Monday 30 December 2013

Fairs, letters and patterns

Earlier this month - the 15th to be precise - I found myself at another of my local Essex Vintage Fairs.  Fast becoming a quarterly tradition thanks in no small part to its proximity to m'parents' home it is also a well-run yet intimate event with some good bargains to be found if one is prepared to search beyond the "vintage" (in the worst possible sense as used to describe stuff from the 1970s, '80s - or even later - that just looks old or has a bit of retro about it) and "[insert decade here]-style".  (Those two types of items are, of course, found everywhere these days so this event is not unusual for that.)

While perhaps not quite up there with the summer fair in terms of atmosphere (despite the "Special Christmas Vintage Fair" tagline of the advertisements there was really very little to differentiate it from any other time of year beyond some occasional Christmas music and a few decorations) it was still great fun and we - mother and I - were both able to find a couple of things to take our fancy.

Mine has lost the wording
but is otherwise identical
The first find was mine - another book for my library and quite an apposite one in view of next year's centenary of the First World War.  In The Royal Naval Air Service is comprised of a series of letters written by RNAS Flight-Lieutenant Harold Rosher to his family (in Beckenham, South East London) from the outbreak of war in August 1914 until February 1916 when he tragically died in a flying accident.  I've already leafed through the first chapter and it looks to be a cracking read and a welcome addition to my World War One book collection (it should be a particularly good companion piece to James McCudden's Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps).  It's my intention to read through all (or as many as possible!) of my Great War books in 2014 as part of my own commemoration of the centenary and this one will be top of the pile.  I'm also delighted to note that it has been republished twice in the last eleven years and that copies are still available to buy or even read/download online.

At £3.50 for an original 1916 copy, however, there was no way it wasn't coming home with me.  It also has a fascinating pencil inscription on the frontispiece - 'G. Barham N.A.A, "Hood" Division'.  A little bit of digging has found that Hood Division was one of eight battalions of the Royal Naval Division, an infantry unit made up of surplus Royal Navy and Royal Marine volunteers not serving on ships.  A clear link to Harold Rosher, then, who served in the Navy's air force (before it was merged with the Royal Flying Corps on the 1st April 1918 to form the RAF).  Maybe this G. Barham knew Harold Rosher, who can say?  Interestingly enough, towards the end of 1916 the Royal Naval Division was re-deployed to the Army as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division with the eight battalions losing their names (all famous naval commanders) so it should be possible to precisely place this Barham chap in the timeline of the RND. 

Now, for the second find (mater's, but equally exciting for me too) I must ask any ladies reading - particularly those of you who knit - to please be sitting down or holding on to something because I don't want there to be any swooning.  Yes - knitting patterns!

Not just any old patterns, either.  Hiding in amongst piles of Seventies- and Eighties-tastic booklets (dubious cardigans, three-piece sets where one of the pieces is a hat - you know the sort of thing) were a couple of absolute gems from a far earlier period...  Just feast your eyes on these!

From the 25th September 1937 issue of Woman's Own, a whopping 44 pages of woollen wonders in the Big Knitting Book!!  I mean,everything!  Look at it all! Quite literally the mother lode.



Pullovers (for chaps too)!

Even the kiddies are catered for!

If that wasn't enough mother also nabbed an "Autumn Woollies" book from "My Weekly, of approximately the same vintage (sadly there's no date to be found in it, but the styles look very much the same and the fact that it has some colour pages and is roughly A4 in size leads me to believe it is also pre-war).  

Got your breath back yet?  OK, here we go...

Not as many pages as the Big Knitting Book, but still some corkers for the whole family dwell within.

Why not indeed?!

Mater was quite tickled to note that the older, larger lady was referred to as a "matron"...

We chaps are well-catered for too!

By Jove, what a lot of patterns eh?  Should keep mother busy well into the next year.

I'll certainly be returning to the next fair on the 26th of January, with an even bigger one scheduled for the 2nd of March at a larger sports hall in Southend, to look out for more bargains, patterns and books for 2014.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

A Merry Eclectic Ephemera Christmas


Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas!  May you all have a blessed Yule.

Sent from mater's new Kindle Fire (other tablet computers are available).  I'm converted!  What a fantastic piece of equipment; I may have to look into these things...

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas Eve, Eve and Song

Christmas is nearly upon us, which means it must be time for another medley of festive classics from the Big Band period of the 1930s-1950s.  I seriously thought 2012 would be the final time I'd be able to do one of these posts, seeing as Yuletide tunes from that time were thin on the ground anyway and I had all but exhausted both my knowledge and YouTube's.  I've dug deep this year, though, and consequently am able to bring you another selection of seasonal songs from our favourite eras. 

Little information seems to be available about Jimmy Ray & his Orchestra, which is a shame as these two Christmassy numbers - both recorded at the same session on the 19th November 1937 - are a couple of topping tunes.  I Want You For Christmas also appeared in my festive post from 2011 when I featured the Dick Robertson version; it must have been a popular standard of the late Thirties as it was also recorded around the same time by Russ Morgan and Mae Questal - but I think I'll keep those in reserve for next year if you don't mind!

Recorded nearly a year later on the 11th November 1938 (Don't Wait 'Til) The Night Before Christmas is another rare Christmas-titled tune by Sammy Kaye and his orchestra (styled "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye"), the vocals taken by The Three Barons - a singing trio from Cleveland, Ohio (Howard Greene, Edward Parton and Joe McGhee) who also performed as The Three Riffs.

Christmas just isn't Christmas without a Crosby song or three but although Bing has rightly endured and remains popular to this day, his bandleader brother Bob is less well-known now.  It's only fair, then, to include his orchestra's recording of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow from early in 1946 when the song was riding a crest following Vaughn Monroe's chart-topping version.

Although not expressly mentioned on this YouTube video, Bob Eberly was most closely associated in the 1930s, 1940s and early '50s with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra so it's a fair bet that's who's playing here.  Bob Eberly was in fact a brother of Ray Eberle, the singer with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra (it was Bob who actually recommended the young Ray to Glenn when the latter was looking for a new lead vocalist in 1938).  You can certainly hear the similarity!

I was somewhat surprised that Artie Shaw didn't get in to the Christmas music act until the early 1950s, but this version of Jingle Bells from August(!) 1950 is the only example I can find from that otherwise popular bandleader (although there may be others that I've yet to discover).  Leaning more towards the really big band sound of the Fifties it nevertheless retains enough of Shaw's trademark sounds to make it worthy of inclusion here.

It only remains, then, for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  I hope you all have a ripping time and, for those of you in the UK, batten down the hatches and stay safe from that awful winter weather we're all due to get later today (and that goes for anyone else in the world experiencing the worst of the hiemal conditions).  I may return briefly on Christmas Day itself but in the meantime I hope Father Christmas visits you all and leaves you lots of presents (I can't wait to see what we all get, myself)!  Enjoy the music!

Thursday 19 December 2013

Plus fors - and againsts

What ho, everyone!  I trust we're all fully in the festive spirit now and having a tip-top time of things?

In the vintage blogosphere I do believe things have never been better and I myself have an idea for a couple of what I hope will be cracking posts before Christmas and the New Year, involving classic Yuletide tunes and recently-acquired knitting patterns(!).

I'd like to take a moment first, though, to apologise for any technical problems you, dear readers, may have encountered lately when trying to leave a comment.  You see, I recently finished creating a Google+ account for m'self and linked this blog to it.  Seeing as Google appear to own most of the Internet (and who knows where that will end...?), particularly my usual haunts of Blogger, YouTube and Google Search, it seemed a good idea at the time to have a profile to keep them all in one place.  Little did I know that by linking this blog to my Google+ profile I would be changing the commenting system to Google+ Comments, for which apparently anyone wishing to leave a message must have a Google+ account themselves.  Took me a while to cotton on to the fact too, seeing as I'm still very much an amateur when it comes to the internal workings of Blogger.

I then spent a day or so toying with the idea of leaving Google+ Comments in place until I decided yesterday evening that it is not for me to force anyone into creating a Google+ account just to post a comment and despite that firm's ubiquity there are probably more people reading this with just a good old Blogger account (or similar) then there would be on Google+, so to cut a long story short Blogger Comments have made a welcome return to Eclectic Ephemera.  Of course during that time of confusion and indecision some of you had left comments using Google+, which have now disappeared into the æther (they must be floating around somewhere, because if I switch back again they magically reappear and some of them are on my Google+ page) and I wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten them and that I value every one.  Jessica, garofit, Mim, Jennie, anyone else I've missed - sorry for faffing you about and I hope you will continue to comment in the future.

In fact, I hope everyone and anyone feels welcome to continue to comment.  I can't tell you the kick I get out of seeing "n message(s) awaiting moderation" when I open my Dashboard and reading the wonderful thoughts you've been kind enough to share with me.  In fact, there's another reason why I went back to Blogger comments, plus I can see all the messages in one place (and moderate them if - very rarely - necessary) which is something - unless it's passed me by - you can't seem to do so readily with Google+.

I will still be keeping my Google+ profile and posts published here on Blogger will continue to appear automatically on Google+, so please feel free to leave comments here or there.  I read and appreciate them all and they make writing this blog all the more worthwhile.  Sorry again for any bother; normal service has now been resumed!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

A century of shirts - one hundred years of Hawes & Curtis

A gentleman's shirt is arguably a design classic - the bedrock of a chap's outfit, from which the tie hangs (or under which the cravat goes) and over which the jacket sits.  Over the decades collars may have lengthened, widened, shortened or changed styles in numerous other ways and colours come and gone but the crisp cotton shirt has by and large always remained a timeless garment.  No chap's wardrobe is complete without a good selection of shirts and mine is no exception, with a mixed line-up ranging from high street to Jermyn Street (sometimes via the high street...!).

Ah, Jermyn Street - the centre, the Savile Row of British shirtmaking.  The list of businesses occupying this famous street is a long and illustrious one, a chap's dream shopping destination.  One name in particular, however, has celebrated a noteworthy anniversary this year.

Hawes & Curtis, who currently occupy numbers 33-34 and 82 of Jermyn Street (as well as several more locations in London and around the country), have recently marked 100 years in business - their first shop having opened in 1913.

Established in that year by two experienced cutters, Ralph Hawes and Freddie Curtis, the original store was situated just around the corner from Jermyn Street in the equally-renowned Burlington Arcade.  This combination of proven skills and a favourable location proved immediately successful and the House of Hawes & Curtis' reputation was cemented practically from the off.  It received an even greater boost nine years later, in 1922, when no less a person than the Prince of Wales - later Edward VIII / the Duke of Windsor, without doubt one of the best-dressed chaps of the era and a gentleman's style icon to this day - visited the shop and left with a selection of suits, blazers, flannels, handkerchiefs and of course shirts.  So impressed was he that he became one of the company's most famous patrons and recommended them to many of his friends and relations including the future King George VI and Earl Mountbatten.  Hawes and Curtis in turn created the now-familiar spread collar, designed specifically to accommodate his ties and the knot he inspired - the Windsor.  Later, the Duke of Windsor awarded them a Royal Warrant and his coat of arms was added to the shop.

Other famous customers of the time read like a Who's Who of this blogger's favourite style icons.  Fred Astaire, well-known for buying his clothes from London's tailors, became a regular visitor after seeing H&C's new design of backless waistcoat (designed to be worn under a tailcoat) although the story goes that the garment was so popular he had to wait in line with everyone else!  No-one ever looked better in a pin-collar shirt, either.

 Cary Grant was another Golden Era Hollywood actor who bought his clothes from Hawes & Curtis, beginning at the rise of his career in the late 1930s, and who runs Astaire close in the shirt stakes.

Robert Donat's splendid hounds-tooth suit, which he wore in 1935's The 39 Steps, also came from H&C (as did the short-trousers replica that Hitch presented to Donat after he complained once too often about the real one being ruined through all that running about over the Scottish moors!).


To celebrate this milestone Hawes and Curtis have not one but two Collections in their formal shirt range that take inspiration from their rich heritage - the 100 Years Collection and the 1913 Collection.  Both feature various nods towards a century of shirt design with a good mix of traditional and modern styles and colours.  Hawes and Curtis were kind enough to provide me with an example to review as part of this post so, taking inspiration from the chaps above, I selected their Plain White Twill Slim Fit Limited Edition Tie Bar shirt from the 100 Years Collection.

Plain White Twill Slim Fit Limited Edition Tie Bar,
from Hawes & Curtis' 100 Years Collection, £39.50
(or 2 shirts for £60)
This is my second H&C shirt (the other a 2 ply 100's cotton from their Warwick tailored fit range - a beneficiary boutique find from a couple of years ago) and my first experience of the slim fit style (in the past I've tended to stick with the standard classic fit).  But the side darts are well put together and the cotton twill is up there with the best I've experienced.  The fit is - as promised - trim without being too pinched at the waist; slightly more defined but no less comfortable or easy to work with than the classic fit.  "1913-2013" labels integrated into the side hem gussets are a nice addition too.  H&C's "silk touch finish" is no gimmick either - it adds a pleasant sheen to the fabric and gives it a soft, light quality (theirs have a "put it on and forget" feeling I've not encountered elsewhere) similar to that found even on their two-fold cloths, although perhaps not quite so pronounced.  Certainly it is one of the easiest shirts to iron that I've ever owned!

The pin collar is well-defined and looks like it should be easy to maintain.  The bar is designed, as you probably know, to sit under the tie knot and so push it outwards thereby giving an extra dimension to your necktie.  It also, I think you'll agree, has a classically dapper 1920s/1930s look to it too!  I can see this working well with many an outfit (although be warned, chaps, it still better suits a thinner tie or smaller knot).  H&C are also to be commended for being rare among shirtmakers of my experience in also offering it in a colour/fabric other than white twill, namely a light blue herringbone.  The mother-of-pearl buttons are a nice touch (they really do look better than plain old plastic ones), sitting well with the fabric, and the entire garment is thoroughly in keeping with one's expectations of a Jermyn Street shirtmaker with so many years' experience.

Nowadays selling mainly shirts, but also other items of menswear including coats and jumpers, H&C's focus on this essential men's garment coupled with their 100 years in the trade certainly seems to have kept them in the upper echelon of shirtmakers (yet with comparatively reasonable prices).  Ladies need not feel left out either, for like many modern shirtmakers H&C also sell women's shirts (with their own 100 Years Collection, I might add!) and accessories.

Based on my experiences I see no reason why Hawes and Curtis shan't celebrate many more anniversaries and I doubt that this will be the last of their shirts to make it into my wardrobe.  On the whole, this is a company that should be on every chap's (and chapette's) radar, and here's to their next one hundred years!

*This was a sponsored post in collaboration with Hawes and Curtis*

Monday 16 December 2013

'Unsung' London war bus brought back to life

'Unsung' London war bus brought back to life

With the centenary of the beginning of World War One now only a matter of months away, there will doubtless be many fascinating and worthy projects on the go in addition to those already announced by the Government.  Here's one now, in fact, involving the restoration of a 1914 London omnibus.

A very special and, today, rare model the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) B-type was in many ways the Routemaster of its day.  Arguably the first mass-produced 'bus it was an advanced machine for its time, able to travel faster even than the speed limit of the time (12mph - the B-type could top 16mph, although apparently 30-35mph was not unheard of!) thanks to its light weight and modern running gear.  Able to seat up to 34 people, including 18 on the top deck's weatherproof canvas-covered seats, over 3,000 B-types were produced; that and the model's reliability allowed for an expansion of routes and the introduction of the night bus with the B-type getting electric lighting inside and out from 1912/13.

A B-type converted into a pigeon loft for use in
Northern France and Belgium during the Great War, c.1916.
Almost as soon as war broke out in August 1914 up to one-third of the entire B-type fleet was requisitioned for military purposes and shipped over to France (and from there also to other far-flung theatres like Palestine and Greece) - quite a logistical feat if you think about it!  Over the ensuing four years they were pushed far beyond the design's limits - trading smooth London streets for rutted & waterlogged mud tracks, coming under enemy fire, being converted into anti-aircraft gun platforms or carrier pigeon lofts, not to mention providing transport for two-dozen fully-equipped soldiers (the hastily-erected window boards were in fact installed to stop the glass getting broken by the soldiers' guns and packs)!

Troops in Arras go back for a rest having
taken part in the Battle of Arras, May 1917.

Now only four B-types are known to exist.  B43 "Ole Bill", a 1911 model, served in France until 1919 when like so many it helped to transport soldiers back across the Channel and was bought back by LCOG, shortly afterwards being retired and used as a commemorative vehicle (on the 14th February 1920 it became the first bus to boarded by a monarch, King George V inspecting it as part of the peace celebrations).  It was donated to the Imperial War Museum as long ago as 1970, where it remains to this day.

B340 resides at the London Transport Museum and it is here that it will soon be joined by the one undergoing recommissioning at the moment.  This latest restoration looks to be the quite the project, having come about through a remarkable series of events.  It will also differ from its companion by being rebuilt to military specification, to honour the memory of the men its type helped transport to and from the front lines. 

An excellent undertaking, then, particularly for the Great War anniversary but also for 2014's Year of the Bus.  I'm glad to see the London Transport Museum taking such effort to bring back to life another of these forgotten buses and in order to commemorate those who took part in such an important date in our history.  It bodes well for the centenary events next year and I look forward more than ever to seeing them (and the B-type bus!).

Friday 13 December 2013

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

It has always been a source of regret to me that I wasn't alive to see two of my favourite comic actors of the 20th century, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, when they toured the theatres of Britain with their live sketch shows during 1952-53.  Although they were in the twilight of their careers, having completed their final film in 1951 - the unholy mess that was Atoll K (also known as Utopia or Robinson Crusoeland, an absolute disaster of a film and no way to have ended a 25-year movie career - a mixed nationality of actors and crew meant that no-one understood one another, The Boys were both ill and in the case of Stan looked it, he also never really got the creative freedom he was promised so the story was weak as well) - by the following year they were in better health and keen to get out and meet the many fans who still enjoyed their comedy genius.  Stan, the creative one of the partnership, had several new ideas for the team but both agreed that another tour of Europe - where they remained popular - was the first step (they had twice before toured abroad, once in 1932 and again in 1947).

In 1952 they performed a sketch written by Stan entitled "A Spot of Trouble" and it proved so successful that in 1953 they returned with a new performance, "Birds of a Feather".  Playing to packed houses, they were overwhelmed by the joy and affection they still engendered nearly 20 years after their heyday.  On one occasion, arriving by boat at Cobh in Ireland, they were moved to tears by the crowds' cheering and waving and - I'd have loved to have been there to hear it - all the church bells in the town pealing out their theme tune, "The Dance of the Cuckoos".

The 1953 tour was another great success but it proved to be their last, for Oliver Hardy's health declined in 1956 and following a series of strokes he passed away on the 7th August 1957 aged 65, ending one of the greatest partnerships in film.

I'm pleased to see that the B.B.C. has now commissioned a new drama-documentary charting those last two years' of tours, to be written by the same chap who co-wrote the recent critically-lauded film Philomena.  I haven't seen that one myself but by all accounts it is a very good, if heartrending, story so I have high hopes for this forthcoming programme.

It won't be the first time the Beeb have produced a drama based around the last years of Laurel & Hardy, however.  Back in 2006 as part of its "Silent Cinema" season B.B.C. Four broadcast Stan, which was written by Neil Brand (who is also well-known for playing accompanying music - and in some cases composing new scores - for silent films, often shown at the British Film Institute e.g. The Wrecker) and which covered Laurel & Hardy's career in a series of flashbacks as Stan visited Ollie on his deathbed.  That was an excellent production, if sometimes tough to watch, with the actors playing the lead roles well suited to the parts.  Let us hope it will be more of the same with Stan and Ollie; I look forward to hearing more news about it.  In the meantime I can heartily recommend the book Laurel & Hardy: the British Tours by A. J. Marriot as an excellent tome on the subject of The Boys' later live appearances.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Flying in the slipstream of Lady Mary Heath

Tracey Curtis-Taylor: Meet the daredevil recreating Lady Mary Heath's historic 1920s flight

I remember first reading about this lady's aeronautical attempt last month during the coverage of the Goodwood Revival and I planned then to make a post out of it but then time moved on, work got in the way and the story was half-forgotten.  Now, with barely a week to go until its hopefully successful conclusion I can finally manage to feature it on here.

Really this is the story of two remarkable women - Mary, Lady Heath (born Sophie Peirce-Evans), a pioneering aviatrix whose name had sadly been lost to obscurity and Tracey Curtis-Taylor, the accomplished modern-day female pilot inspired by her forbear.

Flying through the glass ceiling: Saluting Britain's intrepid female aviators

Lady Mary Heath (or Sophie Peirce-Evans) is a name that by rights should be up there with Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart and Diana Barnato-Walker in the list of famous women aviators.  The first woman to gain a commercial pilot's licence, the first woman to jump out of an aeroplane by parachute and the first person to fly a light aircraft solo from England to South Africa, a world altitude record-holder of the time - and she's practically unheard of today.  She looks to have been a most fascinating personality, glamorously photographed in fur coats atop the wing of her 'plane or dancing the night away in sumptuous ball gowns even while part-way through her record-breaking Africa flight, where she also took the time to hike around the savannah.  Even putting aside her feats in the air she sounds a remarkable woman - a university graduate, athlete, mechanically-minded and an ambulance driver during the Great War.  She truly was a trailblazer in all walks of life and her early death at only 42 is made only more tragic as a result.

Flying in the slipstream of Lady Mary Heath

Tracey Curtis-Taylor seems every inch the 21st-century incarnation of Lady Mary (and other early aviatrices) and her career before this event is just as remarkable, if still somewhat constrained by what regrettably remains a male-dominated industry even now.  However her role as an air show display pilot - currently at the excellent Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire - and this attempt to recreate Lady Mary's 1928 Cape Town - Goodwood flight is a worthy and thrilling way to honour the memory of this forgotten female flier.

Not only is Ms Curtis-Taylor using a comparable aircraft in her 1942 Boeing Stearman but she has to contend with the same sort of endurance conditions Lady Mary would have faced 85 years ago, including variable weather and complex geopolitical borders.  Her journey looks to be as exciting and challenging as it would have been in 1928 and I have no doubt that she will overcome all obstacles and finish the course, just as Lady Mary did.  Here's to them both, and to Brooklands in a week's time!  (Hopefully I'll be able to post an update).

A Woman In Africa from Nylon Films on Vimeo.

A documentary film of Tracey Curtis-Taylor's extraordinary journey, A Woman In Africa, which will feature glorious African scenery and in-air footage of the flight is scheduled for release next year and if it can bring the name of Lady Mary Heath - and Tracey Curtis-Taylor - into the public consciousness, boost British tourism and show everyone what women in 'planes can do then so much the better!


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