Just the other day, in my capacity as a parish councillor, I was asked by a concerned resident of the village to bring up an item on speeding at the next meeting. It transpires that a rather well-known individual was allegedly recognised by them speeding through this part of the shire – one Mr Jeremy Clarkson – presenter of BBC TV’s Top Gear programme, author and newspaper columnist.
A quote from a piece that Jez wrote on the Top Gear website a few years back talking about radar detectors and the joys of driving fast gives us some insight, if any were needed, into his attitude towards speeding: “…the real reason we are attracted to radar detectors has absolutely nothing to do with safety. It’s because, theoretically, they allow us to drive at one million mph through a village, safe in the knowledge that Plod isn’t hiding round the next corner in his Fiat van […]
“[…]Only the other day, on the television, I joked that I’d never buy a car because it protected pedestrians well in an accident. There are, I explained, more important things to worry about, like how fast it goes and what it looks like. And, of course, the next week, I had a barrage of mail from people whose children had been run over and killed. Each one made me feel absolutely fucking dreadful.”
And so it should Mr C. On rural village roads, with blind bends and build-outs, close to schools and other amenities speed limits are set with everyone’s safety in mind. The total length of a speed restriction on a stretch of village through-road might only be a few hundred yards or so. What’s the point of speeding through it? Something will slow you up on the way through so why not drive smoothly through at the speed limits. Just exercise a little patience and consideration? You’ll get out and on your way in no time.
The same goes for all the selfish gits – most of whom are residents old and new – whose lives are apparently so much more important than the safety of the kids, parents, the elderly, cyclists, horse riders etc that also use the road. Not to mention their own personal well-being. Tractors coming round blind bends with the sun behind them on bright winters’ mornings tend to be almost invisible and provide a fairly terminal barrier when hit head on at speeds even as low as 20 mph.
Before the First World War changed society for ever two of the most popular forms of mass entertainment in Britain were Association Football and the Music Hall. In a historical forerunner of Sport Relief, the stars of London’s music halls and Football League Div One side Tottenham Hotspurs met on a muddy pitch in North London on a wet March afternoon in 1914 to brighten the day, raise a smile and some money for charity. One of the Music Hall Artistes that turned out that afternoon was my Grandfather Gus.
Gus McNaughton always kept himself fit. He was a footballer, boxer and athlete – quite apart from being one half of a popular Music Hall Act before First World War. In fact, when war was declared he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, which amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Airforce. While he served with the RAF Gus was the services Middleweight Boxing Champion. Not surprising then that he was to find himself in the lineup of a football team that would play a charity friendly against Tottenham Hotspurs in March 1914.
Just have a read of the front page of the programme above. Imagine it being read in the RP voice of a Pathe newsreader or Harry Enfield commentating on Arsenal’s Charles ‘Charlie’ Charles.
The ‘Artistes’ team included a number famous names of the era including Gus and one Bombardier Billy Wells – the man who banged the gong on the opening titles of many Rank Organisation films.
The match was played on a miserable Thursday afternoon but the attendance for a friendly at White Hart Lane wasn’t bad. The match report in the local paper the following morning read as follows:
But for the unfortunate breakdown in the weather the attendance at Tottenham Hotspurs ground yesterday, on the occasion of the second annual match with the Music Hall artistes, held in aid of the Variety artistes Benevolent Fund and the Prince of Wales Hospital, would have been considerably augmented, but despite the inclement weather the match drew a tremendous crowd, it being estimated that no less than 15,000 persons were present. Additional interest was doubles created by the presence of the Heavy-weight boxing Champion, who played in the forward line for the Artistes. Punctually at 2:45 Miss Victoria Monks kicked off. Banks at once got away and sending in a fast shot easily defeated the Artistes custodian. Directly afterwards, after some brisk passing, McNaughton broke away, but was intercepted by Walden, who passed cleverly to Steel and the latter had no difficulty in adding a second goal. A penalty for hands was given against Banks but McNaughton sent the ball over the bar. Ten minutes later Cantrell added a third goal for the Spurs from a melee in front of goal, and just before the interval, following some smart work on the part of McNaughton, Carl Lynn reduced the lead with an easy shot. The second half was productive of some interesting play, but no further scoring, although just before time Middlesmiss found the net only to be ruled off side, and the game ended: Tottenham Hotspurs three; Music Hall Artistes one. Teams: TOTTENHAM HOTPSURS: G. Raymond; Clay and Webster; Bowler; Steel and Grimsdell; Walden, Banks, Cantrell, Bliss and Middlemiss; ARTISTES: Tiny Joyce; Albert Raymond and Carl Lynn; Ted Cowan; Gus McNaughton and Bob Wingfield; Sam Mayo, L Houssein, Mark Leslie, Bombardier Wells and Percy Caldwell.
Referee: Mr Peter McWilliams.
Theplayers each received a commemorative medal after the game. This was Gus’.
This match was just one example of how the worlds of entertainment and sport provided some of the glue that held British society and its Empire together in a more ‘innocent’ time. For more on this have a look at Jeremy Paxman’s excellent BBC TV series Empire.
In a recent programme on the BBC about class and culture Melvyn Bragg explores the relationship between class and culture between 1911 and 2011 and how it has shaped modern society. His introduction to the series warns that it is ‘inevitably selective.’ He tends to concentrate on the elements of culture that have most resonance today such as ballroom dancing and cinema. One of his omissions is one of the most important forms of mass entertainment of the period – the music halls.
Mass consumption didn’t just start with the ballrooms and cinemas. Before these, there were the music halls – hot beds of mass entertainment, comedy and sedition right up until after WWI. The halls were turned into cinemas as popularity of cinema increased and that of traditional variety declined. But don’t forget that the comedy acts of the music halls have a direct influence on those of today – take Monty Python‘s silliness or the one line gags of comedians like Frank Carson (RIP) and Tim Vine.
Pantomime, variety and music hall were the bedrock of popular entertainment in Britain from the middle of the 19th Century up to the end of the First World War. This was also the bedrock of popular TV right up until the 1980s. Many of the clowns and comedians, novelty acts, tumblers and acrobats, singers and dancers who toured the inns and taverns, then the music halls that evolved from them started in the circus.
Tracing ancestors who performed in the circus, the halls and theatres can be challenging. Performers were itinerant, often changed their names, married and re-married. Many, however, kept photos and memorabilia. Growing up I was surrounded with boxes of old photos, albums, letters, datebooks playbills and programmes. The photos were of grand parents, cousins, uncles and aunts and of the acts they were in, the shows they did and stills from their films. Using this material as a basis, then searching family records and census data put the history of my family and popular culture in those years into context.
The Poluski Brothers
My great-grandfather was William Nelson Govett (1854 –1923). His brother was Samuel Thomas Govett (1866 – 1922). Together they were The Poluski Brothers, a popular music hall comedy double act from the 1880s up until the First World War.
They started as tumblers and musical clowns with Duffy’s Circus, touring Britain in the 1870s. Belfast shoemaker Patrick James Duffy started the circus in England in the 1840s. In his memoir, Patrick Duffy’s grandson John Duffy – known as the Irish Barnum – wrote:
I was born in a caravan in Over, Cambridge on October 1 1875. When I was born, my parents, who were circus artistes were out of work and had no money. When I came to town one of the artistes, Sam Poluski, managed to scrape up sixpence and he walked five miles to Cambridge to buy a feeding bottle for me. Sam Poluski and his brother Will (who were apprentices to my Grandfather) in later years turned out to be two of London’s greatest comedians, and commanded a big salary.
By 1884 The Poluskis were at the Trocadero and Eden Theatre, Great Windmill Street, Haymarket in a ‘Monstre Entertainment.’ Also on the bill were The Sisters Waite. Harriet Waite was later to marry Will Poluski.
In 1885 they were performing at Gatti’s Palace of Varieties, Lambeth, in its Whitsun entertainments, billed as ‘Will and Sam, eccentric comedians and acrobatic marvels’. And in 1892 they were touring the halls, appearing on the same bill as Vesta Victoria at the Empire Palace Theatre in Edinburgh. Vesta Victoria sang Daddy Wouldn’t Buy me Bow Wow and Waiting at the Church. Other variety acts on the bill included The Craggs; ‘the most wonderful acrobats the world has ever produced;’ Vento, ‘ventriloquist, humourist and mimic’ and the Forget-me-nots – ‘the smallest song and dance artistes on the variety stage.’
The Poluskis staged a sketch entitled Late on Parade’ using a row of dummy soldiers. Sam was Captain Blazer. Will was Corporal Spottletoe, made up in the ordinary dress of an officer, while Sam’s make-up was an ‘extraordinary conception, as grotesque as it was original.’ Two of the doll-like dummies were on springs which, on being struck by either of the Poluskis, rebounded to give a knock-down blow in return.
The Poluskis toured this act for years even taking it to the Tivoli in Sydney, Australia in 1898, where they appeared in Harry Rickard’s variety show. Back in the UK they appeared in Howard and Wyndham Ltd’s pantos including Aladdin at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.
They’d come a long way from the their humble circus origins by 1914 performing in a royal matinée for King George V and Queen Mary at The Palladium in aid of the Chelsea Hospital for Women sharing the bill with George Robey.
Popular variety acts like The Poluskis took advantage of the new phonograph and cinema to reach wider audiences. Will and Sam recorded on the Columbia label including sketches entitled Misunderstood and The Village Blacksmith, recorded in 1912.
Sam Poluski also made some silent films between around 1911 and 1915. An example was Nobby the New Waiter (1913), made by the Ec-Ko Film Company and directed by WP Kellino. Sam played waiter Nobby who gets a new job but quickly gets the sack. He smokes on duty, flirts with the cook and roller skates. Two customers evade paying by engaging Nobby in a game of ‘Blind man’s Bluff’. The film drew on routines Sam performed with Will in their double act.
Will Poluski had four children: Charlotte, Winifred, Sam and William junior, who married Rosetta Wood (aka Rosie Lloyd) singer and sister of Marie Lloyd, famous for tunes like My Old Man Said Follow the Van and I Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas. Sam Poluski was best man to Alec Hurley at Marie Lloyd’s wedding in 1906.
Winnifred’s daughter Polly Ward (also known as Bino Poluski) starred alongside George Formby and Max Miller in a number of films and was a singer and dancer in many pantos including Babes in the Wood, Aladdin, Dick Wittington and Puss in Boots.
An exciting rock music-based spiritual event is coming to Peterborough in March. St Kyneburgha’s Church, Castor is hosting Peterborough’s first Rock Mass on Friday 9 March.
Starting at 7:30 pm, the combined concert and service at the popular village church is designed to appeal to teenagers but there is no minimum age – all are welcome. The mass will feature rock, pop and blues music along with a traditional Eucharist – with a twist.
The music sets will be punctuated with short spoken passages and the necessary religious and spiritual aspects of a mass and singing accompanied by the live band.
Commenting on the event Rector of St Kyneburgha’s, Rev. Canon William Burke said: “It has long been an ambition of mine to hold a rock mass in the church. The spiritual well-being of our young people is vital in an age where there are so many distractions.
“What better way to encourage youth of all ages to get in touch with their spiritual side than through the music that speaks most to them? It promises to be a very exciting evening.”
Beer and a curry will be available after the mass. The service is free to attend but there will be a £3 cover charge for drinks and food and a collection for the Teenage Cancer Trust .
St Kyneburgha’s is one of England’s finest parish churches. It has great acoustics and has been used for several live blues gigs promoted by the nationally recognised Shakedown Blues club. The Shakedown Blues team is fully supporting this event with professional PA and sound mixing, staging and lighting. The mass will also be filmed by an independent film production company.
Tickets for the Rock Mass are priced at £3:00 each or two for £5:00, available through the Parish Office. Phone theParish Office on 01733 380900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s likely to be a popular event so early booking is advised.
How many times have we all wanted to shout out ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ as one of the little ones pads down the stairs for the umpteenth time in a night? Adam Mansbach has put his frustrations to one side to pen this little children’s book for grown-ups to help us relieve ours.
Better still, get the Samuel L Jackson voiced audio book – I dare you. I double dare you.
Following on from Michael Gove’s recommendations on the ’50 book a year’ thing for school kids I thought that I would keep a tally of what I’m reading/have read this year. Look out for regular updates.
So far this year I have read (in no particular order)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (which admittedly I was reading to my son at bedtime so not sure if this counts)
Fifty books a year – that’s the recommended annual amount of literature in the government’s latest ‘nanny state’ proclamation. Education Secretary Michael Gove is intending to shake up the national curriculum and make teachers less reliant on staple – and therefore short – texts like John Steinbeck’s of Mice and Men and increase variety and quality of recommended reading for students. Laudable.
But it has been suggested that this should also apply to adult’s reading. Who’s got the time?
I like reading – I’m addicted to it – but 50 books a year – that’s a book a week. Try fitting reading that volume in around the pressures of a busy family life and a full-time job.
Not to mention the cash to buy them or the lack of libraries from which to borrow them if government and local authority cuts force their closure.
George Melly once described one of my favourite movies of all time as a “bottle of neat gin swallowed before breakfast.”
And this March marks its 40th anniversary.
The original Get Carterwas lauded as the ‘Best British Film of All Time’ by Total Film. One of the most popular cult classics certainly, the best British film of all time – not sure, but Mike Hodges’s directorial debut delivered a classic 70’s thriller and captured Michael Caine in one of his finest performances.
Adapted from Ted Lewis’ 1968 novel Jack’s Return Home, Get Carter follows hard as nails London gangster Jack Carter‘s (Michael Caine) return to Newcastle for his brother’s funeral. Suspecting foul play, Carter’s quest for the truth about his brother’s death leads to a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders played out against the haunting backdrop of the gritty North East.
“Newcastle will be one of the stars of the film,” proclaimed producer Michael Klinger in 1970, prophesying that Get Carter would do for Newcastle what Bullitt had done for San Francisco!
Unfortunately it took over 20 years for Klinger’s prophesy to come true. On its original release in 1971 Get Carter was not a critical success. Many journalists weren’t comfortable with Hodges’s vision of a violent criminal underbelly. Consequently the film spent two decades in the critical wilderness. It was not until Get Carter was re-released in 1999 that it took its rightful place among the pantheon of British cinema classics.
Michael Caine told Loaded magazine in February 1999: ” Quite often, you only realise how good a film is in retrospect. Then years later, a whole new generation picks it up and hails it as a classic!”
There will be a series of anniversary events in the North East to mark the anniversary. It’s a shame that key locations like the Trinity Square multi storey car park in Gateshead have gone. It was here that Carter uttered the immortal line: “You’re a big man but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself,” before throwing Cliff Brumby, played by Bryan Mosley, off the top of the car park.
Rob at the Royal Oak is hosting a Channel 4Time Team event at the Royal Oak on Sunday 13 March.
The episode filmed in Castor last June will be screened from 5:30pm. After that there will be a local knowledge quiz and a raffle. Time to mug up on all those snippets of Castor legend and lore bandied around the bar on cold winter evenings.
And while you’re there get your lips around a pint or two of Rob’s excellent ale.