When my parents bought the fish and chip shop and we moved to live over the shop on Blacker Road, Birkby, I didn’t see any of my old friends until some 25 years later, when me and Moi moved back into Golcar. It continues to be surprising how very good friends can disappear out of our lives almost overnight if we don’t make a little extra effort.
Incidentally, I didn’t like Birkby; it may have been due to moving away from friends when I was at the impressionable age of 15, but I also hated the shop and the living accommodation. If I returned home in the evening when the shop was open, I felt extremely embarrassed if I had to enter the house through the shop if other people were there. I don’t know why; youthful self-consciousness I suppose.
If I returned home after a late night out, I would climb the drainpipe leading on to the lean-to roof at the rear, scurry along the roof holding on to the guttering, and knock on my brother Nick’s bedroom window until he opened it and let me in. I had to do this several times before I was trusted with a door key. One day Nick thought he would have a go at emulating his big brother and carried out the same Spiderman feat, but without the help of alcohol. He didn’t do it again.
Our first television
One of my mates on the Golcar estate was Malcolm Slight, who sadly died in 2009. He was very much overweight, just like his father. Malcolm had a heart attack, when he was only 61 years old. Just like his father, Malcolm was also fairly short and had a very rounded stature. Their family pet was a Chihuahua dog. Mr Slight and the dog would look quite comical together, but he didn’t seem to care, and neither did Mr Slight. The dog was called Boo Boo after the cartoon character and sidekick of Yogi Bear. These two had made their television debut in 1961 in what was amongst our favourite television programmes at the time.
Mum and dad bought their first television in March 1956. Dad must have felt embarrassed or fed up with me, Rhondda and Mum visiting other family members to watch their television. It was a Stella, and had a large, polished cabinet with a 14-inch screen. Rhondda remembers that the screen was two inches bigger than Uncle Frank’s; she doesn’t recall why this was important, but it must have been remarked upon at the time.
Felix the Cat and a young Queen Elizabeth arrive in our living rooms
The first television image I saw was a few years earlier – a cartoon character called Felix the Cat. We were visiting friends and this box in the corner of the room was showing moving pictures just like at the cinema. It must have been before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in June 1953, which we watched on Uncle Philip’s television, all gathered round the little black and white screen. There were many of us – aunties, uncles, cousins, sister, Mum, Dad and friends – all huddled together in their front room, while, unfolding in front of us, was another world of fairy tale and magic. We saw it all again a week later on Pathé News at the cinema, this time on a huge screen and in full glorious colour.
Dad held out for another three years before we got that first television. Him being a careful, born and bred Yorkshire lad, he didn’t want to rush into something that might not last. I think it is true to say that people from Huddersfield are even more careful than the average Yorkshire lad, and I believe that the undertakers of Huddersfield provide shrouds with pockets so that we can take it with us. Also, if any Scot shows worrying signs of generosity, he is sent to Huddersfield for re-training. (Did you know that copper wire was invented by a Scotsman and a Yorkshireman fighting over a penny?).
Hi-Yo, Silver: cowboy adventures
During our times spent in the cinema we were already familiar with some of those early television characters such as Our Gang (an alternative title was The Little Rascals). But most of our favourites were adventure-type films, and among the best was The Lone Ranger played by Clayton Moore with his side kick Tonto played by Jay Silverheels.
My least favourite was Hopalong Cassidy. I thought he was too old, too clean-cut and wore a silly hat. There were other television cowboys that I found to be wonderfully entertaining. Maverick was one, that is until the star James Garner had a fallout with the studio and left; it was never the same after that. One of the longer running series was Wagon Train, which I thought was good at the time, but thinking back, I can’t remember why I liked it.
Two of the best cowboy programs of all time were Rawhide and Bonanza. One of the stars of Rawhide was a young Clint Eastwood, who went on to make himself a nice little career in films. Bonanza was another of the longer running cowboys. Its alternative title was Ponderosa, which was a ranch in Virginia run by the Cartwright family, consisting of a grumpy father and his three sons.
The father was Ben, played by Lorne Green, and the eldest son, Adam (who was too stuck up and pompous for my liking), was played by Parnell Roberts. My favourite son was Hoss, played by Dan Blocker, a gentle giant who didn’t start a fight but could sure finish one. Hoss also had a silly hat but could carry it off much better than Hopalong Cassidy. The youngest son was Little Joe, played by Michael Landon. He could shoot his gun from under the neck of his galloping horse, a feat not to be sniffed at – you never know when a skill like that will come in handy.
Mexican hats and coonskin caps
Other film, comic book and television heroes were the Cisco Kid and Pancho. They were from the Mexican side of the border and consequently they wore fancy embroidered shirts, waistcoats and broad brimmed hats. When the two gallant heroes were galloping through the prairie chasing the current ne’er-do-wells (who always wore black hats so we could always tell the goodies from the baddies), their broad-brim Mexican hats would be forced backwards in the wind, which was quite a comical sight. It didn’t look very manly to me, and the sturdy rope that must have been used to keep these hats on must have done them untold damage. It looked as though their heads would be pulled off at any minute.
Every young boy in the 50s had to have a coonskin cap (raccoon) worn by Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker, who went on to play another coonskin-cap-wearing frontiersman called Daniel Boone (they must have wanted to save money on wardrobe). Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brian was another one of my favourites. He had a revolver with an extra-long barrel – I wonder why that particular attribute has stuck in my memory. (The true story of Wyatt Earp is very much different from his television character, as is the case with many television and film entertainments proposing to be a true account of history.)
Native American heroes and an ageing Hollywood star
Along with Tonto in The Lone Ranger, another Native American ‘Indian’ I admired was Chingachgook, a character in the series Hawkeye and the last of the Mohicans. Chingachgook was played by Lon Chaney Jr, whose real name was Creighton Tull Chaney. He only took up acting when his father Lon Chaney Sr died, and then Creighton took his father’s name, presumably to help his own career.
Towards the end of television’s western popularity came The Big Valley.It was a very popular western with some, though I thought it was too centred on its star, Barbara Stanwyck, who I didn’t find at all exciting. She was a stunner in her earlier film career, but she didn’t make The Big Valley work for me.
Deep sea adventures
My most favouritest favourite television programmes of all time weren’t cowboys at all – they were Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges and 77 Sunset Strip.
Sea Hunt showed underwater adventures with more imagination than the diver getting his boot stuck in a giant clam, and the star of the show, Lloyd Bridges, went on to play character roles in many famous films like High Noon, Little Big Horn and Airplane. He was the father of Jeff and Beau Bridges, who have also made very successful film careers.
Sea Hunt was made possible by the advent of the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba), where underwater stories could be unfolded in a much more active and exiting way than had previously been possible. Watertight camera cases were also developed to follow the stories through the water as they developed. Jacques Cousteau was credited to a large extent with developing both the open circuit scuba diving valve and the waterproof camera case.
Private eye capers on Sunset Strip
77 Sunset Strip had several memorable characters for me, amongst them the senior partner Stuart Bailey, played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr (now there’s a name to conjour with).The smooth partner was Jeff Spencer, played by Roger Smith, restoring a less exotic balance to the cast names.
My favourites wereJacqueline Beer who played Suzanne Fabray, the very nice secretary, and Kookie, played by Edd Byrne. Kookie was a car park attendant and fixer, a very good-looking fella who spoke with beatnik or hip slang language that introduced the world to different meanings of words like ‘cool’,‘groovy’,‘square’,‘wheels’ and ‘dig’.
Kookie received thousands of items of fan mail a week and of course it was inevitable that the record industry would attempt to cash in. The song Lend Me Your Comb, performed by Edd (Kookie) Byrnes and Connie Stevens was rubbish but it probably earned someone lots of money.