Monday 29 October 2012

Mo(u)rning for decent vintage trousers

I have often bemoaned the apparent lack of period men's trousers that would fit my ridiculously long-legged frame but here we have the rare occurrence of a pair of vintage trews that are indeed cut for the taller gentleman.

1925 Savile Row Bespoke Vintage English-Cut Morning Trousers 34L

Currently for sale at that excellent online vintage clothing emporium Savvy Row these splendid-looking morning trousers are almost exactly to my measurements.  If anything the inside leg could be a trifle longer still(!), but there is extra material available to let down (morning trousers of course having no turn-ups) and the rest is spot on.  Sadly (curses!) I haven't got a spare £65 lying about nor, if I'm honest, the need for a pair of morning trousers - although if I did have the former I'm sure the latter would cease to be an objection!

As it is these are at least welcome proof that tall chaps did exist 80 years ago and gives me hope that there are other similar garments out there waiting for me to discover them.

Note how, despite standing on a step AND wearing
a hat, my great-nan is still appreciably shorter than
Further evidence of gangly gents past comes in the form of my own paternal great-grandfather, by far the tallest in the family for a generation and who I may have mentioned as the likely source of my own height (and more importantly leg-torso ratio).

In these two accompanying photographs probably taken some time in the late 1960s (apologies for the quality but they are scans of photocopies) we can see quite clearly that he was a tall fellow with most of his height derived from the legs just as mine is.  Wasn't he a dapper chap, though?  Sadly I have no memory of him as he died 11 years before I was born.  His wife, my great-grandmother, who you can also see in the pictures lived to the grand age of 103 (!).  Unfortunately even so I was barely 2 years old at the time of her death so have no real recollection of her either although there are pictures of us together.

Sitting down the difference is all but non-existent (much the same
as it is when I sit next to my 5' mother), further proof that
"it's all in the legs"!
It occurred to me during the planning of this post that perhaps the problem with finding suitable vintage trouserings in this day and age is not so much due to there being few tall men in the past but rather more tall men today, if you follow me?  It is an undeniable fact that people are getting taller with each generation and with the booming interest in vintage clothing at the moment there are doubtless many lanky fellows besides myself out there scrabbling for trousers that fit, from a selection that must perforce be limited.  Still as I've stated these morning trews are a good sign that such items do exist and do come up for sale now and again.  Even then there's still the reproduction route to consider as well!

As a final thought - and a bit of fun - it occurred to me that during the Golden Age of Hollywood there were a number of actors who were noticeably long-limbed.  Jimmy Stewart was 6' 3", for example.  My Style Icon Cary Grant was 6' 1".  Lionel Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Gary Cooper and Gregory Peck were all over 6 feet tall.  How do I know this?  While researching for this post I came across quite by accident the fact that Google will tell you the height of almost any famous person if you just type in their name followed by "height" (incidentally for similar japes Google also provides most actors' "Kevin Bacon Number" if you ask for it!).

So in fact it seems there was a reasonable number of leggy men in the first half of this century.  The question is, where are their trousers?

Sunday 28 October 2012

Here comes the Boogie (Woogie) Man

Well the clocks have gone back one hour to good old Greenwich Mean Time and thoughts have turned to the fast approaching night of 31st October - All Hallow's Eve!  Inspired by a recent post by Mim over at Crinoline Robot, I thought I'd do for Hallowe'en what I did for my last two bloggy Christmases so I've cobbled together a selection of spooky songs from the 1930s and '40s by some of my favourite artists of the day.

Mysterious Mose was an early Betty Boop cartoon from the Fleischer Studios (who would later have further successes with their famous Popeye and Superman cartoons).  It in turn was inspired by this song, written by Walter Doyle and also released in [April] 1930, originally by Rube Bloom and His Bayou Boys but swiftly recorded by a number of bands including Harry Reser, Cliff Perrine and and Ted Weems (with their respective Orchestras).

The great Cab Calloway features here twice - first in the seldom-heard 17th June 1931 recording of The Nightmare and then the later (28th February 1939) recording of The Ghost of Smokey Joe.

Me And The Ghost Upstairs often appears on Fred Astaire CD anthologies but was actually cut from the film in which it featured, 1940's Second Chorus. Luckily the raw footage still exists, albeit in pre-production quality and not subject to the final Astaire polish (not that you'd notice!) so we can see Fred jitterbuggin' and lindy-hopping with a ghost (actually his long-time friend and choreography partner Hermes Pan shrouded in sheets and wearing high heels!).

One from our English bandleader Henry Hall, who was well-known for doing child-friendly songs such as The Sun Has Got His Hat On and The Teddy-Bears' Picnic and who here performs a splendid rendition of Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes The Boogeyman, with singer Val Rosing, from 1932.

Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra are on fine form in this sweet version of a Larry Clinton composition from 1937, Satan Takes a Holiday.

We finish with the wonderfully-titled Celery Stalks At Midnight, originally recorded in 1940 by Will Bradley and His Orchestra but in this version from a year later (6th February 1941) masterfully sung by Doris Day, with Les Brown and The Band of Renown.

As well as playing these cracking and creepy tunes I have also lined up a Boris Karloff-fest for Wednesday night with a programme featuring Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy (plus Ghostbusters, of course - if I can fit it in!).  Have a spooktacular time, everyone!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

'Just Like A Chap' by Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer

What could be better than the musical videogramme for Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer's new single Just Like A Chap as the subject of my 400th post?  One of his best ditties to date, too, I'd say!

Hurrah for Mr B and Chap-Hop; for splendidly-dressed inspirational chaps and chapettes everywhere!  Go forth with this song ringing in your ears and never mind the naysayers - be Just Like A Chap[ette]!

Monday 22 October 2012

Motorbike from 1920s sells for £67,000 at auction


Motorbike from 1920s sells for £67,000 at auction

October seems to be the month for record-breaking vehicles and now it is the turn of vintage motorcycles to step (or should that be roll?) into the limelight.  Not one but two pre-war motorbikes - both very special in their respective ways - were sold yesterday by Bonhams as part of a larger auction and they are each jolly nice and remarkable vehicles.

The record-breaker of the pair is the 1929 Grindlay-Peerless "Hundred Model" above.  Called a replica it strikes me as more of a limited run - very limited, in fact, being one of maybe only five or six built to celebrate C.W.G. "Bill" Lacey's successful attempt to become the first Englishman to travel 100 miles in an hour.  Being only one of two left in the world it was perhaps destined to command a high price, and so it has proved.

‘Barn Find’ Brough Superior Up For Auction At Bonhams

The second 'bike (actually the first to be reported in the press, but not widely hence I struggled to find this article) is a Brough Superior SS-80, notable not only for being manufactured by what is widely regarded as the finest motorcycle maker of the inter-war period (and the preferred choice of T.E. Lawrence ["of Arabia"]) but for being a veritable "barn find" untouched for 80 years.  Owned by the same family since new (1925) this SS-80 hasn't been used since 1930 and is in an amazing condition and complete with reams of paperwork.


This was actually one of two Brough Superior SS-80s in the auction, the second being a mint model once owned by the founder of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club.  It is a beautiful example of how the unrestored model would have looked in the late 1920s, yet oddly enough both fetched nearly the same money - £63,100 and £68,300 respectively. They are both splendid machines despite their vast difference in condition, however, and I hope the new owners continue to enjoy, cherish and - in the case of the original-condition one, if they so wish, restore - them for many years to come. 


Saturday 20 October 2012

British aeroplane enthusiast wins right to dig up buried Spitfires in Burma

British aeroplane enthusiast wins right to dig up buried Spitfires in Burma

Back in April I did a post about the revelation that twenty-odd Supermarine Spitfires were believed to be lying buried beneath a jungle in Burma, probably still mint and unbuilt in their packing cases having only just been unloaded from the boat that brought them from England, amid fears of a Japanese counter offensive.

Supermarine Spitfire XIV, 1944

The proof of their existence and the attempt to pinpoint them with a view to bringing some if not all back to the UK - decades of work for Lincolnshire man David Cundall - was given a huge fillip by the recent changes in the Burmese government, helped along by a visit from and discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron.  A tentative agreement was made to allow Mr Cundall to begin preparations to unearth the Spits.

Now it appears that those preparations are very nearly complete as the final bit of paperwork is signed and work could be under way before the end of the month!  Even more welcome is the news that the initial number of 20 airframes is now thought to be on the conservative side and that there may in fact be as many as sixty aeroplanes hidden under the Burma soil!  That's very nearly twice as many as currently exist (in airworthy condition) worldwide!

Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk XIV, 1944

The general consensus is that these buried Spitfires are the Mark XIV example with the later Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, of the type which was beginning to make its way to the Far East theatre by 1945, rather than the earlier Merlin-engined Mark VIII that had been the more prevalent version up until that point.  If so it will be all the better as there are currently fewer extant Griffon-engined Spits then there are Merlins, so if these aircraft do exist it will do the Griffon population a lot of good!

One hopes against hope that Mr Cundall and his team are at least partially successful and do find something, even if it is fewer than 20 (never mind sixty) Spitfires - and even if they are in poor condition (one reads stories about time capsules buried for several decades in supposedly watertight containers being dug up at a later date with the contents in various states of disintegration, so there's always a chance of that happening with airframes sitting beneath tropical ground for 70 years greased paper or no greased paper) - otherwise it will all be a dreadful disappointment for everyone.  I'm sure there must be a high level of certainty for the scheme to have got this far, though, and I can't wait to see the results!

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk XIV, May 1945

Even so the whole thing still sounds almost too good to be true and I shan't honestly be able to believe it until the first one comes out of the ground.  This has all the potential to be an unprecedented discovery not only in historical aviation terms but in the history of both Britain and Burma.  The idea to split the recovered airframes between the two countries sounds eminently fair and with maybe as many as 60 there would certainly be enough to go around!

I will be watching the progress of this with much interest with the hope that the full scale of this discovery can be realised.  Sixty more Spitfires in the world?  Yes please with knobs on!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Original Bluebird powerboat restored in Polegate

K3 Bluebird Run - Coming soon from Phill Beaney on Vimeo.

Original Bluebird powerboat restored in Polegate

Hot on the heels of my post the other week on the Land Speed Record holders of the 1920s and '30s, which featured in part Sir Malcolm Campbell and his Blue Bird speed cars, comes this news of the restoration of Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird K3 powerboat that he used to capture the Water Speed Record in 1937 and 1938 following his triumphant retirement from the land speed race.

As I mentioned the Water Speed Record was if anything even more dangerous than the Land Speed Record since it claimed the lives of Sir Henry Segrave in 1930 and of course Malcolm Campbell's own son Donald in 1967.  Malcolm Campbell, along with his contemporaries Kaye Don and American Garfield Wood, would be one of the few speed record holders to survive to old age.

Blue Bird K3 was built for Campbell at the beginning of 1937 with the aim being to take back the Water Speed Record from the American Gar Wood, who had held it at 124.86mph since 1932.  Campbell elected to use the same Rolls-Royce R aero engine that he had used in his last Blue Bird car (and which both Segrave and Kaye Don had also used in their powerboats, the Miss England series), in fact one of the three engines he ended up using during his various runs had been fitted to the Campbell-Railton Blue Bird previously).  On the 1st September 1937 at Lake Maggiore on the Swiss-Italian border Campbell succeeded in raising the Water Speed Record to 126.32mph in Blue Bird K3.  Unsatisfied with a mere 2mph improvement he went to Lake Hallwyl in Switzerland the following year and raised it just past the 130mph mark - to 130.91mph.  This proved to be about the limit of K3's capabilities so Campbell set about having a completely new boat built, the K4


Sir Malcolm Campbell's good fortune is now ours as despite initially using K3's engine in K4 the boat itself was not destroyed and by 1988 it had found its way into the Foulkes Halbard Collection, part of the Filching Manor Motor Museum that is dedicated to the Campbell family's many successes.  Having undergone a slow yet full restoration in the ensuing 24 years Blue Bird K3 has now begun to be put through its paces once again on Bewl Water in Kent, as this news article and accompanying footage shows.  Although so far only a short 40mph test run, it is hoped that Blue Bird K3 will return to Lake Maggiore next year and travel a bit faster.  I doubt 130mph will be on the cards, though!

Nevertheless this is yet another great example of two decades' hard work paying off handsomely, honouring the memory of Sir Malcolm Campbell and bringing an historically important machine back to its best for enthusiasts and future generations to appreciate and experience.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Back on the buses (back on the blog!)

Some kind of record...
Goodness me!  Over a week since my last post?!  That must be some kind of record!  Not a good one, though, and I apologise again for it.  A concatenation of events, including a rest from my previous monster post (which I hope kept you all asleep entertained during my absence), couple with a distinct lack of blogworthy news and a little thing called "life" intervening conspired to keep me away.

Now I'm back - not from outer space - having recently attended the annual Castle Point Transport Museum Open Day Show in the old home town on Sunday.  A yearly pilgrimage, I can hardly believe it's come round again so soon.

Just as last year I initially feared the worst for the weather, as advance forecasts during the week had predicted rain and barely double-digit temperatures.  Once again, though, the seaside spirits of Canvey Island flexed their muscles and despite a cool wind the sun was high in a cloudless sky as I arrived at 11'o'clock.

1968 Eastern National Bristol Lodekka
(In the picture above you can see all that remains of a set of pre-1953 steps leading down to the sandy beach, which was completely covered by a high tide barely 3ft from the path.  Sometimes the water even makes it over that, as the piles of shingle next to the sea wall testified.)

Into the museum and I must admit one of the first things that I noticed was that the event seemed slightly smaller this year.  Certainly there were fewer stallholders and vehicles inside but I think 2011 was an exceptionally good year display-wise, so anything less would be bound to suffer slightly in comparison.  Even so there were some new faces among the old in the yard area outside:

1950 Bristol L (left) and 1953 GPO Maudsley Mogul MkIIIA

After a scout around the museum to pick up the lay of the land it was off next door - the grounds of my old primary school, in fact - where more goodness awaited me.  One of the first when I walked through the gate was this gorgeous Jaguar, featuring the flowing lines of the imposing Mark IX.  I have only just discovered that this particular car was bought at auction not one year ago, in what was quite a rare opportunity.  The original lot details are still available here.

1961 Jaguar MkIX

Swiftly followed by a beautiful 1928 Alvis 12/50 "Beetleback", one of only 319 left in the world.

A pair of Morris Eights and a later Oxford:

1937 Morris Eight SI
1937 Morris Eight SII
1953 Morris Oxford
1935 Rover 10
1950s Standard Eight
One of the more major attractions for this year was a selection of vintage speedway motorcycles dating from 1929 to 1931.  Although motorbikes are more in father's purview than mine I always appreciate a classic two-wheeler (or three if it has a sidecar!), especially if it is fitted with the wonderful JAP V-twin.  Some of these speedway racers were beautifully restored, others were still in original condition.

I'd like to take a moment to draw your attention to one of the exhibits you can see only part of in this photograph.  GNB 792D - visible in the top left drawing quite a crowd - is a 1966 Beardmore MkVII Paramount taxi, which was one of the last attempts to provide an alternative to the now-traditional London black cab that we know and love today.  It proved to be so popular that unfortunately I could not get a decent picture of it and it had left before the end of the day, so I shall have to keep my eyes open for it at future events.  It was even more of a shame because this recently-restored example was now plying for hire once again, this time in the world of special events, under the name of - Tickety Boo Taxi!  Of course I immediately thought of our own Tupney, travelling about in her very own taxi(!).

It wasn't the only taxi there, either:

1937 Austin 12/4

Once again doing some digging I find that this car also sold recently and moreover has a famous history - it appeared in a Carry On film!  Not any Carry On film either but one of my favourites, 1963's Carry On Cabby.

I was also delighted to see a 1971 Buick Riviera taking up one corner.  At the 2010 event there was a '64 Riv, the version which (not entirely undeservedly) tends to garner the most compliments but for my money the '71 boat-tail model is the more beautiful.  Keeping with the TV and film theme, it also helped that it happened to appear in one of my favourite TV shows of the '90s(!).  My word, it was huge, though - a lot bigger than I thought it would be.  No wonder it used a 7½-litre V8! 

American cars were well represented, as usual:

1946 Chevrolet Fleetline
1950 Ford Sedan
1953 Ford Crestline
1958 Chevrolet Yeoman
As were our attempts to emulate them(!):

1958 Vauxhall Victor Estate

1960 Ford Consul
There were plenty of other traditional British cars in evidence as well:

1930 Morris Cowley
Including my old favourite the 1934 Singer Eleven, once again complete with its period accessories:

1939 Rover 12

1941 Morris Z-Type, the sole example restored to its original GPO livery
1946 Austin Eight
1947 Ford Prefect
1947 Wolseley 14/60 SIII
1950 Ford V8 Pilot
1950 MG Y-type
1953 Ford Popular
1953 Morgan Plus Four Roadster

1950s Austin-Healey Sprite
1954 Austin-Healey 100-4
1959 Ford Popular
1960 Ford Prefect
1969 Marcos 1800
1970 MG Midget
1972 Volvo P1800S

Some microcars (bubble cars) from the 1950s, when the Suez Crisis was at its height, were also on show this year:

Messerschmitt KR200
1960 BMW Isetta

1971 Mercedes W111
Then it was off to the main showground by the seafront, where all the buses were on display.

This (below) was my transport back to the museum after I had had a good look around and a walk along the seafront.  Last year I missed riding on this 1953 Bristol KSW, which has served the local area for all life (having been converted to an open top in 1966 after which it ran the seafront route in Southend and Clacton), as it only arrived late in the afternoon just as I was leaving.  This year it was on much earlier and although I wasn't able to sit on the top deck, which proved to be extremely popular especially with the children, it was a lovely ride back to the museum (and smoother than some modern buses, I might add!).

There was just time for one last tour around the museum, including the model railway room (which I'm sure features some of my old set pieces that I sold to a local chap some years ago):

Plus the depot office, complete with some typewriters for my fellow typosphereans to identify(!):

Imperial 65 wide (VERY wide!) carriage

Despite the smaller number of stalls this year there was still plenty of things of interest to catch the eye.  With money and space being tight at Partington-Plans Towers I plumped for this little model of a 1939 Austin 18 ambulance in Civil Defence Corps colours as my memento for the day.

As I waited at the bus stop for a scheduled service back home, this 1953 AEC Regal IV that had been pressed into passenger-carrying service from the seafront turned up to disgorge more visitors.  I love the arrow-style indicators at the back!

So another annual show has been and gone, and jolly good fun it was too.  I'm sorry for throwing two heavy-going posts at you in succession; rest assured that normal service will resume shortly!  Maybe I'll do a one-line blog next to balance things out(!).  Until next time, all aboard!


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