My Vicarious Football Life

A shorter version of this article was published in the Sunday Island on November 20, 2022.

“Who could have known, who could have guessed that Cristiano Ronaldo was in fact a wildly solipsistic egomaniac?” Barney Ronay in the Guardian.

Gloucester City played its home games at Longlevens from 1935 to 1964. The ground was within easy walking distance from my home in the early 1950s. Walking back from a game on foggy November evenings in the early 1950s, I looked forward to a tea of hot toast with salted and peppered beef dripping, possibly extra-salted from a runny nose.

Football was different in the early 1950s. The ball was a heavy leather thing which got even heavier on a wet day and was a great health risk to those heading it. The players wore baggy shorts and looked older than their years. I recall the smells of Gloucester City football ground. My father knew some of the players and took me into the dressing room, which was full of naked men and reeked of embrocation and wintergreen (which was applied to my toes swollen and bursting from chilblains) . The manager was a dour Scot called Jimmy Buist. There was a player called Hardisty who looked very hard and also very old with a shiny bald head. There was another called Beatty who bore a resemblance to an actor who was in a lot of films at the time, Robert Beatty. The actor was a Canadian based in Britain. He had a thick head of dark hair heavily Brylcreemed. Beatty the footballer, a Scotsman, also had a fine head of dark hair generously Brylcreemed. My father used to make a strange joke, pointing at the greasy looking pillow on the bed beside my mother, “I see Beatty’s been here.” My father also had a fine head of auburn hair, lavishly  Brylcreemed.

There were some younger players in the Gloucester City AFC dressing room, including the brothers Etheridge. Dick Etheridge was manager in 1967 (also in 1970 and 1980) and brother Bobby did a stint in 1985. Frank Tredgett was a player I remember who became manager in 1960.

Frank Tredgett

In 1959, the manager was Ollie Norris, a Northern Irishman who had played for Middlesbrough. Norris had achieved some notoriety as a curly-haired inside forward trying to stop Spurs’ captain Danny Blanchflower taking throw-ins by jumping up and down in front of him. That was before an economist stole Danny’s  identity and  became ubiquitous as a financial pundit. Amid a financial crisis at the club in January 1960 Norris  was dismissed as full–time player/manager and offered, as an alternative, a part–time role as player/coach – an offer Norris rejected.

Occasionally there were charity games which gave the Gloucester stalwarts the chance to defeat conglomerations of international stars – I remember seeing the legendary Jackie Milburn play at Longlevens. His team lost.

Watching the games I got  smells of wet turf, Woodbine cigarettes, Smiths potato crisps (with the blue twist of salt) and Niblets, American Cream Soda.

My father and I went upmarket in 1955 when we started going to Birmingham on the train to New Street to see Aston Villa when Pat Saward joined the club from Millwall. As a kind of shorthand, I tend to refer to Pat as my cousin. We were not related by blood – but we shared an uncle by marriage. His Uncle Thomas married my father’s sister, Peggy. Pat was born in Cobh, County Cork but brought up mainly in Croydon (I lived in Croydon after getting married at the same register office as Camille Pissarro) after spending time in Singapore and Malta (Pat’s accent was strongly Croydon rather than County Cork). Pat’s transfer from Millwall was finalised on Paddington Station and the price on his head was £7,000. A little short of what Ronaldo might expect.

Pat was part of the team when Villa beat Manchester United in the 1957 FA cup final. (I have held his medal in my hand.) There was controversy when a “robust challenge” by Villa’s Peter McParland broke the jaw of United keeper Ray Wood. (Danny Blanchflower’s brother, Jackie, took over in goal). McParland was signed to Villa for a fee of £3,880. McParland and his wife visited my Aunty Peg’s Albert Terrace home in Cobh. His wife’s skirt dropped off as she got out of the car

Eddie Cochran was killed on April 17, 1960, when the taxi carrying him from a show in Bristol crashed en route to the airport in London, where he was to catch a flight back home to the States. I was standing on the terrace at the Holte End of Villa Park when I heard the news. I was also there on the Holte End when Derek Dougan made his debut appearance for Villa on Saturday, 19 August 1961 aged 23. Villa had signed Dougan from Blackburn Rovers on 1 July 1961 for a fee of £15,000. He was signed by manager Joe Mercer as a replacement for Gerry Hitchens, who had been sold to Inter Milan earlier in the summer for £85,000. Teammate Peter McParland later commented that “when Derek came to us at Aston Villa I think it was at a time when he was not taking the game particularly seriously”. I was there on Saturday, 19 August 1961 when Dougan ran on to the pitch with a shaved head. Shaved heads and tattoos were not commonplace in 1961 Birmingham.

My father and I would report to the players’ gate at Villa Park before a game and Pat would come out and hand us two complimentary tickets for VIP seats in the stand, sometimes sitting with the directors and the players’ wives, including Pat’s wife to be, Faye. My ten-year-old self would hand over an autograph book. After the game we would return to the players’ gate and Pat would hand back my autograph book enriched with the signatures of the home and visiting teams. He would then take us into Birmingham for a chat and a coffee. In the early days, he would take us on one of those cream-coloured double-deckered Birmingham buses. I remember being seated on the top deck of a bus accompanied by many members of a first division team, some of them internationals. One of them was Jackie Sewell, who gained six caps for England, scoring three goals, one in England’s historic defeat against Hungary in 1953. Sewell joined Aston Villa in December 1955 for £20,000. Sewell earned the distinction of earning international caps for two countries – Zambia and England.

Peter McParland, Jackie Sewell and Nigel Sims in later years

With wife Faye

With sons

At Huddersfield

Can one imagine Ronaldo travelling on a bus? Later Pat acquired a car (a big beast) in which he drove us into the centre of Birmingham. I still blush at the thought of me falling down the stairs in the Kardomah.My cousin Paddy recalls seeing Saward zooming around Cobh in an open-topped red MG.

In 1962, when I was 15, I spent six weeks in the summer at my Aunt Peg’s house in Albert Terrace, Cobh. For part of the time, Pat was staying there too. Every morning, he would get up early and immerse himself in the rain barrel in the back yard. When he strolled into town, many young (and old) ladies’ hearts went a-fluttering. I recall that one of his favourite haunts was the Horizon Bar at the foot of the precipitous East Hill.

After retiring as a player, Saward joined the youth team coaching staff at Coventry City, before becoming assistant manager to Jimmy Hill. From 1973 to 1988, Hill was host of the BBC’s Match of the Day – the Gary Lineker of those days (Lineker gets £450,000 per year from the BBC). Hill regularly attracted 12million viewers but only earned £50,000 — which is £130,000 in today’s money. In 1957, Hill became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the players’ trade union, and campaigned to have the Football League’s £20 maximum wage scrapped, which he achieved in January 1961, when his Fulham teammate Johnny Haynes became the first £100-a-week player. In those far off pre-Beckham days Haynes made a side-living from advertising Brylcreem. (The cream, which originated in Birmingham in 1928, is an emulsion of water and mineral oil stabilised with beeswax.)

Saward, Alan Dicks and Jimmy Hill at Coventry.

I enjoyed the film The Damned United, in which the versatile Michael Sheen played the mercurial football manager Brian Clough. I was disappointed that there was no mention of Pat Saward. In July 1970, Saward was appointed manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, and he achieved promotion to the Second Division in 1972. “With his extrovert personality, attacking style of play and infectious good humour, he was immensely popular at the Goldstone Ground”, wrote one fan. In October 1973, Saward was sacked and replaced by Brian Clough. Club captain Eddie Spearritt said that Saward was backed by the players and they did not want him to leave. Clough was in charge at Brighton on a match-playing basis for six months, 32 games, from the beginning of November 1973 to the end of April 1974 before moving to Leeds where he lasted 44 days, like Liz Truss’s premiership.

I left Gloucester for Manchester in October 1966. My home in my first year at University was at the Tower Block of Owens Park, a mixed- sex hall of residence where I made many good friends, some whom I am still in touch with today. One of my neighbours was Peter Hammill who went on to lasting fame with the band Van der Graaf Generator. My home was in Fallowfield, within walking distance of Manchester City’s then home, Maine Road. I used to go to Old Trafford regularly also in the heyday of Best and Charlton. I saw Denis Law play for both clubs. My heart was really with City, who brought a lot of gloom on foggy Saturday, but the likes of Rodney Marsh, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee, Joe Corrigan, Kasiu Deyna, Francis Lee, Denis Tueart and Neil Young could bring great joy also. I remember one afternoon when the only way that Stoke defender Mike Pejic could deal with Marsh’s trickery was to hang on to his shirt. Rodney stopped in his tracks, took off his shirt and handed it to Pejic. After a game one could warm up on a hot curry at one of the many Indian cafes in Rusholme.

I do not resent celebrities amassing shedloads of money. I am brimming over with muditha. Marina Hyde writes mordantly and brilliantly in the Guardian on the hypocrisy of politicians. She used to be a sports columnist and knows the subject of football. She will have none of politicians carping about rich footballers getting “involved in politics”. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford forced the UK government to U-turn on its free school meals policy. “So we are left with a 22-year-old footballer having to point out the realities to men whose job it is supposed to be to know.” Rashford came from very humble beginnings to achieve his riches and he is very conscious of his responsibilities. Hyde asks, “how many Gavin Williamsons would you have to amass before you were even close to the value of one Marcus Rashford? How many Matt Hancocks? How many Boris Johnsons?”.

That said, I can find no empathy for today’s glitzy, global, blingy football. Dreary winter afternoons shivering with a cup of Bovril on the terraces at Maine Road watching the magic of Rodney Marsh and Colin Bell when Joe Mercer was manager (he previously managed Aston Villa) are long gone. Manchester City are now hugely successful and their home is the Etihad Stadium. Aston Villa is currently owned by the NSWE group, a company owned by the Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and the American billionaire Wes Edens. My first sighting of Roy Keane, who had transferred from Cobh Ramblers (their home ground was called Villa Park) to Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough was at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium. There were some people from Cobh sitting behind me. Arsenal now play at the Emirates Stadium. On 7 October 2021, Newcastle United was bought for £300 million by a consortium led by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

David Beckham is very different from those Aston Villa players I sat with on a Birmingham bus in the mid-1950s. Beckham amassed some $800 million but still is happy to takes some more from Qatar. The World Cup is being played in Qatar with no expense spared in money or human lives. I will not be watching. Paul Waugh asked in the i-paper, “Will you be watching the Qatar World Cup?” Just 13 per cent said yes, 74 per cent said no and 13 per cent were undecided.

Following his spell at Brighton, Saward coached in Saudi Arabia, as well as managing Emirati club Al-Nasr. He also had a property in Minorca. After retiring, he stayed in Dubai until health issues prompted a return to the UK to be near family. He died in September 2002, aged 74, as a result of bronchial pneumonia, although I have seen Alzheimer’s’ mentioned.

Cristiano Ronaldo made $115 million between May 2021 and May 2022, making him the third-highest-earning athlete in the world, according to Forbes. It means the 37-year-old, has now earned well over $1 billion during his illustrious career.

Lest We Forget

This article was published in the Sunday Island on November 13, 2022

Scouting for Boys

When I was  a stroppy teenager,  the epitome for me of the distastefulness of the whole charade of Remembrance Day was a man called Ralph Reader, who on an annual basis was the Master of Ceremonies of variety shows extolling the greatness of Britain (particularly England). Great prominence was given to sentimental and jingoistic songs such as “There’ll Always Be an England” sung by old troupers like Vera Lynn who had helped to win the Second World War.

Reader got started in show business producing shows for the Boy Scout movement and even had some success on Broadway. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Reader was commissioned into the RAF as an intelligence officer and was awarded an MBE in 1943. He got a CBE in 1957 for general services to the nation. Later he was mainly associated with Scout Gang Shows. In the 1970s, he was appointed to the post of Chief Scout’s Commissioner.

The Scout Song Book, published in 1952, included such Ralph Reader favourites as “Comrades Are We”, “The Day Is What You Make It”, “It’s Great to Be Young” and “Crest of a Wave”.

Poppies and a Threadbare Empire

Reader was no doubt an admirable  fellow and I was being terribly unfair to detest him. Call it a clash of generations. We baby boomers had a tendency to arrogance because we had a decent education and the ability to see the tawdriness of post-imperial Britain. The Suez crisis of 1956 is often seen as a significant symbol of Britain’s post-imperial decline, and 1956 was also the year when John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger was first produced and spawned a movement of “angry young men” disaffected by the state of the nation.

In the 1950s, I was a great fan of variety shows and saw many of the old comedians performing live. In his play The Entertainer, written at the request of Laurence Olivier and first produced in 1957, Osborne personified the decay of the British Empire in Archie Rice and aging comedian whose career has faded. Tony Richardson, who directed The Entertainer‘s premiere season, described Archie as “the embodiment of a national mood … Archie was the future, the decline, the sourness, the ashes of old glory, where Britain was heading”.

Britain’s decline probably resulted to a great extent from the bankrupting effort required to beat Nazi Germany. In spite of that, the Attlee Labour government was able to establish a welfare state that saved many from dire poverty, provided health care free for all and enabled working class oiks like myself to get a university education and access to high culture. Successive British governments, including nominally Labour ones, have worked hard to dismantle Attlee’s noble edifice.

Reader’s shows were already an anachronism in the late 50s and early sixties and unfortunately tainted the real meaning of Remembrance Day. They reeked of fly-blown nationalism and imperialism and seemed to me to glorify militarism and war-mongering. One year, I was forced to watch Reader’s show at the house of a school friend by his patriotic parents. They were typical of respectable, conservative, working-class people. Theirs was a small house but they owned it. By this time they were surrounded by families from the West Indies. The last time I was in that area, it was full of mosques and burkhas. Even in the 1950s, the Empire had landed on the white working man’s doorstep. Nostalgia for the old Empire became inextricably entwined with racism and resentment, which to me seemed to simmer under Remembrance Day.

The Empire Has Landed

It is ironic that (as I write) the UK has a prime minister of Asian origin who is richer than the monarch and is calling on citizens to tighten their belts to bear with the austerity measures felt by the government to be necessary to deal with the recession caused in part by the disastrous budget of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was of Ghanaian extraction. Rishi Sunak’s mother was born in Tanganyika, his father in Kenya. Both parents are of Punjabi origin. Sunak has been adamantly pro-Brexit since his teens and has often made jingoistic pro-British utterances at the same time as retaining his US green card and a luxurious home in Santa Monica. Sunak has embroiled himself in controversy by bringing back into the government a Home Secretary who was sacked or resigned because she was more anti-immigration than was the then prime minister, Liz Truss. Suella Braverman’s parents were from Mauritius and Kenya, and, she says, came to the UK “with an admiration and gratitude for what Britain did for Mauritius and Kenya, and India”. She describes herself as “child of the British Empire”. She was chair of the European Research Group, a pro-Leave group of Conservative MPs. The parents of Braverman’s predecessor as Home Secretary, Priti Patel, were Gujaratis from Uganda. Patel was a long-term Eurosceptic and strongly opposed to the free movement of people. It was Patel who came up with the spiffing wheeze of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda (which was not part of the British Empire but is now a member of the Commonwealth).

Suffering of Ordinary People

I see Remembrance Day differently now. With maturity, I have developed a better understanding of what my parents’ generation endured to make my life comfortable and secure. My mother worked in an aircraft factory helping to build the Gloster Meteor, the RAF’s first operational jet fighter. Her younger sister told me about running home from school during a German bombing raid. In 2006, I was at Heathrow Airport on Remembrance Sunday,  returning to Sri Lanka. Waiting for my plane, I heard a call for one-minute’s silence in honour of the fallen. Tears rolled down my cheeks as everyone respectfully observed the silence.

Cynical politicians continue to exploit the poppy and patriotism. David Cameron arrived in Beijing in November 2010 wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in his buttonhole. The Chinese asked him to remove it and the English right-wing press heaped praise on him for refusing. The poppy had a different symbolism for the Chinese. It stood for a particularly brutal phase of British imperialism, the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century, during which British soldiers killed tens of thousands of Chinese,  pillaged, desecrated  holy sites, shot  prisoners and raped women. All in the interests of Scottish drug-pushers. Even in 2022, all politicians feel the compulsion to wear the poppy, although this year it seems to have taken the form of a small red button.

Pioneer Corps

My father’s Irish patriotism did not prevent him volunteering for the Pioneer Corps. Michael Young, in The Rise of the Meritocracy, (1958) took an unflattering view of the Pioneer Corps.  He claimed that the morale of these “hewers and drawers  … these dull-witted men” was spectacularly increased  “when the stupid were kept together… and they were no longer daunted by having superior people to compete with”. In fairness to Young, it should be noted that his intent was satirical and his book was a prescient critique of how the cult of IQ measurement would create a dangerously smug ruling class and a profoundly demoralized lower class. That is true today as the British working class has lost its identity and has austerity and insecurity forced on it  by rich people who have never done a proper job. They have never trimmed a hedge but know how Brexit helps their hedge funds.

On D-day, 6 June 1944, 13 Pioneer companies landed with the first allied wave and a further ten companies with the second, making a total of about 6,700 men ashore by the end of the day. The first Pioneer party landed 20 minutes after Operation Overlord had started. Some were called upon to provide burial parties, for which they were given special clothing, equipment and transport. The men bivouacked in fields, in unusually bad weather, working extremely long hours with little rest. Owing to the extensive minefields, conditions were dangerous and there were casualties. Over 2,000 British personnel, serving with the Corps, and nearly 6,000 of other nationalities lost their lives.

This was when my father’s sense of smell left him. As well as triggering memories, the sense of smell has served us well as a warning of danger, for example the smell of gas, smoke suggesting that we need to take action to prevent harm by fire. The last thing my father remembered smelling was rotting corpses on the Normandy beaches. My father had no obvious wounds from the war but his anosmia was a real disability. Did Caen teach my father the flimsiness of the flesh, how fine is the mesh that binds muscle to bone, how temporary the breath? Despite his wit and humour, he lived, I now realize, with an unrelenting tinnitus of anxiety until his death. He died of cancer at the age of 56. He had no debts, but only six hundred pounds in the bank. There was insurance to pay for the funeral.

He was not complicit in the malignant forces of ideologies and systems of terror that crushed common people and swept them away. The great tides of history, of isms and empires buffet little people, hurt them, maim them, kill them, uproot them and inflict damage that lasts for years or generations. Today, in Ukraine the guiltless suffer from the delusions of the mighty.

Forgetting to Remember

We must contemplate the dangers of forgetting and also the dangers of remembering. Ernest Renan wrote that nationhood requires forgetting many things. He cited the massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day as a symbol of the kind of thing France needed to forget in order to be a nation. Jorge Luis Borges, in his short story Funes, the Memorious, describes a young man who, as a result of a riding accident, has lost his ability to forget. Funes has a tremendous memory, but he is so lost in the details of everything he knows that he is unable to convert the information into knowledge and unable, as a result, to grow in wisdom.

Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, said that history was a nightmare from which he was trying to awake.

There comes a time when truth and reconciliation has to take the place of endlessly rehearsing grievances from centuries back. There are still riots all over the world as one tribe or another remembers its grievances.

My Life and Times Part Seven

The House of King

I wish I had been able to talk more to my English grandfather, my mother’s father, Sam King. He must have had an interesting life, judging by photographs that I inherited. I also have a collection of postcards he sent home while he was away in the army, which will justify a separate chapter. He was a taciturn man who spoke in a series of ritual mantras which were mystifying to a four-year-old. One of the most frequent was “don’t despise your old grandad.” Later, I wondered if he had something on his conscience.

He would sit at the kitchen table at 9 Stanway Road, drinking tea from a saucer, silently chopping up his pipe tobacco –the brand was Mick McQuaid brought over from a shop on Harbour View, Cobh, County Cork. Mick McQuaid is still available, but produced in Sweden (like England’s Glory matches) not Ireland. Sometimes, Sam would sit at the table chopping up bacon fat to put out for the birds. He spent a lot of time out in the vegetable plot at the back of the house where the bird feeders were. Birds were favoured but cats were non grata. He would put pepper on the ground to discourage their visits. Until they got the message there were many sneezing cats around the place.

Dropping Slow

There were flowers in the small front garden, particularly roses. It was the duty of my grandmother (Fanny Harriet) to get outside as soon as the Co-op milkman had delivered and collect the huge steaming turds deposited by his horse. I could imagine Fanny Harriet chasing behind the Queen’s funeral cortege collecting the horse droppings. This was nourishment for the rose bushes as well as the vegetable patch. Sam tried to explain to me why it was a good thing to put horse shit on stuff we were going to eat but I did not really understand until decades later when I was growing my own vegetables. I successfully grew tomatoes even though I had not planted any. I was using fertiliser bought from the sewage works. The sewage was “treated” (whatever that meant) but still contained undigested tomato seeds that had passed through a stranger’s bowels. I was eating tomatoes that originated in a stranger’s bowels. Or more accurately the bowels of countless anonymous and unwitting donors.

My grandfather once admonished me for calling the soil in the garden “dirt”. I rarely saw him angry but was instinctively wary of what seemed to be some repressed dissatisfaction. He scolded me severely when I thought it would be funny to pull away a chair that my cousin Lesley was about to sit on. He was sometimes angry with the neighbours. The King household was an island of working class respectability in a swamp of slothful squalor, petty criminality and hooliganism. I once heard him ranting about the family opposite and calling the house a brothel. I could not understand what was so bad about making soup.

Cattle and Dancing

Sometimes my Grandfather would take me into Gloucester when he went to get his hair cut. The barber he favoured had a shop on the road beside the cattle market. The market was later moved out of town and the site became the architectural atrocity that was Gloucester Bus Station. More about that and the criminal (the City Architect) responsible for the carbuncle in a later chapter. The cattle market had been on lower Northgate Street, with easy access to the railway stations, since its foundation in 1823 by Bruton, Knowles, & Co. but moved to a 35–acre site adjoining St. Oswald’s Road on the north-west outskirts of the city by 1958. In the early 50s, the old market was very active on Mondays and Saturdays, and on Saturdays there was also a horse market and private dealing in Irish cattle (which probably travelled on the MV Innisfallen like we did). I remember being fascinated by ancient looking farmers with florid faces and shit-spattered spats and wondered if Stinger Long whose cows went up and down the lane behind 9 Stanway Road was amongst them. There was also a large ballroom right next to the stench of the cattle market. I am not qualified to judge whether it was a ballroom of romance or another cattle market.

The farmers in their bespattered spats also appeared in the pub my grandfather took me to for lunch behind the covered market, their faces growing more florid as they consumed more. That pub, just beyond the rear exit of the covered market, was, I think, called the White Hart. In my teens, I regularly went to that pub on Friday evenings for folk sessions involving my friend from Longford Ken Voyce and his guitar.

My grandfather also took me for walks along the lane linking the Coney Hill council estate and Barnwood Road. My mother worked as an orderly at Barnwood House, a private mental hospital which once (in the 1930s) had the composer and poet Ivor Gurney as a patient (he threw a clock out of the window and jumped after it. I will expand on the subject of Ivor Gurney and my trousers later). The hospital also pioneered the use of electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomy. More about that later and more about the parties I attended at Barnwood House. The lane was shady in places because of an overarching tunnel of trees and there was a mysterious wood, a graveyard and a waterfall. At one of the less shady spots, a horse would come to the fence expecting the toffees we had brought. It would probably be considered today to be a bad thing to give sticky toffees to a horse but I swear the horse smiled at me in gratitude.

Sam King had a connection with horses. In his young days, he worked as a groom and footman at Berkeley Castle near Bristol. I visited the castle on several occasions in my own young days. It was famous for two things. The first was the brutal murder of Edward II on 21 September 1327 (a red hot poker was involved). My father was kind enough to give me the gory details and I recall him saying that the screams could be heard for miles around. I was rather disappointed with the dungeon in which the king was supposed to have been kept. It looked like a well rather than a proper dungeon. Holinshed described the murder thus: “they  came suddenlie one night into the chamber where he laie in bed fast asléepe, and with heauie featherbeds or a table being cast vpon him, they kept him down and withall put into his fundament an horne, and through the same they thrust vp into his bodie an hot spit, or (as other [sources] haue) through the pipe of a trumpet a plumbers instrument of iron made verie hot, the which passing vp into his intrailes, and being rolled to and fro, burnt the same, but so as no appearance of any wound or hurt outwardlie might be once perceiued.”  Christopher Marlowe used Holinshed’s account as the basis for his play.

Berkeley’s other claim to fame is Edward Jenner, who, like Sam King, went to school at Wotton-under-Edge and worked at Berkeley Castle. Jenner was born and buried in Berkeley and in between changed the world for the good by developing a vaccine against smallpox at his house in Berkeley.


Sam’s connection with horses continued when he joined a cavalry regiment during the first world war and later served in the Middle East. Could this have been Gloucestershire Yeomanry (Royal Gloucestershire Hussars)? I have read the excellent (not all Israelis would agree with my judgement) book on the Mandate by Israeli historian Tom Segev. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. Segev shows how the British employed similar tactics of divide and rule that were common policy in their own empire. He gives many examples of British troops behaving badly in similar ways to what they were doing in Ireland during the war of independence. Among my grandfather’s photos there are images of flirtatious looking young Arab girls but also of Arab men hanging dead on a gibbet. I draw no conclusions.

I heard that Sam was in a bad way during the depression. I never saw him the worse for drink. He would sometimes meditatively sip at a bottle of Mackeson’s while smoking his pipe but alcohol did not seem important to him. I heard from Auntie Evelyn that he went through a bad time during the depression. He was unemployed in the 1930s after losing his job at a power station and went mad on rough cider and tried to cut his throat with a razor.

One of the photographs of Sam in his military uniform show a picture on the wall behind him of his wife and himself and some of their children. He has a rather mad glazed look in his eyes but that could be down to the technology of photography in 1914. I am not sure, but I think the children in the photograph must have been my mother, my Aunt Florence and my Uncle Ted.

My grandmother was Francis Harriet née Hales. There was a pub, the Plough Inn, connected to her family.

She lived to the age of 97 and I never remember her looking young. She does not look young in this picture, when the children were small. There were eight children in all. She was small but formidable. When she was dressed up to go out she would secure her hat with long pins. I thought it must be very painful to hammer those sharp needles into her skull.

Florence was the eldest of the King children. I always got on well with Auntie Flo even when I was grown up. She was fond of a bit of culture, listened to light classical music and Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC Home Service, read a lot and could make conversation. There must always be tensions in large families and there is scorn for those who try to better themselves. She escaped from the council house world by getting a decent job and becoming a home owner. The terraced house at 44 Hopewell Street was very small and the stairs seemed alarmingly steep to a small child. My school friend Robert 2 lived opposite at number 41 and, as a teenager, I could combine visits to the two houses. In my teens, a group of us would gather at number 41 to listen to jazz records. Malcolm Choate introduced us to the Modern Jazz Quartet. There was also a boy from Peru called Rafael.

I am not sure that Auntie Flo was all that happy in Hopewell Street as the years went by. The area became a West Indian enclave in the 1950s. The last time I went that way there were lots of mosques. Florrie’s domestic life could not have been too happy because of her husband, Uncle Fred – Fred Beckett.

She used to say how handsome Fred was – when she met him first, she thought he looked like Cary Grant (I would say he was more like Fred MacMurray). Unfortunately, he was badly afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease from an early age and this affected his appearance and speech as well as his mobility. It made him somewhat scary to a small boy. He was anxious to please but his affliction made him try too hard and he failed to get the tone right. There was an interesting (to me) newsagent round the corner from Hopewell Street, opposite the India House pub that Sam used to visit sometimes because he used to live on India Road. The shop had a good selection of comics and also sold foreign stamps. I remember sitting in Flo and Fred’s house reading a Roy Rogers comic and being shocked to discover that the man who sat astride Trigger and was married to Dale Evans was an old man of 50. I also sat in Flo and Fred’s house looking at a colourful selection of stamps from Mexico and wishing I could visit that country. I still have not. One morning Uncle Fred took me to the shop and insisted on getting me a present. I said I had my own money, but he would not be denied. He bought me a magazine called Practical Radio. It was all very technical and scientific. I tried very hard for a long time to understand it but failed. I felt that I must have been a bit of a disappointment to Uncle Fred.

Auntie Flo had a job at a printing works in a lane off Southgate Street, near a cosy pub I have been in since. My mother also worked as a printer for a while and managed to get her hand trapped in the printing press. Ever after, one of her fingers was badly distorted. My mother was called Doll in the family as she was small as a child. Her full name was Elizabeth Jane. I did not discover until after her death that she was married before she met my father. Auntie Evelyn told me that my mother’s first husband looked like Gene Kelly and died young from TB. I was assured that I had no brothers or sisters. More about my mother later.

I think Uncle Ted was next in seniority. When he and his family visited 9 Stanway, Road there were mumblings and rumblings that “Cheltenham’s coming.” Cheltenham is only eight miles from Gloucester but has an entirely different character and aura. Ted married Marge who came from Cheltenham and had a “Regency House”. They had a daughter called Vivienne who had ballet lessons. I have seen pictures of Vivienne en pointe in a tu-tu. Ted was thin and gaunt with a prominent Adam’s apple. His protruding teeth and bulging eyes gave him a permanently anxious look. I wonder if he was anxious about the stress of living a Cheltenham life when he was a Coney Hill boy at heart. When I think of his looks, I think of the comic actor Cardew Robinson.

Cardew Robinson

Ted once got into terrible difficulties after swallowing a sharply pointed too-thoroughly-frird potato chip. The chip got stuck in the throat and caused bleeding and choking. Now I would know that in such circumstances one should send a prayer to St Blaise. There was always an undercurrent at number 9, that Ted had got above himself by acquiring a Cheltenham wife and a Regency house, and a daughter who took ballet lessons and was photographed en pointe in a tu-tu. There were frequent gaps in contact when visits from “Cheltenham” ceased and there was an implication, never overtly stated, of the hiatus being the result of a falling out.

Ted and Marge were always friendly enough to me although I had never developed a close bond to cousin Vivienne. In respectable working class families, it was easy to fall from grace, to plummet from privileged niece to “no better than she ought to be”. Whispers reached my childish ears that Vivienne had relationships with some unsuitable military men from Canada and possibly the US. There were children but I am not sure if there was marriage.

As I grew up, Ted and Marge repeatedly invited me to come and see their Regency house. I did not get around to it until sometime in the 80s when I visited with my then wife. Uncle Ted had departed this life by this time. The house and the street it was in were undoubtedly of the Regency period but not as elegant as some other parts of Cheltenham. It seems to be the fate of elegant houses everywhere to be subdivided and sublet and of less elegant houses to be gentrified out of their original character. Marge’s house had escaped subdivision and seemed to be populated by indeterminate extended family. We waited at the front door for a long time and wondered if we had the wrong address or if the bell was malfunctioning. An urchin opened the door and glared at us. I explained who I was and he ran off and shouted. Another child led us into a parlour and disappeared. We sat in embarrassed silence for a while. Every so often, a child would look around the door and run off laughing and shouting in a derisive manner. Eventually Auntie Marge came in and seemed pleased to see me. We had tea and cake. Conversation was desultory because Marge was hard of hearing but she had a benign, if vacant, expression on her face. There was a persistent and distracting chirupping sound but we could not see a bird cage anywhere. I eventually realised that the sound was Marge’s hearing aid struggling to function and being defeated in the struggle. After a respectable amount of time we made our excuses and left. Marge insisted that we visit again.

Auntie Joyce was the mother of the cousins who visited number 9, Lesley and Lynne. My father said it was a mistake giving the two daughters forenames beginning with ‘L’ because it would be confusing when people started writing to them. Legend has it that Joyce was popular with the US troops during the war and was never short of cigarettes and nylon stockings. She made a valuable contribution to Anglo-American good will. She married a man called Les Davies,not an American, who did not seem a very reliable husband. In a film he would be played by Toke Townley or Harry Fowler.

Uncle Henry was “courting” for a very long time. This did not entail much “walking out”. He would spend Saturday evenings making rugs with his intended, Rose Keir from Hardwicke. Even after they married, she was always referred to by the Number 9 entity as “Rose Keir” or “Rose Keir from Hardwicke.” Henry was small and blond and, like his father, a man of few words. He was careful and the evenings spent courting at home enabled him to buy his own house at South Close, Oxstalls, near to what is now the University of Gloucester but was then known as Domski. Henry bequeathed the house to his daughter Jacqueline, who married Karl, the boy next door. Henry also had the initiative to learn to drive and bought a car. He was kind enough to drive my parents and myself to number 9 and back to Longlevens on our ritual Saturday evening visits. He also gave me a lift to the station on Sunday afternoons when I was returning to Manchester in later years. He was a safe driver, which always made me feel unsafe. He drove so agonisingly slowly that I thought we were presenting too tempting a target for more reckless road users and that we would be causing great irritation to others by lingering too long in their path. His death was a cause of some controversy in the family. There were hints of medical malpractice. According to Jacqueline, when she viewed the body it was black.

Auntie Joan was the subject of much mockery from my father and myself because we both agreed that she shared many vocal mannerisms with the outrageous comic performer Frankie Howerd. An anecdote much shared in the family was about my father getting a flea in his ear for telling me to get up off the dirty floor. “My floor is not dirty!” she expostulated. She married Arthur Perris, a taciturn, calm pipe-smoker somewhat in the mould of Sam King. Uncle Arthur was more inclined than Sam to express opinions though and he had quite a lot of them. He was a great fan of Rugby Union football and spent many Saturday afternoons at the Kingsholm ground of Gloucester RFC. I cannot remember what he did for a living but I think it was something calm and technical like engineering. Auntie Joan was a giddy kipper and it surprised me that a man as calm and sensible as Arthur Perris should take her on. I was a page boy at their wedding at St Oswald’s church at Coney Hill. For a while they lived in a privately rented flat somewhere in the Tuffley area. I dropped in on them after I had played in an away match for St Peter’s juniors. I was impressed that it was possible to live somewhere that was not a council house. They did move to a council flat in Matson, not far from Auntie Joyce and Uncle Les. I went to visit them there just after Joan had a baby. Timothy James was their only child. I called him Tim Jim. On the occasion of our visit, I had a Biggles book with me and there was a Tarzan episode on the TV. It was a very hot day and ice cream was provided. Tim grew up to be a civil servant working at Gloucester labour exchange.

Rose and Evelyn were very close, like friends as well as sisters.

Rose formed a long-term attachment to a man called Wally, who worked at the Rotol factory where Rose and Evelyn worked. He physically resembled Clement Attlee but without the charisma. He had a bald head with over-combed strands of Brylcreamed hair. His moustache looked damp above his clenched pipe and his watery eyes reminded of the fish he liked to catch. He had a car and often took Rose and myself on trips. Some of these trips involved the catching of fish. I did not like their panicky twitching and did not see the point of the exercise if he was going to throw them back in the water and not eat them. This was a time of food rationing. Wally tried to ingratiate himself with me by buying me rather impressive model racing cars and gave me stamps (which tended to have bits of pipe tobacco stuck to them) for my collection. Apparently, he could not marry Rose because his ailing but domineering mother would not allow it. The mother did die eventually but still no marriage took place and Wally died and went to join his mother to be dominated in another place. Rose lived on to care for the aging parents and to smoke more and more cigarettes. Rose and Evelyn were both pretty in their youth (as was Joyce) but cigarettes eroded their looks and health. Rose reminded me of Princess Margaret in her young days. I met the Princess in the mid-90s and she was shrivelled up and kippered from a life-time of smoking. Auntie Rose became bent and dried up and bad tempered. Her most common utterance was a vehement “My Christ!”

Evelyn was the youngest sibling. She described herself as “an afterthought.” At one time, she worked at a branch of Barrett’s the shoe store and I would enjoy the narratives of how her day had gone, the difficult customers, the staff intrigues, the oracular pontifications of the manager, Mr Wickens. My father used to tease her about the company’s advertising slogan. “Walk the Barrett way”, it said. “With a limp”, added my father. Evelyn’s relative youth meant that she brought something of the modern age to the household at number 9.


There was a huge gramophone in the sitting room (the TV room from 1953 when a set was bought for the coronation) which contained a large stack of shellac 78 rpm records. The ones that I took an interest in some years later and nabbed for my own collection were Jack Payne and his Band performing “There’ll always Be an England” (the interest I took was a mocking one. Jack Payne, even in the post-Beatles world, had a radio show in which he came across as a sour and wheezing reactionary old bore.) Louis Armstrong from 1949 on the Brunswick label singing “Blue Berry Hill” backed with “That Lucky Old Sun”; the Ink Spots singing “You always Hurt the One You Love”, the Mills Brothers singing “Paper Doll” from 1948. Mel Tormé singing “Careless Hands” from 1949. In later years I appreciated Frank Sinatra’s Columbia recordings and bought a box set of CDs in Colombo. Number 9 had some on 78 – “Paradise”, one was called.

Evelyn, in her youth, brought something new to the 78 library – Cliff Richard singing “Move It”. Elvis Presley on the blue label HMV imprint before RCA was distributed under its own logo in Britain. Charlie Gracie singing “Wandering Eyes”. Paul Anka singing “Diana”.

Evelyn took me to see many films. I will deal with that separately. I will also deal later with the radio shows I heard at number 9 and the reading matter to be found in the front room.

My Life and Times Part Six

Horton Road Juniors

In 1957, the St Peter’s juniors moved to a new school on Horton Road next to the infants’ school. Mr Breen continued to be headmaster and my form teacher was the redoubtable Sister Theresa. Every year she told her class that they were pathetic compared to the paragons she had the privilege of teaching in the previous year. I cannot remember much of what she imparted except for a spirited reading of Wind in the Willows. This always stuck with Robert One who still intones “soft breezes caressed my heated brow.”

Sister Theresa was tall, cadaverous and unsmiling with a lethal ruler. She would press her bony fingers into you and say, “the only thing certain in this life is that you are going to die.” It was appropriate that the school photo I have from this time has me posed in front of a graveyard. Memento mori.

She was quite lethal with a ruler. I have a acquired a photograph of the teachers at St Peter’s Junior. Uncharacteristically, Sister Theresa is smiling in the photograph. I do not believe I witnessed that phenomenon in real life. I am reliably informed by Robert One that the other women in the photo, whom I do not recognise at all are “Miss Parle, Miss Hookway (deadly with a ruler.) Miss Chandler, (she wore blue lens spectacles.)”

Mr Bottomley looks much taller than I recall. I still feel a certain resentment against Mr Bottomley. I enjoyed playing soccer and thought I was quite good at it. I often used to play with friends on the field opposite Robert One’s house (trying to impress Susan Price, blonde with flouncy petticoats, who lived in a house beside the field). My cousin was captain of Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland; I was not just anybody. I was in the St Peter’s team and enjoyed going to Plock Court to play on Saturday mornings. It should have been called Plop Court because it was full of sheep and cow shit. We must have been at risk of tetanus. I was devastated when the Bottomley Bastard dropped me from the team on the spurious grounds that I was “too slow on the turn.” He obviously did not understand my cultured approach to the game.

Mr Hodgkin is also in the photo. I remember his collars being frayed although he was very particular otherwise. He always seemed buttoned-up, reined-in in a thin-lipped, tight-lipped way. Another teacher who seemed to be boiling with suppressed rage and resentment. I was foolish enough to disagree with him on one occasion and he never forgave me. This happened outside the school premises. I was visiting my friend Ernie Taylor who also attended St Peter’s and, later, Sir Thomas Rich’s grammar school, with me. 

Ernie and Me

I often went round to 102 to watch the telly because the Taylors had one before we did. One evening Hodgy was there and Brendan Behan was being interviewed on the telly and doing his disreputable Irish drunk act, making Hodgy very angry. I had the temerity to point out that Brendan was a renowned and talented writer. Hodgy did not like that at all. I am not sure how old I was but he clearly was not used to young scuts like me contradicting him.

Our parish priest, Monseigneur Matthew Roche is also in the picture. He was not a bad man and he respected my father, which is a point in his favour. He seemed to like me. However, he was fatally flawed with that toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance that had priests from rural Ireland floundering in a changing Britain and doing great harm. He was the precipitate cause of me giving up on “the faith”. More about that later.

Also in the front row is Mr Breen, whom I liked and got on with. When the Manchester United plane crashed in 1958 in Belgrade, I asked him if we could have a special prayer at assembly. He declined but did so in a way that did not make me feel foolish.

When I heard the news that I had passed my 11-plus, I walked to St Michael’s Convent on Denmark Road to give Sister Theresa the news and thank her for her help. She gave me a packet of Rowntree’s fruit gums.

My Life and Times Part Five

London Road Juniors

When I stopped being an infant in 1956, I had to move back to the London Road site while a new junior school was built at Horton Road next to the already functioning infant school. Most of the remaining time at the London Road site was spent in two classrooms in a prefab. On one special occasion we watched an Abbot and Costello film which made me laugh a lot. In the other classroom, I fell asleep trying to read HG Wells’s The Invisible Man. In the early 60s, these classrooms were used on Friday evenings for those of us attending heathen secondary schools to receive religious instruction. There we hatched plans to start a youth club.

The Abbot and Costello Room Is behind Me

It was at this time that I was given the nickname “Spike” by a contemporary called Danny McCarthy. The headmaster was an Irishman called Mr JP Breen. I became a good friend of his son Christopher who helped in my jazz education in my teens. Topher played a mean fiddle and still plays in a Bluegrass band in Herefordshire. One day, Mr Breen called me into his office and I wondered what I had done wrong. He said that I was going to be awarded a school prize and would I choose a book from those spread out on his desk. I had heard of the Just William books but I thought that they were too middle class for the likes of me. There were certain things that were not appropriate for our kind of people. Things that meant you were getting above yourself, things like mushrooms and garlic and telephones and cars and foreign holidays. I chose the William book anyway and have been enjoying them ever since. William’s family had servants.

I had quite an impressive collection of comics by this time and was keen to share them. Although I was a bit of a loner, I was also keen to share my information and to organise other people long before Facebook was invented. I devised a kind of library card system so that I could lend the comics out and get them back. There was no financial gain involved, pure altruism. There was a moral panic going on at the time about “horror comics”. There certainly were comics that were horrible but I never saw any of them. Nevertheless, my parents were concerned when I was sleepwalking saying, “some of those comics are horrible.” The balance of my mind might have been a little disturbed but I think that was because of the obsessive nature of my collecting rather than the content of the publications themselves. My main interest was in Classics Illustrated and westerns featuring the likes of Roy Rogers and Buck Jones and Hopalong Cassidy. Harmless stuff. I later became similarly deranged by collecting records.

My love interest at this time was Valerie Hodgson who was from Carlisle and lived at Evenlode Road, Tuffley. We developed a flirtatious, bantering kind of friendship and I was smitten. My illusions were shattered when I went to the ABC Minors one Saturday morning and she was in the queue with a horrible little oik in tight jeans with his hair greased back in a DA style. I became very self-conscious about my baggy jeans and my spikey crew-cut and my plumpness. During this period I changed rather rapidly from what my father described as a Belsen victim to a little porker and back again. I started bullying the friend with me to show off. This was Tommy Day who, despite his name was from Vienna. I did not see Valerie at the Minors again. An older woman called Sally Mills took an interest in me which caused my mother some concern. Sally was fourteen to my ten and eventually married the head boy of my grammar school.

I will write more about my development as a cinéaste elsewhere, but I will mention here a visit to the cinema in 1955. I had been off school for a while with chickenpox. My father decided that I was sufficiently cured to come out of social isolation. Laurence Olivier’s version of Richard III was playing at the Plaza cinema on Barton Street. On 11th January 1956, the Plaza was taken over by Circuits Management Association (CMA) soon to become the Rank Organisation. It was modernised and re-named the Odeon from 28th January 1957. The Odeon was closed on 30th August 1975 with “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Watch Out We’re Mad”. It was converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club. A sad decline.

Plaza/Odeon, Barton Street, Gloucester

Right from the start of the film, I was not happy. There was this huge sinister face looming large on the screen.

Looks rather like my headmaster at grammar school

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

I tried to distract myself my focusing on irrelevant things in the background. I thought I spotted a modern shoe print on a shiny palace floor where the blood from a beheading was being mopped up but could not find in when I watched on DVD.

This bit cropped up again on a Peter Sellers album (produced by George Martin) my father and I jointly owned four years later.

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;

I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

What made it more frightening than a horror movie was not any actual violence you could see – most of the violence happens offscreen (although we do see Johnny Gielgud’s butt being tipped into a butt of Malmsey). What frightened me was that this horrible man was looking directly at me, speaking directly to me and it was confusing that he was so funny. This was supposed to be a very bad and ugly man confessing to evil actions but he was funny and almost charming. Shakespeare infuses the action with comic material and much of the humour rises from the dichotomy between how Richard’s character is known and how Richard tries to appear. This was confusing for a nine-year-old. I kept saying to my father, “this is boring. Let’s go home.” He would not relent and we watched the whole thing through to the moment when Stanley Baker picks up the Crown.

I had nightmares when I got home. There was a dressing gown hanging on the hook on my bedroom door which morphed into the shape of a malevolent crookback king.

My Life and Times Part Four


I got that same sense, that I got in Ireland, of knowing about other times before I was born, when visiting Cheltenham. My parents often took me to the Cheltenham Opera House to see variety shows. The plush seats and rococo decoration made me think of the 19th century and earlier, even though I did not have a clue what that meant. The building was not very old, having been opened in October 1891 with a performance of Lady Clancarty starring Lillie Langtry, Edward VII’s mistress. The theatre was designed by one of the great theatre architects, Frank Matcham, who designed nearly 200 theatres in Great Britain. The theatre was on Regent Street and there was Regency aura about the whole town. My mother’s brother Ted had married into Cheltenham, which seemed a social advancement, and his wife Marge had a regency house. More about that later.

The Theatre went on to stage various plays and dramas over the following years, and was also a regular home to the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. Many famous actors, including Ellen Terry and Henry Irving performed at the Opera House in its early years. In 1925, with a change of ownership, the theatre began putting on a wider variety of productions including ballet, opera, and comedy shows. The building became a cinema for four years from 1929.

In the 1950s, the Opera House put on variety shows and pantomimes and my parents took me there often. I was mainly interested in comedians and caused my parents great irritation by trying to imitate whoever I had just seen. I distinctly remember being chastised for acting the maggot as we walked along Regent Street to get the 249 bus back to Longlevens, but I do not have a very clear recollection of comedians that I saw at the Opera House . More often than not, we were up in the Gods, the cheap seats right at the top. It was scary to make one’s way to one’s seats as the steepness was vertiginous and vertigo-inducing.

I have a distinct recollection of seeing Betty Driver (Betty Turpin famed for her hotpots in Coronation Street) as a principal boy in a pantomime at the Opera House. She had a fine pair of thighs which was she was wont to slap on frequent occasions, as was the custom.

I often saw Cavan O’Connor, “The Irish Vagabond”, at this venue.

My Aunt Evelyn was a great fan of tenors like O’Connor and David Whitfield and often took me to see them. A particular favourite of Evelyn’s, O’Connor’s signature tune, was I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen. From 1946, O’Connor’s Sunday lunchtime radio series, The Strolling Vagabond, was heard by up to 14 million listeners. The Irish Vagabond was actually born in Nottingham and his real name was Clarence. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he met his wife, Rita Tate (real name Margherita Odoli), a niece of the opera singer Maggie Teyte.

One comedy act I remember seeing at the Opera House was Old Mother Riley. According to the Gloucester Citizen, in 1941, more than 10,000 people saw Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane in “Old Mother Riley Pays Us a Visit,” at the Opera House and “on Saturday fans queued continuously from 11 o’clock in the morning until 8.15 at night.” The Citizen noted “the enthusiasm of the population of this normally staid spa town exceeded all expectations.” Apparently, Old Mother Riley was the first and arguably the most influential drag act on stage and screen and is part of a comic lineage that extends to Mrs. Brown’s Boys. Old Mother Riley (full comedy name: Daphne Bluebell Snowdrop Riley) is an Irish washerwoman and charwoman character, devised by Lucan (born Arthur Towle). Lucan was not Irish. He met McShane when he was performing in Dublin and married her when she was 16. McShane played Old Mother Riley’s daughter, Kitty. Lucan died, aged 68, at the Tivoli Theatre, Hull on Monday, 17 May 1954. In 1982 Alan Plater wrote a play about Arthur Lucan’s life with Kitty McShane, On Your Way, Riley, with songs by Alex Glasgow. A TV adaptation was broadcast on ITV in 1985, with Brian Murphy and Maureen Lipman in the leading roles.

I have a memory of seeing George Robey at the Opera House but I wonder if it is a false memory or did I see someone impersonating The Prime Minister of Mirth? It is just about possible that I saw him. He was born in 1869 but he did not die until 1954 and he performed in 1951 (the period when we were going to the Opera House) with Danny Kaye in a midnight gala performance at the London Palladium in aid of the family of Sid Field who had died that year. Also in 1951, Robey undertook a long provincial tour in the variety show Do You Remember? under the management of Bernard Delfont. After an evening’s performance in Sheffield, he was asked by a local newspaper reporter if he had considered retiring. The comedian quipped: “Me retire? Good gracious, I’m too old for that. I could not think of starting a new career at my age!”

A performer I definitely saw at the Opera House was Clarkson Rose, (1890-1968), a principal comedian who graduated from concert parties to producing his own long running show “Twinkle”. He married the Principal Boy, Olive Fox, in 1918. Rose specialised in playing Dames, for example at the Lyceum (1936-38). The year before that engagement he had appeared in a Royal Command Performance as Dame. He gave his last pantomime performance in 1967, the year before he died.

In later years when the Opera House became the Everyman Theatre I saw many productions featuring William Gaunt and Josephine Tewson (who died recently) but missed out on those featuring Windsor Davies, Steven Berkoff, Jacqueline Dankworth and Penelope Keith.

My Life and Times Part Three

The Past and Other Countries

I mentioned before that I could and can have a tendency to be somewhat literal-minded and to worry at and be confused by the meaning of words. When I was a very small child I had a problem with the word “country”. My father adapted his pushbike so that I could sit in front of him – there were rubber handles for my little hands to grip and metal pads for my feet and a basket in front of the handlebars. On this mode of transport he would take me to “the Country”. I understood the “country” to mean the green fields and narrow lanes beyond our suburban streets in Longlevens and the municipal buildings and shops and churches of Gloucester city centre. Specifically in my memory today, the country I experienced then means Sandhurst village and the green fields surrounding it.

My father took me on his bike down the narrow lanes to Sandhurst. I remember seeing a rabbit running across the lane to hide in the green fields. My father told me about rabbits and about something called mix up my toes.  This must have been myxomatosis, a viral disease of rabbits, which broke out in Britain for the first time in 1953. It rapidly killed tens of millions of the animals from Kent to the Shetlands. Many farmers and foresters welcomed a disease that virtually eliminated a longstanding and serious agricultural pest but the consuming public was not so pleased. With meat still rationed, consumers rued the loss of a cheap and nutritious foodstuff. I recall the taste of rabbit pie with Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.

Outside a pub there was a gathering of men and women, wearing bright red jackets and velvet black caps, astride big shiny horses. There was a lot of noise from brassy horns. It seems that these people were not gathered at the pub to have a few drinks and make some music. Their purpose was to chase a small dog-like creature with a bushy tail. This creature, when caught, was not put into a pie. The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible. Foxes have got their revenge by relocating to the suburbs.

I knew that the country I lived in was England. Like Stephen Dedalus, I could locate myself – Elmleaze, Longlevens, Gloucester, England, Europe, The Universe. I was too young and my brain too undeveloped to cope with all that United Kingdom and Great Britain stuff. I knew that I was ruled over by a man called George VI. Confusion arose when we travelled on a ship called the Innisfallen to another country called Ireland. As the ship, with its odoriferous cargo of cows and sheep, pulled into Cork Harbour, looking at the strange silos and warehouses, I asked my father who was the king of this place. I do not think I understood the answer, which I am sure was, nevertheless,  a good one.

Further confusion arose when we went to visit relations at Ballynacrusha. This was in “the country”, these were our country cousins. How could Sandhurst be the country when it was in the country of England ruled by King George VI and Ballynacrusha also be the country when it was in the country of Ireland which did not seem to have a king at all?

At Ballynacrusha, I looked happy with my second cousins, country cousins and my grandfather who could have been a Sicilian peasant out of a Giovanni Verga story. I was placed on a huge farm horse but it just kept its head down and walked around in circles. There was a strong smell of onions and carrots seeping from a huge cauldron of vegetable soup simmering on the hob.

King Street

Aloof Imperial Exploiter. High and Mighty Pants

We stayed with my Aunt Peggy and her father (my grandfather, Patrick O’Leary) and her father’s sister Mary Ellen in Cobh, which was not in the country like Ballynacrusha but was in the country of Ireland.

Although Ireland had apparently neglected to get itself a king, the street Peggy lived on was called King Street. It now has the more patriotic name of O’Rahilly Street. It was lucky that her apartment was at the bottom of the street because it was precipitously steep, to my child’s eye almost perpendicular, a stairway to heaven. The apartment smelt of bacon. The apartment had no running water which had to be collected from a handpump at the end of the street.

I think I am sitting on a commode here.

I was too young to understand Irish history but I did get a sense of foreign-ness, an acute awareness that I  was not in Longlevens. My grandfather and Mary Ellen wore clothes of a kind that one did not see, despite rationing and austerity, anymore around Gloucester. Historians warn us against the artificial division of time into decades. One decade leaches into another. Although, I could not articulate it at the time, I was acutely conscious of different times, different ways of living that existed before I was born. The past lived on into the present through race memories preserved in the faded sepia photographs that hung on walls in homes and pubs and offices and lived on in the heads of old people. Although I was experiencing Ireland in the early 1950s there was also a feel of the 1920s and earlier, even though I had not been alive then.

My Irish grandfather was in poor health at this time. Like my father, he had also travelled around England on a bike looking for work and set the pattern for his sons. He had discovered Gloucester, where my father and his brother Paddy had settled. Other brothers, John and Willa had settled in Banbury as had sister Kitty.

Irish Grandfather Visiting Stanway Road and Meeting Judy the Dog

While we were staying at King Street, there were fierce storms out at sea and the thunder and lightning and fog haunted the apartment and my mind. My mother was concerned about my grandfather who had chronic chest problems. My mother’s sleep was interrupted and she said to my father, “your Dad is very bad tonight.” My father pointed out that the eerie wailing that she could hear was the fog horns out in the harbour, not my grandfather.

I remember falling out of bed and landing on my head. This has often happened to me, once just a couple of years ago after an injudicious intake of gin one evening. More disturbing was the experience of seeing Cousin John from Harbour Row drunk. This was not something I had witnessed before in my short life. My father was a very moderate drinker, usually confining himself to two pints of beer on occasions. His brother John drank more heavily and Willa had a real problem. They lived in Banbury so I did not see them often.

My parents used to take me to Ryan’s Bar on Casement Square where I would sit on a black leather chaise longue with the horsehair stuffing coming out, sipping a Coke and munching Tayto cheese and onion crisps while trying to avoid Mrs Ryan’s kisses. She had protruding teeth which made her mouth slobbery and had several hairy moles on her face. Cousin John was present on one occasion with his wife Mary Jane, who was a somewhat exotic creature with a certain Spanish or Gypsy tinge about her. A stout, shouty, loud woman with gold teeth and earrings and a vigorous coarseness of manner. My parents always took great care to avoid passing their house on Harbour Row in the daylight. On this occasion, we could not avoid them and John got very drunk and sentimental, hugging me and breathing alcohol all over me, and rubbing his stubbly chin on my face. He insisted on accompanying us back to King Street even though he could hardly walk. I was terrified that he would come in and stay. He did not, but I had nightmares about him being in there with me.

Man Against the Elements
Windswept with Haulbowline in the Background
Acting the Maggot from an Early Age

My Life and Times Part Two

St Peter’s London Road Mixed Infants

Before I started at St Peter’s infant school there was a meeting in a prefab at the school, a building in which I later ate my school dinners (yes, the midday meal was dinner not lunch) and in which I spent hours failing to learn to play the recorder. In the early 60s, my friends and I ran a youth club, where girls from Denmark Road and Ribston Hall were to be met, every Thursday evening in that prefab. For the introductory infant reception meeting, rows of wooden benches had been set out for prospective pupils and their mothers to sit on while the teachers told them what to expect at St Peter’s. I do not think there were any fathers there. I do not remember what was said but I do remember meeting some people who were to remain friends for a long time. There were two Roberts. One of them is still in touch with me today, 71 years later. The other one sadly succumbed to cancer at a young age.

As we sat through the introductory reception, Robert One was very boisterous, shouting a lot and climbing from one bench to another. According to my mother his behaviour, of which she disapproved, was because he had gone to nursery school. He was an only child like me and was extrovert so perhaps it was the nursery school that made the difference. Robert Two was weeping copiously in a panic at the prospect of his mother leaving him with all these strangers and savages. I would not have put it past my mother to say that Robert Two’s behaviour could be attributed to the fact that he had not gone to nursery school but I think her explanation was more to do with Robert Two’s mother (according to my mother) having ideas above her social station. Robert Two’s family did not live in a council house – they owned their own house in Hopewell Street opposite my Auntie Florrie who had also had the temerity to try to escape from her working class roots. More about the social dynamics of the King family later.

When I was settled in at St Peter’s mixed infants, Sister Lomond drew me to one side and spoke to me on my own. She said that I should not associate with Robert One because he could be a bad influence on me. The Catholic church had a big thing about “keeping bad company”. There was nothing remotely “bad” about him; he had an enthusiasm and energy and a boisterous nature which was actually a good influence on me because it drew me out and took me to places that my reserved nature might be inhibited from approaching. He was hugely generous and good-heartedly loyal and continues to be so today. His Italian father introduced me to mortadella and olive oil, which, in 1950s Britain, could only be bought in very small jars from Boots the chemists. Olive oil was intended for the ears rather than for lettuce and cucumbers. Robert One provided me with what proved to be accurate information about where babies came from. Apparently, it was nothing to do with gooseberry bushes such as Aunty Flo grew in her back garden at Hopewell Street. The procedure that Robert One described seemed more outlandish than the gooseberry bush option and I could never imagine my parents getting up to anything so undignified. I thought it must be different for him because his father was Italian.

It would have been difficult to avoid Robert One’s company as he lived near me and would unavoidably take the same route to school as me and sit in the same classroom as me every day. We grew up together, went to see Aston Villa together, went on holiday together and I was a useless best man at his wedding in 1970. People were distracted from my uselessness by Uncle Sid deciding to die at the reception, (“He died with his boots on,” whispered Christopher Breen to me out of the side of his mouth.) I am still in touch with Robert One today but not with Sister Lomond (or Uncle Sid).

The site of St Peter’s on London Road was acquired by the Catholic Church in 1790 and a small chapel was erected. Work on the construction of the current church began in 1859. The church, built in the Gothic Revival style, was solemnly consecrated by the Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Rev Dr Clifford, in 1868. The building was Grade II listed in March 1973. The school was founded in 1835 by the parish priest, a Frenchman called Abbé Josse.  He opened a school in a loft over the sacristy of what was then the Catholic church in London Road. Later the school occupied other premises near the church and in 1864 it moved to a new building by the north end of the church, built through the efforts of the incumbent standing nd the site on which they stood has become Black Dog Way.

There was one large custom-built school room divided into three classrooms by sliding partitions. Closer to the main London Road was a a proper brick building which housed what was called the “Progress Class”. Today this would be called “compensatory education” or some such. The free school milk (one third of a pint in a proper glass bottle) was distributed outside this building during the morning break. Some days, it was frozen solid because the crate had been left outside. Sometimes it was so cold it made the bridge of the nose hurt.

At one end of the main building was a stage which overlooked the classroom in which I sat for my first year. Before I started at school, I was terrified of nuns. Whenever I saw one in the street, I would have screaming panic attacks. In those days, nuns dressed in long black robes and looked like ISIS suicide cadres or giant killer penguins. My feelings about them changed in my first year. Sister Lomond was my first teacher. She had a rather severe and austere manner but was not scary.

She was, however, involved, complicit with my father, in a humiliating episode for me. Possibly the first of many humiliations suffered throughout my life. This must have been one of the purposes of education (compensatory or otherwise) , to prepare a child for lifelong humiliation. My father brought me in to school on the second day and Sister Lomond asked him how I had coped with the first day. My father said that I had complained that I had not been taught to read yet. How they laughed! I had taught myself to count by checking out the regulo on the gas cooker at home. Was it really so much to ask that after a whole day at school I should be able to read my father’s Daily Mirror.

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Maggot

For some reason, I still remember thinking about the actor Patrick Barr as I climbed the steps beside the stage to the exit door leading to the church. He was a familiar face from TV but we did not have a set until later. Perhaps I saw him in films – I was taken to the cinema from a very early age. (More about that later.) He was in a detective series about Inspector Morley. Why would my dumpster of a brain hold on for 70-odd years to such a fleeting and inconsequential thought? Proust where are ye?

Every morning the register was called and one had to call out “present’’ if one was there and “absent” if one was not there. Except that you could not say anything if you were not there; you would not know if your name had been called if you were absented elsewhere. This was an early encounter with the traps that language could set, lexical ambiguity. I thought that the morning ritual had something to with eventually receiving a gift. My father disabused me of this notion, explaining that this present had nothing to do with the Christmas or birthday sort. I took this with ill-grace and later felt vindicated when Sister Maria, a young and pretty nun, not at all an ISIS killer penguin, presented each pupil with an individual paint box and brush. This, surely, must be the present we had been investing in.

I was generally well-behaved and, throughout my school career, hovered around the top of the class. I remember one notable failure. We were being taught how to tie shoe laces. This was not done with an actual shoe but with a piece of card with holes in it. I just could not get the hang of it or understand the purpose of the exercise. (A candidate for compensatory education in the Progress class?) What was the point of learning to tie a bow in a piece of string on a sheet of cardboard? This could be an early example of my difficulties with the video/spatial or the hypothetical and possibly also my innate literal-mindedness. A rose is a rose. A shoe is a shoe. I am able to tie shoe laces today, in theory, but try to avoid it because, with my advanced arthritic years and ever-expanding girth, bending is difficult and entails a good deal of embarrassing groaning .

There were a couple of humiliating moments related to the stage at the front of the classroom. There was a nativity play in which I was to play a shepherd. Nobody told me what I was expected to do but, more importantly, nobody told me where I was supposed to change in to my costume, (a fetching little pink tunic that came down to my knees) or what I should wear underneath. I had a horror of undressing in public and went through many excruciating contortions on windy beaches. On this occasion, I hunkered down at the back of the classroom hiding under some desks. In later years, and with sympathetic guidance, I did manage to conquer my phobia about divesting myself in female company.

Another embarrassing moment involved Mr Cartmell and a postage stamp. Mr Cartmell taught music and played the piano at school functions. I remember that his clothes were rather shabby, frayed grubby collar to his shirt, and that his complexion was pitted and he had an oily nose. He had diminishing hair and what remained was dishevelled. Like many teachers in those days, his customary calmness of demeanour was sometimes disrupted by volcanic rages. Could it have been something to do with the war? I had recently started collecting stamps and my mother brought a lot home for me from her workplace, Barnwood House (more about that later) a private mental hospital where there were employees from many countries, including Iceland and Switzerland. My literal-mindedness was tested again by the fact that Icelandic stamps bore the legend “Island” and Swiss stamps “Helvetia”. What was that all about?

Mr Cartmell took an interest in stamps and had many conversations with me on the subject. On one occasion, I got carried away with my enthusiasm and my pressing need to ask his advice about a particular stamp that had recently come into my possession. He was on the stage giving an address about something or other of no importance when some insane impulse drove me to get up from my desk and walk up on to the stage and walk to the centre to ask Mr Cartmell about my stamp. I knew that I was behaving inappropriately and the knowledge made the journey seem unnaturally lengthy and painful but I just could not stop and turn around. Everybody was staring at me and Mr Cartmell got very cross. I went hot and red but did not cry. The incident has stayed with me and made me cautious about stumbling into the tactlessly inappropriate in social and work contexts. Trying to gatecrash parties at Owens Park on the urging of Bob Parsonage and some unfortunate dating experiences brought on similar feelings of being in the wrong place and possibly the wrong body. These days, I think of Mr Cartmell even on those not uncommon occasions when I feel that I cannot gain admission to a perfectly ordinary social conversation. I have adopted an attitude of enigmatic taciturnity and invisibility. Mr Cartmell had a daughter called Ruth who was in my class. She was very pretty in an exotic and somewhat scary way. There were, apparently, four Cartmell daughters.

Even at that young age, I was a fool for the ladies. I was particularly smitten in year two at six years old with an Irish colleen called Jenifer Fahey. She had dark curly tresses, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. I developed a crazy notion that I would pledge my devotion by giving her a present along with a note. I began assiduously gathering together various items in a paper bag. This included some copper coins, sticky sweets (obtained from Mr Kilminster’s dark Dickensian emporium across London Road next to the GPO sorting office, guided across the road by walrus-mustached lollipop man Mr Honeyball) and a walnut. Luckily, I did not pluck up the courage to approach her with this gift and I do not think we ever spoke to each other. Story of my stalker’s life.

At the desk in front of me while I was assembling my love package was another Jenifer, Jenifer Lapington, who lived on the same housing estate as me. For some reason that I did not understand, she took against me and viciously scratched the top of my hand, drawing a copious amount of blood. Did she discern my infatuation with the other Jenifer and was she jealous? I have always had the capacity to drive females to irrational behaviour. The form teacher for this year was Miss Podmore, who was rather sullen and red-faced and unnecessarily ginger. One day she slapped me across the face so hard that it left a mark that my father noticed when I got home. I honestly do not know why she did that because I was a conscientious and quiet pupil (apart from my infatuations). Perhaps it was related to the Jenifer Lapington incident – had the Lapington creature become a stool pigeon and snitched on me? My father came to the school to take Miss Podmore to task. After he had gone, I saw Miss Podmore crying behind the blackboard, more red-faced than usual. I was upset to see that, but how can an adult hit a six-year-old child, hard enough to leave a mark, for nothing?

Another girl in that class was Sally Innes. She was nice but a bit dizzy. We regularly had to answer questions about the Catechism. “What is sin?” “Sin is an offence against God.” “What is prayer?” “Prayer is the raising of one’s heart and mind to God or the requesting of good things from God.” I did a lot of that, asking for the Almighty’s assistance in my pursuit of girls but the girls never noticed. Poor Sally got mixed up. “What is prayer?” “Prayer is an offence against God.” The dangers of rote learning.

The door from that classroom went out into the playground (where we had adventures storming castles and freeing noble captives from evil pirates. I saw the Crimson Pirate at the Picturedrome on Barton Street in 1952. I saw it again on TV at Jehu Beach in 1985.) via a cloakroom and toilet. I remember it being so cold in there one winter that water was frozen solid in the hand basin along with frozen vomit.

Beside the playground there was a high level railway viaduct. I got a strange notion in my head that the trains went across the viaduct to a mythical and magical land called Wales where there lived in exile a bearded man whose face I had seen on stamps. His name was George V.

Jeff Arnold Tie

For the third year we moved on to the end classroom, next to the headmaster’s study. I made friends with a boy who specialized in drawing Hussars, always in profile, in colourful uniforms with spurs on their shiny boots. I envied him his skill and respected it enough not to try to emulate him. I confined myself to drawing cowboys, which I thought I was rather good at. The only other thing I can remember from that year is watching a pool of liquid appearing at Patricia Hayes’s feet. I have just read Robert Lowell describing a similar incident in his memoirs. Perhaps the cloakroom was frozen again. That Patricia Hayes did not go on to become Mrs Cravat in Hancock’s Half Hour.

Horton Road Infants

In 1953, the mixed infants moved to a new school in Horton Road opposite another mental hospital, the first County Asylum built in 1823 (which has been converted to luxury apartments as has the former asylum in Cork City. Our Lady’s Hospital (Ospidéal Mhuire) became Atkins Hall). The Yuppies took over the asylums in the 80s and 90s. Before the school was built we were taken to witness the laying of the foundation in a ceremony presided over by the Bishop of Clifton, Joseph Rudderham. We were allowed to kiss his ring. After the ceremony was finished and the Bishop departed, I was left standing alone. My mother had not turned up to collect me. I was confused and did not know what to do. Child abuse had not been invented in 1953, but I felt awkward lurking about by myself. The teachers had all buggered off. I see some guff about “safeguarding” on the St Peter’s website today but the concept had not been invented in 1953. I decided it would be best for me to make my own way home. I knew what route to take – down to the end of Horton Road across Barnwood Road and down Wotten Pitch and then along Merevale Road. I had just passed Hulbert’s Bakery (not far from Jenifer Lapington’s home) and was heading towards Elmleaze and my house when my mother found me. There was great distress.

The new infant school at Horton Road was presided over by Miss Callaghan who terrified me even more than nuns had done before I started school. She was all cords and ligaments and cartilage and looked as though she subsisted on lemons and vinegar. I developed the notion that she was mentally unhinged and, in her derangement, had strayed from the establishment across the road. There were anxiety-filled lessons where she would bark out mental arithmetic puzzles and expected an instant and correct answer from the poor creatures she targeted. I sat in a pool of cold sweat and prayed that she would not notice me. I escaped. Sometimes, I felt that God was listening to me.

My first infatuation on arriving at the Horton Road premises was Monica Gillman. I do not know why and I soon forgot about her when the Gypsy Twins arrived for an all-too brief stay at the school. I do not remember their names. They were exotic and colourful and very easy to talk to.

There was quite an ethnic diversity at the school. Most of the children were of Irish origin but there were also children whose parents were from Ukraine and Poland, girls called Danuta and the like. One of my friends was an ethnic puzzle. His name was Jude O’Halloran but his parents were both obviously from the Indian sub-continent. Jude’s father was in the RAF. There were children who clearly came from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am not being snobbish. My family had very little. My parents never had a car or a mortgage, did not get a TV until after ITV started in 1955. They did not get a phone until much later. The nearest they got to a foreign holiday was a trip to Ireland every other year. My father refused to borrow and tried to save. When he died he had £600 in the bank. We were the respectable working class.

The Biggses had permanently runny noses and wore itchy looking grey suits that smelt of animals. The Webbs also had an unpleasant smell. Moira Webb made everyone laugh by asking, “are there swans on Swansea beach?” My parents used to say, “a bar of soap is not expensive.” The Corcoran twins were very wild but seemed happier than the Webbs or Biggses and wore big boots and hairy socks. For a while there was a boy from the US with whom I enjoyed conversing at lunch time. He was quiet and serious, not at all like the brash Yanks I had observed in Ireland. I had already developed an interest in American popular culture and was collecting American comics. It was good to get some information from someone who had actually lived in America. I noticed that he ate his food with a fork held in his right hand.

Another infatuation began in Horton Road. One day, I found a magazine called Kamera in a gutter. It featured pictures of a naked goddess whom I later discovered was called Pamela Green. From 1953 to 1961 this magnificent creature lived with photographer George Harrison Marks and took his name. The photographs the two published were striking but seem quite innocent now, while giving a frighteningly misleading idea of female anatomy and physiology. Pamela appeared in Michael Powell’s controversial film Peeping Tom in 1960 and The Day the Earth Caught Fire in 1961.

My Life and Times Part One

Coney Hill

Until I was about four years old, I lived in the house I was born in. Years later my grandmother said “Him’s my favourite because he was borned yer.” I was born at number 9, Stanway Road, Coney Hill, Gloucester, not far from the famous mental hospital, which opened in 1883 and closed in 1994. When I was working as a porter at Gloucester Royal Infirmary, I went to a New Year party at Coney Hill hospital in 1969/1970. The buildings were gutted by fire in 1999 and mostly demolished, but the Clock Tower was retained and converted into flats in 2007. I understand that some of my extended family, not blood relatives, had outpatient treatment at the hospital.

I still have some clear memories of those early years. There was a community health prefab (everything was prefabs in those days, even my schools) near St Oswald’s church. I recall being taken there for routine check-ups when I was a baby. I recall the taste of the free welfare orange juice (richer and more full-bodied than any orange juice I have tasted since) and haliborange tablets.

I also vividly recall a nightmare I had when sleeping up at the top of the house at number 9. Animals were crawling all over my body but they were not flesh and blood animals. They were immune to my resistance, fanged and snarling but made of neon and electricity, enabling them to shift shape and slither sparkily through walls and widows.

Most of the childhood illnesses came and went while I was at Stanway Road. My mother had had rheumatic fever when she was a child and was terrified of me getting it. I did not get it and also escaped whooping cough and scarlet fever. I did get an attack of what was described as bronchitis but seems to have been more like asthma but it has not visited me since. It was decided I was allergic to feather pillows. I did get mumps and measles and recall happy times sleeping endlessly bedside a roaring kitchen fire wrapped in a tartan blanket. Often during working days, I would feel nostalgia for that time and fall asleep at my desk. Chickenpox did not visit me until 1956. More about that later when I discuss Olivier’s Richard III.

I did not go to nursery school, so I did not have an outing into the world of education until I was five years old. I was an only child and, as I grew older, sporadically resented the fact that my parents had selfishly neglected to provide me with a companion or plaything or butt. My parents had developed the notion that children who went to nursery school were too noisy and boisterous, too extrovert. I could have used some of that. I was somewhat reserved and shy but not pathologically introverted. I blushed a lot but could usually engage in social interactions and was not shunned by my peers.

Even after we moved to Longlevens, I spent a lot of time at Stanway Road. My parents both worked, so it would have made their lives easier if they could have dumped me on a nursery. There was also a time when my mother disappeared for a while and I was farmed out to the grandparents. I think she must have been in hospital but nobody explained to me. My father had helped to build that house and met my mother while he was working as a builders’ labourer. Sometimes, I had cousins for company while parked on my grandparents and I roped them into my games involving pirates. This was long before Jack Sparrow; my role model was Captain Vallo as played by Burt Lancaster.  Many years later I saw the Crimson Pirate again on TV at a hotel at Jehu Beach near Mumbai.

When the cousins were not there, I played at being a priest. My father had taken me to Mass and I had been impressed by the theatrical spectacle. I would wrap a curtain around my shoulders and hold up an egg cup as a chalice, mumbling what I thought sounded like Latin. Sometimes I would hide in a small kitchen cupboard.

Stanway Road itself was quite rough and I later developed quite a fear of one Danny Presley. I generally did not venture further than the back garden. There was a certain excitement to the area though. The field at the end of Stanway Road next to Selwyn girls school sometimes hosted carnivals and there was a feral buzz from the loud music and grinding roundabouts and dodgems manned by sinewy Brylcreamed youths with tattoos . Gene Vincent’s “Bebop a Lula” leaked loudly from the house next door.

Radio Days

The radio at number 9 Stanway Road would be on in the kitchen most of the time. In the morning it would be Housewives’ Choice. This was broadcast every morning at nine o’clock between 1946 and 1967. There were 250 regular presenters, nearly all male, but the one I associate with the programme was Godfrey Winn (Winifred God, some wags called him). He was very camp at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Despite his effeminate manner, he was a tough guy. In 1939, Winn was the first British war correspondent to cross the Maginot Line. He served as a Royal Navy able seaman, during the Second World War, training at HMS Ganges and becoming a CW (Commission Candidate Wartime). His book Home From Sea’ published in 1943 recounts his life in the Royal Navy. Another book, PQ17, was an account of his experiences, as a journalist, on Convoy PQ 17 during the Second World War. He wrote some books about the Royal Family. He must have been watching the other Queen’s funeral from heaven or wherever.

Godfrey Winn December 1967, makes singing debut with Jimi Hendrix, Jonathan King, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell

Housewives’ Choice was followed by Music While You Work. The programme began in World War II with the idea that playing non-stop music at an even tempo would help factory workers become more productive. How long before the government brings something like that back to gee up the idle work force of 2022? The programme began and ended with its theme tune, “Calling All Workers” by Eric Coates. Many combinations made hundreds of appearances, notably Troise and his Banjoliers, Cecil Norman and the Rhythm Players, Bernard Monshin and his Rio Tango Band, Anton and his Orchestra, Bill Savill and his Orchestra and Jack White and his Band. Not that Jack White – the former Stripe and guitar virtuoso would be too exciting. Strict rules were applied: predominantly familiar pieces, nothing lethargic, consistent volume, avoidance of overloud drumming (which could sound like gunfire), and generally cheerful programmes to which workers could whistle or sing. Music While You Work ended as recently as 1967.

Another World War II morale-booster for industrial workers which lingered on until 1964 was Workers’ Playtime. This programme was broadcast at lunchtime, three times a week, live from a factory canteen “somewhere in Britain”, with the Ministry of Labour choosing which factory canteens it would visit. Many famous variety, vocal and comedy artists appeared on the programme, including Charlie Chester, Bob and Alf Pearson, Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock (saw him live at the Gloucester ABC Regal in June 1958), Frankie Howerd, Terry-Thomas, Anne Shelton, Betty Driver (Betty Turpin of hotpot fame from Coronation Street. I saw her magnificent thighs live and in the flesh at the Cheltenham Opera House), Eve Boswell, Dorothy Squires (used to be married to Roger Moore), Arthur English, Julie Andrews, Morecambe and Wise, Peter Cavanagh, Janet Brown (Peter Butterworth’s wife) Roy Hudd, The Stargazers, Bob Monkhouse, impressionist Peter Goodwright, Percy Edwards (animal impersonator), Ken Dodd, Ken Platt, Gert and Daisy (halcyon days, Elsie and Doris Waters). Leslie Welch the memory man was the star of eight Royal Command performances, 4,000 radio appearances, 500 television shows and 12 films for Twentieth Century Fox. Welch the Memorious was soon forgotten. For his act he simply stood on the stage and talked sport before accepting ‘challenges’ from the audience, who would call out all kinds of questions which he would normally answer immediately and adding a few more facts and figures.He went back to being a clerk at the labour exchange. Ken Platt was a particular favourite of mine – “I won’t take me coat off. I’m not stopping.” It was only recently that I discovered that he was gay, in spite of appearing in a show at Wimbledon Theatre in the 1980s entitled Ken Platt and a Bevy of Beauties. For all its 23 years each Workers’ Playtime show concluded with the words from the show’s producer, Bill Gates (not that one): “Good luck, all workers!” 

After lunch, my grandmother would shush everybody so she could listen to the news. This was followed by Listen with Mother (in my case Listen with Grandmother). This occupied a fifteen-minute slot every weekday afternoon at 1.45, just before Woman’s Hour, and was made up of stories, songs and nursery rhymes. This programme endured from 1950 until 1982, when Nerys Hughes of Liver Birds fame was a presenter. In my day, it was Daphne Oxenford. In later years I sat on a seat at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre dedicated to her memory. Each story opened with the phrase “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin”. At the start of each programme a short introduction on piano was played with a tune to the rhythm of the words quarter to two, which was the time of the broadcast, and many children were helped by this to tell the time. A piece for piano duet, the Berceuse from Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite, Op. 56, was played at the conclusion of each broadcast. At its peak the programme had an audience of more than a million listeners.

I recently watched a movie curiosity called Discoveries on BFI Online. This featured a Canadian called Carroll Levis who had a show on the radio in the 50s. I often listened to this at number 9 in the evenings. According to the Radio Times of September 10, 1937, “He discovers talent in all parts of the British Isles, and in the last two years has heard thirty thousand people. Of the amateur acts he has introduced, forty-five have turned professional. Not one of them is earning less than £5 a week, and one is getting as much as £25. He runs two shows presenting his radio discoveries and gives contracts for not less than a year to those who are really good. But he advises everyone, unless exceptionally talented, to stick to his job.” Among the performers “discovered” by Levis were comedian and actor Jim Dale (and pop star in the early 60s), comedian Barry Took, and actress Anne Heywood.

Another radio feature of my evenings at number 9 was Have a Go which ran from 1946 to 1967.  Even as a small child I found it intensely annoying and pointless. This was a travelling show taken around the country village halls or canteens by Wilfred Pickles and his wife Mabel.

The theme song (composition and lyrics by Jack Jordan) went: “Have a go, Joe, come on and have a go, You can’t lose owt, it costs you nowt, To make yourself some dough. So hurry up and join us, don’t be shy and don’t be slow. Come on Joe, have a go!” The pianist for the programme was Violet Carson who achieved fame as the gorgon Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. I found Pickles unlikable, a stage Yorkshireman with irritating catchphrases such as “How do, how are yer?”, “Are yer courting?”, “What’s on the table, Mabel?” and “Give him the money, Mabel” or “Give him the money, Barney”. Pickles was selected by the BBC as an announcer for its North Regional radio service, he went on to be an occasional newsreader on the BBC Home Service during the Second World War. He was the first newsreader to speak in an accent other than Received Pronunciation, “a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for Nazis to impersonate BBC broadcasters”. These days, non RP speakers are all over British broadcasting. I suppose that, even then, I was not interested in vox pop interviews, finding little of value in the views of the common people. (Precocious brat!).  Members of the public were interviewed and then invited to answer quiz questions in the hope of winning a small amount of money. The show was pioneering in breaking new ground that would have been better left unbroken. It was the first quiz show in Britain to offer prizes. The programme’s popularity was such that at one time it attracted an estimated 20 million listeners weekly. Pickles gave a good performance as Tom Courtenay’s father in the film of Billy Liar. He had always seemed old but was only 73 when he died.

Ray’s a Laugh ran from 1949 until January 1961. Kenneth Connor (of later Carry On fame played two characters I remember called Sidney Mincing and Perce Percasisty). Writers included: Sid Colin who created the Army Game for ITV; Talbot Rothwell who wrote many of the Carry On films; John Junkin was rarely short of work, on account of his ability to play the stony-faced symbol of low level, petty-minded and unquestioning authority, whether the army sergeant, police constable or site foreman. He was in A Hard Day’s Night and the PG Tips ads; Terry Nation became a prolific writer , working on many of the most popular British series of the 1960s and 1970s such as The Avengers, , The Champions, The Persuaders! and The Saint. He created the Daleks in Dr Who; Dave Freeman wrote scripts for comedians including Benny Hill, Tony Hancock, Terry Scott, Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes, Peter Sellers, Charlie Drake, Arthur Askey, Sid James, Leslie Crowther, Roy Hudd, Jimmy Edwards, Tommy Cooper, Harry Worth (saw him live) and Frankie Howerd.

Educating Archie was broadcast between June 1950 and February 1960, mostly at lunchtime on Sundays, and featured the strange concept of ventriloquism on the radio (although Edgar Bergen had been there before with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd). The programme featured ventriloquist Peter Brough and his doll Archie Andrews. Educating Archie averaged 15 million listeners, and a fan club boasted 250,000 members. The programme introduced comedians who later became well known, including Tony Hancock as Archie’s tutor, who introduced the catchphrases, “Oh, it’s you again” and “flipping kids”; Max Bygraves (a big hero of mine at one time. I saw him live.) with the catchphrases “I’ve arrived, and to prove it, I’m here” and “That’s a good idea … son!”. (According to Marcus Berkmann, compiler of the Dumb Britain column in Private Eye, “When Max Bygraves was hosting Family Fortunes back in the 1980s, he would insist that they shot the entire run, twenty-six episodes, in one go.”) Benny Hill, Harry Secombe, Dick Emery, Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques, and Bruce Forsyth also did their stints on the show. A young Julie Andrews played Archie’s girlfriend (a strange sexual fetish).

Later, Beryl Reid took that role as Monica with her catchphrases, “jolly hockey sticks” and “as the art mistress said to the gardener”. Reid also played young Brummie girl Marleen, whose catchphrase was “Good evening, each”. I saw Brough and Archie onstage at the Gloucester ABC Regal. The wonderful Beryl Reid was with them.

Homes for Heroes

After the war, after the horrors they had witnessed, many men of my father’s generation opted for the quiet life, while the government tried to make a better job of making a land fit for heroes than had been done after the First World War.

The home the local council offered my parents was a dilapidated Nissen hut that had seen much war service. In 1946, the year of my birth, 40,000 people were living in a thousand disused service camps. My father, with characteristic stubbornness, refused the Nissen hut. He also stood his ground and refused a ‘prefab’. ‘Homes fit for heroes’ indeed! We continued to live with my mother’s family in the house that my father had helped to build before the war.

Rationing continued after the war, ending in 1954, the year after the Coronation, the year West Bromwich Albion won the FA Cup, the year I had my eighth birthday and my confirmation.  It was in 1957, when I was ten, that prime minister Harold Macmillan told the nation that they had never had it so good. My father was wary of the traps of the affluent society and still remembered the poverty of the Ireland of his childhood when he went barefoot and had to start working at 13. He never owned a car or his own house because that would mean borrowing money, which he felt was not quite respectable. We had a holiday in Ireland every other year but only if he had saved up enough cash to pay for it. We got a television much later than everyone else and never had a phone. He did get a gas fridge quite early on, cash purchase, but that was down to his loyalty to the gas industry, loyalty that verged on chauvinism. He once told me with a straight face that the boffins at the gas board had invented a gas-powered TV.

My father died of cancer at the age of 56. He had no debts, but only six hundred pounds in the bank. I collected the insurance money from an office on Brunswick Square (not far from the Gas Club where i was taken as a child when my parents socialised with his friend Tipper Manley. More about the Gas Club later) in 1972. There was insurance to pay for the funeral. My father lived, I now realize, with an unrelenting tinnitus of anxiety until his death. He was never unemployed, but feared the abyss beyond the fragile security for which he had struggled.


We moved to 104 Elmleaze, Longlevens. It was a good home, near to walkable countryside, a half hour’s brisk walk to Gloucester city centre and my father was able to get to his shifts at the gas works on Bristol Road on his push bike. The house had problems similar to many that were built quickly up until the 1970s. It was very cold in the winter and I often suffered from chilblains which tended to bleed and sting when you applied wintergreen ointment; the wall on the stairs was always dripping wet with condensation, necessitating an expensive, smelly and dangerous paraffin heater near the front door.

There are pictures here of me with Sandra Jenkins. Her father was well known to my mother and her sisters because he lived in Stanway Road before moving to Elmleaze. His house had a name board – Jhansi.Terry Jenkins’s father had been in the army in India and was stationed at Jhansi, in Uttar Pradesh.The Jhansi Cantonment was the site of the accommodation for British civil and military personnel in the period of British rule in India. Mr Jenkins was a mustachioed man with a military bearing who had certain pretensions despite being a mere floor walker in a down market furniture store on Eastgate Street. My father had a few runs-in with him, usually because of me and my friends playing hurley or football in the street. My father called him the Duke of Jhansi or the Duke for short. Not to be outdone, my father had his own board put up on the front door of 104 – Cobh, his birthplace in County Cork. Nobody knew how to pronounce it.

People have commented that Sandra looks scared of me in these pictures. The camera can lie. She grew into a strapping wench who could easily beat the bejasus out of me. Even in those days, she intimidated me by chewing through the strap on my policeman’s helmet. She once uprooted all the chrysanthemums in our front garden and scattered the petals all over.

I am holding a ukulele in my hand in these pictures. I was strumming on that instrument one morning as I was going downstairs. I missed my footing and tumbled down the stairs landing on my head on the concrete below. There was blood. There was panic. My mother was never the calmest of women at the best of times and the poor thing did not know what to do. There were no smart phones in 1950. Our house did not have a telephone and we did not have a car.  The Taylors at 102 next door did have an Austin 7 (the 100th birthday of the car was celebrated at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire in July 2022) and my mother went to ask Mr Taylor if he could drive us to the infirmary. He declined to do so. I never knew his precise reasoning for this refusal but I am sure that he was entirely justified. “Hey Neighbour” written by Ross Parker and sung by Bud Flanagan came out in 1950 and was often heard on the radio in those days.

Hey neighbour, say neighbour

How’s the world with you?

Aren’t you glad to be alive this sunny morning?

Have you noticed that the sky above is blue

That’s why I say neighbour, hey neighbour

You know what to do

Spread your happiness around you as the days go by

You’ll find that habit catching if you’ll only try

Put a little love and laughter in your labour

Hey neighbour, neighbour, neighbour that means you.

My mother wrapped newspaper round my head and took me on the bus to the Gloucester Royal Infirmary (built 1756) on Southgate Street. I had some stitches and was mended. I remember the nurse said I was a brave little chap. In 1969/70 I worked as a porter at that hospital and many a nurse then called me a brave little chap. I never played the ukulele again.

John Scofield Trio Cadogan Hall May 16 2022 

Great excitement at going to my first live gig for more than 15 years! Went to see the John Scofield Trio at the Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square. I have seen Scofield at least three times before. The first time was in the 80s at the Royal Festival Hall when he was with Miles Davis. The second time was again at the RFH when he had his own band. The third time was with his own band at the Forum in Kentish Town.

Before the concert, I went for a meal at the Sloane Square branch of Côte Brasserie, just around the corner from the Cadogan Hall. I sent a text to my wife saying, “just finished my meal but, no hurry, John Scofield has only just placed his order.” Someone who looked very much like John Scofield was at the very far end, with a chubby bespectacled black man. This made me wonder if I had misidentified the man with the grey beard and bald head. I did not know if there was a black man in the trio. I thought the bassist was Steve Swallow (whom I had seen before with his wife Carla Bley and with Jimmy Giuffre).

I had not realised there was a support act. John Scofield had plenty of time to finish his meal even though the concert started promptly at 7.30. Robin Nolan and Chris Quinn play gipsy style guitar, influenced by Django. They have made an album on George Harrison’s Dark Horse label using George Harrison’s guitars. They were good.

The John Scofield Trio came on without delay and played until 21.53 and came back for one encore number without the bassist. The bassist was not Steve Swallow. He was a bespectacled chubby black man. He was very good. His name was Vicente Archer. He has played with musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Kenny Garrett (saw him with Miles Davis), Wynton Marsalis/Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Stanley Jordan (saw him at the RFH London Jazz Festival) and Stefon Harris (saw him at the Cork Jazz Festival).

The drummer was Bill Stewart. He was very good. He has performed with Pat Metheny, Lonnie Smith, Nicholas Payton. He has also worked with the following whom I have seen at the Cork Jazz Festival: Larry Goldings, Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, and Jim Hall. He has also played with Maceo Parker.

The trio played two numbers I immediately recognised. Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man and the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band.

The Cadogan Hall is a very pleasant venue, within sight of Sloane Square tube station. First opened in 1907 as a New Christian Science Church designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm (who also designed the Napier Museum in Kerala), the Hall hosted congregations of 1,400 in its heyday. By 1996, the congregation had diminished dramatically and the building had fallen into disuse. Mohamed Fayed, then owner of Harrods, had acquired the property, but was unable to secure permission to convert the building to a palatial luxury house on account of its status as a listed building.. Cadogan Estates Ltd (the property company owned by Earl Cadogan, whose ancestors have been the main landowners in Chelsea since the 18th century (the nearby Cadogan Square and Cadogan Place are also named after them) purchased the building in 2000. It was refurbished in 2004 by Paul Davis and Partners, Architects at a cost of £7.5 million. The changes included new lighting and sound systems and bespoke acoustic ceiling modules in the performance space. (Thanks to Wikipedia).

Grand and intimate at the same time. A fine vaulted ceiling. There are no pillars, no restricted views and all the 950 seats are not too far from the stage. The resident music ensemble at Cadogan Hall is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the first London orchestra to have a permanent home.