Tag: 1960s

Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – Music

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

The Small Faces
The Small Faces

In many ways this is the hardest post I have made about the 1960s and it has taken me a long time to decide to make it. Many writers have tried and failed to capture the magic and disillusionment of 60s music and I most surely must fail too. But that won’t stop me ‘taking a shot’ at it, as Americans like to say, or ‘having a ago’ as Brits like to say.

I am not just talking about something in remote history when I talk about music from that era; I actually remember music of the 1960s. The first song I remember is Puppet on a String, which of course won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest (yes, we had it then too!) for Sandie Shaw. I would have been 5 but I well remember the catchy tune blasting out of BBC Radio 1 on our little, blue radio set in the kitchen, or in my bedroom when I was sick, which was often.

I also remember Windmill in Old Amsterdam (There was a mouse! Where? There on the Stair!) by Ronnie Hilton. This was a hit in 1965 so I may not actually remember hearing the original recording on the radio but my mum sang it to me a lot. I think she was trying to teach me to sing.

The first Beatles song I remember is Yellow Submarine; a hit in 1969. Somebody played it at my school during a break and almost all the children danced spontaneously to it in the playground. The strange thing is that we thought this song must have been ancient; around since the beginning of time. We put it in the same bracket as hymns, nursery rhymes and folk songs, something that people had sung since the dawn of time. I laugh now to think this but we also put Cat Stevens’ Morning has Broken in the same category, classing it as a hymn, would you believe?

I was often ill in my childhood so stuck at home and my mum would always put the radio by my bed at these times to keep me company. I listen to a lot of contemporary music, usually on Radio 1. Now you might think that listening to the radio would bring me a cornucopia of psychedelic songs from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas and so on. But you would be wrong.

First of all, Radio 1 was pretty conservative in what they broadcast and the mornings were usually divided up between Jimmy Young and Jimmy Saville. They played The Beatles, but stuck to the more traditional songs like Yesterday, Yellow Submarine, Help! and a few other of the older hits like From me To You. I don’t remember hearing any Rolling Stone except perhaps Satisfaction later in the 60s.

And I didn’t have access to Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station broadcast from a former light ship, moored in the English Channel and manned by such luminary figures as Emperor Rosko, Kenny Everett and Tony Blackburn.

In fact, I don’t think I could even get Radio Luxembourg in the Chiltern Hills, where we lived. Even some TV programmes would phase out in poor weather conditions. Twiddle as I might with the tuning knob on the radio, I remained stuck with Radio 1, 2 and 4, a few French stations and possibly the occasional bit of static from Germany and Russia.

But what I did get was a wealth of what I would call medium level Brit bands like The Small Faces, Steampacket (featuring a very young Rod Stewart), Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (Bend It was played a lot on Radio One), Mary Hopkin. I was also subjected to a welter of novelty records by people like Max Bygraves, Benny Hill, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers, but the less said about them the better! Incidentally, the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the name of the main character in my book, The Ice Boat, among the list of acts above.

These bands were unashamedly British and flaunted it, often regressing into a kind of Cockney utopian vision as their careers progressed. This may have been in imitation of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, which was a paean to Englishness if ever there was one. But while Sergeant Pepper sounded almost triumphant, combining as it did Englishness with a hunger for a global culture, other bands would find this road harder and end up becoming more inward looking.

A good example is The Small Faces, hence my choice of image for the head of this post. Itchycoo Park was catchy and the writers even now claim they attempted some kind of commentary on the extreme trajectory of hippy culture with it. This drug-fueled culture pervaded everything in England at the time; even my father, who was a conservative voter, wore flared trousers. So you would have thought this song would be refreshing. It was certainly catchy and I remember it being only second to I’d like to Teach the World To Sing for the frequency with which it was played.

But the problem was that the producers of the record had gone for a ‘light’ feel. It sounded so upbeat that you couldn’t possibly see it as anything other than a catchy ditty. The Small FacesLazy Sunday was even worse, featuring the feigned Cockney accent which Steve Marriot began to use so heavily. I’m sorry to say that many lead singers in the 1960s used the Cockney accent to show how British they were. It probably wasn’t their fault; few bands would have had as much control over their music as the Beatles and most would have been forced to go for the common denominator, which turned out to be light, breezy songs which neither threatened or challenged anyone. Later the Cockney accent would be used by Bowie to better effect but that’s another story.

The Small Faces's album cover for Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake
The Small Faces’s album cover for Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake

The Small Faces album really entered the realm of mystical Englishness with their album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Take a look at the cover opposite!

It’s almost as if they are trying to contact, through the medium of music, some spirit of bygone Englishness. And you find a lot of bands doing this. Whether they were pining for better days – going through some valedictory last hoorah! – I don’t know but things certainly seemed to implode. There was no widespread embracing of different cultures from abroad, no quest for the global village. This came only from The Beatles and a a few other very select bands. Instead, on Radio 1, which I guess most people were forced to listen to, just like me, we had a headlong dive back to essential, conservative Englishness which led us into the more insular and sombre 70s.

So what did we have at the peak of the 60s explosion of music? Well forget Hendrix! I didn’t even know about his existence until I was in my late teens, and my dad listened to Santana, Osibisa and Gong in the late 60s, so he was no slouch in musical taste! No, even he hadn’t heard of Jimi Hendrix. Instead we had a paper-thin serving of art in our music. It was almost like a papier mâché utopia, a cardboard Heaven that could be cut through by the pre-pubescent mind of any 5-year old. Indeed, as a 5 year old in 1967, I often felt the music was too childish for me! I tended to seek out classical music quite often as a respite – yes I even turned the dial surreptitiously to Radio 4.

In short, what most of us were subjected to, day in, day out, in the music on Radio 1 was a kind of artistic, cardboard world. I wouldn’t call it a mediocre world, for that word would be too harsh. But it certainly was one that could be knocked down or seen through by any over-curious child, or could be dissembled just as easily and reassembled somewhere else on Earth where it might be wanted. But it never was.

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Profits from eBooks! and: Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School

This week: Profits from eBooks! and: Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School

Memories of the 1960s: Issue V – School
Prepare to have all the myths of how school was Heaven in the 60s blasted away and for myths that it was Hell to be destroyed. This is what it was like for me.

I spent my school years, until the age of fourteen, in Buckinghamshire. Now, I am not saying the true-blue ultra-conservative Buckinghhamshire is backward but the last time I looked at the council’s website it had chains running down each side! That was back in the 90s. In the 60s, they were just about as blue as you can get and they certainly believed in giving every child’s sanity a run for its money.

The Bucks model of education was simple: your kid had to pass their eleven-plus exam to get a proper education. Anything else was failure and rewarded with being sent to a ‘secondary-modern,’ which in Bucks meant a school for dunces. There you would never get the chance to do O’Levels or A’Levels and you would certainly never go to University. So every day of your school life, you were having the message ‘Success is everything’ rammed down your throat. Unfortunately, the flip-side of this philosophy was the message that ‘humanity is nothing.’ It was only many years later that we would all discover Hans Eysenick’s IQ based formula for the eleven-plus exam was all based on fake research.

My first memory is of the first day. I was five. I somehow managed to annoy the teachers, Mrs Barnes and Mrs Farrow, and was made to stand in the corner. My reputation as a trouble-maker seemed to grow from there. But in general, being made to sit next to girls and getting to play in the sun for hours couldn’t have seemed too bad in 1967. I actually remember many of us dancing to Yellow Submarine in the playground, a year later. We thought the song was a traditional song!

The School Day
Our day would begin with assembly, basically a church meeting complete with prayers and hymns, followed by our first lesson, a break of 15 minutes and another lesson until lunch at 12 noon. At 1 pm, later extended to 1.15 pm, we would have another lesson, then another break at 2 pm, followed by the last lesson and then home at 3 pm.

Sport
Once or twice per week, a whole morning or afternoon would be give over to sports. We had to play in any weather and in fact, we had to spend every break-time outside, even in the direst thunderstorm or the worst snow. Nobody questioned this. Undoubtedly the weirdest ‘sports’ experience I had was when we were split into pairs of a boy and girl and told to slap each other’s legs as hard as we could. I was lucky enough to be paired with Shirley, who was to become the love of my life after this! She had dark, curly hair, darting, intelligent eyes and the looks of a Thomas Hardy heroine although she said she had gypsy blood. I learned that she had strong legs too after slapping them for ten minutes. Why the Bucks education system considered this an acceptable game, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps they thought a bit of S&M would teach women their places. Anyway, Shirley, if you are out there, sorry I was so good at slapping your legs.

Class sizes
With the baby-boom in full swing, class sizes rose to 58, in the case of mine. It was a scandal that was reported in the papers and parents protested. But there was nothing to be done. Nothing, that is, except get the children to teach. Yes! I’m not lying. As the best reader in my class, I was given my own remedial reading class which I took under the stairs near the entrance to the main block. It was a challenge because most of my small class of perhaps 8 readers had dyslexia. I can’t remember if I managed to improve their reading. I just knew they had a problem. It was only two years later, that one of those pupils, by this time a friend, was diagnosed with dyslexia.

School Dinners
Time to dish the dirty: school dinners in Bucks were crap! In fact, not only crap, but most of the time, inedible. All would be served in stainless steel containers, even the water, which was our only drink. The steel gave everything a certain ‘tang.’ I particularly hated the pilchards which were pickled in vinegar and tomato sauce. I hate vinegar anyway, it makes me sick, and the tomatoes used were so stewed that you couldn’t tell what they were any more. I used to hide my pilchards under the scoop of Smash (commercial mash potato which tasted like cotton wool). But then, Mrs Parks, the most evil teacher in the school, wised up to my technique and forced me to eat it while she held my spoon-hand firmly. I warned her:
“I will be sick on you if you make me eat this.”
She ignored me and, consequently, I vomited all over her skirt.
Other oddities were: the strawberry blancmange which tasted of lipstick and stuck to the plate if you turned it upside down; swede; parsnips and jam pudding. All were prepared so badly that they put me off such food forever.
The only dishes I liked were: fried cod; semolina and chocolate sauce; chocolate sponge cake and shortcake biscuits with dollops of strawberry jam on top. In fact, a friend and I tried to eat as many portions of fried cod as we could and made ourselves sick this way!

A special mention has to go out here to Douglas McKelvie, the head teacher, and the best teacher, of the school. I had him in my last year and hated him at first. He had the habit of running across the desk tops or flicking chalk at you, if you talked. He would often sit a boy next to a girl just to see what happened. In fact, even though I was desperate to sit next to Shirley, he put me next to Alison McNab, a pretty blonde. The strange thing was that a few months later, my sister and I were sent to stay at the McNab’s house for the week before Christmas. To the eternal anthem of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, I tried to puzzle out what was going on. There were many things I didn’t understand about the Buckinghamshire education system; why did they line us all up from time to time and inject us with strange things called ‘typhoid jabs’ or run eye tests that showed us we had deficient vision and then try to force us to wear thick lenses which clearly (pun intended) made things worse? Why did they get boys to slap girls’ legs? But most of all, I wanted to know why the parents and school seemed to be in league, matchmaking, or indeed match-breaking, pupils?

In the autumn of 1974, it all came crashing to a ugly, heartbreaking halt for me. They had wanted to know my IQ for so long that I thought it might be some kind of biological substance inside me. Was I toxic? Every few weeks, we were given these strange tests called ‘mocks’. And then, without warning, I came to school one day and found the classroom desks equipped with a pencil, eraser and a stapled examination paper. It was the eleven-plus exam. There were three papers, the last in February or March. I did well at the first two and I had no reason to worry; I had scored 86% in the last mock exam. But late in the spring, the awful ‘results day’ came.
Buckinghamshire Council didn’t mess about. Douglas McKelvie called out each of our names and we went to the front of the class to collect our white envelope. If it was fat, you had passed but if it was thin, you were going to a secondary modern. Mine was thin.

Whether you liked it or not, within minutes, everyone knew everyone else’s results. Shirley has passed and would go on to Dr. Challoners High School for girls, the best school in the area. But worse than this, my friend, who had passed, and I had a fight. I don’t know for certain what it was about; my memory is that he teased me about failing and I insulted him back, calling him fat. That may be wrong. In any case, we ended up, that very day, on the playground tarmac, fighting it out. It was dirty and no-holds-barred. It was my first fight and I won. That I do remember clearly.

Was that the last time I saw Shirley? Actually, no. I cried for days at my own failure. Never has failure been driven home so absolutely as it was in Buckinghamshire. I lost most of my friends that day and I lost most of my hopes and dreams. Later, I would be saved when my parents moved to a different, more progressive county. Before the end of term, another girl organised a birthday for the summer holidays. I wasn’t invited. But I lobbied hard and managed to get in. It was a ‘Tramps’ party, in which you had to dress up as a – tramp. Who should be there but Shirley. My little autograph book had been all round the class on the last day of term and had every signature, except hers because she had been on holiday with her friends. Now was my chance to steal something! We played spin-the-bottle, a kissing game, and a kiss from Shirley would certainly be something worth stealing. Now, I have to mention here that Shirley had always been nice to me, she had taught me Origami under the stairs, but I had never had the guts to tell her how I felt, so I couldn’t call her my sweetheart. I had certainly never kissed her. But I was hopeful. In the end, the kissing gods were not on my side and I didn’t get the chance to kiss her. I didn’t even have the guts to ask her for a dance. I might well have said to myself:
“Welcome to the real world!”

Profits from eBooks!

Finally, I have made a profit from a promotional campaign to promote one of my eBooks, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate. We’re not talking big figures here, in fact, well less than $100. Nevertheless, It has taken me over a year to find something that works. From what other writers are telling me, it’s getting harder and harder to rake in the cash for eBooks. But I managed to beat the odds, at least once. Read on for how I did it:

I have tried marketing using twitter, Facebook paid adverts and google’s AdSense. For free downloads, Facebook’s adverts worked best but you are looking at upwards of $40 to get a couple of thousand downloads if you’re lucky. Of course, there is no money in that!

I have tried for almost a year (since hearing about them) to get on Bookbub and E Reader News Today (ENT) . I am still trying to get accepted for Bookbub, which costs at least $110, depending on genre, but have so far have been unsuccessful. I finally managed to get on ENT about a month ago and, what is more, they scheduled me for 5th July, a day after American Independence Day. I was delighted. But I wasn’t convinced it would draw any sales. Consequently, I signed up for (initially) 1 day of tweets from The Book Tweeting service. This was to be on the 4th July, just to get things going. It wouldn’t help the other sales but it’s always good to coordinate these things to get the highest rank possible. High Rank = More Sales.

By Saturday 5th July, I had seen no sales at all from hundreds of tweet to over 100,000 potential customers. I cancelled the second day of tweets although I must say, the staff were very friendly and helpful and did their best.

However, by midnight of the Saturday, I had already seen 8 solid sales from the E Reader News Today service. It works! I was delighted and will try them again, if they will have me.

Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys. What are your memories?

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

Memories of the 1960s: Issue III – Toys
This will be mostly for boys but I will add my memories of my sister’s toys.
I was born in 1962. The first toys I remember are a fluffy ball with a bell inside, a red, plastic American train and a ‘musical box’, about the size of a food can, with a crank on top. As you turned the crank, metal tongues were flicked inside, much like an African lamellaphone. It had pictures of the royal guards and Buckingham Palace painted on its sides. I don’t remember what the tune was. I also had a Playcraft plastic train set (see below). All these toys seemed to be around since a time before I could remember anything clearly.

Playcraft Train Set
Playcraft Train Set

The first toy I remember actually receiving was a motorised tank. My dad came home late one night (it was always late when he came home for a kid that was at nursery school!) and presented me with this thing that drove up and down a pile of books on its own! My dad showed me how to open a book and turn it upside down so that its spine formed the ridge of a hill. The tank could go over this too.

Then there was Lego. I had quite a small set of Lego, about enough pieces to fill a large biscuit-tin. But this included an electric motor! I seem to remember I broke the motor quite quickly but not before making a tank or two of my own. I usually made dragsters, biplanes, lorries, artillery guns and steam trains. I also had a car garage with a roll-over roof but I broke this quite quickly too.

My main love at an early age was toy cars. I quickly started to accumulate a large collection (eventually 240 vehicles) of Corgi, Matchbox, Matchbox Kingsize, Dinky Toys cars and trucks. I had bad luck with a Batmobile, a double-deck car transporter and a baby-blue Buick Riviera. After I had the Batmobile for only a few days, a rocket got stuck in the car’s insides. In those days, cars were all metal and riveted together. Repairing them was hard and, because of its complexity, repairing the Batmobile was almost impossible. My dad was an engineer so he took it apart and I had great hopes of him fixing it but he couldn’t reassemble it. The bits sat on a plate, on my window sill, for many years before I finally threw them away. The transporter’s tail gate/ramp broke. I wrote to Corgi many times, begging them for a replacement, but they never replied. The Buick disappeared mysteriously. I remember being asked if I wanted to swap it for something in his collection by the boy in the houser opposite. I refused. A few weeks later, the car went missing. I tore my bedroom and the house apart, hunting for it. I never found it. Even now, I suspect my sister. I don’t think it was the boy opposite.

Swapping was a very common way to accumulate cars then. I had a Bedford flatbed which I obtained that way. I was very lucky to have some rare items in my collection. From my dad, I inherited some old Grand Prix cars of the 1950s. These are worth a lot of money now. They are still in the loft. I was also given some cars by a friend of the family, who was about five years older than me. Thus I obtained some nice cars from the 1950s. My dad also made me a wooden petrol station for my cars. Some of you will remember a plastic petrol station, complete with a lift, which was available in toy shops. Mine was even better; it had a lift, petrol pumps, a ramp and a show room but all with more space than the plastic toy. I loved it. Does anybody remember Tonka Toys, or Matchbox Kingsize kit cars? All my Matchbox cars are still in a small suitcase, in the loft. Here is a video, taking you through the 1974 Dinky Toys catalogue

I mentioned the wooden garage, which my dad made. He also made a nice dolls house for my sister. She was two years younger than me. The dolls house front and back walls could be lifted off to reveal eight large rooms. Two were joined by an archway, a feature popular then on full-sized houses. There was plenty of miniature furniture available for a girl to buy with her pocket-money and some of it was exquisite but it was expensive. I think she quickly ran out of funds and the house was never fully furnished.

My sister was an ace at Marbles. Again, we were both blessed with fantastic marbles, inherited from a great aunt or uncle. These were Victorian antiques. Some were made of white glass with lovely red swirls but my favourite had no stripes or twists inside but was filled with tiny blue bubbles. Although we were given half each, my sister soon began to win all mine from me. We would play on the carpet, in the garden and in the school playground. Not only did she eventually win all mine but she soon started beating everyone at school. Her collection became enormous and I could only stare with envy at the standard sized marbles and the bigger ‘alleys’ and ‘half-alleys’. I remember you could buy marbles in the shop for a couple of shillings but they were never as nice as our antique ones. My sister also had a pink, plastic dog on wheels with pushing handles. It looked for all the world like a mini-pram from a distance. She also had a cuddly toy bear, which she called Poodly-Woodly. I would often hide it which upset her but I would always give in and tell her where it was in the end. Once, while on holiday in Sidmouth, Devon, I threw it out of the window, onto the hotel roof. She couldn’t find it for days. When I finally showed her where it was, she told my parents and they made me retrieve it! I don’t think I ever hid it again after this.

Of course my sister also had plenty of dolls and she had Tiny Tears – the doll that cried! You fed the baby water from a miniature bottle and then she would cry when you turned her over:

Tiny Tears baby doll
Tiny Tears baby doll

I probably became bored with Lego around the age of ten so my dad bought me a Meccano set. I think it was about Set 5. I didn’t really get on with it though. I tried to build a crane from the plans but as you progressed, the nuts from earlier components would become loose and you would have to go back and tighten them all. In the end, it was like a house of cards.

In about 1969 or possibly 1970, a new phenomenon appeared in the UK toy car scene, Hot Wheels. I immediately ordered a set from Santa but I was disappointed. While the track was flexible, the joiners were inexplicably made from brittle plastic and broke very quickly. Within weeks, the track was useless and in the UK at least, you could not buy joiner replacements. However, I got lucky. My nextdoor neighbours had a Matchbox Superfast set. This was Matchbox’s answer to Hot Wheels and was virtually identical. The crucial difference was that the joiners were flexible. I was stuck with a load of Hot Wheels cars and no track. But the cars would run on Superfast track. So, after some negotiation, I managed to persuade them to part with it. The result was many happy days running amazing tracks down the stairs from the landing and out onto the porch. Below is a picture of Matchbox Superfast cars:

Matchbox Superfast cars
Matchbox Superfast cars

One novelty, I should mention was American remote-control cars. When I was about five, our next-door neighbours’ father regularly traveled to America. After one trip, he presented his two sons with these remote-controlled cars. I can’t be certain but I think one was a Cadillac. These were way ahead of what we had in the UK – positively futuristic. We didn’t have remote-control until about 1980, when I did finally get one. American toys always had a mystique for me after seeing these two cars in the 60s.

After cars, I progressed to trains. Horny and Tri-ang trains were the thing. In 1968 the two companies hadn’t yet merged. I saw the Tri-ang Princess class pacifics of a friend’s train set and I had to have one of my own. My dad chose the Hornby Flying Scotsman set. It had a lovely big, green steam engine, a tender, three standard carriages and a pullman carriage and about twenty feet of track. At first, I just laid it on the carpet but it was soon clear this was not a good idea; the cat couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the train every time it came around the track.
“You need a proper, permanent track base,” my dad told me.
‘Great!’ I thought. ‘Maybe the loft? Or all round the landing!’
The problem was that we lived in an ultra-modern challet house. It had a long, sloping roof so the loft was tiny and only about four feet high at its highest point. The landing was no good either.
Imagine, then, my horror when my dad bought home something door-sized! I had to build my whole set on a door-sized fibreboard panel which measured three feet and six inches wide by six feet and six inches long! My dad fixed it to the wall at waist height, in the study, and left me to it. To this day, I don’t understand why he couldn’t give me a panel four feet wide. Just another six inches! The amount of heartache caused by the missing six inches! First of all, I needed a mainline set, two tracks, one inside the other, because the Flying Scotsman is a mainline train. But this made the inner curve about 18 inches radius. Hornby didn’t make curves this tight! Even the outer curve was hanging over the edge of the panel. My dad had to screw a two-inch wide strip to the side so that the track fitted and I could have a station platform. For the inner track, I had to buy flexi-track, which was very expensive.

My train set days were not to be the paradise I had envisioned. The motors never ran smoothly and consequently I was constantly oiling them and cleaning the track with ‘track cleaner’. The problem was so acute that I converted a coal wagon to carry the cleaner. But the solution was too expensive so I had to substitute it with thinners and white-spirit. Unfortunately, this made the plastic sleepers brittle and they would break off. I had an elaborate plan for the set I would build but I never finished it. I found that toy trains are bloody expensive!

After trains, I progressed to model aircraft. Aircraft would quickly become my greatest love, but at first, my experiences with models were frustrating. My dad first whispered of rubber-powered wooden models when was about seven. I didn’t understand what he was talking about but after he brought home an Airfix Hawker Sea Fury and built it for me, I could see the attraction of a model that could fly.

My father brought home a Keil Kraft, rubber-powered Hawker Hurricane. The box contained balsa wood parts for the whole airframe but they weren’t even pressed out, as later kit parts would be! The box clearly said ‘Ages 10 and above’ and I was 7! It was too much! I struggled for a few weeks before consigning the kit to its box. Its unclear whether it was my father’s ambition or my own which would plague my early aircraft building career but the trend continued. When I was ten, Airfix had just released the first two aircraft kits at 1/24 Scale, the Hurricane and Spitfire. These were huge. I never was so impressed by the Spitfire as others; I thought then and in fact still think that the Spitfire is a bit ugly. I wanted the Hurricane. I think it cost £7.49 which was a huge sum at the time but I remember carrying the enormous box proudly home. Again, I wasn’t really old enough to build this kit. I managed to build the thing but it took months and frayed my nerves.

Other toys I remember from the 60s include toy guns. Although I refuse to touch a real gun these days, I had two Western style pistols, one a long-handled black one with an imitation pearl handle and a shorter barreled one. I also had a Winchester rifle. All fired caps. I had a battery torch which had a green and a red filter for the lens. You could shine a normal beam or flip over the filter and then everything in the room would turn green or red. I had a Mamod steam roller and several traction engines of a different make. I had a plastic friction-drive Comet airliner, whose make I have tried, and failed, to discover (please let me know if you remember this and know what it is). Another curiosity, which my father brought home in shrink wrap pack, was a tiny, a Lone Star die-cast American diesel engine, along with some plastic track. It was just a push-along engine but later, I understand, the company used tiny electric motors. I loved it. but with about twelve inches of track and no carriages, it had limited play value. I had a Scalextric set, which was almost as old as me. I guess my dad must have bought it as soon as I was born! The cars were Grand Prix cars from the 1950s! I cannot omit mention of my finest toy; an Ever Ready London Underground set. My grandparents ran a combined Chemist and record shop in the 1960s and Ever Ready gave out 500 toy train sets of red, London Underground trains as a promotional gimmick. I inherited this. It wasn’t that much fun to play with because it only had a single circle of track but it looks great. It’s still in its box and the box is in good condition. When I last checked, one of these sets went at the auctioneer, Christies, for £500. That was ten years ago. If anybody else has one of these, let me know.

While I continued to work my way through the Airfix model aircraft range, my father moved me on to control-line aircraft. These were model aircraft whose control was by means of two steel wires which led from a handle, held by the owner. This system was much like the system used by aerobatic kites. The main difference was that these aircraft flew round you at speeds of up to 100 mph. For some reason, which is beyond my comprehension, my dad chose to buy me the fastest and most sensitive aerobatic model Keil Kraft made. It would be fair to say it was a competition only model. Not only that but the only model engine my dad could lend me was far too powerful. The result was a monster; far too fast for even the most expert control-line flier to handle. When he powered it up for me in the field and let it go, it flew straight into the ground. And I mean, straight into the ground! I never had a chance. I was left with a bag of bits. Consequently, he bought me a smaller engine and we modified the design to make it a bit easier to handle. I rebuilt the model. It still didn’t last long but long enough to teach me the basics. I wanted more and progressed to a Focke Wulf 190 and eventually a Focke Wulf TA 152.
I ended up flying radio-controlled aircraft and even designing my own. My love of aircraft has never been quelled and that passion informs some of my thrillers, such as Attack Hitler’s Bunker! My love of technology led to me writing about Die Glocke (the Nazi Bell) in my subscription novel Rip.

What are your memories of toys in the 1960s?

Memories of the 1960s: Issue II – TV. What are your memories?

There is a permanent page for Memories of the 1960s here.

This week: Books Available on Wattpad, Free Giveaway Honorary Cliff Robertson Documentary and Memories of the 1960s: Issue II

Books Available on Wattpad
Wattpad is fast becoming the book writers’ and readers’ social network. The website at www.wattpad.com has a nice, neat interface and in fact the whole approach is heavy on ‘simple.’ This allows you to start scribbling a story or building up a library of free reading material in seconds.

The simplicity does make it a bit difficult to figure out some features but I quickly got the hang of it. I have about eight of my books there, mostly short stories, but also the first chapters of Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate and Too Bright the Sun.

If you are just starting out as a writer or want to read lots of free stories, take a look.

Free Giveaway
From Saturday 14th June until Monday 16th June, erotic odyssey The Ice Boat Volume I will be FREE on Amazon. If you like adult fiction, and be aware, this contains vivid scenes of a sexual nature, then make sure you grab a copy.

Honorary Cliff Robertson Documentary
Just a quick mention that the project has had roughly 50 followers in the last week! Thanks to all those who have liked the page. If you are interested in getting your name up in lights (for as little as $5) on a Hollywood produced documentary on the Academy Award winning actor, please like the project page here: https://www.facebook.com/cliffrobertsonhonorarydocumentary

Memories of the 1960s: Issue II
I had several nice comments about Issue I so here is another:

TV programmes
Most people will remember the most two most prominent aspects of television in the 1960s; no colour and the dreaded test cards!

Colour television didn’t arrive in the UK until 1967 (BBC2) and late 1969 (BBC1 and ITV). There were some early test programmes on BBC2 and I think I remember one featuring a carnival. My father designed television cameras for a living so we were the first family I knew to have a TV set that could receive and display colour. I remember the riot of ultra-vivid colour blasting out of the screen. It seemed to completely transform the world. There were of course hiccups. Many people turned the colour button up to full, which made greens and red so bright that you would quickly get a headache. Paul McCartney had been assured that the Magical Mystery Tour would be broadcast in colour on Boxing Day 1967. But BBC1 still had not made the transition to colour so he was to be disappointed.

Test cards were what you saw when there were no programmes being transmitted. This was usually between about 1 am and 5 am, 10 am and midday and between 2.30 pm and 4 pm (5 pm on BBC2, which was the ‘educational’ channel). During these times, all you would see was a strange grid pattern with the picture of a young girl holding a piece of chalk against a blackboard and a baloon behind her, in the centre of the grid. Classical or, if my memory serves me correctly, easing listening music would accompany the picture. It would suddenly disappear when transmissions started but this was haphazard as schedules would vary by up to ten minutes.

A curiosity was the National Anthem, played right at the end of transmissions, at about 1 am. This would be followed by a continual tone. Many times neighbours would fall asleep, drunk or otherwise intoxicated, leaving the loud tone to drone on all through the night.

It wasn’t unusual for transmissions to be interrupted by atmospheric condition or even other local phenomenons. There were rumours of ‘ghost’ transmissions from crazy amateurs or TV-guerrillas!
I met one of these later in life. A physics graduate, this guy, along with some mates, figured out how to fire their own transmission at the BBC transmitter aerial somewhere in London. if they got the modulation just right and cancelled out the original signal, they could broadcast their own anarchist message. They were not completely successful the first time because some of the original transmission did reach receivers within a very small radius of the transmitter.

Undeterred, the pirates came up with an ingenious solution. They surrounded the tower at the right moment, and let rise a circle of helium-filled balloons. From these, a reflective tube of thin material was raised to form a ‘curtain’ around the tower. When this rose, they were able to block all transmission from the BBC and broadcast their own to the home counties. My friend never did tell me what message they transmitted.

And what of TV programmes themselves? The first, I remember clearly were from Children’s Hour. there was Muffin the Mule, followed by the Woodentops and Andy Pandy. These were closely followed by Bill and Ben, Play School, Trumpton and Camberwick Green, Pogles Wood and of course the ubiquitous Blue Peter. Although it wasn’t part of Children’s Hour, I also remember a road safety programme called The Tufty Club. I remember something about him having a toy fire engine. I think there was a magazine version and it really made me want to own a big, toy fire engine.

As I grew and (some would deny) matured, I progressed to a list of classics which hardly anybody will remember but I can’t resist listing: Barrier Reef, Skippy, Flipper, The Singing Ringing Tree, Jackanory, Belle and Sebastien, Origami, Yoga with Richard Hittleman, Painting with Nancy Kominski, The Magic Roundabout, Hector’s House, White Horses (so romantic that girls loved it) and of course Doctor Who.

The 1970s were ushered in with some of my all-time favourites: The Aeronauts, The Crusader (sometimes called Thibaud: The crusader) and The Flashing Blade. I suppose if one thing marks out these programmes, it’s the high level of action and the driving R&B soundtracks. In those days, The Beeb (as we called the BBC) was not above hiring small R&B bands to play their them tunes and in fact Pink Floyd actually sat and played along to the 1969 moon landing, live! Unfortunately, the recordings, if there ever were any, have been lost. These, slightly kitch, programmes may have been the progenitor of my love for driving rhythm and blues and rock.

In my childhood, we weren’t encouraged to watch ITV. This was the ‘cowboy’ channel. Mind you, some parents forbade their kids to watch it. I was lucky. I could watch it and I did. I quickly discovered programmes like Catweazle an Magpie, ITV’s answer to Blue Peter.

ITV had a much more laissez-faire attitude to broadcasting. Where else could you get a gorgeous blonde, two middle-aged guys and an Old Father Time pretending to be American Indians while showing you how things worked (How). The gorgeous blonde was Jenny Hanley, daughter of the comedian Tommy Hanley, and I immediately fell for her. I was love struck and I think I may have even written and sent a letter to her. She never replied! The Old Father Time was Jack Hargreaves, one time director of ITV, who wrote How and went on to do another of my favourites, Out of Town. I only recently found out that he made and appeared in Gone Fishing, which I referred to in Memories of the 1960s Issue I. I do remember him saying that Chubb tasted like ‘cotton wool filled with pins and needles!’

Some more of my all-time favourites were the Gerry Anderson serials; Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO. I am too young to remember Fireball XL5, Supercar and Battery Boy etc, but I loved Thunderbirds and UFO, which featured the very hot actress, Gabrielle Drake, and string vests.
The first episode, Trapped in the Sky, I watched, as I watched many, with my father. We would have been out, possibly fishing or to Church and come home to chicken pie or roast chicken at Sunday lunchtime. I would beg my mother to let me eat it in the lounge, with my knees stuffed under and ancient, miniature titling stool like a piano stool and, if I succeeded in persuading her, my dad would watch too. The amount of testosterone pumping through my system after watching these superhero brothers dicing with death in futuristic, jet or diesel powered behemoths probably gave me indigestion!

Then there was Captain Scarlet. This was one man against the evil Mysterons. And he was reincarnated! In fact, he died in every episode and his steady stare above a square jaw, only slightly more mobile than Mount Rushmore, gave no emotional hint of his suffering! I was hooked! Unfortunately it was rarely shown. A rumour would go around that there was one on TV (God knows where kids heard about it) or I would see it in the listings and then tune in, goggle-eyed! I would later learn that not only was the theme of death and reincarnation, Captain Scarlet representing a modern ‘Jesus’, considered too scary for kids but apparently Anderson had had his funding cut and all the character represented his revenge’portrayal of senior ITV management personnel. Captain White was Lew Grade, for instance. Soon the programme was moved to a late night slot. It was followed by UFO, which I also loved, but again, it seemed to be rarely shown on TV, unless I was out playing at the time. I did’t get to see the full series until about 2010.

Then there was Star Trek! By 1970, I was allowed to stay up until about 8.30 pm, twice per week, with my father chaperoning me. He loved Star Trek so I was able to drink in the colourful American vision of the future. The other evening programme, which I watched a lot, was The Virginian. This may seem vastly different from Star Trek, and it was, but it featured many stars of the future; Angie Dickinson, Doug McClure, Lee Majors and many others. And how can I ever forget the dry wit and calming influence of Medicine Bow’s sherrif, played by Clu Gulager?

In 1970, my father brought home the first portable television I had ever seen. None of my friends had one, or had even seen one. For me, it wasn’t that surprising – I regularly found bits of TV cameras strewn across my father’s study – but it was a mouth-watering opportunity. With two televisions, and one being portable, I could finally see a way to get access to the mythical ‘European movies’ that my friends whispered about reverently at school.

The portable TV was only black and white and only had a ten inch screen (I think, possibly twelve) but I quickly made excuses to watch it:
“Oh, star Trek is on at the same time as that film, you and mum want to watch. Can I take the portable upstairs?”

My parents, trusting me as they did, let me take it to my room on condition that I would turn it off after Star Trek. Of course, I did. But then, a careful perusal of the Radio Times’ late night schedule would reveal some dubious ‘European’ movie, usually with no, or very little, description and no (in those days) cast list. I would put the TV in my bed, so that the sound and light were muffled. Then, until the early hours of the morning I would watch Sylvia Kristel (only guessing here, I don’t remember who these people were) undressing and committing carnal acts on wiry, shady men, who always wore socks, and usually their underpants, I seem to remember. Thankfully, they usually left their umbrellas and bowler hats at the door. I guess I nearly came unstuck when I saw Get Carter (1971, I know, but indulge me!). The violence in the film didn’t bother me too much but when he murders the prostitute by injecting her with heroine, I was shocked. I think this may have left a lasting mark on me but I do think the late-night films widened my horizons considerably.

The daytime and evening film fare was usually a Western but the first daytime film I (vaguely) remember being impressed withe was The Wages Of Fear. I had to see it again recently to remind myself of the nitro-glycerine, nerve shattering tension in the film. If you haven’t seen it it yet, make sure you do.

Finally, I have to mention other activities resulting from watching TV (apart from romantic, that is). I probably first felt the inspiration to try fishing while watching Out of Town. During the massive interest in the Gerry Anderson programmes, there was the TV21 annual. 21 stood for ‘Twenty-first Century,’ and the annual, much more exciting than the Blue Peter annual, had plans for all sorts of crazy things you could build.

My two favourites were a version of a tree-house, which you actually suspended from the eaves of a house using pulleys, rope and packing crates or bits of destroyed go-carts, and an SPV simulator. The SPV was Captain Scarlet’s wheels and SPV stood for ‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle.’ Of course, nearly every boy I knew had a toy SPV. But to actually drive one? That would be something. The detailed drawing showed you how to make scenery, which would then run endlessly on a conveyor-belt within a cardboard box, cut to look like a TV monitor. In the full-sized SPV (nobody ever built one, but indulge me again here), the driver faced backwards, to save his body from damage during high-G braking, so he could only see the road through a monitor. The conveyor belt was powered by pedals which in turn were powered by the ‘driver’s’ feet. It was all hilariously good fun. I didn’t but if anybody did build any of these things, please let me know!

Well, I think that’s about it. Please let me know your memories by posting a comment below.