Books Monthly September 2020 - the most colourful page in the magazine - and just look at those fabulous Annual covers...
  Books Monthly Nostalgia
More reminiscences of life in the 1950s...


Book of the month: Roy of the Rovers - Best Of The Sixties

 Published by Rebellion Publishing August 2019

Celebrate 65 years of the greatest football comic ever!

They don't come much more iconic than Roy of the Rovers. The Melchester Rovers striker of legend first appeared in 1954, and went on to become a genuine sporting hero for generations of fans, with his story spanning decades of footballing adventures.

Celebrating 65 years of goals and glory in 2019, this second instalment in a spectacular new luxury series collects the very best Roy of the Rovers stories from that glorious decades of British football, the 1960s!

The perfect archive companion to the Roy of the Rovers reboot graphic novels and middle-grade fiction published by Rebellion, tying together and bringing full-circle the nostalgia of the brand with the new generation reimagining.

The magnificent continuation of Rebellion's Roy of the Rovers series - each story carries the original front cover of the Tiger comic reproduced in stunning full colour - until the strip was relegated to the inside of the comic and another story took over the front cover. The stories are sometimes a little far-fetched, and I find it hard to believe that Bobby Charlton ever had much of a hand in writing the stories, although that was what was claimed... This series is absolutely one of the finest reprints of 1950s/1960s comics, and continues with the 1970s, although I very much doubt I shall get to see any more. In the meantime, you can continue to read about my 1950s exploits, which saw me go from Listen With Mother at the age of four, to becoming a teenager...

Growing up in the fifties - continued

In 1951, when I was five years old, Brockworth New County Primary School was opened. It stood about 150 yards from my house, and was easily reached by walking to the top of Boverton Drive, crossing Court Road and walking through what we called wasteland to the school entrance. Our new school was magnificent! What's more, it had new teachers, teachers I had never met. Miss Paige, and Mr Rossiter were the two I remember the best, along with another lady teacher who lived in Barnwood and whose house you could see from the top deck of the bus when you went into the city. The first village along the road on the bus route was Hucclecote - this was where my Uncle Les lived with his wife, Aunt Grace, and eventually, their seven children, who were all younger than me, the eldest being Gail. There was a set of twins in there somewhere, I recall. We often walked to Hucclecote to see them, taking cast off clothes and items of food - and we always came away with a big bag of American comics. Uncle Les was quite often not available - not because he was not there, but because he suffered terribly with malaria. I deduce from this that his wartime service saw him on active duty in the middle or far East. Agaim, I never thought to question him about this - maybe I was told not to by my Mum. Either way, I know he was a squaddie, because I have a photo somewhere of him in his uniform, looking very proud and very handsome! I don't recall ever catching the bus to Hucclecote, we always walked. More about those American comics later.

School for me was always a joyful experience, particularly when Miss Paige, at the end of lessons, would read us a story. It was usually either Milly Molly Mandy, Wurzel Gummidge, or one of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Tales, the latter being my personal favourites, although I did enjoy Milly Molly Mandy, but not the scarecrow, whom I found quite frightening - never liked him, or Aunt Sally, for that matter. My early childhood was all about school, school holidays, and books and comics. In the school holidays I had miles and miles of countryside to explore, either on my own or in the company of my friends. I would make my own bows and arrows and practice in our sizeable garden. I would play for hours with Dinky toys, excavating mud and getting dirty - later in my youth I decided I hated being dirty and went all out to keep clean. If my fountain pen leaked I would spend hours in the bathroom scrubbing the ink off my fingers, hating it when it wouldn't come off. I still don't like getting dirty, and wear gloves for most outdoor jobs. A clear case of OCD, I think. I loved toy cars, my favourite being my Dinky Toys Triumph TR2 in a cool beige colour. I also liked those metal cars which had a picture of the driver and passenger on both the windscreen and on the side windows - there was a branch of Woolworths in the city down near the cathedral which specialised in those. Also in Woolworths you could buy the new Airfix aeroplane kits - my Dad helped me to build those. My favourite Airfix aeroplane was the Bristol Beaufighter - there was something about the shape of that particular flying machine that appealed to me. Of course I also had the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Lancaster and a handful of German fighters, Fokke Wulfs and so on, in my bedroom at the rear of the house.

If it was raining, I was happy to stay in listening to the radio and reading my books and comics. In our front room, which had a bay window, there was a fireplace, either side of which was a small alcove. At one side, my Dad had put up some bookshelves on which he housed his sizeable collection from the Companion Book Club; titles like Boldness Be My Friend, books by Orde Wingate, Beverley Nichols etc. I was allowed to look at them, of course, as I had been taught from a very early age not only to respect other people's property, but also to be very careful when handling books - not to break the spines, in particular, especially of paperbacks. Dad had a few Aldous Huxley books which were mostly paperbacks - paperbacks were relatively new in the 1950s - I was fortunate enough to be around when the Pan paperbacks started appearing, with beautiful photorealistic covers. I started to  collect the Pan Saint books and later the Pan Whiteoaks books in the 1950s, and by the time we left Gloucester in 1963 I had complete collections of both series - which I sold to the secondhand paperback shop in the city so that we didn't have too much to take with us. Thinking back, it was a suitcase full of Pan paperbacks, my entire collection of Leslie Charteris and Mazo de la Roche - and I sold them! They could quite easily have gone into storage and I could have been reunited with them when we finally came to settle in Stevenage New Town in November 1963. I don't remember whose idea it was that I should get rid of them, and I wish I had not done so! But I'm getting ahead of myself!

School holidays were a time when I discovered the joys of radio, listening to Listen With Mother while Mum prepared food for the evening meal, when Dad came home from work. I don't think I ever played with my sister Jean except on rare occasions when we got together with other children from the street and played game that involved more than two children. I wasn't always the youngest, but she was five years older than me, and the games that were available to both our age groups were few and far between. One such game was hopscotch, a game that mystifies me to this day. I've seen children in modern times filling the squares with the numbers from 1-10 in sequence, but in our games that was never the case, the numbers were inscribed at random. I never understood the rules. Skipping was something I could do, and we often did this at school, as well. But let's finish the summer holidays first. Listen With Mother was introduced by a lady with the most beautiful voice, one that reminded me of my favourite teacher, Miss Paige, and so I paid attention to what she was saying, especially when she was recounting the adventures of Toytown. Not Noddy's toyland, that came later, when I was fully grown and reading Noddy to my own children. Toytown was a wonderful place that involved Larry the Lamb and Dennis the Dachsund, a series of tales that was first broadcast as early as 1929 and continued to be one of Listen With Mother's stalwarts for another four decades. I remember having books about Toytown. Noddy was born the same year as I was, 1946, but our paths did not cross until the 1980s, when Chris and then Samantha were born. I was familiar with Enid Blyton, however, and read her Famous Five, Secret Seven and Barney mysteries as often as I could. But my first real favourites in the book world were Robin Hood and King Arthur. Both were available as Regent Classics, and they were the books I returned to again and again throughout my life, and still do.

The holidays also involved trips into the city on the bus. Unfortunately (for my Mum) there was a brief period when I was a very bad traveller, and often had to get off the bus in Barnwood to be sick. This must have been very annoying for Mum, and I imagine that as soon as I had been sick, we would either have continued our journey on the next bus, or else gone home. Sometimes the bus trips were for shopping, other times they were for medical reasons. There was a children's clinic down by the barracks called the Bear Gardens. I don't know how it got its name, but I do remember being taken there when I was about four years old for a series of treatment sessions to correct something that was wrong with my feet. I was encouraged to pick things up with my toes, for some reason, and whatever was wrong with my feet was soon cured by this strange treatment. To this day I don't know if I had flat feet, fallen arches or some other complaint, but I can find no reference to the Bear Gardens Children's clinic; however I do know that it was in a street where the tannery was, and Gloucester Barracks, and the smell from the tannery was absolutely awful, enough to turn your stomach! I hated going there but of course, we went where we were told to go in those days, and, as I say, the treatment apparently worked!

My early years in Brockworth were pretty much idyllic. There were vast swathes of lush green countryside at the end of the lane where the Nissen huts were, and it was the same the other side of Ermin Street, where we used to toil up Cooper's Hill pretty much every Sunday morning whilst Mum prepared Sunday lunch. At home I played with toy cars, toy trucks, toy soldiers; I had plenty of picture books, including Mabel Lucy Attwell picture books, and those Toytown favourites. Listen With Mother and Children's Favourites, both presented by Uncle Mac were my early childhood stalwarts, and then at school there were those brilliant stories about Milly Molly Mandy and about Mowgli the Indian boy reared by the animals in Kipling's Just So Stories, which were the precursor to one of my all-time favourite characters, Tarzan of the Apes. My life changed dramatically when I started to attend school, first at Shurdington, then at our brand new school, the Brockworth New County Primary School at the top of the road. I was in the youngest intake, my sister Jean was in the top form, and was a prefect. I always had her to look after me, although she naturally tried to disown me at school when she wanted to hang about with her peers.

However, things came to a head one day when I was very homesick (despite only being a hundred or so yards from home). We had been told to stay for school dinners for the first time, as Mum had got a job as a "dinner lady" - which meant she would help at dinner time by watching the children in the playgrounds as we played after dinner. I could see my sister Jean a few yards ahead of me in the dinner queue and I suddenly, desperately needed to be with her, and kicked up such a fuss that I was allowed to sit with her for our school meal together. School meals in those days were dire, unpalatable and nothing like the brilliant meals Mum prepared for us. One day our dessert involved custard. It was full of lumps and uneatable, and I and two of my friends (girls) refused point blank to eat it, for which we were marched to the headmaster's office and told to explain ourselves. I do not remember what punishment we were given, but I do remember that whenever they served this horrendous substance again, I, the leader of the rebels, and my two friends, were allowed to decline it. Other than that, we were taught our times tables, we were taught to read and to do mental arithmetic. We were taught about the outside world, and the fact that not everyone in the world spoke English, although at that time (1950), the British Empire was still in full flow. Life was pretty much fabulous - I was introduced to the seemingly infinite world of books, and that was the start of my love affair with literature which has never dimmed! There was a small school library. I remember one of the first books I chose to borrow from the BNCP School library was about the life of Beethoven - it may have been the front cover that attracted me, or it may have been the fact that I recognised the name from the many, many music programmes we listened to on the Radio.

Radio in 1950 was the BBC (The Light Programme, The Home Programme and the Third Programme - the equivalents, today, I suppose, of Radios 2 and 3) and occasionally, when we could find it, Radio Luxembourg, where they played pop records! Radio 208 was named after the frequency Radio Luxembourg inhabited, and I remember listening to programmes such as Smash Hits, presented by Bob Monkhouse and Dennis Goodwin, on which listeners wrote in and asked the boys to play a record and then smash it (so that it would never be heard again - or so I believed when I was five years old!). Records in 1950 were made of Shellac and broke easily. We had a vast library of shellac records from the 1920s onwards, including complete opera sets on twelve or more records, courtesy of various family members contributing to our collection. These records were played on an old gramophone with a large horn that served to amplify the sound. It was clockwork, which meant you had to make sure it was fully wound if you were planning on playing a long record, as if it ran down before the music finished, it sounded horrendous. Despite having electricity in the house (I say this because my lovely wife Wendy was brought up in a house in Kilburn that didn't have electricity, and they only experienced the joys of electricity when they moved to Stevenage New Town in the early 1950s), the appliances that run on electricity were few and far between in our case.

There was no fridge or fridge freezer; no television, no vacuum cleaner, no washing machine, no electric kettle, no iron. The only things I can remember running on electricity in 1950 were the wireless and the lights. The sockets were two-pin and plugs were brown bakelite things. It was not until 1957 that we got a radiogram, and one of those cylindrical vacuum cleaners. The kettle was used on the gas stove, the iron was a solid cast iron object that you heated again on the gas stove or on the open fire. We also used the fire to make toast by spearing a slice of bread on a toasting fork and holding it in front of the fire until it was done - delicious! I don't remember rationing or the end of rationing although I am aware that it stopped when I was about six years old. It certainly didn't affect me, and there was always plenty of good wholesome food, sweets and drink. The shop at the end of Boverton Drive, run by Mr Ellis, above whose shop Jean was born in 1941, sold pretty much everything I wanted - and the family needed. Toothpaste came in a solid block in a tin very much like a tin of shoe polish. You wet your toothbrush and rubbed it on the Gibbs Dentifrice (three or four different coloured tins were available) and then cleaned your teeth. Cleaning your teeth was a losing battle (in my case, at least) because there were so many delicious sweets on which to spend your pocket money! Spangles, Fry's Five Boys, Five Centres, Fry's Chocolate Cream and Peppermint Cream (both of which I still have in the fridge here, as I write); Corona drinks in various flavours: orangeade, lemonade, cherryade, and my favourite, Cream Soda. The Corona lorry came round once a week and we bought five or six bottles which were mostly gone by the following day.

In the utility sideboard, there was NHS Cod Liver Oil (Eeeuw!) and NHS Orange Juice (yum!) Mr Jacomelli the butcher supplied all the fresh meat we needed (sausages were always my favourites!); Mr Kennedy came round once a week with his horse and cart to sell us fresh vegetables. There was always a hot meal on the table at tea time, when Dad came home from work on the works bus; and I was never, ever hungry. And then, in 1954 or 1955, Mr Calvert opened the Coop supermarket in Court Road in the new parade of shops, and life in Brockworth changed forever. We shopped in the Coop, and then our horizons broadened still further as we gradually changed our shopping habits to include a Saturday bus ride into the city to do a weekly shop, using string bags. We walked from the bus station (which was in Kings Square, right outside the Bon Marché department store (of which more next month) through to Southgate, past the enormous branch of Woolworths (there was a smaller branch in Northgate) to the brand new, massive Coop supermarket, where they had just about everything anyone could possibly want in the way of food. There was an indoor market in Southgate where you could buy a cupful of cockles, which I always had when my Gran took me shopping. Nowadays I don't think I could tackle a single cockle, let alone a cupful! There was a toy stall which sold single, individual pieces of Meccano, which helped to augment my basic set and allowed me to make bigger and more complex models. Back out into the street and across the road into the big Woolworths, where I would buy Embassy Records (Woolworths own label, mostly 10-inch LPs) and Airfix kits. Shopping trips were wonderful, diverse purchases, colourful shops, and then back to Kings Square to get the number 57 bus home. Sometimes we went into Bon Marché, the four-storey (plus basement) department store that sold absolutely everything under the sun. Although for me, it was the book and record department on the ground floor. It was in Bon Marché that I completed my collection of Four Square Tarzan books, when I got Tarzan At The Earth's Core courtesy of a couple of bob (two shillings) borrowed from my best friend Jim. When I got home and showed Mum, she insisted that I gave him the money the next day, finding it in her purse for me, as she didn't want me borrowing money from anybody. But that came later, when I was a teenager.

At primary school, after school dinners, we played "What's The Time Mr Wolf" with Miss Page, and skipping games, and then it was back inside for afternoon lessons and the opportunity to write secret notes to be passed to the girl I was temporarily in love with, Joan McClaren, who sat at the front of the class, and who had become my new country dance partner. I would have been seven or eight years old at that time. She was beautiful and I was about to have my life turned upside down when I, and Thomas Tullis, a not-very-bright boy, were asked to close the fren'ch windows. For some reason he chose to shut the window on my thumb. I remember the pain - it was intense - and the blood - there were gallons of it! I was rushed to the school secretary's office, screaming in agony, and the bleeding was eventually stopped, my Mum was called and we walked down the road to the doctor's surgery which was in Hucclecote. At approximately four o'clock Doctor Cookson's new partner, Doctor Barber, said he needed to stitch the wound, and proceeded to do so, with no anaesthetic, and with me screaming my head off. The next day Mum took me to Gloucester Royal Infirmary, where the wound was examined by a lovely nurser and found to be satisfactory, and a bandage applied using a metal contraption. I was allowed to stay home from school for the rest of the day. I still have the scar, about three centimeters long, on my right thumb. I have never forgiven Doctor Barber, although I did like him, as he was younger and more trendy than Doctor Cookson. It was Doctor Barber who diagnosed my migraines, which started when I started at Grammar School. More about that later.

Yours Retro Magazine - the latest issue - out now!

The August 2020 edition starts with a look at cute movie monsters, the first of which just happens to be Tribbles from the original Star Trek series, and a photo of William Shatner surrounded by the little furry creatures. There's a brilliant article on how Angela Lansbury became an Oscar nominated actress at the age of seventeen; articles on ELvis Presley, James Dean and Sean Connery, the original and greatest James Bond (although Ian Fleming's preferred choice would have been David Niven, apparently). The focus of this great magazine is as always on telling the stories of stars from the past, mostly Hollywood actors and actresses, but there's plenty of terrific information on just about everything to do with the past years of radio, TV and film. It's a brilliant read, something for everyone, every month, and the August issue is out now!

 (Note to self, May/June 2016 Archives)

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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As this is the Nostalgia page, and it's all about what happened in the old days, I'm publishing part four of my memories of the 1950s...