In the UK June 1st (for this year anyway because it is always on a Friday) is celebrated as National Fish and Chips Day.
Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.
Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar.
Four years earlier the Great Smog of 1952 darkened the streets of London and killed approximately four thousand people in the short time of four days and a further eight thousand died from its effects in the following weeks and months. In 1956 the Clean Air Act introduced smokeless zones in the capital.
Consequently, reduced sulphur dioxide levels made the intense and persistent London smog a thing of the past. It was after this the great clean-up of London began and buildings recovered their original stone façades which, during two centuries, had gradually blackened.
By all accounts the summer of 1956 was truly abysmal: rain, hail, lightning, floods, gales and miserable cold. It was the wettest July in London since records began, and August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain, as barrages of depressions swept the country. But there was a silver lining to this cloud and September was such an improvement it was warmer than August, a very rare occurrence, and the rest of autumn turned into a glorious Indian summer.
In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.
What was needed was something to cheer everyone up. At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.
The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.
It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.
The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but, rather like trying to get into the Common Market, had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. It hasn’t made the same mistake again and the UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.
There have been sixty-two contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four. Twenty-five different countries have won the contest. The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven. Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest. The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.
Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!
For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation. In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result.
I chanced upon this fine old door on a short bike ride yesterday…
National Beer Day is celebrated in the United States every year on 7th April, marking the day that the Cullen–Harrison Act which repealed prohibition became law. After being signed off by President Franklin D. Roosevelt it is alleged that he said “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”
Everyone seemed to agree with him because it is said that on the day that the Act was passed into law people across the country consumed one and a half million barrels of beer to celebrate. This raises a question mark for me – during prohibition who brewed one and a half million barrels of beer and why?
If 1967 had been a quiet year, much without incident, 1968 turned out to be an especially violent year and the news was dominated by assassinations and shootings. I turned fourteen years old in June and I was becoming more aware of news events around the World.
In the far-east there was a war that was going from bad to worse for the United States as they tried to support South Vietnam and prevent the spread of communism from the north, but the war was not popular with many people there and in February there was a watershed event that became a public relations disaster for the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency.
Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the Viet Cong who on 1st February was shot dead in Saigon during a major Viet Cong offensive. The execution was captured on film by a photojournalist called Eddie Adams and the momentous image became a symbol of the brutality of war.
During the fighting Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the Chief of National Police of the Republic of Vietnam. Using his handgun, General Loan summarily executed Lém in front of Adams and an NBC television cameraman. The photograph and the footage were broadcast worldwide, everyone who saw it witnessed Lém’s brains being blown from his skull and decorating the pavement and it galvanized the anti-war movement in the United States.
Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph. What he captures there in the faces is exceptional, the matter of fact look expression of the executioner, the exhiliration and encouragement from the soldier in the left of picture and the look of expectation and certain impending death in the face of the victim.
In April there was another high profile shooting. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement. In 1964 he became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and by opposing the Vietnam War.
He was assassinated on April 4th 1968 in Memphis Tennessee by James Earl Ray.
In late March King went to Memphis in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for higher wages and better treatment. King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel and just after six o’clock he was standing on the balcony of his room when a single shot rang out from a sniper’s rifle. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then travelled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. He was pronounced dead just over an hour later.
The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than one hundred cities. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was on his way to Indianapolis for a campaign rally when he was informed of King’s death. He gave a short speech to the gathering of supporters informing them of the tragedy and asking them to continue King’s idea of non-violence. President Johnson declared April 7th a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader
Just four days later he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expanded on previous acts by prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion or national origin.
And gun violence wasn’t restricted to war and politics because in early June it spilled over into the world of art when a radical American feminist, Valerie Jean Solanas, attempted to murder the artist Andy Warhol. When he arrived at his studio called ‘the Factory’ with a couple of friends, she was waiting for him and produced a handgun and shot three times, hitting him once. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya and also tried to shoot Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes, but her gun jammed as the elevator arrived and she escaped. Warhol was seriously wounded but survived the assassination attempt and Solanas was arrested the following day.
All of these events were shocking enough but on June 5th they were eclipsed by the biggest shooting of the year. Robert Francis Kennedy, affectionately known as Bobby, was a prominent and popular politician, a Democratic Senator from New York and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism, he was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisers during his presidency when from 1961 to 1964 he was the United States Attorney General.
Following his brother John’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy continued to serve as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson for nine months but in September 1964 he resigned to seek the U.S. Senate seat for New York which he won in November and within a few years he publicly split with Johnson over the issue of the Vietnam War.
In March 1968 Kennedy began a campaign for the presidency and was a front running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the California presidential primary he defeated Eugene McCarthy, a fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight in the ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was assassinated.
Leaving the ballroom, he went through the hotel kitchen after being told it was a shortcut, despite being advised to avoid the kitchen by his FBI bodyguard. In a crowded passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a twenty-four year-old Christian Palestinian-American (who felt betrayed by Kennedy’s support for Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War), opened fire and shot Kennedy three times. Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to Los Angeles’s Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning. He was forty-three years old and America was poorer for his passing.
Later in the year the Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected thirty-seventh President of the United States.
The biggest sporting story of 1966 was that the England football team won the World Cup when they beat West Germany 4-2 and Geoff Hurst, despite the near fifty year controversy over whether the ball crossed the line or not, famously scored the only world cup final hat trick ever. The whole country went football mad that year and everyone knows all about the marvellous victory.
But Sir Alf Ramsay’s England team were not the only national footballing heroes of 1966. There was also Pickles the dog, without whom there may not have been a trophy for Bobby Moore and his team mates to lift on that glorious day in July.
The solid gold Jules Rimet trophy was stolen while on public display at an exhibition in London and this led to a nationwide search and the Football Association Chairman, Joe Mears, receiving threatening demands for money to ensure its safe return. Brazil, the then holders of the trophy were understandably outraged and accused the English FA of total incompetence. No change there then and they were almost certainly right of course but by a delicious twist of fate the trophy was stolen again in 1983, this time in Rio de Janeiro and this time it was never ever recovered. It is believed that it was melted down for the precious metal and it will almost certainly never be seen again.
Back to 1966 and this is the point where the story becomes unbelievably weird or perhaps just plain unbelievable. One evening a week after the theft, a man called David Corbett was out walking his mongrel dog Pickles, in south-east London, when the dog’s attention was caught by a package wrapped in newspaper lying under a bush in somebody’s front garden.
It was the Football World Cup. I’ll say that again. It was the Football World Cup! No one has ever satisfactorily explained what it was doing under a bush wrapped in a copy of the Daily Mirror but David Corbett received a reward of £5,000, which was a huge sum, the equivilent of over £250,000 today and Pickles became an overnight national hero. I am surprised that he wasn’t in the BBC top one hundred greatest Britons or a finalist in the Sport’s Personality of the Year.
But some people said that the trophy was cursed and perhaps they were right because within only weeks of the cup’s recovery and in a remarkable instance of bad luck, Pickles choked to death when he caught his lead in the bough of a fallen tree while chasing a cat.
Apart from the result there were some other things about the World Cup that are also interesting. The official mascot for example was a Lion called World Cup Willy who wore a Union Flag shirt of red, white and blue, which was strange because this was England that were playing and not the United Kingdom, but as none of the other home nations were in the finals I suppose England generously believed that they were representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.
Embarrassingly England’s first defeat after the World Cup was against Scotland at Wembley in 1967 and the Scottish team that included the footballing legends, Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner promptly declared themselves the new World Champions. Sadly for them it didn’t work like that and lets face it they never will be.
World Cup Willy had a World Cup song that was not unsurprisingly called World Cup Willy that made number one in the hit parade and was sung by Lonnie Donegan. He was a guitar and banjo player who also played the washboard and the tea-chest bass and who had a lot of chart success in the 1950s and early 1960s. Anecdotally it was Lonnie who inspired John Lennon to learn guitar and form his first group, The Quarrymen. What is strange about Lonnie singing the English World Cup song however is that although he was brought up in East Ham he was in fact born in Scotland. I wonder where his loyalties were when Scotland beat England in 1967? Apart from ‘World Cup Willy’, Lonnie is probably best remembered for another number one hit called ‘My old man’s a dustman’.
At the end of the world cup final the words of the commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, became part of broadcasting history when as the match was coming to the end in injury time a small pitch invasion took place just as Geoff Hurst scored to put England 4-2 ahead and Wolstenholme said ‘Some people are on the pitch … they think it’s all over … it is now!’ and these have become arguably the most famous words in English football, and a well known phrase that has passed into modern English usage.