Page 151. " Dad picks his matches and Woodbines off the mantelpiece. "

Wills Woodbines, 1950s
Public DomainWills Woodbines, 1950s
Woodbines, made by W.D. & H.O. Wills (now owned by Imperial Tobacco) were a popular brand among Northern working men of the period, particuarly the strong, unfiltered ones. A filtered version was introduced in 1948, discontinued forty years later.

Page 151. " It's caused such a row across town that it even makes the front page of the Ashington Advertiser. "

From the Ashington Advertiser Friday 18 July 1958

 (reproduced by permission)

Cash and happiness

£20 weekly income reasonable today, miners tell T.V.

            Money was the main theme of the seven minute spot given to Ashington on the “Tonight” programme which was screened on Monday.

            Bearded Fyffe Robertson cross-examined miners and their wives about earnings, the sharing of same between husband and wife, and whether prosperity had given them happiness.

            Pit scenes and street scenes appeared fleetingly on the television screen and the interviews introduced local men and women talking in the main about money.

            The White House Club figured prominently, with secretary Mr. G. Hall telling millions of viewers about the expenditure of £15,000 on making an old-fashioned miners’ club into a luxury meeting place. He talked of sales at the £550 a week level.

            “This looks as if there is a good deal of money about in Ashington,” commented the B.B.C. reporter with the beard.

            BETTER OFF

            The camera then switched to a couple of men settled in a corner for a quiet drink.

            They also were encouraged to talk about money. They said miners as a whole were better off. They agreed that some wages were “pretty high” but “not too high for the cost of living”. They talked of wages at the £20 a week level as reasonable for the times, but described the famous £45 a week figure as an isolated and exceptional case with no relation to the general level of earnings.

            Asked if more money had brought more happiness, they said there was more happiness because they now had better clothes and television.

            “The womenfolk get a lot of things for the home they could not get before, and in the old days they were not happy because they were scraping to make ends meet,” one of them declared.

            They Dare Not

            Inevitably a miner was asked the age-old question: “How much do you earn?” The reply was: “I dare not tell you that.”

            “You don’t want your wife to know,” suggested the interviewer cheerfully.

            The same point cropped up in an interview with a miner in a back street. He was asked why miners always tended to quote low wages, and he replied: “Because he does not want his wife to know.”

            “I wonder what miners’ wives have to say to that?” quipped the bearded interviewer.

            The camera then switched to a miner’s wife who expressed herself satisfied with the set-up. She was content as long as there was sufficient for the home. As to the rest she was not over curious.

            “He likes a drink and a little bit of a gamble, but I have always had sufficient for the home,” she explained.

            Better Than Women

            One character, with hands in pockets, bluntly told the world that he never told his wife the amount he earned, claimed that he gave her sufficient money for the home, and that he considered the man was a better saver than the woman.

            He gave a shaking to the cosy idea of the heroic thrifty little housewife as the shrewd Chancellor of the Home Exchequer, looking after the feckless husband’s money.

            Into the breach stepped another miner’s wife with a story of a wage of £9 15s. a week to balance the big figures which were being freely bandied about.

            She explained that she also went out to work to help pay for a £2,000 house.

            The following N.C.B. official average earnings were thrown in by the announcer: Face workers, £18-12-10d.; All underground workers, £17-0-10d.; All workers, £13-6-10d.

            And Why Not?

There were brief shots of a well-filled shop, of a well equipped house, and of a back street with one or two parked cars standing about.

            And the man with the beard ended the little portrait of Ashington disarmingly with this general comment:

            “If miners want to spend some of their money on comfortable clubs why shouldn’t they, and if he wants a car why shouldn’t he have one?”

Page 152. " A few days later a van rolls up to our gate with a brand new Hoovermatic twin tub washing machine. "

The Hoovermatic was launched in 1957, and quickly became the must-have labour-saving device among Britain's women.

Here is the original launch ad for the Hoovermatic.

Page 155. " a marble fight with Malcolm left a penker-sized hole in our bedroom window. "

In Northumbrian Geordie terminology a penker is a steel ball used as a marble. Its loss is the subject of a famous traditional Geordie ballad, Wor Geordie's lost his penker.

Here's a version of the song by Michael Goonan with some of his own excellent photography of the region.


Page 155. " He sits on the kerb reading my Wizard comic "

The Wizard was a DC Thomson publication that first appeared in 1922 and continued until it merged with The Rover in 1963. Regular features included 'Wilson the Wonder Athlete' and 'Wolf of Kabul'. Unlike other DC Thomson comics of the same era, such as The Beano and The Dandy, The Wizard featured full-length stories with little use of the comic strip format. It was extremely un-PC. One of its regular characters was Limp Along Leslie, a shepherd boy whose crippled leg mysteriously gave him the ability to bend footballs in flight and thus ensure his popularity among his peers. Another of the regular stories was 'V for Vengeance', which was about ex-inmates of concentration camps seeking out German war criminals and assassinating them. They were known as the Deathless Men, wore black hoods to hide their identity and each carried a poison capsule to bite on if they were ever captured. Another popular character was Bernard Briggs, a working-class caricature who excelled in every sport while upsetting the establishment by failing to turn up in regulation sportswear and cheerfully breaking all the conventions - appealing for an lbw decision, for example, while fielding at square leg. Bernard came from Slagton and rode a motorbike with an old bath tub as a sidecar.

Enjoy these original Wizard covers from the period.

The Wizard October 6th, 1956 (345 * 500)
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe Wizard October 6th, 1956 - Credit: Vic Whittle
The Wizard June 8th, 1957
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe Wizard June 8th, 1957 - Credit: Vic Whittle














The Wizard June 7th, 1958
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe Wizard June 7th, 1958 - Credit: Vic Whittle


The Wizard July 18th, 1959
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe Wizard July 18th, 1959 - Credit: Vic Whittle





Page 156. " How many kids can say they've sat in the FA Cup? "

After the 1955 Cup Final, Ashington-born hero Jackie Milburn brought the Cup back to his home town to show locally. The police locked the Cup in a cell overnight for safe-keeping. The boy in the story visits the cell to see the Cup and is lifted up to sit in it briefly. This incident is a retelling of an actual experience the author enjoyed.

See bookmark p.112 for more on Jackie Milburn and the FA Cup Final, including footage of his goal.

And here's a little more to enjoy of Jackie, the 1955 Final, and the lifting of that famous Cup.

Page 157. " Somebody found it dumped in the bushes at Sheepwash and it's rusted up a bit, but nowt Brasso won't take off. "
Old bike
Creative Commons AttributionOld bike - Credit: itroy
Like the boy in the story, the author got his first bike from a recovered property store at the local police station. It's perhaps not surprising that the original owner did not reclaim it, given its condition.



Creative Commons AttributionBrasso - Credit: AuntieP
Brasso has been a popular metal polish for over 100 years, having been introduced in Britain in 1905 by Reckitt & Sons.


Page 157. " it's not a new bike and it hardly compares with Alan's Raleigh Lenton "
Raleigh Lenton c1955
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRaleigh Lenton c1955 - Credit:

The Raleigh Lenton was named after the area in Nottingham where the bike was made. The bike was every schoolboy's dream in the mid-1950s for its high standard of design, quality and finish, and because of its endorsement by Reg Harris, Britain's great cycle champion of the era (Follow my example and ride a Lenton.) The model was in production from 1949 to 1963.




Raleigh Catalogue 1955
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRaleigh Catalogue 1955 - Credit:


Raleight Bike ad 1955
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRaleigh Bike ad 1955 - Credit:
Raleigh Catalogue 2 1955
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRaleigh Catalogue 2 1955 - Credit:
Page 158. " I decide to call my bike Champion after the wild stallion on the telly. "
Champion the Wonder Horse with Sandy
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumChampion the Wonder Horse with Sandy - Credit: Terry Guntrip

This is a reference to an American western TV series originally broadcast in the USA under the title The Adventures of Champion in the mid-1950s, and rebroadcast in the UK with a new (and better) title Champion the Wonder Horse. Champion is a wild stallion who befriends twelve year-old Ricky North (Barry Curtis) in the American Southwest in the 1880s. Ricky lives on a ranch owned by his Uncle Sandy (Jim Bannon). The boy has a penchant for getting into trouble, from which he is always rescued by Champion, with the assistance of Ricky's German shepherd dog, Rebel.

Many people believe that Frankie Laine sang the title song for the series, and indeed he did make a recording, but he was unavailable for the crucial session and his place was taken by  Mike Stewart.

Here's Mike Stewart's rousing song over the intro credits to the TV show.

Page 159. " I trail back to the main yard where Alan is playing chucks with Dennis Freeman. "

Chucks is a traditional children's game in the North East using five small wooden cubes, usually of different colours. It is a variation of games such as five stones, onesies, knucklebones, snobs and jacks, though the latter uses star-shaped pieces and a rubber ball.

Chucks progresses from simple throwing and catching first one cube, then two etc up to five, then combinations, and finally more complex catches such as 'crabs', where the blocks have to be caught between the knuckles and 'caves' where some pieces have to be flicked through arched fingers while others are caught.

There is a very similar Japanese game called Gonggi  ,which is demonstrated in the following video.

Page 160. " Dennis gives us chapter and verse on how to open a combination lock. "

In the story Tall in the Saddle the boy is delighted to be in possession of a brand new up-to-date combination lock for his bike. Unfortunately he is not in possession of the old schoolboy trick of unpicking a combination lock, and is devastated when his friend Dennis tells him how easy it is.

The trick is still being pulled - watch this modern video that demonstrates exactly the method used in the story. (Don't try this in the streets.)



Page 161. " He keeps up this Superman act until the teapot lid starts to slow down. "

Superman logo
Creative Commons AttributionSuperman logo - Credit: udannlin
The boy on the teapot lid (playground roundabout) is imitating Superman, one of the cultural icons for several generations, starting in 1938 with his first appearance in DC comics and subsequently appearing not only in comic form, but on TV, films and latterly video games. His almost invincible superhero status (contrasting with the meek manners of Clark Kent, his secret persona) and especially his ability to fly, made him irresistible. For a generation that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s it was Christopher Reeve's portrayal on film that defined Superman, but in the 50s, at least for American audiences, it was the more portly and somewhat older figure of another Reeves, George, who brought him more stiffly to life in  a TV series that ran for 104 episodes from 1952-1958, sponsored by cereal maker Kellogs.

Here is the intro to the 1950s TV version.


Page 162. " suddenly the whole combination pops into my head. 1626. Mam's store number. "
1950s Co-op ad
Public Domain1950s Co-op ad
The reference to the store number suggests the boy's mother is a frequent shopper at the local Co-op. The idea of co-operative trading, where stores are run for the benefit and on behalf of their members/customers, started in the North of England where the 'divi' or 'divi number' (store number) became an integral part of the shopping experience. The dividend is a financial reward or payback for the member based on how much they bought in the stores. Historically, this was done by recording the member's number against transactions in a ledger held in each store, though when this became cumbersome the method was switched to stamps on a savings card.  
Page 164. " Better than Tom and Jerry. "

Tom and Jerry are two of Hanna and Barbera's most famous cartoon creations. The combative cat and mouse (who never spoke) first appeared in the 1940 theatrical short 'Puss Gets The Boot' (in which Tom is called Jasper). This one-off proved such a hit that a series was developed for cinemas. A TV version was launched in 1965, and the duo remain a hardy perennial.

Page 166. " It's a St Christopher," says Palmer. "It's dead old. "
St Christopher medal
Public DomainSt Christopher medal

The boy Palmer is wearing a St Christopher medal in the swimming baths, in the belief that it will protect him from drowning. St Christopher is known as the patron saint of travellers, fruit dealers, epileptics and surfers.

Along with many other saints, the Vatican officially removed Christopher from the universal calendar in 1969, as his story derives mostly from legend. But many churches still celebrate St Christopher's feast day on July 25th.

Little is known about his life, but one of the most popular legends describes him as being twelve to eighteen feet tall and making a living by carrying people across a river. One day a child passenger on his back became heavier and heavier, until Christopher feared they would both drown. The child then revealed that he was Christ carrying the weight of the whole world. The name Christopher means 'Christ-bearer', and he is often depicted as carrying a child while leaning on his staff.

Despite his virtual 'decanonisation', St Christopher remains a popular figure among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Legend had it that anyone who saw an image of Christopher would not die that day. Surfers often wear the medal as a good luck charm to protect them. Drivers sometimes suspend a St Christopher medal in their cars, bearing the inscription Behold St. Christopher, and go thy way in safety.

Page 169. " I need Batman to swing down from the roof and save me. "
Batman and Batwoman marry, 1959
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBatman and Batwoman marry, 1959 - Credit: Curt Swan

The fictional superhero Batman, who first appeared in Detective Comicsin 1939 and later migrated to DC Comics, was second only to Superman in his popularity by the 1950s, the decade which also saw female characters such as Batwoman and Batgirl introduced, and with them a love interest (to combat, so it was said, suggestions that Batman's relationship with his young sidekick Robin was latently homosexual). In the DC comic the 'caped crusader' and his world were given a dark, gothic treatment (hence the name of his native Gotham City), and it was not until the 1960s that a camply humorous, tongue-in-cheek style prevailed with the TV series starring Adam West. This was not, though, the first attempt to bring Batman to the screen. Starting in the 1940s, a serial made for the cinema was part of Saturday matinee entertainment. The boy in the story would have gone to the Hippodrome or Pavilion in Ashington to watch these after the main feature. Each week they ended on a cliffhanger, with Batman and/or Robin in an impossible position, only to extricate themselves at the start of the next week's reel (often by absurd interventions that were only possible by changing the circumstances they had been left in the previous week).    

Page 170. " we go down Sheepwash Dene on Sunday "

Sheepwash was originally named for a river crossing at the Wansbeck between Ashington and Bothal, though it became more generally known for the area now largely covered by the popular walking site of Wansbeck Riverside Park. In the late 1950s, before the local authority reclaimed it, Sheepwash Dene was an exciting place for young boys to explore and go nesting (a practice that slowly declined after it was made illegal in 1954). The riverside was a maze of dense woodland, and with a treacherous bog at one side of it. At the age of seven, the author and a friend called Alan Gilbertson, playing in the dene without supervision, became trapped beyond the waist in the bog. They were rescued in the nick of time by three anonymous cyclists who washed them down in the river and gave them a lift home on their crossbars.

This is how the area looks today.

River Wansbeck at Sheepwash
Creative Commons AttributionRiver Wansbeck at Sheepwash - Credit: Mark Smiles
Wansbeck riverside footpath
Creative Commons AttributionWansbeck riverside footpath - Credit: Mark Smiles
Wansbeck Riverside Park
Creative Commons AttributionWansbeck Riverside Park - Credit: Mike Brown59
Page 170. " opening his pink hand to show me four powder-blue eggs covered in browny-red speckles. "
Song Thrush
Creative Commons AttributionSong Thrush - Credit: Tony Wills

These are the eggs of a song thrush (sometimes called the throstle or the mavis), common across Europe and Asia. It breeds in forests, gardens and parks, laying up to five of its distinctive blue eggs in a cup nest, often choosing snapped-off trees to lodge them, as in this story.

Eggs of a song thrush
Creative Commons AttributionEggs of a song thrush - Credit: Arjan Haverkamp



Egg collecting is a peculiarly British impulse, a residue of the colonial era when Victorian explorers brought back booty from around the world. Oology, the study of eggs, was a respectable branch of ornithology. Taking wild eggs was made illegal in 1954, but collecting continued, though there was an informal code of practice among schoolboys who did it that only one egg should be taken from any nest. These days, nesting is severely frowned upon and prosecuted. No longer a hobby of schoolchildren, it is still pursued, often quite lucratively, by adult poachers and obsessives.


Watch and listen to the sound of a British song thrush.

Page 172. " You chicken. Me Tarzan. "

The boys have found a rope hanging from a branch of a tree across the river. They refer to it as a Tarza ie a Tarzan rope.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Public Domain
Tarzan of the Apes was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912 originally for magazine publication, with the novel coming out in 1914. Tarzan is a British lord, John Clayton or Viscount Greystoke who is marooned on the West Coast of Africa by mutineers at the age of one. Having lost his parents, he is brought up by apes. Twenty years later he meets and falls in love with an American Jane Porter when she becomes marooned at the same spot on the coast. Among other adventures, they return to England to marry, where Tarzan is disillusioned by the hypocrisy and greed of 'civilised' society.

The boys in the story are more likely to have come across Tarzan from the screen rather than off the page. Tarzan films started as early as 1918, in the silent era. The actor who played Tarzan in the period covered by the stories was Gordon Scott (1955-1960) and yet, mainly because of Saturday morning TV repeats, the boys would have been most familiar with the most popular Tarzan of all time, Johnny Weismuller, the five-times Gold medal swimming champion, who played Tarzan from 1932 to 1949.

Here is Johnny Weismuller's famous Tarzan cry.


And here is the famous meeting between Tarzan and Jane, with the 'Me Tarzan, you Jane' exchange adapted by Palmer in the quote above.

Page 172. " He looks more like Pussy in the Well. "


From the old nursery rhyme:

Music for 'Ding, Dong Bell'
Creative Commons AttributionMusic for 'Ding, Dong Bell' - Credit: Sabrebd

Ding, dong, bell,

Pussy's in the well.

Who put her in?

Little Johnny Green.

Who'll pull her out?

Little Tommy Stout.

Oh, what a naughty boy was that,

To try to drown poor pussy cat

Who ne'er did him any harm,

And killed all the mice in the farmer's barn.


Page 174. " he gives me a V sign and retreats into the woods. "

V sign (insult)
Public DomainV sign (insult)
The V sign, with palm facing inwards to the signer, has been a form of obscene insult for many years in Britain, Ireland, Austalia and New Zealand. It was said to originate from English archers (who form a V with their fingers when drawing back a loaded bow) making the sign to the French as a gesture of contempt at the Battle of Agincourt, but there is no solid evidence for this. 

During the Second World War Winston Churchill characteristically made  a V sign to the crowds to indicate 'Victory', and this sense has stuck since, though in this case with the back of the hand facing the signer. In the early days Churchill would make the sign with his palm turned inwards; perhaps he was advised of its meaning to the lower classes and altered the gesture accordingly.