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.



[112] Rock Around the Clock

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Diversion – Clockwork Toys

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


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


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



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

Record Players

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

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

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

Later Changes

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

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



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

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

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



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


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

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


Pop Music

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


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


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


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




[Acoustic and Electric Guitars]

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

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

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

Pop Stars and Pop Groups

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Luxembourg

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

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

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


Pirate Radio

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

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


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


Recording Moving Pictures

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

We had never heard of Dyslexia or ADHD.



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

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

Homes and Education

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

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


Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


Professional Wrestling

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

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

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

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

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


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


Not quite finished. Two more to come.




[92] “To Boldly Go …”

I am going to talk about Astronomy and Space exploration but also about literature and Science Fiction in a fairly rambling sort of way. There can only be one way to start such a treatise.

PKT5802-427642 PATRICK MOORE ASTROLOGY Patrick Moore at the Armagh planetariam.

Patrick Moore

Many will remember Patrick from his years presenting The Sky at Night (from 1957 to 2012). He was a prominent and well-known amateur astronomer, well known for his monocle and rapid speech, and also a self-taught xylophonist. He was a prolific author of books about astronomy and his contribution to the science in the fifties and sixties is illustrated by his early books.

They started with A Guide to the Moon (1953) followed by Mission to Mars (1955), The Voices of Mars (1957), A Guide to the Planets (1960) and Stars and Space (1960) – all produced when we knew virtually nothing about the Solar System from actual observations. I am sure that I read some of these as I have always been interested in the Solar System.

The Solar System

In the fifties, compared with today we knew very little about the planets of our Solar System, in fact almost nothing. Perhaps it’s surprising how much we did know. All we knew was what we could observe with telescopes.


[The picture above is taken recently during an eclipse]

The Moon

The Moon turns exactly once every month. So we can only see one side of it. (Nearly all the large satellites of planets do this. It’s caused by the effects of tidal forces from Earth.) In the fifties and sixties we knew nothing about the far side of the Moon. We might have expected it to be similar to the side we know – but it isn’t.


The picture above shows the near and far sides (with false colours) showing very different surfaces. The far side has many more craters without the flat areas we call ‘seas.’



We may not think of the Earth as a foreign planet but before the age of space we had not seen what it looked like. We had maps in books, constructed by a painstaking process of surveying and trigonometry. We didn’t know much about the atmosphere and weather forecasting was fairly primitive. Even before the fifties, the Meteorological Office (then part of government) needed complex and lengthy calculations and it was one of the earliest users of relatively high powered computers.


We have so many satellites now that we take them for granted. At first we called them artificial satellites to distinguish them from the Moon. In the early fifties we had none. Let’s go back a bit.

Early Space Travel

It’s worth considering what the economic and political situation was back in the fifties. You will remember, from [51] Two Way Family Favourites, that the USSR then was in a Cold War with America. The two countries were competitive and Space was a particular area of competition. The technology was developed from Inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) designed to carry nuclear weapons.


Sputnik (1957)

As space travel developed we defined new words from those involved. (US always had astronauts where the USSR had cosmonauts!) Sputnik became the word for satellites, at least for the early Soviet ones.

The USSR were first with a satellite they called Sputnik from what is now Kazakhstan. (The Russian word means something like: fellow traveller.) They launched Sputnik 1 on 5 October 1957, the first artificial satellite. It was small and had no scientific instruments but it began the long ‘Space Race’ between the US and the USSR, with associated technological developments.

In the World today, where satellites are taken for granted, it’s hard to explain the importance of Sputnik 1. It was a major news event (and a disappointment to the Americans, who of course wanted to be first to prove their superiority.) It orbited the Earth every 90 minutes and sent out radio signals which could be picked up by amateur radio enthusiasts around the world. The signals, just blips of sound, only lasted for 21 day until transmitter batteries ran out and Sputnik 1 fell to earth in January 1958.

Sputnik 2, launched in November 1957, carried a dog, ‘Laika.’ She died within hours but started the developments which enabled humans to travel in space. (The secrecy within the USSR meant that it was not until many years later that we learned that Laika had not survived her experience.)


Yuri Gagarin (1961)

The USSR continued to develop their space technology ahead of the USA and in 1961 they successfully launched a Vostok spacecraft carrying a human cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who achieved fame worldwide instantaneously.

When he visited England soon afterwards he paraded the streets of London in an open car with the registration number YG 1. This number actually belonged to a relatively unknown singer, Yana (Yana Guard) who was at the time away on holiday and unable to give permission for its use!

Several other cosmonauts followed, including the first woman in space, Valentina Tereschkova, in 1963. [It has been technically more difficult to cope with female astronauts because of what we might call plumbing. Valentina was rushed into the USSR programme because she was about to marry an earlier male cosmonaut and the USSR thought it was might be an opportunity to study the effects of space on any possible offspring.]

Early US Space Flights (1961-2)

America was considerable behind and their first astronaut, Alan Shepard in 1961 did not even complete a single orbit. They had to wait until John Glenn in February 1962 for the first full orbit.


Telstar (1962)

The first two Telstar satellites were experimental and nearly identical. Telstar 1 launched in July 1962 and successfully relayed through space the first television pictures, telephone calls, and fax images, and provided the first live transatlantic television feed. Telstar 2 launched in May 1963. Both satellites, though no longer functional, still orbit the Earth.

Things like this made the News. You will also remember, from [34] Music 3, one of my first records was called Telstar, by the Tornados. In those days, electronic music was very new and the sound had some associations with developing space technology (and the earlier blips from Sputnik.)

The advent of telecommunications satellites made significant changes to society. Like so much of what I have to write about, it is hard for those today to appreciate how significant the change was. Back in 1956 the Olympic Games were held in Melbourne. News was not instantaneous. With the use of jet planes (which were then modern) we had fuzzy black and white pictures for the newspapers rushed to us within about twenty-four hours – and we wondered about how things had improved. Now we expect full, high quality colour immediately throughout the World.

Satellites today

There are so many things we now take for granted, that depend on satellites. There are, literally, hundreds of satellites. We have almost instantaneous telephone communication around the World; mobile phones; hundreds of satellite television channels; automatic location by GPSS; overhead maps of the World; accurate weather forecasting and the Internet.


The Americans were disappointed (to say the least) when Soviet technology had shown their superiority in space with Sputnik and men in space. At the beginning of the sixties President John Kennedy made what was then a very rash promise. He said that the US would put a man on the Moon and bring him back successfully by the end of the sixties. Remember that in those days, computers were very primitive by modern standards.

NASA started the Apollo program in 1961 with new Saturn rockets. (The USSR remained silent about its plans and continued with orbital spaceflights.) Large amounts of money, technology and effort went into the Apollo program because of the public declaration made by Kennedy and the competitive nature of the Cold War.


Apollo 8 in 1968 sent three men into Moon orbit, safely returning to Earth. Then Apollo 11 in July 1969 placed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. There were further successful Apollo flights but the dramatic events of Apollo 13, as shown in the film, did actually happen.

(One reason that some conspiracy theories consider that Apollo was a hoax is that it was a very difficult task, challenging to the limits the technology of the day. We didn’t get high quality pictures, just fuzzy black and white images. But it did happen. Believe me.)

The USSR did eventually get to the moon and there have been many more successful ventures in space since then.



I am surprised at the time of writing to see that we now have five spacecraft in orbit round Mars. As shown in the picture above we have now put vehicles on the surface and brought back good pictures. Until the mid-sixties we just had what we could see from telescopes on Earth.

Other Planets

In the fifties, just as we had no knowledge of the other side of the moon, we knew virtually nothing of atmospheric or surface conditions on other planets. Some of what we ‘knew’ has turned out to be wrong. For some planets we didn’t even know the length of the ‘day.’ We knew about their larger satellites (moons) but many smaller ones have since been discovered.

The Voyager 2 mission launched in 1977 a spacecraft that passed Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus before reaching Neptune in 1989.


Since 2015 we even have pictures of Pluto.


With no sophisticated computers to work things out, there were alternative theories about the creation of the Universe. Some supported what we now call the Big Bang theory, but the eminent astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle rejected this in the sixties with his own theory of continuous creation. Now the Big Bang is universal accepted and its time line is described and defined in detail. (We also know so much more about sub-atomic particles, quantum mechanics, general relativity and black holes – but this is not the place for a degree course in astrophysics!)

Science Fiction

I have always been keen on astronomy and other sciences but I have also been an avid reader of Science Fiction literature. When it comes to astronomy and life on other planets Science Fiction has always been far from realistic.

If we start with some views of the planet Mars we can go back as far as H G Wells in 1989 with War of the Worlds, a story in which Martians escape from a dying planet and try to invade the Earth. This story had been famously adapted for radio in 1938 and was notorious for causing public panic when presented as if a live broadcast!

As a fan of the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I also read his Martian series starting with A Princess of Mars. Books such as these routinely described the planet as remarkably similar to Earth, inhabited by similar people. There were differences and these differences were part of what made the Science Fiction genre, but the reader never had to think that the gravity or atmosphere or food might be different. We took for granted that alien races would walk like us and talk like us.

Generally science fiction stories about other worlds have always glossed over such minor problems. They generally assume that the gravity, atmosphere, weather and other conditions are so near to our own that they are hardly worth mentioning – and they assume that the people will act more or less like us and speak perfect English.



Doctor Who and Star Trek

I will say something about these two as television later but I have put them here as examples of two things about space travel in Science Fiction. Firstly, in the fifties and sixties all the problems mentioned above were ignored. In particular, wherever the first Doctor went – or the early Star Trek – everyone spoke English without question. In later series, both developed complex technological methods to enable automatic and invisible language translation.

Of course both, by amazing coincidence, only seem to pick places where the temperature, gravity and atmosphere are remarkably similar to ours. Their inhabitants differ slightly from humans – but only as far as we can manage with prosthetic make-up etc.

The other thing that fascinates me about science fiction, illustrated by Star Trek, is how far they can predict the future. Star Trek predicted communicators that foreshadowed mobile phones. But they did not do it very well. They were more like updated versions of old-fashioned walkie-talkies without even an easy way to specify who to talk to! Mobile phones of today make those predicted for hundreds of years in the future look very primitive.

The original Star Trek also had something a bit like a very primitive modern tablet. Captain Kirk could take a quite bulky pad and sign off the orders of the day. Again the prediction is already vastly out-of-date.

More modern science fiction tries to be more realistic in its predictions. Sadly, most of it nowadays is more fantasy based on magic.



[86] Four, Five, Six …


I am going to talk about computers. This may seem strange after [67] One, Two, Three, which showed some of our primitive calculating methods back in the fifties. Computers had originated in the Second World War but even by the 60s had not developed beyond specialist scientific ones used in universities and government organizations. No computer then was as powerful as the microchips in today’s calculators and mobile telephones.

Most of the pictures will come from my visit to Bletchley Park and I will start with three pictures from there to illustrate the earlier blog about calculators. As always, click on a picture to see it enlarged.


I thought my explanation of logarithms might be difficult. It’s all made clear in this display at Bletchley. (Possibly not.)


A larger than life slide-rule.


And a Facit, an early device for multiplication. You can’t see the working – cog wheels inside, operated by turning the handle.


Early History

I need to say at this point that from the seventies I worked at GCHQ, where we had more powerful computers than almost anywhere else and knowledge about the history of computers than was then not public. Recently this has changed and it is now known that the history of computers started at Bletchley Park during the war with machines built solely to solely to decode the German ‘Enigma’ machines.


The picture is a very old machine using valves. It could do simple addition and multiplication and not much else.

Back in the fifties there were virtually no computers – just in some universities, some large businesses and some major government departments, such as GCHQ and the Meteorological Office – weather forecasting was not easy. I’m not sure than any establishment actually had two computers!

So we had none of the phenomena associated with automated processing – no telephone banking; no bar-codes, no automatic washing machines, no spreadsheets, no mobile phones, no itemized till receipts, no e-mail, no Power Point presentations, no Internet newsgroups or chat rooms, no credit cards, no tablets or even laptops, no games consoles, …

Paper Tape and Cards

The simplest job on a computer could take hours and was a complex process, starting with the generation of a paper tape or punched cards and ending with a crude printed output. A lot of what follows comes from my experiences with computers, dating from the late sixties.


Punched paper tape, shown in the picture above, was a continuous stream of paper about an inch wide. Each row of dots across the paper represented a single character – a letter, number, special character or space – and the tape would have been produced in something a bit like a typewriter. The picture above shows a paper-tape reader made by International Computers Limited (ICL) – a UK company, now part of Fujitsu.

Creating and reading paper-tape were both quite slow processes and paper could be torn with unfortunate results. If you ran a test program with paper-tape there were almost always mistakes – so it had to be corrected. The only way you can correct a paper tape is to create a copy! For a minor change, such as adding a comma (a very common correction) you might get away with a fairly straightforward copy with editing but for much more you could end up just rewriting it!


In some ways, punched cards were similar. Each column of holes represents a single character so each card is an 80 character line of code or data. The card below has the single FORTAN statement:

Z(1) + Y + W(1)

With PROJ1039 as a program name in the field at the end.


[I won’t go into details but oldies will remember FORTRAN (from FORMula TRANslation) as a programming language for mathematical and scientific work. At the time, perhaps, COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) was more common. Others such as BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) came later.]

Cards were easier because you might need to just change one card rather than rewrite the whole tape.


Above is an early hand operated machine to make punched cards. Pressing an appropriate selection of tabs simultaneously would create a single character and advance to the next. (You had to know which holes represented which letters!) You can see it was difficult, long-winded and liable to mistakes – one mistake and you would have to start again. I did see machines like this in the early seventies but by then we had progressed to what is shown in the next picture:


These were more like electric typewriters. You used the keys like a typewriter and cards were punched and stacked. A typical program might take 500 to 1000 cards, generally stored in open metal boxes that held 2000 cards.

Computers in the 60s and 70s

I have several memories of computers in the late sixties, starting with half a year working at the Ford Motor Company tractor factory at Basildon. As you have read in [67] One, Two, Three. Ford was a large multi-national company. I think it had one computer, which tried to handle finances, tracking production and parts and other things. It did this, more or less, by running a series of programs once a day. In the morning we would have new printouts – large stacks of paper showing what was where. Whatever we did, there would be no update until the next day.


In another temporary job later at Dollis Hill (The Post Office Research Centre, later relocated to Martlesham, now Adastral Park) I used an ICL machine driven by paper tape. After weeks of preparation and producing paper tape, it was a case of booking the computer, large enough to fill a large room, for an hour for its sole use.


This is part of a more modern computer, from the early seventies. You can see a magnetic tape, which was the main way of storing data – the only way to hold large amounts of permanent data. They were 2400 feet long and if you wanted the last line you had to read all the way through – and rewind back to the start before unloading!


Above is a hard disk array, called a 2314, heavy and something like two feet wide. When installed, they span at high speed and it was possible to read any location almost immediately. The SD card that you might put in a camera today holds maybe a hundred times as much data as this, is more reliable and is much faster!


Here is a line printer. It prints mechanically, line by line and would have produced hundreds of thousands of pages every day – the only form of output. Its output was the familiar fanfold sheets, stacked into piles. Simple monochrome text was the only option.

Because they were mechanical and relatively fast they were very noisy. That’s why the mechanism is enclosed in the box you can see. (It was well before the full colour inkjet printers we have now)

Apollo landing

Apollo Moon Landings

After the War, the USA and USSR were political rivals (as you know from Blog [51]) and they were very competitive in technological developments. After early Soviet success in space exploration, on 25 May 1961, President John Kennedy pledged the US to putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. With a lot of money moved to NASA, the Apollo program just managed this.

On 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and were brought safely home. (Don’t believe conspiracy theories that say otherwise.) There were very fuzzy black and white television pictures.

The next day I started work at a site where we had among the most powerful computers in the World – still as described above using punched cards and printers as the almost the only input and output devices. I am told that computers are NASA were similar to the one we had at GCHQ. But where we managed with one they had five – four ran in parallel and the fifth checked the other four to get sufficiently reliable results.


The picture above from the ill-fated Apollo 13 Mission may look more modern but the equipment shown is not computer equipment. There are displays from technical measuring equipment, possible inked to computers. It was an impressive achievement without the aid of modern equipment.

Remote Access

The ability to access computers remotely started in the late 70s. WE had a thing called Remote Job Entry (RJE) using teletypes like the next picture.


A teletype is like a typewriter but every character is transmitted down a wire to the main computer, perhaps in another building. The computer had the ability to respond and send characters back. They were still very slow, just simple text. (Final Score on BBC television on Saturday afternoon, shows goals and final football results coming in. Some readers will remember vide-printers and, before those, a teletype. We literally waited and watched while clubs round the country sent in their results in a way that was a little bit faster than making telephone calls – via landlines, not mobile phones!)

With RJE it was also possible to send punched card data up to the main computer. The picture above has, at the left, a facility for pinched paper tape.



The next development was Conversational Remote Batch Entry (CRBE). Instead of a teletype we had a Visual Display Unit (VDU) but it was hardly a significant improvement. The display was still a line by line text machine with green text.

Modern Computers

Almost everything to do with modern computers – and modern technology in general – is much more modern.

The trend towards personal computers and home computers dates from the 80s. First PCs used text input and output only, with graphical output. Windows did not come until the late 80s. Even in the early 90s, PCs had disk space of less than a megabyte and memory size considerable less – they were less powerful than current printers (or mobile telephones).

Home computers used to be large boxes – maybe 50 by 50 cm with separate keyboards and displays. Then came laptops, notebooks and tablets.


[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.







[67] One, Two, Three …

When I was at school we had to do Mathematics so we had some quite difficult ‘sums’ to do – without mobile phone apps and even without calculators. How did we manage? (I will get to computers later but I have to start back at school.)

I should be honest here. I like Maths. I did ‘A’ level Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at school, then ‘S’ level Mathematics, then I went to University and did a degree in Mathematics. Now I play around with spreadsheets for all sorts of things. But like everyone else, back in the fifties and sixties I had to do it the hard way. (If you read on you will see that it got easier in the seventies.)


Mental arithmetic at school was important. From very early days at school the times tables were taught by rote – from two times two is four up to twelve times twelve. We did these back in my days at Grange Hill from the age of about seven.

We used our knowledge of tables to do relatively simple sums. At junior school we learned about decimals, subtracting large numbers, long multiplication and long division, all done just by using pencil and paper methods. I won’t go into the details but before Secondary School we knew how to work out: 3456 x 789, and we knew how to find 3456 ÷ 789 as a decimal. (We didn’t do sums quite that hard but we knew the method.)

LogTables SMP%20Tables


At Ilford County High School we needed a quicker way to work out arithmetic. (Of course the same was true at all other schools.) Probably in the Third Form, we did logarithms, a relatively easy and quick way to multiply by using addition. I have considered at length whether to try to explain the way that logarithms work – and I have decided against it. It would take quite some time to do it clearly and I suspect that WordPress would fail with the mathematical notation.

I will show you an example. The oldies can sit back, reminisce and gloat – thinking: ‘Yes, I remember those books. We did that. The young generation have it too easy nowadays.’ And the youngsters can just think: ‘What! Surely no-one actually had to add up three-digit numbers!’

I will give actually give two examples.

A printed list in a little book allowed you to look up every number from 1.01, 1.02, 1.03 all the way to 9.98, 9.99, to find the logarithm of that number. Ok we will call them just Logs. (The battered SMP booklet in the picture is probably from the eighties but the numbers inside were the same!)

Here are the first ones. Log(1.01) is 0.004, Log(1.02) is 0.009, Log(1.03) is 0.013. (I have simplified it by using three figures. The tables coped with four. The Log of 1 is 0.000 and the Log of 10 is 1.000. You don’t need tables for them.)

If you wanted to know 2 x 3, you looked up 2.00 in the book of tables. It’s 0.301. Then you looked up Log(3.00), which is 0.477 (Believe me, I knew both of those. They were part of what we learned at school. I didn’t have to look them up!) Then you wrote down a little sum and added them up:

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
???? Total     0.778

Now we have to get the answer by looking up anti-logarithms. We want a number with a Log of 0.778, so we turn to another page in the book, look up Antilog(0.778) and the answer is – Surprise, Surprise! – 6!

So we complete the table.

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
6.00 Total     0.778

Because we always show our working, we write 2 x 3 = 6.00 (using logs) and put the table by the side.

That was easy. You all knew that 2 x 3 was 6, so here is just one more example, not quite so obvious.

12.34 x 567.8 = ???

Number Logarithm
12.34 1.091
567.8 2.754
7007 Total 3.845

You add the right hand column first, then look up 0.845 in the Antilog tables. So the answer is 7007. [You will either know, or will have worked out by now, that the bit before the decimal point in a logarithm tells you whether its 7.007 or 70.07 or 700.7 or 7007. It gets more complicated for 0.7007 or 0.07007!]

We did everything with those books of Log Tables. As well as multiplication (as shown above, by adding Logs) we could do division, (subtracting Logs) powers (multiplying Logs – using Logs), and sines, cosines and other trigonometry (using other tables in that little book).

It was the way calculations were done in a world without calculators.


Slide Rules

A year or two later we learned to use slide rules, which were just physical devices using the same methods as logarithms. You can see in the picture three wooden graduated rulers fitted together. The middle one slides along. In the diagram it is set up to multiply by two – so you can see how it shows that 2 x 2 = 4 and 2 x 3 = 6. For points in between you count along subdivisions, so you can also read 2 x 1.5 = 3.0 or 2 x 2.3 = 4.6 . The method was not quite as accurate as Logs but it was easier and quicker.

(It doesn’t matter if you haven’t followed the last few paragraphs. If will give you a sense of wonder at how clever we used to be.)



We come now to something I thought at first would be simple – just mention calculators. They were non-existent in the sixties; appeared in the early seventies; were cheap enough for general use by the mid-seventies; and were allowed in schools by the late eighties, replacing all that work with log tables and slide rules.

But then I realised that these cumbersome machines are now so outdated that most youngsters have never seen one and wouldn’t even recognize one! You probably have a Calculator app on your phones. The picture above shows an early calculator. It’s small strip of LED (light emitting Diodes) at the top was all you had then to show what was happening, with physical buttons to enter data.

The picture shows a scientific calculator, which could do trigonometry and other functions. Early basic models just did addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

All you really need to know that these things just didn’t exist in the early sixties. At schools we had to manage with pencil and paper methods, log tables and slide rules.


A Diversion about Tractors

Why am I talking about tractors?

Well, for about six months after I left school, in 1966, I worked in the Accounts Department of Ford Motor Company at their Tractor factory at Basildon, down the road a bit from Ilford. Looking back on that period now, it is amazing that businesses ever managed their accounts with such primitive technology. Most of the time I was sorting through bits of paper, matching invoices to delivery notes so that we only paid for goods actually received.

In theory, every invoice was matched by its proof of delivery and that happened some of the time. More often numbers and dates did not match and there were all sorts of bits of paper to split, rearrange and match. Difficult situations were referred to ‘the Auditors,’ always said with an air of trepidation. I was just a humble clerk – not even that, just a ‘temp.’

[For those who want to reminisce about tractors, there were four models then of different sizes: Dextra, Super Dextra, Major and Super Major. They were bright blue. The one shown in the picture is a Dextra, the smallest model. Every part that arrived at the factory had a part number. Most started C5NN, which meant they were painted bright blue. Engines just had a long number. Delivery notes always seemed to include part number EZE 35, wooden pallets, which were returnable and free.]


Calculating Machines

At the Ford Tractor works, I dealt mainly with internal transfers from Belgium. If I remember correctly, the turnover just for this was about a million pounds a month, a lot of money in those days. It was before the hand-held calculators shown earlier so all we had were some slow, bulky adding machines and these ‘Facit’ machines for multiplication.

You had to manually set up both numbers, then wind the handle several times to get the answer. It was entirely mechanical and so the machines were noisy. It was a miracle that accounts were published every months with figures bearing some approximation to what had actually happened.

Most people in businesses through Britain would not have ever seen something so technologically advanced as this.

They did have a computer – just one for the whole factory complex at Basildon – and I will come to that later. This was going to be blog about computers … Maybe next time.



This is a another working backwards blog. I want to do one about Space Exploration (Yes, I do) but it seemed sensible to do Computers first – and I couldn’t do Computers without a look at typewriters. You may have guessed from the title. It was only when I started to think about this that I realised that many younger readers will have no idea how a typewriter worked – you may just be imagining a computer keyboard, which is not quite the same thing! This a typewriter: RoyalQuietDeluxe Typewriters Apart from writing (with pens) and printing (as described in [11] Newspapers) the only way of producing anything readable, before the computer age, was the typewriter. Businesses and organisations up and down the country relied on thousands of typists, using their skill to manipulate information and produce letters – and lots more. All typists were women and a large proportion of working women were typists, shorthand typists or secretaries. See [20] Sex Discrimination. Fundamentally, the typewriter was a complex mechanical device, having some similarities with the typesetting process, which printed newspapers and books. Every individual letter or symbol was produced by hitting an inked ribbon hard enough to transfer some of that ink to a piece of paper. Keys2 One of a series of hammers would move in an arc. The complexities of the mechanism meant that each hammer was a slightly different shape, with its head at just the right angle to make a vertically aligned letter. It may sound easy but accurate and fast typing was a skill, which took a lot of learning and a lot of practice. A certain amount of force was needed. Professional typists (like professional pianists) did it without looking at the keys, in a smooth rhythm – touch typing. If were too fast and you kit two keys nearly at the same time, the hammers would meet on the way and jam together. Ribbons The mechanical action of the typewriter did more than just hitting the letter on to the page. It moved the carriage on by the (fixed) width of a letter and it also moved on the ribbon. The ribbon thus unwound itself from one spool and wound itself on to the other one. At the end of the ribbon there was a mechanism to reverse it and re-use it. At the end of a line, you had to move the paper up one line. m_type What could you type? I did try to show you but WordPress won’t let me do this. If you have a PC or laptop, try writing something with Courier font. It’s not like other fonts and it’s very near to an old typewriter font. Every letter has the same width, which makes it look peculiar. So the letters in: ‘iiiiii’ are spaced out to take the same amount of space as: ‘wmwmwm.’ This means that you cannot have lines of text adjusted to align at both ends. No surprise there; you could not align to the right or centre either. (Even the print methods for newspapers used different widths. As well as ‘font’ size, there were measures for ‘em space’ and ‘en space’, using the width of an ‘m’ or ‘n’. Newspapers, as now, generally aligned at both ends.) Typewriters always had the familiar QWERTY layout that you see on modern keyboards. It was designed this way to slow down typing to avoid keys jamming together! The keys, in four rows, were generally as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 – =

Q W E R T Y U I O P [ ]

A S D F G H J K L ; ’

Z X C V B N M , . /

Below this was the space bar at the bottom, operated by either thumb. Letters could print upper or lower case and the numbers on the top line had a few special characters as their ‘upper-case’ versions, typically:-   ! ” £ % & * ( ) _ . [‘Shift’, what we now often call CAPS, meant physically lifting the part of the typewriter with all the keys so that the capital letter hit the area where the ribbon was. You would see a whole chunk of mechanism rise inside the machine.] Upper-case versions of the punctuation symbols [ ] ; ‘ and / gave you { } : @ and ? That was all. Keys1

Notice in this picture the letters t, v, f, r, c with their upper-case versions T, V, F, R, C and the number 5 with its upper-case £.

If you look at a keyboard layout you can trace the order t,v,5,f,r,c from right to left, by interleaving four rows (All appear in reverse.)

[As always, don’t take my definitions as gospel. There were variations, including dozens of variations for non-English use. Originally there were no keys for 0 or 1. Typists had to use the letter O for zero and a lower case letter L for one. Upper-case versions of the number line were not standard. US versions had $ instead of £. My old machine had a symbol for ½ somewhere. I am not sure about ¼ and ¾. But whatever your typewriter, the choice of special characters was very limited.] There were some tricks for a few extra characters. You could make a dollar sign with S and /.You could make a sharp sign # (what we now call hash) by using // and =. But many others were not available. (You could use an apostrophe with a fiddly process to make an acute accent.) There was the mechanism for SHIFT (now often called CAPS) but you did not need the keys for navigation (left, right, up and down) or BACKSPACE or DEL or CTRL or ALT or WINDOWS! (And none of the row of function keys on a laptop, which make up another complete row.) You didn’t even need an ON/ OFF switch! (Now, in a standard word-processing programme – or ‘app’ – you can easily do all sorts of symbols: accents like á, â, ã, and ä; Greek letters like γ, δ, λ, μ, and ξ; and Cyrillic (Russian) Щ, Э, Ю and Я. Then there are Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese characters; mathematical symbols and smiley faces, which WordPress will not do.) It goes without saying that a typewriter had only one font size – and you could not do ITALICS or BOLD or UNDERLINE or STRIKETHROUGH. (Tricks again. For Bold, go back and retype, or type heavily. For Underline, go back and do ______) Your only colour was the colour of the ribbon – black. Actually you could get a ribbon divided along its length into black and red, with a little switch on the typewriter. [Not surprisingly, you could not include JPG pictures in your document and you could not do hyperlinks. This blog would have looked very unexciting on a typewriter. And don’t say it’s unexciting now. I do my best to ľįƔƐȠ it up with formatting and pictures.] What about mistakes? If you typed the wrong letter, there was not much you could do apart from starting again. Typists learned not to make mistakes. You did have a few options. For one letter you might be able to go back and over-type the correct one more heavily. This might work of you wanted ‘p’ over a mistyped ‘o’ but it didn’t often work. Then there was Tipp-ex correction fluid. tippex You wound the paper out for accessibility, then carefully brushed over the error with a sort of liquid paper and waited for it to dry. It dried to a white surface over which you could type again. You would only use Tipp-ex for a few errors; they had to be very small errors; and you had to be able to correct them in the same space. In the early 70s, I used an old typewriter to submit assignments for the Open University. I was not an expert typist and each document would take many hours. If I made a mistake I started the page again. Copies There were three ways to produce more than a single copy of a document. The simplest was to use carbon paper but this would only produce one or two copies of the original. Carbon_paper (I suppose some readers will not know what a carbon copy is. You need a sheet of carbon paper – paper with a hard ink surface on one side only – the same size as the sheets of typing paper. You put two sheets of paper in the typewriter with carbon paper between them. Then, as the hammer strikes, the typewriter ribbon marks the top copy and the ‘carbon’ marks the under copy.) If you wanted more than three or four copies you could use a stencil machine, similar to those described in [15] Highlands School (1) Mimeograph_svg We used this method throughout the seventies when I worked in a government department. By typing on to a special stencil paper, you could produce dozens of copies from the stencil. This took some time and I suspect that this method was too expensive for general use. The third method, photocopying, did not become practical – or economically practical until the seventies or later. Photocopiers were large, complicated, expensive and rare. See: [45] How did we Manage Without … ? ETAOIN ETAOIN SHRDLU Before I ever looked at typing, I read a book about linguistics that used ‘Etaoin’ and ‘Shrdlu’ as dummy words. You may see these words sometimes. They come from the typesetting process used for printing, where letters were arranged in order of frequency. Most common in normal English is the letter ‘E’, then ‘T’, and so on. So ETAOIN SHRDLU were the printing equivalent of the typist’s Qwertyuiop Asdfghjkl. shorthand Typists and Shorthand Typists could copy a handwritten text but generally they typed from dictation. Doing this directly would be time consuming for the man doing the dictation if he had to wait for the typist to generate accurate and complete typing. So generally the typist also learned shorthand, a method of writing down information phonetically in a series of squiggles looking more like Arabic than English. (Apologies to anyone who can read Arabic. It’s probably completely different!) Typists would learn to do shorthand at speed from dictation and then type at speed in order to get more highly paid employment (usually not so well paid as the man doing the dictation!) While higher management may have had their own individual secretaries who also did typing, others had to share the talents of a typing pool, a number of typists who typed for a whole office. The overall process then started by a hand written draft to be submitted to the typing pool. The first draft would be done on typing masters and returned for checking. After some corrections and/ or retyping, and rechecking, the master went for printing. The time taken for this process was more likely to be measured in days than hours. It’s the way I saw things typed all through the seventies. (In the Civil Service, I only produced a typed document of a few pages every month or so, sharing the typing pool with dozens of other staff like me. It took several days to be produced. By the end of my working life I typed on a PC and printed copies myself in a matter of minutes.) Office Work Perhaps this is the place to look, briefly, at some other office work – work that was fundamental to the successful running of businesses and other organisations up and down the country. There was filing. Without computers and spreadsheets and databases, this might be on small filing cards, indexed and sorted by hand, or perhaps just filing documents, alphabetically or in some other logical order, in filing cabinets. It was time consuming, boring and prone to error. Finally, business telephones were all routed via the office switchboard – a manual device which needed the continuous presence of a switchboard operator, who may have simultaneously acted as the office receptionist (and probably also as a secretary and typist.) Most of the boring office jobs – typing, filing and switchboard – were generally for women.