Remembrance of Things Past

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


[115] Just Fade Away

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

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


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

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

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

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


Cheese Rind

It must be the way they make cheese now.

Bacon Rind

Cream on the top of Milk

Car Bumpers

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

Hub Caps on Cars

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

Back Doors

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


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


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

Shop Windows

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

Net Curtains

It must be a fashion thing.

Privet Hedges

Tin Openers and Potato Peelers

I suppose I could also put hand whisks here.


Repairing shoes used to be common.

Street Cleaners

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


The End of the Central Line from Epping to Ongar

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

Telephone Kiosks

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

Ticket Sales and Ticket Collectors on Railways

Fixed Prices for Trains – or Coaches or Aeroplane Flights

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

Fireworks at Home

Cap Guns

Luminous Watches

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


Policemen’s Helmets

Ice-cream Vans


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



Short trousers for boys

Skirts for schoolgirls

Public Conveniences

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

Deck Chairs

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


Most have closed or become restaurants.

Pub Signs

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

Football Pools

Holiday Camps

Free Meals on Aeroplanes

Tea Cosies and Tea Strainers

  1. Continue reading


[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.



[110] Dedicated Follower

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

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

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

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


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

Trousers are pants. Pants are underpants.

Waistcoats are vests. Vests are A-shirts.

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

Tights are pantyhose;

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

Y-fronts are jockey shorts.

Knickers are panties. French knickers are tap pants.

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


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

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

pullover  sleeveless

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

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

Summer Clothes

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

Work Clothes

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

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

Rain and Weather

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

raincoat overcoat

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

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


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


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

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

Everything Else

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

Women wore fairly plain dresses or skirts.

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

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

Underclothes and Lingerie

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


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

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

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


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

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


Miniskirts and Hot Pants

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

Dorchester Debs


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Black Tie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

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

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.



[109] Growing Up

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

At Home

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

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


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

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

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

Early School Games


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

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

1024px-jacks  jacks

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


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

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

conkersfruit  conkestrung

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Card Games

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

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

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

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

bezique  beziquepair

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Board Games

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

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

More Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later Books

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


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

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

More Cards

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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[97] Upstairs and Downstairs

Somehow I have been through nearly a hundred posts without looking in detail at the houses we lived in. You already know something about them. They were cold because we had no loft insulation no double glazing, no cavity wall insulation and nothing like modern central heating. In winter we managed with just coal fires – perhaps augmented by small electric or gas fires and paraffin heaters.

[If you haven’t read them all there are lots of links in this post to earlier blogs.]

Houses were designed for typical families who lived how we used to live – nuclear families with parents and children. So typically you had a kitchen, a living room, a dining room and three or four bedrooms with bathroom facilities. We have already looked at kitchens. (If you had a washing machine it went in the kitchen. There were no utility rooms.)

Just as we didn’t have fitted kitchens you will note in what follows that very little was fitted. By modern standards it was all a bit primitive.


[The picture above is a modern reproduction, which illustrates several areas. It’s a typical dining table and chairs to the right with the back of a living room settee on the left. The floor covering is just lino with carpets.]

Living Room

Rooms were separate so it was definitely a living room only. The fashion for open-plan housing came later. Typically the living room had just a three piece suite – two armchairs and a two-seater settee. (There are many words for this – couch, divan, chesterfield (US) and others – probably others in dialects through the country – but to us it has always been a settee.) It might have had a wooden bookcase, probably more common than book shelves.


Central to the living room was the open fireplace with a simple tiled surround. The mantel piece would have a large central clock (the only timepiece in the house) and there would be a mirror over this.

Of course somewhere from the late fifties onwards there was always the possibility of a television – a tiny black-and white set.

Dining Room

People used the dining room because they always ate all meals together as a family. (Sometimes they may have used the kitchen table.) The standard dining room suite was a dining table, perhaps four or six chairs and a sideboard, probably all dark wood such as mahogany. Our sideboard was a large piece of furniture that held some of the cutlery, crockery and kitchenware that would now be kept in the kitchen.



As well as a bed the bedroom would have one or two wardrobes, perhaps a chest of drawers and a dressing table – again typically dark brown mahogany or perhaps a lighter brown walnut. There were no fitted bedroom cupboards and certainly no en-suite bathroom facilities.

Because we had no central heating the beds kept us warm at night. We had sheets and lots of blankets. No one had heard of duvets. (They came into fashion in the seventies. Note that in some countries the word doona is sometimes used for duvet.) In winter there was probable a thick quilt or eiderdown on top.

Bathrooms and Toilets

You will note the separation because the bathroom just contained a bath, a wash basin and, perhaps, a free standing cupboard. Nothing was boxed in as we have today so that all the plumbing pipes were visible.

The toilet had a little room to itself – without facilities for washing hands. The two were next to each other upstairs. Bathrooms always had a bath – showers were much less common. (If you have read about Boar Close and the Cathedral Estate you will remember that it was more common to have an outside toilet. Building regulations have changed and all new houses now have at least one downstairs toilet with its hand basin.)

[Terminology may vary. In the US the room containing just a toilet may be called a powder room or half bathroom. What we call a bath is called a bathtub or just tub.]



Everything about houses was relatively Spartan. Floors in general – including kitchens and bathrooms, were covered with lino, which was cold to walk on. It was a bit like modern vinyl flooring but a cheaper equivalent.

For the main rooms, there would be carpets covering just a rectangular area in the middle. Fitted carpets were unknown, coming in gradually from the sixties. Wooden laminate floor coverings did not appear until the nineties.


Underneath there were floorboards. The wood was far too rough to be walked on. Stair carpets were not fitted either. They went up the middle of the stairs leaving bare or painted floorboards to either side on the parts where nobody walked.

Walls and Windows

In the fifties it was very unusual to see painted walls. We all had wallpaper. I think it may have had something to do with the quality of plastered walls. When painted walls came into fashion in the sixties it was recommended to do them by first pitting up lining paper to create a suitable flat surface.


Walls tended to have a picture rail – a strip of wood about thirty or forty centimetres from the ceiling. You could put metal clips on the rail to hang pictures. I don’t think we had many pictures but we did have mirrors.

Windows were draughty with no double glazing. We always had net curtains as well as proper curtains. I think this was the fashion of the times.

Decorating, Plumbing and Electricity

There is a bit of overlap here with blogs past and blogs yet to come but these were jobs to be left to skilled workers and many such workers earned their living from basic household maintenance such as painting and wallpapering; fixing cisterns and leaking taps; and rewiring houses. This does not mean that such labourers were easy to find and it paid to know your own local plumber or decorator. (We knew a local handyman by name but we still had to wait months for a dripping tap to be mended.)

Plumbing used metal pipes which were much more difficult to fit. Modern plastic fittings are self-sealing, drip-free and easy to cut to size with a hand saw. Metal pipes were large and heavy and the plumber sometimes used a blow-torch to bend pipes. Internal washers, which prevented drips, did not last for ever and needed professional replacement.


Taps (US: Faucets) came in just one style and were not mixer taps. This should not be a surprise as we had virtually no choice about things then.


Electricity supply was also managed without plastics. There were no plastic cables. They were wrapped in tightly coiled fabric. (Nothing like the picture above, which is modern.)


Room lights were different and were almost all ceiling lights, perhaps with one standard lamp. We didn’t have wall fitted lights. I am not convinced by the picture above. Any search for ‘fifties’ seems to produce a lot of modern equivalents styled according to the sixties, when things were beginning to change. (Of course in the fifties we did not have plastic cables as shown.)


The picture above shows a modern three pin plug with its internal fuse. In the fifties there were older standards, two pin for 2 amp connections and three pin. They did not have their own internal fuse. Every new appliance came without a plug so you had to buy one and connect it yourself. I think standardization, with equipment coming already with its own plug, did not come until well after the sixties. Now they may even be so hard-wired that you cannot change them. (There were no trip switches either. When a fuse went, we had to repair it in the fuse box under the stairs with fuse wire!)

It’s been a bit of a rambling blog. (Yes, I know, they all are!) Lots more to come.




[96] “The Wisdom to Know …”

Continuing the theme of alcohol, after a look at pubs in [57] A Pint of Bitter. I come next to how you could buy alcoholic drinks for home consumption.

Off Licences

As I said in the last blog about alcohol, the places you could buy drinks used to be very limited – just pubs and some restaurants (only when with food.) There has been a similar widening in places from which alcohol can be bought for drinking at home. In the fifties, this was only possible from Off-Licences, which were relatively rare. I think there was one in Beehive Lane. Some (but not all) pubs also had a small Off-Licence operating from their premises. People didn’t use them much – most alcohol was consumed in pubs.

Now you can buy bottled beer, wine and spirits from most supermarkets and lots of smaller shops. In my original notes I said newsagents, but now they are all general stores or mini-supermarkets.

Bottle and Cans

You could buy beer only in bottles – a pint or half a pint. (Cider also came in two-pint bottles.) I know that some soft drinks had a 3d returnable deposit on the bottle buy I’m not sure whether this applied to beer.

As explained in the last blog, light ale sold in bottles was not quite the same as draft bitter.


From the late sixties, bitter brewed in wooden barrels was gradually replaced by a similar produced in metal kegs, sometimes known as keg bitter. The purists fought a long battle to retain ‘real ale’ from wooden barrels with the establishment of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, founded in 1971. (CAMRA is still active and various Beer Festivals continue to provide many different types of beer for the aficionados.)

The trend towards drinking more beer at home started around the late sixties with the Party Seven from Watneys, a large can of draught type bitter. It was not easy to open and you had to drink all seven pints quite soon after opening but it started the trend.


One other change of the sixties and seventies was in the consumption of lager. It used to be an expensive drink sold in small bottles and usually drunk by women – often with a dash of lime juice (or lime cordial). I think brands then were German or French and it was seen as not really an English drink, certainly not a drink for men.

Somehow it became more fashionable for men to drink lager – to the extent that it became more popular than bitter. It became available in cans.


The mechanism for opening cans has become easier with the modern ring-pull, shown above, coming in the eighties. (The use of cans has continued now also for many other drinks.)

After the general adoption of lager as a drink we had had the advent of several Australian brands of ‘amber nectar’ and also some American brands. We still have the familiar French Stella Artois and the German Kronenbourg (now part of the Danish Carlsberg brewery.)

beaujolais  blue-nun


Wine only came in bottles and always with proper corks. The volume of a ‘bottle’ of wine was not specified but was always a sixth of a gallon.

People didn’t drink wine much at home. What there was came generally from France of Spain and there were just a few well-known names. Red wine was probably Beaujolais from France and white wine might be Riesling, Liebfraumilch or Blue Nun from Germany. (Of course then it was West Germany.)


There was also Mateus Rose from Portugal and perhaps one or two from Spain and Italy but in the fifties and early sixties we did not see wine produced from further afield. Now we see wine from Hungary, Romania and other countries that were hidden behind the Iron Curtain -also Australia, the USA and South America particularly Chile.


[As for all pictures, it’s best to assume that they are modern equivalents. They are for illustration only and can’t show exactly what things were like in the sixties.]

Somewhere in the sixties wine boxes appeared, a cheap way of buying wine in draught form. You could in theory leave the wine box for a few days once opened but the temptation was there to finish it! Cheaper wine was becoming more available. (To the wine experts it was cheap wine not to be compared to expensive bottled wine. But soon cheap bottled wines became available.)

Drinking at Home

Alcoholic drinks come and go in fashions. In the fifties, sherry was a popular pre-dinner drink, which has now virtually disappeared. People were much more likely to have a sherry before Sunday lunch than wine with lunch. (It was usually very sweet sherry such as Bristol Cream. Sherry has always come in varieties as very sweet, sweet, medium, dry and very dry – cream, pale cream, oloroso, amontillado and fino.)

I think that because home drinking was at such a low level there were the drinks like sherry that would keep indefinitely once a bottle was opened. You saw advertised drinks like Dubonnet, Martini and other aperitifs. We probably had one or two bottles in the dining room sideboard but I don’t remember seeing then ever used. I always considered they were available as something to offer to an unexpected relative visiting.

Other Changes

There is a lot to this blog that comes from my memories and a lot of sweeping generalizations that may be inaccurate – but that won’t stop me saying it all! It’s not helped by being from a time before I knew much of alcohol. I was young and innocent.

The only memories I have of alcohol from the fifties and early sixties are that my parents may have had the odd Bristol Cream sherry before Sunday lunch and a bottle of wine at Christmas. Later on we may have had occasional bottles of beer and, of course, Nan had her regular Guinness.

Alcohol had a more positive (or perhaps neutral) image and people were generally more restrained in their consumption of alcohol. This is all linked to the period of post-war austerity when people could not have afforded to drink anyway.

On the other hand routine drinking at pubs was common with no attempt to control intake just because of their driving. There was no real stigma associated with being drunk while driving. There were laws about being drunk in charge of a vehicle but no scientific means of establishing drunkenness. The decrease in popularity of drinking beer at pubs came with the breathalyzer in the late sixties. There has been a continued drive to reduce drinking under the influence of alcohol with television advertising especially in the weeks before Christmas.

From the late sixties alcohol has become cheaper in relative terms and more freely available. It is now easy to buy alcopops (which did not exist) or single cans of gin and tonic or other mixed drinks in supermarkets. So consumption is much higher. Cynics among you may blame increasing consumption on advertising. There have been many extensive advertising campaigns for various alcoholic drinks – both on television and in cinemas. [As for cigarettes, such advertising has now largely disappeared.]

The younger population have adopted binge drinking as a culture and have opportunities for late night drinking in night clubs (or late opening pubs) which we did not have.

It is worth noting that in the sixties a ‘stag night’ was a few drinks with the boys the evening before the wedding. The best man would make sure that the groom did not drink too much. Now there are week long stag events involving much alcohol – not the night before the wedding to allow some recovery time! In our time there were no ‘hen’ equivalents for women. It was very rare for a woman to become drunk in public.

The trend towards pubs selling food started with decreasing consumption from those who drove. Also other social changes have led to the trend towards eating out much more, and pubs have filled the gap in the market. Now perhaps ninety percent of pubs have closed, with those remaining becoming combined pub/ restaurants or just restaurants.

It is also worth noting that then no-one was ever seen drinking straight from a bottle (or can – but of course canned drinks did not exist). There was no general problem of drinking in public places.

[Yes, people did drink. Some got themselves drunk. Many drove home very drunk. But the overall way of life was different.]


I ought to end with some words of advice. If you have any concerns about your drinking there are many organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. If you have a friend or relative with drinking problems you may want to look at Al-anon.

The Serenity Prayer comes from the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971).

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr used it widely in sermons as early as 1934 and published it in 1951. It spread both through his sermons and church groups and was later adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.