Famous gunfighters all had their favourite weapons. Wyatt Earp used a Colt 45 Peacemaker Buntline Special with a twelve inch barrel that might sound a bit unwieldy but he claimed that it never impeded his draw. Bat Masterton on the other hand had the same hand gun but with a sawn off barrel because he thought that twelve inches slowed him down. Other famous gunmen who favoured the Colt 45 were Wild Bill Hickok and Pat Garrett who killed Billy The Kid with a Peacemaker in 1881. The Kid himself preferred the double action lightening colt with sawn off barrels of only three inches and John Wesley Harding and Jesse James used the heavier caliber Colt Army revolver.
One of my favourite westerns was the Lone Ranger and there are a couple of things have always intrigued me about Kemo Sabe:
Firstly, why was he called the Lone Ranger when he was never alone? He was accompanied everywhere by his loyal Indian friend Tonto (real name Jay Silverheels). Perhaps native Americans didn’t count in the 1950’s?
Secondly, the most baffling thing about the Lone Ranger was that he wasn’t the sort of guy you would miss easily in a crowd. He wore a powder blue skintight costume and a broad brimmed white Stetson, wore a black mask to conceal his face, had a deep baritone voice and rode in a black buckled saddle on a magnificent white stallion called Silver.
Tonto’s horse was called Scout by-the-way.
It was surprising therefore that no one could ever recognise him! Now I’d have thought that word would have got out about someone as characteristic as that. Interestingly the only thing that gave him away usually came at the end of the show and when asked who he was by a cerebrally challenged lawman he would pass the inquirer a silver bullet and then the penny would finally drop. “That was the Lone Ranger,” they would announce as the masked stranger and Tonto galloped off at an impossibly high-speed to the sound of Rossini’s William Tell overture.
The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.
In February of 1962 along came my little brother Richard to complete the Petcher family.
This came as a bit of a surprise because this was in the days when women disguised their pregnancy under an expansive flowing smock for fear that anyone noticed. It certainly wasn’t discussed in the house and the first I knew of this was when a midwife greeted me home from school, announced the news and introduced me to my new brother. At eight years old I had no idea where he had come from, I would have preferred a train set, but it looked like from now on I would have to be sharing my bedroom.
Parents who had grown up in the 1930s and 1940s were rather prim and shy about sex and this certainly went for my mum and dad neither of whom ever provided me with any useful sex education lessons, except for dad carelessly leaving ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ lying about that is.
We had to find out about this for ourselves through playground talk with better informed school pals, watching the girls in their navy blue knickers in P.E. lessons and putting two and two together for ourselves after looking up the dirty words in a dictionary. There were some hard lessons to be learned and I can remember one friend fell out with us all because he refused to believe that his parents could ever have conceived him through having sex and thinking about his mum now I can fully understand the difficulty he must have had in coming to terms with this piece of information.
In 1962 world news broadcasting took a giant step forward with the launch of Telstar, which was the first active satellite designed to transmit telephone and high-speed data communications around the World.
Technical stuff. It was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on 10th July and was the first privately sponsored space launch. Telstar was a medium altitude satellite and was placed in an elliptical orbit that was completed once every two hours and thirty-seven minutes, revolving at a forty-five degree angle above the equator. The first trans-Atlantic television signal was ground breaking space age stuff but because of its orbit there were enormous operating restrictions and transmission availability for transatlantic signals was only about twenty minutes in each orbit.
Telstar inspired the composition of a number one hit for the instrumental pop group, The Tornados, which was the first United States number one by a British group. Up to that point there had only been three British solo artists that topped the US chart: ‘Stranger on the Shore’ by Acker Bilk; ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ by Laurie London and ‘Auf Wiedersein Sweetheart’, the first, by Vera Lynn in 1952.
I liked The Tornados but they split up soon after this and my favourites then became the Shadows and the very first long playing record that I owned was ‘The Shadows Greatest Hits’, and I’ve still got it in what is now my redundant vinyl collection.
The biggest tragedy of 1962 was probably the death of the film star Marilyn Monroe who died prematurely when she committed suicide at her Beverly Hills Mansion. Or perhaps she was murdered by the United States secret service because of embarrassing rumours that she was having an affair with President Kennedy?
This story is a bit like the ongoing speculation into the death of Princess Diana and in both cases it is doubtful that we will ever be absolutely sure. One thing that is certain however is that her death launched her as an iconic image of the 1960s and an enduring representation of perhaps the World’s most desirable woman since Helen of Troy.
I unexpectedly came across Marilyn once in Haugesund in Norway and I discovered that the reason she should surprisingly turn up here is that her father, Martin Mortensen, came from the village of Skjold, just twenty kilometres away and lived in Haugesund before emigrating to America in about 1880. After abandoning his family after only six months of marriage, he was killed in a motorcycle crash without ever seeing his daughter – Norma Jean Mortensen.
1960! And so the famous decade began, pop music, mods and rockers, flower power and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, or CND for short. The 1950s had been a steady decade not so different from those that had gone before but the 1960s were about to change the world forever and there would definitely be no going back.
In 1960 there was an event which I suppose stimulated this part of my story. In November John F Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the youngest ever at forty-three and the first Roman Catholic.
He didn’t become President in 1960 because America has a curious system whereby the winner has to wait two months before officially taking office, that is two months being paid for doing absolutely nothing but I suppose this at least gives time for the outgoing Chief Executive to clear his personal possessions out of the White House.
Also in politics it was in 1960 that the British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan gave his “Wind of Change speech” to the Parliament of South Africa, on 3 February 1960 in Cape Town at the end of a month spent in Africa visiting a number of British colonies, as they were at the time.
The speech sent a clear signal that the British Government intended to decolonise and most of the British possessions in Africa subsequently became independent nations in the 1960s. The South Africans, sensing a loss of white supremacy, didn’t approve of this and the speech led directly from their withdrawal from the Commonwealth and their continuing support for the apartheid system.
Another significant event of 1960 that was to have far reaching consequencies was the formation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. This was an event that would leave the west dependent on the Middle East for its oil and has resulted in a succession of international difficulties in the region.
1960 saw the introduction to Britain of two new must have toys:
The first was the Etch-a-Sketch, which was a big bag of aluminium dust behind a plastic screen that you scraped doodles into, like you would on the window of a steamed-up car. But rather than use your finger you had to demonstrate enormous amounts of patience and dexterity and twiddle two knobs which was an action that required almost impossible eye to hand co-ordination. Etch-a-Sketch was invented by a man by the name of Arthur Granjean who developed L’Ecran Magique, The Magic Screen, in his garage. After several years of being ignored as a load of magnetic rubbish L’Ecran Magique was eventually bought up by an American toy firm and renamed Etch-a-Sketch.
Actually Etch-a-Sketch was really hopeless and it was impossible to draw anything really creative. The box suggested all sorts of drawing possibilities but in reality although it was alright for houses or anything else with straight lines beyond that it was excruciatingly frustrating to draw anything that anyone would be able to meaningfully identify.
Much more important was the introduction of Lego which was seen at the Brighton Toy Fair for the first time in 1960. Lego is a Danish company and the name comes from the Danish words ‘LEg GOdt’ meaning ‘play well’. Now this just has to be one of the best toys ever and when it was first introduced the brightly coloured bricks sold by the bucketful. Pre-Lego I had a construction set called Bako, which was a set of bakerlite bricks and metal wires that could be used to construct different styles of houses but nothing more inspired than that. Lego changed everything and the only restrictions on creativity thereafter were the number of bricks in the toy box and our imagination!
Others agree with me about the importance of Lego and the British Association of Toy Retailers named Lego the toy of the century.
From Lego to leg over because 1960 was a big year for literature when the book ‘Lady Chatterleys Lover’ was published by Penguin books and whipped up a legal storm.
‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is a novel by D. H. Lawrence that was written in 1928 and printed at that time privately in Florence. The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including the use of previously banned four letter words. When it was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law.
The 1959 Act had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit and Penguin books took up the challenge. At the trial various academic critics, were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on November 2, 1960, was not guilty. This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom.
A nice story about the trial which illustrates just how big a watershed 1960 was in terms of changing social attitudes was when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked the jury if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read“.
Much later than 1960 I found a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ on the top of my dad’s wardrobe and was able to go immediately to the offending chapter because the book fell naturally open at exactly the right spot.
I suspect most of it had not been read at all but the few pages of dirty words were well thumbed and dog-eared and over the next few weeks I contributed to this by sharing it with all of mates whenever they came around to the house when my parents were out. It made a change from looking up rude words in the dictionary. This all stopped when one day when the book had gone from the top of the wardrobe and although nothing was ever said I knew that I’d been rumbled.
One final thing about 1960 is that John, Paul, George and Ringo became the Beatles and the world of popular music would never be the same again and Russ Conway never had another number one hit!
Facts about 1960:
Best Film Oscar – The Apartment
FA Cup Winners – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Miss World Winner – Norma Gladys Cappalgi from Argentina
World Motor Racing Champion – Jack Brabham ofAustralia
World Series Champions – Pittsburg Pirates
Eurovision Song Contest Winner – Jacqueline Boyer, France
Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services. In 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen kilometre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail. Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo, which was a bit of a shame if you had put ten shillings in a birthday card to someone!
In 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the US Post Office Department in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation with the first and only successful delivery of ‘Missile Mail’. Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck its target at Jacksonville.
What an utterly absurd concept and probably only the American’s could waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a pointless exercise because it must have been obvious even to a five year old that this was never going to be a commercially viable proposition.
Even so the US Postmaster General declared it a great success and instantly proclaimed the event to be “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world“, and predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
This was probably one of the most wildly inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard again of ‘Missile Mail’.
Bill Bryson in “The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid” sums up exactly why:
“Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates”
In the world of entertainment the big star of 1959 in the United Kingdom was the plinky plonky pianist Russ Conway who had five top ten hits this year with the first two going all the way to No 1. One of these, Side Saddle, stayed at the top spot for four weeks, and Russ was the top-selling UK artist of the year. On the sheet music chart, three of his compositions were at number one, in total, for over six consecutive months. Russ was a big star and famous as a pianist for having only seven fingers having lost the tip of one of his little digits in an accident whilst serving in the navy.
In world politics Fidel Castro became President of Cuba after overthrowing the corrupt pro-American Government and after getting a frosty reception from the United States, partly because he had closed down the casinos and seized the assets of the American owners, declared his friendship for Russia and established the first communist regime in the western hemisphere.
Now we didn’t just have to worry about the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and this was going to be a bit of a problem in the future and Regulus cruise missiles were being quickly refitted with their nuclear warheads!
In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring. First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.
The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road. This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit. In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.
The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day. When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic! This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.
In 1959 cars were still a bit old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!
The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car. The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured. Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 673J.
Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that. His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation! There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.
The Cambridge had been introduced in 1954 and was kept in production for two years. It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and at 4,250 revs per minute an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour. Power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.
It was a big heavy thing, hard to handle, I imagine, and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much. I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note! I wish I could do that! Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!
On the outside it had a voluptuous body shape, lumpy and bulbous, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front. It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.
I would like to be able to take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle. Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.
On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus. The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and, with no ABS in those days, dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing. Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.
After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again. My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.
I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children. Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book. These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory. Ah happy days!
“Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk
In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland. The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.
The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland. All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones. This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions. It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.
Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.“
But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.
I had no idea that when I visited Iceland that I was now there as a resident of the English fishing town of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod in the seas around Iceland. The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars which put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town. It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.
Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.
There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger. It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!
It wasn’t only Grimsby that was adversely affected by the outcome of the Cod Wars and across the Humber Estuary the fishing industry in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull was similarly devastated by the capitulation of the UK Government and also went into dramatic and irreversible decline.
In view of this in a previous post I expressed surprise that Reykjavik and Hull are official ‘Twin Towns‘ but I suppose the arrangement may be an attempt at reconciliation and mutual understanding because this was one of the original principles of twinning which became a popular thing to do after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours
I have often wondered however what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful, perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency or maybe it was just a nice place where the Mayor and the Town Clerk rather fancied an annual all-expenses paid trip!
Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins. That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry. Earlier this year I visited another of Coventry’s twin towns – Warsaw in Poland.
Other significant events of 1958 included a revolution in Iraq that overthrew the monarchy, murdered the King and triggered years of instability in the Middle East which continues today; Charles de Gaulle became President of France, which was bad news for those wanting to join the Common Market and Nikita Khrushchev became President of the USSR, who although a liberal by Communist standards was the man who would later approve the construction of the Berlin Wall.
The most distressing piece of news in our house in 1958 was most undoubtedly the Munich air disaster of 6th February when an air crash at Munich Airport in Germany caused the deaths of eight Manchester United players and several club officials and sports journalists.
In 1958 the Manchester United team was one of the most talented in the World and was known as the Busby Babes, which was a reference to their manager Matt Busby and to the average age of the players, which at twenty-four was unusually young.
Manchester United had been to Yugoslavia to play the second leg of a European cup match against Red Star Belgrade. The match had ended in a 3-3 draw and United had won the tie 5-3 on aggregate. In the 1950s domestic league matches were played on Saturdays and European matches were played midweek and there wasn’t the same amount of flexibility around fixtures that there is today and having played the match there was no alternative but to return home to England immediately despite poor weather conditions.
The club had chartered an aeroplane to fly them home but the takeoff from Belgrade was delayed for an hour as one of the players had lost his passport, and then the aircraft made a scheduled stop in Munich to refuel. The plane was a British European Airways Airspeed Ambassador, which was an aircraft that had carried nearly two and a half million passengers on eighty-six thousand flights since it began service in 1952 and had an immaculate safety record.
After refueling the pilot tried to take off twice, but both attempts were aborted. When a third take off was attempted the plane failed to gain adequate height and crashed into the fence surrounding the airport, then into a house, and caught fire. Although the crash was originally blamed on pilot error, it was subsequently found to have been caused by the build-up of slush towards the end of the runway, causing deceleration of the aircraft and preventing safe take off speed from being achieved.
Seven players died immediately in the crash, Roger Byrne, the captain, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and Geoff Bent. Probably the most famous Busby Babe of all was Duncan Edwards who was tipped at the time to become one of the World’s greatest footballers but although he survived the crash he died from his injuries a few days later in hospital.
In 1953 he had become the youngest footballer to play in the Football League First Division and at the age of 18 years and one hundred and eighty-three days, he had made his international debut for England in April 1955, and became England’s youngest post-war debutant. This record was not broken for forty-three years, when Michael Owen made his England debut in 1998.
Matt Busby who was himself very seriously injured in the crash resumed managerial duties the following season and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes, including George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton (who also happened to be one of the original Busby Babes) that went on to win the European Cup ten years after the disaster in 1968.
As a football fan this was devastating news for my dad who for many years afterwards always remembered the tragedy and spoke fondly of the lost Manchester United team. In a scrap book that he kept at the time he kept the front page of the Daily Mail which covered the story on the next day. The only other two newspaper front pages that he kept were those that reported the assassination of Kennedy and the death of Winston Churchill. That’s how much it meant to him. And he never bought me an Airfix model of the BEA Airspeed Ambassador either.
We remember Manchester United but we should also remember: