Remembrance of Things Past

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


[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.



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Two More Sad Memories

Today I have to note the deaths of two personalities from my early memories.


Cliff Michelmore was a significant part of radio in the fifties and sixties – in a time when radio was a much more important part of our entertainment, when television was poor quality, black and white and just one channel for a few hours each day.

I will leave it to my blog about Two-Way Family Favourites to explain about the radio of Sunday mornings. He is sadly missed.

Paul Daniels, who also died today, was really more a product of the seventies and later. To me he always brought memories of David Nixon and What’s my Line.


From two days ago I could also note the passing of Sylvia Anderson, who did much for early Children’s Television Series such as Thunderbirds. She was much more than the voice of Lady Penelope.




[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.







[77] Wakey-Wakey!

I am going back to some more memories of the ‘wireless’, which in my early years was more significant than television. OK, when I talk of the wireless and television I mean radio and TV – but all such distinctions are rapidly disappearing into the vast all-encompassing Internet in all its forms.

I have so far looked at the Radio programmes Mrs Dale’s Diary and Two-Way Family Favourites and some early television in [31] TV Heroes and [73] More TV (as well as Children’s Television in Blog [29] and Blog [33].)

But I am going to abandon attempts to be logical or chronological because programmes went on for years and started jumping between radio and television. There are still people and programmes I am saving for another blog and there are many I was aware of but did not listen to avidly. (Journey into Space, with its title spoken with an air of terror, Life with the Lyons … deserve an honourable mention. Dick Barton, ITMA and others were before my time!)


Radio had been around longer than television but had not developed much further by the 50s. As for televisions, radio sets were a luxury. Valve-based sets could be large and heavy, maybe the size of a microwave oven and nearly as heavy. They were not portable and households would not think of having two sets. (Cheap, portable sets came with transistors in the mid-sixties.) Tuning was manual and not a simple process.

There were three channels, the Light Programme, (later to form the basis of BBC Radio 2,) the Home Service, (which would become Radio 4,) and a limited classical music channel, the Third Programme (now Radio 3.) We never listened to the Third Programme – It was just classical music which did not feature in the life of my parents.


This is something like our old radio, about 70 or 80 cm wide. It has two controls – one for volume (which also acted as an on/off switch) and one for manual tuning. The chart on the front shows several radio stations around Europe and the tuning dial had to be turned to approximately the right frequency. Of course there weren’t that many stations available even allowing for some long-distance reception. (Quality of reception depended on the frequency band, the time of day and the weather!)

Sunday Lunch

I have looked at Sunday Lunch which kept Mum pretty busy, so we listened to the radio for much of Sundays. I am finding it difficult to pin down times but I think Family Favourites was followed by Billy Cotton for an hour, then two separate half-hour comedies. This blog will look at these Sunday programmes only. I may have missed out some.


Billy Cotton

The Billy Cotton Band Show was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme from 1949 until 1968. I think it ran from noon to one o’clock every Sunday.

The band leader, Billy Cotton, was a larger-than-life Cockney character who started each show with the cry “Wakey-Wakey!” followed by the band’s signature tune Somebody Stole My Gal.”

The show transferred to BBC Television in 1956, usually on Saturday evenings running until 1965. Regular entertainers included Alan Breeze, Kathie Kay, and the pianist Russ Conway. The pianist Mrs Mills made her first television appearance on the show.

[Sir Bill Cotton, the BBC television producer and executive was his son, originally known as Billy Cotton Junior.]

I have to mention Alan Breeze specifically. I always felt that he could have been much more famous if he went out on his own. He was born in 1909 in West Ham, the son of Louis Breeze, a concert and oratorio singer. At the beginning of his career, Alan sang in working men’s clubs, restaurants and even theatre queues. He produced some 78 recordings, for example from his later repertoire: ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’. He produced recordings at film studios for actors who could not sing and met Billy Cotton, who changed his career forever. He started with Billy Cotton in 1932, without a contract, and stayed for 36 years. He became one of the most popular UK vocalists, on radio, television and in theatres around the United Kingdom. His recordings are still occasionally heard on the radio.

(I suspect that I would not have like him so much, or remembered him so fondly, if his name had not been Alan!)


Educating Archie (1950-58)

Educating Archie was a BBC Light Programme comedy show featuring ventriloquist Peter Brough and his doll Archie Andrews. It was a very popular programme even though a ventriloquist act seemed incongruous and silly on radio. It averaged 15 million listeners, and a fan club of 250,000 members. It was my favourite of the Sunday comedy shows.

The show introduced several comedians who later became well known including Tony Hancock as Archie’s tutor, who would greet Archie with a weary “Oh, it’s you again” and always replied to a put down by him with “flipping kids”. Other “tutors” included Benny Hill, Harry Secombe, Dick Emery, Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques and Bruce Forsyth together with a young Julie Andrews as Archie’s girlfriend. Later, Beryl Reid took this role, playing Monica in the style of St. Trinians with catchphrases, “jolly hockey-stick” and “as the art-mistress said to the gardener”. Beryl Reid also played a young Brummie girl, with the catchphrase: “Evening each, moy noyme’s Mar-leen”.

Max Bygraves later played Archie’s tutor with catch-phrases, “I’ve arrived , and to prove it, I’m here” and “That’s a good idea … son!”.

Later attempts to transfer Archie to television were hampered by the fact that Peter Brough was not a good ventriloquist. You could see his lips moving!


The Clitheroe Kid (1957-72)

The Clitheroe Kid was featured diminutive Northern comedian Jimmy Clitheroe in the role of a cheeky schoolboy, who lived with his family at 33 Lilac Avenue in an unnamed town in the North of England. Nearly three hundred episodes were broadcast. (Younger readers will spot a similarity with the Krankies!)

Jimmy Clitheroe was 35 when he started playing the part in 1956, but he could pass as an 11-year-old boy because he had never grown physically beyond that age, though in later years his face gave his real age away. The series was made with a studio audience and there were frequent gales of laughter at Jimmy’s schoolboy humour, as well as at Alfie Hall’s mangling of the English language as he tried to explain something and made it worse. Jimmy wore a schoolboy’s blazer and cap even for radio recordings, to maintain the appearance that he was 11 years old. Real children never appeared in the show, as this would have given away that Jimmy was an adult acting a part; so he talked of his pal Ozzie and his friends in the “Black Hand Gang” (who would punish any member caught in the company of a girl) but they never actually appeared.


The Navy Lark (1959-77)

The Navy Lark was a radio sit-com about life aboard a British Royal Navy frigate named HMS Troutbridge, (a pun on HMS Troubridge, an actual Royal Navy destroyer) based in HMNB Portsmouth. In series 1 and 2, the ship and crew were stationed offshore at an unnamed location known simply as “The Island”. In series 2 this island was revealed to be owned by Lt. Cdr. Stanton.

It was transmitted on the Light Programme and subsequently BBC Radio 2. For most of its run, it starred Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee and Stephen Murray whose names rotated in order of precedence every episode over the entire 15 season run.

Episodes were self-contained, normally consisted of Sub Lt Phillips, scheming Chief Petty Officer Pertwee, and bemused Lt. Murray trying to get out of trouble they created for themselves without their direct superior, Commander (later Captain) “Thunderguts” Povey finding out. Scenes frequently featured a string of eccentric characters, often played by Ronnie Barker or Jon Pertwee. [You may find this a bit reminiscent of Sergeant Bilko in the Phil Silvers Show.]

Its clearly identifiable characters acquired enduring catchphrases. From Sub Lieutenant Phillips: “Corrrrr”, “Ooh, nasty…”, “Oh lumme!”, and “Left hand down a bit.” “Ev’rybody down!” was a phrase of CPO Pertwee’s, necessitated by a string of incomprehensible navigation orders by Phillips, and followed by a sound effect of the ship crashing. Also, whenever Pertwee had some menial job to be done, Able Seaman Johnson was always first in line to do it, inevitably against his will: “You’re rotten, you are!” The telephone response from Naval Intelligence (Ronnie Barker), was always an extremely gormless and dimwitted delivery of “‘Ello, Intelligence ‘ere” or “This is intelligence speakin'”.

Other recurring verbal features were the invented words “humgrummit” and “floggle-toggle” which served to cover all manner of unspecified objects ranging from foodstuffs to naval equipment.

leslie_1   Leslie_2

Leslie Phillips

Many of the characters heard on these early radio shows went on to fame in television or films and several have been mentioned in earlier blogs. Here I have to mention Leslie Phillips, an English actor who came to prominence in films in the fifties, generally acting as a suave charmer with an exaggerated upper-class accent, in the style of Terry-Thomas. After a notable success in the Carry On films and the Doctor series, he moved away from comedy into more character roles such as the Harry Potter series and many TV sitcoms, as well as stage work.

He made his first film appearances as a child in the 1930s and is the only actor still alive who performed at Pinewood Studios in its first week of opening in 1936. Called up to the Army in 1942 he rose to the rank of Lance-Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. Due to his acquired upper class accent, he was selected for officer training and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1943.

It was during the 1950s that he became known for playing amusing English stereotypes. His seductive voice has been his trademark as well as his catchphrases, “I say, Ding Dong” “Hello” and “Lumme!” which were partly, if not wholly, based on those of fellow cad actor Terry-Thomas. He appeared in three of the early Carry films, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable. In the 1960s he took over from Dirk Bogarde in several of the ‘Doctor’ film comedies.

In 1982 he decided to move away from the kind of lecherous twits with suave chat-up lines which had characterised much of his previous work. He has remained busy in both stage and television productions.

Beyond our Ken (1958-64) and Round the Horne (1965-68)

These two were very similar, hosted by Kenneth Horne. Both are puns on his name. They also starred Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee, with announcer Douglas Smith.

There were many regular sketches featuring regular characters. One of the most popular sketches was Julian and Sandy, featuring Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams as two flamboyantly camp out-of-work actors, speaking in the gay slang Polari, with Horne as their comic foil, at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

There were parodies of popular British TV entertainers such as Eamonn Andrews (“Seamus Android”, played by Pertwee), Simon Dee, Wilfred Pickles (both played by Williams), and “Daphne Whitethigh“, presumably based on journalist Katharine Whitehorn.

The shows featured the supposed old English folk singer, Rambling Syd Rumpo, played by Williams, who sang such nonsense ditties as “Green Grow My Nadgers Oh!”, “Song of the Bogle Clencher” and “Ballad of the Woggler’s Moulie”. All Rambling Syd’s songs were new words set to traditional tunes, such as “The Lincolnshire Poacher”, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” and “Widecombe Fair”.

Although I remember all these programmes I have again used Wikipedia to check dates and provide additional information.

I think I am about done for radio but more television to come…













[58] A Picture tells a Thousand Words

This time we have a few pictures that I have found recently in my wanderings round the Internet. I can’t guarantee where these photographs came from or their precise dates, but they are approximately from the fifties or sixties and remind me of my early days. Some will show more details of you click on the picture; some are quite low resolution.

  • In fairly random order, I will start with shoe shops.


This is what they looked like, with every size of every style in a box somewhere. New shoes always came in shoe-boxes. Service was personal with assistants measuring carefully for fit, especially for growing children.

  • The next picture, believe or not, shows X-ray machines.

These were often available in shoe shops, used particularly for children to make sure there was enough room for growth. You can see how the child could look in at the middle, with both parents viewing at the sides. You could see the bones in your feet just as for X-rays used today in hospitals. Now, of course, Health and Safety considerations would not allow such a machine.


  • Next, continuing in a random, order we have a building:


It’s a Telephone Exchange, containing all the equipment to connect calls to just a few thousand lines. It was bulky mechanical equipment, operated slowly and was subject to errors. The building would have had space for some telephone operators and other GPO workers. Now a small computer can replace dozens of exchanges. See [35] Telephones

  • The next picture is a garage – not a service station or a petrol station.


You bought petrol for your car at the same place where you took your car for repairs and servicing. It was not self-service and the man who served you could also check your oil levels; repair or replace punctured tyres; adjust or clean spark plugs etc.

You needed garage services much more then as cars were less reliable. This is a low quality picture so I can’t see the price. It might have been about 5p per litre!

  • Now for memories best forgotten – school dinners.


It was not the high point of the day. The food was plain and simple, dished out together. We queued for it and there was no choice. I have seen it said that the choice was: take it or leave it, but this was not true. You had to take it and you were expected to eat it.

  • Another, much nicer, memory of food, The Curry Emporium.


This Indian Restaurant opened at Gants Hill in the early sixties, our first introduction to any form of non-English cuisine. I remember occasionally going with a group from Ilford County High School for lunch when we were in the Sixth Form, just after it opened. You could get a Prawn Pilau for 6s 8d. (That’s 33p) The Curry Emporium gave me my first experiences of curries, pilaus, biryanis and chapattis. It was all excellent food. I still enjoy Indian cooking.

  • While we are with food, here is a fairly typical family eating at home:


(I didn’t have to say ‘at home’ because that was where people ate their meals.) The picture may be American because that looks like a coffee pot in the background on the oven. Very typical of the era is the fact that everyone ate together at the same time, sitting round a table. It was the easiest way to do it and they had no television to tempt them away. It was, of course all prepared by the mother of the family, the housewife.

  • Perhaps a few years later, here is a television:


This looks like an entertainment centre. Underneath the television is a reel-to-reel tape recorder and by its side is a radio and record player. At the time this was very modern. All of this now could be part of your smart phone!

  • Inside a Department Store:


The goods are tucked away under the counter, much of it in boxes. The assistants would get things out and help you choose. See [52] Are You Being Served?

  • Still in shops, a cash register:


It looks post-decimal, but I think it may be American and older. See [45] How did we Manage Without … ?

  • Now for a car, possibly a bit older than the fifties:


Cars did have running boards at the side like this. It looks British from the number plate and may have been from an early driving instruction booklet. Note the amber indicators, which used to flip out at the side and the explanations of hand signals. When I learned to drive hand signals were still in the Highway Code. [When I went to the USA in the seventies I had a lot of difficulty explaining ‘indicators.’ I think they call them ‘turn signals.’]

  • Bedtime drinks.


I think in the forties cocoa used to be the main bedtime drink, made with warm milk. We had Ovaltine and Horlicks, both of which had their appearances at our household. Shown here is a Horlicks mixer. Hot milk was poured into it, over a measured quantity of a dried powder mix. Using the plunger mixed them together into a smooth drink, also introducing bubbles of air to make it a frothy drink.

  • A Dymo Labeler


I won’t go into how these work but oldies like me can reminisce. It produced strips of plastic marked with embossed letters. The process was slow and fiddly. (The modern equivalent does the same thing without the mechanical processes. It looks more like a keyboard.)

  • Finally, bus tickets.


In the sixties a machine something like this produced bus tickets by printing the details on to a roll of paper, something like a modern supermarket receipt, but much more primitive.

  • These are the real bus tickets that I remember fondly.


These are what we had earlier. For 1d or 2d or 4d you were given a pre-printed ticket, made in different colours. The conductor (or conductress) would clip a hole in the ticket to show that it had been issued. That’s why conductors were known as ‘clippies.’ (Yes, I know, youngsters are asking: What’s a bus conductor? Maybe other blogs will explain some of these pictures a bit more.)

Some of these pictures are American but there were many similarities between the two countries. I have had a comment on Facebook saying how much my blogs remind someone of growing up in Illinois.


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[53] Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

The pace of technology is so fast that many things have come since the fifties and gone. This post is dedicated to a few things we didn’t have then – mainly because they hadn’t been invented – but we don’t have now – because they are already obsolete!

To oldies like me, they were wonderful inventions; to youngsters of today, they are not even memories. Sometimes new methods were invented; sometimes things just got smaller and smaller and became part of something else; sometimes the way we did things changed; and some things just went out of fashion.

For this blog I will exclude methods of recording and playing music, video and television. There’s enough there for another blog! I will start with three devices associated with the telephone.

Telephone Devices

Long before mobile phones and even before landline phones that unplugged, some businesses could use a machine called an Answerphone. It’s hard to describe sizes but it would have perhaps the size of three or four large laptop computers on top of each other. When the business was unable to answer the telephone, the Answerphone machine would play a short recorded message and ask for the caller to leave a message. This was a useful business tool.

Gradually they became smaller and cheaper – so that they might have been used in ordinary houses. They became more common. Then they merged into the handset. Now most cheap handsets include this function – and if they don’t, the telephone provider will probably do it for you.

Next on my list are Pagers. You have to go back twenty years or so and imagine a world without mobile phones but with some creative use of radio. There is extensive radio bandwidth available. As well as radio broadcasting, there have always been Radio Hams and, in the USA, Citizens Band Radio (CB) – both expensive hobbies used by only a very few people. (King Hussein of Jordan was well known in the amateur radio community.)

Pagers used simple radio signals, when technology was on its way to developing the concept of mobile phones. They were about the size of a modern mobile phone, used at first by those who needed to be available on call for emergencies – doctors and police. They did very little. You could telephone the pager’s control centre and tell the operator there the number of the pager you wanted to call. Using available radio frequencies, they would send a signal to the pager device – which would just ring. The owner of this pager device knew he had been paged (but nothing else) and had to find a landline phone somewhere and phone back to the pager call centre – just to get the message, probably a number to call back. Understandably, they were expensive, needing the support of a primitive call centre to support them (when we didn’t have call centres.)

With touch-tone phones, pagers became slightly more sophisticated – the device might actually display the number to call back. They developed enough to show a very short display but by the time the technology developed far enough for useful communication, the pager had become obsolete. It was replaced by a mobile phone.

My third item used by phone is the Fax machine. Dating from the late sixties, a fax (short for facsimile) machine enabled a black-and-white picture to be sent over a telephone line. It was essentially a photocopying process, scanning a sheet of paper at one end of an established telephone call, and printing a copy at the other end (initially just in black and white.) Although it was a pictorial process, it usually copied a sheet of typed words. It could send several pages so it was like posting a letter but faster and more secure. Sending a fax was a time-consuming, messy process. (Each page had to be fed individually into the machine. An A4 sheet would take a few minutes.)

From the late eighties, fax technology was combined with computers, so that a word-processed document could be sent from computer to computer without the need for printing or stamps or postmen – or any time delay!. As you can image, fax has now effectively been made obsolete with the rise of email.



Long before Satnavs, there was something called GPSS, the Global Positioning Satellite System, now generally just GPS. It still amazes me that such a system can be so accurate. I first used one in 1999 to help me on my way from Land’s End to John O’Groats. It was a big, black, plastic thing much bigger than a mobile phone now, worked by a few switches and using a very small display screen. (Pictured above are some relatively modern versions.)

When you turned it on, you had to wait for it to find at least four satellites, which typically took five minutes or longer. (I remember that I had to hold it by the window or go outside to get good enough reception. Mobile phones used to be a bit like that.) Then it told you where you were – just a Grid Reference or latitude and longitude. It had no maps. If you moved it could also work out your speed and direction.

[I have to explain how it works. Each satellite broadcasts an incredibly accurate time signal. Travelling at the speed of light, these signals are delayed by 0.000 000 001 seconds per foot (30 cm). So signals from different satellites arrive at slightly different time delays. All you need is some very accurate, very quick three-dimensional trigonometry to work out where you are. You have to include the equally complex calculation to work out where the satellites are – as they are moving quite fast!]

You can see why we don’t need these devices anymore. The technology is included in many mobile phones and in Satnav systems for cars. They are now accurate to a few metres.



You will remember from [27] ’Normal Service will be Resumed …’ all the technical details of television transmission. I pointed out that ‘Ceefax, the text service used the spare bits of the 405-line signal. (Only 377 lines went on the screen. The rest were wasted while the dot moved back up to the top! …)’

Ceefax (deliberately sounding like See Facts) was like a very primitive Internet service, working through television. It started on BBC in 1974, just showing simple text on your television screen, as shown above, accessed by a three digit page number – that was as near as you could get to a URL. (Your remote control was used as a keyboard)

ITV had a similar system called ORACLE, using identical technology. If you wanted Page 527 (Games Reviews above), you pressed 527 and waited for your page to come round. Contents were just simple information such as weather forecasts, football results, Stock Market figures or television programme listings. ITV included some advertising.

It continued its usefulness with the developing Internet but was overtaken by television technology. When television moved from analogue to digital format, Ceefax disappeared. We now have the Red Button services on television instead.


Green Shield Stamps

These were the original loyalty cards! From about 1960, some shops gave Green Shield stamps with every purchase, one stamp for every 6d spent. It was a messy and fiddly process. You had to stick the stamps in a book. (No easy adhesives like today. You licked the back of the stamp.) 40 stamps to a page and about 32 pages to a book.


One or more filled books could be redeemed at a Green Shield shop for all sorts of things – chosen from their catalogue.

They were popular at the time and some chains launched their own versions. With advancing technology, licking stamps went out of fashion. After about ten years Green Shield stamps disappeared and the business became Argos catalogue stores (with some similarities.) Now many shops and chains of shops have their own loyalty schemes with rewards, working through plastic cards …

Carbon Paper Credit Cards

… Plastic cards. We all have them now for all sorts of things. Without giving away anything about credit cards (which will come in another blog,) have you ever wondered why your card number is embossed?


This is how they first worked, with no Internet technology and no microchip in your card. The transaction details were printed on to paper – not just paper, three sheets with interleaved carbon paper to make three copies. You added your signature as confirmation. The person making the sale then put your card into the machine as shown above, then their card also went in, then the triple-sheet paper document. By sharply moving the black bar across, the embossed details from both cards were printed on to the document – the card numbers of both customer and seller. Sheets were then separated – one for you, one for the seller and one to go by post to the credit card company.

You can see why this technology became obsolete. It was slow, difficult and messy and all sorts of things could go wrong. Replacement methods used microchips in the card and instant communication by phone.

Lastly, not much to do with changes in technology, a bit more about fashions.



Back in the fifties, some houses still had bare polished floorboards. They were cold in winter, rough (with splinters if you walked on them with bare feet.) Parquet floors were a higher class sort of thing – in public halls and old houses owned by the posh and rich.

Like most houses we knew, we had lino (linoleum) a cheaper earlier version of vinyl flooring, with a carpet in the middle of the room, maybe three by four yards (or metres). People did not have fitted carpets for the whole room. (We did know one family with the usual decorative square carpet in the middle and plain fitted carpet for the rest of the room. We thought they must be very rich.)

Later, fitted carpets became more fashionable and almost all houses replaced these central rectangle with fully fitted carpet. Either they became cheaper or people were better off – probably both.

Vinyl floors were developed, sometimes replacing lino (but generally just for kitchens and bathrooms) Later still there was a craze for bare floorboards but they had to be sanded and polished to make them comfortable and pretty. Then the new-style wood flooring came in – easy to fit laminated strips that just click in together. Now laminate wood is seen almost everywhere where once we had carpet. It’s comfortable now that we have central heating and warm rooms. Many houses just don’t have carpets anymore.

Other Things

There are many more things we had never heard of in the sixties that are now already history. I won’t bore you with them all. Dutch Elm Disease, the SDLP, … and on a more positive note Bagpuss and the Magic Roundabout.


[39] Just What I Choose it to Mean

Here are fifty words which don’t mean now what they meant in the fifties. They illustrate changes in technology and culture; ‘political correctness’; and the different way we live now … Let’s do them … in … alphabetical order.

[Sorry, not a good one for US readers or others outside the UK. There may be lots of differences in meanings, both now and then.]

Actor:               A man who acted. A female in the acting profession would always have been called an ‘actress.’ I don’t know why this distinction has disappeared – now actresses like to be called actors.

Amateur:          Someone who participated in sports just for the enjoyment, without payment. There was a rigid line between ‘amateur’ and ’professional,’ with the implication that amateurs were the ideal. The Olympic Games, Athletics in general and Wimbledon tennis were all for amateurs only. The definitions have changed. Now the AAA and the Olympics both ignore the word.


Awesome:         Wonderful in the sense of instilling awe. Not just ‘nice.’

Billion:             A million million. (‘Trillion’ was a million billion.) The American usage was always illogical but it has now crept into usage this side of the pond.

Bonk:                Hit lightly, often used in a jocular sense. Nothing to do with sex (modern definition).

Boob:                An accidental mistake, perhaps a faux pax or solecism, general used colloquially. Nothing to do with what we now call boobs.


[I have left out some others in the same genre as bonk and boob that I couldn’t possibly admit to knowing.]

Book:                Something made of many pages of paper bound together, generally with a hard cover. Nothing to do with electronic book readers, computers or the Internet.

Bookmark:        Generally a thin strip of paper of leather inserted into a Book to show how far we have read. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet. [I will say nothing of the US word ‘favorite.’ For the same reason I have excluded ‘cookies.’]

Chair:               Something to sit on. Not a chairman, or female chairman, or chairman of indeterminate sex (gender).

[It’s strange that some words like chairman were always used for both sexes, and others like actor and actress differentiated.]

Channel:           A narrow ditch, pipe or conduit. Nothing to do with radio or television.

Cool:                 A temperature less than ‘warm’ but not as cold as ‘cold.’ I try hard, but still fail to understand exactly what this word means now. I think it means what we would have called: ‘nice’ or ‘good.’

Coke:                A smokeless fuel made by heating coal in the absence of air. See [2] Fire, Coal, Smoke and Gulls. Nothing to do with cocaine or any fizzy drinks.

coke Coca_Cola

Contacts:          Things that touched, for example electrical contacts in switches. Not a list of names, addresses and email details. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Epic:                 See Saga.

Friend:             Someone you know well, meet, talk and get on well together with. Not someone you know nothing about who once commented on your Facebook posting, or vaguely knows a friend of a friend.

Gay:                 Jolly, frivolous or joyful. You might do things ‘with gay abandon,’ or you could be a ‘bachelor gay.’ Nothing to do with the modern meaning (which we never talked about).

Gender:                        A grammatical concept, (masculine, feminine or neuter) used only in teaching French or Latin. Presumably applied to other languages. It did not imply sex – but there was a loose grammatical link, males were generally masculine words etc. See [20] Vive La Différence

Green:              A colour coming between blue and yellow in the rainbow. Nothing to do with ecology or politics.

Grooming:        Something done to a horse, brushing it and making it look smart. Nothing to do with computers or sinister dealings on the Internet. And not what we now call personal grooming.

Hit:                   Physically strike something or someone. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Home:               The house or place where we live. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Hot:                  Having heat. The opposite of cold. Nothing to do with popularity, fashion or attractiveness.

Knickers:          See Trousers.

Log:                  A chunky piece of wood to go on a fire, or a Christmas cake decorated like a Yule Log, or an official type of book serving as a diary. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Negative:          A reversed contrast image used as a means to produce photographs. (Or you could look at an eclipse through it!) The word could also be the opposite of positive, as now.

Notebook:         A small book to write notes in! Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.


Mobile:             Able to move around. Only used as an adjective, Nothing to do with telephones. See [4] My Lovely Mobile!

Page:                A sheet of paper making part of a book, magazive or newspaper. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Partner:            Someone in a joint business venture. Cohabiting couples did not exist. (OK, there must have been some, somewhere, but we didn’t talk about them.)

Password:         A word or phrase said to get past a sentry or army guard. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Port:                 A harbour for ships and boats. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet..

Portal:              A kind or doorway. An architectural term. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Post:                 Letters, which we sent through the mail, by putting them in a pillar box. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet. See [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences


Profile:             A picture showing a side view, generally of a person. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Recession:        When the economic situation went badly. Now those in charge have defined it as meaning two consecutive months when a precisely defined retail price index has a value less than zero. Nothing else is considered a recession.

Regular:           Normal or usual. [Or a polygon with equal sides and angles.] Not of medium size.

Saga:                A long, epic tale, sometimes in the form of poetry, from folklore, for example the Vikings. Nothing to do with crushing candies or other computer games.

Sex:                  The state of being male or female. We filled in forms that said ‘Sex:’ where now we have ‘Gender:’ It did not mean what we now call ‘sex’ (not that we talked about such things then.) See [20] Vive La Différence

Site:                 Where something happened. A building site or a historical site. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Spam:               A processed product made of meat, which came in tins. Generally eaten cold, in salads or sandwiches, or cooked as spam fritters. Nothing to do with modern usage, which seems to have come from the famous Monty Python sketch. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.


Tablet:              A small medicinal thing to be swallowed, like Aspirin, larger than a pill. Also, a tablet of stone was a large engraved monument or other stone, as used to deliver the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.


Tanner:             Six pence (6d) or more particularly, the sixpenny coin, or someone who tans leather. Now I suppose it is someone using a sun-tan bed!


Text:                 Anything written, usually in a book, perhaps even a text book! Nothing to do with telephone messaging.

Troll:                A nasty ogre in children’s stories. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Trousers:          A pair of trousers were what you wore. Now it’s a trouser. The female clothing industry changed the definitions just before 2000. Male clothing is doing it now. It applies to pants, knickers, slacks and similar clothing. [‘Scales’ have gone the same way. Watch out for ‘scissors’.]

Twitter:            (And Tweet) The noise made by birds. (A general expression. House Sparrows twitter. Different birds make different noises.) Nothing to do with social media. [If I could put in two word expressions, ‘social media’ would be here!] Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.


Web:                Something made of fine silk by a spider to catch its prey. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet.

Wicked:            Very evil, as the Wicked Witch. Now it seems to mean ‘very good.’

Windows:         Things made of glass in houses and other buildings allowing light in, while preserving heat and preventing access. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet..

Wireless:          Radio, particularly a radio set. Nothing to do with computers or the Internet..


And there are many words that didn’t exist then. Here are just a few: AIDS, apps, chairwoman, cling-film, download, Google, hovercraft, Internet, laser, motorway, on-line, onesie, phone-in, software, upload, video, and vuvuzela …

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’              From Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.