Page 53. " Revenge is sweet for the Bywell Road gang. "
Back garden bonfire
Creative Commons AttributionBack garden bonfire - Credit: Janne Karaste
Bonfire raiding by one gang of kids would often be revenged by the other by setting off their rivals' fire before the big day. 
Page 54. " he brings round a pile of Toppers or Beanos or sometimes even DC Comics that folk have put out to their bin "
The Topper issue no. 1
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Topper issue no. 1 - Credit: DC Thomson
The Topper was a DC Thomson publication that ran from 1953 to 1990 when it merged with The Beezer. Best-known characters included Mickey the Monkey (see front cover pictured) and Beryl the Peril, who was a scamp on the lines of Minnie the Minx and Dennis the Menace from The Beano.  Beryl, Minnie and Dennis all wore red and black as if to emphasise their common bond of naughtiness.

The Beano was and is the most famous comic in the DC Thomson stable. It has been published weekly since 1938, though during the Second World War it had to be published alternately with The Dandy because of paper and ink rationing. The Beano is now the longest-running weekly comic. Its cast of characters include some very famous names, including Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty and the Bash Street Kids.

The most famous characters from the US-based DC Comics   are Superman (see bookmark p.161) and Batman (see bookmark p.169 ).

Page 54. " sweating like a galloway pony "

Galloway pony
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGalloway pony - Credit: zstephen
This is a well-known expression in the North East of England, referring to the now-extinct galloway pony, which was used as a work horse in the North of England and Scotland. The galloway is related to the Highland pony. 

Page 55. " I pull out what's left of the big Mine of Serpents "

One the many fireworks that exploded in spectacular fashion from Uncle Barney's box.

Mine of Serpents (95 * 240)
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumMine of Serpents - Credit: Martin Weselby
Page 55. " like a cross between the Valentine's Day Massacre and the Battle of Britain. "

The St Valentine's Day Massacre was the name given to a gangland fight in the Prohibition era between gangs led respectively by Al Capone and Bugs Moran. The murder of seven of Moran's men on 14 February 1929 in North Side, Chicago by men posing as police officers was almost certainly ordered by Capone in retaliation for a machine gun attack by Moran's gang on Capone's headquarters. The boys in the story would have known of the event largely through books and films, especially from the classic 1932 film Scarface directed by Howard Hawks and, more recently for these 1950s juniors, the use of the massacre as a plot device in the 1959 comedy movie Some Like it Hot.

The following very cool piece of editing includes the 'massacre' clips from both Scarface and Some Like it Hot along with other treatments of the scene in the movies.


The Battle of Britain was the name given to the ferocious campaign conducted by the German air force (Luftwaffe) over the United Kingdom in the summer and autumn of 1940. Its aim was to establish air superiority over Britain's Royal Air Force. The name has its orgin in one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill's stirring wartime speeches: "The Battle of France is over; I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin." In the late 1950s memories of the war were still fresh. Children in the streets still fought mock battles of Jerries (Germans) against the English.

The clip below has Churchill's original Battle of Britain speech as a soundtrack over some appropriate wartime images.


Page 59. " Tuesdays we did the laws of the wolf cub pack and learned knots and stuff. "
1957 wolf cub
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book Drum1957 wolf cub - Credit: 1st Brede Scout Group

The Wolf Cub Promise (1950s style)

I promise to do my best,

To do my duty to God and the Queen,

To keep the law of the Wolf Cub pack,

And to do a good turn for someone every day.

The law of the Wolf Cub Pack

The Cub respects the Old Wolf;

The Cub respects himself.

The Wolf Cub Motto

Do your best (DYB, DYB, DYB)

We'll do our best (We'll DOB, DOB DOB)

The Wolf Cub Salute 

Wolf cub salute
Public DomainWolf cub salute

Page 59. " Bagheera used to take games night. "
Robert Baden Powell
Public DomainRobert Baden Powell

Wolf cub pack leaders have traditionally taken the names of animal characters from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book since the founder of the Boy Scouts Robert Baden Powell approved its moral tone and took it up as a motivational book for the movement. Thus we have:

Akela - the father figure of the wolves; cub-master.

Baloo - the sloth bear; assistant cub-master.

Bagheera - the black panther; assistant cub-master.

Page 60. " he was maybe just a bit older than our Eddie but not hard-looking. More Buddy Hollyish. "
Buddy Holly in concert
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBuddy Holly in concert - Credit:

Buddy Holly (Charles Hardy Holley 1936-1959) was a pop/country/rock 'n' roll writer and performer who, despite his short career and early tragic death, became one of the most significant figures of popular music well beyond his own time. He was a major influence on later artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, and was one of the first performers inculcated in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Holly was the victim of an aeroplane crash in the early hours of 3 February 1959 while on a US tour of concerts. Holly had chartered the plane to avoid travelling on the tour bus in chilly, snowy conditions. Also travelling with him were the recording stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson. All three singers died in the crash. Holly's bride of only six months, Marie Elena, miscarried with what would have been the couple's only child soon after her husband's funeral. 

Many of Holly's songs (some recorded solo on a home recorder) were post-produced and released by his manager Norman Petty, with several becoming posthumous hits.

Listen to some of Buddy Holly's greatest hits on Spotify.

That'll be the Day (1957) 

Peggy Sue (1957)

Rave On (1958)

It Doesn't Matter Anymore (1959) 

True Love Ways (1960)

Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1963)

Page 60. " I was always singing along to the records on our radiogram, and to the songs Uncle Mac played on Saturday morning and Family Favourites on Sunday. "
Radiogram viewed from the top
Creative Commons AttributionRadiogram viewed from the top - Credit: Teddlesruss

Radiograms were a popular piece of furniture and source of entertainment in the 1950s. As the name suggests, a radiogram combined a valve radio with a gramophone (record player) that could usually play discs at three speeds - 78rpm (revolutions per minute) for the old-fashioned and brittle shellac records with one song each side, generally known as 78s; the recently-introduced smaller vinyl discs playing at 45rpm, which were either singles (one song each side) or EPs (Extended Plays, with 2 or 3 songs each side); and LPs (Long Players), which were albums of 12 to 20 songs played at 33⅓rpm. By the late 1950s most radiograms boasted an auto-record changer, which could allow up to half a dozen records to be stacked on a spindle and dropped sequentially onto the revolving turntable to play one after another.


Children's Favourites was a popular radio record show broadcast on the BBC Light Programme on Saturday mornings from 1954 to 1967. For most of that time it was presented by the avuncular Derek McCulloch, self-styled Uncle Mac, who generally introduced the programme with a velvety "Hello children, everywhere."

The nostalgia site Radio Days has a long list of favourite song titles from the programme. Author David Williams has picked out his own selection which you can hear below via Spotify.

Little Red Monkey by Rosemary Clooney

The Laughing Policeman by Charles Penrose

Sparky's Magic Piano by Henry Blair

Nellie the Elephant by Mandy Miller

The Ugly Duckling by Danny Kaye

Tubby the Tuba by Danny Kaye

Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzellen Bogen by the Sea by Max Bygraves

The Happy Wanderer by The Obenkirchen Children's Choir

You're a Pink Toothbrush by Max Bygraves

When You Come to the End of a Lollipop by Max Bygraves

The Runaway Train by Vernon Delhart

I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat by Mel Blanc

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Burl Ives

How Much is that Doggy in the Window? by Patti Page

A Four-Legged Friend by Roy Rogers

The Deadwood Stage by Doris Day

The Black Hills of Dakota by Doris Day

My Old Man's a Dustman by Lonnie Donegan

Little White Bull by Tommy Steele

A Hole in the Bucket by Harry Belafonte and Odetta

Click on the radio to hear the theme tune of Children's Favourites, which was called Puffing Billy.

 For grown-ups on Sunday lunchtimes, the BBC broadcast a radio request show, originally for British forces serving in Germany under the name of Forces Favourites, but later known as Family Favourites. The programme had an audience of 16 million in Britain alone at its peak.

Family Favourites presenters
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumFamily Favourites presenters - Credit: Terry Guntrip

The programme's memorable opening line each week was:  "The time in Britain is twelve noon, in Germany it's two o' clock, but home and away it's time for Two-Way Family Favourites."

The show had many presenters over the years, with the best-remembered being Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore, who met on the programme and subsequently married, though not until Michelmore had left the radio show for an even more celebrated career presenting the Tonight programme for BBC Television (see bookmark p.145).

Listen to the Family Favourites' opening theme tune, an orchestral version of With a Song in my Heart.

Page 60. " apart from buying The War Cry in the Comrades every Saturday night my dad can't stick church people "

War Cry magazines
Public DomainWar Cry magazines
The War Cry is a publication produced and sold by the evangelical Christian movement, The Salvation Army. The Army was started in Britain in 1865, but soon spread its wings and now operates in over 100 countries. Partly a temperance movement, in its early days it was best known for 'saving' and sheltering the derelicts of society such as alcoholics and prostitutes. In Britain in the 1950s officers of the Army were a common sight visiting the pubs and clubs at the weekends to sell The War Cry. They usually got a good response from the drinkers, who were either genuinely benignly disposed, or felt that buying the magazine was the quickest way to be rid of the visitors. The Salvation Army is a military-style organization with its titles and uniforms, and most of its local branches have a military-style brass band which can often be seen fund-raising on the streets on flag days and festivals.

Page 62. " Inside, my mam's on her own, darning one of my dad's thick pit socks, listening to Wilfred Pickles on the wireless. "
Have a Go on the road.
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumHave a Go on the road. - Credit: Terry Guntrip

Wilfred Pickles, a Yorkshireman, was one of the most popular personalities on radio in the 1950s,and one of the first on the BBC to speak with a regional accent (though there was not much trace of it in his early newsreading days). His BBC show Have a Go ran from 1946 to 1967, with an audience of up to twenty million at its peak in the 50s. The show, which 'brought the people to the people', was responsible for such catchphrases as  "Give him the money, Barney" (a reference to the original producer Barney Colehan) and "What's on the table,Mabel?" The aforesaid Mabel was Pickles' wife,who featured on the show. Long-time resident pianist on Have a Go was Violet Carson, who later won fame as Ena Sharples on the Granada TV soap Coronation Street.

Listen to the intro to Have a Go:

Page 65. " there's a printed stamp on the top like you can make with one of them John Bull outfits. "
John Bull Printing Outfit
Creative Commons AttributionJohn Bull Printing Outfit - Credit: John Bell

John Bull was the brand name of a fairly primitive children's printing set based on the letterpress printing principle. The set comprised long strips of black rubber letters and numbers (more or less, depending on the size of the box), a small red plastic rack for composing, and an ink pad for printing on the paper. There was also a pair of tweezers for handling the fiddly letters, which could get quite inky with use.

The rubber strips were cut into single letters and numbers with scissors, and composed into words and sentences on the rack. The letters were in reverse so they could print the right way round when pressed into the inky pad provided and stamped onto paper. These sets, which had been around since the late nineteenth century, were still popular Christmas presents for children in the late 1950s.




The distinctive figure of John Bull was a variation of an original creation by Dr John Arbuthnot in 1712, popularised by British print makers and later by writers and illustrators at home and abroad.  He is sometimes used to refer to the whole of the United Kingdom, but is viewed at least by Scots and the Welsh as specifically English rather than British.


Page 68. " Eddie's still up, trying to tune in Luxembourg on the radio. "

Before pirate radio ships began broadcasting off British shores, young people liked to tune in to the English language service of Radio Luxembourg, a commercial station broadcasting from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, with the most powerful radio transmitter in the world. It billed itself as 'the station of the stars'. It is nowadays known in most non-English languages as RTL (for Radio Television Luxembourg). 

The service was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising on domestic radio. With a much more populist style than the BBC Light Programme at the time, and with a far greater recorded music content since it did not have the quota of live music forced on the BBC by the powerful unions, it attracted large audiences in Britain, though the reception (208 on the medium wave dial) could often be dodgy.

One of the most memorable advertisements was Horace Batchelor's 'infra-draw' method of winning the football pools. Batchelor, from Keynsham Bristol, claimed to have won the 'treble chance' more than one hundred times, and that he could do the same for those who followed his method. There is no recorded evidence that he provided much in the way of success for his customers, though the advertisement did at least teach them how to spell 'Keynsham'.

Page 69. " He started buying stuff for himself from catalogues and off adverts on the back of war comics. "
A selection of typical adverts from the US comics popular in the 1950s in the UK as well as America.
Page 69. " when the bedroom door flings open it could be Wyatt Earp striding into the saloon to break up a fight. "


Wyatt Earp (full name Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp), born in 1848, was best known as a US peace officer in the Wild West, though he was also at various times a farmer, a buffalo hunter, gambler, saloon-keeper, miner and boxing referee. He is remembered for his participation in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, along with Doc Holliday and two of his brothers, Virgil and Morgan Earp. He is also the major subject of many other movies, TV shows and books, both factual and fictional. Perhaps surprisingly, he did not die in a gunfight, but at home in Los Angeles (possibly of prostrate cancer) on 13 January 1929 at the age of 80.

Wyatt Earp was particularly popular during the period when the story was set as a result of the hit film Gunfight at the OK Corral released in 1957. Burt Lancaster starred as Earp, and Doc Holliday was played by Kirk Douglas. The film was loosely based on the real gunfight which took place on 26 October 1881.

Page 70. " He picks It's Only Make Believe, Hoots Mon! and Tom Dooley and lets me get the Chipmunks song if I promise to mime it for a party piece. "

It's Only Make Believe by Conway Twitty, Hoots Mon! by Lord Rockingham's XI and Tom Dooley by the Kingston Trio were all UK chart entries in late 1958. The Chipmunks Song was a novelty record of the same period 'sung' by an animated music group billed as Alvin and the Chipmunks (sometimes, simply The Chipmunks).

The Chipmunks Sing
Creative Commons AttributionThe Chipmunks Sing - Credit: Marxchivist

Listen to It's Only Make Believe on Spotify.

Listen to Hoots Mon! on Spotify.

Listen to Tom Dooley on Spotify.

Listen to The Chipmunks Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) on Spotify.

Page 71. " he said he might look in at the British Legion on the way home. "

Drinking at the club
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumDrinking at the club - Credit: Cumbrian Newspapers Ltd
The Royal British Legion (sometimes called the British Legion or just the Legion) is Britain's biggest charity that supports current armed forces or ex-service personnel. Among many other services, it has an extensive network of social clubs throughout the UK, providing social drinking centres for (traditionally) the working man. In Ashington in the late 1950s the Legion was just one of around 20 working men's social clubs in the town. The clubs, offering cheap beer to members and visitors, far outweighed the number of pubs in the town (around 3 at the time of the story). 

Page 72. " Everybody keeps an eye on the clock so we don't forget to put the wireless on for Big Ben. "
Big Ben at Night
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBig Ben at Night - Credit: Tohma

Big Ben is the long-established nickname given to the tower of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are situated. By extension, the name Big Ben is generally applied to the clock and the tower as well as the bell. The sight of the clock and the sound of its chimes are iconic symbols. On Remembrance Day the chimes mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at the start of the two minutes' silence, and at New Year Big Ben is the focus of the celebrations as the people of Britain tune in their radio or TV stations to hear the chimes at midnight that bring in the new year.

And here, viewed from south of the river at Westminster, Big Ben strikes midnight.

Page 72. " Howay, Dad. You're missing Auld Lang Syne. "

Auld Lang Syne is a song written by Robert Burns in 1788, which is traditionally sung at the stroke of midnight as the New Year begins. Participants cross over their arms and join hands with their neighbours to form a circle for the song. At the chorus, they march into the middle, still joining hands, and back out again.

Auld Lang Syne
Creative Commons AttributionAuld Lang Syne - Credit: scotsmusic

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind,

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne.

For Auld Lang Syne my dears, for Auld Lang Syne,

We'll tak a cup o kindness yet, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne. 

Page 72. " 'First foot!,' shouts Rose. Is there coal on the step?' "

In British tradition a first foot is the first person to come into a house after midnight has struck to welcome the New Year, bringing good luck to the household. In the North East the tradition is that for the best luck the first foot should be a tall, dark stranger carrying a lump or shovelful of coal. In the story, they are expecting Eddie, the eldest son of the family. Rose complains that "he's not a stranger" and the mother replies "at least he's dark so that's half good luck anyway." The irony is that Eddie's arrival brings division to the family. 

Page 75. " She's like Perry Mason jumping on your words, so I shut up again. "
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumRaymond Burr as Perry Mason - Credit: Terry Guntrip

Perry Mason was one of the world's most succesful and longest-running TV detective series, running initially from  from 1957 to 1966, with the series returning 1973-1974. The series was based on the novels by Erie Stanley Gardner.

The title character was played by Canadian actor Raymond Burr until 1966, when he moved CBS to Universal Studios to play the title role in Ironsides. Burr died in 1993.

Here is the intro sequence to the original version of the TV series:

Page 75. " There's a ten shillin' note missing. How am I supposed to manage without? "

See bookmark p.27 for an extensive note on the currency used in Britain in the late 1950s.