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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