Dad’s Army

This creased photograph is from an early Andover Carnival procession – my mother is in the rear seat of the front-running Austin Seven and I guess my grandfather is driving. They have won ‘First Prize’; the car is adorned with everything including the kitchen sink. The sign attached to the radiator points to ‘Squatters Camp’ and the tin tub is inscribed with ‘Here We Come’.  The year is a mystery but I would guess the early 1940s assuming the Carnival continued during the war years – my mother married in 1943 and moved north to Manchester so it is unlikely to be later.

It is the detail that fascinates – the familiar shop names: Johnsons the dry cleaners and Freeeman Hardy Willis, the shoe shop – FHW – For Happy Walking!; the hairstyles, the dress, the shoes and the then familiar sight of a man in uniform. This could be a set from Dad’s Army.

Andover Carnival ...

Oddly, on the rear of the photograph and in my mother’s hand, there is a shopping list.  It too is of its time, probably the 1950s but post rationing:

Butter, marge, lard, tea, sugar, cheese, bacon, soap powder, biscuits, Vim, icing, jam, baking powder, suet, Heinz soup, ground almonds, sultanas, matches, toilet roll, cornflour or custard, biscuits.

This is a cook’s list for this is primarily what she did along with keeping the house clean and keeping the children in check (mostly me 😦 ).

(click on the image to enlarge)

What do I know …

When I was seven or eight years old I was not allowed out in the street to play with the other kids.  I remember some nights staring from my bedroom window wondering why I was different.

My grandfather, Fred,  would occasionally make the long trip north from Andover to Manchester, just to escape Mrs Kipper. One glorious evening he had words with Peg, my mother, and I was finally allowed my escape – I can still remember the sense of elation as I ran down drive the drive to join the others. From then on I was the same.

Ironically, Fred had a reputation for iron discipline but, even if this were true, times were different.  My mother was just sixteen as war broke out and there were army camps nearby; Fred knew all about the military. Growing up a teenage boy in semi-urban Cheshire was a world away from Andover in the 1930s but the inherited rules were the same.  When I needed Fred the most he was already gone – the Carnival King died in 1966.

This photograph captures his spirit best – Mayor Carcetti thinks he is taking centre stage but the real star is my grandfather, wearing the Carnival Queen’s crown and smiling like an errant schoolboy.

Andover Carnival ...

I had thought to write that May, his wife, is not present – she is at home stoking the fires of her resentment. But, enlarged and repaired, I now realise that she is sat to the left of him in the photograph, smiling widely – just shows what I know:

Carnival King ...

Carnival King

When my grandfather died in 1966 the local paper announced Andover’s “Carnival King” dies suddenlyFred collapsed and died while working in the garden of his home in Micheldever Road, Andover.  He was aged 74 and had lived in the town since the age of two and had been associated with Andover Carnival since its inception in1924.  He became overall chairman of the Carnival Committee from 1955 until 1963.  He had worked with enthusiasm to keep the carnival an annual event in the town and was unceasing in his efforts for charity.  The event continues to this day –

I was reminded of Fred’s association with this event by another old postcard.  Mixed in with Charlie’s collection (see earlier posts) was this:

Freddie Mills

Dear Fred – sorry cannot make Andover Carnival on Aug 12 owing to holiday. Best Wishes & success to Carnival
Freddie Mills

Freddie Mills was world light heavyweight champion from 1948 to 1950 and quite a celebrity in his day.  The postcard is dated 30th June 1949 when Freddie was at the height of his powers.  When he retired he had walk on parts in a number of films including Carry on Constable and Carry on Regardless, he appeared quite regularly on the BBC and then became a nightclub owner where he fell in with the notorious Kray twins.  He had the look of a boxer and street fighter and came to an almost predictable end; heavily in debt to a crime syndicate, depressed and in fear of his life, on 24th July 1965 he was found in a car behind his nightclub, shot in the head.  The coroner’s inquest concluded that he had committed suicide.

If acquiring the services of such a celebrity seemed optimistic, Fred’s endeavours were amply rewarded a few years later when Moira Shearer, the ballet dancer and film star, made a guest appearance.  The picture of my sister presenting the bouquet was probably taken in 1952 when Moira Shearer’s fame was at its height, having fairly recently completed her defining role as Vicky in the Powell and Pressburger ballet-themed film, The Red Shoes.

Andover Carnival - Moira ShearerDame Moira Shearer and Freddie Mills offer a strange juxtaposition of personalities, background and talents but dig a little beneath the surface and their worlds were not so far apart.  In 1950 Dame Moira married Ludovic Kennedy, the journalist, broadcaster and lifelong campaigner for justice.  Kennedy was the cousin of Lord Boothby who infamously had a sleazy relationship with Ronnie Kray, the younger of the twins.  It was the Krays who ran the Soho protection racket that contributed to Freddie Mills’ debts, depression and ultimate suicide.  Somehow we think the world has deteriorated these last sixty years, it seems more likely it has stayed much the same; just a different set of characters in a different play; the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the loveliest and the best.