The steamship Great Eastern’s first voyage.

The steamship Great Eastern was built to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refueling.  However – for its first long distance journey it had been arranged that it would leave Southampton about 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, 16th June 1860 to cross the Atlantic to New York.  There were large crowds at Southampton to watch – but when 4 o’clock arrived nothing happened!  At 7 o’clock the steam began and everyone got ready to cheer.  Nothing happened!  There were stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!  It was not until 8 o’clock on this Sunday morning 17th June 1860, after a night at it’s moorings, that the Great Eastern finally slipped her moorings in Southampton waters and started on her first voyage to America.  The newspapers of the day note that she had just 35 paying passengers on board – 2 or 3 of who were ladies!   There were also eight company non-paying passengers, and a crew of 418. Among the passengers were two journalists; two engineers – Zerah Colburn and Alexander Lyman Holley –- and three directors of the Great Ship Company.

Although the weather was described as ‘thick and stormy’ it was recorded that she ‘threaded the narrow and tortuous channel down the Solent, and through the Needles, in safety, under the pilot-age of Mr Bowyer’.

Various telegrams give us a deeper understanding of the delays and departure.  One says ‘The weather was far too thick and stormy to render it prudent for her to have got away last night’.  Perhaps it is as well she didn’t, as on passing Hurst Castle a ‘large troop ship could be plainly distinguished stuck fast among the rocks near the Needles.’

There are, though, also stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!

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Bing Crosby goes to prison, takes a wife and moves on

Last week we left Bing developing a following from the younger members of the audience – so much so that he was assigned a key solo spot in a major production number.  The number was ‘Song of the Dawn’ which the Whiteman band filmed in Hollywood in 1930.  But …… things didn’t quite go to plan!

It was the night before the ‘Song of the Dawn’ was to be filmed that things went ‘a little awry’.  Bing had developed a reputation within the Whiteman clan as a fun-loving boozer and womanizer – and this night he was arrested for drunken driving.  Bing was jailed for 30 days and singer-actor John Boles – a Warner Brothers leading man – was brought-in to sing the part.  However – for several of the other numbers in King of Jazz featuring the Rhythm Boys Whiteman arranged to have Crosby brought to the studio under police guard and returned to jail after each day’s shooting ended!  When the film was completed Whiteman left Hollywood and went on a national tour.

The police experience had a sobering effect on the young Crosby and he began to take his career more seriously – particularly with regard to the potential of musical movies.  The group went to work in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub with Gus Arnheim’s orchestra.  There was also another reason for Bing to stay where they were – Miss Wilma Wyatt, a singer known as Dixie Lee!  In September 1930 they married and their unity initiated some ‘interesting’ responses!  News stories had comments such as ‘Rising young Fox star weds obscure crooner’ or, as Bing put it ‘Miss Big marries Mr Little’.

Dixie had played half-a-dozen movies for Fox but soon gave up that career and supported Bing in his.  As a result he worked on improving his breath control and started singing fewer rhythmic numbers and more romantic ballads.  Things now moved on at speed.  He left the Rhythm Boys after he missed a show and the group were briefly put on the blacklist by the musicians union and CBS Radio heard him and offered Bing a network contract.  Wife, brother and Bing moved to New York and, in September 1931 began a nightly 15 minute broadcast over the CBS Radio Network.  As singer-pianist, author and record producer Larry Carr once so aptly put it:

“After six long years of learning and honing his craft, he was an overnight success!”

This was the day England’s postmen stopped delivering your Sunday post.

Sunday 12th June 1921 was the day that the postmen in Britain stopped delivering their mail on a Sunday. The Saturday Hull Daily Mail of the time spelled out the situation for their readers:

‘The changes notified by the Postmaster General as to the postage rates and the Sunday collections and deliveries come into force at mid-night on Sunday. Subject to the payment of a special fee of one shilling, plus the ordinary postage and express fee, any letter or posted packet other than a parcel, will be accepted up to time of the general night mail posting on Saturday, at selected offices mentioned below, for special dispatch to any of the towns mentioned, but not elsewhere, and will be delivered by express messenger during the hours that office of destination is open for telegraph business. By the payment of a special fee of one shilling plus postage a letter will be accepted on Sunday for the offices mentioned for express despatch to any of the towns indicated for the first house-to-house delivery after its arrival on Monday.

The selected offices are, outside London, the head offices at Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-on-Tyne and Sheffield.’

Hull was disappointed and surprised that it was not one of the selected offices.

On the water for the first time – Oxford vs Cambridge and a Boat Race

It was on Wednesday 10th June 1829 that the first Oxford University vs Cambridge University boat race took place.  It was rowed over a two and a quarter mile course from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge.  The Morning Post of 12th June 1829 reported:

THE GRAND ROWING MATCH BETWEEN OXONIANS AND THE CANTABS: This match, between the Students of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge took place on Wednesday afternoon in Henley Reach. The interest excited was very great, and the contest was remarkably severe. Both parties exerted themselves to the utmost. For some time the issue was very doubtful; but Victory ultimately decided in favour of the Oxonians.

We now [2018] have had 164 races completed – one was a dead-heat; 80 have been won by Oxford and 83 by Cambridge.

Just in passing – I’m a Cambridge man but I’ve never rowed a boat.  I have watch many of the races though – sitting in front of the television!

The man’s called BING

Harry Lillis Crosby – better known as Bing Crosby – was an American singer, actor, and song writer that achieved great popularity in radio, recordings, and motion pictures. He became the archetypal crooner of a period when the advent of radio broadcasting and talking pictures and the refinement of sound-recording techniques made the climate ideal for the rise of such a figure. His casual stage manner and mellow, relaxed singing style influenced two generations of pop singers and made him the most successful entertainer of his day.

He had acquired the nickname ‘Bing’ when he was in elementary school although it is unclear whether it came from a prank on a teacher or from a love for the comic strip of the time The Bingville Bugle. He came from a musical family and began to sing and to play the drums while studying law in Washington.  In the late 1920’s he was singing with the Paul Whiteman orchestra and, in 1931, he appeared in the early sound film King of Jazz. In 1932 he got his own program on the CBS radio station in New York City and began appearing in more films, so much so that by the late 1930s his records were selling millions of copies.

But let us take him back the late 1920s.

Bing and music really began when he started singing and playing drums in a small band called ‘Musicaladers’ that played at school dances and in social functions.  Bing and Alton Rinker – the brother of singer Mildred Bailey – dropped out of college in 1925 to try to make a success as a singing duo. Their target was West Coast – the home of Mildred and vaudeville theatres!  Mildred had contacts and introduced Bing and Alton to ‘a very big theatrical agent’ – they were on their way.  Some 18 months later the pair was hired by Paul Whiteman – at the time the leader of the most popular dance orchestra in the country!

Soon the two became three when Harry Barnes – a singer-pianist – joined them.   The Rhythm Boys developed a lightly swinging, easy-going vocal style that soon became one of the most popular elements of Paul Whiteman’s stage shows – AND his radio programs and recordings.

Bing had the most distinctive voice of the trio and, increasingly, was given chances to ‘go solo’ within the three.  He began developing a following from the younger members of the audience – so much so that he was assigned a key solo spot in a major production number.  The number was ‘Song of the Dawn’ which the Whiteman band filmed in Hollywood in 1930.

But …… things didn’t quite go to plan – but we’ll worry about that next week!

The King is Dead – Long live the Queen

I’m sure many millions of people across the world will know – but just in case ….

65 years ago on Tuesday 2nd June 1953 the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey.  Elizabeth ascended the throne at the age of 25, upon the death of her father, King George VI who had passed away on Wednesday 6th February 1952, and was proclaimed Queen by her various privy and executive councils shortly afterwards. The coronation took place more than a year later because of the tradition that holding such a festival is inappropriate during the period of mourning that follows the death of a monarch and also on account of the need to make preparations for the ceremony. During the service, she took and subscribed an oath to, among other things, govern the peoples according to their respective laws and customs, was anointed with holy oil, presented and invested with regalia, and crowned.

Celebrations took place across the Commonwealth and a commemorative medal was issued. It was the first British coronation to be televised and was the fourth and last British coronation of the 20th century.

She was born Miss Mortenson

On 1st June 1926 a little girl was born and, in due time, was named Norma Jeane Mortenson.  She was born and raised in Los Angeles and spent most of her childhood in fosters homes and an orphanage.  She married at the age of 16 and, in 1944 while working as part of the war effort in a radioplane factory, she was introduced to a photographer from the ‘First Motion Picture Unit’.  Photographs were taken and she soon began a successful pin-up modelling career.  This work led to a short-livered film contracts with 20th Century Fox in 1946/7 and Columbia Pictures in 1948.  After a series of minor film roles she signed a new contract in 1951 with Fox and from there her career blossomed.  Oh – by the way – by now she had changed her name.

She was now known as Marilyn Monroe!

I think we might say a little bit more about this lady in the near future!

Singers and songs are moving on towards the 1930s.

Albert Alick Bowlly [Al Bowlly] was born to Greek and Lebanese parents who had met en- route to Australia.  They moved to South Africa and their child was brought up in Johannesburg! After a series of odd jobs across South Africa, including being a barber and a jockey!  At the same time Al gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa.  That tour expanded to Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s but in Surabaya, Indonesia Al fell out with Adeler and was fired from the band. After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabaya he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India. Al worked his passage back home by busking and, in 1927he had a date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Edgar Adeler.

Albert’s next move was to London for the first time as part of Fred Elizade’s orchestra. That nearly didn’t work as Al foolishly frittered away the fare money sent to him by Elizalde!  However – that year “If I Had You” became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well.  First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Al Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.

In the USA a male singing duo began performing together in 1925.  In late 1926 they were recruited by Paul Whiteman to join his band. They were called The Rhythm Boys and were now three as, in 1927, pianist/singer/song writer Harry Barris had joined the pair of Al Rinker and one Bing Crosby. They made a number of recordings with the Whiteman Orchestra and released singles in their own right with Barris on piano. In Mau 1930, after three and a half years with Paul Whiteman the ‘Rhythm Boys’ moved on – and we’ll come back to them later.

Let’s end this session with two individuals whose names still ring in Britain today. 

Noel Coward was stage struck from childhood and, by the age of 20, was already writing plays.  By 1923 he enjoyed his first West End success with ‘London Calling’ and over the next 20 years, enjoyed continues success.

Our other is Gertrude Lawrence who had many similarities to Noel Coward.  Her multi-talent was ‘discovered’ by the time she was 18.  She made her name in Coward’s ‘London Calling’ in 1923 and then shared top billing with Beatrice Lillie in ‘Charlotte’s Revue’ in New York in 1924.  A true product of ‘the revue’ she had that ‘star’ quality that made her popular across the entertainment spectrum.

 

Music through good times & bad in the 1920’s

By the mid-1920s jazz was thriving in Britain with its popularity being boosted by the Melody Maker, a music newspaper which first appeared in January 1926, as well as by radio programmes from the recently launched British Broadcasting Corporation.

However this mid-1920s post-war period of prosperity was soon to be well and truly over. The re-introduction of the Gold Standard by Winston Churchill in 1925 kept interest rates high and meant UK exports were expensive. Coal reserves had been depleted during the War and Britain was now importing more coal than it was mining. All this, and the lack of investment in the new mass-production techniques in industry, led to a period of depression, deflation and decline in the UK’s economy. Unemployment rose to over 2 million, and particularly affected areas in the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some places. This lead in turn to the Great Strike of 1926 and, following the US Wall Street crash of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depressions of the 1930s.

From a decade that started with such a ‘boom’, the 1920s ended in an almighty bust, the likes of which weren’t to be seen again for a great many more years. None-the-less – all this poverty amongst the unemployed contrasted strikingly with the affluence of the middle and upper classes!

An American who came to the UK in the 1920s was Carroll Gibbons. He was born and raised in Clinton, Massachusetts. In his late teens he travelled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1924 he returned to London with the brassless Boston Orchestra for an engagement at the Savoy Hotel in the Strand. He liked Britain so much that he settled there and later became the co-leader (with Howie Jacobs) of the Savoy Orpheans and the bandleader of the New May Fair Orchestra, which recorded for the Gramophone Company on the HMV label. In 1929, Gibbons appeared in the British film ‘Splinters’ as “Carroll Gibbons and His Masters Voice Orchestra”. Ray Noble himself led the New Mayfair Orchestra starting in 1929

Despite all of the hardships in the UK and the USA there were glimpses of a ‘new world’ – of ‘new people’.

A story of a soccer team – my soccer team!

I’ve been a Manchester United supporter ever since they beat Blackpool 4-2 to win the FA Cup at Wembley in 1948.  Twenty years later – on Wednesday 29th May 1968 – I was on tenterhooks as I listened to another game at Wembley.  This one was the European Cup Final between Manchester United and the Spanish masters Benfica.  Bobby Charlton put United ahead 8 minutes into the second half; Benfica had equalized 20 minutes later and, but for a great save by United’s goalkeeper Alex Stepney from Eusébio, came close to defeat.  In extra-time goals from George Best (93 mins), Brian Kidd (94 mins) and Bobby Charlton (99 mins) made United 4-1 winners and me VERY happy!  Manchester United – ‘my team’ – had become the first English club to win the European Cup!

Ten years after the Munich air crash, which killed eight of Matt Busby’s young team, Manchester United had reached the pinnacle of European football again.  Celtic FC had become the first Scottish and British club to win the cup the previous year.  Manchester United were out to be the second.  United’s star player, George Best had been named European Footballer of the Year – just a fortnight after being named the British football writers’ Footballer of the Year.

At Wembley Stadium on 29th May 1968 there were100,000 supporters to watchers with an estimated 250 million TV viewers across Europe making it the biggest television audience since the World Cup final two years previous.  The match was to determine the winners of the 1967-68 European Cup – the 13th season of this trophy – a final being contested by Benfica of Portugal and Manchester United of England.  The first half passed in a flurry of fouls but no goals.  In the second half Bobby Charlton broke the stalemate with a headed goal to United but with just 10 minutes left Benfica scored the equaliser.  Things now got challenging and Benfica nearly won the match when Eusebio broke away from Nobby Stiles and blasted the ball towards the net.  However – United’s keeper, Alex Stepney, made the save and the game went into extra time.

The world now seemed to take care of United because two minutes into extra time Georgie Best put United ahead again, when he slipped round the Benfica keeper and gently tapped the ball over the line.  Two more United goals followed – one from the 19-year-old Brian Kidd and the last one from captain Bobby Charlton.  The ‘United’ had won 4-1.

Matt Busby – the United Manager said: “They’ve done us proud. They came back with all their hearts to show everyone what Manchester United are made of. This is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life and I am the proudest man in England tonight.”

Matt Busby had been seriously injured in the crash that had claimed the lives of his so-called Busby Babes and there was speculation at the time that the club had been so badly damaged it would have to fold.  But they struggled on to complete the 1958/59 season and when Busby returned to the manager’s role the following season he began the task of rebuilding the side. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only survivors of the crash who played in today’s final. The European Cup marked the highlight of Matt Busby’s long career at Manchester United and he later received a knighthood from the Queen.  He retired after the following season to become the club’s general manager.

For George Best it was the highlight of his footballing career. The same year he was also named European Footballer of the Year and was regarded by many as one of the greatest footballing talents in the world, ranked alongside the Brazilian great Pele.

Bobby Charlton had a distinguished playing career for England and Manchester United. He scored 48 goals for England, a record which still stands. He was knighted in 1994.