We grew up to the sound of enemy bombers.You could always tell the "Jerries" by the way their engines seemed to function in bursts. Odd myths grew. People said you never heard the bomb that hit you, though I used to wonder how they knew because few people were still available for a chat after a bomb hit them. Later we learned to dread hearing the engines of the flying bombs which cut out when they were over their targets, but incendiary bombs never worried us. Flying bombs caused more casualties in my regiment when we occupied Germany and mounted guard on the sites. Two soldiers went blind after drinking the fuel.
My father was in our village police station when two excited children ran in to say there was an incendiary bomb stuck in a tree in the churchyard next door.. The only bombs that worried my father were the landmines, large canisters packed with explosives which were dropped by parachute. Which is what met his eyes when he went to inspect the “incendiary” bomb, swinging like a clock pendulum from the lower branches of a graveyard oak.
My father’s war was brought to his armchair by the British Broadcasting Service. He was addicted to “Auntie”, as the BBC has come to be known, a measure of the way we felt about radio. He listened until midnight when the National Anthem was played. Then, drunk or sober, he stood to attention until the last notes of "God Save the King” died on the air when he switched to the shortwave band to listen to the trawlermen in the North Sea swearing at each other over the ether. It was the novelty. Swearing was something one never heard on the BBC. Now one hears little else and it still shocks me because the BBC held a special place in my childhood. Years later the moment I stepped before a microphone I felt at home. I was in my element. Broadcasting, I found, added an extra dimension to writing. I do not remember ever feeling nervous of a microphone in the way I did every time I was sent out to write a story. I owe that to a peerless broadcaster, Wynford Vaughan Thomas.
He was a war correspondent I had listened to with awe as he broadcast from a bomber over Berlin with anti-aircraft shells bursting all round him, or as he landed with the first wave of troops on D Day. He was later to boast that he led the battle to free the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. “It's not nerves,” he told me before my first broadcast. "It is your mind summoning your body into action.”
Another friend in those early broadcasting days was Roger Worsley whose father wrote and produced a programme called “ITMA” (It’s That Man Again). It was credited with winning the war. We thought it was the funniest thing in creation and my father even hurried home from the pub to hear it. It was loosely based on a series of characters talking to the star, Tommy Handley. There was Mrs Mop, the cleaner, Colonel Chinstrap, the drunk, and Mr Funf, the spy whose “funny” voice was made by an actor speaking into a glass, a trick schoolboys used, and when his father heard Roger doing it he incorporated it in the show.The programme was recorded weekly in garrison theatres, RAF hangars and Navy mess halls. I listened to a recording this week which came from a ship. Introducing the star, the announcer said: “It’s a funny thing. Every time we visit the Navy he is all at sea.” And Tommy said: “Well, tickle my toe with an anchor” to roars of laughter and tumultuous applause.
During the war the BBC moved its Light Entertainment Unit to Bangor, a seaside town in North Wales
where the only entertainment was a one-legged diver who would dive off the pier to retrieve coins thrown in by holiday makers. Inevitably he appeared on the show as “Dick the Diver” whose roof-lifting catchphrase was “Going down now, sir.”
The invasion of Bangor by arty, colourful ladies of both sexes came as a shock to the chapel-going population. Describing producers of the day, one broadcaster Gilbert Harding said: “They tend to wear corduroys and beards…and the men aren’t much different either.”
One housewife told about her lodger, a man whose kindness had overwhelmed her: “Do you know, Mrs Jones, every Saturday he goes down to the port and finds a lonely sailor. He treats him to a fish supper, then he brings him home and takes him upstairs to let him sleep in his bed. There’s kind for you.”
She was deeply shocked when Mrs Jones told her what the kind lodger was doing. She told the BBC man that she was a bit worried about having strange men coming in the house and would he not do it any more. The next night she heard the BBC man come home and was relieved to hear only one pair of footsteps but when she looked out she saw him giving a sailor a piggy back upstairs.
“Good God,” she told her husband, “he’s bringing home cripples now.”
THE WEIGHT ON MY MIND
I rather like being twins but you may not be surprised to hear that my recruiting policy has not been wildly popular in the Domus.
Predictably, the reaction of the Head Ferret borders on the explosive. The worst four-letter word available, D I E T, is frequently on her lips. I am a foe of the diet but not, I hope, unreasonable.I have reduced fish and chip luncheons to fish and mushy peas.
My dear friend the late Jimmy Goodwin, Maitre de of the Blossoms Hotel in Chester, suffered a heart attack and was asked by a doctor to confess his drink level. He told him a bottle of gin and tonic and the doctor said that was a lot of tonic. But Jimmy put him right. “Not tonic. Gin,” he said. The doctor said he must give up the bottle a day and he did. He changed to whisky and tonic and had another heart attack. He said to me: “I have cracked it. It’s the tonic that is the common denominator." Not another drop of tonic passed his lips before he died a fortnight later.
Now I am the sort of chap who likes to benefit from diligent research. In the interest of peace in the home I have given up gin and tonic. In its place I am a Vodka Martini sipper. Not just any Martini. My grandson, a Wall Street banker, speaks highly of the New York Martini, and I am indebted to my good friend Brian Hitchen and his chum, a former Capo di Capo Tuti of the New York Mafia, who have honoured me with the receipt of the Ultimate Martini. It is as follows:
Place ice in a Martini glass, pour over it vodka to the count of ten (I find that counting slowly improves the taste). Add two drops of dry Vermouth and twist peel from a lemon to release the oil, drink and enjoy. In the interest of my diet I have forgone the olive.
I was alarmed to read that a middle-aged man had died of a heart attack attempting Gangnam style dancing at a Christmas party. His doctor warned that though the chances of death are small (I can think of many office parties where death would have been welcome) he advised against taking untypical exercise. He said further: “Let the lady dance round you.” Doctor, any lady who made it round my 60-inch waist would have little energy left for the dalliance which is the only point of such parties.
Sadly the profile of the portly person was dented by the disclosures about the loathsome Cyril Smith MP but we have been more than redeemed by my political hero, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles, who weeps over Italian Opera and on a recent “Desert Island Discs” radio programme described it as “Chicklit”, by a mile the best description of that lovely art.
A SOBER NOTE
I haven’t been bothered about Press Regulation .The print newspaper is to the future of the media what the magic lantern is to Light Entertainment. It will be lucky if it outlives me. However, Lord Levenson has told an Australian audience that he has got his eye on sundry blogs, including, I am sure, Skidmores Island which is already banned in China. So I am forced into the fray.
Our Culture Secretary Maria Miller is paid primarily to go to Covent Garden and other jollies but her expenses are plainly not enough. She has not told Parliament, as required, that she has rented a house from a Tory donor for £6,000 a year below its market price. There is also an inquiry into her £96,000 expenses which include costs of a house she owns in which her parents live.
Very properly the Daily Telegraph decided to publish details of this dubious deal. Only to be warned by Craig Oliver, the Tory Communications Chief, that the article may be poorly timed as “she is looking at Levenson at the moment.” Taxed by the paper, he denied the remark was a threat. I suppose that also applies to Joanna Hindley, the Culture Minister’s adviser, who twice telephoned Daily Telegraph executives to flag up the minister’s role in implementing new press rules.
When I read that MPs' expenses were now back to the level they reached before The Great Row I decided to accept that our lot were just as bad as other European countries. It is not that which worries. It was the total incompetence of this Hoorah Henry Government. I expect the editor of the Telegraph is rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of getting two stories.
A correspondent puts it beautifully]