Saturday 31 December 2011

A New Year's Eve

A time to look back, and a time to look forward.  Memories both happy and sad of the year gone by, and hope for an even better tomorrow.
 May I wish you all a very Happy New Year, and see you in 2012.

Thursday 29 December 2011

It Happened One (Christmas) Night

Well, during the day actually, but how else was I going to fit one of my Christmas presents into the title?!

So that's it for another year and I hope you all had a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas.  Ate, drank and made merry, I trust?

'Twas a quiet little Christmas for me this year; if truth be told I didn't really get into a fully festive mood - maybe it was the unseasonably mild weather.  Being stuck in a hospital bed for 4 months rather threw the year out of kilter a bit too.

Still, I enjoyed the day itself.  I suppose you want to see some of the [vintage] things I got?  Well, I shan't disappoint you!

I've already given away one of the presents in the title of this post (not to mention the picture!) - yes, it's one of my favourite films, It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, now mine on DVD!

Next up it's books, books and yet more books!  I try (but usually fail) to operate a "one in, one out" policy with my books to keep my bookshelf manageable - it'd have to be a "half-a-dozen in, half-a-dozen out" this time if I'm to find space for all these new tomes!

Courtesy of my sister comes a set of three books featuring some fantastic images from the Hulton Getty Picture Collection, in this case from my favourite decades, the 1920s, '30s and '40s.  Pictures contained therein may well make an appearance on this blog in the future.  Thanks Sis!

The next two books weren't exactly presents per se, but were seen in a well-known discount bookshop by yours truly earlier in the month and simply couldn't be passed up at the price!

John Betjeman is the archetypal English poet and this collection of his writings, entitled Tennis Whites and Teacakes, should provide a splendid view of England as seen by Betjeman between 1927 and 1979.  I look forward to reading this one.

 This 850-page volume, The Thirties: An Intimate History by Juliet Gardiner (who you will have seen as a talking head on any recent documentary involving early 20th Century culture) should keep me very busy for the next year or so as well.  It promises to be, as the titles suggests, a detailed examination of 1930s society and events and I can't wait to see what gems of information and experiences to do with one of my favourite decades reside within this book.
Image courtesy of Hansen's Clothing
Finally my American aunt with the vintage eBay store sent me another delightful gift from across the water.  A pair of black leather gloves to help keep my hands warm when (or if) the temperatures start to drop.  A product of Hansen's Clothing, an Iowa-based menswear store of over a century's trading, they are almost certainly vintage (despite being as-new, complete with packaging, still threaded together and as stiff as the day they were bought - which I'm working off) if only for the fact that the modern equivalents are cashmere-lined whereas these are, for better or for worse, fur-lined.  Don't ask me what fur, though.  I won't get too much into the somewhat contentious discussion about fur clothing, suffice to say that I am in agreement with those who feel that vintage fur is vintage and is long past being affected by any meaningful action so might as well be worn and made the best of.  Personally I will be interested to see how these gloves perform compared to my usual wool-lined ones.

So there we have it, again.  I should have enough reading material to last me until this time in 2012, a pair of gloves to keep my mitts warm when Jack Frost comes calling and as I can never tire of It Happened One Night several hours of fun escapism whenever I feel like it.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Museum offers vintage ride to deter drink-driving

Museum offers vintage ride to deter drink-driving

OK, so maybe this will be my last post before Christmas.  Trust me to find something blogworthy right at the last minute!  No good waiting 'til after the 25th either, seeing as how the subject occurs on the day itself.  But what a wonderful story to go out on, after all - a real example of Christmas spirit, and with an important message. 

The members of the Keighley Bus Museum Trust in West Yorkshire are to be thoroughly applauded for their marvellously selfless idea of running some of their old Routemasters around the town on Christmas Day so that the locals can visits friends and relatives without having to worry about having a drink or three.  The whole enterprise is touching, even more so as it also serves the nearby hospital.  West Yorkshire Police have rightly got behind the scheme and I am very pleased to see them do so.

Image courtesy of Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

It is only a pity that such festive cheer and generosity of spirit is not more widespread and that there are not vintage buses up and down the country to take people around their local area over Christmas.  It is a novel, charming and, if the article is anything to go by, successful endeavour that deserves to continue.  Well done to everyone concerned!

Joyeux Noel!

This will likely be my last post before Christmas Day itself (and apologies for the lack of blogging for the past week - a combination of news slowing down and me getting ready for the festivities!) so it just remains for me to wish you all, readers and followers, a very Merry Christmas.  Thank you all for continuing to take an interest in my writings; I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all my fellow bloggers' exploits this past year - the online vintage community is certainly thriving!

I leave you with His Majesty King George V's last Christmas speech, and send you my warmest Yuletide greetings.

Friday 16 December 2011

"New Routemaster" Bus for London driven

Image courtesy of Autocar
"New Routemaster" Bus for London driven

One of the ten most popular posts ever on Eclectic Ephemera was when I blogged back in November 2010 about the new "Routemaster" double-decker bus.  Obviously it must have been a popular search item, and rightly so!

Now I'm pleased to say that my favourite motoring periodical, Autocar, has tested one for its special bumber Christmas issue, giving you some idea of what the thing is like to drive.  With the New Bus for London, or NBfL (come on chaps & ladies, we can think of a better name than that, surely?!) due to start passenger service on the 20th February 2012 this is the first full test of the vehicle by an independent party (albeit with tongue slightly in cheek) and it seems Autocar like it.  That makes two of us!

Image courtesy of Autocar

And it just gets better on the inside.  As the 21st Century successor to the iconic Routemaster the poor old NBfL has a lot to live up to and while the outside is quite reminiscent of the old AECs, especially from the rear, the interior was always going be a challenge.  But the designers have come up trumps in my opinion with the wonderfully russet London Transport red setting off the cork resin on the stairs splendidly.  Plus, as the article says, real thought and aestheticism has been put in to the cabin lights, the windows and the roof-lining.  After all, this isn't any old double-decker, y'know - this is a London bus!  (For now, although makers Wrightbus may be able to sell the design elsewhere both at home and abroad - wouldn't that be something?).  OK, perhaps the seat fabric is a little bit kaleidoscopic but overall it's delightful to see such care and appreciation going into a public service vehicle for a change.  Perhaps it bodes well for the future of public transport design.

Image courtesy of Autocar

So come the New Year those bendy whatsits will be on the way out, to be replaced by this topping new omnibus for a new generation (albeit with some lovely old-fashioned touches).  Yet another example of modern technologies working in harmony with traditional design.  All aboard, tickets please!

Books, ties and heroes

I'm on a bit of a roll with the old charity shop finds this week, it seems.  Went back in to town yesterday and had a look around the two other second-hand stores therein and came back with two ties and two books, all for less than £10.  More on the ties in a later post, I think; for now I will use the books as a basis for this post.

The latest addition to my bookshelf
These two tomes are by a favourite author of mine and one of them features my literary hero.  The author is William Earl Johns, more commonly known as Captain W. E. Johns (and for those of you who might not have heard of him, or know little about him, here is a short biography of the man).  If you haven't heard of Johns, you may at least know his most famous creation and the aforementioned literary hero  - Biggles.

I make no apologies for my love of the Biggles stories.  If grown men can read Harry Potter with apparent impunity then I can jolly well read Biggles books.  Not many people know that the Biggles series actually started off aimed at adults - they were hard-hitting war stories recalling many incidents and adventures of the First World War, some of them quite grim.  It soon became apparent that the stories appealed to young boys too and so the early tales migrated from Popular Flying magazine where they first appeared to The Modern Boy and thence in to book form (with some alterations to make them less graphic).

17 years of reading and re-reading have taken their toll
Biggles first entered my life at the Imperial War Museum Duxford back in the early '90s.  We'd gone there on a school outing, it was the end of the day and we were allowed to look around the gift shop prior to leaving.  I was searching for something inexpensive but memorable to take home with me and my eye was drawn to a display full of some of the then-new Red Fox (Random House) republished Biggles books.  What 11-year-old boy, already with an interest in military history and aeroplanes, could resist this cover (left)?!  I'd never even heard of Biggles prior to that, but before long I was hooked and lapped up any Biggles stories I could find.  Seventeen years and 47 (out of approximately 98) books later and I still get a thrill of enjoyment from reading the escapades of this famous fictional airman.  I'd even go so far as to say that he influenced me growing up and helped make me the person I am today.

The Biggles books have been accused by the PC brigade of being racist, sexist and imperialist but this, as always, is a misapprehension and glosses over some of the facts - not least the era in which the stories were written.  Putting these spurious claims to one side (before this becomes an essay - a more detailed Biggles post will have to wait, it seems!) Biggles essentially champions the traditional values of bravery, honesty and fair play.  We need more like him.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

A Woolly Christmas!

Out about town on Monday getting some Christmas essentials, I popped into a local charity which has occasionally come up trumps in the [distant] past.

I'm glad I did too, for there waiting for me on one of the racks was this pure wool jacket!  It was one of those things that just stood out amid a sea of nylon shell suits and worn out coats.  So I pounced on it straightaway and with mixed feelings noted it was a 42S, a size above what I usually take.  But it was of such good quality and condition that I thought I'd try it on anyway.  I was delighted to see that it lived up to its Short fitting at least, being just right in sleeve and body length.  Cursed with a short body and long legs - a genetic predisposition inherited from my great-grandfather - it has to be Short or nothing as anything else ends up finishing around my knees!  OK, so there was a little bit of room across the shoulders and around the middle, but not enough to break the deal I felt.  Certainly not for a measly £5, at any rate!  Besides, isn't that what sleeveless pullovers are for?  So home with me it came. 

On closer inspection and investigation it just gets better and better.  I'm not sure how well it shows up in these photos, but it is a lovely chocolate brown colour with a hint of red woven in and a blue check pattern.  Flap pockets etc., all present and correct.  I noticed the makers label on the inside pocket when I bought it, but the name conveyed nothing to me at the time.  Having just done some online digging I couldn't be more bucked.  It was made by Magee, an Irish firm that specialises in tweed but also dabbles in wool and linen.  They've been in business since 1866 and going by the contents of their website this jacket may well qualify as bargain of the year!

Pocket square also courtesy of American Auntie.  Quite popular too!

Now, staying with the woollen theme, you may recall in my post about Fair Isle jumpers a few months ago I mentioned that I'd had a sleeveless pullover knitted for me in the Fair Isle style using a special kind of "pre-treated" wool that creates the pattern as you knit and so avoids the fiddliness inherent in normal Fair Isle construction.  It's by no means up there with the best Scotland has to offer, but it's quite passable nonetheless.  And here it is - not bad, eh?

Finally, it is getting to that time of the year where it becomes necessary to roll out the big sartorial guns as winter really begins to bite.  Scotland has already been hit hard with snow, heavy winds and rain and by all forecasts that weather is due to head south any time soon.  I've got my heavy navy blue overcoats in readiness, but this is a good opportunity to show off the vintage brown wool overcoat that my lovely American aunt with the (shameless plug alert, shameless plug alert!!) eBay shop was kind enough to give me last year.  I thought my CandA International overcoat was heavy, but this is something else again!  This is a real beauty - prepare to be awestruck (I know I was!).

This baby was made some time between 1939 and 1949 (Union Made label on the inside pocket confirms this) by Kuppenheimer, a Chicago-based menswear manufacturer in business from 1876 to 1997.  It looks to have been made specially for Kaufmann's main Pittsburgh store.  Kaufmann's, for any non-US readers, was a major department store founded in 1871 and comparable to Gimbels (1887-1987) and Macy's (with whom they eventually merged in 2006).  This single picture doesn't do it justice, so I might do a whole post around it one day soon.

Well, that's it for this fashion post.  I hope you enjoyed it, and don't forget to wrap up warm - there's a storm coming by all accounts!

Sunday 11 December 2011

Swingin' round the Christmas tree

Inspired by Mim over at Crinoline Robot and Lily at Lil Vintage Me posting up their favourite Christmas songs, and finally feeling a bit festive having put the tree up, I thought now would be the time to add a few more of my own Yuletide tunes.  Last year I did a post around one of my vintage Christmas CDs A Vintage Christmas Cracker: 47 Original Mono Recordings 1915-1949, now sadly out of print (keeps your eyes peeled, charity shoppers!) so this year I intend to include a few that I stumbled across on Youtube that aren't on any of my compilations and may not even be on any CD at all!

The reason why there is not a lot of "modern" Christmas music to be found much before the 1930s is simply because it hadn't been written or recorded yet! (The exception being Jingle Bells which, being written in 1857, was recorded as early as 1898).

Everything changed in 1934, however, when both Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town and Winter Wonderland were written, the former by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie (both of whom also penned You Go To My Head, and Gillespie Breezin' Along With The Breeze) and the latter by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.

Through October and November of 1934 these songs were all cut by several different bands.  Harry Reser and His Orchestra were the first to record Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town on the 24th October 1934 and it featured in my Christmas music post last year; they beat George Hall and the Hotel Taft Orchestra by just under three weeks.  That version was recorded on the 13th November 1934 and sounds like this:

A year later in 1935 it was recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra:

In the same year Benny Goodman and His Orchestra also recorded the classic Jingle Bells and for my money it is one of the best arrangements I've ever heard:

As well as that much-loved Christmas standard Goodman also recorded in 1935 a Johnny Mercer composition, Santa Claus Came In The Spring:

Winter Wonderland meanwhile really took off and was promptly recorded by no less than three bands, representing the three big record labels of the time.  RCA was the first with Richard Himber and His Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra on the 23rd October 1934.  It was a happy accident - the vocalist Joey Nash stumbled across the handwritten manuscript and a homemade recording given to him by the brother of Richard B. Smith and convinced Himber to include it in the 23/10/34 recording session.  Unfortunately technical problems meant they ran out of time before Winter Wonderland could be recorded and Himber left the studio.  Nash was so enamoured with the song, however, that he convinced the rest of the band to stay behind and finish the recording.  They agreed on the one condition that if any mistake were made there would be no second chances.  Therefore what you hear now was made in one take, without the bandleader(!):

Ted Weems and His Orchestra recorded Winter Wonderland for Columbia on the 11th November 1934, but it was Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra on the Decca label who had the biggest hit, making the top 10 at the time.  Typically, the most successful version is the one that's not on Youtube, but here is the Ted Weems version:

Moving on a couple of years to 1937, Dick Robertson and His Orchestra recorded another rare seasonal composition on the 19th October - I Want You For Christmas:

Jumping forward a few years again to 1941 we return to Benny Goodman and His Orchestra who on the 27th November 1941 recorded this wintry number with Peggy Lee and Art Lund singing the vocals:

Finally, we find ourselves in 1947 with Frank Carle and His Orchestra who recorded this seldom-heard number, with Marjorie Hughes taking the vocals:

So there we are - enough songs there to make a CD I reckon, but alas few if any are available in that format.  Still, it's nice to think that people were swinging along to Christmas tunes like this in the Thirties and Forties and that they can be found today with a bit of searching.  Maybe there's hope for a CD yet.  In the meantime thank goodness for Youtube is all I can say.  I hope these classic tunes put you in the vintage Christmas mood, as they have me.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Vince Giordano’s passion for 1920s music serves him well as ‘Boardwalk Empire’ maestro

Vince Giordano’s passion for 1920s music serves him well as ‘Boardwalk Empire’ maestro

A pleasant little article from the New York Daily News here, focusing on the music of the spiffing television series Boardwalk Empire (which still hasn't made it to a terrestrial British channel *shakes fist at Rupert Murdoch*, guess I'll just have to get a hold of the box set when Season 1 is released on the 9th January).

Renowned jazz bandleader Vince Giordano is the man behind all of the live music heard in Boardwalk Empire, as well as having been involved in providing the authentic sound for many a period piece in the past.  As well as helping to provide the score for Boardwalk Empire Giordano and his band, the Nighthawks, play live every week at a local New York restaurant.  In every respect they are one of the most accurate hot jazz bands of the modern age, with a sound so reminiscent of the 1920s and '30s that they are practically indistinguishable from original live bands of the time.  No wonder they are in so much demand for film and television work!

Boardwalk Empire's success can no doubt be put down in part to the attention to detail displayed in each and every episode and this obviously extends to the music as well.  It is another feather in the cap of Mr Giordano and his band that he is involved in this series and it's wonderful to see (and hear) this toe-tapping music in a popular TV show.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Electric Palace cinema in Harwich celebrates centenary

Electric Palace cinema in Harwich celebrates centenary

An Edwardian cinema in an Essex port town celebrates its 100th birthday now in this article from the B.B.C.  

The Electric Palace also has a remarkable history and its very existence is testament to the care and knowledge of local film enthusiasts and the goodwill and understanding of the current Town Council.  Once again we see good old-fashioned civic pride making it possible for this beautiful building to still be here a century after it first opened.

Designed by architect Harold Ridley Hooper (who went on to help create several buildings for Butlins Holiday Camps in the 1930s) the Electric Palace was built to show the "Bioscope" moving pictures of former travelling fairground showman Charles Thurston.  This soon expanded into showing films of the period and the Palace did a roaring trade throughout much of the Great War years.  It did less well from the 1920s on, despite the addition of mains electricity in 1924 and sound in the 1930s (the original pre-1924 Crossley gas engine and 100V DC generator can still be seen, unrestored, inside the building) and remained virtually unaltered from its original form.  Then in 1953 it was the victim of the infamous East Coast floods when seawater got inside the cinema.  By 1956 it had closed completely and it was to remain derelict for almost twenty years before being "rediscovered" by a local university lecturer.  Along with the Harwich Society he managed to get the Palace listed as "a building of sociological interest", much to the annoyance of Harwich Town Council who had intended to demolish it(!).  Even some of the townspeople were in favour of it being pulled down, citing its then run-down appearance, and the whole thing apparently made the national news!  Thankfully historical merit prevailed and the Electric Palace Trust was formed in 1975, staffed entirely by volunteers.  The reluctant council granted a "repairing lease" and it took 5 years to restore the cinema to its former glory; the grand reopening taking place on its 70th anniversary in 1981 with the Blue Peter team (and the original accompanist on the piano!) in attendance.

Today the cinema is still almost completely run by volunteers, with the freehold now in possession of the Trust.  Due to the way in which the Palace is run it only shows films on Wednesdays and at the weekend, supplemented with regular jazz concerts.  It also retains two original 60 year-old 35mm projectors which it still uses to show modern films in that format as well as historic films from the British Film Institute.  A new digital projector will ensure that the Electric Palace continues to show new films for many years to come.

It is heartwarming to see how a community has come together with the local council over a period of many years to preserve such an important historical landmark and get it to its centenary.  It must be quite an experience to watch a film - particularly an old one - in so stunning a building.

British Library scans 18th and 19th-Century newspapers

British Library scans 18th and 19th-Century newspapers

A bit of old news from last week here, about a lot of old news from 200 years ago. 

Some of you may have read that the British Library now has 4 million pages of newspapers from as far back as the 1700s online, with a further 8,000 pages being scanned every day.  A huge selection of historic British newspapers from all over the country are now available for searching on the Internet.  Of course there is a charge to actually view the papers, but the search function itself is free.  This will at least allow for a speedier discovery of articles of interest for, as the story makes clear, one can type in a search term and find the exact newspaper in which it appears in just a few minutes.  Then, if you're not a subscriber (or simply like to leaf through old newspapers), you have at any rate the reference number which you can use to go straight to the 'paper in question at the British Library.

This is good news in a number of ways, from the increased ease of access for people all over the world to the continued preservation of some ancient and in some cases fragile newspapers.  You can of course still read the hard copy at the British Library site, and I wouldn't blame you if you did.  Like so much history it is all the more evocative if you can hold it in your hands.  But this latest innovation does make it quicker to find first.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Rewired antique radios undigitize MP3s

I couldn't have put it better myself!
Rewired antique radios undigitize MP3s

First a latter-day telegraph ticker and now antique iPod docking stations - what better examples of the ethos I was expounding a month ago; modern technology meets vintage style and classic ideas.

I'm sure many of my readers would love to have just a working vintage wireless, and perhaps some of you do.  It would be great to have an aesthetically pleasing 1930s-, '40s- or '50s-style radio to on which to listen to all your favourite FM/AM stations.  I want one myself!

Ooho, yes please!

Now that'll be all very fine and large for the time being, but there will come a time (confound it) when the analogue AM/FM signal will be switched off (current estimates put this at somewhere between 2015 and 2020 in the UK).  What then will become of our beloved vintage radios - will they all suddenly end up as museum pieces or silent ornaments?  OR they can be converted, as this American company proves is possible, into iPod docking stations!  Not only does this give them a new lease of life but, if it is to be believed, the update is done in such a way as to convert the digital signal of the mp3 format back into the warm sound of analogue - and particularly vintage analogue at that.  Who knows, it could mean that it may even be possible to convert them in such a way that they can pick up and decode the digital signal of DAB radio.

Either way, it proves that tube radios can still have a place in the modern world and that they have very much left to give.  It sounds like an absolutely topping concern, and just the thing for my iPod!

Hello there - a modern day telegraph ticker!

Hello Little Printer, available 2012 from Berg on Vimeo.

Not exactly vintage per se, but to my mind a lovely retro addition to modern technology and the 21st Century equivalent of ticker-tape machines.  I'm sure you'll all agree that it's good to have something tangible to hold and to look at when it comes to information, messages, lists and what-have-you; far better than goggling at a screen for ages at a time.  I believe that things can be easily forgotton that way, far more so than if you have a physical copy - you can refer to it even if you do forget, or just want to be reminded of the content, or the sender, or some other aspect of the message.

With this modern world of the Internet, mobile telephones and whatnot it's all too easy to make communication impersonal, instantly forgettable and almost meaningless.  Hello Little Printer is a wonderfully quaint idea that deserves to do well (and no, this post is not sponsored by them!) and has more than a hint of vintage in its make-up, regardless of its modern-day pretensions.  I can just imagine one sitting next to my computer, spewing out little titbits of data, messages and so forth that I can pore over, just as people did 80-odd years ago with telegraph tickers.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip

Images courtesy of Wikipædia
Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip

A fantastic find here as previously unseen pictures of the iconic Tower Bridge in the very early stages of its construction are revealed, after laying undiscovered in a London flat for years - including at one point being consigned to a skip!

Some of these photos must date from close to the beginning of the bridge's creation in 1886, as quite apart from the basic amount of progress visible in some of them, according to the accompanying report the "most recent" ones date from 1892 - two years before completion!

It always amazes me how such historically important documents can be lost and even disposed of without a second thought, let alone dismissed - particularly by those who should know better.  More fool that Tower Bridge Museum worker who indifferently claimed "we've got enough of those photographs already"!  How many of us have come into possession of - have saved - really old items that people were going to throw out as rubbish?  I know I have!  Well done to this caretaker, whoever he is, and to City of Westminster tour guide Peter Berthoud, for saving a record of the construction of a beautiful landmark structure and a piece of British history.

Tower Bridge, with its 19th Century Gothic stonework and unique design, has long been one of my favourite London landmarks.  Crossing it is always a thrilling experience and to see it or approach it both up close and from a distance is one of the greatest delights of working in the City.  I'm overjoyed to see these new photos detailing its creation, which was in itself an engineering marvel, and I'm sure they will now take pride of place in a London museum.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Flying on four wheels - the best of the classic aero-engined monsters

Bespoke Bentley that rewrites the rules of giant cars

Image from The Daily Telegraph
Inspired by the above article and with the feeling that I ought to blog about something really masculine to counterbalance recent posts featuring women's fashion I thought I'd gather together some of my favourite examples of "giant cars" - vehicles old (and new) that are powered by aeroplane engines.

1909 "Blitzen Benz"

The 1909 Blitzen Benz was not actually powered by an aeroplane engine, but rather a development of Mercedes' grand prix engine at the time.  The aim was to build a car that could exceed 200km/h (124mph), for no other reason than to see if it could be done, one supposes.  The standard in-line 4-cylinder 150hp racing engine (and remember, this is 1909, over 100 years ago!) was found to be unequal to the task, however, so Mercedes did the usual thing when an engine was not powerful enough for the job - they increased the displacement.  To 21½-litres.  That's right - twenty-one point five litres.  Power jumped to 200hp at 1,600rpm  (a modern Ford Focus 1.6 develops its full 180bhp at 5,700rpm) and on the 9th November 1909 at the Brooklands race circuit, a Blitzen Benz set a new record of 202km/h (126mph) over 1km.  Then two years later at Daytona Beach another one was clocked at 228km/h (141mph) over 1 mile, a record that stood for 8 years.  A total of six Blitzen Benzes were built with many of them surviving to this day and one can be seen at the Mercedes Benz World museum at Brooklands in Surrey. 

1924 Fiat Mefistofele

Another monster that began life as a grand prix car, this time a 1908 Fiat with an original displacement of 18 litres, which you'd think would be big enough as it is.  When that engine exploded in 1922 (quite spectacularly, according to contemporary reports) the car passed into the ownership of one Ernest Eldridge.  He promptly replaced the shattered 18-litre engine with an in-line 6-cylinder Fiat aeroplane engine of 21.7-litres capacity, more normally found in airships and heavy bombers.  This was then modified further, resulting in power increasing from an already heady 260hp to a scarcely believable 320hp, again at the ridiculously low rpm of 1,800.  Despite weighing 2 tons and with no front brakes, Mefistofele hit 146mph on the 12th July 1926 taking the world speed record at the time.  Fiat bought Mefistofele from the descendants of Eldridge in the late 1980s and it is now in their Turin museum, with occasional guest appearances elsewhere.

1921-1927 Chitty Bang Bang

A series of four cars that inspired the well-known story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all owned by a Count Louis ZborowskiThe exact source of the car's name is unknown, it was either an onomatopoeic appellation taken from the noise of the car's engine or it was based on a bawdy First World War song.

Regardless of how the name came about, Chitty Bang Bang began life in 1921 as a Mercedes-based race car fitted with a 23-litre Maybach in-line 6-cylinder aeroplane engine.  In this configuration it eventually achieved a top speed of 120mph (190km/h).  The second Chitty was slightly smaller both in length and engine size, making do with an 18.8-litre Benz aero engine; the third incarnation was similarly equipped and lapped Brooklands at 112mph.

The fourth car to bear the name went all-out with a 27-litre V12 Liberty aero engine of 450hp and a gearbox and chain-drive taken from one of the Blitzen Benzes.  After Zborowski's death this car was bought by Welsh racing driver and land speed record holder John Godfrey "J.G." Parry-Thomas who renamed it "Babs" and on the 28th April 1926 used it to take the world land speed record at Pendine Sands in Wales with a speed of over 170mph (270km/h).  A year later on the 3rd March 1927, after the record was broken again by Malcolm Campbell, Parry-Thomas attempted to reclaim the title but was killed in the attempt.  The car was wrecked and later buried in the sand.  It remained there for almost 40 years before eventually being recovered and restored (not without difficulty considering the terrible condition it was in) during the 1960s/70s; it is now shared between the Pendine Museum of Speed and Brooklands.

1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Merlin

Starting out as a standard 1931 Phantom II this particular example was modified to accept a 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine (of Spitfire fame) some time in the 1970s.  Restored in the 2000s it recently sold at auction for $410,000 (£263,500).  With an estimated 1,100hp on tap performance was described as "unbelievable" and on one occasion this 1931 Rolls-Royce was able to out-accelerate a 1958 grand prix car!

1933 Napier-Railton and 1968 Napier-Bentley

The 1933 Napier-Railton was built especially for racing driver John Cobb by renowned automotive engineer Reid Railton (what a name!); both men would later work together on the land-speed record-beating Railton Special.

The Napier-Railton had a 23.9-litre W12 Napier Lion aeroplane engine and put out more than 500hp.  At the Brooklands track in 1935 Cobb set a lap record of 143mph (231km/h), a mark that stands to this day.  Theoretically capable of a maximum speed of 168mph, the Napier-Railton has been in the possession of the Brooklands Museum since 1997.

The Napier-Bentley was built as an homage to the Napier-Railton in 1968, originally based on a Sunbeam but later rebuilt using a Bentley chassis.  It uses the same engine as the Railton and so has practically the same performance but is in private hands, although it makes frequent appearances at Brooklands and elsewhere.  (I have been lucky enough to see both in action at the Brooklands Centenary celebrations back in 2007 - or was it 1937?).

1953 Swandean Special

Built by a man called Michael Wilcock of Worthing in Surrey out of two army Daimler scout cars and a 27-litre V12 Merlin engine bought from a scrapheap for £50, this took part in several time trials up and down the country, once being clocked at 150mph - in third gear!  Fitted with a supercharger it reputedly made 1,600hp at 3,000rpm.  Later made its way through several American collectors before being restored to pristine condition in time for the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

2010 Packard-Bentley "Mavis"

Obviously not satisfied with owning the aforementioned 24-litre Napier-Bentley, automotive enthusiast Chris Williams has since built a successor to that car and one that fully deserves the title of "monster".  Again, not really an aeroplane engine, but rather a variant of a Packard V12 42-litre engine in marine form taken from a Second World War PT boat.  With fifteen hundred brake horsepower and 2,000lb ft (2,700Nm) of torque, nothing can come close to this imposing beast.  It's a wonder the 1930 Bentley 8-litre chassis can handle it, even with all the modifications it has had to have.  You might want to turn the volume down (or up, if you're so inclined) a bit for this one, it's LOUD! 

1925 BMW "Brutus" Experimentalfahrzeug

Well, perhaps almost nothing can touch "Mavis" (oo-er missus!).  Meet Brutus.  Wouldn't they make a lovely couple?(!).

After its defeat in 1918 and the signing of the Versailles Treaty a year later Germany was not allowed to produce armed aircraft, which meant a lot of surplus aero engines lying about.  Nothing was mentioned in the treaty about cars (except of the armoured variety) however, so BMW took one of its redundant V12s and plonked it on to a 1908 American-LaFrance racing chassis.  With 46-litres and 12-cylinders the result is 740hp and the ability to do 60mph at 800rpm (about where your car idles).

I was going to include the bespoke aero-engined land speed record cars like the Railton Special, the Golden Arrow and Malcolm Campbell's various Blue Birds but I think I've gone on for far too long, so I'll save them for another time.  As it is I've got an urge to don some white overalls, leather hat and goggles and tinker about with some big-engined cars.  Vroom-vroom!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Forties Fashion #4: Day Wear 1941

I hadn't forgotten this fashion series, taken from a sourcebook I picked up in a library sale at the beginning of the year, and as there seems to be a dearth of things to blog about at the moment now would seem to be the time to continue it.

We've now reached 1941 so clothes rationing is really beginning to bite, but did that ever stop anyone?

The first three ladies are intent on going about their business as stylishly as the war will allow and wear, from left to right, the following:

(l) Charcoal grey wool two-piece suit:  long single-breasted fitted jacket with 3-button fastening and turned-up collar & lapels; seams of top-stitched panels continue into knee-length skirt (clever!); hip-level patch pocket with inverted bow pleat and black ribbon bow trim matching small breast pocket; fitted inset sleeves with padded shoulders.  Brimless (there's a war on, remember) draped black silk hat with pink silk carnation trim.  Black leather clutch bag and matching shoes.

(c) Tan and beige patterned wool-jersey edge-to-edge coat with full-length fitted sleeves, padded shoulders and hip-level welt pockets; lapels matching buckled belt and collarless dress.  Beige felt hat, long beige leather gloves and tan leather shoes.

(r) Powder blue linen dress with bloused bodice above navy blue leather buckled belt; padded shoulders, matching buttons on mock double-breasted fastening and top-stitched darts on right side of fabric continuing as hip yoke in knee-length flared skirt; white cotton-piqué roll collar with matching short-sleeve cuffs.  Navy blue felt hat [small crown, swept-up bonnet brim], navy blue leather clutch bag and shoes with white cotton gloves.

So on to the next lady, who wears:

Yellow crepe dress patterned with grey and white flowers and bloused bodice, self-fabric buckled belt, elbow-length sleeves and padded shoulders; gathered shaping between high round neckline and curved half-yoke seams, repeated cut and gathered side panels.  Small white straw hat with yellow flower trim, white leather clutch bag and gloves; black and white leather shoes (co-respondents or spectators, perhaps?)

Now then chaps, finally, here we go!  The poor old outnumbered man (I know how he feels!) wears:

Grey wool three-piece suit consisting of single-breasted jacket with 3-button fastening with wide lapels and piped pockets, single-breasted collarless waistcoat and straight-cut trousers with turn-ups.  White cotton collar-attached shirt and striped silk tie; grey felt trilby and black leather lace-up shoes.

Well there we have it for another fashion phase.  I'm hopeful that it won't be another 8 months before another appearance of Forties Fashion which, for the record, will be evening wear.  Hmmmnn, perhaps I shall tie it in with the Christmas party season...

Thursday 17 November 2011

The Artist pays homage to Hollywood's silent era

The Artist pays homage to Hollywood's silent era

There is a lot of anticipation surrounding this film in vintage blogdom, and rightly so.  A silent black & white film, set between 1927 and 1932 and filmed in the style of period?  Yes please with knobs on!

This could have been a big risk for French director Michel Hazanavicius but it looks to have paid off handsomely and then some.  Highly acclaimed at its premiere in Cannes, with lead star Jean Dujardin winning the best actor award, it now seems that the Oscars themselves are in this film's sights.  Could this be the first silent film in eighty-three years to win Best Picture?  It would certainly do wonders for it (not to mention the entire genre) if it did.

I've scarcely been able to contain my excitement about The Artist ever since I first heard of it a couple of months ago, but my enthusiasm has always been tempered by how these types of films (which some might call arthouse) have been treated by the large cinema chains and received by moviegoers in general.  When I tried to see film noir homage The Good German back in 2006 I was disheartened to discover that my local cinema was showing it for only one week, once, at midnight.  And that was it.  Then there was the time I had to travel 20 miles to see Flyboys and found myself the only person at the screening!  (OK, perhaps it was fun to have the whole auditorium to myself, but it was also disappointing to see such a low turnout even for the weekday matinée that it was).

So it is with some trepidation that I continue to wonder about the reception this film will receive from wider audiences both here and in the United States.  How will modern filmgoers used to 3D, not to mention colour and dialogue, take to monochrome and inter-titles?  Will it even get a full and proper nationwide release?  With luck and thanks to its success at Cannes, its overwhelmingly positive reviews and possible Oscar presence it may well break into the "mainstream".  We can only hope!

And if it does, it may mark something of a resurgence in popularity for silent movies.  If it can introduce at least one modern viewer to the delights of early cinema, it will have been a success if you ask me.  Plus with the release of Silent Life, a similar film about Rudolph Valentino, also planned for next year, 2012 could well be the year of the silent movie!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Attention ladies!

Shameless plug time again, but knowing my female readers' penchant for vintage frocks and their general handiness with the needle and thread, one that you might all appreciate.

My American Auntie - whose vintage eBay store I have mentioned previously and which appears at the bottom of this blog - has some items that you may be particularly interested in.  Are you ready?

These are just a few examples of the sixteen patterns currently available in the store.  I know next to nothing about these things, of course, but I felt it only right to give you a heads-up in case you're interested.

Right, advert over!


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