On this oral history interview you can hear memories of growing up in London in during the war years. Its surprising how little the war is actually mentioned in his stories. He loved the scouts, a love which stayed with him throughout his life. His love of comics and adventure stories continued into regular visits to the library and has ended up with getting his own books published.
It’s great to hear the rules of British Bulldog.
Early days, how did you spend your free time?
Aged 7 or 8 I joined the wolf cubs at the local Methodist church and was a member until the war began or a little while later. We were evacuated for a few months and then stopped being a cub. I joined the scouts at the age of 11 at the same church until I was 17 – main leisure activity. Took up a lot of time – from 11 at secondary school called Minchinton – loads of homework restricted leisure time. Not interested in things father was interested in – football, DIY and boxing.
Did enjoy scouting.
How often did you go to meetings?
Main meeting was on Friday evenings 7.30 until 9 started with parade, a game (favourite British Bull Dog – a very fierce game – a scout would stand in middle others rushed from one end of hall to another – he would catch someone and they joined them. quite rough at times wouldn’t be allowed today – health and safety. Had to lift them up to catch them (British Bulldog). Usually had a large lad. Hopping Red Rover – everybody had to hop holding one leg – boy in middle had to touch someone to catch them. If they put their leg down they were out). Games between patrols (eight in a patrol) games with bean bags, races up and down hall. Instilled a sense of comradeship, playing the game. Sad they don’t do these things nowadays.
Discipline formal but kind. In course of scouting career particularly enjoyed the pantomimes they put on in the church hall and I played parts and really enjoyed dressing up and singing. On one occasion in 1943 all the people who had been in pantomime were taken to the London Coliseum to see ‘Meet the Navy’ put on by Canadian Navy…recently found it on the internet.
Enjoyed camping less – not the most interesting thing he did but he learned a lot about the outside life. Became patrol second, patrol leader, troop leader – but then left because he was called up.
Were you evacuated?
Was evacuated 1 Sept 1939 because family decided to go to Wales, uncle had a saloon car –5 of them and 4 of us all 9 packed into car my cousin and I sat on petrol cans in the well of the car. We were not expected, no room, boarded out for one night and drove back to Gloucestershire and called at a house where they agreed to put us up. Stayed there for three weeks and went to the village school – owners of house decided we were a bit much so we went back to London and then to Lightwater in Surrey where my uncle had leased a house. We stayed there in Autumn and winter of 1939 and went to the village school – my cousin and I had been to school in London and were streets ahead of the other children – Head teacher gave out gold stars and the head put a handicap on us to stop us having a monopoly. My father decided it was safe for us to go back home after Christmas. I went back to my original school and then to secondary school in 1941.
Cubs – go on your own?
I went with a friend from the same road as him and we remained in the Scouts right through. The Methodist church was the nearest church, my parents weren’t religious and I suspect the original contact was through the Sunday School. I went to the Sunday School and was put in a group called the Tulips. An earnest young lady who attempted to instruct us. Some of the other boys and I got fed up as we thought it was cissy to be called Tulips and wished to be called Turnips on some occasion we attacked the Primroses and that was the end of my Sunday School career.
Did you go to a Youth Club?
Later I did go to the Church Youth Club, the main aim was to meet girls. At one point I went to Church services for the same reason. Not much religion in the Youth Clubs but it provided a very useful service.
Did you have any siblings?
Yes my sister is four years younger than I am.
Did you have to look after her?
No my mother didn’t work, she was home all the time. The philosophy of the household was by modern standards very narrow. There were very few books in the house, my mother had a few recipe books and my father never read books. I loved reading from a fairly early age –mostly boys stories about the empire and wars. I would perhaps have read more widely if someone had suggested it. My father didn’t think it was a good idea. I used the library regularly. I also became a patron of the local second hand book shop. I didn’t have pocket money – my parents were not well off and didn’t see why I needed pocket money but I got tips. My mother had large family and it was normal for aunts and uncles to hand over 6d which could buy you a good second hand book. I really enjoyed Magnet, a boys comic but not in cartoons. It had stories all about Harry Warton and the occupants of Greyfriars Public School (Billy Bunter). I pleaded with my mother to have Magnet weekly but she said they couldn’t afford it. In 1940 or 1941 she said I could have it and had one issue before it folded. Volumes of old Magnets – author Frank Richardson. They described the kind of life I would loved to have been involved in. It was mainly text but with one or two drawings.
Did you ever spend a day at library reading?
No I would get out two books and then go back the next week. When I was at secondary school I used their library as well – particularly in 6th form.
Did you feel your sense of leisure stop when you went to secondary school?
Yes. At the beginning I found school a bit of a struggle. In primary school I had been top of the class and I was put in top stream of a four stream system, taking school certificate in four years rather than five. The pressure was quite considerable. I found maths difficult and even to some extent science. I had no help at school as my father had left at 13 and my mother at 14. I struggled until the end of the third year when I was in the lower half of the top stream and the school decided the lower half could take five years for the school certificate. I did very much better as I met a maths master who was tuned into the students who had more difficulty. My father suggested I should leave at 14 as I hadn’t been doing so well – he didn’t believe in education. He wanted me to leave at 16 and my mother persuaded my father to let me stay until I was 18 when I joined Marines. When I left I worked for a while but then decided I wanted to go to University and managed to get there. My father particularly hated teachers and magistrates – I became both – but my father died before I became a magistrate. My father wanted me to leave school but not because the family needed the money.
Did you listen to radio?
Yes. It was sometimes switched on in the day as my mother enjoyed listening to Henry Hall the band leader.
My father listened to news and the football results (he did the pools). I was quite interested in the news.
Did you get involved in any musical activity?
My mother’s brothers were quite musical and when went to parties at my grandparents house various people played the piano the banjo and guitar, and singing around the piano. I always wanted to play a banjo ukulele and I was given one by my uncle and I started to learn by myself and for a brief period had lessons with an old man who lived a bus ride away. Later my uncle gave me his guitar as he had acquired the guitar which belonged to the guitarist of the Café Royal in London – so he passed his guitar on to me. I did learn to play that and sang the latest songs. My mother paid for the ukulele lessons. My father wasn’t called up because he worked in an aircraft factory making the tails for the Halifax bombers – his income was higher than before the war.
Did you play games at school break times or after school?
I can’t remember any games. I played marbles in the street – before secondary school. You threw a marble and the next person had to try to hit it. If he did then he claimed your marble. I played indoors by taking an old shoe box and make arches in it of different sizes. One person sat behind the shoe box and act as banker. You rolled a marble if it went in an arch marked 3 then the ‘banker’ had to give 3 marbles. If you missed and the marble didn’t go through an arch then the banker took the marble.
I had a model ship, actually it was an old wooden motor boat model with a flat bottom. It was one of my favourite toys but I didn’t have many toys (1930’s). The ship had a hold (probably where the motor had been) and I could put my soldiers in the hold and push it along.
An uncle bought me a model railway set with a circle of track and a black American engine. It was very popular. Not of Hornby standard – I took up model railways at the age of 60. I had a room for it and it lasted for 10 years before we needed the room for other purposes. I had 108 locomotives – enormous quantities of rolling stock, rail, buildings etc a magnificent layout. I bought a lot second hand as you don’t need to buy new you get better value second hand. I have a video of my model railway which is now a source of interest to my grandchildren.
Did you belong to a youth movement?
I was really pre-teddy boys (1946-47). No one I knew was involved. By 1948 I was in uniform. There were no teenagers in my day, you were either a child at school or an adult at work. The term teenager was not recognised. You were responsible at 14 because you may well be earning your living. By 1950’s I was working in paint factory, then I went to college and graduated in 1954 and went straight into working for Mond Nicol company in West End London for a couple of years. I was bored stiff as I had three phones, two secretaries and had nothing to do. I tried to do something more adventurous and emulate my cousin who had gone into the soap business – they agreed to take me but I had to go on the road to sell soap first and I was a complete disaster. The job lasted four to five months as I had thee wrong attitude it became clear to me that I was not cut out for that. My fiancé was already teaching in Cambridge – I wanted to make educational films on history so I phoned the BBC. They agreed but asked how much teaching experience I had. As I had none they suggested I contact them again once I’d got some experience. I read in a local paper that the history teacher in the grammar school in East Barnet had been killed in an accident and so I applied. I got the job and worked there for nine years which were possibly the happiest years of my life. I later got a teaching qualification and a Masters.
Was there a change in your Free Time from being a child to being an adult?
My leisure time in the Marines revolved around the Naafi club and getting on with the Wrens. There were dances and plays (amateur dramatics in the barracks). After I came out of the Marines joined the Old Boys Dramatic Society.
When I was 15 – 17 I belonged to a youth club which had dancing, party games and occasional discussions. It was important to go to socials to meet girls. I wasn’t very attractive to girls as I was not good at games. I developed acne badly so I needed to take the best of what was available.