Category Archives: Growing up in the 1950s

Age of Innocence, 1956 – The Balance of Power

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company, in which British banks and business had a large financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the fleet dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea.

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The new government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be successful but on 4th November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died, and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

Krakow Russian Tank

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United Stated Dweight Eisenhower was dealing with both crises, and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt.

It was also rather a concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower forced a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  Anthony Eden promptly resigned.

Anthony Eden

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.  Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Manchester United,The Busby Babes and the Munich Air Disaster

The most distressing piece of news in our house in 1958 was 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.

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 the 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.

  

  

  

We remember Manchester United but we should also remember:

  • The Zambian national football team was flying on a military plane on its way to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match, when the plane crashed in the late evening of April 27, 1993. All 30 passengers and crew, including 18 players, as well as the national team coach and support staff, were lost in the accident.
  • The Superga air disaster took place on Wednesday, 4 May, 1949, when a plane carrying almost the entire Torino A.C. football squad, popularly known as Il Grande Torino, crashed into the hill of Superga, near Turin, killing all 31 aboard, including 18 players, club officials, journalists accompanying the team and the plane’s crew.
  • The 1987 Alianza Lima air disaster took place on December 8, 1987, when a Peruvian Navy Fokker F27-400M, chartered by Peruvian football club Alianza Lima, plunged into the Pacific Ocean six miles short of its destination. On board the flight were a total of 44 players, managers, staff, cheerleaders and crewmembers, of which only the pilot survived the accident.

Read the full story…

Age of Innocence, 1955 – Disney and McDonalds in France

Walt Disney (2)

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that my favourite was EPCOT and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

EPCOT Future World

In 1955 Disney and McDonalds almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set back that was because since then McDonalds has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries, with 1.8 million employees and serving nearly 69 million people.  Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.

EPCOT France

The French are famously snooty about anything Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy. Prominent French intellectuals denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and felt it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism. For others, Euro Disney became a symbol of America within France. But they were powerless to stop it and it opened in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

Jose Bove

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonalds the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of  Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-thru’ when he vandalised a half built McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. Most electorates don’t really want a vandal heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote. By then, McDonalds was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more than it had had when Bové began his high profile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France, and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a landslide of burgers and nuggets.  He spent a few weeks in jail but he is now representative at the European Parliament

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain and the concept an awful lot of people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the people.  McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.

mcbaguette

That is more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world.  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

Mcdonalds France

 

Age of Innocence – 1955, The Unstoppable Force of McDonalds

DesPlaines McDonalds

Some World changing developments were happening around about the time of my first year, most of them in the United States where North America was emerging as the wealthiest and most progressive country in the World.

None more so than the hamburger.  The  original McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California in 1940, with a diner owned by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald.  The present McDonald’s Corporation however dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc, in Des Plaines, Illinois in April 1955.

mcdonald brothers

The McDonald brothers were interesting, some would say rather eccentric, characters who were inspired by the assembly line manufacturing method of Henry Ford in his car factories and in 1948 without warning they suddenly closed their traditional and popular establishment for several months and set about applying the principles of mass production to the restaurant industry.

They pared the service back to only the essentials, offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes, which were produced on a continuous basis, rather than made to order, and with no alternatives on offer.  Basically just ‘take it or leave it’.  This was whole new idea that they called ‘fast food’ that went against all service conventions, which could be served to a formula, almost instantaneously and always with consistency.

They also removed any distractions like jukeboxes and payphones, so it wouldn’t become a hangout spot for young people and that there would be a continuous turnover of customers.

The brothers reduced labour costs because there were no waitresses and customers presented themselves at a single window to place and receive their orders.  They made the food preparation area visible to the customers, to exhibit its standards of cleanliness and they eliminated all plates and cutlery, serving only in paper bags with plastic knives and forks. Their introduction of the ‘Speedee Service System’ established the principles of the modern fast-food restaurant.*  The original mascot of McDonald’s was a man with a chef’s hat on top of a hamburger shaped head whose name was ‘Speedee.’

Speedee McDonald's

Ray Kroc was a middle-aged multi-mixer milkshake machine salesman and he was intrigued by an order from the McDonald brothers who had purchased eight of his Multi-Mixers, which to him seemed rather a lot for a small restaurant.  Immediately after visiting the San Bernandino restaurant he became convinced that he could sell exceptional numbers of mixers to every new restaurant that they opened, and so he offered the McDonald brothers a deal.

Although they were truly innovative the two brothers were not particularly ambitious and were they were satisfied with their one restaurant that provided them with a comfortable life and regular income.  But Ray Kroc realised the potential and with much bigger plans proposed a chain of new McDonald’s restaurants and he tried to convince them to expand the operation but eventually became frustrated with their lack of vision and  forced them into an agreement.

Kroc prepared a business proposal but insisted that he could not show all of the details to the potential investors so the agreement was made with a handshake (as opposed to a milkshake). The brothers dithered and Kroc became annoyed that they would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit.  Kroc closed the transaction and then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn’t in writing.  The McDonald brothers were clearly poor businessmen and no match for the ruthless Kroc, they even neglected to register the name McDonalds so to force the issue Kroc opened his new McDonald’s restaurant near the brothers diner which they were forced to change to “The Big M”.

In 1961, he finally purchased the company from the brothers. The agreement was for the McDonalds to receive $2.7 million for the chain and to continue to receive an overriding royalty of 1.9% on future gross sales  and very specifically 1.9% because when negotiating the contract the McDonald brothers said that 2% sounded greedy.

McDonalds didn’t reach the United Kingdom until 1974 and now there are over a thousand of them and the Company business plan is to open thirty new restaurants every year.  I don’t remember when I first started using McDonalds, probably at about the time my children started to request it as a dining option, and now, apart from the occasional breakfast bun, I would only use it if I am absolutely desperate!

One place where Kroc failed to make an impression was at Disneyland.  In 1955 he wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”  The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

Ray Kroc with Burger

* Not sure what Maurice and Richard would think but table service was reintroduced to McDonalds restaurants in USA, Canada and UK in 2016.  It seems to work very well and cuts down on the lines.

Age of Innocence, 1955 – Disease and the Origins of Obesity

1024px-Iron_lungs

In 1955 there was a major medical breakthrough with the introduction of a vaccine to prevent the spread of an illness that caused widespread panic and fear amongst parents.  Polio!

Polio, or to be strictly correct Poliomyelitis, is all but eradicated now, there are still some cases in Africa, but was previously right up there along with smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis with the World’s most deadly contagions.

Polio is a highly infectious and unpleasant disease that affects the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis or death. It is transmitted through contaminated food, drinking water and dirty swimming pool water.   Even though the disease had been around for much of human history, major polio epidemics were unknown before the twentieth century and only began to regularly occur in Europe in the early nineteenth century and soon after became widespread in the United States as cities got bigger and a lack of hygiene and poor sanitation created serious health hazards.

By 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in these big cities during the summer months.  In the USA there was a major and devastating epidemic in 1952 and after the nuclear bomb it became the thing that most Americans feared most.  In the UK there were about four thousand recorded cases every year.  There was no known cure for the disease and it became an imperative to discover a vaccine so when this came along this was really good news and the World breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Vaccine

The man responsible was a medical researcher and virologist called Jonas Salk.  Salk was subsequently revered as though he were a Saint and, rather belatedly, on May 6, 1985, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that day to be ‘Jonas Salk Day’.

Just out of interest May 6th is now celebrated as ‘International No Diet Day’, thus encouraging another deadly health curse – obesity!

There were a number of forms of polio with varying degrees of seriousness but the one that you really didn’t want to catch was spinal polio which was a viral invasion of the motor neurons in the spinal column which rather importantly are responsible for movement of the muscles, including those of the body and the major limbs.

When spinal neurons die, degeneration takes place, leading to weakness of muscles, and with the destruction of nerve cells, they no longer receive signals from the brain or spinal cord and without nerve stimulation the muscles becoming weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and finally completely paralysed.  Progression to maximum paralysis is as quick as two to four days.

Not being a qualified doctor I have massively simplified the medical details here of course but one thing that was absolutely certain was that polio was a very nasty business indeed and parents were understandably worried sick about it because if you caught it at best you would spend the rest of your life in leg irons or at worst in an iron lung (or to give it tits proper name a negative pressure ventilator).

The vaccine was administered by an especially nasty injection which if you were unlucky left an ugly crater in the top of the arm, but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind.  Later it was administered orally with a few drops on a sugar cube but I suspect health and obesity fanatics would frown upon that now. Thankfully, polio is now practically unheard of in those countries that use the vaccine.

Polio wasn’t the only killer of course and there were also vaccines and injections for other unpleasant nasties like smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis.  I can still remember the mere mention of suspected smallpox leading to mild panic by my mother.  And then there were the common children’s diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox which could also be killers themselves but generally just made you feel rather poorly for a day or two.  To protect against them there were regular trips to the doctor’s surgery for injections against them all and there were so many pricks in your arm that by the time you were six years old your arm began to look a bit like a needle worker’s pin cushion.

So the nightmare of polio was under control but then, also in 1955, a man called Ray Kroc came along unleashed a new monster and the beginning of the western world obesity problem when he opened the ninth McDonalds franchise restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which eventually led to the McDonalds Corporation and world domination by the hamburger giant.

More about this next time…

Ray Kroc

Age of Innocence – 1954, Part Four – The Nuclear Arms Race and News Readers

Nevada Test Site

Last time I took a look at nuclear weapons testing and finished with the bikini swimsuit.  Anyway, back now to the serious stuff of destroying the World!

Nuclear testing was big business in the 1950s as the United States and the Soviet Union prepared with stubborn enthusiasm for wiping each other permanently off the face of the earth.  The fact that a major explosion even on the opposite side of the World might have serious consequences for both protagonists and pretty much everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

What also seems foolish to me is that both the US and the Soviet Union carried out nuclear testing within the boundaries of their own countries which is rather like setting the chip pan on fire in the kitchen of blocking up your own WC – rather foolish.  Compare this with the strategy of Great Britain which was much more sensible in this regard and who carried out its own modest nuclear bomb experiments on the other side of the World, in Australia, and although Australians like to call us whinging Poms they have done nothing but complain about this ever since!

Years after all this nuclear testing stuff, in 1996, I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road that was only a hundred kilometres or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site which is a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the sole purpose of testing of nuclear weapons and the amount of damage that they could do.

Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb on January 27, 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World, and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced and more secretive underground tests as well.

Nuclear Test Spectators

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost a hundred miles in either direction, including the city of Las Vegas, where the tests instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of subsequent cases of thyroid cancer.

Continuing the nuclear theme, the world’s first atomic power station was opened near Moscow in Russia and knowing now how careless the Russians were with anything nuclear this was probably something that world needed to worry about.

Just look what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor accident at a nuclear power plant resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and the only incident ever to record level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale (and on a scale of zero to seven, believe me, that’s pretty serious!) The accident resulted in a severe nuclear meltdown and a plume of highly radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area to the extent that it remains uninhabitable today and almost certainly for many more years to come as well.

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Mind you, we British could also arrange a nasty little nuclear disaster of our own and on 10th October 1957 the graphite core of a nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumberland caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. The event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until Three Mile Island in 1979 before both incidents were dwarfed by the Chernobyl incident.

Here are the results of the Cold War: The West 3 (Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Windscale) – USSR 1 (Chernobyl)  – four own goals by the way!

I leave 1954 with some thoughts about news coverage, which is what has stimulated these posts in the first place.  It is significant that the very first television news first bulletin in the UK was shown in 1954 on BBC TV, which is obvious of course because there was no ITV until 1955, and presented by Richard Baker, who was also by coincidence born on 15th June (1925).

He was required to give off screen narration while still pictures were put in front of the camera, this was because, and I really find this hard to believe, television producers were concerned that a newsreader with facial movements would distract the viewer from the story. On screen newsreaders were only introduced a year later, in 1955, and Kenneth Kendall was the first to appear on screen.  Kenneth Kendall , it has to be said, was unlikely to distract viewers from the important stories of the day but on the other hand it was probably difficult to concentrate on the weather forecast in this sort of bulletin…

MagdaPalimariuRomanianWeatherGirl

Age of Innocence – 1954, Part Three – The Nuclear Arms Race and the Bikini

Las Vegas Atomic Bomb

I confess to finding it an intriguing fact that it was only in 1954, the year that I was born, that Germany and Finland finally made peace and declared the end of the Second World War. I find that sobering, European conflict was still going on during my early lifetime! OK there were no serious hostilities or gun-fire but I still find that a chilling fact.

While some were making belated peace other countries elsewhere continued preparing for hostilities and in 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a truly massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.

The result was rather unexpected. Rather like a bunch of ten year old’s with a box of fireworks, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than any of the boffins responsible for developing it had predicted and combined with other meteorological factors prevailing at the time created widespread radioactive contamination which even today has prevented people from ever returning to the island and has cost the US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in ongoing compensation payments to the unfortunate islanders.

Sadly, it seems to me, military people anywhere don’t mind spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars/pounds/roubles/euros anywhere that suits their inherent belligerent redneck tendencies. Between 1940 and 1996 it is estimated that the United States spent a massive $5.8 trillion on its nuclear arms programme or about $21,000 per US citizen.

Figures as massive as this are impossible to imagine, it is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is one hundred and fifty million kilometres from the sun when I only drive my car about twenty thousand kilometres each year. It is as meaningless as telling me that UK national debt is rising by two billion pounds each week when I only get £130 a week state pension. It is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is five billion years old when I struggle to believe that I have reached sixty!

To try and help someone once calculated if you attempted to count $5.8 trillion at the rate of $1 a second, it would take almost twelve days (non stop) to reach $1 million, nearly thirty-two years to reach $1 billion, thirty-two thousand years to reach $1 trillion and about one hundred and eighty-five thousand years to reach $5.8 trillion.  If after all that time you had counted it correctly you would certainly be guaranteed a job as a bank clerk!

Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test

A piece of advice – never trust a scientist – especially a nuclear scientist. With a yield of fifteen Megatons Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the USA. The scientists were completely surprised because this far exceeded the calculated yield of four to six megatons,  which by any standards is a fairly serious miscalculation.

As Charlie Croker famously said in the film ‘The Italian Job’ – “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” or as Sundance Kid similarly remarked – “Do you think we used enough dynamite there Butch?”

Enough Dynamite

More big figures – to put that into some sort of perspective the bomb was the equivalent of fifteen million tonnes of TNT and was about one thousand two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This isn’t the biggest test bomb ever exploded however because that distinction belongs to the Soviet Union who in 1961 exploded a test version of the biggest bomb ever made, the Tsar nuclear bomb which was between fifty and sixty megatons, so enormous in fact that no one can be absolutely sure just how powerful it was!  Isn’t that frightening?

Castle Bravo was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the Cold War (more about that later) that was around for the next thirty years or so which wasn’t such a good thing but secondly and much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit and I’ve always been grateful for that.

The new swimsuit pushed at the boundaries of what was previously considered acceptable in respect of flesh exposure.  Devout Catholic countries like Spain banned people from wearing it in public places.  The swimsuit, that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back, was invented by a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim. It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion. Plenty of fallout and very hot!

Read here about the War of the Bikini in Benidorm Spain

Thankfully in 1996 the nuclear powers signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ and since then only North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons.  The USA remains the only country to use a nuclear device in a combat situation.

Next time – more about Nuclear Weapons Testing…

Miss Bikini 1954

Famous Actresses in Bikinis…

marilyn-monroe-Jane RussellJayne MansfieldDiana Dorsbrigitte-bardot-1953

 

Age of Innocence – 1954 Part Two, Rationing and Bananas

banana shortage

“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today
We’ve string beans, and onions
Cabashes, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned tomato
A Long Island potato But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today”

This seems almost impossible to believe now but it was only in 1954, the year that I was born, that war time rationing in Britain was officially ended.

It began in January 1940 when due to severe food shortages and heavy convoy losses in the North Atlantic, bacon, butter and sugar were rationed and this was followed soon after by meat, tea, jam, biscuits, breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, milk and canned fruit.  As the Second-World-War progressed, most kinds of food came to be rationed along with clothing and petrol.

My parents were issued with a ration card for me but never had to use it because it all stopped three weeks after I was born on 4th July. It might have gone on longer but for the work of Gwilym Lloyd George, the son of David Lloyd George, who was the Minister of Food from 1951 to 1954 and insisted that the Government prioritise the end of rationing.

The last food item to be released from the shackles of rationing was bananas, which for me is quite a significant fact.  Dad loved bananas and I could never quite understand why but I suppose he was only twenty-two in 1954 and hadn’t had the pleasure of the bendy yellow fruit for fifteen years or so.  He had been only thirteen when the war began and in fact it is entirely possible I suppose that he had never had a banana before in his life.  In war time Britain people could grow fruit and vegetables in the back garden while they were ‘digging for victory’ but there was absolutely no chance of growing tropical bananas.  Except, and this is interesting, between 1943 and 1958 bananas were grown for export in Iceland in giant greenhouses powered by geothermal power.

The return of the banana was hailed as heralding an end to austerity and to the curse of the ration book.  The Labour government even instigated a national banana day.

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Dad liked all sorts of strange banana combinations, weirdest of all being banana sandwiches on brown bread with sugar, but he was also very fond of chopped bananas with custard.  Personally I’ve never been that keen on bananas at all (I don’t like the smell or the horrid mushy texture) but this rationing fact explains a lot about his unusual dietary preferences.  Once a week we all had to have bananas for a pudding until one day when I was about fifteen I could take it no longer and I refused to eat them.  He was a good natured man of unnatural even temper and this was the only time I can remember him getting really upset with me but I stood my ground and after he had severely chastised me and refused to let me leave the table I think he ate them up for me because he liked them so much.

At about the same time dad used to turn his nose up at a chip butty and found this quite unacceptable and banned the practice at the dinner table, which for a man who would slap a banana between two slices of bread was always a mystery to me.

Interesting Banana facts:

Bananas are the most popular fruit in the UK with Britons eating an average of between 25 and 30lbs of fruit each year; more than double the amount consumed 15 years ago. Annual UK sales are at a record £750m, representing more than a quarter of all fruit sales’

There are about 120 calories in an average banana, they are an important source of potassium and are one of the healthiest fruits. Vitamins and minerals in a single banana are A and a full range of B vitamins with Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, vitamin B6, and of Folic Acid.  There is also vitamin C, with minerals Calcium, Magnesium, with trace amounts of iron and zinc.

In an average year we (in the UK) now buy 3.5 billion bananas, relegating our native apple into a poor second place.

By one measure we apparently spend more money on bananas than any other supermarket item apart from petrol and lottery tickets, and more than 95% of UK households buy them every week.

Since 1954 the British Government has had occasion to issue ration coupons one final time.  In 1973 in response to the oil crisis when OPEC proclaimed an embargo and there was a real possibility of supplies running short.  Fortunately this never happened but the tokens were issued all the same.

Petrol Coupons

Age of Innocence – 1954 Part One, Inclement Weather and Sport

I first started this blog in November 2009 and I called it ‘The Age of Innocence’ and I intended it to be a look back over the first twenty years or so of my life by examining some of the events of the years that were making the big news.

The blog was a slow starter, in the first month the statistics show six views increasing to nine in December.  On the basis of these figures it is fair to assume then that not many people have read my early posts so I have decided that over five years since first publication I will go back and review them and repost:

1954 Part 1 – Inclement Weather and Sport

Weather Forecast 

The weather in England is often, no mostly, disappointing and a source of amusement for people in other parts of the World who have the benefit of warmer and drier climates.

According to official records the year 1954 was especially poor.

The Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office was produced by the Air Ministry and printed by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.  It had been in circulation since January 1884 and a note on the front cover explained that it was a “summary of observations compiled from returns of official stations and volunteer observers”.  It wasn’t an especially exciting publication and at a cost of two shillings, which wasn’t an inconsiderable sum at the time, you would have had to be a really serious weather enthusiast to order a subscription at the newsagents.

For anyone that did buy the June edition (actually published in September), it reported that the month of June 1954 was all rather bleak and depressing, beset with frequent rain, below average temperatures for the time of year and the lowest ever recorded hours of sunshine for June since records began.

Heavy Rain

It turned out to be the worst summer of the century and the official verdict was confirmed by a weather report in the cricket journal Wisden’s Almanack in its annual review of the season including reports on the international matches.

In 1954 the Pakistan cricket team made their first ever tour of England and on Thursday 10th June were due to play their first test match in London at Lords Cricket Ground but heavy rain meant that no play was possible on the opening day.  It rained all of the next day too and the day after that and this became the first test match in England when all first three days were completely washed out.  This was unfortunate for anyone who had bought a ticket of course because unlike the US baseball rain check system if there was no play in a test match then that was just plain bad luck.

I wonder what was going through the minds of the Pakistan team as they sat in the dressing room wearing several jumpers and watching the rain pouring down when they knew that back home average June temperatures were around about 38°; they all look rather uncomfortable in this official team photograph…

Pakistan 1954 Tourists

The weather was providing all sorts of bizarre incidents and raising all sorts of questions but none more freakish than what happened on 12th June when a heavy rainstorm hit the city of Birmingham.  People fled for cover and visitors to a city park heard what sounded like the patter of unusually heavy raindrops beating against their umbrellas and then they were astonished to discover that the rain consisted of not just water but hundreds of tiny frogs!  Reports of frogs falling from the sky go back some way and some scientists account for these strange rains by explaining that frogs and fish are sometimes swept into the air by whirlwinds or tornados, transported along by the winds and then later on unceremoniously dumped from the sky.

It was around about now that I was due to make an appearance and more or less on time I was born in the afternoon of Tuesday 15th June at about the same time that the Midlands and the North of England were experiencing one of the wettest June days ever.

On an average day in the 1950s roughly about 340,000 people were born so there must be a reasonable chance that most people will share a birthday with someone famous.  I’d like to tell you that mine is the same day as someone really, really famous but I have to make do with the actor James Belushi.

Front cover of Look Magazine 15th June 1954 – Grace Kelly…

Look Magazine 15 June 1954

There was another birth, of sorts, on June 15th because this was the day that the footballing countries of Europe got together and founded EUFA, The Union of European Football Associations, as the governing body of European football.  It originally consisted of twenty-five members including three countries that no longer exist in the way that they did in 1954, The Soviet Union, East Germany and Yugoslavia.  Another little know fact is that another founder member was Saarland which was a German Rhine State that was under post war French occupation at the time.

The following day the fifth FIFA World Cup competition began in Switzerland and competitors included West Germany who by a curious twist of fate had qualified for the finals by beating Saarland!  I can’t imagine that would have been terribly difficult, rather like England playing Cornwall or USA playing Hawaii.  West Germany went on to win the World Cup by beating Hungary 3-2 in the final.

Despite the objections of France who wanted to retain the occupied territory on account of its coal and mineral wealth Saarland was reunited with West Germany in 1957 and so was no longer entitled to independent membership of EUFA.

I can’t help wondering now what my dad thought about all of this at the time.  He must have been proud to have a son but he was also mad keen on football but I’ll keep that for a later story…

Next time – wartime rationing and nuclear testing.

Ivan 1954

Scrap Book Project – Houses, Chislehurst Avenue, Leicester

Chislehurst Avenue Leicester

Around the end of 1958 the family left the semi-detached house in Ledwell Drive, Glenfield and prepared to move into a brand new house in Braunstone South near the Narborough Road in Leicester.

The house wasn’t ready until the following Spring so for a few months we lived with my grandparents in Cleveleys Avenue close by.  What I remember most about living there was getting a train set for Christmas.

Christmas morning in the front room there was a square metre of sapele board and a simple circle of track, an engine a tender and two coaches in British Rail burgundy livery.  There was a level crossing, a station and a bridge made out of an old shoe box that dad had cut out and made himself.  He was good at making things for Christmas presents and at about the same time I had a fort with some US cavalry soldiers that was made out of an old office filing box that he had constructed into a pretty good scale copy of Fort Laramie or wherever, later I had a replacement fort, this time from the toy shop but it was never as good as the cardboard box.

Early in 1959 we moved to the new house in Chislehurst Avenue.

Chislehurst Avenue, March 1959

In the early twentieth century Braunstone  remained a small settlement until 1925 when the Leicester Corporation compulsorily purchased the bulk of the Winstanley Braunstone Hall estate  in what was known as Leicester Forest.  Today the nearby service station on the M1 motorway is called Leicester Forest East Services.

Building commenced in the late 1920s and between 1936 and 1939 the estate of North Braunstone was built to accommodate families moving from slum housing within the city which were being demolished.  When the poorer families had lived in the centre of the city there had been an appropriate infrastructure to support the community but none of these facilities were provided on the new estate.  It was generally assumed that providing better housing conditions was a complete solution by itself.  Some of the poorest of families from Leicester moved into the North Braunstone Estate and the concentration of these particular low paid and needy families earned the estate the title of ‘Dodge City’.

I mention this in a snobbish sort of way because Chislehurst Avenue is in South Braunstone which is a middle class, private ownership area where even today the residents take care to cling on to a separate identity from that of the social housing area of North Braunstone.

I have always been curious about the name. I assume that it was named after the town of Chislehurst in Kent because the neighbouring streets were Brokenhurst and Ashurst (Hampshire), Fieldhust (Berkshire), Fenhurst (West Sussex) and Stonehurst (Leicestershire). Naming of new roads and streets has to be approved by the local authority and that is why they are not always very imaginative. When I worked for a Council I remember a long conversation by the Members over the proposed name of Apple Pie Court which after an hour or so of tedious debate was eventually rejected as unsuitable.

There are a number of Chislehurst Avenues in the UK and two in Australia.  The first is in Stratham, Western Australia, south of Perth and the second is over the other side of the country in the town of Figtree, south of Sydney in New South Wales.

010

We lived at Chislehurst Avenue for just over a year.  Dad built a new rockery, I made friends with John and Michael Sparks who lived opposite, had my fifth birthday and started going to school at the Ravenhurst Primary where my first teacher was Miss Bird. Dad continued to cycle fifteen miles each way to work in the town of Hinckley.

This was not sustainable of course and in the winter of 1960 it became too much for him and he had to concede that he might have to consider leaving his beloved home town of Leicester.  The only sensible thing to do was to move closer to his work so in the Spring the house was put up for sale and probably two years later than they should have done my parents prepared to move to Hinckley.

In 1960 a visit to the hairdresser was obviously regarded as an unnecessary expense and the basin cut was the fashion…

Birthday Party Celebration