Thursday, May 30, 2024

Oxford Life - 03 Accommodation

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 03 - Accommodation.

Year one.

It's not all "Dreaming Spires" or "Brideshead Revisited" even though Evelyn Waugh attended Hertford College and the first section of the book is set in a college remarkably similar. The college is very photogenic, especially with its Bridge of Sighs, but the interiors of the student rooms were much more prosaic. 

On a recent visit to Oxford with friends, as an alumni I was able to get a back stage pass to show them around the interior even though the college was closed to visitors.

In the first year everybody got to stay in hall as there were enough rooms for all the freshers. This is the quad known as the Old Buildings. The entrance from Catte Street is through the lodge on the left of the picture, the spiral staircase goes up to the dining room, above the lodge, and to the MCR (Middle Common Room).

In the corner of this quad is another staircase that led up to my room on the top floor, to the right of the spiral staircase, but on the street side. My room was clearly one half of what had once been a suite comprising a bedroom and living room but no way to tell which was which. My room was the one on the right of this photo:

There would have originally been an outer front door to the rooms, where you can see the opening. This would have been made of oak and gives rise to the phrase “sporting your oak”. A closed outer door indicated that either you were away or you were in and not to be disturbed because you were studying hard or you had a guest. My oak must have been removed when the rooms were divided, but there are still plenty of others along the rest of the corridor.

The room was fairly basic. Bed, table, chair, electric fire. There might have been other chairs but I do not recall. The wall was adorned with posters - Blu-Tack was allowed. The window was on the Catte Street side, and looked out over the Sheldonian, where graduation ceremonies are held.

There was a shared bathroom for our floor but no kitchen anywhere. In my room I had a kettle and a few mugs, a jar of Nescafé and a tin of powdered milk for entertaining, as did everyone else.

My friend Mike lived on a staircase in the New Buildings which lacked running water so every morning the scout (as the housekeepers are termed) would bring up a jug of hot water for his morning ablutions so that he did not have to trek all the way downstairs to the communal bathroom. Looking back that seems a little bizarre.

Hertford College locked their gates at midnight, although to be fair, they left open a basement window into the laundry room and did provide a ladder, so if you were out after midnight you could climb down and crawl in through the window. As my friends lived in the other quad we often traversed that iconic bridge between the two quads.

Year Two.

At the end of first year exams, those who did particularly well, known as scholars, were granted the privilege of a second year in hall. My friend Mike was bright and did well enough to get his second year in hall whilst the rest of us had to seek alternative accommodation. 

For the Michaelmas (autumn) term I found a landlady in Denmark Street who provided bed and breakfast for students. It was pretty dire. I had a bedroom and she provided breakfast which consisted of some fairly cheap bacon with a little white bony bits in. I was not allowed visitors so had to go out in order to meet up with my friends. She had a son who was learning to play keyboards, practising on an electronic organ with the vibrato set to maximum, pretty awful. It was pretty obvious I was again going to have to find alternative accommodation.

Vince and Pete were able to get rooms in a pair of Victorian terraced houses owned by Hertford College at 134 and 136 Walton Street which is where we spent much of our time. There was an unoccupied bedroom, used by the cleaners as a storeroom, which seemed a bit wasteful and I negotiated with the college to relocate their mops and buckets out into the cupboard under the stairs and I moved in after Christmas. One of the first things I did was paint the walls orange. That was my accommodation for the rest of the second year. It was all very sordid with a strong “The Young Ones” vibe about it.

Year three.

Over the summer, the parents of a fellow student bought a house in Stratford Street not too far from the town centre. The fellow student, also called Mark, had the use of the huge through lounge at the front of the house as his bedroom / living room. Mike and I moved in each with our own bedroom and use of the communal breakfast room and kitchen. So much nicer than Walton Street. 

Year four.

I continued to live in Stratford Street. Since it was the only house with shared space Vince and Pete were often round there as we sat around the kitchen table. It was just like living in a normal house not a picturesque college nor a squalid student shared house. It was there I learned to cook and where we held our first dinner party.


I stayed on in Oxford after university and became the lodger with friends who lived in West Street, Osney.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Oxford Life - 02 Social

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 02 - Social.

For many people going to university meant freedom, a liberation, escaping the restrictions of home life and meeting all manner of new people. For me it was, in fact, the reverse. My parents were very easy-going and by the time I had reached 18 I could come and go as I pleased. All they asked was that if I was going to be out late that I would phone home and let them know what was happening, when I might be home.

I arrived in Oxford, where the colleges were single sex. The ratio of men to women was around 7:1. The only time you saw women was in the lecture theatres. I had grown up with a brother and sister. All my life schools have been mixed boys and girls. I had friends, I went to the pub and recently started dating Lesley, the head girl. The all male environment was a shock.

I was thrust into an environment where I knew no-one. I was the only person from my school ever to have gone to Oxford. So there were no fellow pupils from years above to act as an intro. Early on I formed a social group with similar, fish-out-of-water state school pupils. We circled the wagons and it was hard to break out and extend our circle of friends. I lacked the social skills and confidence needed to network and meet new people. 

Dramatis personae (L to R):
Back Row: Pete Miller, Mike ?, Vince Russett.
Front row: Mike Gover, Alan Bunker.

That is me on the right holding the album cover in front of me.

Alan Bunker, Vince Russett, Mike Gover (seated),
Mike ? (standing), Mark McLellan (me).

The colleges acted as social silos. You lived in hall, dined in hall, went to the JCR (Junior Common Room) to watch telly, mostly with fellow freshers. Most universities have a union bar and canteen where people would congregate. You could drink cheap beer and get introduced to friends of friends and gradually expand your social circle. Not so in Oxford.

There is an Oxford Union but it is not a union bar in the usual sense despite the name, it is, in fact, a posh boys debating society where would be politicians honed their oratorical skills. It had nothing to do with socialising at all. Hertford did have a college bar in a dingy, poorly lit basement where you might find half a dozen people gathering on the evenings that it was staffed by one of the cleaners.

My girlfriend went to Southampton University to study medicine and the relationship did not survive the distance. We split up at Easter and then followed three celibate years. No fun at all.

I went to two parties in three years.  I cannot even remember the first one and the second was one we organised ourselves in our third year when we were living in Stratford Street. 

All this had a detrimental effect of my cheerfulness, what nowadays would be termed mental health. By the third year I was not in a good place. There was no obvious pastoral care provided by the university, so I went to the doctor to explain the depth of my unhappiness. They asked a few questions: Do you get on okay with your parents. Yes. Are you managing okay with your studies. Yes. Do you have a girlfriend? No. Do you have a boyfriend? No! The outcome: “Nothing really to worry about. Off you go”. Thanks a bunch pal (sarcasm)! These days I am sure I would receive a more sympathetic hearing.

In my fourth year (1974) Hertford was part of the first group of all-male Oxford colleges to admit women by which time it was a bit late to have any impact on my life.

I am glad to report that in my fourth year I did a project in RLAHA (Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art) where I met new people, acquired a girlfriend, started socialising with a different crowd and things improved considerably.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Oxford Life - 01 Application

Oxford in the early ‘70s was very different to what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 01 - Application.

My headmaster, R.N.Mitchell, BA (Cantab.), asked me if I would consider applying to Oxbridge. I had never heard the term and had to have it explained to me that this was a portmanteau word for Oxford and Cambridge. I also didn’t realise that his degree was not from Canterbury, but in fact Cantabrigiensis, the Latin for Cambridge. This explains his keenness for somebody from Kenilworth Grammar School to go to one of these hallowed institutions.

At this point, I need to digress to explain the English education system as it was in the 1960s in Warwickshire.

You attended junior school from the ages of 5 to 11. In your final year you sat the 11+ exam and this academic triage affected the rest of your life. If you were less academically gifted you went to a secondary modern school where the syllabus was more vocational. If you were brighter you went to the local grammar school for a broader education. If you were one of the very brightest you went to the local public school. The thought that the whole of your future life could be determined by one single test on one day at age 11 was a terrible idea. This system turned out to be a bad idea for people who were late developers and for many other reasons. 

For non UK readers I need to explain that a public school is exactly the opposite of what its name suggests. It is a fee paying school predominantly populated by the children of the upper classes and the wealthy. A few of the brightest state pupils had their places paid for as a result of the 11+.

At your senior school, you studied from 11 to 16, and sat your O-level exams (O = Ordinary), normally eight subjects. Some left school after O-levels, others went onto the sixth form typically to study three A-levels (A = Advanced). These took two years. In the second year sixth (aka Upper 6th) you would apply to multiple universities and get offered places conditional upon achieving certain grades in your A-levels. These required grades were determined by a combination of supply and demand and the rigour of the degree e.g. mining engineering only required two passes at E grade; medical school typically required two A’s and a B.

Entrance to Oxford and Cambridge, however, was achieved by sitting their own unique entrance exam which was taken in the spring following your A-levels. This meant staying on for a third year sixth form which is something that only public schools could afford. Grammar school pupils had already headed off to university. As a result, the Oxford and Cambridge student intake was drawn predominantly from the offspring of the upper and moneyed classes.

The Oxford colleges published an annual Norrington table, which ranked the 30 or so colleges based on their degree results.  Some of the colleges in the lower echelons of this league table realised that they were missing out on potentially very capable students from other schools because of the selection process described above. Therefore Hertford introduced the Tanner scheme whereby they would offer places to pupils based on an interview, recommendation from the school and predicted grades.

I was a beneficiary of this scheme. I had an interview with Professor Keith McLauchlan, and was offered a place conditional on getting “Use of English” and, bizarrely, just two A-levels of unspecified pass grade, because this was the minimum to be eligible for a grant from the local educational authority. As it turned out I was, as the Americans say, a straight A student and achieved three A grades in my A-levels.

Text of letter: 

16 December 1970 

Dear Mr. McLellan, 

I am pleased to be able to offer you a place as a Commoner in this College, subject to your satisfying Matriculation requirements*, for Michaelmas Term 1971, to read Chemistry.

Will you please let me know by return, if possible, that you wish to accept this offer, and complete and return to the Admissions Office the enclosed slip so that the UCCA machinery can be made to work. 

Information about reading before you come up can be obtained from Dr. McLauchlan. and you will be informed of administrative arrangements by the College Secretary later on. 

Yours sincerely,
(Sir Lindor Brown) 

*to qualify for Matriculation you need to gain the following G.C.E. passes: Use of English; 2 A levels. 

Mr. M.S. McLellan.

Two other pupils from my year also were successful in their applications to Cambridge and, it being a slow week, us three star pupils warranted an item in the local newspaper, the Kenilworth Weekly News.

Text of article:

Knowledge is rewarded

Three pupils of Kenilworth Grammar School, all in the Second Year Sixth, have been successful in gaining entrance to Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Mark McLellan (at the back), of 7 Barford Road, Kenilworth, is to read chemistry at Hertford College, Oxford. Daphne Kane, 14 Lancaster Place, Kenilworth, will be going to Girton College, Cambridge next October to read modern and mediaeval languages (French and Latin). Churchill College, Cambridge, in October 1972, is where Nigel Bull, of Eastern Green is due to read modern languages (German and Russian) after under taking a year's voluntary service.

Bizarre that they would publish our home addresses but those were more innocent times.

No gap year for me, it was next stop Oxford...

Saturday, May 25, 2024

UK Road Trip, May 2024

All over the place, UK. May-2024.

Well actually more of a rail trip. Mary booked tickets for Average White Band in Edinburgh almost a year ago so we always had planned a flying visit back from Italy especially for this concert followed by John Bishop in Newcastle. The original plan was a couple of days in Penrith then off to Milan for the start of a 6 day walking holiday. 

Sadly we had to cancel that holiday but, by a series of lucky coincidences, this turned a very short visit into a 11 day road trip back to the UK taking in the AWB concert, John Bishop show, a 70th birthday party, and a visit to my second cousin. 

We only had three days in Penrith which meant we had to cram lots into a short time window.

Friday 10: Edinburgh: a very long day. Our taxi picked us up at 9:30 in Cisternino to drive us to Bari airport. We flew to Gatwick and then caught the train all the way up to Edinburgh arriving at 21:30 (22:30 Italian time). A total of 13 hours travelling but we decided it was better that way because the direct flights from Brindisi to Edinburgh didn’t land till almost midnight.

Saturday 11: Edinburgh: Saturday morning was, of course, #parkrunday. Our choice was a bus ride across town to Oriam to give us an “O” towards our second parkrun alphabet. Mary's sister Sandra drove over from Glasgow to join us. That evening we went to see Average White Band at Usher Hall as part of their farewell "Funk Finale Tour".

Sunday 12: Newcastle: Before leaving Edinburgh we had a morning to spare so we walked down to Leith looking at old buildings. 

The 'Pilrig Muddle' These two large cable-winding wheels were constructed between 1898 and 1900 and were discovered nearby during the construction of the Trams to Newhaven Project in August 2021. Located at the junction of Leith Walk and Pilrig Street they formed part of the underground cable system for the Edinburgh and District Tramways Company's cable-trams.
Although Edinburgh and Leith had been connected by horse-drawn trams since the 1870's, Leith Burgh Council decided not to join Edinburgh's cable-tram system. Instead in 1905 Leith pioneered electric traction under the Leith Corporation Tramways.
However the use of two different tram systems meant that passengers travelling between Leith and Edinburgh would have to change tramcars at the Leith Walk / Pilrig Street junction, the boundary between the two Burghs. Known as the "Pilrig Muddle', this lasted until 1922 when the route became fully electric allowing passengers to travel without having to change.

Lamb's House: The present house is an example of early-17th-century architecture typical of harbour towns around the North Sea. The site was originally owned by Edinburgh merchant and shipowner Andrew Lamb. The Lamb family were reputed to have entertained Mary, Queen of Scots, somewhere nearby on her return from France in 1561. [wikipedia].

The signal tower, built by Robert Mylne in 1686, was originally a windmill for pressing rape-seed oil. It was converted c.1805. It stands on the shore where ships entering Leith landed their goods before the development of the modern docks in the 19th century.

On the way back into town, we passed an antique shop with two Parker Knoll chairs in the window which Mary could not resist. We then had the challenge of how to get them back to Penrith.

We had a lovely brunch at Brunswick Café and caught the train down to Newcastle to see John Bishop at the O2 City Hall that evening.

Monday 13: Penrith: After getting outrageous man-and-van quotes online for transporting the armchairs from Edinburgh we narrowed our options to a one day self-drive van hire or see if my car, a Kia Sportage, could accommodate two armchairs. We tested our existing Parker Knoll and it was a case of "Cinders, you shall go to the ball!" - two chairs would fit so that was my Wednesday morning decided.

Then I took my car into the garage for its MOT which had expired the previous day! You are allowed to drive with an expired MOT only provided that you are on your way to the garage to have the car tested. Even though it was only three minutes drive I found it anxiety inducing.

Tuesday 14: Penrith: Lunch with our friend Nigel in the GreenWheat cafe next door while we waited for a mattress to be delivered.

Wednesday 14: Penrith: Up bright and early to drive a 5-hour round trip all the way to Edinburgh and back to pick up the two armchairs. Meanwhile Mary waited in for a sofa to be delivered from John Lewis. A chunk of the afternoon was spent at the dentists, first hygienist then a review of a dodgy implant. After that I was chauffeur taking Mary to meet up with friends for a wild swim in Ullswater.

Thursday 16: Penrith: This day it was the turn of Mary‘s car to get its first ever MOT. Having dropped the Mazda MX5 off at the garage and returned Mary home, I went out with Eden runners for their regular Thursday social run through some very delightful Bluebell woods. In the afternoon our new living room curtains were delivered and hung. As expected the MX5 sailed through its MOT with no issues.

Friday 17: Ringwood: Leaving Penrith first thing, we took the cross country train all the way down to Southampton Airport Parkway where we picked up a hire car to drive to Ringwood. We stayed at the Star Inn in the Market Square in Ringwood and had a tasty Thai meal with Bob and Lynn.

Saturday 18: Ringwood: our chosen parkrun for the day was over the border in Dorset at Upton house giving us "U" towards our second alphabet. Back to the Star Inn for the usual post-run shower and change ready to stroll round to Bob and Lynn’s for Bob’s 70th party - an all afternoon and evening affair. It was great to catch up with friends we hadn't seen for ages. Then it was a late night stagger back to the Star Inn. 

Sunday 19: Ringwood: We went for a very pleasant walk around Breamore House near Fordingbridge with Bob and Lynn and that evening helped them finish off the leftovers from the night before. 

The walk included the Breamore Miz Maze:

The Miz-Maze is a quartered circular labyrinth about 84 feet in diameter, thought to have been cut in to the turf in the Middle Ages, possibly during the 12th or 13th Centuries. The design is Christian and similar designs can be seen on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France and on a stone in Lucca Cathedral in Italy.

The Miz-Maze has been designated a Scheduled Monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in order to protect this unique and fragile site. It is one of only eight surviving English turf mazes and the raised grass sections form the path which unfortunately is prone to erosion if used. The Miz-Maze on St. Catherine's Hill at Winchester is of similar design but the path is cut out in to the chalk.

Monday 20: Bournemouth: an opportunity to catch up with my second cousin, Effie, who is an amazing live wire for someone in her mid-80s. We went down to the town centre sea front for a superb seafood meal catching the bus there and back.

Tuesday 21: Cisternino: we returned the hire car to the airport caught the train up to Clapham Junction, had a nice lunch at The Banana Tree, and completed the rail trip down to Gatwick. An uneventful flight and a pick up from Brindisi airport where our local taxi man got us back home ready for bed.

An action packed road trip with a mixture of fun and useful stuff done.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

My Life in ... Theatre Programmes: The School Years

The seventeenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office"

Recap: “Over the years, I have kept just about every theatre programme for every play, dance, performance. The bankers’ box full of programs has grown over the years into two boxes and travelled with me from home to home. The vinyl collection mostly went as part of the downsize, the theatre programs were next on the list. I looked at selling them on eBay, as many other people have done, but the effort involved and the prices they would fetch meant it just was not worth the effort. So what I did was scan them, mostly just cover page and cast list . Then off they went to the recycling bin. Exceptions were programs where I knew one of the performers or they were particularly significant productions.

Scanning old theatre programmes is like watching your life flash before your eyes but v-e-r-y slowly.

I have seen things you people wouldn't believe...”

The School Years.

As a child / teenager my theatre and concert going was very much down to the beneficence of my parents, Dad specifically as the sole breadwinner growing up. I received a modest amount of pocket money just sufficient to buy myself some treats down at the sweetshop, a jamboree bag or sherbet dab. Once I reached 16 I started earning money over the summer as an archaeological digger which expanded my options.

Looking back my dad was a pretty cool dad. 

Toad of Toad Hall at the Belgrade Theatre (1961, age 9). The very first ever performance I went to as a child, age 9, was Toad of Toad Hall at the newly built Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, which made an impression on a young child not least because of the vertiginous aisles. What I did not know until many years later, when we went to see an evening with Ian McKellen was that I had seen him right at the start of his career in his role as chief weasel

Startime at The London Palladium (1964, age 11). I also discovered a programme from a visit to London where I saw Tommy Cooper and Cilla Black at the London Palladium in 1964. As I was 11 that must have been thanks to my dad and a trip to the big city. I remembered nothing of that trip so this programme came as a complete surprise! 

Maybe that is why I am now a big fan of Tommy Copper. 'Spoon, Jar, Jar, Spoon'.

Cilla would have been in the charts with "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and headliner Frankie Vaughan with "Hello Dolly".

The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary (1966, age 13). I was keen on archaeology and history in my teens. I was a regular visitor to the castle as local residents got in for free. The 700 year anniversary celebrations were right up my street. I had the original souvenir programme and recently unearthed a forgotten set of photos

Caesar And Cleopatra at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 14). My first ever Bernard Shaw play but certainly not the last. 

Mother Courage and Her Children at the Belgrade Theatre (1967, age 15). My first ever Bertolt Brecht play and not one I'd care to repeat. I remember it as tediously long and boring but then I was only 15 and probably failed to appreciate it fully.

Roy Liechtenstein at the Tate (1968, age 15). This was another trip to London to see an extensive retrospective of one of the greats of Pop Art. It made a big impression on me.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, age 15). Not theatre or music but a memorable outing nonetheless. Dad took the whole family down to London, from Kenilworth, in order to see 2001 in CinemaScope in Leicester Square. It was the IMAX of its day, with full stereophonic surround sound. I still remember the sound of the apes behind me as they ran off and the unsettling effect on the inner ear as the stewardess walked upside down.

The Magistrate at The Chichester Theatre / Moon Landing (1969, age 16). This was part of a father and son weekend away, just me and dad. We stayed in a B&B near Chichester the weekend of the first moon landing. During the day we went to see Fishbourne Roman Palace and that night stayed up late to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing live. Looking back I realise it must have been as thrilling for my dad as he was a lifelong reader of science fiction and this was history in the making. The next day we went to The Chichester Theatre to see this production starring, amongst others, Tamara Ustinov (Peter's daughter) and Alastair Sim.

Midsummer Night’s Dream at RSC Stratford (1970, age 17). Peter Brook’s production of The Dream was simply magical: the white stage set, the primary colours of the costumes, the eerie whistling noise made by the fairies whirling wind pipes.

Now we enter the zone where I had money from my summer job as an archaeological labourer and could buy my own tickets.

Isle of Wight Festival (1970, age 17). I saw some of the most famous and influential bands and acts in musical history including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Miles Davis, the list goes on. Sadly I remember very little. I think much of this was due to my musical illiteracy at 17. If they hadn't appeared on Top of the Pops I wouldn't know who they were and so did not appreciate who I was listening to. Full blog post: Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at "Castle Rock" (Saturday, June 5th 1970, age 17). My first ever T.Rex gig. Full write up at Castle Rock feat. Tyrannosaurus Rex. At least I think it was my first ever Tyrannosaurus Rex concert. There was an earlier gig at Birmingham Town Hall but I have no ticket stub nor diary entry so I may have imagined being there.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Wednesday, 14th October 1970, age 18). The tickets were a very modest 10/- (ten shillings or 50p in decimal).

Incredible String Band at Birmingham Town Hall (1970?, age 18). I have no record of the exact date but it featured Licorice Mckecknie on bass. The internet suggests several possible dates but Saturday, 31 Oct 1970 is the most plausible.

Lancaster Polytechnic Arts Festival (January 1971, age 18). Curved Air featuring the lovely Sonia Christina followed by Monty Python live. A full write-up in this post: Lanchester Arts Festival 1971.

T.Rex at Birmingham Town Hall (Tuesday, 16th February 1971, age 18). I was in the orchestra gallery, unreserved seats behind the stage, so really close to the band. Also pretty close to the speakers so it was really loud.

Edgar Broughton Band, Pink Fairies, et al at Warwick University Arts Festival (March 1971, age 18). I went to the performance of Stravinsky's Mass followed by some drummer who did a 25 minute long drum solo. Later the same evening it was the turn of local group the Edgar Broughton Band featuring their hit single Out Demons Out. On the Sunday I went to see the Pink Fairies. There was no seating so the audience sat on the floor. The music was painfully loud, so much so that I had to lie flat on the floor to get some shielding from the people in front of me. 

Image courtesy of Trev Teasdel.

Then I went up to college and a whole new chapter began.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary photos

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire. Saturday 11-June-1966.

"The siege of Kenilworth (21 June - December 1266), also known as the great siege of 1266, was a six-month siege of Kenilworth Castle and a battle of the Second Barons' War. The siege was a part of an English civil war fought from 1264 to 1267 by the forces of Simon de Montfort against the Royalist forces led by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). The siege was one of few castle attacks to take place during the war." [Wikipedia].

The Urban District Council of Kenilworth decided to celebrate the 700th anniversary with an all day event. A while back I blogged the programme from The Great Siege of Kenilworth - 700th anniversary celebrations. I recently unearthed some photos I took on the day, so without further ado, here they are with quotes from the programme.


Saturday 11th June 1966, Kenilworth Castle

Multi-method Minor Peal of Bells from St. Nicholas Church

2:00 Unveiling of Plaque by Lord Kenilworth
2:15 Tour of Medieval Fayre by official party
3:30 A Medieval Entertainment presented jointly by the Priory Theatre and the Talisman Theatre
4:00 Fencing
4:30 Short-Bow Archery
5:15 Cannon Fire

Draw for Programme Lucky Number

In the Echo Meadow
5:20 Tug-of-War
5:45 Long-Bow Archery
6:15 Demonstration of Cannon Firing
6:20 Musketry

A Medieval Entertainment presented jointly by the Priory Theatre and the Talisman Theatre


A tale of Robin Hood
Presented by The Priory and Talisman Theatre Companies.

  • Thrill to the throbbing drama as Maid Marion is abducted by the Dastardly Sheriff! 
  • Enjoy the jocular jokes of the jolly jesters! 
  • Marvel at the mirth and music as the Merry Men dance round the Maypole! 
  • See the amazing action-packed duel between the Sheriff and Robin Hood - ten great hits.

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (1/3).

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (2/3).

Tug of war in the Echo Meadow (3/3).


A sport with ancient origins, fencing has been developed over the years into its modern form. It requires a high degree of skill and co-ordination of mind, hand and body. 

Today's fencer has the choice of three weapons - the foil, originally a practice weapon, the sabre which is a lighter version of the cavalry sword, and the epée, derived from the 18th century French court sword. All three are demonstrated today. 

The fencers' special clothing gives them the maximum protection consistent with freedom of movement and the position they adopt when 'on guard' enables them to defend themselves or launch an attack with equal facility. 

As they advance and retire, testing each other's reaction, seeking an opportunity for attack, the action flows from side to side until a hit is scored.

Demonstration of Cannon Firing.

The two Cannon in use today belong to Robin Wigington of Stratford-upon-Avon, an antique dealer who specialises in firearms.

The larger of the two Cannon is a bronze seven pounder. The barrel is a fine example of its type and the carriage has been reconstructed to its original pattern in oak and teak.

Known as a 'galloper' it was a mobile field gun in Napoleonic times and could be moved rapidly about the battlefield to support the infantry. It mostly fired solid shot, but when in action at short range - repelling a cavalry charge for example - it fired canister shot.

Although a 'light' gun the barrel weighs several hundredweight, and the complete gun around 15 - 16 cwt.

The smaller weapon is an iron barrelled three pounder of the early 19th century. This is its first outing since its reconstruction.

A mountain battery gun, it is easily dismantled and was designed to pack away on three mules. It was mainly used by infantry in difficult areas such as the North West Frontier of India, and the mountains of Africa, where normal artillery could not operate. .

Peasant in the stocks (1/3).

Peasant in the stocks (2/3).

Peasant in the stocks (3/3).

I remember it as a fun day out and was pleased to discover these forgotten photos in my archive.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

John Bishop at O2 City Hall

Newcastle, England. Sunday 12-May-2024.

When we saw that John Bishop was touring and appearing in Newcastle it was an obvious event to go on to after Edinburgh. The last time we saw him in 2017 when we were down in Bournemouth and made it a weekend with my second cousin.

He was just as funny as the first time we saw him so we had made a good decision!

Apparently it is national deafness awareness week, and so John had a sign interpreter, translating his routine for the benefit of the deaf members of the audience. After about half an hour, he then handed over to a deaf guest comedian and the signer’s role was reversed; he translated the comedians sign language into speech for the hearing audience. The guest made some comedic mileage out of the dumb things that hearing people ask, and the misunderstandings that can occur when trying to mime certain actions that also happened to be ESL words!

There was an interval, and the second half was all John Bishop doing his usual storytelling observational style of humour. Amongst that, he gave us some behind-the-scenes description of the making of TV programs he has appeared in recently: “Who do you think you are”, “DNA Journey” (with Hugh Bonneville) and Dr Who.

Like many other excellent comedians, he is very adept at repeatedly returning to earlier themes even impromptu ones introduced by conversations with people in the front row.

After the show we wandered about in search of somewhere for one last drink. To our surprise a lot of Newcastle, famous as drunken, riotous town, was remarkably quiet with most places closed. On the way back to the hotel we found The Beehive Pub which was fine until exactly 11 o’clock when the staff became very loud and shouty about drinking up and leaving. We were not impressed at the way they chivied us out. Apparently there is no longer such a thing as “drinking up time” in England and Wales, but Scottish law still allows 15 minutes for you to finish your beer before being ejected from the premises.

Still I did get to try a local Newcastle boutique gin to round off a very enjoyable night.

Average White Band at The Usher Hall

Edinburgh, Scotland. Saturday 11-May-2023.

My fourth time seeing the Average White Band and the final time as they had announced this is their farewell tour billed as the "Let’s Go Round Again / Funk Finale Tour". 

Mary booked these tickets almost a year ago so we always had planned a flying visit back from Italy especially for this gig. By a series of lucky coincidences this turned into a 10 day road trip back to the UK taking in this concert, a comedy show, a 70th birthday party and a visit to my second cousin. 

We flew into Gatwick and took the train up to Edinburgh, making it a long day, 9:30 am to 9:30 pm (10:30 Italian time), and fell straight into bed.

Saturday morning was, of course, #parkrunday with Oriam chosen as an "O" required for our second Alphabet Challenge. We had come prepared for typical Edinburgh weather i.e. thick leggings, fleeces, jeans and thermal t-shirts but were thrown by a heatwave so were decidedly pink by the end of the parkrun / parkwalk.

Although the parkrun was the other side of the city there was a direct bus taking us practically door to door!

We went for a wander around the city in the afternoon, stopping in Rose Street for a beer and Princes Street Gardens for people watching.

That evening we had a very nice meal in Bentoya, a Japanese restaurant recommended by our host. It was a short stroll to the venue, time to grab a beer and settle into our seats. 

The Average White Band were the music of Mary’s university years and she has followed them ever since. We last saw them in 2016. Tonight was special - she had a smile on her face all night and spent 3/4 of it dancing. As did most of the audience. This picture was taken during the first half and everyone is already on their feet.

Alan and Onnie, the two original members (ages 77 and 78 respectively), were amazing. Alan's vocals are still strong and their guitar playing was fantastic. They were on stage for the whole time - no taking a back seat in this show. Although now they have a superb lead vocalist in Brent Carter who at one point got a standing ovation from the crowd. The two sax players Mary reckons were the naughty boys, definitely having a good time.

The set didn’t have as many of the greatest hits as previous shows with many of the songs performed as extended versions showing off the virtuosity of the band members. A number of the songs I didn’t recognise but they certainly did several of their best known songs “Let go round again”, “Pick up the pieces” and “Put it where you want it”.

Afterwards we went for a beer in the nearby Innis and Gunn which sold an extensive range of craft beers, their own and guest beers. 

Sunday morning we strolled out to Leith in the sunshine and and spent a very enjoyable time walking around the harbour area looking at old buildings. Then it was time for brunch at the Brunswick Book Club and the train to Newcastle for John Bishop and the next stop on our road trip.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Lanchester Arts Festival 1971

Lanchester Polytechnic. Sunday 31-January-1971.

One of the earliest gigs I went to in my youth was a very memorable double bill of Curved Air, featuring the lovely Sonja Kristina, followed by a late night show of Monty Python live.

Googling, I found a number of copies of the timetable online, clearly all the same image scanned once and borrowed multiple times as they all had identical tick marks against various events. I thought my own copy was long gone and was very pleasantly surprised to find it towards the bottom of my box of old theatre programs (See My Life In ... Theatre Programmes: Intro).

A simple, one-page, double-sided flyer, this is my copy.


Visiting my sister earlier this year, she reminded me that she had accompanied me on this outing which I had forgotten! Just as I was leaving, she rushed up with a copy of the full program which she remembered she had somewhere in her archives. So I present here selected pages and, available to download, the PDF of the complete program.

The "Mixed Media" event was a couple of poets, most memorably Ivor Cutler who had been featured on the John Peel radio show on a number of occasions followed by Curved Air, featuring the electric violin of Darryl Way and a lead vocals from the enchanting Sonja Kristina. I must have also heard Curved Air on John Peel's show as the single Back Street Luv had not yet hit the charts. I certainly had their debut album, Air Conditioning which was released the previous November.

First up Curved Air.


Sunday 31st January


Curved Air have been together since March 1970. Sonja Kristina, violinist and singer, Francis Monkman on lead guitar and keyboards, lan tyre on bass guitar and Florian Pilkington-Miksa as percussionist have adopted what is currently a very dynamic stage act, using "see-through" perspex guitars. They were chosen by "Hair" composer Galt McDermott to play the music for his "hate-rock" musical, "Who The Murderer Was", they then played at the Pop Proms and have one L.P. entitled "Air Conditioning", which is selling in enormous quantities.

I saw Ivor again some years later at The Roundhouse but that is for another post.



Ivor Cutler is a Scottish poet. He has two books, "Gruts" and "Cock-a-doodle-don't", and is at the moment writing books for children. His poetry has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, he has appeared on television and radio as well as at the Edinburgh Festival. He composed the music for Ken Russell's T.V. production of "Diary of a nobody" , and has made several records. He appeared at LAF70 amidst wild scenes.

Addenda: Appeared in "Magical Mystery Tour" as Buster Bloodvessel.
Books: "Meal One", out in April 1971.
"A Seal is a Sheep without Feet" (Poetry) out 1971.
Discs: "Life in a Scotch Sitting-room”, vol. 2.
Also an L.P. with Julie Driscoll singing Ivor Cutler.
Concert: Albert Hall 28th January with Soft Machine.
Bogs Paper: Poems and Cartoons in 'Wipe', the illustrated Bogs Paper.
Dial-a-Poem: Reading his poetry on 01-836-2872 from noon 22nd to noon 29th December 1970.
Teach-ins: available for free African-type drumming, creative poetry, drama etc.

At the end of the concert, a large percentage of the audience walked across the road en masse to see Monty Python live in a midnight show in the Belgrade Theatre chanting, as a mob, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye" [*]. Many of the audience were wearing knotted handkerchiefs on their head in the style of D P Gumby with cries of "My brain hurts!"

* "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam.

The Pythons did very few live shows. I feel privileged to have been in the audience on the first night of their first ever live show and see many of their famous sketches performed on stage, including the incomparable Dead Parrot sketch.

The Pythons were on at midnight and Jane and I had cheap seats up in the gods.






PENIS. Sir Arthur. Philosopher and flamboyant. b. 1902 d. 1938.
PYTHON. Montagu. (Monty) Impresario. b. on probation 1907 and again a year later. Only son of Mr. and Miss Samuel Python. Educated Harrods and Trinity Bldgs Camberwell. Founder of Monty Python's Flying Circus. (q.v.) Ex-poet, ex-Lumberjack, ex-Parson, ex-King Zog of Albania. Has recently co-produced a film "And Now For Something Completely Different", based on the life story of Tony Hateley, adapted by Ann Hayden-Jones and her husband "Pip"
PYTHON. Monty's. Flying Circus of. Founded by above. First sold to BBC TV in May 1969 as part of the deal that took David Coleman to Sport. (From Philosophy).
Containing, in height order:
CLEESE, John. The tallest. Voted Rectum of St. Andrews instead of Derek Nimmo. (TeeHee) He is reading a book which has no pictures in it.
CHAPMAN, Graham. Dr. 'The Mad Medic of Mirth" (Spotlight) "Scunthorpe has never laughed so much" (The Stage) A few weeks still available in July.
IDLE, Eric. The third tallest. Favourite colour, Black. Favourite acid, sulphuric. His ambition is to become an all-round family entertainer
PALIN, Michael. Writer/performer. Winner of Best Perf. Gent. 1962, Sheffield Co-op Drama Festival. (Honest). Married to Terry Jones. Michael is coloured.
JONES, Terry. Writer/delinquent. Interested in the Underground. Lives just South of it. School Gym Captain. Only went to Grammar School.
GILLIAM, Terry. Draws the pictures, and will be learning to write soon. He is an American and refuses to get out of Vietnam although he has been told repeatedly.
All five have previously written for David Frost Shows and wish to apologise publicly.

This is the first time Monty Python's Flying Circus has ever been performed on the stage. So there.



1) What have the following in common? a) Moshe Dayan. b) Sammy Davis Jr. c) The Nawab of Pataudi.
2) Edward Heath is a What?
3) Who wrote "The gushing leaves that through the argent windows blush"?
4) Can you name seven planets?
5) Which of the following is not in Asia? Lahore, Singapore, Dacca, Bangkok, Coventry.

1) They're all foreigners.
2) A bachelor.
3) I did.
4) Smartass.
5) Coventry (All the rest are in Asia).


The cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus met up through the medium of Oxbridge. John Cleese studied at Cambridge with Graham Chapman and took part in "Cambridge Circus" with Tim...

... Brooke-Taylor. Michael Palin was at Oxford, Eric Idle at Cambridge where he took part in the Pembroke "Smoker" revue club, started by Peter Cook, and the University Footlights Society. John and Graham resumed their writing partnership on the Frost Report and collaborated with Tim Brooke Taylor and Marty Feldman on "'At Last the 1948 Show".

John Cleese married Indianapolis-born actress Connie Booth in 1968 and took the next 15 months off to nurse a pulled muscle (the two events, he claims are quite coincidental), but he and Chapman joined Terry Southern, Peter Sellers and Joseph McGrath on the screenplay for the "Magic Christian". They were also ...

... co-authors, with Peter Cook and Kevin Billington of "The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer"

Michael Palin is best known on television for his brilliant compere/introducer scenes. He and Terry Gilliam, the American animator in MPFC, responsible for the weird and wonderful collage-animations, met up with Eric Idle on Rediffusion's "Do Not Adjust Your Set" and went on contributing to "Frost on Sunday" and the first Marty Feldman shows.

Eric Idle has written scripts for "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again”, “The Frost Report", Roy Hudd and "Do Not Adjust Your Set". He wrote the screen play for a feature film with Roy "Albert Q.O.S.O." and contributed to London Weekend's "We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh".

It would be fair to say that Monty Python's Flying Circus was initially moulded around a personal admiration in each individual for Spike Milligan and his anarchistic, irrelevant humour. It is not in the true sense satirical but amazingly amusing and captivating.

"As I remember it what a night!".

My Life In ... Theatre Programmes: Intro

The seventeenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office"

Over the years, I had kept just about every theatre programme for every play, dance, performance event that I had attended. The bankers’ box full of programs had grown over the years into two boxes and travelled with me from home to home. 

The vinyl collection mostly went as part of the downsize, the theatre programs were next on the list. I looked at selling them on eBay, as many other people have done, but the effort involved and the prices they would fetch meant it just was not worth the effort. 

So what I did was scan them, mostly just cover page and cast list. Then off they went to the recycling bin. Exceptions were programs where I knew one of the performers or they were particularly significant productions.

Scanning old theatre programmes is like watching your life flash before your eyes but v-e-r-y slowly. 

I have seen things you people wouldn't believe...

Many performances left no trace. Some were memorable like Kate Bush at the Apollo Hammersmith (Before The Dawn) on my birthday in 2014, Rambert dancing to the music of The Rolling Stones and Madam Butterfly open air opera on Brownsea Island. And exactly how many Tom Stoppard plays have I seen? Certainly in double figures. Several starring the lovely Felicity Kendal - so that was nice.

In the end I scanned in over 220 theatre, music and dance programmes. I kept being astonished by performances I had completely forgotten such as Petula Clark *and* Honor Blackman in a production of The Sound Of Music in 1981. Amongst the forgotten surprises I was also delighted to unearth some programs for performances that I thought were lost - but more of that later.

Cast list.

A music meme a while back included the question "Who have you seen more than once?" Extending that to all the performing arts I now have several new entries. Unsurprisingly my childhood friend and soprano Catherine Bott, star of stage and radio tops the list:

  • Catherine Bott, soprano (23 in total, 15 with New London Consort, 8 with various other popular beat combo)
  • Ballet Rambert (8)
  • Janet Smith and Dancers (8)
  • London Contemporary Dance (5)
  • Moving Picture Mime Show (4)
  • Pilobolus Dance Theatre (3)
  • Ros Burdett, soprano (3) 

Stats include: I’ve been to Sadler's Wells 17 times, seen 11 Stoppard plays, Diana Rigg 5 times. In 1983 I was a culture vulture on steroids with 31 visits to the theatre, etc. 

Other performers I have seen live on stage include:

  • Donald Sinden
  • Rory McGrath
  • Griff Rees-Jones
  • Oz Clarke
  • Clive Anderson
  • Patrick Stewart
  • Kirsten Scott Thomas
  • Fenella Fielding
  • Tommy Cooper 
  • Cilla Black
  • Simon Rattle
  • Diana Rigg 
  • Frances de la Tour
  • Harry H Corbett
  • Terry Scott
  • Wayne Sleep
  • Elaine Paige
  • Brian Blessed
  • Bonnie Langford
  • Tim Curry
  • Pamela Stephenson
  • Warren Mitchell
  • Colin Firth
  • John Gordon Sinclair 
  • Frank Finlay
  • Honor Blackman
  • Petula Clark
  • Paul Eddington
  • Timothy West
  • David Essex 
  • Nigel Planer
  • Ronnie Corbett
  • Julie Covington
  • Lynsey De Paul
  • Rolf Harris
  • Rod Hull And Emu
  • Cleo Laine
  • Bob Hoskins
  • Margaret Tyzack
  • Donald Sinden
  • Elaine Stritch
  • Jimmy Tarbuck
  • Cilla Black
  • Tommy Cooper
  • Marcel Marceau
  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Jonathan Pryce
  • David Tennant
  • Patrick Stewart
  • Ian McKellen
  • Ivor Cutler
  • Julie Walters

So many performances that it will take several posts to do them justice. Watch this space...

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Cake Salato alle Zucchine [IT]

[Italiano] [English]

Una delle ricette preferite di Mary. Gustoso caldo o freddo. Si congela bene. Funziona bene come ricetta vegetariana aggiungendo più cipolla al posto della pancetta.

Cake Salato alle Zucchine

Ingredienti per 6 persone

  • 180 g di farina bianca "00"
  • 3 zucchine
  • 100 g di pancetta dolce a cubetti 
  • 150 g di ricotta
  • 50 g di pecorino
  • 50 g di parmigiano 
  • 1 cipollotto
  • 3 uova
  • 100 ml di olio di semi di girasole
  • 100 ml di latte
  • 1 bustina di lievito in polvere per torte salate
  • erba cipollina 
  • 10 g di sale


1-2-3. Tagliate a cubetti le zucchine e saltatele in padella con li cipollotto. A metà cottura unite la pancetta e cuocete per circa 10 minuti. A fine cottura unite un trito di erba cipollina.

4-5-6. A parte sbattete le uova con li latte e l'olio, unite farina, sale, lievito e formaggi e amalgamate bene li tutto.

7. Unite al composto le zucchine e la pancetta e mescolate ancora.

8-9-10. Versate il tutto in uno stampo da plum cake foderato con carta da forno. Cuocete a 190°C per circa 45 minuti. Servite li cake tiepido o freddo

Da “Una scuola di verdure” a cura di Francesca Badi.  ISBN: 9788861542976.