Category Archives: World Heritage

Age of Innocence – 1968, Shootings and Assassinations

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.

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Age of Innocence – 1966, Pickles the Dog and the Football World Cup

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.

a-life-in-a-year-3rd-january-the-curse-of-tutankhamun-and-pickles-the-dog

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.

Age of Innocence – 1965, Death of the Greatest Briton, Winston Churchill

The Greatest Briton…

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.

The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who gave Churchill a good run for his money and received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery, attend gala performances and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.

As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

Howls of protest from Princess Diana fans!

Other Greatest Britons…

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.

Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci.  Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Napoleon perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur. My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas!  In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.

A State Funeral in Great Britain…

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.

A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.  Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.

So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

Age of Innocence – 1964, The Warren Commission, the Ku Klux Klan and BBC2

The Warren Commission…

In 1964 the United States passed its official verdict on the Kennedy assassination when ‘The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy’, known unofficially as ‘The Warren Commission’, produced an eight hundred and eighty-eight page report that concluded that the gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of John F Kennedy.

The Commission’s findings have since proven forever controversial, and have consistently been both challenged and continuously reaffirmed.  Debate and speculation however refuses to go away.

Presidential Assassinations…

Kennedy wasn’t the only American President to be assassinated and before him Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1901) died at the hands of assassins, while many other presidents have survived attempts on their life.

But it is not only being President of the United States that is a high risk job because this is an occupational hazard for other high profile people.  In Russia for example, four emperors were assassinated within less than two hundred years of each other, Ivan VI, Peter III, Paul I, and Alexander II.  In Europe the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Serb nationalist insurgents started World War I and soon after achieving independence from British occupation, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the freedom struggle was gunned down.  In Britain the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot dead by a madman in 1812 but happily remains the only British Prime Minister to suffer this fate.

1964 was a busy year in all respects.  In politics there were a lot of changes around the world; in the USSR Khrushchev was deposed and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, Lyndon B Johnson became the elected President of the United States with the fourth highest ever presidential victory and in Britain the Labour Party won the general election and returned to power after thirteen years of Conservative rule.  The new Prime Minister was Harold Wilson who was one of the most prominent modern British politicians.  He succeeded as Prime Minister after more General Elections than any other twentieth century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with majorities of four in 1964, ninety-eight in 1966, five in October 1974, and with enough seats to form a minority government in February 1974.

In the world of entertainment Radio Caroline became the first pirate radio station which played continuous popular music and directly challenged the BBC light programme for radio supremacy, the Rolling Stones released their first album and BBC2 was introduced.

These exciting developments meant that we needed new entertainment equipment around the house and it was at about this time that we had our first record player to replace a creaky old radiogram that was difficult to tune in and only played 78 rpm records.

Now for the first time we could play singles and long players and the first two records that were bought to accompany the new record player were a Jim Reeves single and a Black and White Minstrels extended play with four medleys on it.  Later that year Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash so we never added to that collection and thankfully I don’t think we bought any more Black and White Minstrels records either.

Civil Rights and the Ku-Klux-Klan…

I used to hate the Black and White Minstrel show which was generally shown on television at Saturday teatime and after the sitcom ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ was one of the most politically incorrect programmes imaginable with white men ‘blacking-up’ as negroes and singing songs from deep south Dixie.  And this was at a time when the Civil Rights movement in the United States was moving up a gear or two and demands for social justice were leading to violence and confrontation.

During this time there was one of the last great efforts by white supremacists to frustrate the introduction of equalities.  The Ku Klux Klan was a bunch of racist bigots that dressed in white cloaks and pointy hats and advocated white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, racism, homophobia, anti-communism and nativism.  These were a bunch of genuinely nasty people who you really didn’t want to find knocking on your door in the middle of the night.  The Klan often used terrorism, violence and acts of intimidation, such as cross burning and lynching to oppress African Americans and just about every other social or ethnic group that they couldn’t get on with.

BBC2 was the third British television channel and unlike the other channels available at that time was broadcast only on the 625 line Ultra High Frequency system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line Very High Frequency sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems and anyone who wanted to receive the new channel was obliged to go to the expense of upgrading their television sets.

This sort of thing still goes on today.  A few years ago I was looking for a new computer and was advised that I would have to buy a PC with Windows Vista which has replaced XP.  This sounded all well and good until I was told that I would have to replace most of my software as well because it would be incompatible with the new operating system.  What a con!

On the subject of computers the computer language BASIC was first introduced in 1964, which was a real breakthrough and led to the greater accessibility and later the introduction of home computers.

Age of Innocence – 1961, The Berlin Wall and Emma Peel

Through 1961 the Cold War continued to worsen with the USSR exploding some very large and nasty bombs during testing and then commencing the building of the Berlin Wall to separate East from West Berlin.

The Wall was over a hundred and fifty five kilometers long and in June 1962 work started on a second parallel fence up to ninety meters further into East German territory, with houses in between the fences torn down and people displaced and forcibly relocated.  A no man’s land was created between the two barriers, which became widely known as the ‘death strip’.

It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, offered no cover and was booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.  Between 1961 and 1989 over five thousand people escaped from East Germany over or under the wall and according to official sources one hundred and twenty five were killed trying to do so although the actual figure may be much higher but we will never know.

A number of walls were built over the years, each becoming more escape proof and sophisticated than the last.  The fourth and final wall was completed in 1980 and was constructed from forty-five thousand separate sections of reinforced concrete, each three and a half meters high and over a metre wide. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale.  It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over one hundred and sixteen watchtowers, and twenty bunkers.  These are the lengths some people will go to simply to subjugate others.

By the late 1980s however the Iron Curtain across Europe was being thrown open and border restrictions between east and west were rapidly disappearing.  Thousands of East Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia anyway and the wall became obsolete.  Finally in 1989 East Germany gave permission for people to leave into West Berlin and the wall was quickly demolished by ecstatic Berliners and normality restored to a great European city.

Also in 1961, to make matters worse, the new American President, Kennedy, financed an anti-Castro Cuban invasion at the Bay of Pigs which was an unmitigated fiasco ending in a humiliating climb-down and withdrawal by the Americans to avert the threat of another major world conflict.

1961 was not a good year for the Americans at all because also this year the Soviet Union beat the United States in the race to get the first man into space when in April Yuri Gagarin was fired beyond the atmosphere and orbited the Earth for a hundred and eight minutes travelling at more than twenty seven thousand kilometres an hour before landing safely back on earth.

It was a blow to the Americans who had hoped to be the first to launch a man into space and they could only follow a month later in May when astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to do so.  Later in the same year the disgruntled United States announced the beginning of the Apollo Space Programme with the objective of a manned lunar landing.  Some say that this was achieved in 1969 when two men landed on the moon but there is speculation by many that this was an elaborate con filmed entirely in an empty aircraft hanger in Nevada simply to achieve the Kennedy boast that man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

My favourite story about the space race is that because a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity, NASA spent millions of dollars developing the zero-g Space Pen, while the pragmatic Russians came up with the alternative of using a simple pencil.  It’s a good story but sadly there is no truth in it at all.  The pen was actually developed by a man called Paul Fisher and he did not receive any government funding at all for its development.  Fisher invested millions of his own money and invented it independently, and then asked NASA to try it.  They liked it and bought four hundred at $2.95 each!  After the introduction of the Space Pen, both the American and Soviet space agencies adopted it.   An amusing footnote to the story is that apparently it turns out that a standard biro will work in space after all.

There were two changes to British currency in 1961 when the old black and white £5 note was discontinued because it was too easy to forge and the farthing ceased to become legal tender.  The farthing was one quarter of the old pre-decimal penny and due to inflation had simply outlived its usefulness and minting ceased as early as 1956 even though the farthing’s buying power then would be almost two pence in today’s values.  It is also interesting that but for an infinitesimal difference, the current penny coin, which was introduced when decimalisation of British coinage took effect in 1971, is the same size as the last minted farthings.  The farthing ceased to be legal tender after 31st December 1960 and the fact that the farthing had recently ceased to be legal tender is referred to in the first episode of Z Cars, which was broadcast in January 1962.

The most important television event of the year in the UK just has to be the very first episode of Coronation Street.  The show had been tried out on regional television in 1960 to see what the reaction would be and in 1961 the show went nationwide for the first time.  It went out twice a week, with Friday’s episode being shown live and the following Monday’s edition shot straight afterwards.  Despite some scepticism by the Television bigwigs the nation took Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow and Elsie Tanner to their hearts, and tuned in their thousands.  By the end of the year it was the highest rated show in the country and is now the longest running soap opera in the world.

In the US Dr. Kildare was a medical drama television series starring Richard Chamberlain which ran from 1961 to 1966, with a total of one hundred and ninety episodes.   This sounds like a lot but is easily eclipsed by the British hospital drama Casualty which has been running since 1986 and has had over eight hundred episodes.

These might have been important TV shows but the most significant event for me was that 1961 saw the beginning of The Avengers when Patrick McNee strode onto the small screen as John Steed complete with bowler hat and umbrella and every inch the English pre-Bond secret agent gentleman.  In the early days Cathy Gale who was played by Honor Blackman in a sexy black leather cat suit assisted him but she left the show and went on to be Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and that introduced the delectable Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg.

Emma Peel was my first fantasy pin-up and I used to scour the television magazines and newspapers for pictures of her that I cut out assembled into a scrap book of cuttings that I carried with me at all times.  Once (about 1966, I guess) some school pals happened to mention this to the English teacher, Mr Howe, who demanded sight of the book and immediately confiscated it for a couple of days.  I thought that this was some sort of punishment but I have subsequently reached the conclusion that he must surely have shared my fantasy and probably spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with the book.

In sport there was bad news for dad, when Leicester City reached the FA cup final for the second time and were beaten 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspurs who did the league and cup double that year.  Leicester reached the cup final again in 1963 and lost to Manchester United and again in 1969 and lost to Manchester City.  They had been there before in 1949 and lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and this means that they have the unenviable record of being the only team to reach four FA cup finals and lose them all.

Age of Innocence, 1956 – The Lancaster Bomber and Airfix Model Planes

spitfire airfix model

Following Britain’s world humiliation over the Suez crisis it was significant that also in 1956 the Royal Air Force decommissioned the Second-World-War bomber, the iconic Avro Lancaster.

Along with the spitfire this was the most successful British wartime plane and I have my own fond memories of them both because I can remember struggling to assemble an Airfix plastic model of the famous old aircraft.

Although the Spitfire is probably the most famous and the most recognisable of all the British planes used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War the Hurricane was in fact the principal fighter in the Battle of Britain and not the Spitfire as most people might think.

In 1940 there were thirty-two squadrons of Hurricanes and only nineteen squadrons of Spitfires.  They looked similar but there were differences between them and they complimented each other and worked closely together to shoot down enemy aircraft and rule the skies.   The swifter Spitfires were best for engaging the Luftwaffe’s fighter planes, like the Messerschmitt, whilst the Hurricanes took on the fleets of bombers like the Junkers and Heinkels.

I can tell the difference between them quite easily because when I was a boy I used to like making model aircraft from Airfix self-assembly kits.  The Spitfire was much better looking with sleek elliptical wings, a slim body and a long raking nose.  The Hurricane was chunkier with a higher cockpit and stumpy little wings.  My first Airfix kit was the Hawker Hurricane and I have to say that for no other reason than this after that it was always my favourite of the two.

I used to buy my Airfix kits from a shop in Rugby called Moore’s Handicrafts which was a DIY and hardware shop but I wasn’t especially interested in the tools and the key cutting service because I liked the train sets and the Scalextric and the Airfix Models but also the little packs of balsa wood that I would buy for 6d or 1/s with real genuine constructional optimism and then take it home and inevitably make a modelling disaster!

Moores Handicrafts Shop

In the beginning Airfix was sold in F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. for two shillings (that’s 10p today) and the first in the range, in 1952, was a very small scale model of Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hind.  It was so successful that Woolworths than began to ask for additions to the range and soon Airfix began to produce more polybagged model kits.   The famous duck-egg blue Spitfire model appeared in April 1953.

An Airfix kit was notoriously difficult to assemble and the only absolute certainty was that once it was finished it definitely wouldn’t look anything like the picture on the box.

Getting the fuselage and the wings snapped together was usually a fairly straightforward procedure but things quickly became increasingly complicated after that, with fiddly little bits and pieces that required huge dexterity, great precision and unnatural amounts of patience to position into exactly the right place.

I was often a bit over eager at this stage and would prematurely glue the obvious parts together without reading the instructions properly and then realise that some of the fiddly bits needed to be planned for and carried out before the larger parts were put together.  Two good examples of this were the propeller on the Spitfire and the tail gunner’s position on the back of the Lancaster bomber which would only turn or swivel as intended if placed in position before permanently attaching the fuselage section together.

What made things especially difficult was the Humbrol plastic cement glue with its curious smell and a nasty habit of exuding the tube nozzle in far greater quantities of stringy ooze than you could ever possibly need for such a delicate operation would end up in sticky white flakes on the end of your fingers or big dollops on the dining room table that would strip the varnish off and end up in a good telling off.

I always found the gluing together part of the operation especially tricky when finally putting the cock-pit window into position at the end and my model was always left with smears on the plexi-glass that if this was a real plane would have made it virtually impossible for the pilot to see where he was flying or to shoot down any enemy aircraft.  And thinking about the pilot, one of the most irritating things was to discover that I had got the cockpit in place and the whole thing finished before I had placed the pilot into his seat and there he was rattling around in the bottom of the box along with all of the bits of discarded plastic and the double sided page of incomprehensible assembly instructions.

After the gluing together stage came the painting and this was an equally messy affair with paint dribbling down the fuselage, bits of wool and hair getting stuck on the model and fingerprints in various places where I had tried in vain to rectify the damage.  Most of this was a consequence of the fact that I was naturally impatient.  Paint came in little tins and it was sensible to let one colour dry before applying the second but I rarely had enough time for that which mostly led to disastrous results.

Finally there was the delicate process of applying the decals which had to be separated from the backing paper by soaking in water and then requiring a most delicate touch to slide them carefully into position on the fuselage and the wings.  Sometimes if I was lucky they could be used to cover up the dodgy paintwork but mostly they would end up on first contact in the wrong place and crease and tear as I tried to correct the error.

I finished the Hurricane and the Lancaster to some sort of messy sub-standard but I can recall making such a catastrophe of a bright red Westland Lysander that as soon as it was completed I was so ashamed of it that I immediately consigned it to the waste bin.

Airfix was also popular in the United States, France and Germany, but here the swastika transfers on Heinkels and Messerschmitts were banned.

Airfix model aircraft were an important part of my childhood in the days before computer games and a really significant thing about Airfix was that it taught important life skills like reading assembly instructions that were as deeply impenetrable as the Amazon rainforest and which were useful later in life for dealing with flat-pack furniture assembly.

Scrap Book Project – The Eurovision Song Contest

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

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 had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. 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 fifty-five 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 preditable low scoring result.

Austria