Books Monthly October 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...


Two programmes on TV at the moment, although one finishes today, the day I'm writing this column, the 24th September. Both will be of interest to nostalgia fans, and both are available on catch-up television, of course. First off, the BBC have been repeating the 15-episode, 3 series drama Land Girls, a superior kind of drama with great actors (Mark Benton, Sophie Ward, Jo Woodcock, Seline Hizli, Danny Webb), brilliant story lines, and a musical score by Debbie Wiseman, for me our greatest ever female composer. This brilliant series looks at how the Land Girls transformed the way we lived during the wartime years, and the series complete with intrigue, murder, German collaborators, German refugees, and lots and lots of love interest. Superb viewing, something I am thinking of adding to my Xmas gift list, it's so good! And then there's Channel 5's new adaptation of the James Herriott memoirs, All Creatures Great and Small, with Samuel West upstaging everyone else in the cast; Callum Woodhouse reprises his character from The Durrells, but he's just as engaging, and makes the show; Rachel Shenton provides the love interest for newcomer Nicholas Ralph as James Herriott. The music is a rip-off of the original TV series with Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison, and not that brilliant, but they've captured the essence of the 1930s to perfection and the series is perfect, hugely enjoyable family viewing.

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 the early 1950s, the BBC was the main radio broadcaster in the UK, with three main stations - the Home programme, the Light programme, and the Third programme. The Light programme was the one that broadcast all the record request programmes, such as Housewives Choice, Two-Way (later Three-way and occasionally more-ways) Family Favourites, presented by Cliff Michelmore and his wife, Jean Metcalfe (I didn't know they were married at the time); Children's Favourites, presented by Derek McCulloch, or Uncle Mac, as he was more commonly known. Two-Way Family Favourites enabled service men and women to keep in touch with their loved ones back in Britain by requesting songs to be played on air with dedications and declarations of love and so on. It was a rare opportunity for the BBC to play "popular" music records, and a chance for us youngsters to hear the new wave of crooners, such as Perry Como, Pat Boone, Dickie Valentine etc., to perform such stalwarts as "She Wears Red Feathers and a Hula, Hula Skirt", and "Pretty Little Black-Eyed Susie", and "Magic Moments"; records we would otherwise not have heard without tuning into the somewhat elusive Radio Luxembourg on frequency 208. Housewives Choice also played the same sort of records, and was hosted by people like Jack De Manio, Jimmy Young etc. Children's Favourites provided us with a chance of hearing anything from Danny Kaye singing The Ugly Duckling (from the film Hans Christian Andersen), to the Oberkirchen Children's Choir singing The Happy Wanderer, and even some classical pieces (Chopin, for example, as played in Sparky's Magic Piano), together with pieces like Hugo Alfven's Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, which I later discovered had been brutally butchered and was virtually unrecognisable from the actual piece, which is an exhilarating showcase of European folk music, as are the other two rhapsodies by the same composer.

The Third Programme was far more serious; I suppose it was pretty obvious from the fact that they had a "Light" programme - anything else was going to be more jolly, more lively, more friivolous. We listened regularly to all of the music programmes on the Light and Home programmes; shows such as Henry Hall's Music Night and Henry Hall's Guest Night; Workers' Playtime; Parade of the Pops etc., etc., and to the comedy shows like Meet The Huggetts, and The Clitheroe Kid; Take It From Here; Much Binding in the Marsh; and later, The Goon Show and The Navy Lark. We listened to everything going because we didn't have a television. In fact we didn't have a television until 1963, when we were living in Stevenage New Town and beginning a new chapter of our life that would see me meet and eventually marry Wendy. The Third Programme played "serious" music: classical music, that is, and we regularly listened to the Promenade Concerts, although the name didn't mean anything to me at the time. Those concerts made me familiar with the great composers, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Handel, Haydn etc. But not to the late Romantics like Mahler and Richard Strauss; nor to the great opera composers like Puccini and Wagner - those discoveries came later in my life - after I'd met and started courting Wendy, in fact. I loved all kinds of music with the exception of modern jazz, and the really noisy big bands - Glenn Miller's stuff was OK, but the stuff where they go overboard on the brass and so on was nothing more than a cacophany of sound that I didn't like - I think it was called Be-Bop or something like that - horrendous! They had the occasional jazz programme on The Third Programme but I was really only interested in traditional jazz, bands like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway; then there was  Jack Hylton, and the newly discovered Quintet Du Hot Club de France, featuring the sublime Stephane Grapelli and the guitar magic of Django Reinhardt - possibly the greatest guitarist that ever lived; certainly the greatest ever jazz guitarist!

I wasn't that keen on country and western music - it was a bit hillbilly and wishy washy for me. But it sure beat the heck out of modern jazz. Nowadays there are so many more types of music to dislike - it started with punk rock, which is, in my opinion an abomination; there's rap - pointless and totally devoid of music, not music at all, really; Reggae - not my thing at all; and anything after 1980, really, with the notable exception of Jeff Lynne's ELO, and people like Randy Newman, Gerry Rafferty, Harry Nilsson and so on, although as they started in the 1970s, they don't really qualify for the post-1980 dislike criteria, do they? When they show endless trailers on the BBC for some group called Little Mix, with the promise of a prime-time TV programme about them, I despair about the state of modern pop music. It's just noise, and bad noise at that. Back in the 1950s, we had post-war Rock and Roll, the sublime pop songs of Carole King, Bobby Darin; the crooners, such as Frank Sinatra (Bobby Darin joined him fairly swiftly, and to my mind overtook him to become the greatest ever performer in that category), along with Nat King Cole (A Merry Old Soul), Perry Como, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis et al. We had the emerging trad jazz groups (trad jazz became a really big thing in the early 1960s) superb bands like Mr Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band, Kenny Ball's Jazzmen, and Chris Barber's Jazz Band. Amazingly, each of the three band leaders played one of the three principal jazz instruments - clarinet, trumpet and trombone. I am related by marriage to the original trombonist in Acker Bilk's band - Johnny Mortimer was his name, and he was a nephew of my Uncle George, who was married to my Dad's sister,, my Aunty Ivy. I never met Johnny Mortimer, but I did see Acker and his band, twice at Cheltenham Town Hall, and once in Colston Hall, Bristol - and they were awesome!

The Light programme also housed the Saturday Morning Skiffle Club, hosted by Brian Matthew and featuring songs by such groups as Johnny Duncan's Blue Grass Boys, Lonnie Donnegan's Skiffle Group, Chas McDevitt and Nancy Whisky. Folk music and Skiffle was as near as we got to the new music, that scourge of our parents, Rock 'N' Roll that we knew was being payed in the US courtesy of our music magazines, Melody Maker and the New Musical Express. For a period of two weeks in the summer holidays, the BBC decamped to the Earls Court Radio Show, and gave up a couple of hours each morning to interview people visiting the show and ask them what music they would like to hear. It was during one of these broadcasts in the 1950s that I heard Paul Anka singing "Diana", and my life changed. I no longer wanted to hear "The Ballad of Davy Crockett", or "The Emperor's New Clothes", although the latter formulated my approach to many things in my later like, and still does, to a certain extent, especially when it comes to modern art etc. I wanted to hear Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee, Ricky Nelson and co. Their music was lively, their music was vibrant and catchy, They didn't sing ballads, they didn't croon, they let rip. Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard played the piano standing up! It was a new world order, and it was just a matter of time before it was going to be played on the BBC. It was the start of something big. The Saturday Skiffle Club, which started in 1957 with a budget of around £50, graduated into the Saturday Club in 1959 as the new music started to gain ground, but it was to be another five years before the biggest revolution in popular music at the BBC took hold. And in the meantime, I started Grammar School.

The list of things I needed for my foray into the big school was daunting, and although money was relatively tight at the time, I was taken into the Bon Marché department store in Kings Square, Gloucester where we purchased a blazer (maroon, with a gold badge depicting the two "Js" that represented the founders of the school in 1539, John and Joan Cook); two pairs of long grey socks with maroon and gold stripes around the tops; a tie, maroon and gold stripes; two rugby football shirts, maroon and gold stripes; white cricket flannels, a white cricket jumper, maroon stripe around the bottom; baseball boots with thick crepe soles, two pairs of grey shorts (one pair of which were worn once - I persuaded my Mum that I needed, that I had to have, because I had been the only boy wearing shorts on the first day) long trousers, and luckily my Dad had a pair that Mum was able to adapt until the next weekend, when we went back to Bon Marché to buy two pairs of long trousers; a school cap, maroon and gold (again only worn once, again I was the only new boy in the school who had worn a cap);  and a pair of shiny black shoes. I had deliberately chosen the Crypt Grammar School for two reasons: my two older cousins, Brian and Peter Kimber (sons of Uncle Bill, a scout master whom I didn't particularly like - neither did I really like Brian and Peter!) and because the school was old, very old, very, very old, in fact one of the oldest in Britain, with its foundation dated back as far as 1503 (officially 1539 but there was a document discovered during my time there that went back to the earlier date), and the alternative was Sir Thomas Rich's school, which had a light blue uniform, and the maroon and gold of the Crypt was far more sophisticated.

There was no first form. The eleven-year-old intake (I was still ten for another two weeks, my birthday being September 13th, were split into three forms, 2A, 2B and 2C while they sorted us out. The explanation was that form 1 was a preparatory form dating back to the Victorian era. Nobody understood this, it was a complete mystery. The form system at the Crypt was mistifying. Forms 2, 3, 4, Upper Fourth, Fifth, Lower Sixth, Upper Sixth. Very confusing! I would have been at the Crypt for one and a half years before my future wife caught up with me in terms of what we were studying. She has never understood or, I suspect, believed me when I told her that at the end of the first year, we were sorted into classical and modern students. I was allowed to ditch the three science subjects, and geography, and allowed to choose a second language (French was compulsory for all students), Spanish, and Greek. So I ended up doing English Literature, English Language, Maths, Latin, History, French, Spanish and Greek. Along the way I was also allowed to drop Greek. It was all Greek to me... At the time I was studying my core seven subjects for GCE O Level at the Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, Wendy was doing eleven subjects at the Girls Grammar School in Stevenage.

I've told this story before, but I'll repeat it here. In my last term at the Crypt, in July 1963, seven or so of us managed to fashion a Ouija board with scraps of paper with letters on, and a glass tumbler from the school canteen. We were in a small room at the end of the main building, a room that had been given to us as a sort of Lower Sixth Form common room, and we started to ask questions. They were all about girls, as I recall. When it came to my turn, I asked the name of the girl I was going to marry, and we all put our forefingers on the upturned tumbler, and I swear, as God is my witness, that it spelled out "Wendy". I didn't know a Wendy, in fact I didn't know many girls at all, as the Crypt was a boys' school. One of the boys brought along his girlfriend and her friend, both of whom rode in the bath on wheels that we pushed from Gloucester to Cheltenham to raise money for the newly-formed Oxfam in 1962; and I still saw a couple of the girls I had been to primary school with at the Friday night youth club in Hucclecote, where there was a record player, and where we listened to the Everly Brothers and to the Shirelles singing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (a firm favourite of mine then, and still is, it's one of Carole King's finest songs, along with "It Might As Well Rain Until September"). But none of them was called Wendy, and in any case, I didn't particularly want a girlfriend at that stage in my life.

Quite spooky, actually. We've been married now for 54 years, and I love her dearly. How we met is another story entirely, and one for the future. Back to school... I was a huge fan of the Famous Five, not Enid Blyton's Famous Five, but Charles Hamilton's earlier Greyfriars School Famous Five. None of the other boys seemed to know anything about it, but we formed a small coterie in class, eventually, and I couldn't help assigning parts to my friends. I was Harry Wharton, naturally. There was a Billy Bunter in the class, but he wasn't in our little group. We didn't have a Hurree Jamset Ram Singh; all of the boys at the Crypt were strictly caucasian. I never even saw a black person until my next door neighbours entertained two visiting Nigerians as part of their Methodist exchange programme. 1957 was the year I started at the Crypt Grammar School. I was ten years old. Looking back, I realise that I sat my GCE O Levels at the age of fifteen... I could have gone to university, but my life changed on a sixpence, we moved to Prittlewell, near Southend on Sea where we stayed for five months with Aunty Florrie and Uncle Stan, and I worked part time in their little hardware store; in November we moved to Stevenage New Town, and my new life took off in a way I never expected. That's for another time. Schooldays are supposed to be the happiest days of your life; I enjoyed my time at the Crypt Grammar School, although two things soured the experience in my first couple of years there. Firstly, I was bullied. I have no idea why, but the Crypt was the kind of school that didn't tolerate snitches. Their policy was that you should deal with it yourself. It was physical bullying, and I didn't particularly like fighting, never had, and still never have. I left that kind of thing to my fictional heroes: Robin Hood, King Arthur, Tarzan etc. In later years, when I started rowing, I shot up to almost six feet tall, became very broad-shouldered, and the bullying stopped. Just like that. The other thing that spoiled the Crypt for me is something I don't really care to talk about. Suffice it to say that it was nipped in the bud and although it obviously remained with me through the years, I was able to put it from my mind, to enjoy a normal life, get married, raise a family, work etc. Next month: more about school, and about books and comics in the 1950s and early 1960s, and how they influenced my life.

Yours Retro Magazine - the latest issue - out now!

The September 2020 issue of Yours Retro magazine kicks off with everyone's favourite golden age Hollywood actor, James Stewart and a look back at a number of his most celebrated films, including Vertigo, Rear Window etc. Then there's Oliver Reed and how Hammer's Horror films gave him his big break. There's a brilliant article on women in TV comedy, with the likes of Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore, a feature on Thora Hird, on the hit TV show Mission Impossible, and much, much more - this is the very best magazine on the newsstands, well worth a look, crammed with brilliant articles and features - sheer entertainment!

 (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...