Thursday 28 April 2011

Meet the George Formby fan, aged seven!

Meet the George Formby fan, aged seven!

Love him or loathe him, (and personally I'm in the first camp) there's no denying that George Formby and his ukulele featured prominently in 1930s popular culture and even today he is still synonymous with a particularly British form of novelty humour.

Still, it's not the kind of thing you might expect a 7 year old boy to like, never mind emulate, so that makes little James Bassett even more of a topping lad in my book.  If nothing else he's shamed me into getting a move on with my ukulele playing - if a seven year old boy can learn to play the uke in 6 months, to the point where he's taking off George Formby, I've really got no excuse!   

It's things like this that give one hope for the future; if there are young 'uns out there who enjoy George Formby or music of the Thirties in general then it's not likely to be forgotten any time soon.  In fact it is a testament to the enduring and universal nature of the likes of George Formby that there is now a new generation waiting to discover these songs.

I wish young Master Bassett the best of luck in the forthcoming awards and, regardless of whether he wins or not, I feel sure that his love of Formby's music will never leave him and hope it leads him on to greater things.

Eeh, champion!

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Reports of the death of the typewriter have been greatly exaggerated

Some of you may have read or heard over the news wires that the "last" existing manufacturer of mechanical typewriters - India's Godrej & Boyce - has stopped producing its typewriter and has only a few hundred left in stock.

End of an era as last mechanical typewriters are sold

But fear not, my fellow vintage fans, because it is not true!  Well, the bit about Godrej & Boyce stopping production is, unfortunately, but not the bit about their being the last manufacturer of mechanical typewriters.  No, I have it on good authority that there are at least 3 companies still producing mechanical typewriters, all of them based in the Far East but using the familiar QWERTY layout and available for export.  Three cheers for Marshall Ind. and Chee-May (Goh's) of Taiwan for their MT-99 and Kota models, and the Shanghai Weilv Co. of China who still manufacture licensed versions of an old Olivetti design under the name (ironically for us Brits) of Rover(!).

The Shanghai Weilv Rover 8000
That's not to mention the fact that their are also several companies continuing to make electric typewriters (which are not quite the same, I grant you, but still not far off!) so there is more than a little life left in the device yet!  And of course being a good, old-fashioned piece of sturdy technology the mechanical typewriter is built like nothing else.  My 56-year-old Imperial feels like it could withstand a nuclear blast - at which point we'd need mechanical typewriters again because all the electronics would have stopped working! ;-)

Yes, it's in a disgraceful condition but it's nearly 60 years old.  Plus... it still works.  Good for another 60 years too, I'll warrant.

So typewriters both new and old look to be around for a long time to come, proof that even the all-embracing computer cannot kill a simple, enduring design (and indeed, through the QWERTY keyboard if nothing else, PCs owe a lot to the humble typewriter).  As long as there are companies willing to produce typewriters and their associate parts (that reminds me - anyone know where I can get some ribbons?) and people to use them, appreciate them and keep them working then the typewriter will live on!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

South Devon steam train in emergency stop to save lamb

South Devon steam train in emergency stop to save lamb

We've all heard the excuse of "leaves on the line" from today's train operators but in the world of heritage steam railways it is "lambs on the line", at least in the case of this incident!

It's the kind of heart-warming story makes one smile, particularly at this Easter time when it somehow seems even more apposite.  It could even be said to have something for everyone - a steam train for the chaps and a cute little baa-lamb for the girls. ;-P

All's well that ends well, then, as Lucky the Lamb not only survives his close shave with the steam train but actually gets to ride on the footplate (!) before being nursed back to health at a Totnes animal sanctuary.  Added to which the South Devon Railway got an impromptu emergency stop test for one of their locomotives out of it and the vigilant crew deserve congratulations for their actions.

Monday 18 April 2011

WWII veterans take flight in vintage biplane

WWII veterans take flight in vintage biplane 

I chanced upon this story from across the Pond last week and as well as involving a classic inter-war biplane the whole idea behind it brought such a smile to my face that I just had to share it.

The concept of ex-servicemen being taken aloft decades later in the very machines they flew during the Second World War is not unheard of - it has happened here in the UK with Battle of Britain pilots going up in 2-seat Spitfires, for example - but the instances in this case are sweetened by the wider story of the flights, not to mention the great geographical expanse of the United States which makes a countrywide "barnstorming" (!) aerial tour much more of an adventure than, say, a simple flip up to Scotland or across the Channel would here.

It's the kind of pioneering experience one would expect to have read about in the early years of flight, when barnstorming was a new, exciting way of seeing the country and there's always been a certain romantic quality about the freedom of being able to fly where you pleased and give the people on the ground a thrill as you passed through.

Father-son duo bring high flying memories back to veterans

As such it's great to see these two chaps "living the dream" in such a wonderfully old-fashioned way and, what's more, having the kindness and selflessness to recognise the debt of gratitude owed to the men who learnt to fly in the same aircraft 70 years ago and to give them the opportunity to fly again.  Well done, and here's wishing them many happy landings!

Thursday 14 April 2011

Pop up station for 1930s singer

Pop up station for 1930s singer

This Sunday, the 17th of April, will mark the 70th anniversary of the untimely death of one of the greatest jazz singers of all time and certainly one of my favourite crooners of the 1930s - Al Bowlly.  His classic rendition of The Very Thought of You (above) remains for me one of the great love songs and his voice and style is incredibly redolent of the period.

By way of a commemoration Hampshire-based community radio station Angel Radio, some of whose output includes 1920s, '30s and '40s music, has gone semi-nationwide on the DAB network with a series of programmes showcasing the songs of the period and particularly those of Al Bowlly and the various bandleaders he worked with.

Ever since the advent of digital radio I have been longing for someone to set up a station devoted to early dance band and big band music (plus other related genres), and I'm sure I've not been alone in that wish.  Since the shameful treatment of the late Malcolm Laycock, who used to present Sunday Night at 10 on B.B.C. Radio 2, and the B.B.C. later dropping British dance bands from the programme completely, there hasn't been a single exponent on the national DAB network so far as I could see.  While I will continue to get my dance band fixes from Internet radio stations Soundstage and Radio Dismuke, this new addition to the DAB ranks is a long overdue one.

It's not clear to me whether this is a temporary arrangement to coincide with the anniversary or something more permanent (I hope the latter!) but either way I welcome this new station and look forward to hearing what it has to offer.  If you're in any of the areas mentioned in the article and own a digital radio, my advice is to do a quick re-tune and look for a the station called "Pop Up".  For those of you outside the UK or in areas not covered the programmes are available online at  Happy listening! 

******STOP PRESS******
I have just heard that this station is temporary and will cease broadcasting on the 28th April.  However if you like 70 Years Without Al Bowlly (and I suspect that if you're reading this, you do!) Angel Radio urge you write to them to show your support so that they might "do it again".  Who knows, maybe they'll even be able to make it permanent.  "Every letter counts", they say, so I will be taking up my pen and paper and if you wish to do the same the address to write to is: 

Angel Radio,
17 Market Parade,
PO9 1PY.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Historic footage shows Bermuda at dawn of tourism age

Historic footage shows Bermuda at dawn of tourism age

It is amazing how the Internet can shrink the world to such an extent that a humble little vintage blogger in Great Britain can stumble across a news item from Bermuda, of all places.  That is what has happened, though, with this article from the Bernews website which has somehow managed to come within my purview.

And it's just the kind of thing I like for this blog, containing as it does film shot in the 1920s of Bermuda when the island was beginning to undergo a sea change from a simple British Company colony settlement into a tourism hot spot.  As such it contains not only a myriad of period detail, with well-heeled Americans, Canadians and Britishers holidaying on the island but also the occasional glimpse of an already fast-disappearing colonial way of life.  It's a fascinating snapshot of Twenties travel to a tourist location we now think of as quite "usual" and is thoroughly deserving of a wider audience.

Indeed, the entire Novia Scotia Archives look like a treasure-trove of 1920s and '30s delightfulness, which I shall look forward to viewing in more detail.  And all thanks to a Bermudan website I happened to chance across.  Splendid tool, the Internet, eh?

Monday 11 April 2011

Vintage steam-powered pumping station is restored

Image courtesy of
Vintage steam-powered pumping station is restored

Is Essex slowly becoming steam-powered?!  (Wouldn't that be something?).  First my local heritage railway trust restores a steam engine for the 2012 Olympics and now the water board have lent a hand in the restoration of a monstrous steam-powered water pump, which would have served this area from the 1920s to the 1960s.

This story serves as a reminder of the inherent aesthetic quality present in machinery of this age and type (I doubt today's pumping stations would look so pleasing to the eye, even in 80 years' time!), which more than justifies its preservation.  It is also a further reminder of the deplorable attitude to late 19th- and early 20th-Century design that was prevalent in the 1960s.  I'm glad that 20 years later someone had the idea to give it a listed status, which no doubt went a long way to getting it to where it is now.

Once again I am pleased to see a big company like Essex & Suffolk Water appreciating its industry's history and working together with the local museum and council to ensure that this imposing device can be experienced by the general public.  As ever, it is also a testament to the skill and devotion of the small group of enthusiasts who helped to bring this station back to its former glory.  I shall make a point of visiting the Langford Museum of Power if I am ever in the area, to see "Marshall" for myself.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Luftwaffe Dornier 17 at Goodwin Sands 'still intact'

Luftwaffe Dornier 17 at Goodwin Sands 'still intact'

More details here of the rare Second World War German bomber that was discovered in remarkably complete condition beneath the shifting sands off the south coast of England back in September.

I posted about that initial find at the time and since then things seemed to have moved forward somewhat; a clearer picture of the state of the wreck is emerging and appears to confirm the original impression that it is by and large intact, missing only the parts that one might expect from an aircraft that has been on the seabed for the past 70 years after a forced water landing.

I'm pleased to see a place has already been earmarked for it in a new Battle of Britain display, less so that it has already become an attraction for unscrupulous souvenir hunters - let us hope that the monies required to raise the aircraft are quickly accrued and the thoughtless vandals found and prosecuted before too much damage, either natural or man-made, is done.  I also understand the thinking, now that it has been fully explained, behind keeping it very much as it is rather than fully restoring it.  By leaving it absolutely original it will save a lot of money, stop it from becoming little more than a reproduction and certainly add to its story!

All in all a one-of-a-kind, historically valuable aeroplane is on the verge of seeing the light of day for the first time in seven decades and will hopefully take its place alongside the remaining extant players of the Battle of Britain for us all to appreciate.

It suddenly occurred to me that, stored away somewhere, I had an old Airfix model of the aeroplane in question.  So having temporarily liberated it from its sadly currently moth-balled box, I present my own example of the Dornier Do-17Z.

Friday 8 April 2011

Restored locomotive unveiled at station for 2012

Image courtesy of the B.B.C.
Restored locomotive unveiled at station for 2012

Back in July 2010 I did a blog post about Robert the little steam engine, who was discovered in a sorry state by the contractors who were rebuilding Stratford station outside London for the 2012 Olympics, and who thankfully rather than being sent to the scrapheap was instead sent to my local heritage railway museum for restoration.

Now the work has been completed and Robert has been moved back to Stratford station where he will form part of a wonderful display for all those who will come to the Olympics by train, not to mention the commuters and general visitors who pass through the station on a daily basis.

I said it before but I am delighted that the Olympic Committee saw it fit to not only to keep Robert at Stratford but to restore him to his former glory and make him a centrepiece of the new station.  It shows a rare appreciation of the heritage of not just this country's transportation system but the local area's too and creates a splendid contrast to the modernity of the new station and surrounding Olympic Park.  I look forward to seeing him in the metal whenever I'm next in Stratford (which may well be for the Olympics!).

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Heritage Lottery grant to restore world’s first electric autocar

Heritage Lottery grant to restore world’s first electric autocar

Now, while I am all for steam locomotives over modern electric trains I'm not against all electric units, particularly if they're anything like this example!

The North Eastern Railway's petrol-electric railcar was the ancestor of today's diesel-electric locomotives and incredibly advanced for its time when it was introduced in 1903.  When steam was still the primary motive power for locomotives throughout the world this "autocar", as NER called it, was plying its trade around Yorkshire and shared more in common with the trains we travel on now than anything else of the time (it had two cabs, was capable of being operated in either direction and was later uprated to pull a coach - making it resemble even more the carriages we use today).  Sadly, as with many of these pioneering technologies, the established machines retained their dominance and no more than 2 of these forward-thinking engines were ever built, spending their entire working lives in the Yorkshire area before being decommissioned in the early 1930s.

Image courtesy of the NER 1903 Electric Autocar Trust

As this article explains, thanks to the tireless efforts of local railway enthusiasts, the luck of one of the railcars surviving (albeit as a holiday home!) and the good fortune of a Heritage Lottery grant, an autocar will once again soon be seen on the Yorkshire [heritage] railway lines as this fresh injection of cash allows a full restoration to go ahead.

While there is, and always will be, an inexorable romance surrounding the steam locomotive the renovation of this innovative engine comes as a welcome fillip to those of us whose experience and knowledge of electric trains has perhaps been limited to the 0715 to London.  Would that it could look like one of these "autocars" instead of the anonymous plastic tube we are forced to travel on today!  Now, thanks to the NER 1903 Electric Autocar Trust, we may have the chance to experience early electric rail travel for ourselves.

Monday 4 April 2011

Oldest working television set expected to sell for £5,000

Image courtesy of The Daily Telegraph
Oldest working television set expected to sell for £5,000

On the same day that my TV aerial is upgraded ready for the digital switchover next year I stumble across this story about the sale of the antecedent of all modern televisions.

After 10 or so years of development the very first commercially-available television sets went on sale in the mid-1930s and now Bonhams auction house has one of the very first - the seventh production model, if the article is to be believed - in full working order and ready to be sold to some lucky collector.

It joins the (still rare) ranks of functioning, almost antique television sets alongside the example featured in this B.B.C. report some months ago (below)

Despite the intervening 75 years these Marconiphone 702s are still recognisably televisions and you could watch programmes on them today, if you wanted to (I know I do!) - which in fact the chap in the second article has actually done!  It's appearance is (to these eyes) a welcome antidote to today's flat-screen black boxes (why isn't wood and Bakelite used in TVs these days, I ask you?!) but at the same time it is also a reminder about how far household technology has progressed, not to mention highlighting how commonplace the television has become over the last few decades (and not always for the best, it has to be said!).

Sadly I can't stretch to the £5,000 this particular example is expected to fetch, so I'll just have to add it to my dream 1930s home and trust that whoever it ends up with will appreciate it and preserve it for future generations.  Now I'm off to see what other delights are included in Bonhams' enticingly-named Mechanical Music and Scientific Instruments sale...


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