Monday, 14 September 2020

Swinging Through the Sixties - part seven

I am writing thousands of words every day for my new book - SWINGING THROUGH THE SIXTIES. Here's part of what I wrote yesterday.

Have you read my latest books ?

The Headmaster of Boldmere High School for Boys in the Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield would stand up in assembly as say: Boys, you attend the best school in Sutton Coldfield. Who was he trying to kid ?

We all knew the school was founded in 1937, Headmaster Simson never stopped ramming it down our throats.  At the front of the assembly hall was a big wooden sculpture with ROLL OF HONOUR written in gold lettering on it. From 1939 to 1945 different boys names appeared. It had taken the school two years to get things started, two years celebrating boys who must have won prizes at speech day but why did it stop in 1945 ? When I joined the school just short on my twelfth birthday I was never told. When I left a little short of my seventeenth birthday I still did not know why The Roll of Honour stopped at 1945.

Poppy Day, it was always called Poppy Day at Boldmere High School For Boys. Words like Remembrance and Armistice we never mentioned.  There was never a special assembly. Poppies were on sale on a specific day, just one. Every boy was instructed to bring in half-a-crown, two shillings and six pence (Twelve and a half pence in today’s money.) to purchase a poppy. We then wore the poppy for just that week.)

Disrespect ? We were attending the best school in Sutton Coldfield. Headmaster Simson just who were you trying to kid ?

Leaving school and becoming a management trainee at Lewis’s Department Store. The disrespect from school continued. There were fourteen, yes that is not a typo, passengers lifts to speed customers up and down the eight giant sales floors. Each was manned by a uniformed lift attendant. Some only had one leg, lone man had two legs but only one foot. There was one who was missing a hand. His arm ended in an ugly stump which he used to push the lift controller. Surely it was not respectful to the customers to employ disfigured men in such positions. That was what this arrogant seventeen year old thought.

World War Two ended just over five years before I was born. World War One thirty-two years before I was born. Everyday life was filled with veterans of the wars. My disrespect was the way it was with people of my age.

Take a teenager today, someone the age I was at Lewis’s. World War Two ended fifty-eight years before he/she was born. World War One ended eighty-five years before he/she was born.  The way today’s generation has been educated at school is everything that Boldmere High School For Boys was not.  When I go to the Armistice Service each year I am so moved by the wide range of ages to be found there, families, little kids in push chairs, teenagers, mums. Dads and old boys like me who were the disrespectful teenagers of the 1960’s. Thank goodness things have changed.

We did not have school trips at Boldmere High School For Boys Headmaster Simson insisted they were Educational Visits. (Pompus old sod !) Teachers had to submit their ideas for trips, I mean educational visit, to Simson for his personal approval before they could go ahead. So where during my time at school where did I go on educational visits ? They must have been so exciting I have had to think very hard to remember them.

At the end of my first year at secondary school our form teacher took us to Whipsnade Zoo. That would have passed Headmaster Simson’s educational visit test but I remember little of it. However, I remember the fun and games we all had chasing round Dunstable Downs. Carved into the hillside is a giant lion, I remember sitting on the edge of the chalk lion, far too big to appreciate it at ground level, while Mr Fairbairn, that was the name of our form teacher, engaged us with his silly little stories.

Coventry Cathedral was destroyed by German bombers on 14th November 1940, no I was not around at the time. Building a new cathedral began in the 1950’s with it being opened in 1962. It must have been some time in 1963 when we were taken to visit the new cathedral.  I remember so clearly set into the floor of the nave on either side were one penny coins from the year of 1962. I wonder if they are still there or have been worn by feet walking over them into simple copper discs.

I also remember a beautiful tapestry by Graham Sutherland. Funny how little things like that stick in your mind.

Cathedrals. Liverpool has two facing each other. The Anglican and the Catholic cathedrals.  Work began on the catholic building in 1962 and was finished in 1967. It truly is a very impressive place. I can remember pre-educational visit being told the architect was Sir Edwin Lutyens.

A visit to Liverpool was organised by our Geography teacher Mr (Pappy) Newman. Obviously the visit must have taken place before after work started in 1962 and would have been well before 1967, 1964 perhaps. The cathedral bit, I think, was included by Pappy Newman to pass the educational visit test, what he really wanted us to see were the Liverpool Docks. From this he thought our minds could reach out to different countries in the world. Nah it didn’t.

Boldmere High School For Boys in the Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield was middle class or as George Orwell would have described we teenagers: Lower upper middle class. In remember one docker turning to us and saying: I bet your dad don’t work on the docks !  Sutton Coldfield is in the middle of England so how could there be any docks for any dad to work in ?

Before we embarked on the educational visit, many times each week before we embarked on the educational visit Pappy kept telling us we would not be visiting the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The Cavern was where The Beatles played in their early days. As I have earlier explained we lads were not interested in The Beatles, it was hysterical teenage girls who screamed after the Fab Four. We had no wish at all to visit Liverpool’s Cavern Club. I am sure that Pappy Newman, on the other hand did want to secretly, without Headmaster Simson knowing, add it to the agenda but if he did he did not drum up any support.

On the timetable at school was the subject Engineering. This was a subject most lads dropped when GCE O Level courses kicked in. It was taught by Mr Tuckley. I think he came from Jonathan Swift’s land of Lilliput from Gulliver’s Travels, was known as Tiny Tim Tuckley. A bit of teenage alliteration there !

Tiny Tim used certain phrases which I think he deliberately encouraged. PACKING UP TIME !  At the end of each lesson the tools had to be put away and the benches swept.  Another was I’LL MELT YOU DOWN !  In the back of the workshop was a small furnace in which Tiny Tim used to melt down the aluminium milk bottle tops to make material we boys could use in what he called JOBS. He would get cross if ever he caught anyone throwing into the scrap box something which he could melt down.

Don’t worry, I am getting to Tiny Tim’s educational visits but first let me add to the explanation of his character that Tiny Tim was fascinated by aircraft. If ever one flew over the school he would rush out of the workshop to view it. When in 1965 Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas had a hit with Trains And Boats And Planes we were certain it had been written and recorded just for Tiny Tim Tuckley.

Trains and bloats and planes are passing by - They mean a trip to Paris or Rome - For someone else but not for me - The trains and the boats and planes - Took you away, away from me…..

We are here swinging through the sixties, we are not disco dancing through the seventies but in 1976 a friend of mine ran a local pub. When he put Billy J on stage in his pub I helped him. My job was to look after this British rock and roll star. As we met my mind went back to Bioldmere High School For Boys and Tiny Tim Tuckley.

Tiny Tim organised two visits to manufacturing companies in Birmingham. Organising meant we lads had to go on the ‘bus and meet him there. He drove in his car. He drove a Ford Cortina Mark Two estate.

The first visit was to George Tucker Eyelets, Tucker ?  Tuckley ?  Were they related ?  Did Tiny Tim own shares in the company ? If he did the visit was just as boring. None of us was ever going to do manual work in a factory. We were after all lower, upper middle class.

The second visit was to a giant factory Kynoch. Kynoch Works at Witton in Birmingham was a huge factory where, from 1862 and in the ensuing 114 years, ammunition, non-ferrous metals and other products were manufactured.

Kynoch was destined to be every bit as boring as Tucker Eyelets save for the fact that there was a family connection. Not long after the start of World War One my grandmother, my Dad’s Mum, had gone to Birmingham as a munitions worker, a canary Girl, at Kynoch. She was billeted on a family in Aston, Birmingham whose son William was in the army in France. My Nan, Lily, and William were married after the war. If it had not been for Kynoch I would not be here now writing these words and all the memories of the swinging sixties I have shared would never have happened.

Boldmere High School For Boys school trips ? Boring !  Not so those I organised for teenagers in my charge when I was a teacher. I smile now as I recall being known as the Thomas Cook of  Leon School. So where did the school trips aka educational visits I organised go to ?  Hang on tight because this is going to be a very big swing.

·     Los Angeles and The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Disneyland The Happiest Place On Earth. Beverley Hills and Malibu Beach.
Amsterdam and Anne Frank’s House.
Venice, Italy.
Disneyland Paris. Kids went home after school on Friday to get ready, back to school where a fleet of coaches – anything up to six – were waiting to commence an overnight drive to Paris. Full day in Disneyland then an overnight drive home. Time for a quick nap then back to school on Monday.
Egypt, the pyramids and the sphynx, Cairo, the Aswan Dam, The Valley of the Kings and King Tut’s burial.
    San Francisco, South Lake Tahoe, The Nevada Desert, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park and panning for gold at Sutter’s Mill where the 1849 Gold Gush started.

Not a dock worker or cathedral, not a boring factory or a Dunstable Down anywhere in sight.

None of my school trips were in the swinging sixties but in the autumn term of 1969 Woodstock just scraped in.

I had left my job as a management trainee at Lewis’s Department Store and had become an unqualified assistant teacher in a boys independent school. I was in charge of games, PE and music.  I was also jointly in charge of a school trip to Woodstock. With another teacher we organised a day trip to Blenheim Palace, the birth place of Winston Churchill, near Oxford. Remember this was October 1969. Driving along the coach passed a sign for Woodstock. The coach load of boys erupted with excitement demanding the visit to Blenheim be abandoned in place of Woodstock. I had to explain that this was Woodstock, Oxford England and not Woodstock, New Your State, USA.

Fifty years later, October 2019, I was speaking with lower-sixth teenagers in a school. I was wearing an Hawaiian shirt, very colourful. A teenager came and sat down with me, he was wearing a tie die.  I like your shirt: I said. And I like yours, he replied. He then launched talking with great knowledge of the Woodstock Festival. Of course, he had not been there but his knowledge could not have been greater if he had not been right up front by the stage.

To my Woodstock 1969 is far more important and significant that The Summer of Love 1967 and San Francisco.

The organisers of the music festival planned for a crowd of thirty thousand. Half a million people arrived. Security fell apart but during the three days not a single person was injured, there was not a single fight.  The catering was woefully in adequate. Instead of complaining about the hippie invasion the local community pulled together making food which the army helicoptered into the festival.

You can talk about Live Aid, you can talk about the opening ceremony of London 2012 but nothing has and nothing ever will come close to Woodstock 1969. Peace and Love, REAL peace and love.

How many teenagers from today’s generation reading my scribble know of Woodstock 1969 ?  How many who are older then I am, who probably never knew much about the hippie movement in the late sixties are so familiar today with Woodstock. I suggest the answer is most of them.

I am sitting writing these words on Sunday 13th September 2020. It is a hot day with temperatures in the mid twenty degrees – in proper measurements that is around 77 degrees farenheight. I am sitting in the vast, beautiful landscape gardens at Stowe. The very first project of Lancelot Capeability Brown, Stowe is the jewel in The national trust Crown. How many of my readers know who Lancelot Capeability Brown was ?  May I suggest you take a break from reading to go and find out.

Walking down the driveway to the gardens there are trees, hundreds of them. Chestnut trees planted by Lancelot Capeability Brown. On the floor there were conkers. For no reason I picked several up and put them in my bag. Perhaps I will plant them in my garden but most likely not.

In the early 1960’s conkers were very important to we pre-teenage kids. Every Autumn in every playground in every school across the land conkers was the sport to be played. Let me explain.

The conkers in my bag are noners. If I want to use them to play conkers I need to take a screwdriver and make a hole through the centre. Through this I need to thread a strong piece of string. My conker is then ready for competition. A conker is a horse chestnut, I wonder if conker comes from conquer, the aim is for my conker to beat, to conquer, the conkers of my friends.

One participant in the game holds his conker out at arms length gangling from his hand. This is the target for the other player to take aim and hit with his conker. This is repeated time after time until one conker smashes the other.

If my conker is a noner and my friends the same, if I win it becomes a oner. Let’s assume my next opponent is a fiver and let’s assume I win. My conker becomes an eighter. Two from its original status, one for winning the game and taking the five from my defeated opponent. Great fun.

Do kids play conkers any more ?  Nah !  Health and Safety has declared it dangerous. There is a one in fifteen point one billon chance that a fragment of a conker may hit someone in the eye. For a time schools suggested kids wear goggles when playing but what a load of rubbish that was.

My grandson used to attend a school by the name of Chestnuts. All down the road to the school were horse chestnut, conker trees. Kids there were never short of challengers for a game of conkers. Today the conkers just lay on the ground and rot while the kids ignore them. How sad.

Let’s have another number one hit from my birthday. 3rd November 1967 and I am seventeen years old. Mary Hopkin Those Were The Days Well they were the days, I hope you are enjoying them as I swing you through my memories.

Today my television has hundreds of channels and nothing worth watching. Everything is in colour, of course and I can record anything I fancy to watch at a later time. There is twenty-four hour news and there is still the BBC licence fee. Never mind watch a non BBC channel, it is illegal to turn a television set on without a rip off BBC television licence. In an age of instant and social media do you not think The BBC belongs in the basement of the British Museum. I do, put the whole edifice together with presenters and executives there, seal the door and do not open them for at least one thousand years.

Depending where you swing in the 1960’s there were two or three channels. Everything shut down, I think it was at half past ten but it could have been a bit later. Transmission always ended with the National Anthem. Ahead of programme commencing there was a test card showing a picture of a young girl holding some balloons.

Television sets were powered by valves. You had to turn the TV on and give it time to warm up before it would work. As well as the on and off control, the volume and channel selector there were brightness and contrast buttons. The picture would some times drift upwards or sometimes sideways. To fix this there were horizontal and vertical holds.

The picture was made up of lines across the screen, originally 405 lines and later more sophisticatedly 625 lines.

There was a lot happening to make a television set work. A great industry was built around the television repair man who was a regular visitor to your home.

Nobody called them soaps, that was an American expression which would be imported much later. Coronation Street was the first. We lads in The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield just could not believe that people lived and spoke like that. We watched it for novelty and for fun. Rubbish then and rubbish today.

Crossroads set in a fictional location of Kings Oak. I am certain that Kinds came from Kingstanding adjacent to Sutton Coldfield and Four Oaks within the Royal Borough. It was set in Birmingham and quickly earned itself a reputation for toping the charts of television mediocrity. A lad in the year above me at Boldmere High School For Boys,  Colin Worboys, won a part in the daily adventure. That was before he quit and got himself a proper job.

Roger Tongue starred in the programme playing the part of Sandy Richardson. One Saturday he came into Lewis’s Department Store to buy something. He wanted to pay by cheque. In those days there was no such thing as a cheque guarantee card, these days there is no such thing as a cheque. If a customer wanted to pay by cheque they had to produce ID in the form of a driving licence. Cedric, the sales guy, asked Roger to provide ID.

Don’t you recognise me ? Roger Tongue said.

NO, Cedric replied.
I play Sandy Richardson in Crossroads. Don’t you watch it ?

Nah, Cedric said, I don’t watch that rubbish.

Cowboy Westerns were popular. One of the most popular was Bonanza. On one of my school trips I took students to visit the Bonanza ranch in Nevada where it was filmed.

Cop series were well watched. Dixon of Dock Green was the very first ever to be shown. I doubt there has ever been a policeman so inept as George Dixon. Z cars, on the other hand, to this very day is said to be the most realistic police drama ever.

There were game shows, one being Double Your Money presented by Hughie Green. I may be wrong but I think broadcasting rules said the top prize money on any show could not exceed £1,000.

Films in school were shown using a clanking 16mm Bell and Howell projector. Who remembers one of them ? At Boldmere there was a an after school film club. I never went save on one occasion. Headmaster Simson ordered that every boy would attend the screening of Reach For The Sky telling the story of Douglas Bader. Made in the 1950’s it was now doing then round of the school film club circuit. Simson said this was real British sprit and every boy had to watch it as a character building exercise.

In our first year at Boldmere for one term the prescribed reading in English was Bridge Over The River Kwai. One class got to watch the film but my class did not. The Bishop of Birmingham had been a prisoner of war, held by the Japanese while the Burma Railway was being built. He had been tortured by the Japanese for his religious beliefs. I was, a few years later, part of a group of teenagers, who listened to him share his experience.

Cinema was just a single screen, no multiplex in the swinging sixties. Opposite Lewis’s Department Store was The Geaumont Cinema. For three years, every night and a mid-day matinee, it screened The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Every single person in Birmingham must have been to The Geaumont to watch The Sound of Music. Many several times. There was an aging sales assistant in my department at Lewis’s who had been nineteen times.

There was, of course, more than one cinema in Birmingham. It was to an alternative that a group of we teenagers from Lewis’s were invited to the Birmingham Premier of Where Eagles Dare.

The list of films I saw at the cinema goes on and on including Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard and James Bond Thunderball but I’ll leave it there.

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