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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Here is the intro to the 1950s TV version.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the old nursery rhyme:
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.
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.