Friday, 11 September 2020

Swinging Through The Sixties - Part Four

Preparing to share my swinging memories I brainstormed a list of ideas as they poured into my head. Returning now to those scribbled sheets of paper I have picked out at random seven thoughts: Green Shield Stamps  The Hovercraft  Doctor Who  Feed The Minds  The Death Penalty  Bread and Milk   Football Pools and Spot The Ball So join me now and let’s sixties swing through these.

Let's start with Green Shield Stamps. Come on, who is old enough to remember them ?  If you are not old enough then the next hundred or so words may not make any sense to you at all but stick with it, close your eye and open your mind. Get ready t o swing !

Some stores, the like of Morrissons and Tesco, have loyalty cards. Some mean old retailers don't!

Green Shield Stamps was the forerunner of the modern-day loyalty card.

Founded in 1958 any retailer could join the scheme. When you made your purchase a little box at the till spewed out Green Shield Stamps. The more you spent the more you took home along with your eggs, bacon, bread and butter. You then carefully stuck them into little books. When you had a big enough pile of little books you could redeem them against items in the Green Shield Catalogue. If you were lucky there was a Green Shield Stamp shop near to you where you could buy instantly.

However, things started to go pear-shaped in the early 1970's when Tesco, the biggest retailer using Green Shield, adopted a policy of Stack it high, sell it cheap. To lower costs and cheapen the shopping it pulled out of issuing Green Shield Stamps.

For a time Green Shield focused on its catalogue allowing stamps to be topped up with cash. Then Mr Green, his name was actually Richard Tompkins, dumped the stamps and made the catalogue cash only. A big change like that needed a re brand so the Green Shield catalogue became the Argos Catalogue. Ever heard of that ?

Argos comes from Argosy which means a flotilla of merchant ships. Shakespeare used the word in his play The Merchant of Venice.

Sainsbury's now owns Argos but unlike Tesco and Morrissons it does not operate a loyalty card - Morrissons More Card, Tesco Reward Card. No, Sainsbury's is not a mean old git supermarket, it uses the Nectar Card where you can collect points from a wide variety of different retailers. A bit like Green Shield Stamps !

I feel like another piece of music, let's put another edge piece into our jigsaw. Sunday 3rd November 1963, the day I became a teenager. It is also the day when a very important song was at number one in the charts.

You'll Never Walk Alone by Gerry And The Pacemakers.

Originally from the musical Carousel, Gerry and the Pacemakers gave the song a unique and powerful rendition. Fifty-seven years later You'll Never Walk Alone is the Liverpool FC anthem and known all round the world.

Do you remember Green Shield Stamps ? If you were not around at the time does what I have remembered in my personal swing through the sixties make sense ? What about a hovercraft ?  Ever heard of that ? Let's see if you struggle with what it was.

Don't let anyone try to tell you different, this was a British invention. Although people dabbled with the idea since the year dot it was in 1960 that Sir Christopher Cockerel invented it. 

The hovercraft could travel over land, swamp, water, ice and snow easily moving from one to another. A powerful engine blew air downwards, the air was contained within a rubber curtain which ran all the way round the vehicle. It then floated on a cushion of air, it hovered. Another engine, a fan, pushed it forward. Steering was simple, the pilot simply moved the position of the fan at the back of the hovercraft.

I remember when it was first put into the public view that this was going to be ground breaking. There would be no cars driving along on tarmac roads using wheels. Roads would not need to be build with great foundations, just a simple line on the ground. there would be no road repairs, no potholes and there would be no tyre manufacturers. As a little aside the number one tyre manufacture was Dunlop in Birmingham. the hovercraft threatened to put the company out of business. It didn't but Fort Dunlop in Birmingham does not make tyres, not in 2020 !

Development of the hovercraft was centred on Bembridge on the isle of Wight. It would have been in 1962 when on holiday I saw a prototype hovercraft being towed by hand, by two engineers. The downward engine was working fine but the forward engine was bust.

In 1965 a company called Hoverlloyd was set up at Pegwell Bay in Kent. It was a car ferry to France which could make the journey in one third of the time. I actually travelled on it, it was literally a bumpy ride and very noisy !  The hovercraft never did catch on, Hoverlloyd went out of business in 1981. Cars still use tyres and roads still have potholes.

What have we got next ?  Doctor Who ? 

Over the years I have done bits and pieces in the media, writing yes and radio of course, I present five radio shows every week. I have done the odd bit of television but I am now far
too old and incredibly too ugly to appear before the television camera. But hand on, Doctor Who aren't you supposed to be a time traveller ?  Swing me back to the 1960's and make me look young again.

I was invited to appear on a California TV programme with The Doctor Who Fan Club. I came out of the Tardis to be interviewed by The Doctor. I was quizzed about Doctor Who on BBC television. There was audience amazement when I said before we could watch television we had to pay for a TV licence.

The TARDIS = Time And Relative Dimension In Space. How many people today know that is what the Tardis is ? Does even The Doctor ?

Is the Tardis a blue police telephone box today ? The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast in 1963 when blue police telephone boxes were common. No police radio in those days. If a beat officer was needed, if there was an emergency a blue light would flash on top of the box. Inside there was a phone connected to police control waiting for the officer ton respond.

The original plot said The Tardis changed shape and identity to fit in with its location but something went wrong, there was a malfunction within Time And Relative Dimension In Space and everything stuck with an early 1960's police telephone box.  Bet you did not know that.

Doctor Who's first adventure went back in space. The futuristic Daleks did not appear until the second series. I watched that very first episode, I was not that impressed and never became a fan. I did not reveal that on American TV. Doctor Who, If I become a fan today would you nip me back to 1963 and give me a face lift ?  Please.

I fancy another jigsaw piece, I am going to use my own time machine to go back to my  fourteenth birthday, OMG I was growing up ! 3rd November 1964. Number one in the charts was Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison's style and music were unique. He did not wear glasses because he was bling, it was all part of his image matching his dark hair and clothing. He wrote Pretty Woman for his wife. Roy's life was filled with tragedy: His first wife died as did his second. While performing two of his sons were killed in a fire at his home. His music is unique and still enjoyed by so many today.

Feed The Minds: I can not recall the year, it must have been 1963, 1964 or possibly even 1965. The mayor of Sutton Coldfield, The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield, was blind. He could not see through his eyes yet, even to a teenager, it was clear his insight into the community he served was great. All these years later I can vividly remember attending a small gathering where our mayor spoke of a campaign to Feed The Minds. I have used this phrase myself in the work I try to do in our twenty-first century community.

I am heavily involved in generating support for The Food Bank and working with homeless rough-sleepers. I say:

If you feed only the belly the person remains hungry. If you feed the mind the person remains hungry. Only by feeding the belly, feeding the mind and feeding the heart with love can the person be whole, content and happy.

I do wish I could remember the name of that lovely Mayor of Sutton Coldfield.

Commit a murder in 2020 and you will be sentenced to life in prison where you must serve a minimum of fifteen years before release. Prior to 1969 the sentence the could would have handed down was death, death by hanging.

You will be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and then to a lawful place of execution where you will be hung from the neck until dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

Those were the prescribed words the judge had to speak, he could say nothing different, when sentencing a person found guilty of murder. He could hand down no alternative sentence. While pronouncing the sentence the judge wore a square of black material on his head.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher's Government gave parliament a free vote to decide if the death penalty should be restored. Parliament voted against restoration. If the vote had been given to the country in a referendum  it would have been overwhelmingly in favour of hanging. The abolition of the death penalty was seen as too liberal and something the swinging sixties should not have interfered with.

1967 staff at Lewis's Department Store where I was working as a management trainee were discussing the recent trial and sentence of Myra Hindly and Ian Brady. The death sentence was suspended at that time pending abolition in 1969. The unanimous feeling among all was that both should hang. The murders have gone down in history with infamy and remained very much in the media's eye until Hindly died in November 2002 and more recently in May 2017.  Public opinion really was against abolition.

The Bee Gees hit Got To Get A Message To You about a condemned man wanting to contact his girlfriend before he died was released in 1968.  Tom Jones hit The Green Green Grass of Home was a 1966/1967 hit. Tony' Christie's song I Did What I Did For Maria dates from 1971 and a number of singers released Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley in 1958. The pop music industry was very interested in the death penalty.

Hang down your head Tom Dooley - Hang down your head and cry - Hang down your head Tom Dooley - For boy your bound to die

I am dipping out of the 1960's for just one moment.  As I said more than one singer released Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley but it was Lonnie Donegan I remember. At that time in 1958 there was a murderer by the name of Pedolo who was awaiting execution. The law said that three Sundays had to pass between the judges sentence and execution taking place, three Sunday's for the victim to pray for his soul. The name of Pedolo was always being mentioned on the radio.

As a silly little boy I took the words from Lonie Donegan and changed them to:

Hang down your head Pedolo - Hang down your head and cry - Hang down your head Pedolo - For boy your bound to die

My Mum told me to stop, ti stop as it was being disrespectful. Can you be disrespectful to a murderer condemned to die ?

Stepping outside the swinging sixties and into the 1990's I was in San Francisco. A convicted murderer was going to be executed in the gas chamber at a prison not far from The City By The Bay. The media before and after the execution was obscene, it was horrible. Disrespectful not so much of the victim but of the justice system.

If Margaret Thatcher's government had given us a referendum on the restoration of the death penalty I most certainly have voted in favour.

In 1982 I was called for jury service at Aylesbury Crown Court, for two weeks I sat in the same court where The Great Train Robbers had stood trial.  There were three separate cases involving four different accused, all accused of drug smuggling. The cases were brought by HM Customs, all were badly prepared. Two drug smugglers walked free while two were sentenced to imprisonment. 

Jurors are not supposed to reveal anything that happened within the jury room but this happened almost forty years ago so I doubt anyone will accuse me of contempt of court. In the third case the discussion showed a split in the jury members minds. I was convinced of guilt while one member, a lady, was of the opposite opinion. There was a danger the jury would not be able to reach a verdict.  I made a very forceful speech to my fellow jurors and convinced them of the accused guilt. As a result the drug smuggler was sentenced to three years imprisonment. If this had been a murder trial with the death penalty in place would I have made a similar speech and sent a man to his death ? I doubt I would.

Teaching English at Leon School I ran an extended essay project with my students debating the rights and wrongs of the death penalty. I brought in members of the local police who were definitely against its return. We looked at several cases including the Rillington Place murders where Timothy Evans was wrongly convicted and hung by the neck until dead.

Timothy Evans was innocent, the murders had all been committed by John Reginald Christie. It was Justice Sir Donald Finnemore who pronounced the words that sent Christie to the hangman's rope.

You will be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and then to a lawful place of execution where you will be hung from the neck until dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

Maybe ten years after John Reginald Christie dangled from rope in Pentonville Prison I briefly met Sir Donald Finnemore. I knew as a high court judge he had sent convicted murderers to their death but I did not know of Christie. My Dad knew Sir Donald and I can remember as if it was yesterday the evening he came to our house. I was sitting doing my homework when he came into the room. I was in the presence of a man who had held the power of life and death over criminals. Instinctively I stood up and stuttered a few words to the man. He smiled, I can see his face as I write, he was so kind, gentle and friendly towards this young teenager.

Talking with present-day teenagers in schools I am often asked if I have ever met anyone famous. I speak about briefly knowing a Dambuster but few know much about RAF 617 Squadron, The Dambusters. When I say I have met HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh there is always excitement. I have never mentioned Justice Sir Donald Finnemore and those words:

You will be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and then to a lawful place of execution where you will be hung from the neck until dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

I do not think there would be very much applause of the fact that I met a man who used the death sentence in his daily work.

Phew !  That was quite a long account - 1,212 words to be precise. What's left in my memory mega mix ? Bread and Milk. I think we need another piece of music before then.

3rd November 1965 my fifteenths birthday Ken Dodd Tears

What a fantastic man Ken Dodd was. With teeth that would make Freddie Mercury green with envy, not only was Ken Dodd a great singer but also a brilliant comedian. To this day nobody has made as many people smile as did ken Dodd in the Swinging Sixties.

On then to talk about bread and milk.

Today only a few people have the milkman deliver this beverage to their homes early each morning, a few do but not many. In the swinging sixties every home had their milk delivered. Our milk came from Midland Counties Dairy. Not only was milk delivered daily but also bread, this came to our home from Scrivens Bakery.

Milk. This came in glass bottles sealed with aluminium foil tops. The pasteurised milk came that way. Sterilised milk was in slightly taller, thinner bottles sealed with a metal cap a bit like beer bottles are to day. Not that I know much about beer bottles being a non-drinker.

Even those who do have milk delivered today have it in plastic containers which may or may not be recyclable. Many I expect end up in rubbish bins on their way to landfill. The 1960's was hardly an environmentally friendly decade but milk was ahead of its time, it is way ahead of time today in 2020 when everyone turns a blind eye to our climate emergency. Empty bottles had to be washed and put out on the doorstep for the milkman to collect and take away the next day. These were then washed again before being refilled with milk for future delivery. The aluminium tops were carefully collected for blind dogs. The metal caps were melted down, sold in bars of aluminium to make new items, probably more milk bottle tops, the proceeds from which funded the training of guide dogs for the blind.

Sticking with our environmentally friendly milk, the delivery vehicles which were known as milk floats were powered by electric motors. Electricity was, however, generated from non-renewable resources but we won;t go there !

Drinka Pinta Milka Day !  An advertising slogan from the Milton Marketing Board. YUK ! No way. Kids and teenagers were not fans of milk. Horrible stuff. When it came to milk we were all strict vegans.

During times of rationing myths were created to encourage kids to eat food which was not in short supply.

  • Eat the crusts of you bread and they will make your hair curl.
  • Eating fish gives you brains.
  • Carrots help you see in the dark.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • Go to work on an egg

What would twenty-first century advertising standards make of that lot ?

To help build strength into the bones of the younger generation government funded small one third of a pint bottles of milk to be drunk every day by kids. There were milk monitors in every class. There was a special tool to punch straw holes into the aluminium caps. But these bottles of milk were school punishment !  Milk was stored in my school in such a way that it was always lukewarm and tasted horrible. Could that be something to do with teachers never needing to have the milkman visit their home ?  School staff rooms were never short of milk for coffee breaks. When Margaret Thatcher became Minister of Education she stopped the free school milk and was dubbed Maggie Thatcher The Milk Snatcher. To we kinds she was a hero.

Finally before I talk about bread. Milk was and still is sold in PINTS. None of this foreign rubbish - litres and such.

Bread. Scrivens Bakery delivering to homes in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield in the swinging sixties. Not a lot to say really. It was convenient and the bread was good. We kids did not drink milk but we did eat sandwiches.

Another piece of music ?  How about No Milk Today from Hermits Hermits

No milk today, my love has gone away - The bottle stands for lorn, a symbol of the dawn - No milk today, it seems a common sight - But people passing by don't know the reason why - How could they know just what this message means ? - The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams - How could they know the palace there had been - Behind the door where my love reigned as queen ? - No milk today, it wasn't always so................
Formed in 1964 in Manchester Herman's Hermits still performs today. No Milk Today  was released in 1967 and peaked at number 7 in the charts.

Football pools and spot the ball.  Today we have The National Lottery, The Peoples Lottery, Postcode Lottery, Euro Millions. charity lotteries and on and on and on..... What have they all got in common ? They are boring and totally without skill as they prize money from pockets with dreams of riches with as much chance winning as Luton has of being declared a city of culture !

Wind back to the swinging sixties and the football pools. No, not a puddle in front of the goal mouth but a weekly system where people predicted football results, not a lottery but careful and skilled knowledge of the teams in the game. Saturday evening people were glued to their TV sets, marking the results off on their copy coupons. There were big prizes and there were smaller prizes. A lot of fun, not the mindless random numbers of today's lottery. My Nan, who had never been to a football game in her life was a dedicated player. A  player and often sinner of smaller prizes. There was a but of community around the football pools, people would debate possible results ahead of filling in their coupon. There were coupon collectors who used to come round the houses taking your entry fee and predictions.

The Birmingham Mail had its own football competition: Spot the Ball. This was brilliant. A photograph was printed in the paper from a previous game featuring a local team: Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers and even Walsall. From the picture the ball had been removed. The skill was to put a cross where the ball was. Great fun with some good prizes.

Nothing like that from the swinging sixties in the dumbed down twenty-first century. Surely this could make a come back. Nah !  people would wan t to play using their stupid smart phones. Thank god we never had them in the 1960's !

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