Remembrance of Things Past

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


[113] All Manner of Things Shall be Well

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


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


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

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

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

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

Standards and Authority

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Law and Order

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

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

Food and drink

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

General Entertainment.

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

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


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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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



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

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

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



[111] It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

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

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


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

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

Political Geography

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

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

South America

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madagascar was also part of France – Independent since 1960.

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

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

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

Middle East

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

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

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



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

Indian Subcontinent

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

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

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

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

Far East

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

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

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

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

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

[I suppose that was Language Note 4.]

The Soviet Union

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

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


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

But I haven’t quite finished yet.


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

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

Local Government and Devolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

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

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



[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!




Lest we Forget

We always used to have Remembrance Day.

Perhaps I should have done the post about the War today.


The fifties and sixties were so much nearer to the Second World War. My parents had lived through it. (More about them later.)

Many, such as my grandmother, had lived through the First World War.

Remembrance had a higher profile. It was on the eleventh, not the nearest Sunday, and everything stopped.

Poppies were simpler, without the usual leaf. They were hand-made by wounded ex-servicemen and everybody knew that.

There must have been exceptions but generally people accepted the need for wars.


I think of myself as a pacifist and don’t like any form of violence. To me, winning a war doesn’t prove that we were right – just that we were stronger.


But now I will watch the activities in London on the Television.

We should never forget our Military Services and all those who suffer in wars.







[80] A Walk round the Park

This post will be slightly different, inspired by a visit a few weeks ago.


This is Bletchley Park, now open to the public, where UK intelligence services worked during the War to obtain information about German forces.

In the seventies I worked at GCHQ, when the existence of GCHQ was a secret known to few. GCHQ had developed from the wartime work at Bletchley, which was even more secret. Perhaps I knew then more about Bletchley but now much of it is publicly known.

The park is now set up to show things about life in the forties. Much of it is so close to the fifties and sixties that I can use it to illustrate my memories. This post will have all of its pictures from Bletchley with comments reflecting life from the forties to the seventies.


This is the main house. All the codebreaking was done in huts out of sight from the house.

Alan Turing, who worked here, is now more well-known and has been portrayed recently in the film, the Imitation Game. When I visited, the house contained material used in the sets for this film, some of which is shown here.


This sign, at the entrance to the house, mentions early computers. I will have more to say about computers in a later post.


As you may now know, the Enigma was a code machine. Its interception and codebreaking – at Bletchley were important to the British success in the war.



This is one of the Enigma machines. When a lettered key was pressed, its coded version appeared.


It contained a number of wheels as shown here, which were removable and interchangeable. Below is part of the ‘bombe’, the machine constructed and used at Bletchley to decode Enigma – not the real ones, reconstructions for the Imitation Game.


Radio Interception

07radio1 08Radio2

These pictures above show table, chairs and filing cabinet that could have been from the seventies, with radio equipment typical of the forties.

Below is a display from Bletchley about ‘Y’ Stations, radio intercept provided by the forces. [Click on the picture to expand it and read.] I put this in because it must be close to what my father did during the War. He served in the RAF and said very little about it, but he talked of taking down Morse intercept in Burma (now Myanmar.) It was not quite the same as English Morse – as they had extra Burmese letters.

[Most people did not talk of what they did in the War. Perhaps I should have asked him later. Dad will probably have a blog to himself later.]


Inside Bletchley Museum

A selection of pictures showing life from the forties, generally applicable to the fifties and sixties.


Here are some school desks. At ICHS they were similar to those at the front, with a place for an inkwell and a groove for pens and pencils. I think we had only single desks. Everything stayed inside the desk. We had no personal lockers.


So much here is familiar the cooker, with its plate rack, kitchen cupboard, saucepans and the sink in the background. I have done a post about kitchens.


A typical room from the fifties. Note first the flooring – mostly bare lino with a rectangular patterned carpet. Fitted carpets were unheard of. Table, tablecloth and chairs are very familiar. Basket, cups and saucers (never mugs,) and the settee with its antimacassar could have been ours.


I’m not sure how typical this is but I think the clothes could be fifties. Note the clothes horse in the middle. You could use this to dry clothes by the fire indoors when it was raining outside.


Not a good picture (taken through glass) but a simple electric fire.


A gramaphone, a little earlier that the record-players that came with pop music in the late fifties. Occasionally I remember something similar at Highlands – wound up and using clockwork!



From the house at Bletchley, showing some office equipment. The house is probably more upper class. The large wooden desk was typical of the sixties. Chairs, tables, lamps and typewriters could also be sixties.


This picture, as well as the desk, shows a waste paper basket (when they were baskets,) and the heavy telephone, firmly attached with its thick cable to the wall.


A metal filing cabinet. We had hundreds like this at GCHQ. Each drawer hold dozens of loose folders, each holding perhaps hundreds of paper documents. We only had paper documents – no computers.


This typewriter is perhaps a little early for office work in the sixties, but very similar.


Tables, chairs perhaps basic, always wooden. Note the ash tray on the desk. Smoking was very common.


A few more unrelated pictures from Bletchley:


A radiator, seen in the Gents toilet. Of course, in the fifties and sixties, central heating in houses was very rare. These chunky radiators would have been seen in offices – and in houses much later.


Sadly this telephone box at Bletchley no longer has the working telephone inside. These used to widespread and common throughout Britain.


Finally, nothing to do with the fifties or sixties but here are some pictures from around the lake.


A juvenile Moorhen (above) and a Grey Heron.

52Heron1 53Heron2

If you haven’t been to Bletchley I would recommend a visit. There is also an excellent café/ restaurant.







[75] ‘If You See Sid … Tell him!’

I have about twelve half-written posts in various states of readiness, so I have decided to start something completely different! They can all wait.

I want to look at how much of our life was managed by the government before what we now call privatisation. It’s about politics but I want to be non-political. As always, I want to just state how things were, without saying why things have changed and without giving my views about whether the changes were right or wrong. (You may pick up some of my views, especially from the earlier blog about Choice. I can’t help it if I’m a Grumpy Old Man!)

I will unashamedly repeat things from earlier blog posts and anticipate things in blogs to come (just in case anyone hasn’t been following assiduously!)


I don’t think this word existed until governments began the process of taking out control of various organizations and handing them over to private companies, usually by floating them on the Stock Market. Whatever else may have motivated such changes, the share issue has been a major source of government income. Before the word was used we would have called it denationalization. One of the aims of privatization is to introduce competition, which means introducing choice where there used to be a monopoly.

As you read on, you may like to imagine the reverse process – What would happen now if the government tried to take back these functions?

Gas and Electricity

These two are so similar. Both were state-owned utilities. See [5] Winter and [6] Heating


Somehow I assumed that these two had always been national institutions but both came after the War. Gas was actually nationalized in 1948 by merging 1,064 privately owned and municipal gas companies into twelve area gas boards each a separate body with its own management structure. In Ilford our gas came from the North Thames Gas Board, shown as ‘9’ on the map above.

The gas used was coal gas (derived by the process that manufactured coke.) In the late sixties British domestic coal gas supplies were replaced by natural gas.

These boards simply became known as the “Gas Board“, a term people still use when referring to British Gas, the private corporation that replaced the boards in 1972. Even in the seventies the Gas Board had High Street shops that you visited for everything to do with your gas supply. These shops were the only place to buy gas cookers.

Because it was still a monopoly, there was no choice of supplier and effectively only one domestic gas tariff.

British Gas was privatized in the mid-eighties with a Stock Market flotation at the end of 1986. To encourage individuals to become shareholders, the offer was intensely advertised with the “If you see Sid…Tell him!” campaign. (Before then ordinary people were not generally shareholders. Buying and selling shares used to be an esoteric process, unknown to most people, with expensive fees using stockbrokers.)

[It’s probably worth saying now that under the quirks of the United Kingdom, everything I say about England won’t necessarily apply to Scotland in exactly the same way, and it’s unlikely to be the same in Northern Ireland. Sometimes England and Wales can be considered together but not always, especially in more recent times.]


Electricity supply was nationalized in 1947 with area Electricity Boards being formed from 505 small organisations. The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) managed the generation of power while twelve boards transmitted and sold it in England and Wales. (Scotland had a different system.) As for gas, there was a local Electricity Board shop. (We paid by a prepayment meter under the stairs taking shilling coins. Our cooker was gas so at first electricity was for lighting, electric fires, the immersion heater and occasionally an iron.)

As for gas there was effectively just one electricity tariff for domestic supply. I remember a special tariff for storage heaters which used cheaper night-time power to heat homes in the day.

In 1990 the area Electricity Boards were changed to electricity companies, privatized later that year. The CEGB became three separate companies for generation and the National Grid for distribution.

Both Gas and Electricity supply and distribution have now become complicated and incomprehensible (at least to me.) The various companies are no longer limited geographically and some companies supply both gas and electricity. Payment tariffs are varied and complex, sometimes encouraging users to change suppliers.

[Many people, like me, have stuck to their original suppliers through various changes of organization and changes of name.]



Coal is so insignificant now that many readers will wonder why I even mention it. Of course in the fifties most people used coal fires to heat their houses. (As shown in the picture, it was delivered in sacks of about 50 kg.) There was no central heating. Also most electric power used to come from coal then.

The National Coal Board was another nationalized utility created just after the War. It had 958 collieries, the property of about 800 companies. It also took over 55 coke ovens, 85 brickworks, 20 smokeless fuel plants and power stations at some collieries and railway sidings. It managed more than 140,000 houses and more than 200,000 acres of farmland. At its inception the NCB employed nearly 800,000 workers which was four percent of Britain’s total workforce.

But competition in the form of cheap oil imports came from the late 1950s and the industry began to contract and collieries were closed. The government stopped subsidizing the industry in the mid-1960s and pits closed as uneconomic. The industry contracted continuously through the sixties and seventies.

In 1984 it was alleged that the NCB was looking to reduce output further and the 1984-1985 miners’ strike was one of the longest and most bitter in history and cost more than £7 billion of tax-payer’s money.

A further 23 collieries closed before the end of 1985. In 1987 the NCB became the British Coal Corporation. The industry was run down further after the privatization of the electricity suppliers and an increase in imports of foreign coal.

In 1994, the industry-wide administrative functions of British Coal were transferred to a new Coal Authority and its economic assets were privatized, the English mining operations being merged with RJB Mining to form UK Coal plc. By the time of privatization, only fifteen pits remained in production.



Historically all (landline) telephone networks and telephone services became part of the Post Office (with the rather strange exception of a small area around Kingston-upon-Hull.) This meant that we only had one telephone tariff for calls – but anything beyond a local call was pretty difficult anyway! Of course in the fifties we had no choice of handset and the heavy, black Bakelite phones remained fixed by cables to the wall.

The telecoms side of the Post Office was renamed as British Telecommunications (trading as British Telecom) in 1980, and then became a separate company. A gradual process to introduce competition into British telecommunications industry continued through the eighties and beyond. In the mid-eighties more than 50 per cent of British Telecommunications shares were sold to the public. At the time, this was the largest share issue in the world. The monopoly of British Telecommunications (later BT) was eventually ended and the rest of it has been sold on the Stock Exchange.



As you know (if you’ve been paying attention,) television was much more basic then – very primitive, poor quality terrestrial BBC. It was part of the Post Office so that was where you bought your television licence.

The BBC is now independent but retains links with the government, especially in its income from television licences. All other aspects of television are now commercial.

[I have missed out mobile phones, the Internet, satellite cable and Freeview television and lots more, which just did not exist then.]



Now we have many ways to deliver things but it used to be just the Royal Mail, part of the Post Office, delivering letters, packets and parcels everywhere. Parcelforce as a brand did not exist until 1986 and letters and parcels were delivered together. Although branded separately as Royal Mail, this was not floated on the Stock Exchange until 2013. Royal Mail continues by law with the universal service, which means that items of a specific size can be sent to any location within the United Kingdom for a fixed price, not affected by distance. The Postal Services Act 2011 guaranteed that Royal Mail would continue to provide the universal service until at least 2021.


National Savings

The Post Office Savings Bank, together with other forms of National Savings including Premium Bonds, was part of the Post Office. In 1969 it transferred to a separate department, the National Savings Bank and became independent in 1971. It is now branded as NS&I.

(There used to be Trustee Savings Banks, similar to Post Office Savings. It was never quite clear who owned them but in the seventies and eighties they merged and were floated on the Stock Exchange by the government. TSB has now merged with Lloyds Bank.)

Post Office

You have seen how parts of the Post Office have separated and been privatised. What is left of it covers remaining shops and their counter services. It is now still owned by the Government.

(National Giro was a public sector bank initially run by the Post Office in the late sixties. It became National Girobank then Girobank and was demerged from the Post Office. It is now part of Santander.)



Water used to be something controlled by local government and somehow included in Rates, the earlier local government taxation system, almost without people being aware that they paid for it.

Rates were abolished in 1990 and replaced with the so-called “poll tax“, a fixed tax per head that produced strong public opinion against it. It was soon replaced with Council Tax, a system based on the estimated market value of property assessed in bands of value, with a discount for people living alone.

The Water Act of 1973 reorganized the water, sewage management and river management of England and Wales Water, removing it from local authority control, and ten larger regional water authorities were set up, under state control based on Regional Water Authorities.

Water utilities have now been privatized and Thames Water Utilities is now listed on the Stock Exchange.



From 1948 Railways in Britain were managed by British Railways, which from 1965 traded as British Rail. It had monopoly control of the train services so there was virtually just one option when you bought a ticket! (Actually you could buy a single or a return – which was valid on any returning train for three months. There was an off-peak return, valid for one day outside rush hours, and a few others that would give unlimited travel for a week or more. You could buy season tickets.)

I will look at the dramatic changes in railways in another blog but like the other utilities considered here, rail transport has now been privatized and split up. We now have different train operators and a highly complex pricing system. If you want to go from A to B, the cost will depend on the exact date and time, when and how you book, and which of many options you pick. It may be cheaper to buy a ticket from A to C, beyond B; or to buy a return; or go First Class; or buy two separate tickets from A to Z and Z to B! (You won’t be told any of this when you book.)

(The Rail logo shown above was at times the logo of British Rail, but not in the fifties and sixties. It is now used in general for railways)

Ministry of Defence

Of course this is still part of the government but large chunks of it have been privatized.

When I left university there where MoD establishments all over the country, probably left over from the War, for example the Royal Aerospace Establishment (RAE); the Admiralty Research Establishment (ARE); the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE); and the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE). Gradually their work changed. Those listed and a few others were merged to form the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) still part of MoD until July 2, 2001. It was the UK’s largest science and technology organization. Some, but not all of DERA was privatized to a commercial firm Qinetiq.

Other Government Departments

All I can say about these is that they used to be part of government and they are no longer so. There are many and I take as examples the National Physical Laboratory, (NPL) the Meteorological Office, the Bank of England and London Regent’s Park Zoo (now ZSL) I could list many more.


As a final example of things that are being taken out of government (and local government) control I want to consider schools. All schools in the public sector (which were more or less Grammar, Comprehensive or Primary) came under the Local Education Authority (LEA), part of local government. There are now many more types with the emphasis moving towards Academies, independently funded and without LEA control.

As for many blog posts I am indebted to Wikipedia for details, particularly dates. The facts are theirs, the mistakes are probably mine!



[51] A Little bit of History – and Geography

[51] A Little bit of History – and Geography

This was going to be more of what I remember about very early listening to the wireless – Sunday lunchtime – but not yet.

The trend for my blogs seems to be quite short topics, which need long introductions. For this one I need a bit of history first. No, I need a lot of History – and Geography. It is strange having to explain things that I grew up with that played a major part in World politics until I was 45. But to those under thirty, it is History. If you are over forty, you can probably skip the next bit – past all the maps. If you are a bit younger, don’t worry, there won’t be a test!



From 1922 until 1991 there was a country called the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was a union of several states – Russia and countries now surrounding it – Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and some more obscure countries like Kyrgyrstan and Uzbekistan – but in practice it was Russia with a lot of ‘satellite’ states.

The USSR had a much more powerful role in World politics than Russia now. It ranked with the USA as the two major powers who dominated the World then.

The Iron Curtain and the Cold War

In the fifties we were still in an immediate post-war situation, as I noted in [46] Age shall not weary them. (Almost all of this post was written before I even thought of doing one about the War. Then it seemed slightly logical to move that one forward.)

After ‘the War’, the victorious Allies were the UK, USA, France and the USSR. They occupied the territory of the defeated country of Germany and split it into four parts. But, because the communist countries and capitalist countries were opposed to each other on the basis of ideologies, the USSR did not last long as a friend to the other three countries.

By 1950, three of the sections of Germany had merged to form the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), usually called West Germany; but the USSR section became a separate communist country, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), usually called East Germany.

Politics then polarized countries into the capitalist world and the communist world. They were separated by the ‘Iron Curtain,’ a closely guarded border, which included the border between West and East Germany.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact

The capitalists, led by the USA and the UK formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) for their defence in what was now known as the ‘Cold War.’ NATO was a military union. It included West Germany and many troops from NATO countries (particularly the UK and USA) were stationed in West Germany.

On the ‘other’ side of the Iron Curtain were the communist countries, joined by a similar union of self-defence, called the Warsaw Pact. These countries were the USSR, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia) was part of the communist bloc of countries even though it was not a Warsaw Pact country.

Just as NATO forces lined themselves up along the western side of the Iron Curtain, Warsaw Pact troops occupied land to the East of this border line.

I never thought I would have to explain communism, which dominated much of the World for over fifty years – but is has now disappeared from all of these countries. (Most of them have now switched their allegiance and joined the European Union.) Since the fifties and sixties, in addition to the Warsaw Pact, there have been the communist countries of North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, China, and Cuba such. (This is not the time to go into the politics of communism or the conflicts of the Far East.) If you know anything about life in North Korea now, just imagine that Russia, the rest of the USSR and all the other Warsaw Pact countries used to be much like modern Korea.


NATO (Blue) and Warsaw Pact (Red)


(Sorry, we have a bit more background to get in still!)

Berlin complicated things. The city of Berlin, which had been the German city capital before the War, lies geographically well inside what was East Germany, but Berlin also split into four parts after the War. Soon it went the same way as Germany becoming East Berlin and West Berlin. West Berlin was politically part of West Germany but geographically it formed an ‘island’ surrounded by East Germany. East Berlin was the capital of East Germany but West Germany had a new capital city at Bonn, far to the West.


West Germany and East Germany, showing West Berlin.

As early as 1948, the USSR, controlling East Germany had tried to block access to West Berlin by blocking road, rail and canal access. The Berlin Air Lift by the Air Forces of Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa supported Berlin for a year and the blockade was withdrawn. (In the fifties, South Africa was British!)

But Berlin remained a major point of tension and politics. It contained several British and American airports.

In 1961, East Germany built a massive wall to protect its border with West Berlin (much like the wall now used for Israeli settlements) making the border virtually impenetrable.


The Berlin Wall


OK, I hope that’s nearly enough introduction. You need to know that in the fifties and sixties, thousands of British troops were stationed in West Berlin, in West Germany and in places along the border with the Iron Curtain. And you need to remember my earlier blogs about how little we were able to communicate. ([11] Newspapers and [13] Secrecy)

(There were also American troops, notably one called Elvis Presley who served in West Germany from 1958-60. When he returned he starred in a film, G.I Blues, about soldiers in Berlin. You may not have heard of him but he was a very popular and famous singer and actor.)

For a family in Britain with a family member posted in Germany, using the telephone was not an option. They could write letters but that was not straightforward. They used the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) a very primitive postcode just for our Armed Forces. If you wrote to ‘BFPO xyz’ it would reach the right place – eventually. (You didn’t necessarily know where the location was. You just had to know that was the address for the person you knew.)

Two-way Family Favourites

Through the fifties (and well beyond) there was a very popular radio programme aimed at bringing together families of soldiers serving in West Germany. Two-way Family Favourites (replacing Forces Favourites, which ran during the War) ran for an hour and a half every Sunday lunchtime. It ran on the BBC Light Programme (the precursor of radio Two.)

It was a request programme designed to link families at home in the UK with British Forces serving in West Germany, broadcast simultaneously in Britain and abroad via the British Forces Broadcasting Service. One presenter was based in London, the other in a BFPO station usually in West Germany, but sometimes other locations such as Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia.

[If I do some more Geography and History in later blogs you may learn about Singapore and Hong Kong]

In those days, you sent in a letter or, preferably, a postcard with your request. (No email or Social Media and telephoning would have been impractical.) The format was simple – an introduction, giving names and details and a short message and then some music. Generally each piece of music had two or three separate dedications. Messages alternated between the two presenters in different countries.

In the fifties and early sixties Family Favourites was one of the few BBC radio programmes devoted exclusively to records, so it was very popular, with an audience far beyond the audience at which it was aimed. It was, of course, just about the only radio or television option at a time when most families were together. But it offered real popular records that were what people wanted to hear. I wouldn’t say I listened avidly but we did have it on every Sunday. It was where I heard many of the tunes listed in my three music blogs – from Glenn Miller to Nellie the Elephant (and the Laughing Policeman!) It was just about my only opportunity to hear any music.

It had a memorable signature tune With A Song in My Heart and was presented by a variety of well-known radio personalities including Cliff Michelmore, Jean Metcalfe, Bill Crozier in Cologne, Michael Aspel, Judith Chalmers and Sarah Kennedy. The final UK presenter was Jean Challis.


Cliff Michelmore was well-known later as a television commentator and presenter – for the serious evening programme, Tonight; the Apollo Moon landings; UK General Elections and the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.

Michael Aspel, who presented Family Favourites in the late sixties, was also a regular news reader and presented several other television programmes including Come Dancing (Only loosely related to its successor, Strictly Come Dancing,) Crackerjack (as featured in [29] ‘Was it Bill or Was it Ben?’), Ask Aspel, This is Your Life and the Miss World beauty contests.

By the late sixties Family Favourites survived the restructuring of BBC radio, moving to Radio 2. It continued to the mid-eighties. The Berlin Wall came down about 1990 and about the same time the USSR split up and most communist countries abandoned Communism.

With that lengthy introduction, I could only squeeze in the one radio programme. More will come in later blogs …

[Apologies for some confusion with cross-references. I am gradually renaming old posts. If you don’t recognize the names, the numbers are unchanged – and links should always work.]