Tuesday 31 March 2020

On this day: 1st April

These events all happened on this day in the past – no fooling here, honest!

(75 years ago)
In 1945, the Battle of Okinawa, Japan (also known as Operation Iceberg) commenced, continuing until 22nd June. Being the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War during World War II, it was an Allied victory with U.S. forces occupying Okinawa until 1972.
(60 years ago)
In 1960. the USA launched the world’s first weather satellite, Tiros I.

(60 years ago)
Also in 1960, Dr Martens boots went on sale in the UK for the first time (please click HERE for further details).

Birthdays today include:
Ali MacGraw – US model and actress, best remembered for Love Story, 81.
Jimmy Cliff – Jamaican singer and musician, 72.
David Gower – English cricketer and TV commentator, 63.
Beth Tweddle – former English gymnast, 35.
Ding Junhui – Chinese snooker player, 33.

Monday 30 March 2020

On this day: 31st March

The 31st March was quite an eventful day over the years:

(90 years ago)

In 1930, the Motion Pictures Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was adopted. It detailed what was (and was not) morally acceptable in the production of American movies, and was enforced from 1934 to 1968.

(75 years ago)

In 1945, Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway.

(40 years ago)

In 1980, record breaking US track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens passed away aged 66 from an aggressive form of lung cancer. Incredibly the 4 time Olympic Gold medallist was a heavy smoker from the age of 32 until his death.

(30 years ago)
In 1980, the worst of the Poll Tax riots took place in Central London. 200,000 protesters took to the streets and clashed with police. Violence and looting erupted, leading to the worst riots in the city for a century.

Famous Birthdays:

Shirley Jones – American actress and member of the Partridge Family, 86
Herb Alpert – American jazz musician and record company executive, 85
David Steel – Scottish politician, former leader of Liberal Democrats, 82
Hashim Amla – South African Cricketer, 37.

Very many happy returns to them all.

Saturday 28 March 2020

60 Years of Doc Martens in the UK

Klaus Martens

On April 1st 1960, Dr Martens boots went on sale in the UK.

Klaus Martens was a 25 year old German army doctor in World War II who, while on leave in 1945, went on a skiing break in the Bavarian Alps

He injured his ankle while skiing and found that his standard issue army boots were too painful to wear on his injured foot. So to ease his pain, he designed improvements with soft leather and an air padded sole made from rubber off old tyres.
At the end of the war, he took some leather from a cobbler’s shop and made a further pair of boots with air-cushioned soles. This grew into a business and soon he was selling the boots, albeit initially with little success.

In 1947, along with an old university friend, Herbert Funck, he went into business in Germany producing shoes and boots using rubber reclaimed from Luftwaffe airfields. This time the shoes were marketed as an orthopaedic shoe and were a massive hit with German housewives of 40+ who made up more than 80% of sales throughout the first decade.

A further factory was opened in Munich in 1952 and by the end of the 1950s the company was thriving well in Germany causing Martens and Funck to market the business internationally.

Almost immediately UK shoe manufacturer R Griggs Group Ltd bought the rights to manufacture the boots in the UK, slightly reshaping the heel and adding the trademark AirWair along with the infamous yellow stitching.

The first boots were released in the UK on 1st April 1960 known as Style 1460. They had an 8 eyelet cherry-red coloured, smooth leather design and indeed the style is still in production to this day.

Initially costing £2 a pair, they were popular with postmen and factory workers, but when the Who guitarist Pete Townsend wore a pair on stage at a London gig in 1966, they became a symbol of working class pride and rebellion and essential wear for skinheads and mods.

Friday 27 March 2020

Anna Sewell Anniversary

Monday 30th March sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anna Sewell, fondly remembered as the author of the children’s classic novel “Black Beauty.”

Born by the seaside at Great Yarmouth, she only ever had one published book to her name, but it has become one of the top ten best selling children’s novels ever written even though it was originally intended for an adult audience.

From a devout Quaker family, Anna and her brother were on the whole educated by their mother, but they were forced to spend time away from home living with grandparents as the family’s financial status was precarious (their father was a shopkeeper).

After an accident at the age of 12 where Anna broke both of her ankles and the subsequent treatment she received was shoddy, she spent a lifetime being unable to stand for long periods and was in constant pain.

At the age of 16, Anna’s family moved to Brighton on the south coast hoping the warmer climate would have a beneficial effect on her ailing health. In the next few years the family moved around the country to Wick in Scotland and to Bath in the westcountry in an effort to ease her poor health.

Anna had a great equine love and she was inspired to write “Black Beauty” (originally entitled The Autobiography of a Horse) after observing inhumane treatment to horses.

Already into her 50’s, she worked on the novel between the years of 1871 and 1877, but was in such poor health at the time she was unable to leave her bed and in the main dictated the story to her mother.

Her masterpiece was published in 1877 when Anna was 57 years old for which she was paid the sum of £40. At the time she was completely bedridden and in extreme pain.

She passed away 5 months after publication, of hepatitis or tuberculosis, however she was able to witness the initial warm reception the book received in England before she died. She was buried at the Quaker burial-ground near to Buxton in Norfolk.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Hit by the Rhythm Stick!

On 27th March it will be 20 years since punk/new wave singer, songwriter and actor, Ian Dury died.

Fondly remembered as the lead singer of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, he contracted polio as a 7 year old during the 1949 epidemic.

He claimed that he caught the disease at a swimming pool in Southend-on-Sea and after 6 weeks spent in a full plaster cast in hospital, he spent the next few years convalescing from the illness in varying hospitals throughout the UK. It resulted in paralysis and withering of his left leg, shoulder and arm.

Musically, he first came to prominence as lead singer of the pub rock outfit “Kilburn and the High Roads” who released one album in 1975 before disbanding later in the same year.

Next came the infamous “Blockheads” who had the reputation as one of the top live new wave bands. With such wonderful output as Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll*, Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3, and my personal favourite the truly wonderful What a Waste, Ian Dury and the Blockheads amassed a massive fan base with musical influences ranging through jazz, rock and roll, funk and reggae genres.

 Ian Dury and the Blockheads - What a Waste

(* Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was actually released under the single name of “Ian Dury”, but three of the Blockheads also appeared on the recording).

Their biggest hit was the immortal Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Reaching no.1 in the UK in the early part of 1979, it went on to sell just under a million copies. It also topped the charts in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and was a top 20 hit in several European countries.

Dury was initially diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1996. He underwent surgery only for tumours to be later found in his liver. At that stage he was informed that his prognosis was terminal.

Ian Dury Memorial Bench - Richmond Park, London.

He died of metastatic colorectal cancer on 27th March 2000. Madness singer Suggs described him as “possibly the greatest lyricist we’ve seen.” Very much a fair call I strongly suggest.

Smart to be Square!

30 years ago, on 25th March 1990, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) began broadcasting in the UK as a rival to Sky TV. The company was noted and best remembered for its distinctive “squarial” satellite dishes.

Both companies struggled with high start-up costs, and they merged some 9 months later on 2nd November 1990, forming British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) – renamed Sky plc in 2014.

It always struck me as an interesting and somewhat sad decision to scrap the “squarial” dish, which held a unique style, in favour of the traditional (if you like), boring satellite dish. 

It had something of an attractive, upmarket appearance and brought about BSB’s slogan “it’s smart to be square”.

Thursday 19 March 2020

The Sinking of a Pirate

40 years ago today (20th March 1980), the Mi Amigo, the ship used by the British pirate radio station Radio Caroline, sank whilst still broadcasting, in a force 10 storm on the North Sea.

On Easter Sunday 1964, Pirate station Radio Caroline started broadcasting to the UK from an old ferry based 3 miles of the Suffolk coast. A few months later, after they merged with rival station Radio Atlanta, they moved home to Atlanta’s Mi Amigo vessel just off the Essex coast.

After the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act outlawed all Pirate Station broadcasts (August 1967), Caroline continued to broadcast in defiance of the act, but with reduced revenue coming in, the ship was seized by creditors in March 1968.

By 1974 the station was back on air again, but because of its age the Mi Amigo’s seaworthiness was deteriorating. More than once it had broken anchor in a storm and had run aground, being described by rescue crews as a “death trap.”

On that fateful night, during a particularly severe storm, the Mi Amigo again broke anchor and drifted. The crew attempted for hours to pump out water from the stricken vessel, but to no avail. Meanwhile all through the rescue attempts, the station remained on air.

A few minutes after midnight the Mi Amigo finally sank, leaving only the mast visible above the waves.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Beam Me Up Scotty

On Tuesday March 3rd 2020, James Doohan, the actor who became famous for playing Chief Engineer of the Starship Enterprise, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original Star Trek TV series, would have been 100 years old.

Remembered for often receiving the instruction from Captain Kirk, “Beam me up Scotty”, was born 100 years ago in Canada’s Vancouver. He was the youngest of 4 children, whose parents had previously emigrated from Northern Ireland. His father was a pharmacist, veterinarian and dentist, while his mother was a homemaker.

A war hero
Early in the World War II, Doohan joined the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (1938-1946) and saw combat in Europe including at the D-Day invasions of Normandy in 1944.

Although never being an official member as such, Doohan was once labelled the "craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force". In 1945 at Salisbury Plain, England, he flew a plane (A Mark IV Auster) in a slalom fashion between telegraph poles, just to prove it was possible. For his endeavours he earned a serious reprimand. Maybe it is just as well he never attempted to pilot the USS Enterprise in a similar fashion!

Original Star Trek Cast
After the war Jimmy Doohan gained extensive radio and TV experience which eventually culminated in his landing the role in the mid 1960's that brought his worldwide fame as “Scotty” in Star Trek.

When the original TV series came to a close, he continued in the role for a further 5 movies and various animations and he was a regular attendee at Star Trek Conventions.

Married 3 times and the father of 7 children, we was a heavy drinker and suffered diabetes, liver cirrhosis, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and hearing loss in later life. Also after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, he withdrew from public life in 2004.

A year later he died, aged 85, due to complications of pulmonary fibrosis, believed to have emanated from his exposure to noxious substances during World War II