Tag Archives: 1950s

I was brought up in Aberdeen and Campbeltown in 1950s Scotland…

I was born on the west coast of Scotland – in Campbeltown, Argyll, near the end of the Kintyre peninsula, AKA – as Paul McCartney would later eulogise it – the Mull of Kintyre

Scots singer Andy Stewart had much earlier sung about Campbeltown Loch.

At the time, as well as having an unfathomably high number of whisky distilleries, Campbeltown was a very active fishing port. My father used to service the echo sounders on the fishing boats.

Radar spots incoming aircraft and suchlike. Echo sounders do much the same but vertically, with fish.

A fishing boat would use its echo sounder to project an acoustic beam down under the surface of the sea and, when the beam hit the seabed, it bounced back and you could see any shoals of fish which interrupted the beam.

My father worked for a company called Kelvin Hughes, who made the echo sounders.

When I was three, my father got a similar job with Kelvin Hughes in Aberdeen, in north east Scotland. It was a bigger depot in a bigger town. A city, indeed.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” is a quote either from the Greek philosopher Aristotle or the Jesuit writer St. Ignatius Loyola. Neither copyright nor political correctness held much sway back then.

Anyway, I lived in Aberdeen from the age of 3 to 8, in the 1950s.

I remember idyllic summer days in Duthie Park and Hazlehead Park… and happy warm afternoons on the sandy beach, playing among the sand dunes. It must, in reality, have been like combining the sands of the Sahara with winds from the Arctic. 

When we first came down to England, I remember being horrified by the beach at Brighton: not a sandy beach, more some bizarre vision from a horror movie where the grains of sand have all been replaced by hard egg-sized grey stone pebbles.

This is not a beach! I remember thinking. This is just a load of stones!

I was also surprised by the uniform blackness of Central London. This was before the cleaning of buildings with (I think) high-pressure water jets. The whole of Whitehall, I remember, was just flat, featureless black buildings, caked in a century and more of soot. Aberdeen, by contrast, was/is ‘The Granite City’ – uniformly light grey stone but, when the light hits it at the correct angle, the stones sparkle.

London also had no decent ice cream: a feature of key importance to me both then and now. At that time, ice cream in London was mostly oblongs of fairly solid yellow ‘stuff’ compared to the glories of the delicious softer white Italian ice cream in Scotland.

No-one seems to have a definitive explanation of why there are so many Italians – and, in particular, Italian ice cream vendors – in Scotland. Explanations vary from Italians on Scottish POW Camps in World War II who went native after the War ended and married local girls… to an inexplicable influx of Italian coal miners in the 19th century. I only repeat what I have read.

I vividly remember playing in the living room of our first rented flat in Aberdeen, beside the wonderful warm flames of an open coal fire while a storm raged outside. My mother was in the room. I was playing on a patterned rectangular carpet with the gaps between the edges of the carpet and the walls filled-in by hard brown lino – fitted carpets were an unimaginable and thought-unnecessary luxury back then. I was racing small metal Dinky cars round the band at the edge of the old and randomly threadbare Persian-design carpet.

It felt so warm and lovely and safe in the room with the raging fire while the storm outside loudly battered and spattered rain against the window panes. And my mother was with me.

I went to Aberdeen Grammar School when I was a kid. This was a state school and it had a Primary School section for under-11s, but you had to be interviewed to be accepted, presumably to get a better class of person. I must have slipped through.

My mother had heard that one of the things they sometimes did during the interview was to ask you to tie up your own shoelaces. This was not something I could do. Frankly, I’m still not too good at it. Fortunately, it was snowing the day I had my interview, so my mother dressed me in Wellington boots, thus circumventing the problem.

I do remember one question I was asked.

I was shown a cartoon drawing and the grown-up asked me what was wrong with it.

The cartoon showed a man in a hat holding an umbrella in the rain. But he was holding it upside down with the handle in the air and the curved protective canopy at the bottom. 

I have a vague memory that I may have thought the grown-ups there were stupid, but I did point out the umbrella was upside down and got accepted into the school.

Weather was an important factor in Aberdeen.

We lived on the ground floor of a three-storey roughcast council block on the Mastrick council estate.

Modern Google Streetview of a similar – but not the actual – council block on the Mastrick estate

It was cold cold cold in Aberdeen. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds and do the housework in her overcoat.

She used to get up before my father and I did and make the coal fire in the living room. She used to start with tightly rolled-up newspaper pages which, once rolled-up, were folded into a figure-of-eight. These and small sticks of wood were put below and among the lumps of coal. The rolled-up newspaper ‘sticks’ were lit with a match and burned relatively slowly because they were rolled-up tight and, when they went on fire, they set the wood on fire which started the coal burning.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. 

The bedrooms, as I remember it, had no lit fires, which is why she had to wear an overcoat when making the beds in the morning.

I remember making an ice cream shop man (probably Italian) very happy one afternoon by buying (well, my mother bought for me) a cone of ice cream. I was his first and possibly only customer of the day.

My father had been in the British Navy based in Malta during the Second World War and always told us that, in very hot weather, the Maltese drank lots of hot tea on the principle that, if you made yourself feel as hot inside as the weather was outside, you felt the extreme heat less.

As a reverse of this he said, in cold weather, you should eat cold ice cream because, if you feel as cold inside as you are outside, you will feel the extremity of the cold weather less.

Rain, snow, sleet and high winds were, of course, not uncommon in Aberdeen.

I remember once, coming back from school one afternoon, being on a bus which got stuck on a hill on an icy road in a snowstorm. I think it was maybe not uncommon then.

The Mastrick council estate was built on a hill with lots of open areas between the buildings, so the wind tended to build up.

The main road, a few minutes walk away from our council flat was The Lang Stracht (literally The Long Straight) and I remember it in a snow storm once. Or, at least, I think I do. I may have got confused by seeing a YouTube video a few years ago of a snowstorm on the Lang Stracht.

Either it reminded me of a genuinely-remembered snowstorm on the Lang Stracht; or it made me think I remembered one but hadn’t.

Mental reality, like any memory, is flexible.

All the above could be a whole load of mis-remembered bollocks.

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Linked: the Krays, the Blind Beggar shooting and the Queen of England

Micky Fawcett (right) with Ronnie Kray (left) & boxer Sonny Liston,

(L-R) Ronnie Kray, boxer Sonny Liston and Micky Fawcett

So I was talking to Micky Fawcett. He used to work for 1960s London gangsters the Kray Twins.

“The Krays went up to Scotland, didn’t they?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Micky. “The Scots came down here to London.”

Arthur Thompson?” I asked.

“I don’t think he was there, but there was a guy called Richie Anderson. He was on the firm (the Krays’ gang) for a while; I got on very well with Richie. He was a bit scornful of… You know the two Scotsmen who were with Ronnie when he shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar? One fired the gun up in the roof. They hadn’t been round for long; they were newcomers, but Richie Anderson was very scornful of them:. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because they came from Edinburgh and he came from Glasgow.”

“That would do it,” I laughed. “Glasgow chaps think chaps from Edinburgh are ponces and wankers, not proper hard men.”

“I was friendly with quite a few Jocks in the Army,” said Micky. “In the five minutes I was there. There was John McDowell. To look at him, you would imagine he’d been brought up on deep-fried Mars Bars. He came from Maryhill…”

“Ooh,” I said. “Buffalo Bill from Maryhill. There are supposed to be lots of descendants of Red Indians around Maryhill.”

“… and there was a bloke who came from Govan,” Micky continued.

“You know all the best people,” I said.

“I like Scotland,” Micky told me. “In the Army, Scotsmen, Cockneys and Scousers all kind of had more in common. There was a good experience I had in Scotland. Me and another guy sold a feller a distillery.”

“Legitimately?” I asked. “Did you actually own it?”

“Anyway…,” said Micky. “We sold him the distillery. We had never seen a distillery. So we thought we’d better go and see one. We jumped on a plane and went to one of these little towns near Glasgow. All done. So we thought we’d go and have a drink in the Gorbals.”

“Oh good grief!” I said.

“I wanted to see it,” said Mickey. “I’m fascinated by that sort of thing. All the windows were bricked up.”

“Which year was this?”

“The early 1960s.”

“You’re lucky to have got out alive,” I told him. “An English accent in the Gorbals.”

“I’ve been up there since and the Gorbals has gone.”

“They’ve blown up the tower blocks,” I said.

“And I’ve been up Ben Nevis and around Loch Lomond,” said Micky. “I saw the Queen up there… On my first visit to Scotland in the 1950s, around 1958, I went to the Braemar Gathering and she was there in the distance.

Princess Margaret, 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo

Princess Margaret in 1965 (Photograph by Eric Koch/Anefo)

“I can’t remember where I stayed; I might have slept in the car in them days – I had a wooden shooting-brake. But, the next day, I’m driving around and I recognise Princess Margaret’s car, because it had been on the television – she had a Vauxhall Victor.

“I saw a couple of soldiers in their uniforms with rifles, just standing around talking and there was the Royal Family sitting on big blankets out on the grass. Just sitting around drinking out of vacuum flasks and eating sandwiches.”

“It was not,” I asked, “Princess Margaret you sold a distillery to?”

“No,” laughed Micky. “I can’t remember the details of the distillery. But we also sold La Discotheque in London.

“I was in the Kentucky Club (owned by the Kray Twins) and there was a feller who had run dance halls. Do you remember Lennie Peters?”

“The blind pop singer in Peters & Lee?”

“Yeah. and because this feller was in the dance hall business, the Twins thought that was exactly the same as being in the music business. It was confused in their minds. So Reggie asked this feller: Can you do anything for Lennie Peters? The feller said: No, I can’t do anything.

“So the feller came over to us – me and another guy who were standing around just having a drink – and said: Make you fucking laugh, don’t they? He’s just asked me if I can do anything for Lennie Peters? How am I going to do anything for a fucking blind man?”

“Later, I said to Reggie: You asked him, did you? And Reggie says: Yeah. The usual thing. I’ll chin him.

“I said: No, no, hold it a minute. We can do something with him.

“We?” I asked.

“Me and the guy I was working with. I had a partner for a long, long time. We worked well together. So we talked to this guy and found out how his dance halls worked and how they didn’t work and said: We can do something for you. Would you like to run La Discotheque? It was the first discotheque in the West End. A feller called Raymond Nash owned it, a Lebanese…”

“Nash?” I asked.

“Yeah. Not the Nash family. He was a Lebanese guy, a top criminal.”

“Lebanese criminal?” I asked.

“Yeah. But in England. He died not long ago and there were big articles in the papers about him. His daughter got caught by Japanese and – oh – if someone wanted to make a good story, that really would be a good story.”

Raymond Nash had also been an associate of slum landlord Peter Rachman.

“So,” Micky continued, “we approached Raymond Nash and said: Listen, we got a feller we wanna do a bit of business with, if you could make all your staff just salute us and give us the run of the place for a night… 

“He said: Alright, you got it.

“He got cut-in for a percentage?” I asked.

“No. No money for him. He just wanted to be friendly with The Twins…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

Krayzy Days – Micky Fawcett’s memoir

“So we went back to this feller – Ron Kingsnorth his name was – he had a dance hall in Romford – and we said to him: Listen, we can do something here. We’ve put the frighteners on that Raymond Nash and we can take over La Discotheque. We’ll take you up there, have a look round, see if you fancy it.

“And I forget the figure we got out of him – but it was a few grand.”

“So he bought it?” I asked.

“He bought the running of it from us and then Raymond Nash came along and said to him: What are you doing here? Fuck off!

“We used to do it all the time. That was my job.”

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Sexual abuse: when women & children were seen as ‘fair game’? – in the past?

A British Rail poster ad from the past

A British Rail poster from the past, with paedophile pop star Gary Glitter

The last words of my blog yesterday were:

“The past does not exist, even though everything is interconnected by happenstance.”

Someone took exception when they read this yesterday and told me:

“You’re an idiot. Of course the past exists.”

Well, it doesn’t and it does…

Two days ago, I posted a blog headlined Rolf Harris, Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter, Roman Polanski – and what it is like to be sexually assaulted as a child.

Yesterday, I got a response from ‘Sandy Mac’. This turned out to be someone I met at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. This is what she wrote yesterday:


I was born in 1946.

I was about seven years old or a bit younger and sometimes looked after by a neighbour with a small daughter. I rarely saw her husband but, on this occasion, he was at home.

He and I were in the front room sitting in front of the fire. Amidst the chat, I looked up to see this ‘thing’ in his hand which he urged me to touch.

I remember feeling uncertain, confused if not a bit frightened at what he was asking, although I didn’t know why.

I remember him saying: “Go on. It won’t bite.”

Then his wife called us to the kitchen to eat. I can’t remember how I felt after that as we all sat around the table.

I do know that I didn’t tell my mother, but I didn’t go to that house again.

A happy coincidence maybe, but no explanation was given.

In my early twenties, I remember working for one particular employer who was an absolute menace around women. He also wielded quite a lot of power. Not a happy combination. As well as witnessing my employer’s behaviour towards women at first hand, I heard accounts from other people too. This would have been in the mid-1960s.

That sadly was the climate of the times.

Police at that time, I remember, were loathe to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Oh how I applauded Erin Pizzey when she opened her first refuge in Chiswick in the early 1970s.

I was an ‘unmarried mother’ at sixteen and was sent to a mother and baby home, run by nuns in Stamford Hill.

The stigma was huge in 1962, only matched by my mother’s disappointment in me.

My daughter will be 52 this year with three boys of her own. She was reunited in Canada with her father and his lovely wife. She and her dad had about ten years to get to know one another. She was with him when he died a few years ago now.

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When Bernard Manning took Charlie Chuck backstage at James Whale’s show

Yesterday afternoon, I had a tea-room crawl around London’s West End with comedian Charlie Chuck. He had come down for a meeting in Soho about appearing in a TV ad.

He told me his girlfriend now has 21 ducks and a Buddha statue in her back garden. To celebrate, we went down to see the ducks in St James’s Park which is a fine example of ornithological multi-culturalism where any number of imaginable and unimaginable breeds intermingle, mostly politely, and occasional light grey pigeons wander randomly about, looking slightly stunned at the surrounding plumage, like drab, grey-suited City gents who have accidentally wandered into the VIP hospitality tent behind the Pyramid Stage in Glastonbury.

Dave (Charlie Chuck’s real name) told me more about his unbilled second show at the upcoming Edinburgh FringeDave Kear’s Guide to the Universe – which I blogged about last week and which he will perform in theSpaces@SurgeonsHall for six days. He has plans to develop this year’s show into an hour-long play called Mister Nobody at the 2012 Fringe and has been discussing with a 1960s ‘celebrity vicar’ what that might involve.

Sitting in St James’s Park, watching a three-mallard duck-fight on the water, Dave suddenly remembered that, when he was a 20-year-old drummer with innocent hopes of a hit parade career ahead of him, he had slept overnight on a deckchair in this very park, the night before an early morning meeting with a record producer in what was then Tin Pan Alley.

He also regaled me with tales of touring Britain for a year in the 1970s as drummer with The Missouri Breaks – backing band for 1950s British rock ‘n’ roll legend Wee Willie Harris. Support acts for Wee Willie Harris on that tour were comedians Bernard Manning and Duncan ‘chase me chase me’ Norvelle.

That sounds to me like one hell of an eclectic tour.

Manning’s act involved going on stage with two large, fearsome-looking bouncers who stood on either side of him while he insulted the audience and the other acts. Seeing the size of the bouncers, no-one ever objected to the insults.

“I met Bernard again on James Whale‘s 40th Birthday Party show,” Dave told me, “and he asked me into his dressing room and told me You’re doing a great job. That’s a great character. I were chuffed. It were very nice of him.”

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