varied subjects. He is remembered for his thirteen part documentary series The Ascent of Man, in the seventies, about the history of human beings through scientific endeavour.

I remember his ability to explain scientific and mathematical topics in layman’s terms. In one of series of programmes he presented on live television, he started with an encoded quotation given to him to illustrate the linguistics involved. His assistants counted the letters and built up a histogram. (This was done manually. There were no computers to help him.) He started to suggest that we just had to decode by taking the most common as ‘E,’ and so on. But as the piles of letters were formed, he noticed an anomalous pattern in the letter frequencies. His method would not work.

He spotted straightaway that the producers had tried to make things difficult by using a foreign language (and he knew what the frequencies should be in other languages!) The quotation, which he found immediately, started ‘Sein oder nicht sein …’ It was the familiar soliloquy of Hamlet, in German, a language where the frequency of letters is very different.


[16] Highlands School (2)

I have talked a little in my last blog about my two Primary Schools, Grange Hill and Highlands. Now we move to the basics of education, the Three Rs.


Education then was said to consist of the Three Rs – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. We certainly started with them. I cannot remember learning to read but I must have done it, presumably at school with some help at home. I can say that our early reading pre-dated all the varieties of phonics. We only ever used normal letters and correct spelling. I can remember a series of books called ‘Janet and John’, which we may have used. They were about – wait for it – about a girl and boy called Janet and John. As Wikipedia notes, they were typical, English middle-class children. (We were not then a multi-cultural society.)

(There was another series of Ladybird  books for children, including a graded sequence of books designed to teach basic reading. We used these with our children in the late 70s.)

Readers will be aware of the Beatrix Potter stories for children, beautifully illustrated. I can remember my first of many visits to the Children’s Library, where I brought home one of these. I loved the pictures. We certainly used the library regularly after that. I can’t remember how old I was. On my first visit, together with the Beatrix Potter was another book, which was a great disappointment to me. It was called the ‘Story of Rayon.’ I thought it might be a story, but it was a children’s book about the production of rayon. After that, I looked inside carefully before choosing library books.


Writing at school was very different then. We wrote in exercise books and used a simple ink pen or pencil. Each desk had an inkwell for our pens. I can remember that when the nib of a pen was broken the teacher would supply a new one. For some reason, we had to take the new nib into our mouth and suck it for a few seconds before use. It must have had a waterproof oil to preserve it before use.


At Primary School, none of the children ever used a fountain pen or a ball-point pen. (Teachers could use fountain pens. I don’t think we ever saw ball-point pens at that stage.)

The quality of writing was important. We learned how to shape each letter. At Primary School, we stuck to what I later learned to call printing. We simply did not do joined-up writing. Cursive script was not acceptable at Primary School and was never taught. (Somehow, we all started to do it when we went to Secondary School.)

There were lessons in formal handwriting, when we would try to produce perfect, artistic script. (Mr Adlam taught us to do a simple form of Gothic lettering with a broad nib.)


There were, of course, no calculators but we all did ‘sums’. Without calculators, it was more important to be able to handle numbers (and our complex currency!) We learned tables and had to know from 2 x 2 = 4 up to 12 x 12 = 144 by heart. We learned Long Multiplication so that with a pen and paper we could work out 123 x 456. [It’s 56088. We may not have done quite such difficult sums at first.] We did decimals and Long Division, so we could work out 123 ÷ 456 [That comes to 0.2697..]


Other Subjects

With just the one class teacher, there was no formal timetable and we must have covered other things – History, Geography, Religious Instruction (RI), Art, Music and PE, about which I remember little. RI certainly included the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament (and nothing of other religions). Art was based on powdered paints, which came in just three colours, to be mixed to make others. Music was singing, accompanied on a piano, with occasionally the chance to use percussion instruments.

For PE, once a week, we had to remember to bring shorts and plimsolls in a bag. For many years, the only trainers [US: sneakers] seen in England were the simple, cheap, black, Chinese made plimsolls shown in the picture. All I remember of Geography is that we would be given a map of the World (printed as described above), showing the location of two or three cities, a few days before end-of-term exams.

The other thing I remember being taught, in our final year, was Country Dancing. We did the Valeta, the Gay Gordon and one or two others whose names escape me. (‘Gay’ had a quite different meaning then.)


We knew nothing of SATs. We did not know what was in the curriculum (if there was a curriculum,) nor did our parents and, for the most part, no-one wanted to know. It was up the school, presumably dictated by the local education authority. They did their own testing, when appropriate, and had examinations at the end of every term (or sometimes just twice a year). Parents received a report at the end of term with examination results. In every subject, the report would show exact percentage results from exam and position within the class.

The school report was almost the only contact of parents with the school. In addition to exam results, there was a comment on ‘Conduct.’ This was what interested our father. He wanted to see: ‘Good’ or: ‘Excellent,’ and was never satisfied with ‘Fair.’ (One word was all we ever had.)


There was corporal punishment. The Headmaster had a cane. It was very rarely used. Perhaps it was the threat of punishment, or perhaps we were just well behaved. I cannot remember any child ever being punished, or any action of disobedience or disrespect to teachers – at least at Primary School. The class size of forty was not a problem.

There were House Points awarded as incentives – for good work (neat writing and drawing) and for remembering PE kit.

Mr Adlam

There was no way of knowing how classes were defined, but we assumed some sort of streaming. The top class of third Year Juniors was always taken by Mr Adlam. All teachers tended to keep the same class, which meant that they could re-use material. It is clear that Mr Adlam taught mostly the same topics from year to year.

Most teachers then were women. Mr Adlam was a middle-aged, pipe-smoking man. (I don’t think he actually smoked while teaching. He did smell of tobacco.) He had a charismatic approach. Somehow, we both loved him and feared him. Behaviour in his class was always perfect.

[Think back to the blog about carol singing. When we were much older and went round the streets of Ilford with the Youth Club carol singing and collecting for charity, we knew where Mr Adlam lived. Even at seventeen or eighteen, no one dared to knock on his door and ask for money!]

He would explain the lesson to us, drawing on the blackboard and leave us with a task involving writing and drawing. Every piece of work might have a tick when marked. If it was good, it could be marked ‘G’, ‘VG’ or ‘Ex’ for one, two or three points towards House Points. It was so hard to get a mark of ‘Ex.’ I can remember trying really hard at drawing the red cells within a diagram about blood – and being disappointed with a mere ‘VG.’

I can remember lists of new words to learn, written on the blackboard. Once, one of the words was ‘candid,’ which he said meant completely honest. As an example, he said: if your wife asks you whether she looks nice in a new dress, and says she wants your candid opinion, it means you must tell the truth. Of course, he added, she still wants you to say yes even if it’s not true! (I don’t think Mr Adlam was married.)

There were many things that Mr Adlam taught, that I have heard others say he also did on other years. He went through human skeleton in a series of lessons, and did digestion and the alimentary canal from end to end in another series. As we did the skeleton, we used card, scissors and glue to construct our own skeleton, week by week, which we proudly took home at the end of term.

Craft work with scissors and glue was part of the syllabus. I remember knife-edge folds made in card, and envelopes made from variously coloured pieces of card to take home. When it came to pressing on knife-edge folds, or gluing together, his motto was: “Keep on doing it until you can’t do it any more … Then keep on doing it!”

I wasn’t all work. Once a week he would read to us the continuing story of Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. It was the same book each year, an adventure story with smugglers. Mr Adlam would write up a list of characters on a side blackboard and the list stayed up there. He had to explain why one significant character in the book was marked as ‘(deceased)’.


At the end of term, in a little entertainment for the whole school, we would always see Mr Adlam, dressed in full regalia, sing a Gilbert and Sullivan classic song. There was ‘A More Humane Mikado’ who would “make the punishment fit the crime,” and the Modern Major-general’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance.

I will leave the Eleven Plus until I consider Secondary Education, which may be next time …