Friday 28 November 2014

Britain's First Roundabout

Roundabouts – love ‘em or hate them, they are an integral part of most road systems and essential in getting around in this day and age (although it is somewhat debatable when encountering either of the Magic specimens located in Swindon or Hemel Hempstead, but I digress).

But from where do roundabouts originate and what was (or in fact still is) the location of the first ever roundabout created in the United Kingdom?

For that illustrious honour you have to travel to Hertfordshire or more to the point, to the new town of Letchworth Garden City.

Hidden in the depths of tree lined highways, with charming residential abodes all around, the first gyratory traffic flow system or roundabout in the UK is still located in a sleepy area of the Garden City at Sollershott Circus.

Britain's First Roundabout

Dating from circa 1909, the town’s architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin introduced this now common road junction into this country as part of their highway master plan for the UK's first Garden City. The rest, as they say is history!

The centre was originally designed as a traffic island for pedestrians to ease the problem of crossing the road, especially with the increased traffic expected around the junction. It was reported in a newspaper article of the opening being attended by "a number of vehicles including buses from the neighbouring town of Hitchin."
Columbus Circle circa 1907

The first recognisable roundabout in the world was New York's Columbus Circle. It was opened 4 years before its counterpart in Letchworth, although similar style junctions were used in France in the latter part of the 19th Century.

So Letchworth can be remembered not only as the homes of legendary cricketer Sir Jack Hobbs, ex-BBC Royal correspondent Jennie Bond and enthusiastic scientist and media personality Dr Magnus Pike, but also as the birthplace of a British institution that has colonised the country (and especially Milton Keynes!).

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Monday 24 November 2014

Terry-Thomas: Magnificent in a Flying Machine

Perennially appearing on our TV’s every Christmas, one of my favourite movies of the mid-sixties with its full title “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines; Or, How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes” is always guaranteed to fill up 2 hours of the festive period, assisting the recovery from the many over indulgences previously incurred.

Starring such an eminent cast as Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, Robert Morley, Terry-Thomas and James Fox, and directed by Ken Annakin, it was the fictional account of an air race between London and Paris, with a prize of £10,000 on offer, in order to prove that Britain was “Number one in the air”.

On 8th January 2015, it will be 25 years since the death of British comedy film actor and “Magnificent Man” Terry-Thomas.

With his cultured accent, striking dress sense and trademark gap between his front two teeth, Terry-Thomas is fondly remembered for often playing disreputable members of the upper classes.

Born in 1911 as Thomas, Terry Stevens in Finchley, London, his father was a butcher at London’s famous Smithfield Market, who also trod the boards as an amateur actor in his spare time.

Although the young Tom (as he was known at the time) spent a generally happy childhood, he started fooling around by entertaining at home with jokes and musical routines, all in an attempt to bring his parents together as their marriage was failing. However they separated and had divorced by the early 1920s.

He started cultivating his infamous, distinctive, well spoken voice as early as 1921 with the belief that it would suggest of an excellent education and that people would lookup to him. In hindsight it became one of his most endearing trademarks and arguably a more iconic “cad” or “bad egg” character actor has not been seen in British cinema before or since.

After expulsion from Ardingly College in England’s West Sussex for continual ad libbing and acting the fool during lessons, he returned to London to work at Smithfield Market and similarly to his father, also enjoyed a spell in amateur dramatics in his spare time.

In the 1930s he progressed to making his first professional appearance on stage and by 1933 had procured a small movie part in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” starring Charles Laughton.

In “Those Magnificent Men….” Terry-Thomas played the part of Baronet Sir Percy Ware-Armitage who, along with his bullied man-servant, they sabotage two of the competing aircraft, drug one of the other pilots and attempt to cheat by shipping their aircraft across the channel at night.

Anyone unfamiliar with the movie may see similarities to the later 60s Hanna Barbera cartoon series “Dasdardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines” (also remembered by many as “Stop the Pigeon”). There were many similarities between Dick Dastardly and Terry-Thomas and it is quite clear where the cartoon character persona stemmed from.

Suffering from Parkinsons’ Disease and depression in later life, Terry-Thomas died in a nursing home at Godalming in Surrey at the age of 78.

His persona has been used as an inspiration for many performances over the years. Dustin Hoffman admits to basing his interpretation of Captain Hook in “Hook” on him while Rupert Everett styled his voicing of Prince Charming in “Shrek 2” on the English cad. The British legendary puppet Basil Brush was also based on Terry-Thomas as were Ronnie Corbett’s iconic monologue series in the BBC’s “Two Ronnies” TV show.

with Doris Day
Terry-Thomas's friend Jack Lemmon called him "a consummate professional ... he was a gentleman, a delight to be with personally, let alone professionally, and above all as an actor he had one of the qualities that I admire so much—he made it look simple"

Terry-Thomas was truly a magnificent man of stage and screen.

His full filmography is available by clicking HERE

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Friday 14 November 2014

Football League Ladders

As a teenager back in the 70s, one of the highlights of my year was the free Football League Ladders that were given away by Shoot Magazine at the beginning of the season.

They consisted of a thin card sheet, where the divisions of both the Football League and the Scottish League were printed, and a slit was made for each position in the League.

Then in subsequent weeks T-shaped tabs for each club, printed in their appropriate colours, were given away. These tabs would fit into the slits and throughout the season the League tables could be changed after each set of results, giving an instant reading of the current state of the League positions.

After a while I used to get bored with changing the tables every week and I would make them up as I thought fit. It was amazing how often West Brom would sit at the top of Division One and Wolves and Aston Villa would be in the depths of a battle to avoid re-election (well I can dream can’t I?).

Amazingly, some of these ladders remain and there are actually examples for sale on eBay (but then again, pretty well anything is available there if you look hard enough).

Apart from whenever the ladders were given away, I never bothered getting the magazine as I was only allowed one mag a week and I would generally go for a comic such as the Beano, Buster or Whizzer and Chips (remember any of them?).

Did you collect and use the League ladders?

What was your favourite comic?

If it was Whizzer and Chips, were you a “Whizz-Kid” like me, or one of those nasty “Chip-ites?”

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Thursday 8 May 2014

Bewitched on Gold

One of my favourite TV shows as a kid was the US sitcom import Bewitched. I can still remember at the back end of the 1960s, looking forward to watching the original showings on my parents old black and white TV (oh for the onset of colour).
York, Moorehead and Montgomery
I was totally fascinated by the style of American modern living portrayed in the series – a world apart from what I was used to here in Blighty. And to believe I was naïve enough to think that a spell could be cast from a cute wiggling nose! Outrageous!
Running for 8 seasons, with 254 episodes between 1964 and 1972, imagine my recent joy to hear that it is to be shown again here in the UK on Gold TV.
Dick Sargent
Starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens, a witch married to a mere mortal human, she was joined, initially by Dick York and later Dick Sargent, as her long suffering husband Darrin (Sargent quietly took over the role in season 6 after York quit because of a severe back condition).
Other regular characters in the series included Samantha’s mother Endora, played by the wonderfully OTT Agnes Moorehead. Darrin’s boss Larry Tate played by David White, the lovable Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) and the Stevens’ young daughter Tabitha, latterly portrayed by Erin Murphy.

Sadly, over the years, all bar Miss Murphy have now passed away. Montgomery due to colorectal cancer in 1995, York from complications brought on by emphysema in 1992, Sargent from prostate cancer in 1994 and Moorehead from uterine cancer as far back as 1974.

Erin Murphy 2008
Erin Murphy went on to appear in many episodes of Lassie, numerous TV adverts and also modelled swimwear.

Now 49 years of age, she has been married 3 times and has 6 sons.
Still living in California, she co-owns a company that produce flavoured frozen martinis.

Bewitched is still shown throughout the world and it is certainly a pleasure to see it back on TV here in the UK, albeit on a subscription satellite/cable channel.
It maybe looks somewhat dated these days, but the fact that the show ranked in TV Guide’s Top 50 Greatest Shows of all time, surely says a lot. I still enjoy it anyway.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing

When rummaging around a local re-use centre this morning, I came across a pile of fishing books on a table.
The majority of the books were on the subject of fly-fishing (which doesn’t really interest me), but nestled towards the bottom of the pile, were two Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing books.

Created by Bernard Venables, Mr Crabtree goes Fishing was an iconic comic strip that featured in the Daily Mirror in the 1940s. It was the story of a father who took his son Peter on a series of angling adventures throughout the year.
The first book based on the cartoons was published in 1949 and has sold approx. 4 million copies to date (my copies date from the 1960s)
Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing – 8th edition - 1960.
Fishing With Mr Crabtree In All Waters - 1st edition - 1965
Venables went on to co-found the Angling Times newspaper and is fondly remembered as being one of the most influential anglers and writers on the subject, of the 20th century.
To say I was chuffed with my find would be an understatement, and for 50p each, I think I got myself a bargain (have seen a similar copy of one, sold on Ebay for £9).
I can’t wait to start reading.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Whatever Happened to Steptoe and Son? (the Rag-and-Bone Man).

Recently, Satellite and Cable TV station “Gold” has been showing re-runs of the wonderful Steptoe and Son, the BBC’s iconic sitcom from the 60s and 70s, outlining the story of a father and son rag-and-bone man business.

Based in the supposedly fictitious Oil Drum Lane in London’s Shepherds Bush, the TV show was a huge success, running for 8 series between 1962 and 1974. There were also 2 spin off movies resulting from the series and it catapulted both Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett into TV super-stardom during that iconic period of British sitcoms.

But what exactly was a rag-and-bone man, what did he do, and how come we don’t see them around anymore – or indeed, do we?

Back in the 19th century, the rag-and-bone man scavenged the streets of the area where he was based, on the look out for unwanted rags, bones, metal and any other waste material he considered he could make money from. At that time they generally worked on foot and were usually to be seen carrying a filthy bag on their back, where they would store their finds.

Dry rags would fetch anything up to 3 old pennies for a pound weight, whilst bones were used for the production of knife handles, toys and ornaments. On a good day, a rag-and-bone man would probably earn around sixpence for his toil.

In 1954, a report in the Manchester Guardian claimed that some men could earn up to £25 a day collecting rags, although this figure is highly questionable. Usually the rag-and-bone man would pull his own hand cart or wheelbarrow, but the more prosperous would have a horse drawn cart which would enable them to cover a larger area.

After that time the trade began to fall into steady decline and by the 1980’s they had all but disappeared from the streets. However in recent times, with the increased price of scrap metal, a form of rag-and-bone man has returned, usually driving a van and using a megaphone to attract attention. 
Saying that, where I live in Central Bedfordshire, we occasionally get a visit from the rag-and-bone man in a van and he still uses a bell which he rings out of the window as he drives by. Every time he passes, it is always guaranteed to annoy my dog who barks and chases him down the garden.
As for Steptoe and Son, the series came to an end with the final episode being broadcast on Boxing Day 1974. The stories centred on the relationship between a father and son business, focussing on their differences. Albert (played by Wilfrid Brambell) was of the old school and very much set in his ways, whereas Harold, his son (Harry H Corbett), was full of social aspirations and keen to climb the ladder in order to better himself in any way possible.
The creators of the show, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (famous for working with Tony Hancock), were insistent upon 2 actors, as opposed to comedians, being given the parts, as they didn’t want them just looking for laughs. In the early days, the show regularly commanded an audience of 28 million (this was long before the onset of satellite and cable TV which severely diluted TV audiences).
Brambell, although originating from Ireland, was a dapper little man and spoke with a distinguished English accent. He is remembered for playing Paul McCartney’s Grandfather in the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” and also appeared in “Holiday On the Buses.”
Corbett originated from the English north-west (Manchester) and spoke in a north-country accent. He considered himself to be a “serious actor” and in his early career, was at one stage dubbed as Britain’s answer to Marlon Brando. However he believed his type-casting in the TV role caused him problems in finding other work, which kept forcing his return to reluctantly playing the younger Steptoe.
There were many stories that the 2 never saw eye-to-eye and clashed regularly. Both Corbett’s family and Galton & Simpson have always refuted these claims.

Harry H Corbett passed away in March 1982 from heart failure. There is footage available of an obviously distressed Wilfrid Brambell paying tribute to his co-star in a news report, which pours cold water somewhat on any stories of continued ill-feeling between the two. Brambell died of cancer in January 1985.
Other versions were made of the show in various countries across the globe. It was remade in the US as Sanford and Son, in Sweden as Albert & Herbert and in the Netherlands as Stiefbeen en zoon.

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Saturday 8 March 2014

Charles De Gaulle Airport - 40 Years On

Terminal 1 - CDG Airport
40 years ago today, the newer Paris airport at the northern suburb of Roissy opened. Named after French leader Charles De Gaulle (1890 – 1970), it is located approx. 16 miles to the north-east of the French capital and is the 2nd busiest airport in Europe (beaten only by Heathrow in London). In 2012 it was the 7th busiest in the world.
The planning and construction of what was originally known as l’aéroport de Paris Nord, commenced in 1966 and it now covers an area of approx 8,000 acres of land. The main architect was Paul Andreu, who also planned airports in Manila (Philippines), Jacarta, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Brunei and the smaller original Paris location at Orly.
Air France jets parked at CDG
I had the pleasure of travelling into Charles De Gaulle Airport on an Air France jet from Heathrow a few years ago. I must admit that I was suitably impressed with the airline, finding that there were only 14 people on the flight and everyone was transferred up into Business Class.
Getting to the other end, everything seemed to run smoothly and a pleasant trip was had all round. Going back to Heathrow was another story, best left for another time maybe.
Happy Birthday l’aéroport de CDG

Sunday 16 February 2014

Shelter from an Air-Raid

2014 is the 75th anniversary of the start of the 2nd World War which began in Europe on the 3rd September 1939. 6 months previously, on the 25th February, the first Anderson air-raid shelters were delivered to households in the Islington area of London.

Anderson Shelter at Bedford Museum

Designed a year previously by William Paterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison, they were named after Sir John Anderson – the Lord Privy Seal - who was responsible for preparing British air-raid precautions before the expected outbreak of war.

Each shelter was designed for 6 people and was a simple structure of corrugated steel panels that had to be bolted together and then buried a metre underground, with a layer of soil and/or turf on top. They came similar to flat-pack furniture, i.e. the families were expected to construct the shelter themselves from a set of instructions.
Before hostilities broke out and during the conflict, approx 3.5m Anderson shelters were built and they were distributed free to those with annual incomes of less than £250 (£5 a week), or at a charge of £7 for everyone else.

The Anderson shelters performed their task efficiently, but in winter they were unpopular, being cold, dark holes in the ground, that often became flooded in wet weather. Their unpopularity led to the development of the more user-friendly, indoor Morrison shelter.

At the end of the war, households were expected to dig up their shelter and return the corrugated iron, but many were allowed to keep it in return for a small fee. Many shelters were converted into garden sheds and indeed, many actually survive to this day.

Have you seen a surviving Anderson shelter?

What use does it perform today?