Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Following last week’s paragraph about top hats, my sister e-mailed me to tell me about John Hetherington, the man who is said to have invented them.

Apparently he caused a riot when he wore it on the streets of London in 1797. I looked into the story, and found that folks were terrified, women were fainting and a message boy had his arm broken in the panic.

Hetherington was arrested and appeared before the Lord Mayor, charged with wearing a “tall structure having a shining lustre calculated to frighten timid people”. One report says that he was fined £50 - quite a tidy sum in those days.


My inbox this week contained a message from an old school friend who had some very complimentary things to say about “EIGHTY PLUS“. However, he seemed surprised that, although I had mentioned Jack Payne, my piece about broadcasting in the 1930s included no reference to Henry Hall.

Jack Payne had been the leader of the first BBC Dance Band and, when he left in 1932, Henry Hall took over with a completely new group of musicians. It was at my grandparents’ house that I used to hear the BBC Dance Orchestra’s 5pm broadcasts and I was completely hooked on their type of music. And so was born my desire to play dance music……..

There’s a very detailed article about Henry Hall at

This clip from 1932 will bring back memories. I believe Cyril Stapleton is one of the violinists. An interesting addition to the usual dance band line-up is the oboe played by 16 year old Richard Matthews sitting at the front.



Till 1937 we lived in a tenement flat - one up, comprising a good-sized hallway, kitchen, bedroom, box room, a small toilet and the “front room”.

The front room/best room/big room was rarely used, being kept for special occasions, which seemed to be a common practice for tenement dwellers. The only time there was heating in that room was when we had visitors; the coal fire had to be lit in the afternoon, so that the problems encountered getting it started and the resulting smoke coming down the chimney could be solved before our guests arrived.

The front room became used regularly when we got a piano. My sister and I had to practise half-an-hour every day with our mother sitting beside us, not because she knew anything about music, but simply to make sure we did our proper practice and occasionally to tap out the beat with her knitting needle. I can well remember that in the winter months it was pretty cold in that room. (I suppose that was good training for us, because many years later both of us would be practising on pipe organs in bitter cold churches.)

One poignant memory of the “front room” sticks in my mind. In the 1930s there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in our area. I fell victim to it, and, after I had recovered, my sister, just a few weeks short of her 5th birthday, caught it. I can remember the day she was taken away in the “fever van”. After it had left I couldn't find my mother and I searched the house. And then I discovered her - in the front room, hiding behind the door, crying.....


I've always liked the paintings of Jan Vermeer and THE MUSIC LESSON is one of my favourites.

Vermeer 1632-1675 was a prolific Dutch painter who excelled in depicting scenes from ordinary life.

Probably he is best known for “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”, the painting which inspired Tracy Chevalier to write the 1999 novel with that title. Then in 2003 the film of the same name created further interest in the artist and his work.



When I was about 8-9 years old, “Early One Morning” was the song that I would sing at Sunday School parties, etc. A couple of years later, the song would be Hoagy Carmichael’s “Little Old Lady”, with my own piano accompaniment.

Early one morning,
Just as the sun was rising,
I heard a maid sing,
In the valley below.
Oh, don't deceive me,
Oh, never leave me,
How could you use
A poor maiden so?

Remember the vows,
That you made to your Mary,
Remember the bower,
Where you vowed to be true,
CHORUS: Oh, don't deceive.......

Gay is the garland,
And fresh are the roses,
I've culled from the garden,
To place upon thy brow.
CHORUS: Oh, don't deceive.......

Thus sang the poor maiden,
Her sorrows bewailing,
Thus sang the poor maid,
In the valley below.
CHORUS: Oh, don't deceive.......


Finally, a thought for today -

I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened. (Mark Twain)


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