Friday, 11 September 2020

Swinging Through The Sixties - Part Five

A TEENAGE ENCOUNTER WITH THE LAW: Some time in 1967 I think, my encounter with officers from Steelhouse Lane Police Station Birmingham.  I bet that made you stop and think !

I was a management trainee, school was well behind me, at Lewis’s Department Store in the city centre of Birmingham. While I had been at school I did not know a single fellow pupil who had been in trouble with the police. Statistics show in twenty-first century Britain there are around 14,000 new juvenile offenders each month.  The baby boom, of which I am a part, saw a rise in juvenile crime but I can honestly say while at school I did not know anyone who had any encounter with the law. I presume The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield had a magistrates court and a juvenile court but I had no idea where it was.

A friend came up to me, a fellow management trainee, and said. Mr Harris (He was the store’s staff manager) says Lewis’s has a policy of supporting the police. He has asked me to find three others to come with me to Steelhouse Lane Nick. Philip is coming, Cliff is coming and I want you to come as well.

What ? What was he on about ? Steelhouse Lane Nick aka Police Station, why was Peter saying Mr Harris the store’s staff manager wanted me to go there ?

I turned out the police were staging an identity parade with witnesses being asked to pick out a criminal. People of a similar age were needed to take part. No, I didn’t want to be part of that. Then Peter explained the police would pay expenses, we would be away from the store for an hour but expenses amounted to half a day’s wages. Yeh, I’d have a bit of that.

So we walked down to Steelhouse Lane Police Nick, were welcomed by the waiting officer and shown into a room where we were place in a line against the wall. I felt very nervous, scared even but we were being paid. There was a gap in the line, a space between us as the police told us where to stand.  I teenager of similar age to us was brought in, behind him his hands were cuffed. Once in position the handcuffs were removed.

All was ready. The witness was brought in. He looked each one of us over then identified a Lewis’s Management Trainee as the one he had seen committing the crime. He didn’t pick me but the lad he had chosen nearly fainted. With the arrested offender removed and the witness gone a solicitor descended on my friend asking questions which he could later use to show the witness did not know what he was talking about.  I felt great relief that it was all over but my friend was so frightened he could hardly speak.

We left Steelhouse Lane Police Station each one of us clutching our expenses which had been paid in cash. The next day we invested it all in criminal activity, we spent the lunch hour in the pub under-age drinking.

I am a local councillor, it took me sixty-eight years to decide I wanted to serve my community in such a capacity. However, aged seventeen I set my sights on becoming a member of Birmingham City Council. A reporter and a photographer from The Birmingham Mail descended on Lewis’s Department Store looking out for teenagers who may like to stand for election to a youth department within the council. It would have no legislative powers and members could not call themselves Councillor, it was all a bit of show on behalf of Birmingham City Council setting up an advice panel on youth affairs.

I need to point out that in the swinging sixties the age of majority when you could vote was twenty-one and not eighteen as it is today. We were cool with that, we were teenagers and did not want to be classed as boring adults. The legal age for smoking was sixteen but I didn’t smoke. The legal age for drinking alcohol was eighteen but my mates and I were not able to count so as soon as we could get away with under-age drinking we did.

Back to the story....

Being a member of Birmingham City's Youth Council sounded like a good idea and it would gain me some creep points when it came to promotion at Lewis's Department Store. I said I would stand for election. Immediately the camera started clicking  and the reporter bombarded me with questions. I became an official candidate for the central ward of Birmingham City Youth Council. Wow I was famous and my picture appeared in the paper.

There was another candidate, a Trevor Burton who just happened to be a member of a pop group, The Move. he won the election and I lost !

I guess that needs me to bring you a piece of music from The Move !

Flowers In The Rain by The Move

The Move was a Birmingham pop group, of course, and one of three Roy Wood was a member of. The other two being Wizzard and ELO or Electric Light Orchestra.

Woke up one morning half asleep - With all my blankets in a heap - And yellow roses scattered all around - The time was still approaching four - I couldn't stand it anymore - Saw marigolds upon my eiderdown - I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain - Feel the power of the rain making the garden grow - I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain - Feel the power of the rain keeping me good - So I lay upon my side - With all the windows open wide - Couldn't pressurize my head from speaking - Hoping not to make a sound - I pushed my bed into the grounds - In time to catch the sight that I was seeking - I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain - Feel the power of the rain making the garden grow - I'm just sitting watching flowers in the rain - Feel the power of the rain keeping me good………..

Make any sense to you ?  Those words ?

Flowers in the rain made it to number two in the chart but it is famed for being the very first record played on BBC Radio One when it launched on 30th September 1967. I wonder if DJ Tony Blackburn understood the words ? Of course he did but The BBC – The British Boring Corporation, as a whole did not. 1967 – The Summer of Love – Hippies – Whacky-backy – psychedelic – the words are all about a “trip” and I don’t mean a ride on a coach !


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens pubished in 1859. The two cities are London and Paris.

I am not speaking here of cities but streets, the was something on TV in 1966. Two Streets ?  Saville Row where the mega-wealthy people shopped for clothing. Carnaby Street where the swinging sixties cool people went. Two extremes, two extremes which were icons of fashion.

These days I wear tie-dye, my hair is long and has not lost its colour. I will wear a suit if the situation requires that level of respect and a tie is fine. However, I am more comfortable in the relaxed styles.

I have spoken about my work at Lewis’s Department Store in Birmingham, a few years before I started there my Nan used to go to Birmingham City Centre, commonly called Town, every Tuesday. She would have a fish and chip lunch in Lewis’s restaurant. She said how one day two hippies came in, the manager refused to serve them saying: We do not serve people like you !  Oh dear.

1963, to be precise Wednesday 9th October 1963. Boldmere High School For Boys and a French lesson. The school was very strictly run but French was an accepted time for mucking about. All French teachers were known as Frog but the teacher that year was Mr Torode aka Toad – Toad In The Hole !

Two things about Toad. First of all something general and fashion related then I will take you that specific French lesson.

Toad In The Hole always wore winkle picker shoes. What ?  I hear you saying. What are winkle picker shoes ? I will let Wikipedia explain.

Winklepickers, or winkle pickers, are a style of shoe or boot worn from the 1950s onward by British rock and roll fans. The feature that gives both the boot and shoe their name is the very sharp and long pointed toe. The extremely pointed toe was called the winkle picker because in England periwinkle snails, or winkles, are a popular seaside snack which is eaten using a pin or other pointed object to extract the soft parts out of the coiled shell carefully, hence the phrase: "to winkle something out", and based on that, winklepickers became a humorous name for shoes with a very pointed tip.

Toad had, had one of his toes amputated. He blamed this on wearing winkle pickers. If that is true he continued to wear them. His amputated toe was preserved in a jar of alcohol substance. He used to pass it round the class for we lads to look at. There was a hole through the nail where a wire had been used to pull it during the amputation. Honestly this is all true.

So that was Toad aka Toad In The Hole aka Mr Torode. Actually I was wondering if Torode was a real name, sounds a bit off to me. I have just put the name into Facebook, there are hundreds of them. I then put in Torode, Shoe and Toe. For a moment I thought I had found him !  No, I found a farrier by the name of Torode who was advocating a certain type of horseshoe.

Onward and upward. Wednesday 9th October 1963. Toad had brought a record playing into class. He told us the day before a famous French singer by the name of Edith Piaf had died. None of we lads had ever heard of her. He told us all about us then played a record: Non je ne regrette rien…  Instantly we all loved it.

Non, rien de rien – Non, je ne regretted rien – Ni le bien qu’on me fait – Ni le mal, ca m’est bien egale….

In English:

No, absolutely nothing – No, I reghret nothing – Not the good things that have happened – Nor the bad, it’s all the same to me.

The song had been released in 1960 so was still contemporary although Edith Piaf was forty-eight years old when she died. Forty-eight, that’s no age and I am way past it but in October 1963 as I was approaching my thirteenth birthday it was old with a capital O.

From that day on I have loved the music of Edith Piaf, special music swinging through the 1960’s.

Winkle Pickers, I have just had a look on Amazon and there is a fabulous pair available for £43.34. I am so tempted. Mr Torode what do you think ?

Working at Lewis’s it was always a suit and tie, on the Saville Row side of things but that did not mean I would relax out of uniform. Generally, I wore a tie, I had a fabulous green crochet tie with was wonderful fashion statement for a teenager. Nobody else had one quite like it. I say generally I wore a tie, I often wore polo shirts. No nothing to do with playing horse games, that was the preserve of Saville Row patrons. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about 1960’s polo shirts.

NO Wikipedia those are NOT polo shirts. See I know more than you do. Let’s see if Amazon has a better comprehension and can sell me one to go with my Winkle Picker shoes. NO Amazon you are every bit as ignorant as Wiki ! A polo shirt had no collar but a high roll neck which after putting the shirt on you folded down to double the thickness. Polo shirts were single colour, I had a black one and think I may have had a green one. Looks like I will never own one again, nothing to go with my Winkle Pickers.

Lewis’s was not a fashion leader, it targeted older women and would make Marks and Spencer today resemble Armani or The House of Versace. There were nine giant Lewis’s department stores up and down the country, the group owned Selfridges in Oxford Street.  The ten stores were owned by The British Shoe Corporation which was controlled by Charlie Clore. He liked to be called Sir Charles Clore but we all called him Charlie behind his back.

Charlie had an idea to put Carnaby Street out of business by launching a nationwide chain of fashion stores aimed at younger women. Using the name Selfridge from the London store he decided to brand the chain Miss Selfridge. Before spending too much money on the venture Charlie Clore tested his idea with instore shops in Liverpool and Birmingham. I was there when Sir Charles Clore, a little fat man with a big cigar, opened the Birmingham branch.
It was said that Charlie designed the staff uniform himself. I doubt he did, he would have paid big money to a top designer and then bigger money for him to keep his moth shut. The uniforms were orange. An orange mini skirt, make that a mini-mini skirt, and an orange jacket. The uniform included a stylish white blouse/shirt.

Miss Selfridge is still running, now fifty-three years old. Fifty-three and still a spinster. How sad is that !

Another piece in the jigsaw, another number one hit from the day of my birthday. 3rd November 1966. Reach Out I’ll Be There by The Four Tops. Coincidence ?  I pushed a 1960’s CD into the car player earlier today and this was the first track.

The Four Tops was an American vocal quartet from Detroit, Michigan who helped to define the city's Motown sound of the 1960s.   Detroit – Motor Town – Motown.

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