I would guess that it would have been something of a relief for my parent’s relatives to have my mother and father back in England on their first ‘home leave’ from ‘darkest Africa!’
My mother’s father, George Linden was known to me as ‘Pop’. My mother’s mother had died in 1956 and Pop had married Celia some years later. On probably our first home leave, we joined Pop and Celia on board a boat on the Norfolk Broads. I have only a very hazy memory of that time. My first real experience of England would have been in 1962 when I was four. It was the cold that I noticed most of all, and the fact that you had to put shoes on to go outside! Not forgetting coats, scares and all the other paraphernalia which seemed so alien to me.
There were definite benefits, however. Television being one of them! I am not sure exactly when I saw my first television, but I know it had an impact on me since it featured in games that David and I devised. At that time there were only two channels available BBC and ITV, programmes starting at around 5 pm (for children) and finished at 11 pm. After that time a loud noise was broadcast to wake anyone up who had fallen asleep whilst watching.
Most people rented their televisions from a ‘Rediffusion’ a shop in the high street which had all manner of televisions in the window, all showing the ‘test card’ which was broadcast until the programmes started. Usually children’s programmes featured string puppets. I do vaguely remember watching Andy Pandy, but I don’t think I was allowed to watch Dr Who – far too scary!
One of the biggest treats was going to either the Palace Pier (Brighton Pier today), or the West Pier. The Palace Pier was my favourite, because the amusement arcade was bigger! Both piers were well kept, the Palace pier had a theater at the end of it. It was a shame when this was knocked down as the buildings had so much character which is sadly missing today. There was a helter skelter on the right as you went out to sea, and a ghost train on the left side. I was taken on the ghost train once, but since I covered my eyes the entire time, I don’t know what it was like!
Not only could we have an ice cream on the pier, but my father would give us half a crown to spend in the slot machines. Half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) was quite a fortune and the size and weight of the coin in hand was thrilling. The machines with their colourful lights were entrancing. Several stick in my memory. Firstly a basic pinball machine that had no ‘flippers’ or method of controlling the ball. Every time the ball hit something a traffic light would change on the console. If the ball went into the slot when the light was green, you would win a packet of polo mints that would roll out of a slot down the slanted glass screen.
I wasn’t allowed to play on the ‘what the butler saw’ machine, which was a great disappointment. This machine, known as a ‘Mutoscope’ allowed you view a series of images via a stereo-viewer thus giving an impression of three dimensions. As the images were flicked over by the cranking of a handle they appeared to move. The subject matter was deliberately titillating, and the machine designed so that the action (what there was of it) would stop at an interesting moment, and you would need to put another penny in to continue.
Some of the larger machines in the arcades were the two player games, with this type of machine two people would do battle each trying to beat the other, mainly for the satisfaction of beating your opponent. You would be required to turn a handle very fast in order to make various figurines move, and the one who turned the handle fast enough would win. These two-player game came in all sorts of guises, horse or car races, monkeys climbing trees etc.
One of the most common arcade machines in the sixties was the ‘Allwin’, the idea was to flick a steel ball around a spiral track and deposit it in one of many winning holes, and if successful you would get your penny back and receive a free go, although some machines paid out prizes of sweets or cigarettes.
There were also working models, which gave you no prize in return for your penny, but it did let you see some form of animated entertainment, but this rarely lasted for more than 20 seconds and was often quite gruesome.
It was no wonder then, that I was fascinated by these machines, and transferred my delight of them into a game I played with my father called, ‘chines’. This involved me pushing and pulling his nose or ears and he would make the clunking and whirring noise of a slot machine.
But by far the most fascinating of all the amusements on the pier was the ‘record your own voice’ machine. My aunt Kath took David and I into this booth and for a sixpence or so, you could record your own acetate (a single sided record). We sang ‘The grand old Duke of York’. I couldn’t remember the words and of course there was no option to do a second take.
Going home, we would drive past the lights on the Brighton seafront, they seemed magical!
The experience of recording my voice and hearing it played back stayed with me. My parents owned a basic Philips reel to reel tape recorder, and when we returned to Kenya I asked them to show me how to use it. I would happily spend hours and hours reciting nursery rhymes and recording my voice. However, my parents weren’t so pleased when they sat down to listen to some music only to discover that their favourite piece was punctuated be my recitals! For quite a while I wanted to be a disc jockey on the radio!
Recording on the tape recorder had another benefit. Letters from England would usually take up to six weeks to arrive by sea, so from time to time our relatives in England would send us a tape of them talking, and telling us the news. On one tape Penny (Jenkins) played us the Beatles ‘She loves you”, and told us about Beatlemania.
Days out with my mother
By this point, my mother had fully immersed herself into the culture in Kenya. This included the everyday habit of bargaining in the local shops. It was quite normal for her to ‘haggle’ at the grocers and get a reduction on the cost of the weekly shop, if some of the items didn’t look fresh enough. However, when she came to England on leave, she naturally expected to be able to ‘haggle’ at the checkout at the local supermarket. David and I were very embarrassed when my mother was shopping for school uniforms, and insisted on getting a discount for ordering two sets – one for each of us. We tried to explain that it didn’t work that way in the UK, but she was having none of it!!
On one occasion we went to Hanningtons, which was a very large department store at the bottom end of North Street near the Steine. It was known as the ‘Harrods of Brighton’, and for good reason. It was the city’s oldest and largest department store with over 70 departments,. They were the originators of the ‘concession’ booths that later became very popular in department stores. Another innovation was the layout adopted in the furniture department, where items were placed in realistic settings imitating the rooms of a house—a rare concept outside of high-end stores in London.
However it was the payment system that fascinated me. There was one central area that dealt with cash. Each department took their payments and placed it in a screw top cylinder, where upon it was transported by a vacuum pump to the main cash desk by an ingenious series of tubes. The person at the main cash desk would put the receipt and change into the cylinder and it would be sucked back through the tubes to whichever department it came from. Bearing in mind the size of the building this must have been some undertaking.
Once out of Hanningtons, we took a Trolley Buses to the seven dials. The Trolley Bus was like a tram, but running on the road, without the need of a train track. I was enthralled by the Trolley Bus, with it’s over head electric cable. It was shortly after then, that Brighton council stopped running the Trolley Bus and petrol fueled conventional buses took over.
A day or so later, my mother took us to the cinema. I have no idea what the film was but what stuck in my mind was that it was a ‘continuous showing’. Cinema at that time, was quite different to today’s faceless multiplex cinemas. They had more character, with their usherettes who with their flashlights, would direct you to your seats. Smoking was allowed so if the person in front of you was smoking, great clouds of smoke would waft in front of the screen. There was usually an interval, and the ‘Kiora’ girl would stand at the front of the cinema with her tray of Kiora lollies. However the ‘continuous showing’ was a novelty. The film didn’t have a start time, but was literally shown continuously. So it didn’t matter what time you turned up, you watched the film, sometimes watching the end and then the beginning, before working out which bit you ‘came in at’, and then you would leave. People were coming and going quite a bit which also didn’t help when you were trying to work out the film story!
This cine film below, was shot by my father in around 1964. I would have been six and David (my brother) would have been eight. We were having a picnic at Hove Lagoon with my mother’s sister, Brenda who is holding my cousin Trevor (with the blond hair). Eric Underwood used to make sailing boats that were powered by small steam engines, I suspect the boat is his, but I can’t be sure.
The lack of traffic at the bottom of West Street, joining King’s Road (the seafront road) is quite remarkable. The belisha beacons have long since disappeared!