The rivalry between local leek growers was so intense that some went so far as to vandalise their rivals' entries. This was usually done a day or two before the leeks were due to be dug up for showing. The unsuspecting leek grower might arrive at his allotment one day to find a trespasser had been there before him and slashed his leeks, or poured acid on them. To protect their leeks in those final crucial days, some growers even camped out at their allotment, as Josh does in the story. His leeks, however, are slashed at the show venue itself. The story is based on a real-life incident which is recounted below in an article from a local newspaper of the time.
From the Ashington and District Advertiser Friday 30 September 1960
(reproduced by permission)
Prize leek slashed in local show
Two ‘incidents’ marred Ashington’s otherwise very smoothly run week-end leek shows when ten were held in Ashington and others at Newbiggin and Lynemouth. Mr. Dick Freeman, of 5, Castle Terrace, Ashington, found that one of his winning leeks at the Linton and Woodhorn show had been slashed while on exhibition. The leek, adjudged the best in the show, was slit in several places with a sharp instrument, the cuts being several inches long. It is thought that a razor blade was used. Several other leeks in the show also received small cuts.
Mr. Freeman, with his brother Harry, have been doing well in recent shows, this week-end they were first and second at the Linton and Woodhorn, and gained a first at the Northern Club next door. As his brother Harry carried away the leeks on Monday morning he said: “It has just been spite on someone’s part. The judge said the leek could not have burst, and was good for at least another month. Whoever did it caused minor damage to others to make it look good, but it was my brother’s leeks they made sure of.”
At Lynemouth, 83 years old Bill Woolage, of 22 Boland Road, entered 18 leeks on Friday evening in the Inn Show, and on Saturday morning nine of them were missing from his garden. He still managed to win third place and a handsome wall stand went with it.
A father and son team won first and second at Hirst East End Club, and incidentally a number of prizes this year showed distinct imagination. There were bathroom weighing machines, hair dryers, carpet cleaning appliances to shampoo your rugs, sets of travelling suitcases, and a coffee table complete with cocktail sets. One show gave a pair of sheets, pillowcases and a wheelbarrow for a prize in the eighties.
Over £3,000 worth of goods were on display at Ashington for the biggest week-end of the leek show season. At the White House Club three colliery managers were among the first twelve prizewinners.
They were Mr. T. L. Smith, manager of Woodhorn Colliery (5th), Mr. J. Dobson, manager of the Duke Pit, and Mr. W. Riches, Ashington Collieries Group manager.
The bands were marching bands whose members were mainly pre-teen girls, though the majorettes leading the bands with their twirling batons were always older girls, and the few boys who turned up preferred the snare drums as their instrument to the raucous kazoos. The bands in Ashington included the Melody Makers, the Gay Geordies (sic, gay still meant only happy in those more innocent times), and the Telstars, after the hit record by the Spotniks. At their height, these bands had up to one hundred members, practising three times a week, with some festival or competition to look forward to most weekends. Each band had an average of three double decker buses taking players and supporters to these events.
With a repertoire of jazz standards such as When the Saints go Marching in, these junior bands were loosely in the tradition of the marching colliery brass bands who turned out in force at gala days and miners' picnics.
You can see a preview of a 1960 film of the Ashington Melody Makers (with soundtrack) at the British Pathe site.
Free coal for miners was a scheme that had its roots in deals struck by unions in the 1950s with the then nationalised industry, to grant their members an allowance of coal as part of their contract of employment. The average delivery to a miner's home was 4.14 tonnes a year, usually delivered fortnightly. Even today retired ex-miners who still burn solid fuel receive an allowance, though since the industry was privatised it is the government's responsibility. The scheme has come under criticism from environmentalists. When the vast majority of homes in Ashington burned coal fires there was certainly a pall of smoke above the town, and flecks of coal and ash would often spoil the clean washing hanging on the line.
Depending on the whereabouts of the coal-house, the coal would either be delivered in bags and tipped directly into the coal house (with much spillage outside it) or dumped into the streets from the wagons. In the story Hughie makes pin money by shovelling coal from the back streets through a square hatch directly into the coal houses that were at the end of most people's back yards. Some homes, however, had their coal houses inside the house next to the kitchen or scullery, and the coal had to be bagged or barrowed in from the street.
Freak shows and side shows had been part of fairground attractions since Victorian times. Most popular were the oddities such as bearded ladies, fat ladies, midgets, giants and conjoined twins, usually called Siamese twins in tribute to Chang and Eng, the original pair of exhibits born in Siam in 1811. Some freak shows were cons; Hairy Mary and her Test Tube Baby was actually a tiny monkey chained to a table on which sat a glass bottle with a plastic doll in it. The freak show pictured was touring in the 1950s as Tianga Jungle Girl Show, a seductive combination of semi-naked beauty and exotic animals (actually a girl in a glass compartment with a comatose python).
These images come from the National Fairground Archive, which has also published a book by Vanessa Toulmin with a similar title to this story, A Fair Fight.
Freddie Mills (1919-1965) was an English boxer who was world light heavyweight boxing champion from 1949-1950. He remained in the public eye long after retirement, having walk-on parts in various films and even became presenter of the BBC pop show Six-Five Special. With his nightclub in Soho, he flirted with the criminal fraternity; the Kray Twins were regular visitors to the club. On 24 July 1965 he was found with a bullet in his head in his car at the back of his nightclub. He died later in Middlesex Hospital.
In this historic video, Mills is seen making his last defence of his world title at Earls Court on 24 January 1950 against American Joey Maxim. Despite Mills dominating the fight in the early stages, Maxim came more and more into it. In the tenth, he caught Mills with a flurry of punches to the head and knocked him out. It was Mills' last fight.
Randolph (Randy) Turpin (1928-1966) was an English boxer generally considered to be Europe's best middleweight of the 1940s and 1950s. He briefly became world champion in 1951 by beating the American Sugar Ray Robinson, but lost it again on the return fight in the USA. His career went into decline, despite a few false dawns. The nadir was an unsuccessful change of direction to become a professional wrestler, where his lack of showmanship let him down. It is likely that his loss of reputation and business failure led to depression. Soon after being declared bankrupt, Turpin committed suicide by shooting himself in 1966. It is reported that, on the same day, he tried to kill his daughter.
Here is the footage of Turpin's famous defeat of world champion Robinson.
And here, both Turpin and Robinson are interviewed after Robinson turned the tables and recaptured his world title.
The run-of-the mill professional at a fairground boxing booth may have been rough and ready (especially rough) but the booths have also acted as a cradle for some great British boxing hopes, who fought in national championships. Such fighters as Jem Mace, Kid Furness, Jimmy Wilde and Tommy Farr all fought, exhibited on or ran boxing shows. Even Muhammad Ali in 1977 displayed his skills for charity in front of Ron Taylor's Boxing Emporium. In their heyday there would be three or four main booths in each region travelling the fairground circuit. In Lancashire, the Hughes family, Len Johnson, and Harry Kid Furness became renowned for the quality of their fighters and champions who had started their career on them. In the West Country Jack and Alice Gratton travelled Gratton's boxing show; their son "One Round Gratton" was so-called because he always knocked out his opponents in the first round. Taylor's Boxing Emporium travelled Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom for well over a century, while the Hickman family were dominant in the Midlands.
Arthur Askey (1900-1982) was a diminutive, dapper Liverpool comic, schooled in music hall, who became a radio, TV and British film star. He became famous in the 1930s with a radio show Bandwagon with Richard Murdoch. The show was successfully revived in 1957. During the 1950s and 1960s he also appeared in several sitcoms including Love and Kisses, Arthur's Treasured Volumes and The Arthur Askey Show. He was known as 'Big-Hearted Arthur' and had several catchphrases including "Hello, playmates," "I thank you" (pronounced "Ay-Thang-Yaw"), and "Before your very eyes".
Listen to Arthur singing the novelty number that helped make him famous, The Bee Song.
Here's a short clip from Saps at Sea featuring Ben Turpin's last-ever appearance, as the plumber.
A wedding scramble is a tradition, especially practised in the North of England and Scotland. It usually takes place as the bride leaves her home for the church. The father of the bride throws out a handful of coins (gathered for the purpose beforehand) from the window of the car to the children waiting in the street. The wedding scramble is one of the many good luck traditions of a wedding, alongside the lucky horseshoe and the bridal tradition of wearing 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.'
Here is a real-life example of a wedding scramble from the 1960s.
The Waltzer has always been among the favourite fairground rides. Here is some footage of a traditional Waltzer, of the type used around the time of the story, still in action in Tyldesley in 2010.
Enjoy Charlie Brown by the Coasters on Spotify.
Tonight was a BBC news magazine progamme, launched in February 1957, that quickly established itself as a nightly regular after the news and before the main entertainment programmes of the evening. The programme, presented by Cliff Michelmore, served up a mix of topical issues and current affairs, with some light-hearted items including a regular topical calypso by the Guyanese singer Cy Grant, the first black person to appear regularly on British television, and Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor, a Scottish folk duo.Michelmore was frequently interrupted during the live programme by a telephone on his desk warning him of technical problems such as an item he was about to introduce being unavailable, but he took it all in his stride, helping to establish the relaxed and informal atmosphere that was the hallmark of the programme. It was this that made it so popular in the generally stiff atmosphere of BBC television at that time. Michelmore typically signed off the programme each evening with the words, "That's all for tonight. The next Tonight will be tomorrow night. Until then, good night."
Here's a typical edition from 1959, including a report from Fyfe Robertson, the principal Tonight reporter mentioned in this story.
In the unsophisticated broadcasting years of the 1950s, when many programmes were broadcast live, timings were not always accurate. The BBC filled in with announcements or with short pre-recorded pieces of film known collectively as The Interlude. Typical interludes included: The potter's wheel, The spinning wheel, The white kitten, angel fish, horses ploughing a field, and a speeded-up train journey, London to Brighton in four minutes. Each of them said something about British heritage, and in subtle ways reinforced British middle class values.
This film provides an interesting retrospective and commentary on The Interludes.
And here is the famous London to Brighton in four minutes sequence in its entirety.
James 'Fyfe' Robertson (1902-1987) was an Edinburgh-born journalist who became one of British television's first 'roving reporters' through his regular appearances on the Tonight programme. He often looked into the lives and labours of 'ordinary people' such as Northumbrian fishermen (see the clip above) or miners, as in this story Caught on Camera. His style was ironic and his manner faintly patronising. It's interesting, given the furore his visit to Ashington caused, that Robertson was himself the son of a miner.
In this story the boy's father goes quickly from delight at the novelty of his social club shown on the television show Tonight to discomfort when Fyfe Robertson mentions that the club takes five hundred pounds a week, and Frank's wife demands to know how men like her husband seem to have so much money to spend on drink.