Monty Python’s Flying Circus is of course a benchmark for comedy and an example of 70s television at its finest. A collective that spawned countless TV and cinematic moments of gold and inspired endless playground retellings and re-enactments… from ‘The Ministry of Funny Walks’ to ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’.
John Cleese and Fawlty Towers apart however, the rest of the Python’s solo work tends to fly under the radar. In comparison, it’s similar in many ways to the Beatles solo projects, which rarely got the appreciation they deserved…. step forward ‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison.
Take Eric Idle’s excellent Rutland Weekend Television, although it hatched the excellent Beatles parody – The Ruttles, it was cut short after two series and was never truly appreciated in the UK. Likewise, Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones was restricted to 8 episodes after the initial pilot… the hilarious ‘Tomkinson’s Schooldays’.
If you’ve never seen it, Ripping Yarns was a shameless parody of British culture. To be fair it could be a bit hit or miss, but when it hit the sweet-spot it was as funny as anything that’s ever been on TV. There were nine 30 minute episodes presented in the style of Boys Own adventure stories, set in an era when all a chap needed was a stiff upper lip and a healthy dash of derring-do.
The series was tucked away on BBC2 at 9pm on a Friday night but once discovered, it became an essential part of my weekend.
In 1977, Joanna’s Night Club in Glasgow was my Friday night destination of choice, so as part of my weekly ritual I’d get spruced up, go round to my partner in crime Paul Fitzpatrick’s house and we’d watch the latest episode of Ripping Yarns before heading into town, armed with quips from the show still in our head. Quips I hasten to add that confused the hell out of anyone that hadn’t seen the show (about 99.9% of the population), but would amuse the hell out of us.
My brothers George and David were also big fans of the show and we used to have some very surreal conversations in front of our bemused parents about Spear & Jackson shovels and black pudding (in Yorkshire accents) – as an homage to our favourite episode, ‘The Testing of Eric Olthwaite“. There are too many great comedy moments in this 28 minute masterpiece, to break down, but the opening 3 minute sequence (below), will give you a taste.
A Yorkshire banker, Eric was sooo boring that his Father pretended to be French to avoid talking to him whilst his mother would feign bilious attacks or even death. Heartbreakingly, Eric’s family run away from home to avoid further contact with him, he was just that tedious.
A confused and devastated Eric can’t understand why people find him so dull and you can feel his pain as he protests in his thick Yorkshire accent…. “It were hard to accept I were boring. Especially with my interest in rainfall”
Eric’s obsession with precipitation and shovels drive his family to distraction and ensure he’s friendless but like all good tales there’s a twist… if you’re interested to find out what it is, you can catch the full episode below and become like me… a fully paid-up member of the Ripping Yarns fan club.
I would like to nominate Led Zeppelin IV, The Runes Album, 4 Symbols, Zoso whatever you want to call it as the greatest rock album of all time!
Its 50 years old today and still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did in 1971!!
It also has the distinction of having the only guest vocalist that Zep ever used in the ethereal Sandy Denny on the wonderful ‘Battle of Evermore’.
Originally Plant was going to sing both parts of the call and answer vocals but it didn’t sound right so he invited Sandy. Thank God!
Obviously it includes the magical Stairway to Heaven, as well as Zep classics… Rock n Roll, and Black Dog, to be fair, every song on the record is an absolute gem, no wonder it has sold over 23 million copies to date and is the bands most successful album!
No song in history has ever managed to re-create the effect on me than that which was generated by American Pie, Don McLean’s anthemic eight minute chronology of the 1960s. It was the first song that made me want to study its lyrics, to find out the hidden meanings behind the words and to interpret the message which this hitherto unknown musician, with a distinctly Scottish name, was trying to project. I’d only started taking an interest in music a couple of years earlier and my tastes revolved largely around the mainstream rock bands of the time, ie Cream, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath etc and I was aware that such behemoths of the musical world paid scant attention to the lyrical content of their offerings which were based mainly on instrumental virtuosity. Jack Bruce, in a Cream documentary, made it clear that the message behind the songs he played along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker was largely irrelevant in comparison with the actual music while Ian Gillan of Deep Purple acknowledged that the lyrics to the band’s flagship single Black Night were merely a collection of random words to supplement the main feature of the song, ie Ritchie Blackmore’s blistering and unforgettable guitar riff.
When I first heard American Pie on the radio in early 1972, I was mildly intrigued by the lyrical content but the radio version was merely a heavily edited three minute sampler of the 8 min 33 sec album track, a teaser with a catchy chorus about chevies and levees designed to catch the listener’s attention but it was sufficient to have me jumping on the no 13 bus to Cambridge Street and hand over my hard earned two pounds 25p (sorry no pound sign on this Korean keyboard) before walking away with the actual album tucked into an iconic Listen Records ‘Cheap’n Nasty’ carrier bag.
When I finally got home and listened to the title track, it was night and day in comparison with the radio taster. A beautifully constructed song… four verses and choruses bookended by a passionate and emotional prologue and epilogue, telling the story of the 1960s from the tragic plane crash death of Buddy Holly in 1959 to the horrific killing of a black man at the hands of a gang of Hell’s Angels during a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California ten years later.
The theme of death reverberates throughout the song as McLean ends each stanza with the line ‘The Day the Music Died.’
I’m not going to offer my interpretation of the song here – plenty others have done so before me but, other than those already mentioned, there are reasonably clear references to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, James Dean and other more cryptic nods to religion, politics, teenage romance and the American youth culture of the time.
Fifty years on, I never get tired of listening to the song and I still pore over the lyrics, searching for some hidden meaning that no-one else has yet found. When I’m performing at open mic sessions, if I feel the mood is too quiet, I’ll play it and inevitably get the crowd singing along.
Irrespective of age or any other social demographic, its a song, or at least a chorus, which everybody knows word for word. One man who refuses to offer his interpretation of the song is McLean himself.
When asked “What does American Pie mean?” His standard response is “It means I never have to work again.”
After the excitement of the grand opening and the hosting of Fiona Richmond we settled into our new store and were extremely busy over the summer of 79.
The shop’s basement had not been refurbished and left in a rundown state…. part sales-floor, part stock-room, part office, part staff-room. It also had one of those old-fashioned wooden parquet floors that made a clip-clop sound when anyone walked on it.
Davy our manager’s family home was still in Arbroath so he was staying in digs in Glasgow during the week, getting the train home on a Saturday evening and taking the Monday off to spend time at home.
One Saturday Davy had left to catch his usual train. I was still working, collating the monthly figures when I heard the clip-clop of footsteps on the parquet floor outside the office. Davy walked in cursing that he’d missed his train before heading off 20 minutes later to catch the next one. Ten minutes after Davy had gone I heard the clip-clop sound again and swung the door open ready to slag Davy for missing another train and….there was nobody there!
I shouted ‘Hello’, ‘Hello’ before realising I was on my own…. or was I? So I quickly packed up my stuff, set the alarm and got the hell out of there!
A week or so later, Rikki, Davy and I were leaving the basement when Rikki suddenly reared back in fright pushing Davy out of the way! WTF! An ashen faced Rikki swore that he’d just seen a black dog crouching beneath a plastic chair in front of an old fitting room before it started to leap up at him! He was very shaken and took quite a while to calm down!
Intrigued at the goings-on, I did a bit of research and discovered that our building had been built close to the site of an old chemical & pharmaceutical factory W&R. Hatrick & Co. on Renfield Street.
The building had gone up in flames, exploded and then collapsed killing 4 firemen on the 7th January 1898.
There was to be another ‘ghostly’ incident a few months later but this time it was a bit more explainable.
Ross (he of the wiry ginger hair) was passing the shop late one evening when he stopped to look in the front door. He gasped when he saw all the jackets begin to swing about on their rail next to the cash desk…. he thought he was seeing things! He saw the next rail of clothing start to swing about too before running off in a panic for his late-night bus!
The next day he related this incident to Davy and I. I was sceptical but, having already ‘witnessed’ two other ghostly ‘sightings’ that month, I had an open mind.
Davy on the other hand said “Dinny be daft son, ye must’ve been pished!”
Later that evening when we went for a pint in Sloan’s, Davy told me why he’d been so dismissive!
“Am stayin’ in the shoap instead a the digs” he confessed! “But am still gettin’ ma digs paid by tha cumpany and no tellin’ em! Last night I’d setma sleepin’ bag up at the back cash desk which can’t be seen from the front door. But I’d left ma watch at the front cash-till and had made my way behind the rails to get it and that’s what Ross saw! It wiz me pushing the jackets aside as I crawled back to ma sleepin’ bag!”
I nearly choked on my pint! We had such a laugh about it! We never told Ross and he probably still tells the story about the ghostly jackets!!
A couple of weeks later Davy experienced another form of incursion, but this one was a tad more sinister!
He had just returned from the pub late one night and was making his way to his hidey-hole at the back of the shop when he saw a ladder and a pair of boots disappearing up through the polystyrene tiles into the roof space! Above our roof was an empty building which burglars had gained entry to before entering via the shop’s unalarmed roof! It was obviously a very well-planned break-in with three rough looking guys in the process of emptying the leather and suede department!
As handy as he was Davy didn’t fancy taking all three of them on so he slipped quietly back out to a phone box to call the police. He made up a story that he’d left important paperwork in the shop and was returning to get it when he witnessed the break-in in progress! The burglars were never caught but poor Davie had to book into a B&B until the dust settled.
We had another police incident a few weeks later. Next door to Top Man was a very busy HMV store.
Rikki and I got very friendly with the staff and in particular big Duncan the security guard who was about 6’4″ and 20 stone! We gave them discount and they reciprocated.
However, despite big Duncan’s presence HMV had a major shoplifting problem which, considering it was all vinyl albums in those days, was quite a feat on the shoplifter’s part! One day Rikki spotted two young guys crouched down dividing up their stolen haul of albums around the entrance to our front door. (Not very bright then!?!?) While Rikki kept an eye on them, I slipped next door to inform big Duncan.
However, at the same time, unbeknown to us, two youngish looking plain clothes cops had also spotted the two thieves and were in the process of lifting them….. when big Duncan bounded up behind the cops, mistaking them for the shoplifters and smacked their heads together!!
It took a lot of fast talking and profuse apologies from myself and big Duncan to prevent him from being arrested for Police Assault!
The two thieves witnessing the event cowered in the corner terrified that they’d be next for a head cracking! When everything was sorted out, they looked positively relieved when they were actually arrested and led away!
Leading up to Christmas the shop continued to be busy, and for a laugh Rikki wrote a pantomime featuring all the staff as characters. It was near the knuckle stuff, but hilarious, with lots of in-jokes that had the staff in stitches.
Things worked out very well for Rikki in the long run as he became a professional comedy writer, working with Craig Ferguson, Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry, Only An Excuse, Chewin’ The Fat and Watson’s Windup amongst many other BBC Comedy Unit projects. Rikki also had his own weekly comedy page in The Scottish Sun for 17 years!
As the weather in Glasgow began to bite you’d find the majority of Top Man’s staff queuing up outside City Bakeries most mornings for that rare Glasgow delicacy… A Hot Roll and Mince! They were delicious and really warmed you up!
About a week before Christmas when the store was at its busiest Davy decided to complete the weekly paperwork.
I said ‘It’s ok Davy I’ll do it’ but he insisted. He had all the daily sheets so all he had to do was transfer them onto a new document and cross check them to make sure they all tallied up. I left him to it.
An hour later I checked to see how he was doing. There were a lot of crumpled scraps of paper lying on the desk and Davy’s face was getting redder by the second! I offered to help again but that just seemed to make things worse He was muttering away under his breath like Muttley from Wacky Races!
Exasperated, he suddenly leapt to his feet, threw his pen at the wall and shouted, ‘Ach F*ck The Pope!!’
Realising what he’d just said he looked at me and began to apologise profusely!
With a straight face I looked sternly at him and said, ‘Don’t worry about it Davy….I hope you have a F*cking Rotten Christmas too!‘
Then I turned around and (mock) stormed out the office!
I went back in 10 seconds later and the two of us burst out laughing!!
We met at a Fashion Industry Trade Show in London about 12 years later and Davy told this story in a crowded bar to everyone’s amusement!
Davy, Rikki and I would have many more laughs and experiences in and around the Rag Trade over the next two decades but unfortunately those stories belong in another blog….!!
Top Man would officially open its doors in Glasgow mid November 1978.
I was appointed Assistant Manager and another recruit from Burtons, Davy was the Manager.
I spoke to him on the phone and we got on well and looked forward to working together. However before all that I had a wedding to attend…my own!
I returned from honeymooning in Athens eager to meet Davy and the rest of the staff.
Evidently I had been with Burtons far too long and turned up wearing a navy pinstripe suit, (Max!) a crisp white shirt and a red tie! Talk about conservative!!
The first person I met was Rikki, he had on a modern cut baggy, beige suit with big shoulder pads, a fancy blue patterned shirt and NO tie! Think late 70’s Duran Duran and you won’t be far away!
He topped this ensemble off with long, bleached, shaggy hair and a fake tan!
We eyed each other up with the same thought…… ‘W**ker!!’
43 years later we are still great friends, we’ve been each other’s best man (my 2nd marriage where he actually recounted our first meeting in his speech!) I’m Godfather to his daughter and we co-owned and were partners in an upmarket fashion business together for 10 years with many great laughs and adventures!
It just shows you how first impressions can be sooo misleading!
Rikki had come from ‘Jackson The Tailors’ who were always ‘edgier’ than stuffy ol’ ‘(Full) Monty-Fifty- Bob-Tailors!’
Davy arrived from Arbroath the next day. He was a stocky ex Amateur Boxer who wore glasses with tinted lenses, which was quite unusual in 1978. As expected we got on really well and the shop was busy from the start. I even managed to shed my pinstripes and ties!
Obviously because of all the ‘knowledge’ I had gained from the students union bar during my one year studying accountancy I also became the shop’s bookkeeper!
Top Man had a brand new monthly book keeping system which must’ve been copied from an ancient greek abacus which had been translated from Persian!
It made no sense at all!
At the end of the first month I filled in what I could and duly sent it off. I got a call from our fledgling head office the following Tuesday saying I hadn’t completed it properly!
I pointed out the areas I was struggling with and they agreed that it was a bit vague. I said that it must’ve been an idiot that compiled the form. There was silence and a laugh and he said ‘Well I did have a hand in it but never actually filled one in.
Hi, I’m Andrew Leslie, Top Man’s MD!’ Whoops!! He was very good about it though and actually asked me to redesign the Monthly Accounts Form cutting out the confusing and unnecessary segments. Andrew would go on to have a great career in retail and is now a director at JD Sports
The next week Ross started as a salesman. He was a hard worker and very funny although not the sharpest knife in the box. A favourite trick of his was to go into a fitting room, pull the curtain across, muss up his wiry red hair, pull a deranged face and re-emerge 30 seconds later with what he called his Mad Heid!!
It was funny/scary the first time and never got old. Anytime it was quiet somebody would shout ‘Hey Ross dae yer Mad Heid!’
Occasionally a startled customer would witness his full ‘Mad Heid’ display and either burst out laughing or quickly head for the exit!
Now as I said Ross was entertaining but a bit on the daft side – he once got a taxi from the City Centre to his home in Kirkintilloch and realised he didn’t have enough cash to pay the fare! So he asked the driver to stop 50 yards from his destination and then did a runner straight to his own front door!! Hahaha
I learned that Davy had left Burtons in the middle of a feud with Ken, the area manager. One day during Ken’s visit to the Buchanan Street Burtons, I realised that we, in the basement, were unusually quiet. In fact we hadn’t seen a customer for over an hour! I went up stairs to investigate and found large boxes piled 3 high in front of our entrance! Ken had instructed Burtons’ staff to place their delivery there! I shouted down to Davy that there was a problem!
He came tearing up the stairs screaming with rage when he saw the boxes! We began pulling them out of the way.
Davy spotted Ken smirking in the corner, stormed over, grabbed him by his lapels and rammed him up against the wall. Ken was terrified and spluttered
‘You can’t do this!’
Davy replied ‘Do this? I’ll ram my fist down yer throat ‘n’ pull yer f**kin’ guts out ya wee pr*ck!’ (Ken was about 4″ taller than Davy but at that moment he looked 4′ tall). George pleaded with Davy to let him go and eventually he let Ken slide down the wall.
Freed from Davy’s grip, Ken became brave again, a big mistake! “I’ll get you done for assault” he squeaked to Davy! “Go ahead” said Davy, “But I hope you like hospital food!” Ken didn’t call the police and would in future, time his visits to coincide with Davy’s day off or holiday!
As I said Davy was a tough, good amateur boxer from Arbroath. He and his fellow drinking buddies’ favourite past time was to goad the young marines that were stationed at the nearby Condor base into fights! The young marines were very fit and strong but lacked the street fighting prowess and experience of the crazy locals. Every weekend there was a major battle which would end up with several marines and locals ending up in hospital or jail!
It got so bad that the base commander had to ban the soldiers from entering the town for their own safety!
Around May 1979 we were told that we were at last moving out of Burtons’ basement to our own Top Man store.
The old Jackson’s shop in Union St. was being completely refurbed and we were to open in June!
This was all very exciting. A larger staff, a wider stock range and most importantly total autonomy from Burtons. (Mad Max, the John Cleese lookalike had recently been promoted to Area Manager!?!? Nepotism at it’s best!)
Firstly we had to pack up all our existing stock and a van was being sent to transport it around the corner to Union Street.
I delegated each member of staff to be responsible for an area of stock.
I showed them how to group 30 shirts, 20 pairs jeans or 15 jackets while still on their rail, to tie the hanger hooks together to make it easy to lift off and straight onto the van. However I soon regretted not checking Ross’ bundles! The van arrived and we quickly started emptying the shop. Everything was going smoothly until we came to Ross’ area…..he hadn’t ensured that the hangers were all facing in the same direction before tying them together! Therefore all 20 of his bundles were effectively locked onto the rails!! Davy was going to kill him! The van driver was getting very agitated as a traffic warden was on his case to move! I advised Ross to quickly hide somewhere.
Davy sent the van driver away and told him to come back in an hour and Rikki and I cut the ties on the bundles, straightened the hangers and retied them!
We worked hard for a week getting our new branch ready for the Grand Opening with an incentive that a mystery ‘celebrity’ would be turning up for the big occasion to do the honours.
Rikki and I were dispatched on the big day by taxi to The Albany Hotel to collect the celebrity who turned out to be the infamous Porn Star Fiona Richmond!
It was a well known ‘secret’ that my bosses, bosses, bosses, boss, the Burton Group CEO Ralph Halpern, was, ahem, a bit of a boy and was allegedly very close to Ms. Richmond in a non business capacity, so maybe Fiona’s presence wasn’t such a surprise after all!
On arrival at the swanky Albany Hotel we were shown up to Miss Richmond’s room, where she was very charming, regaling us with vivid tales from her colourful career and her current projects!
Unbelievably, Ms Richmond was currently treading the boards in the West End, starring in a stage adaptation of The Incredible Hulk.
In her saucy version of the Marvel classic however, when The Hulk, became angry and turned green it wasn’t his shirt that he broke out of and it wasn’t his massive biceps that were exposed!…..
Every generation tends to think there era was best.
And why wouldn’t they… typically, every era has access to more ‘stuff’ and better lifestyle choices than the previous one.
For our generation (late Baby-Boomers born between 1954-1964), I think we hit the sweet spot culturally…. particularly when it comes to music.
My musical awareness began around 1968, just in time to catch the Beatles, and all the brilliant 70s artists that followed. I look back now and realise that the 70s wouldn’t have been so prolific without the 60s…. with The Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, Motown, Stax and the Laurel Canyon scene inspiring what was to follow.
And what was to follow was pretty special…….
The Rolling Stones, The Who, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, The Eagles, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, The Doobie Brothers, Roxy Music, T-Rex, Little Feat, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklyn, Carole King, Carly Simon, Bob Marley, Parliament/Funkadelic, Bobby Womack, Pink Floyd, Al Green, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Queen, McCartney, Lennon, Harrison , Yes, Genesis, AWB, The Bee Gees, Deep Purple, Linda Ronstadt, Curtis Mayfield, George Benson, Rory Gallagher, John Martyn, Todd Rundgren…. and many more
Whether you were a fan of some of these acts or not, the one thing they all shared was a prolificacy of output…. amazingly they all managed to release multiple albums of exceptional quality, whilst still finding time to compose, record, tour, collaborate and live a 70s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, with all the excesses that entailed.
Indeed, there was so much quality being produced in the 70s that for the first five or six years of the decade it seemed like there was a landmark release every other week.
Take 1971 as an example.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Carole King – Tapestry
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story
John Lennon – Imagine
Joni Mitchell – Blue
The Who – Who’s Next
T Rex – Electric Warrior
Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
The Doors – LA Woman
Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
The Faces – A Nods as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse
James Brown – Sex Machine
Don McLean – American Pie
Gil Scott Heron – Pieces of a Man
Jethro Tull – Aqualung
Pink Floyd – Meddle
James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim
Isaac Hayes – Shaft
Yes – Fragile
Paul McCartney – Ram
Included in this list from 71 are two of the top three albums of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine…. Marvin Gaye’s – What’s Going On and Joni Mitchell’s – Blue. Both seminal and often cited as landmark recordings by other artists and critics, but in truth just two excellent albums from a catalogue of exquisite releases. There is a neat book about the quality of the music released in 1971 by David Hepworth who describes the year as ‘the most creative in popular music’
Anther remarkable thing about the 70s was the diversity of the music.
Rock, pop, soul, reggae, jazz, punk, folk, glam, funk….. it was one big melting pot where you could find Benny Hill rubbing shoulders at the top of the charts with Jimi Hendrix, Abba with Pink Floyd, and The Wombles with Stevie Wonder.
The 70s record buying public represented a ‘broad church’ of musical styles and tastes and they were all represented in the weekly top 30.
There was also a constant flow of talent breaking through in the 70s. Take the chart below from July 1972 and you will see the emergence of a few acts making their chart debuts that month, who went on to do pretty well…. Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, ELO
Another barometer of how good an era is, can be measured I think, by the interest in it from future generations.
Based on my own anecdotal evidence, I have a daughter who loves Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye as much as she loves Beyonce or John Mayer and I have sons who dig Steely Dan, The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder as much as they dig Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters or Kanye West.
That only happens when the music is timeless…..
Talking of timeless music, the updated 70s Jukebox links are below. There are 250 songs on the master playlist now, with the common thread being that they are all singles that would almost certainly have been playing on a jukebox somewhere in the 70s.
Thanks to everyone who contributed, it’s a playlist that’s been curated by you and not surprisingly our choices have proved to be a microcosm of the record buying public with a wide range of tastes and musical styles covered.
It was clear from the song choices coming through at the start that there were two distinctive threads – Soul/Disco Classic Pop/Rock
Therefore I’ve prepared two playlists….
1) The Ultimate Playlist which is the master playlist and features all 250 songs, tracks 1-150 are classic pop/rock songs and tracks 151-250 are soul/disco tracks…. select shuffle and it will churn out 17 hours of hit after hit, just like a great jukebox should.
2) The Boogie Nights Playlist features the 100 soul/disco tracks taken from the master playlist which you can boogie or smooch to….. just like a night up Joannas or your favourite 70s nightclub of choice!
Within each playlist I have tried to group the songs in a running order that makes sense but if you’re like me you’ll probably just hit ‘shuffle’, pour out your beverage of choice and boogie round the kitchen like it’s 1975…
To save the playlist to your Spotify library….. press the Spotify icon in the top right hand corner of the playlists above and when you’ve been transferred to the playlist on your own Spotify account, click the Heart icon to save the playlist to your library.
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
On the 6th of November 1999, I, along with 5,273,023 fellow citizens, voted for Australia to become a Republic in a National referendum. Unfortunately 54.87% of the population disagreed and the status quo remained. It was also verified that any further talk of a Republic would not be entertained whilst the current monarch remained.
A world away and 3 decades before, little me was being prepared for a special day.
A Royal visit.
I’m not sure if 5 year old me grasped the importance of the event but it did mean the afternoon away from the classroom. Hair brylcreemed into submission, freshly ironed grey shirt, blazer brushed and of course clean underpants in case I was involved in an accident…
“Base. Do you copy ? RTA involving 5 year old male. Vital signs show 1st degree skid marks and multiple pee stains. Poor kid. He never stood a chance. I blame the parents !”
So there I was with my classmates, spruced up to the nines, waiving my Union Jack, standing at the side of the road on a fresh spring day, waiting and waiting and waiting. Finally, the crowd seemed unsettled. Murmurs became shouts of elation. Two police motorbikes with flashing blue lights sped by shortly followed by a shiny black limousine with a small pink clad figure waving from the back seat and blink, they were gone. That was Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin apparently. I’m not in any way questioning her lineage but I did wait patiently for several hours just for a pink handed drive by. It could have been anyone. I didn’t expect her entourage to screech to a halt and for her to jump out and high 5 me ( mainly because 5 year old white boys – and presumably Princesses – didn’t do that sort of thing in 1963) but I would have settled for a patronising pat on the head or a scuff up of the hair.
I had gone to a lot of effort.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Royal visit = day off school.
Similarly the Queen high tailed it on the way to naming a boat after her self in Clydebank in 1967. It could have been anyone really in a duck green coat, hat and gloves as she sped by.
I gave up on royal roadside vigils soon after that.
I think we got the day off for Prince Charles’ Investiture at Caernarfon Castle in 1969 because I remember watching some of it on TV. All that pomp and ceremony is as dull as dishwater in my opinion. You only watch it in the hope someone trips on their robes or drops their crown and swears.
I went to that castle on a scout trip a few years later and remember sitting on a bench on the ramparts when a seagull deposited a large shit into my open packet of crisps and all over my hand. I was offered a piece of tissue paper but I said the seagull will be miles away by now ! Now that would have certainly brightened up Charlie boy’s investiture for me !
Princess Anne marrying a toy soldier was another day off school in 1973 slumped in front of the telly wondering when she was going to stamp her foot on the ground until someone gave her a lump of sugar.
Celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 for my friend Russ and myself started early with toasts to her Majesty at Kilmardinny Loch. In fact the loch kept our 4 litre cask of Chateau Cardboard quite cool for the endless “God save the queer old Deans !” Such a pity we forgot the canapes. The next few hours were a blank to me but I ‘came to’ with pint in hand at the Amphora in the city. Russ assured me I didn’t desecrate any Union Jacks or threaten any Royalists with ‘up against the wall, comrade’.
I have nothing against the whole monarchy circus. It’s a good tourist attraction, but I know which box I’ll be ticking next referendum.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – May 2021)
A look now at this week’s Smells of the Seventies Top Twelve.
Coming straight in at number 12, we have:
MILK MONITOR HANDS:
The primary school position of ‘milk monitor’ was one of honour. Only the trusted and well behaved were granted the privilege of carting the perpetually cold, heavy, milk bottle laden, metal crates around the numerous classrooms.
Being conferred this position of prestige effectively gave permission to skip class for a while each day. Result!
There was a downside though – there always is. When you returned to your classroom, milk round duties completed, and rested your weary head in your hands …..
Boak! Blech! Eeeuuuww!
The smell of sour milk is one that lingers. It would seep into the fabric of your clothing and you’d notice the kid in the next seat inching towards the edge of their desk. And retching.
Playtime couldn’t come fast enough and you’d rush to the toilets and wash your hands clean. But a state of freshness is only a state of utopia.
The combined scent of sour milk and carbolic soap is not the most attractive.
Jumping three places from last week’s number 14, is:
FRESHLY CUT GRASS:
Not only back in the day, but even now, this is the smell of freedom.
On hot summer days at primary school, we’d often be taken outside for lessons. No matter the subject, the grassy aroma would relax the mind and even a half hour discussion on Oliver Cromwell became bearable.
At secondary school, balmy summer breezes would waft the fragrant scent into the science labs through the opened fanlight windows. Accompanied by the muffled sound of a tractor pulling the grass cutter, it hinted towards the end of term.
It was a time of change: the football pitch was being shorn, soon to be lined as a six lane athletics track; national grade exams beckoned; summer holidays were around the corner.
The smell of freshly cut grass meant exciting times ahead.
Falling from a peak position of 8, this week’s number 10 is:
I still have no idea why these sweets were so popular. Perhaps because they were cheap?
From Swizzel, the makers of Fizzers (which were decent sweets) Parma violets were / are hard sweets based on some aniseed based confectionery in India which are used to freshen the mouth after a spicy meal.
The smell of violets may be a half decent base for perfume, or toilet cleaner, but surely not for human breath?
I mean, I love the smell of garlic, but I’m not so sure it should be used as a mouth-wash.
Making a bit splash this week we have a joint number 9:
CHARLIE / BRUT 33:
In 1973, Faberge launched their ‘33’ everyday cologne. In the same year, Revlon launched their ‘sharp flowery’ fragrance, ‘Charlie.’
I know both are now regarded with a little bit disdain; as ’cheap.’ And certainly the Brut 33 splash-on gave that impression, coming as it did in a plastic bottle no less.
However, for naïve young schoolkids, living on paper round and baby-sitting incomes, these fragrances met our budgets while making us feel sophisticated; classy.
I very much doubt there were any dates between school pupils that didn’t involve a dab or two of either these scents.
Henry Cooper / Barry Sheene and Shelley Hack can feel well pleased with their influence on the match-making process.
Coming from nowhere, at 8 with a bullet, we have:
No – not the little peaked efforts we sometimes wore to primary school – these caps.
Principally for using in toy guns, we would stamp on them to ignite the tiny dots of what we always believed to be gunpowder. However, I think I’m right in saying old fashioned gunpowder is not shock sensitive and has to be ignited. So it may be a mercury based compound that actually forms the black dot on the roll of paper. (Who says I didn’t pay attention in Chemistry class?) Anyway – who gives a tu’upenny one for the science? We’d place lines of these on the inner ledge of our school desk and brusquely bring down the lid to create an almighty (as we heard it) bang.
The residual smell of spent gunpowder or whatever, and burnt paper was just tops! It was also exciting as we felt we were doing something just that wee bit naughty.
Making its annual assault on the charts and debuting this week at number 7, it’s, erm, comic annuals.
ANNUALS AT CHRISTMAS:
Every Christmas night, I’d head to bed with several new ‘annuals’ as reading material. Excited as I was to read the exploits of Alf Tupper (Tough of the Track) or Desperate Dan, my abiding memory of childhood Christmases, is the smell of these books.
I have to confess, that even at the age of sixty-two, I attract some weird looks from shoppers in Asda through the month of December, as with the books close to my face, I fan through the pages of the Beano / Dandy annuals.
With a ‘tree-mendous’ jump of fourteen places to number 6 this week, we have:
Back in the day before plastic was invented (well, almost) we always had real Christmas trees.
There is nothing in this world, I’m quite certain, can evoke such sense of sheer excitement in a young kid than the smell that permeates home when a real Christmas tree is placed in the corner of the living room.
Falling two places to number 5 after an amazing thirty-three weeks in the charts, is:
‘WET’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Every day, by playtime, (or was it ‘break’ when we were at secondary school?) you could tell what would be on the menu for lunch.
My heart would sink when I could detect the putrid odour of a ‘wet’ lunch. Invariably, these would be ‘wet’ days weather wise as well; days when the dining room windows would run rivers of condensation.
A ‘wet’ lunch could be expected when the stench of stewed cabbage would mingle with the cheap, Bisto substitute gravy used to smother the rather odious looking beef olives.
There would be no silver lining either, as in general, the Head of Kitchen would dictate it be better to get all the crap out in one go, and subject us to pink custard (Devil’s Spew) and prunes for desert.
Where there’s a Ying, there’s a Yang, and making a comeback at this week’s number 4, is:
‘DRY’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Ah! Now you’re talking. There was something so comforting when from the sanctuary of the bike shed opposite the kitchen, you could smell the roast of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish fingers, and chips deep fried in blocks of melted lard.
You could also bet your treasured Lynyrd Skynyrd album on there being rhubarb crumble and custard on offer for second course.
Matching Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album for continuous weeks on the chart and remaining this week at number 3, comes:
DOG POO ON YOUR SHOE:
Maybe, as a society, we are better educated these days. Or maybe dogs are genetically just constipated now. But there’s thankfully not as much dog dirt lying in the streets these days.
There was nothing worse than the smell that followed you home when you’d stepped in a pile of poo hidden in a tuft of grass. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
Or worse, if you’d perfected a slide tackle while playing football, only to ….. well, you know. Yeuch!
Having it ingrained in the tread of you bike tyre was no fun either. More so if it were the front one. Think.
Going around and around in the chart is this week’s number 2, climbing again after a steady fall in recent times:
GOLDFISH BOWL / TADPOLE JAR:
How many of us pestered our parents for a goldfish when we were young? Or ‘won’ a sad little specimen in a poly bag when the carnival came to town?
Our parents, realising how lucky they were we’d not asked for a pony, or even a dog, jumped right on their good fortune and readily agreed … on the condition you looked after it.
“It’ll teach junior about life and death and responsibility” they stupidly thought.
Yeah – that went well … for all of about a week, until the magnitude off the task took its toll. What? Clean out its bowl as well as feed it? Every four days? Why is that water cloudy/ Where is Goldie? What are these wee stringy bits of stuff suspended mid bowl? What’s that Goddamned smell for crying out loud?!
The same, though worse, would happen with the tadpole jar.
You’d plead to be allowed to keep the frog spawn you’d shovelled into an outsize and cleaned out malt jar.
“It’ll teach junior about life and evolution and transformation and responsibility” your parents stupidly thought.
Wow! Did that jar severely honk! Worse still – when the spawn had released tadpoles, and the tadpoles grew wee legs, they had to be transferred into a basin of sorts. With rocks, and weeds and stuff.
After that, you couldn’t really change the water. So while the little frogs developed, the water became stagnant. And stank to high heaven.
And nobody would come play with you unless their name combined the words David and Attenborough.
We have new Number One this week … and it’s getting personal, not ‘arf! PERNOD & LEMONADE:
Summer 1976. I’d just left school and had a job lined up in Banking. It was time to celebrate – time to get away and let my hair down. (I did have some, back then.)
It had been decided I wasn’t clever enough at Maths and Physics to go to University, so this would be my ‘gap week.’ Off I headed for a caravan in St Andrews with several pals.
You know, I casually say, ‘several pals,’ because in truth, the week is a total haze and I can recall only my mates Derek, Graham and Kenny being there. Jack may also have been. But I honestly can’t remember much at all, which is quite scary.
(I do recall coming back from the pub one night and throwing bits of bread onto the roof of a neighbouring caravan so the occupants would be awakened the following morning by hungry seagulls pecking the crusts above them.)
The only other recollection I have is of a night on Pernod and lemonade. Or rather, I recollect the next morning! And afternoon! And evening! And the next morning again!
I don’t think I’ve ever been so ill.
To this day, I cannot stand the smell of Pernod. If somebody close by drinks it, I have to move away.
*** It’s Smells of the Seventies … It’s Number One … It’s Pernod & Lemonade.
Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
If you look at a map of Great Britain there is a narrow bit about half way up where it’s as if you’ve sucked your stomach in for a family photo. In AD 122, Emperor Hadrian of Rome decided to build a 73 mile wall from east to west (or west to east if you prefer metric) to separate Roman Britannia from Caledonia.
If you go about a hundred miles north to an even narrower bit (the belt buckle must have been really straining at this point) there is another lesser known wall built by Hadrian’s successor, Emperor Antonine in AD 142 .
It is 39 miles long and runs from Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire to Carriden on the Firth of Forth. It took 12 years to build which is not surprising as my Dad had to wait months to get permission from the East Dunbartonshire Council just to build a small porch over the back steps.
By my calculations the house I lived in in the 60s and 70s was bang on top of the wall. Not that our house was precariously balanced on a solid structure, the wall was pretty much flattened long before we got there.
Across the road from us was a wooded area known locally as “The Woods” where sometime in the late 60s Tony Robinson and the Time Team excavated a section of Antonine’s wall. (Not 100% sure it was TT but some archaeologist unearthed it)
To a young kid it was just a heap of stones and a ditch but there was an iron railing fence around it that made it an ideal football goal. There were also concrete markers about a goal’s width dotted along the length of the large grassed area, ideal for numerous games of the national sport. Inevitably the football would sail over the railings and one of us smaller kids would squeeze through the widened gap to retrieve the ball. Never did it occur to me that I was traipsing on the same ground some Roman centurion’s sandal might have tread some 1,800 years ago – although I doubt he would be looking for a Mitre Mouldmaster.
Many Roman coins were dug up in the rhubarb patch and I would compare them with my mates haul. They must have ended up in museums at some point. We lived in Castlehill but I could never figure what hill it referred to never mind find any trace of a castle.
History was fun at primary school as it seemed to involve making things and dressing up, usually as a Roman soldier looking like a right Biggus Dickus no doubt.
I won a prize for a history project about the Romans. I got W.E. Johns’ Biggles Flies Undone for my efforts. We also studied ancient Egypt I seem to remember as Tutankhamun was all the rage then. My Dad thought it was driving etiquette ‘Toot and come on ‘.
Secondary school history was a different experience. Certainly no colouring in and no fancy dress apart from the teacher Mr Brodie. He wore a kilt and a dishevelled jacket. He looked like a homeless gillie. His sporran was some indiscriminate dog like mammal with mange whose plastic beady eyes followed you around the room. All we ever got was Scottish history and tales of battles won against ‘those bastard English’. Truth be told I think there were far more massacres than victories but Brodie seemed to gloss over those bits. It was just endless essay writing and the subject quickly lost it’s appeal.
In 3rd year I had to choose between History and Geography and the latter won hands down. Our teacher Mr McCoach was previously a bus driver believe it or not and was quite ‘cool’ for a teacher in the 70s. He introduced me to TheBand which remains one of my favourites to this day. One day he handed out photocopied sheets on the geological feature of ‘CLINTS’. Unfortunately the gap between the ‘L’ and the ‘I’ was indistinguishable. He couldn’t work out why the class of pubescent teenagers were giggling. History was never this much fun.
In the land that is now my home, 70s school kids were still being taught that Australia’s history started in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet from Great Britain. That the land was terra nullius (nobody’s land) totally disregarding and disrespecting the first nation peoples’ continuous 60,000 year occupancy. They have been and continue to be guardians of this country.
‘History is the distillation of rumour’ …… Thomas Carlyle.
Best mates at school: Gordon Brownlie, Bobby Williamson
Funniest memory from school: Watching an older pupil (who shall remain nameless) dousing a teacher’s car with paint stripper
First holiday with your mates in UK: Blackpool 1975 with Colin Maxwell (Courthill), Kenny Groves (Killermont) and Rab Ballingall (Milngavie).
Holiday Memory: Rab punching a guy in the gents toilet at Papa Jenks then watching the towel dispenser fall from the wall onto the guys head as he lay on the deck….when you’re down you’re down
First holiday with your mates abroad: school trip to Rome in 1970.
Who With: The aforementioned Bobby Williamson, Hal Rollason, the late Nicky Mawbey, the delectable Maureen Gibson and many others. Memory: Drinking Martini in the girls’ bedroom one night along with the aforementioned Bobby Williamson, Maureen Gibson and others then cramming into the shower cubicle with two of the guys when one of the teachers (Miss Fisher) burst in.
First job: Shipping Clerk with J S Nowery in Hope Street, Glasgow( the nearest I got to a life at sea). Spent 3 months there then worked at Bank of Scotland, Bearsden Cross. Gave 37 years of my life to that company… but don’t get me started.
Musical hero in 70s: Eric Clapton… loved the street cred you got when walking around the playground with a Cream album wedged under your arm
Favourite single: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. Classic songs like that and In My Own Time by Family offset the Thursday night banality of Top of the Pops
Favourite album: Get Yer Ya Yas Out by the Rolling Stones. Stunning guitar virtuosity by debutant Mick Taylor who took over from the late Brian Jones and helped the band quash the cries of ‘No Stones Without Jones’.
First gig: Mungo Jerry, Kilmardinny, Bearsden 1970 Memory- sitting behind a heavily inebriated Norman Clement who was repeatedly shouting ‘you’re shite’ at vocalist Ray Dorset throughout the gig
Favourite movie in 70s: That’ll Be The Day starring Ringo Starr and David Essex. Think it was the La Scala in Sauchiehall Street. This was my first (and last) date with Eleanor Soutar, classy chick from Iain Road who went to one of the posh schools – Laurelbank maybe?
Who was your inspiration in 70s: Arthur Blessitt (American Evangelist)- I’ve always admired people who stand up for their beliefs and this guy was totally dedicated to his cause. Met him once in Balfron, he put his hand on my shoulder and it felt like an electric bolt was going through me. Whatever he had, it was powerful.
Posters on your wall: I bought the Jenny Fabian Groupie poster in an outpouring of testosterone with my first wage from Nowery’s but she soon gave way to Clapton and Hendrix..and of course Mott The Hoople
What do you miss most from the 70s: Walking up to a turnstile at a football ground and paying cash at the gate. Nowadays it’s a logistical nightmare buying tickets in advance
What advice would you give your 14yr old self: I’ve always regretted not going to University straight from school. I was too keen to get out and earn a wage in order to buy records. Take your chance with further education. You can study with real purpose when you get to that level. (I finally got my degree when I was 27 so it’s never too late)
70s pub session, you’re allowed to invite 4 people from 70s: