Page 126. " 'Slashed!' he's saying into an empty glass between his knees. "

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.

Page 129. " In between the floats a wave of juvenile jazz bands such as the Melody Makers or the Gay Geordies would crash down Station Road rattling on snare drums, clicking their sticks or wailing into kazoos. "

Juvenile jazz bands started in the late 1950s, almost exclusively in the working class areas of the North of England and the Midlands. There are very few remaining today; they have died out along with the mining communities they sprang from.

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.

Page 130. " She replaced his broom handle with a shovel and managed to persuade a few of the neighbours to let him put their loose coals in after the wagons dropped the loads pitmen were allowed every other week. "
Delivering coal
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumDelivering coal - Credit: Pete C

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.

Coal wagon
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumCoal wagon - Credit: Pete C

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.


Coals dropped at the doors (500 * 348)
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumCoals dropped at the doors - Credit: Pete C


Page 131. " maybe a Penguin biscuit or a Wagon Wheel for his break. "

Penguin biscuit
Creative Commons AttributionPenguin biscuit - Credit: Jason Brackins
Two of Britain's best-loved biscuits. First produced in 1932 by a biscuit manufacuter in Glasgow, by the time the 1950s came along the Penguin biscuit was being made by United Biscuits. It was one of the first biscuits to be advertised by name rather than company; part of its appeal lies in its association with the distinctive birds, and the packaging has always prominently featured a giant Emperor Penguin.

Wagon Wheel
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumWagon Wheel - Credit: Denzil Green
The first Wagon Wheels had a plain marshmallow centre and were originally called Weston's Wagon Wheels after the inventor Gary Weston. This biscuit was officially launched in 1948 at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London. At the time it was billed as the biggest chocolate bar on the market, which was true. In recent years, customers have complained that the Wagon Wheels are much smaller than they used to be in the old days, but the maker denies this, claiming that nostalgia and the memory of small fingers clutching large biscuits have fuelled this erroneous belief.

Page 132. " At least we've saved money by not going to see Hairy Mary and her Test Tube Baby. "
Typical freak show, 1956 (240 * 179)
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumTypical freak show, 1956 - Credit: National Fairground Archive

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). 

Page 132. " Nez takes us along to the Roll a Penny where he's figured out an easy way to win some money back. "

Roll a penny stall
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRoll a penny stall - Credit: Contraband International Ltd
The roll a penny stall had numbered squares. The idea was to land a penny inside the square without touching one of the border lines, and you would win pennies corresponding to that number (rarely more than fourpence). The stall was surrounded by wire mesh, but small fingers could sometimes poke in to manipulate a penny onto one of the nearest line of squares. Woe betide you if the stall-holder caught you doing it, which is what happens to Nez in the story.

Page 133. " This booth has two giant pictures of boxers painted on boards either side of a red curtain. "

Boxing booth, 1961
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBoxing booth, 1961 - Credit: National Fairground Archive
As a result of tighter regulation, boxing booths are no longer a feature of touring fairgrounds.  But previously they had been popular as far back as the Restoration. They generally attracted good crowds in the 1950s when local lads would take on the hard-bitten professionals.

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.

Boxing booth, 1959
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBoxing booth, 1959 - Credit: National Fairground Archive

Page 133. " One of the pictures is definitely supposed to be Freddie Mills, the other one is harder to guess - maybe Randolph Turpin wearing his Lonsdale Belt. "

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.

Page 133. " Lined up on a platform in front of the curtain there's three real-life fighters looking much more used and beaten up than the ones in the pictures. "
Boxing booth professionals
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBoxing booth professionals - Credit: National Fairground Archive

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.

Page 133. " Beside them is a bloke who reminds me of the comedian Arthur Askey in a black suit too tight for him. "

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.

Page 138. " He pauses and looks round in a stagey way like Ben Turpin used to in the silent pictures "
Ben Turpin with Charlie Chaplin
Creative Commons AttributionBen Turpin with Charlie Chaplin - Credit: Johh McNab
Ben Turpin (1869-1940) was an American comedian of the silent era, particularly famous for his cross-eyed stare. He worked in the early days with Charlie Chaplin, but became a star through his association with slapstick film-maker Mack Sennett. Sennett often cast the ridiculous-looking Turpin against type (a rugged Yukon miner; a suave, worldly lover; a stalwart cowboy; a fearless stuntman) for maximum comic effect. When sound came to the film business Turpin was mostly relegated to cameo parts - usually some scene involving irascible staring - sometimes as a foil to the comic duo Laurel and Hardy, with whom he made his last film Saps at Sea in 1940. Turpin died of a heart attack the same year.

Here's a short clip from Saps at Sea featuring Ben Turpin's last-ever appearance, as the plumber.

Page 139. " The fight gets underway properly now. "

Boxing in the tent
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBoxing in the tent - Credit: National Fairground Archive
The fairground fights would last up to three rounds, with a cash prize going to the challenger if he (occasionally she - there were a few female fighters on the circuit) managed to last the distance. Very few did.

Page 143. " His leather satchel tips up with him, showering us with silver and bronze coins, just like a wedding car scramble. "

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.

Page 144. " There's a ride already on the go and we have to wait with a crowd of others, preparing to dash for a car as soon as the Waltzer slows down. "

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.

Page 144. " We stand on the boards listening to the Coasters singing 'Charlie Brown' and watching the riders spin by. "

The Coasters
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The Coasters were a popular black American r&b group of the late 1950s. Their hit Charlie Brown reached number five in the UK charts in 1959. It's an appropriate song to be playing as Hughie is spinning around in the waltzer because of the lyrics, which include the lines, He's a clown and Why is everybody always picking on me?

Enjoy Charlie Brown by the Coasters on Spotify.  

Page 145. " You know the Tonight programme that comes on after the news? "

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."

Cliff Michelmore
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumCliff Michelmore - Credit: Terry Guntrip
Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRobin Hall and Jimmy McGregor - Credit: Terry Guntrip


Here's a typical edition from 1959, including a report from Fyfe Robertson, the principal Tonight reporter mentioned in this story.

Page 146. " I'd rather watch the Interlude. "

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.

Page 146. " They're expecting Fyfe Robertson the morn, though. "

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.

Fyfe Robertson
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumFyfe Robertson - Credit: Terry Guntrip
Robertson's idiosyncratic accent, along with his pointed beard and tweed trilby, made him a favourite subject for parody, which served to increase his  fame in the late 1950s.

Page 146. " They've rounded up a load o' kids to make on they were playing footy in front of the pit heaps. "

North East pit heap
Creative Commons AttributionNorth East pit heap - Credit: Sunderland Public Libraries
Until the Aberfan disaster of 1966, most mining villages had huge spoil heaps overlooking them like dark hills - waste pulled out from underground and piled up until they dominated the landscape. Children would often play on them, and in Ashington there was indeed a football field near the foot of the pit heap at the Recreation ground.

Page 146. " there's a big green van with the words B.B.C. TELEVISION SERVICE painted in white "

There was much excitement in Ashington when the BBC outside broadcast van appeared in the streets. In the modern era, despite satellite television technology, the mobile unit is still an important part of outside broadcasting, though the contents of the van will be very different from the interior of this 1950s vehicle.

Page 148. " we all cheer when we see Vince and his marrers spilling out of the cage near the start. "

The end of the shift
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe end of the shift - Credit: Pete C
At the end of the shift the pitmen would drawn up to the surface in a cage. Each miner had with him a check with his number on. A second check would have been deposited with the 'banksman' before entering the cage at the start of the shift, and hung on a board at the pithead. The returning miner would hand in the check he had kept, which would be matched with the one on the board. This was a simple method of ensuring that no one was lost or trapped at the end of the shift.

Page 148. " Our Rose gives a little squeal as she spots him lathering down in the pit baths. "

Bathing at home
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumBathing at home - Credit: Pete C
Pithead baths were unknown before the 1930s; before that men would go home blackened by their work and wash in a tin bath in front of the fire, with their wives washing their backs with the smelly carbolic soap. The first pit baths were provided by subscription from the men themselves - before nationalisation in 1947 the mine owners refused to go to the expense of baths. Some mines did not have baths until the 1950s, and even then a few workers chose to continue the practice of travelling home dirty to wash in private.
At the pithead baths
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumAt the pithead baths - Credit: Pete C
The baths were a largely public affair; though there were a few single cubicles (and deputies and officials had their own separate showers) most bathing was done as a group and involved a certain amount of teamwork, with the men helping to wash each other's backs. Some miners insisted on leaving a thin streak of coaldust down the spinal area because of an old myth that washing weakened the spine.

Page 149. " we're watching men in the club drinking and playing dominoes "
Drinking at the working men's club
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumDrinking at the working men's club - Credit: John Eastwood

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.