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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008



Most people say that as you get old, you have to give up things. I think you get old because you give up things.  (Theodore Francis Green)


Following my invitation for anyone to have a go at composing haiku, I must thank Natsuko who sent me three. I posted one of them on the HAIKU HOMESTEAD site on Wednesday. Here it is -

rough winter crossing
queasy faces, silent, grim
harbour lights shine out

I like it. Anyone else want to try?

Our friend Leonard Lewis died three years ago last Tuesday at the age of 78.

He and I met at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire where we were doing our National Service. We soon became friends for we shared a keen interest in all things connected with entertainment. We joined the station concert party where he was a jack-of-all trades and I provided the music. For one of our shows we had the professional assistance of Ralph Reader of Gang Show fame who was on our station planning that year’s RAF Pageant at Olympia.

One of our cast was a civilian worker Bunny Shayler, a comedian who had his own small group of entertainers outwith the RAF. Leonard and I joined them and we did quite a number of shows around Oxfordshire. I remember going to one village in the wilds where, on our arrival at the hall, Bunny was greeted with “Are you the man from the BBC?” (He rather traded on the fact that he had once been on BBC Midland Children’s Hour). Not long afterwards though, he appeared on radio in Hughie Green’s “Opportunity Knocks”, and I was one his supporters who accompanied him to the live broadcast in the Paris Cinema, London.

This is a photo of Leonard with me taken sometime in the late 1950s.

After demob Leonard worked in rep at Morecambe and Ashton-under-Lyne before going to the Library Theatre, Manchester. I met up with him again when he came to Glasgow to join the BBC as a TV production assistant. He and his wife Jean and their three little girls came to live in Lenzie and our two families got on well together.

In 1963 his work took him back to England, and his family followed of course. From then on, his name appeared regularly in Radio Times as director or producer of Z Cars, Softly, Softly, When The Boat Comes In, The Good Companions, Flambards and others. Before he retired, he was executive producer of the long-running BBC soap “Eastenders”.

I must mention that the playwright Alan Plater wrote a very fitting obituary which appeared in the Guardian on 11th January 2006.

This is a photo I took of Leonard and Jean at their home in Somerset.

When I think of the RAF Concert Party, I always remember Leonard on stage, dressed as a butler, reciting this monologue -

A lady to see you, Mr. Archibald, sir.
The matter appears to be pressing.
Luncheon was served quite an hour ago,
I didn’t awaken you, sir, as you know.
There are times, sir, when sleep is a blessing.
I have here some ice, sir, to put on your head,
And also a whisky and 'polly'.
I don't know what time you retired to bed,
But the party sir, must have been jolly…
…If you'll pardon my saying so.

The lady in question a-waiting below,
Is accompanied, sir, by her mother,
And also a prize-fighting gentleman, sir,
A pugnacious character one might infer,
Whom the lady describes as her brother.
The elderly female is quite commonplace,
A most vulgar person, I fear, sir,
Who shouts in a nerve wracking falsetto voice,
And her language is painful to hear, sir…
…If you'll pardon my saying so.

The prize-fighter person is burning with hate.
He refers to you, sir, as a 'twister.'
He threatens to alter the shape of your 'clock,'
To break you in half, sir, and knock off your 'block,'
Unless you do right by his sister.
The young lady says, sir, with trembling lips,
That you made her a promise of marriage.
She wants to know why she should eat fish and chips,
While you, sir, ride by in your carriage…
…If you'll pardon me saying so.

Sir John has a dreadful attack of the gout,
He is fuming to beat all creation.
My lady, your mother, is up in the air.
She is having hysterics and tearing her hair,
And borders on nervous prostration.
Would you wish me to pack your portmanteau at once,
And look up the times of the trains, sir?
Or perhaps you would rather I brought you a drink,
And a pistol to blow out your brains, sir…
…If you'll pardon my saying so.


In this short video, I reckon there are glimpses of more than 80 paintings cleverly merging into one another. I’m sure you’ll recognise quite a few of the subjects.



Like so many others, my time in the Service began at RAF Padgate. From there, I went on to RAF Bridgenorth, Shropshire for square-bashing, and then to Halton where I trained as a dental assistant. I spent a few weeks at St.Athan in South Wales before being posted to Brize Norton where I would stay for the rest of my service.

Of all the jobs in the RAF at that time, mine surely was the cushiest. Located in Sick Quarters, the dental surgery had a personnel of just two, the dentist and myself. From the time I started at Brize Norton till the day I left for demob, I was never on parade and never had to be inspected. The reason was that, when all the other airmen were on the square at 8.20 a.m., I was with the medical orderlies in Sick Quarters attending to the dental sick parade - and very few reported dental sick!

The first dentist I worked for was Flight-Lieut. Cloutman. He was a real upper-class type who was obviously keen to make the RAF a career. When he was posted elsewhere I was quite glad, and imagine my surprise when his successor turned out to be someone I knew by sight. Flying Officer Copstick had just graduated from Glasgow Dental Hospital and this was his first posting. We worked well together.

Morning break was at ten o’clock, and you could go either to the NAAFI or to the Church Army for tea, coffee, rolls, etc. The Church Army hut was handier and I usually went there. There was always a number of us waiting outside for the door to open, and I remember that each day the radio inside the hall was playing the Housewife’s Choice signature tune.

In many ways my job was just an ordinary five-day week job - free at week ends and in the evenings. Wednesday afternoons were for all kind of sports, and you needed a really good reason to be excused. And yes, I had a good reason! Rehearsing with the concert party and with the Brize Rhythm Group.

Lots more memories to come - but one more just now. This might be called My Most Embarrassing Occasion. I managed to get home leave frequently but there was one Christmas when that wasn’t possible. Now, there’s a tradition in the RAF (perhaps in the other Services too) that the officers serve dinner to the airmen on Christmas day. I was looking forward to the meal, but got the shock of my life when I went in, for out of all the people there I was the only one not in uniform!!!!!!!
I was so used to being in civvies in the evenings and week ends that it never entered my head to wear uniform. And no one had thought to tell me what was expected. Now, the remarkable thing is that not one of the officers spoke to me about what could have been considered a serious faux pas.


The song “My Happiness” always reminds me of Brize Norton for it was very popular then, and I was always a fan of Judith Durham.


Finally, a story………

One day an Englishman, a Frenchman, an Indonesian and a Chinaman were passing a drinking fountain, when the Englishman said, “Look, someone’s left a cup on the wall here.”

“No, no”, said the Frenchman, “that’s not a cup, that’s a tasse.”

“You’re both wrong,” said the Indonesian, “It’s a cawan.”

“Now, hold on,” said the Chinaman, “you’re all wrong, that’s a pei, and I can prove it. The Chinese dictionary is much older than any of yours, and anyway more people speak Chinese than any other language. So it’s called a pei.”

While they were arguing, a Buddhist came past and drank from the cup.
“Whether you call it a cup, a tasse, a cawan or a pei,” he said, “the purpose of this vessel is for it to be used. So why don’t you stop arguing, and drink?”


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