Remembrance of Things Past

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


[95] Dyb, Dyb, Dyb

It’s time for more about St Andrew’s after Blog [81] which described the building and Blog [91] mostly about the choir.

In the last St Andrew’s blog I told you about how I started in the choir. I can also remember exactly how we started with Cubs and I can feel a diversion coming.


As you know, plastic was hardly ever used and domestic plumbing relied on metal pipes to carry water. I think they were iron or steel. (There may have been some lead pipes. I know we used to let cold water run for a while before taking a glass of tap-water to drink. I think this had something to do with traces of lead, which is poisonous.)

You also know that we did not have central heating. Houses were heated with coal fires. We didn’t have double glazing and kept windows open for fresh air. In winter we sometimes had frost on the inside of windows. (If you don’t know all this you should seriously consider reading properly from the start!)

Metal pipes were all right in general because flowing water did not freeze. But inside the house there were places where the water did not move overnight. Pipes under the floor were even colder than our cold houses. If the water froze it expanded to make ice and this sometimes led to burst pipes when the ice thawed.

One day we had a burst pipe. (To be honest it happened a few times.) There was water in our bedroom over the garage. I’m not sure of the details but in those days neighbours helped one another in emergencies. A man from two or three doors down the road came to help. I am not sure he actually did anything but he noticed three young boys and had one of a similar age. He suggested to Dad that he should send us to Cubs at the church like his little boy. So that’s what happened.

   British_Wolf_Cub_1960 Boy_Scouts_of_America_uniform_1974

Cubs and Scouts

Cubs and Scouts were in many ways similar to the same organisations today. Cubs were for boys up to age eleven and Scouts for boys from eleven to fifteen. (Girls went to Brownies and Guides although nowadays many Cub and Scout packs are mixed.)

I will treat them together because in places my memories are not precise. They were quite similar.


The uniform was important. Shown above are a British Wolf Cub of the sixties and a US Scout from the seventies so they are approximately right. Both uniforms included short khaki trousers and woollen socks held up by gaiters. (In those days all boys of Cub ages wore only short trousers.) Cubs had a thick, dark green woolly jumper that was rough and uncomfortable, a scarf with its woggle and a cap. Scouts had a khaki shirt with pockets and a similar scarf. I think the scout hat was different.


We met once a week in the Church Hall at 7:30 pm. Each Cub ‘pack’ was led by a leader called Akela with assistants named from other characters in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. All the Cub leaders were women. Cubs were divided into ‘sixes’ each led by a sixer.

(In the Scouts, leaders were men. Instead of sixes we had patrols with patrol leaders. Much of the structure and activities were similar for Cubs and Scouts.)

Meetings started with a sort of parade where we were inspected. We stood to attention and were asked to “Dyb, Dyb, Dyb,” to which the response was: “We’ll Dob, Dob, Dob.” [That’s Do Your Best and Do Our Best.] Scouts must have used different terminology. Although it was like military service in some ways, there was nothing related to combat or the use of rifles. There was a Cub Promise and a similar Scout Promise which amounted to: “I promise to do my best … to do my duty to God and the Queen … and to obey the Cub/ Scout Law.” Nowadays these has been modified to allow for more widespread political and religious opinions!


Scouting activities were based on the ideas of Robert Baden-Powell and his book Scouting for Boys. It was about fieldcraft and living outdoors so we learned about camping, cooking on camp fires, knots, using axes and the identification of different trees.

Sometimes it was more like playing games – such as British Bulldog. Occasionally in summer we went outside. I remember at least once being taken to Wanstead recreation ground, one of our local parks. (This was before they moved the North Circular Road and put it in the way.)

I am not sure how it ever happened but I have memories of sometimes taking the 3d subscription money to the fish and chip shop. It was just enough for a portion of chips – served in newspaper. (In modern money that’s about 1p.) I don’t remember actually playing truant from Scouts. Perhaps that forgot to collect it and we went on the way home.


To encourage us in our progress there were lots of tests leading to badges. All the badges had to be sewn on by hand by Mum. There was a series of tests leading to a Second Class Cub and more for First Class. I always knew I would never achieve First Class status because I couldn’t swim.

I can remember two tests for these awards. As a Cub there was something called ‘Cleanliness.’ It was a routine test and consisted of a chat with one of the leaders. (I think they assumed we would all pass so there was no preparation.) To me the tester was an older woman but she may have been quite young and easily embarrassed. We got almost to the end and she started fishing. She wanted me to say something to pass the test but – for me to pass – she could only hint. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say. In the end she came out with it – “Of course, you always wash your hands after going to the toilet.” This was something I had never heard of but presumably I agreed to pass the test. (I was very young.)


There was also a badge for ‘Hand Axe.’ Even as Cubs we were expected to be able to chop wood. We had to name the various bits of an axe and learn how to chop wood. I took the test at the home of one of the leaders. I was failed immediately for taking the axe out of its leather cover without carefully checking that no one was nearby! I got everything else right and passed the test later!



We went camping as Cubs and as Scouts. Sometimes it was the whole troop, sometimes just our patrol. I remember camping with our patrol at Haverering-atte-Bower, where we more or less camped in a field. In those days the Central Line Tube went out to Ongar so places in Essex were easily accessible. With the Scouts we usually went to Gilwell Park, which is still used by the Scouts.

Modern tents are framed and easy to assemble. The picture above shows a modern reproduction of our traditional Scout Tents, which took six occupants. We had wooden tent poles and lots of lines which were fixed to the ground with tent pegs. It was a difficult operation to erect it or take it down. If it came down in the rain – as it often did – we would have to unroll it in the Church Hall to get it dry and properly folded away. All the Scouting equipment went under the stage in the hall.

The tent did not have a fitted groundsheet. We each took our own individual one. We took sleeping bags and everything we needed in a rucksack or kitbag.

Camping was primitive. We used our skills to find and cut appropriate wood, light camp fires and cook over them. Water for drinking and washing up came from a large (possibly plastic) container filled from a cold tap somewhere. We dug holes in the field for latrines. We probably didn’t bother too much with keeping clean.

There were no Health and Safety concerns as we know them today. We used axes for chopping wood for the fire and knives to make little gadgets. Scouts routinely carried an open sheath knife in its sheath.

I can also remember a weekend camp with our Scout patrol, without adult supervision, where we spent most of the time smoking. I didn’t inhale and never learned to do it properly. I gave up smoking after that – at the age of fifteen.

Church Parade

It was a time when the military aspect of life was still more prominent with post-war patriotism. Conscription and National Service only ended in 1960. We had CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school. Scouts were not military but they were patriotic.

Every month on the first Sunday of the month we had Church Parade. All the Cubs and Scouts (and Guides and Brownies) paraded in uniform and processed into the normal Church morning service of Matins. We were led by proudly carried national flags.

I tried to find suitable pictures but I don’t want Scouts in long trousers with their hands in their pockets. (We were never allowed to do that even at school.)

I think there is just enough left for one more about St Andrew’s …




[62] Ilford County High School for Boys – Part One

I’m afraid I am running out of sensible ideas for cryptic titles. This is the first of several blogs about my experiences at Secondary School.

The school is still there and from the outside it hasn’t changed much. You can find it from Google Maps if you search for ‘Ilford County High School.’


It’s still a selective grammar school for boys only and it has its own web-site now at so I will leave it to you to find out about it now. I will take you back over fifty years to how I remember it – from 1958 to 1965. (It no longer calls itself Ilford County High School for Boys. I think the equivalent school for girls, near Gants Hill, was more short-lived.)

I am hoping that I have enough for two or three quite long posts about my school life here, only roughly chronologically, but I have to go back a tiny bit to say how I got there.


Younger readers will need to know this to convert forwards. Oldies like me may need it to convert backwards. Those in between probably know already. But there won’t be a test! OK, we used to have Primary school (Infants and Juniors) then we moved to Secondary School where we had First Form to Fifth Form; and finally Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.

These are now called Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (Infants), Year 3 to Year 6 (Juniors), Year 7 to Year 11 (Secondary), then Years 12 and 13 (still, just to confuse us all, sometimes called Sixth Form). This is just for England! Wales is fairly close but not exactly. Don’t try to understand Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have different systems of education – they always have done. In what I write, I will stick to the old designations – so at ICHS I went through First Form to Sixth Form.

Selection at 11 Plus

Selective schools are relatively uncommon now but then they were to be the norm. Back in the fifties there were no comprehensive schools (and none of the more modern versions, Free Schools, Foundation Schools, City Technology Colleges, Academies and whatever else subsequent governments may invent.) The break between Primary and Secondary education was very important, called ’11-Plus’ and it involved selection by examinations for all.

For my early education see [15] Highlands School (1) and [16] Highlands School (2). My equivalents of Year 4, 5 and 6 were at Highlands School. We all knew that the 11-Plus was coming and I suppose that our last year there was intended to prepare us for it.

The test was in three parts – English, Arithmetic and Intelligence.

I think that my parents assumed that we would pass but there was a bit of ‘cramming’ to help us. (Observant readers will note my use of the plural and perhaps remember my twin brother.) I remember two large books, something like A3 size but thin and card-backed, plain greyish brown. They were full of typical IQ questions, words, numbers and symbols with analogies like: ‘Horse is to Foal as Sheep is to ???’. Like all such tests in those days, the intelligence test didn’t only measure intelligence, it also depended on memory, vocabulary and culture.

From 1945 to 1970 in England and Wales there were three types of school. (Wales used to be part of England.) Those who passed the 11-Plus went to Grammar Schools. Ilford had about ten Grammar Schools. Those who failed went to Secondary Modern Schools. (Technical Schools, which were few in number, were alternatives to Grammar Schools. Many local authorities did not have Technical Schools. Ilford had just one, West Hatch Technical High School at Chigwell, now West Hatch High School.)

I don’t remember anything about taking the actual exams but we both passed and went to Ilford County High School. There was a process by which parents had put down their choice of Grammar School. I think they put about six of them in order. With an older brother already there, ICHS was the obvious choice.

Before I continue, here are three short notes about selection. (1) There was then no National Curriculum, no SATs, and nothing like them. (2) Three of us at Highlands were offered the chance to take Scholarship exams to the local Public Schools – probably Brentwood, Chigwell and Bancrofts. My parents declined the offer because even free fees would have left them with extra costs such as uniforms and travel. (3) In those days those with physical difficulties and learning difficulties (not called that!) had separate education. Now Comprehensive Schools more or less have to take everyone. (Sweeping generalization alert!)


Ilford County High School for Boys – School Location and Building

I will say so much about it that I will call it just ICHS from now onwards. The picture above, from the current web-site, is very familiar. (Of course, we didn’t go in through the front door.) On the map now there is a roundabout by the school. That wasn’t there. The triangle of land to the West, directly in front of the school, used to be open land. Now there are blocks of houses. We walked up Fremantle Road from Barkingside, which was as far as the bus took us.

Looking on the satellite view from Google Maps, the buildings have expanded but the original parts are still there. There were two quadrangles joined by the school hall in the middle. Round the quadrangles were classrooms and five science laboratories – two for Physics, two for Chemistry and one for General Science. (There was an option to do Biology, which I didn’t do. There may have been a Biology laboratory.)

By the entrance to the main hall were the Headmaster’s office and the Secretary’s office. Above this we had a Library. The picture shows lines of classrooms, with the office and library section in the middle.

Outside, the school still has a playground and a large school field. It looks as if some additional buildings have now encroached into the playground area but the large field behind it looks untouched.


As new First Form pupils we came on our own the day before term started for an introductory day. This was a useful, calming experience. We had sometimes heard tales of bullying of new boys by older pupils on the first day but I think these were apocryphal. We were told not to worry. We were shown round the buildings and told a little about procedures. My older brother, four or five years ahead at the school, had already given me some useful information and an annotated map.

School Rules were always prominently displayed on every class notice board. The thing that always struck me was that they also covered the journey to and from school and any time we were wearing school uniform. There were rules against smoking and we were expected to be polite and well-behaved on busses. (Yes, of course we were!)

In those days the rules about school leaving allowed pupils to leave at the end of the Fourth Form but at Grammar School we had to stay to complete our studies for ‘O’ Levels (GCE, the precursor to GCSE.) As a requirement for acceptance, parents signed an agreement to keep us on to the Fifth Form.

There was also the ‘School Fund,’ which was not exactly compulsory but I don’t think any parent ever refused to pay it. Five shillings a term (25 pence) was collected to cover extras such as transport costs for school teams in sports. We paid reduced rates as a family with more than one boy at the school. I have just checked my receipts. Early ones were for 2s 6d, and later 4s. (Yes, I know, I am a bit of a hoarder.)



I think Junior Schools like Highlands School had uniforms but they were pretty optional and I don’t remember ever seeing them. Grammar School uniform was compulsory and each school had its distinctive colours. For ICHS it was grey creased flannel trousers, white shirt, school tie, maroon blazer, grey socks and polished black leather shoes.

The modern uniform has the same badge and is almost unchanged but there are two differences. In the First Form we all wore short trousers. There was no precise age rule but we moved to long trousers around the second form.

In the uniform list, which we took to the appropriate shop in Ilford, was a school cap. I think it was plain maroon to match the jacket. Most boys bought them, some wore them for the introduction, but it was soon evident that nobody at school wore caps any more. The one boy in our year who wore one after the first day was severely mocked for it.


On a daily basis, we reached school in time for Assembly at 8:40. There were seven periods each day, many of them taken as double periods. In theory there were five minutes between lessons to allow us to move round the corridors and line up outside. From 9:00 to 10:30 we had two periods, then a break with two more from 10:45 to 12:15.

In the afternoon three periods without a break lasted from 1:45 to 3:50.

I cannot remember whether the classrooms had clocks but pupils generally did not have watches. Watches were expensive luxuries. My first watch was a present from my godmother on my confirmation at about thirteen. Time in the school was regulated by a prefect. At the appropriate time, the bell prefect went to the Office and pressed the button to ring the school bell in the corridors.

When the bell went we continued working. It was a guide for the teacher. He would stop the lesson and tell us to leave. We never went into the next lesson uninvited. We lined up outside and waited.

[OK, a diversion about time. We never used expressions like 8:40 or 10:45. They were ‘twenty to nine’ and ‘a quarter to eleven’ respectively and the school day ended at ‘ten to four.’ In general conversation, I don’t believe anyone used more accurate time than the nearest five minutes. Before ‘ten to four’ no one would ever say ‘twelve minutes to four.’ It might be ‘just after a quarter to four,’ or, perhaps, ‘nearly ten to four,’ or ‘between quarter to and ten to.’ Train timetable and bus timetables might have been more accurate – but I don’t want to imply that public transport ran on time!]

Hall and Assembly

The hall was an impressive room with its stage at the front (used sometimes for school plays) and gallery at the back. It could just about seat the whole school of 800 pupils and we came in by classes, in silence, for Assembly every morning. Classes sat in rows with the form teacher at the end. The gallery was for the Sixth Form.

I have talked of formality in an earlier posting ([40] Formality.) Schools have always been relatively formal and Assembly was the most formal point of the day. Some teachers had their gowns from university and those teachers always wore their gowns in Assembly.

When we were ready, the Headmaster, HS Kenward (known to the boys as Harry when no one was listening,) came from the back of the hall and we would always stand in silence for his entrance. (The class always stood if the head came into a lesson.) He would mount the stage with the Deputy Head, Mr Taylor and ask us to sit down.

Somehow we knew that talking in assembly would be dealt with severely. There was the possibility of … having your name announced in assembly with an order to see Mr Taylor afterwards. (That happened occasionally. The deputy head was feared, in quite an affectionate, respectful way. We didn’t know what would happened if called for an interview with him and we didn’t want to find out!)

As at Highlands, assembly was a primarily a short Christian service. For many years the only legal requirement in the school curriculum was that it must include this religious act – a requirement that gradually came to be bent or ignored in the eighties and nineties.

It started with a hymn from a pocket hymn book which fitted neatly into a blazer pocket. I suspect it was Hymns Ancient and Modern as used at church. Unfortunately I threw mine away about two years ago as part of a long term project to declutter, so I can’t check.

There was a small orchestra of about half a dozen instruments at Assembly, teachers and pupils. Not everyone sang enthusiastically but there was enough support to produce the tune and the words.

After the hymn there would be reading, not always from the Bible, and a few words, perhaps ethical or philosophical rather than religious.

Then we had prayers, always including the Lord’s Prayer, in the archaic language described in [3] Religion.

Finally, there were normally a few notices, including internal and external school events. We stood as the headmaster made his exit, then we left to return to our form rooms in preparation for the first lesson.

Classrooms and Teaching

Teaching was very formal using the old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk.’ Classrooms had desks lined in rows, four by four pairs of desks making room for the normal class size of 32 pupils. We lined up outside the classroom until asked to come in.


We did actually use desks like the picture above for all of our school work. Moreover, we used the desk in our form room to store all our text books and exercise books. We would take with us just what we needed.

The teacher’s desk at the front was on a raised platform and most teaching was done with the help of chalk on a blackboard. I may comment on individual teachers and their teaching styles later. (I have done a few years teaching so I will be a bit sympathetic.)


It was more or less one text book and one exercise book for each subject, issued by the teacher at the start of the year. Exercise books, between A4 and A5 in size, had 80 pages. When they were full you could take the full book to the office and get a new book, issued by a prefect.


All of our written work, especially homework, was in an exercise book using fountain pens. The only ink I ever saw was Parker’s Quink SOLV-X, normally blue-black.

We had to write clearly and neatly, so we had rough books, then copied work out neatly. We could write what we wanted in rough books, in ball-point pen or pencil. The paper was poor quality and you could not use a fountain pen.

Although it was never mentioned, we changed immediately from the printing style of Junior School to ‘joined-up’ cursive writing from the beginning of the First Form.


Before I end this introductory ICHS blog I have to show you this. It looks very similar to the satchel we all had, but very new, probably still smelling of leather. (The picture may be imitation plastic but ours were leather.) We all carried one to school with our homework and it came round with is to each lesson, at least for a few years. My memory is uncertain and I think we may have changed to duffel bags later on.


I still have a lot more to say about ICHS, maybe another two or three postings …















[40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’

When we are young, we see things in our parents and grandparents that we associate with age. Then as we grow old, we start to fall into the same habits, the same mannerisms, and we do the same things. Sometimes we notice that we are becoming like our parents used to be. Sometimes we do it deliberately. It’s part of history repeating itself. But things do change, gradually.

When I was young, my father wore stiff, starched collars for work. He polished his black, leather shoes every night, and always wore a jacket and tie. His writing was what we call Copperplate. If he didn’t catch what someone said, he would say: “I beg your pardon,” where now we would just say, “Sorry?” All of these are things we could see as old-fashioned.

You can also see these things as being quite formal and the trend seems always to be from the formal to the informal. (Maybe it’s connected with a gradual decline in class differences.) In looking at formality, I will include something about the clothes we wore, how we addressed people, greetings, letter writing, and language in general. By today’s standards, everything about our public and private lives was more formal then.

[I have put this post off for a long time because I wonder how much I am confusing formality with politeness and respect.]

Dress Codes for Work

You don’t have to go back that far before my time to see pictures of politicians with wing collars, bow ties and top hats, so there had already been changes before the fifties.

The standard (unwritten) dress code for office workers in the fifties was a plain, dark suit; a white shirt and a fairly plain tie; and polished black shoes. In the City of London, bowler hats were still common. The rolled up umbrella was almost part of the ‘uniform.’

(I have to say more about what my father wore in the early fifties, before we had automatic washing machines. He had two white shirts, with detachable collars. Each shirt lasted a week but he could change the collars every day. He would send them off, once a week to a firm call ‘Collars’ to be laundered, starched and returned for the next week. I can’t remember whether the service also included cuffs, but the cuffs were definitely detachable and reversible for re-use.)

Later, when I started work in the late sixties, it was acceptable to wear plain, dark trousers and a non-matching jacket for lowly office workers – jacket and tie were still ubiquitous, as was the white shirt. Higher management still stuck to ‘business suits’ for decades. Anyone professional – doctors, lawyers, politicians, … – would wear a formal suit, sometimes a three-piece suit. Business suits were always very dark and either plain or pin-striped.

[Not sure of US terminology. Trousers are ‘pants.’ A suit is a matching pair of trousers and jacket. A three-piece suit also has a waistcoat or ‘vest.’]


I am not going to attempt to say anything here about women’s clothes – just that women did not wear trousers anywhere that formal dress was expected. In jobs where men wore formal suits, there were probably no women anyway. See [20] Vive La Différence. The trend for women to wear trousers came much later.

(It’s interesting to look at school uniforms which lag behind general fashions by some yearst. At school, we always had to wear a jacket and tie. Girls wore short skirts. It was probably at least ten years after women started wearing trousers before girls in school uniforms were given that option.)


Clothes outside Work

When not at work men still routinely wore shirts, ties and jackets, perhaps in more colourful styles than would be seen at work, and leather shoes. Before jeans were common and before the diverse fashions of today, the differences between work and non-work clothes were not quite so obvious.

We dressed more formally outside work than today and this was not just a lack of informal, casual clothes. We would also dress more formally on ‘dates,’ going out to the cinema or a theatre. There was a certain standard expected in such places.

People dressed as formally as possible for church services – so much so that we called it our ‘Sunday best.’ I would wear my best suit for church. We would probably attempt to be even more formal for weddings, funerals and christenings, sometimes buying brand new clothes for the occasion. I suppose there is still some dressing up for these but we no longer wear suits for weddings or black for funerals. (Now we have ‘smart casual’ which means that I can wear jeans almost everywhere for all occasions.)


In general, people were known by their surnames, as Mr. Fletcher, Mrs. Taylor or Miss Isle. [The designation Ms did not come for a long time.] Where your name was not known, for example in a shop, you were addressed as ‘Sir,’ or ‘Madam.’

At Senior School, we were generally just a surname, Fletcher without Mister (or Master). Even the boys would talk about others with just surnames. We sometimes used Christian names or nicknames only when talking to others in the same class. (We always called the teacher, ‘Sir,’ or ‘Miss.’ I was fifteen before I ever discovered the first name of any of our teachers – we would never dare to use it.)

I remember something of the progressive changes later from my days of working. In the seventies, people we saw every day at the office were called by their Christian name. If you worked with Harry Potter you called him Harry. But the internal telephone directory listed names as ‘Potter’ or ‘H. Potter.’ Often you telephoned and spoke to ‘Mr Potter,’ perhaps meeting him later, without always knowing his first name. (To be honest, we often talked about people by their job titles, which were rigidly defined and hierarchical. A shorter title meant a higher grade, with its due formal respect.) There came a time when the internal directory gave him the choice of appearing as, ‘H. Potter (Harry)’ but most people did not do this. After a few years of increasing use of first names, it just changed to show everyone as ‘Harry Potter’ without offering a choice. This is relatively modern – not everyone liked this. [Television programmes like ‘Lovejoy’ or ‘Morse’ now seem strange, but it used to be quite easy to know someone for years just by surname in a work context.]


When you met someone you knew, you would say, ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good afternoon,’ or ‘Good Evening,’ and on leaving you would say, ‘Goodbye,’ or ‘Goodnight.’ With intimate friends, you might be more colloquial.

The situation in shops seems strange, but shop assistants just did not greet casual customers. I remember in French lessons learning that in shops you would be greeted with, ‘Bonjour,’ and when you left they would say, ‘Au revoir,’ both of which were a surprise to us. In English shops nothing like this was said.

In the years since then, at checkouts in supermarkets, the use of ‘Good morning’ came in fairly recently. I have been surprised how soon this turned into the less formal ‘Hello,’ and then the colloquial ‘Hi.’ I see it as a sign of my age that I am slightly offended by this over-familiarity. Now we get ‘Hi-ya’ which I still don’t like!

[The word ‘Hello’ was invented about a hundred years ago, specifically as something people could say when answering the phone. It’s what I say when I answer the phone. If someone I don’t know continues with, ‘How are you today?’ I hang up. That’s a very personal question.]


When introduced to someone new, you shook hands and the thing to say was “How do you do!” I sometimes tend towards autism and tend to take things literally, so it took me some time to learn that this never meant, “How do you do?” As we used the expression, it was no longer a question and the response (not answer) was “How do you do!” Similarly, when it came in from American usage, I understood that the expression, “Pleased to meet you,” did not mean anything about pleasure. It was just a formulaic introduction.

I don’t think anyone says “How do you do,” any more. We stick to “Pleased (or Nice) to meet you,” or just go straight into, “Hello”, or “Hi.” Perhaps the idea of formal introductions has faded away. We rarely shake hand now, except in some business situations.



(I know that letters are not significant today)

For business letters, in fact for almost everything, we always had to start letter with, ‘Dear Mr Potter’, or sometimes, ‘Dear Sir/ Madam,’ when the name was unknown. We ended letters with ‘Yours Sincerely,’ followed by a signature, for someone you knew. It was ‘Yours Faithfully,’ for business letters. [You had to know someone very well to use the more informal, ‘Dear Harry,’ and ‘Yours Affectionately.’ If you knew them that well, you probably put xxx afterwards.]

There were books that showed clearly the different terms of address for clergy and bishops, ambassadors, peers of the realm, army officers etc. (They appeared in the useful information provided in the back of diaries, and there was the much loved Pears Cyclopedia.) It seemed that the Pope or your local judge would be mortally offended if you picked the wrong way to introduce them, or to end your letters.


What seems to have happened now is that letters remain almost as formal, but the medium of e-mail has largely taken over, with less formality. Sometimes business e-mails keep to the old styles; sometimes they start, ‘Dear Harry.’ Often, ‘Yours Sincerely’ has become, ‘Sincerely,’ or ‘Regards,’ or has disappeared altogether. Emails often just start: ‘Hi.’


I will say much about changes in the English language in another blog post (maybe more than one!). Colloquial and slang forms become acceptable. (I have already mentioned ‘television’ and ‘TV’, ‘telephone’ and ‘phone’.) Perhaps I am just confusing formality with politeness again.

I won’t go on about the way that language has become more informal, but this is seen particularly in written language. We were always taught at school that contractions like “don’t, can’t, you’d and he’ll” should never be used in written language but this rule has effectively disappeared. It’s certainly a rule I totally ignore, as you will have noticed. Not using contractions now seems positively archaic. (We move faster than technology sometimes. My spelling and grammar checker keeps trying to remind me of this rule. I ignore it. It’s wrong about almost everything else as well!)

I see (and even sometimes use) the words ‘dunno’ for ‘don’t know’; ‘gonna’ for ‘going to’; and ‘wanna’ for ‘want to.’ I believe that both of these also mark similar changes in spoken language.

This has been another Grumpy Old Man blog. The next one could be something more factual, perhaps more about shops …