Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Miss Franny's Fabulous Fridge Magnets

The last time I showed some of Miss Franny's fridge magnet collection was way back in July. This time I show some of the UK places commemorated on the bits of plastic that disguise our fridge.

This one covers the entire county of Somerset and was bought this year when we spent a long weekend with friends near Wells.

Whilst I'm not going to put up photos of every place mentioned on it - actually there are some places we haven't been yet on it - I'll cover the top right and the one below it. We've been to Cheddar lots of times taking photos of the same unchanging scene every time. The thing that changes is the style of cars in the car parks, so... guess the year!

Weston-Super-Mare was a regular holiday destination place during my early teens. We first went in 1967 but it's a while since we stayed there. I think the last time I visited was in June 2004 whilst on the road for work and whilst it was a June evening, it was cold and dull so that I remember the weather more than the town.

This one is for a very specific place. The British Museum in London is a fascinating place to wander round and anyone with an interest in history and cultures will find time going very fast indeed when you are in there.

I remember it with the open courtyard, but for quite a while now it has been roofed with glass. This looks even more spectacular from outside provided you can view it from a vantage point such as the 17th floor of the Centre Point building.

The King Arthur magnet could have come from any corner of England, or from the centre of it. So many places claim to be the site of his birth, his battles, his city of Camelot...

I even wrote my own version a few years ago which is available for Kindle e-readers.

The fridge magnet came from Tintagel in Cornwall, where the famous castle remains are a few hundred years after the historical Arthur was supposed to have lived. Tintagel features in my book as the home of Merlin.

A 3D sculpted fridge magnet from the Prince Regent's opulent and exotic Royal Pavilion at Brighton. A real mix of styles it comes across as an Indian palace from outside and a Chinese one inside. Well worth a visit.

My photo was taken one night whilst I was travelling for work and due to run a workshop at Brighton University the following morning.

The Polperro fridge magnet shows the entire county of Cornwall and therefore makes finding Polperro quite hard unless you already know where it is!

It's one of my favourite places in the whole of England and despite the fact that it seldom changes, my camera always gets a thorough work-out when I'm there!

A look at foreign parts in the next article about Miss Franny's Fabulous Fridge Magnets!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Film Review, February 1977 Issue

The second magazine in the recently rediscovered binder of Film Review mags. Duh, this is why I'm not getting anywhere this year with reading books...!

Anyway, as it's the second issue it's going to be February. This is a poignant image isn't it? Dino De Laurentiis brought out his version of King Kong in 1977, 44 years after the original which is still miles better (is still miles ahead of all the versions even now in 2015, 82 years on...)

The Empire State Building having been overshadowed a little by the late 1970s, De Laurentiis chose the twin towers of the World Trade Centre as the climactic scene where military helicopters and jets would topple the mighty Kong.

My issue seems to be missing the free bottle of Supersoft shampoo, but a quick look in the mirror confirms that my head seems to be missing most of my supersoft hair and anyway the shampoo might have congealed a bit by now anyway...

So seeing as I can't show you the shampoo and seeing as there was no advert for it in the magazine - Supersoft surely missing a trick there - here's a look at former Miss World, Eva Reuber Staier advertising Astral moisturiser. I've chosen my toiletry advert as wisely as possible, given that not only does the lovely Eva actually have hair (see the shampoo link there?) but the alternatives were a little gross, being: Clearasil that dealt "effectively with all types of spots and pimples", or Compound W that "dissolves warts without cutting or cauterisation"... Thankfully neither of those products used explanatory photographs...

But of course it's only natural that you should want to know more about Kongy, so here are the stars, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, who at the time was an unknown actress, having been a fashion model. Whereas in 1933 Fay Wray had screamed her little heart out, De Laurentiis wanted Jessica Lange to portray an "engagingly wacky girl whose delightful innocence and stunning beauty are readily appreciated by both Kong and Prescott" (Jeff Bridges' character). Instead of screaming in terror at being picked up by a 40 foot ape, the engagingly wacky girl shouts "You male chauvinist ape!" at Kong, who surely at that point must have been thinking either "Sod this, I'm off..." or perhaps "Maybe I should just bite her head off..." or even "Shut up whilst I rip your shirt off and give the audience a good look at your..." which is what he actually does.

That moment was given almost as much pre-release publicity to make all the little boys want to go see the film as was the fact that this King Kong would be a 40-foot mechanical robot capable of covering 15 feet in a single stride. In the end it appears for a good number of seconds, almost reaching double figures, whilst in the rest of the film it is a sweaty chap in a hairy costume, narked because he didn't get to rip any shirts off.

King Kong wasn't the only movie monster featured in this issue. We were only a year after the phenomenal success of Jaws after all and monsters were box office magic. Unfortunately most monster films were about as far removed from magic as the most unimaginative muggle... Happily I missed out on seeing this one but Piranha was to use up precious minutes of my life that I won't get back.

By the late 1970s the film companies were already turning to TV for ideas for movies that might already have a willing fan base. Almost all of these must have disappointed thousands if not millions. Regan and Carter were ideally suited for TV and just seemed out of place on the big screen.

Plus it had Diane Keen, at the time capturing men's hearts all over the UK in a TV show called The Cuckoo Waltz and I'm not sure whether all those men were delighted or just plain shocked when she was shown in bed and a big ape came from nowhere to rip her shirt off.

On the back cover someone had been smoking so much they had got giddy and fallen off their horse... Ads for bottles of spirit are sadly lacking from this issue but will return soon. I mentioned Lesley-Anne Down last time due to January's front cover featuring the film "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" but she gets a full article all to herself in this one. I've only not included a photo because they used the one I shamelessly sneaked into the last article...

But by way of recompense here are the finalists of the fourth EMI Miss Cinema contest, photographed on the roof of the Hotel Stanley in Athens against the backdrop of the Acropolis. The winner was Linda Lewis of Southport, last but one on the right. All these girls were given a week's holiday in Greece and the winner and two runners up won prizes to the total value of £1500 a very considerable sum of money in 1977. I have looked very carefully, even blowing the image up to fill the screen, but have not yet managed to spot the Acropolis...

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Early 78 rpm Records and Sleeves

It's been a while since I mentioned 78 rpm records, but yesterday I was moseying (I'm having a change from mooching...) around some stalls in an antiques place and found a massive pile of 78s. Some early ones caught my eye with some new (to me) labels and sleeves in amongst them.

I had a couple of records from the Imperial label in my collection but no sleeves. Most 78s after surviving in cupboards, attics or wherever for anything from 55-100 years have been in and out of so many different sleeves that it's very hard to find them in the originals. Because the sleeves were flimsy paper anyway and liable to rip easily, record shops sold stiff card sleeves with their own promotional advertising on them. Because they were a bit more robust they were popular and many 78s still to be found will be in this type of sleeve.

I wasn't really expecting great things of the record itself. It's a medley of First World War popular songs over the two sides, but to my surprise it was really well done with even a few sound effects and humour thrown in as men march and a French girl calls out to the men and gets a typical over-enthusiastic response! There's around half a dozen snatches of song on each side, many of them familiar - If You Were The Only Girl In The World, It's a Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles, Keep The Home Fires Burning and more. For men away from home for a long period the home fires did not mean the one in the fireplace!

That record was one of three Imperial records. And almost unbelievably they were all examples of a different label and sleeve! Whether or not each of them are in the right sleeve I have no idea... The previous record, although of songs from the 1914-18 period was released in 1931. The sleeve shows a price of 1/6 (one shilling and 6 pence - 7.5 pence in today's money but think about 80 years of inflation...) This one sold for 1/3 so you would expect it to be earlier.

The record it holds has a lower catalogue number - 2081 has the Christ Church Cathedral Choir singing Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) on what I presume is the A Side with Abide With Me on the reverse. I usually make these decisions on the basis of the song recording reference which is always shown on labels. The lower number is usually the A side but it's not a hard and fast rule. In this case it's the small number at the bottom of the label. On many records it is printed upside down for some reason. Dating records can also be a bit hit and miss. For some artists you can find a full discography and for others it's a case of using online database sites. Imperial 2081 can be dated with a fair degree of certainty to 1929.

The third Imperial record is a different colour of label altogether. These seem to have been released at the same time as the red ones and could represent the subject matter (type of music) or some other reason. It could be as simple as Imperial having more than one factory pressing records for them.

This is catalogue number 2215 and features Sam Baxter (remember him? No, me neither...) singing and (oh joy!) yodelling his way through the song Hollow Hills with The Yodelling Shepherd on the reverse. Also from 1929 the record has a stamp attached to the label to show that the buyer paid the tax due on the record. The buyer has tried subsequently to remove the stamp. They did tend to spoil the appearance of the label and not all record salesmen were careful as to where they put them - they can be found obscuring the name of the song. Having seen similar stamps I can tell you that it would have had "Associated Copyrights" written around the circular design and over that would be an inked stamp showing the amount of tax paid which in 1929 would be three farthings or three quarters of an old penny - just over three tenths of one of today's pence.

Whilst a later record than the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, I'm not sure that the sleeves are in the right order. The design of the sleeve with the graphic design is more likely to have evolved from the organ pipes than the other way around.

I've mentioned Jack Hylton before on this blog. Lancaster University have a superb collection of material relating to this long-lived and hugely popular band leader. Indeed it was featured on TV the other night in a BBC programme about British Dance Bands and in it Strictly Come Dancing judge, Len Goodman, was shown looking at the music sheets of all the orchestra parts for some of his thousands of songs. I am therefore confident on saying that this record, Felix Kept On Walking was recorded on the 14th of January 1924.

A record of this age is going to have a lot of background noise. And generally the earlier the record the quieter it is recorded anyway, so that the background noise is all the more noticeable. It is impossible to get rid of it all. But with the technical wonders of the 21st century I have managed to get a really good fairly clean version of this song into an mp3 file. The other side though, Why Robinson Crusoe Got The Blues, has totally defeated me. Repeated playings from the very heavy steel needles of the 1920s and 30s (you couldn't put one on your finger and let go of the playing arm without extreme pain and probably puncturing your finger!) have obliterated most of the tonality and distorted what is left. A great shame!

Another lucky find. I previously only had one record on the Panachord label and that was in a different sleeve. It's away up in the attic - I'll have to feature that one in a future article. Panachord was a label owned by Decca and the records released on it were usually sold at a slightly cheaper price than Decca's own releases.

"The Street Singer" was the stage name of singer Arthur Tracy. His 1937 recording of Pennies From Heaven was revived for the 1981 film of that name with a present day actor miming to it (today's artists like to make this sound more difficult by calling it "lip-synching").

This is an unusual one. Most 78 rpm records are ten inches with the longer selections such as Classical music being released on twelve inch. Other sizes were issued though and this example is an eight inch record. These records lasted as long as the standard ten inch records because the label was small, allowing the needle to travel closer to the centre of the record. This explains why the centre spindle hole seems so much larger in the image. The groove was also less deep than standard records. One unfortunate side effect of shallow grooves and the needle being so close to the centre and therefore being forced to the side of the groove with greater force than usual, was to sometimes produce a whistling sound and also to wear or damage the groove more close to the label.

Thea Philips was a soprano (real name: Dorothy Jane Phillips with the more usual double-L in the surname). She emigrated to Australia in 1934 where she sang in revues and shows and later opera and then worked teaching singing as her own performing career declined. Tom Bailey is not the same Tom Bailey who was to find fame in the 1980s as a member of The Thompson Twins and it turns out his real name was Tom Barrett but I've been able to find out nothing else about him. He does, however, get the reverse side all to himself as he sings Rose Marie.

The eight inch record did not come in its own sleeve unfortunately. But it did come in a sleeve I didn't have. I don't have any records from the Dominion label either so have found this one on the Internet. I wish I did have this one though.

When Niccolo Plays the Piccolo has Piccolo Pete on the B side. Piccolo Pete was one of a whole series of performers in a (I assume) fictional orchestra and each member of the orchestra had their own song. There was Goopy Gear on piano and Gimball played the cymbal... There's probably more. I have a recording of the Bert Ambrose Orchestra called Gimball Hits The Cymbal where "...Goopy Gear plays the piano by ear, but Goopy Gear can't play by ear 'till Gimball hits the cymbal!" Similarly "...Piccolo Pete can't tweet-tweet-tweet 'till Gimball hits the cymbal!"

Friday, 23 October 2015

Film Review, January 1977 Issue

Every now and then, the photos going through my scanner have been already featured on here or are of subjects recently covered. Such is my meagre excuse for the odd week of silence.

And occasionally even I get bored of trawling through my own photos and am then moved to do something different like play ancient records of bands only remembered by the few or - as very recently - I'll climb up into the attic and retrieve something I've not seen in years.

In the days before mobile phones when you actually watched a film in the dark, we were regular cinema goers. I used to collect the monthly magazine Film Review which until the 1970s had been published under the name of one of the top cinema chains as ABC Film Review. For some reason in 1977 instead of just throwing them away once I'd read them, I kept them. And bound them. I have a run of four years from 1977 to 1980 where only one issue is missing. January 1978 to be precise. Yep, that would be the issue devoted to the very first Star Wars film... But we will perhaps come to that in a few articles time!

Just for now, let's wallow a little in the first of my 47 (grrr!) issues: January 1977. It cost 15 pence - my God, I must have been made of money! Peter Sellers is featured on the front cover in the guise of bumbling French detective, Inspector Clouseau. The film featuring him is The Pink Panther Strikes Back, the third film in the Pink Panther franchise.

It remains to my mind the most hilarious of them all and featured Burt Kwouk as the hapless servant Cato, Herbert Lom as the ex-Chief Inspector driven to madness by Clouseau and a stunning turn by the glamorous Lesley-Anne Down as a Russian spy, trying her best (my God, it would have worked on me!) to seduce Clouseau. She cut so seductive a figure that she was a serious contender for the part of that year's Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, but in the end it went to Barbara Bach in her pre-Ringo's missus days. I'm not sure whether she missed out simply because she was busy at the time, but it's not important enough to go googling to find out. She did have a superb career to come both in the cinema and landing a long-term starring part in USA TV series The Bold and The Beautiful. Beautiful she certainly was and is and she only missed out on being born on the same day as me by two days and from being my next door neighbour as a child by just over 250 miles... Shame...

Also mentioned on the front cover was another favourite film of that year, Bugsy Malone. Who didn't want their very own splurge gun in 1977? I loved the music too and bought the soundtrack album by Paul Williams.

Jodie Foster only just into her teens played the part of the femme fatale to perfection and followed it up with her own rather successful career. Male lead Scott Baio grew up to become Chachi in Happy Days and the spin-off Joanie loves Chachi and the film featured other well known faces including Bonnie Langford and Blue Peter presenter-to-be, Mark Curry.

Robert Shaw had recovered from being bitten in half by Jaws enough to brave going back to sea as a swashbuckling pirate in The Scarlet Buccaneer. Also mentioned on the front cover of that issue was Dustin Hoffman's warning to kids to brush their teeth, Marathon Man - this not being because he ate a load of Marathon bars (now known as Snickers) but because of his uncomfortable few minutes being given the opposite of a filling in the dentist's chair...

So what else would be in a 1977 magazine? Right! Adverts! Apart from adverts for forthcoming films the magazine tried its best to make you smoke...

...and drink! During the four years of issues there are some classic adverts and we'll have a look at some more in our 1977 fabulous February follow-up!

"Your name Robinson? ... Roxy Robinson? ... You work for Fat Sam?"

Monday, 19 October 2015

Creeping Bentgrass in Charnock Richard

On Saturday night we played at the Football Club in Charnock Richard. This was for a charity night organised by Jack Gerrard, who for many years has organised the Steam Fairs at Heskin Hall.

The night included a fish and chips supper provided by a van. The lady was already there getting prepared when we arrived and it turned out she had a very early start the following morning. I hope we got everybody out to pick up their suppers in time for her to get home and to have a few hours in bed!

The raffle was a jolly affair too with two of the tables enjoying a healthy competition to see which could win the most prizes. Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie also had some success!

We unveiled our version of Procul Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale which gained us a huge roar of appreciation and we got many compliments at the end of the night which was very nice. A great audience throughout the night!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Darwen Gig

Last Saturday saw Creeping Bentgrass out at a church hall in Darwen, where we played for a Harvest celebration.

One of those nights where the audience could be seen - and heard - enjoying themselves! People were singing along, clapping, dancing and nodding their heads in time with the music and they were very generous with their applause. A raffle and tombola helped the night along and there was a rather excellent supper served as well.

We got some good rapport going with the audience as I called out the raffle numbers and the time went all too quickly. I always love it when the organiser of an event says "Oh, everyone stayed a lot longer than I expected them to...!"

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Kodak Instamatic

My first introduction to photography came with a VP Twin - a small plastic camera sold by Woolworths until 1959 that took 127 roll film. They were messy to load were roll films - especially for a five-year-old. So a few years later I got a Christmas present of Kodak's brilliant new invention: the Instamatic.

The Instamatic 50 was launched in 1963 in the UK and was the first ever Instamatic camera taking Kodak's new format 126 film which came in a plastic cartridge that you just dropped into the back of the camera without having to be careful in case you got the film fogged by light. (In America the Instamatic 100 was the first model.) Controls were kept to a minimum. Top left is a metal bar that presses to take a picture. On the front is a sliding bar for taking pictures in bright sunshine or an overcast day. The setting for an overcast day could be used for flash photography - this requiring a separate flashgun that took little blue bulbs full of magnesium wire that when triggered exploded with a bright light that burned so hot the glass bulb melted and bubbled.

On the side of the camera was a lever for winding on the film. Unlike a roll film camera, where it was possible to be over-enthusiastic and wind the entire film by mistake, the camera used holes in the film to tell when enough film had been wound on and it then cocked the shutter and locked the lever so no film was wasted. Also the little triangle is the lever for opening the back of the camera for loading and unloading film cartridges. So a few photos from my Instamatic...

The very first photo I took with the camera some time in 1964 was this waterfall near Gisburn which was in Yorkshire at the time. In 1974 they decided it would be in Lancashire where it has been ever since, but I expect that a mini War of the Roses was in the offing at the time...

Every photo on that very first film had an interesting green stripe flanked by pink stripes either side, running horizontally along the bottom of the photo. It was probably caused by a bit of dust scratching the film...

Carnarvon Castle. It took many months to take a full film of 12 or 20 photos, mainly because it cost money to have them developed and printed. "That's enough now - save your film for something else..." The colour photos on this entry were taken on Kodachrome film which was a colour transparency (slides) film and the cost of the film included processing. The film cartridge came with an envelope for sending the exposed cartridge to Kodak's laboratories in Hemel Hempstead where it was processed, cut and the square images mounted in cardboard slide mounts printed with the month and year (sometimes so faint as to be invisible) and each slide numbered.

Also in Wales, these are the Swallow Falls at Betys-y-Coed. Taken in 1966 by my brother Frank (who would have taken any of these photos featuring me) it has the distinction of being the last photograph ever taken of me wearing short trousers. I was not allowed to wear long trousers until I was 13, whether for being dressed up or for everyday use. At 12 I was allowed a pair of jeans for play, but they were definitely not allowed for such formal things as meeting relatives or being taken to the shops etc.

Again courtesy of Frank here I am, aged 12 on holiday in Weston-Super-Mare, with a plastic battery-operated boat, knees that speak of having just been on the beach and foot stopping my football from rolling away. My mobile phone and tablet must have been in my pocket or held by Frank...

Blackpool, possibly during a day trip to see the Illuminations but it is possible this was an overnight or several nighter. It was September 1966 and I was 12½ here and starting to get to that awkward stage - "playing" was starting to come second to eyeing up the opposite sex.

The following year we were in Cheddar Gorge. You could probably take exactly the same photograph today - but it wouldn't have all those gorgeous 1960s cars in it!

Christmas dinner at my Grandma and Grandad Burke's house. Pictured L-R are half of Gt Auntie Elsie, my Grandma's sister, Gt-Gt Auntie Florrie, Gt Uncle Percy (Elsie's husband), Gt Grandma Brierley (mother to my Grandma Annie and Auntie Elsie) and Gt Auntie Cissie who was my Grandad's sister and called Mary really but she hated being called Mary as most people in Lancashire rhymed it with furry and she was always known as Cissie.

I have two abiding memories of Auntie Cissie from my younger days. One: that she had a tiny terraced house in Castleton, Rochdale that had an outdoor privy with a long drop to an open sewer 40 feet below. I was always petrified of falling down it and even getting to the privy meant pushing my way through tall stalks of what would have been magnificent rhubarb. Again at that age when it grows to above your head, you tend to remember it rather differently! Two: I loved tinned salmon (still do) but Auntie Cissie would never take the bones out, she believed they were good for you and just mashed them up so that you suddenly bit on a vertebrae or, worse, pierced the roof of your mouth with the pointy end of a fish rib... Ah the good old days...

They also brought out black and white film for the Instamatic and I got interested in developing and printing my own photos, which was both fun and very rewarding. The go-karts are at Heysham Head near Morecambe, a sort of fun park-cum-holiday park now long gone.

Margate, either 1966 or 67 I think. I wasn't as good at the time at labelling photos... We used to stay in a hotel in Cliftonville which had a half-sized snooker table in the lounge. Although perhaps my best memory of Margate has something to do with it being the place where I got my first brief cuddle with a young lady... Rosemary of Welwyn Garden City... Never to be seen again...

Also never to be seen again are the station buildings at Milnrow Railway Station. Once a stop on the line from Rochdale to Manchester Victoria it is now a tram halt with the platforms decorated so I am told by simple shelters. I remember it with a ticket master, station master and waiting rooms that would have roaring warm fires in winter. Progress...

And I'll finish with a photo that I can date to the exact day. The Avro Vulcan at the very first Woodford Air Show, 29 June 1968. The photo shows just how close the public were allowed to get to aircraft.

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