To add to the new phenomenon of Skiffle hitting Britain another craze was to follow with the advent of ‘Teddy Boys’. Originating from the 1940’s this was the name given to teenage boys who wore a mode of clothes as worn during the ‘Edwardian’ period. This sartorial style consisted of long drape jackets with a velvet collar, thin (drainpipe) trousers, varying colours of shirt which was topped off with a bootlace tie. Often their feet would have brightly coloured socks which were then encased in suede (usually coloured blue) shoes bearing very thick crepe soles. This type of footwear quickly became known as ‘Brothel Creepers’ (having never had any desire to visit such establishments of ill-repute I cannot vouch for the authenticity of that description!). To complete their ensemble these lads had haircuts with huge quiffs and sideburns. The obligatory chewing gum and cigarette completed the image.
The phrase ‘Teddy Boys’ passed into everyday language and is still used, often unjustly, today by older people when describing some present-day unusually attired teenager. The popular meeting places for the ‘Teddy Boys’ gers were the coffee bars, which were springing up all over the country, particularly in London. These establishments had coffee machines called ‘Gaggia’ churning out Espresso coffee by the gallon which competed with the musical sounds emanating from popular singers like Londoner Tommy Steele, who had been discovered performing at one of the most popular establishments called the Two I’s coffee bar. Other singers making the girls swoon were Marty Wilde, Terry Dene, Billy Fury and Adam Faith, who went on to become a very good actor. Finally, there was Harry Webb, the Peter Pan of pop music who changed his name to Cliff Richard and much later in life was to become Sir Cliff and is still singing as I write this in 2018. This Pop culture coupled with the mixture of Skiffle and Trad Jazz gave the teenagers, not to mention some of us more mature people, plenty of variety to choose from.
It was also around this time that many American singers started coming over to appear at the London Palladium. I must deviate time-wise slightly here to take you back to the year 1948 when the American actor, singer and comedian Danny Kaye came over to perform at the Palladium. He took London by storm, completely captivating the audience just by sitting on a chair near the orchestra pit with a cup of tea and chatting as if he was in your lounge at home, Every now and then he jumped up, chatted a little and sang a song or two but it was his so relaxed, informal laidback approach which won us over. Even Princess Margaret made two visits to see him perform.
In 1951 whilst on leave from the Royal Air Force I visited the Palladium again where I saw another icon of the entertainment world, the one and only Judy Garland who took everyone for a ride somewhere over the rainbow. This song from her 1939 film The Wizard of Oz became her signature tune. It also has a special significance for me which will be revealed later in my story.
My love for the theatre, especially musical theatre continued and I visited the London Palladium many times during the middle of the 1950’s seeing singers and comedians such as Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine, Billy Daniels, Kay Starr, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and the clap-happy, good to be alive singer, Guy Mitchell who sang about ‘Sparrow in the Treetop’ and ‘ wears red feathers’. Other great artists I saw at this Mecca of stars were the wonderfully droll Jack Benny who could elicit a smile from his audience just by looking at them without a saying a word, Britain’s Max Bygraves, George Formby and Frankie Howerd. Every Sunday evening the very popular Ted Heath Band – not to be confused with Edward Heath who was Britain’s Prime Minister between 1970-1974) - with his singers, Dickie Valentine, Lita Roza and Dennis Lotis would give a big band concert.
There was much interest in September 1955 when ITV (Independent Television) was first seen on our television screens - This was a commercial television company who - in direct contrast to the BBC - received the money to make their programmes from the companies who were advertising their products on this new channel.
Gibbs SR toothpaste went into the history books as being the very first product to be advertised via ITV on British television.
Two of the adverts which I remember became very popular were those from the makers of Mars Bars who informed us that ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ and, staying on the confectionary side, did you know that ‘Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry Mints’?
There were doubts and some consternation from many people who worried that the coming of advertising on television would demean the quality of the programmes but as time passed we all got accustomed to them, in fact, many people often considered that there were times when the adverts were better than the programmes!
The BBC in an attempt to woo audiences away from ITV’S big opening night let it be known that they were going to ‘kill off’ Grace Archer – a character from their long-running radio serial, ‘The Archers’ but it was to no avail, Independent television had arrived and nothing would ever be quite the same again.
In the same year as we gained this new television company we, and the world lost a man to whom it can be said millions of people around the world owe a huge debt of gratitude. I am referring to Sir Alexander Fleming a Scotsman from Ayrshire who died in July 1955. He is the man credited with discovering Penicillin, in 1928 and for which he - along with the work done on this wonder drug by Australian pathologist Howard Florey and German-born biochemist Ernst Chain - received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1945
In complete contrast to these three men whose pioneering work did so much to save lives, in the same month of Fleming’s death - July 1955 - a lady called Ruth Ellis, also made history albeit for the wrong reasons, was hung for murdering her lover and is recorded as the last women in Britain to suffer this fate.
Another pioneer who also entered the record books the same year was Sir Christopher Cockerell who invented the Hovercraft.
Tragedy struck five schoolboys when after finding a WWII mine on the beach in Swanage, Dorset and boys being boys tried to prise off the top it exploded and killed all of them.
On the sporting scene, Donald Campbell broke the water speed record when he did 216.2 mph in his boat Bluebird on Ullswater Lake.
The year is also remembered as the one when Cardiff was chosen as the Capital city of Wales. Naturally, the valleys and beyond were filled with the sound of the many choirs celebrating the news. So, for all people (myself included) from the land of Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Ivor Novello, Bryn Terfel, Tom Jones, Tommy Cooper, John Charles, Ivor Allchurch, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the one and only Harry Secombe it really was Yakki Da and Cmyru au Byth which roughly translated means Cheers and Wales for Ever.
--End of Part Thirty—