Saint Swithin – a belief in the weather and 15th July

 

15th July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.

Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK.  St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on that day ending a long dry spell.  Not only that – it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. As a result the monks took it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and` left his body where it was.

Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days. As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days.

The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read:

St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.

 

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Music and other aspects of the 1930s

For a great many the 1930s were remembered for mass unemployment with unemployment in Britain at the start of 1933 at 22.8%.  However, by January 1936 it had eased to 13.9% and in 1938 it was down to around 10%.  There was still a semi-permanent depression area in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales but new industries, such as car and aircraft manufacture, and new electronics were prospering in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.

The 1930s were the great age of cinema going in Britain with many people going at least once and sometimes twice a week. The early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first colour films were made – although it was decades before all films were made in colour.  Radio broadcasting had begun in 1922 in Britain when the BBC was formed and by 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting.

From the mid-1920s to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands. The British bands never quite adopted the kind of USA “Swing” and “Big Band” jazz and during the 1930s the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands – quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally sweeter.  Non-the-less Billy Cotton began in the 1930s and still had a prime-time TV programme until the late ’60s and Ted Heath’s fame lasted until 1964. Many others carefully adjusted as time passed.  For instant – Jack Hilton’s band was “hot” until 1933, but then became sweeter as their success grew.  Some of the lead singers also enjoyed fame on their own. Most famous were Al Bowlly and Leslie `Hutch` Hutchinson.

I’ll close off for this week with something very different from music – but something that people could nibble while they listened their music of choice …..

This decade also saw sales of ice cream boom and many new kinds of sweets introduced. Jaffa cakes had gone on sale in 1927 and Twiglets and Crunchy Bars in 1929.  Milky Way had been on sale in 1923 in the USA and arrived in Britain in 1935. Other UK arrivals included:  Snickers (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltsters and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).

The first British Lawn Tennis Championships

It was on Monday 9th July 1877 that a Lawn Tennis championship took place for the first time at Worple Road, Wimbledon.  Records of the time record Worple Road, and the streets on the southern slopes of Wimbledon Hill, as ‘highly respectable‘. Until about 1875 ‘Walpole Lane’ as a map of the time named it, had been a narrow track leading to fields. In 1868 the self-styled All-England Croquet Club had leased a field between the road and the railway line but doesn’t seem to have developed it much until the members decided to add the new game of Lawn Tennis to its activities.

As a result the club was renamed The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. The members held their first Tennis Championship on this day – 9th July 1877 – a championship consisting of just gentlemen’s singles matches. That first championship is recorded as attracting twenty-two competitors and a crowd of about two hundred.

The popularity grew rapidly and by 1884 they had permanent stands for the spectators built around the Club’s Central Court.

By 1922 they had totally outgrown the ground and moved to the Club’s present site in Church Road. The old ground then became the Girls’ High School playing field.

Now, when you sit down – or stand up – enjoying this second week of the modern game recall the beginning of the whote event back in 1877!

Roy Fox – an American-born British dance band leader.

Roy Fox, an American-born British dance band leader, was born in Denver, Colorado on 25th October 25 1901.  His period of greatest popularity was in England during the British dance band era of the 1930s.

Roy and his musician sister Vera were raised in Hollywood in a Salvation Army family. Roy had begun playing a cornet when he was 11 years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner’s newsboy’s band. Soon after he was playing bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille!

His first major association came at the age of 16 when he joined Abe Lyman’s orchestra at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica. There he played alongside many of the established artists and developed a soft style of playing which earned him the nickname, “The Whispering Cornetist”. In 1920 he put together his own band and, in 1925, scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman’s orchestra.  After some time in New York City, Roy and Abe reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks!

As time and reputation moved on 1930 found Roy Fox being invited to perform in London.  His first performance was on Monday 29th September 1930.  In that same year Roy recorded on the BBC and, when his band returned to the USA in the Spring of 1931, Roy remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.  Unfortunately Roy fell ill with pleurisy in 1932 and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone but, on his return to London, Roy resumed the control.

However, when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal that autumn Roy was unable to agree terms and, as a result the restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Lew Stone. With the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman, the band decided to go with Lew!  In response Roy took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night.  On Tuesday, 25th October Roy Fox applied for an extension of the injunction against Al, but at a hearing in chambers Mr. Justice McCardie denied Roy Fox’s application on the grounds that ‘the contract related specifically to the ‘Monseigneur’ lost his action.

Roy now formed a new band with Sid Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, and secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square.  Roy also performed in Belgium as well as other locations in the UK.  At Christmas he played a variety of instruments in this band.  In 1933-4 Roy made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling; recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.

In later years Roy moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups.  In 1946/47 he led a band in England  with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency. He died in London in 1982, aged 80.

Roy Fox – an American-born British dance band leader

Roy Fox, an American-born British dance band leader, was born in Denver, Colorado on 25th October 25 1901.  His period of greatest popularity was in England during the British dance band era of the 1930s.

Roy and his musician sister Vera were raised in Hollywood in a Salvation Army family. Roy had begun playing a cornet when he was 11 years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner’s newsboy’s band. Soon after he was playing bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille!

His first major association came at the age of 16 when he joined Abe Lyman’s orchestra at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica. There he played alongside many of the established artists and developed a soft style of playing which earned him the nickname, “The Whispering Cornetist”. In 1920 he put together his own band and, in 1925, scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman’s orchestra.  After some time in New York City, Roy and Abe reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks!

As time and reputation moved on 1930 found Roy Fox being invited to perform in London.  His first performance was on Monday 29th September 1930.  In that same year Roy recorded on the BBC and, when his band returned to the USA in the Spring of 1931, Roy remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.  Unfortunately Roy fell ill with pleurisy in 1932 and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone but, on his return to London, Roy resumed the control.

However, when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal that autumn Roy was unable to agree terms and, as a result the restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Lew Stone. With the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman, the band decided to go with Lew!  In response Roy took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night.  On Tuesday, 25th October Roy Fox applied for an extension of the injunction against Al, but at a hearing in chambers Mr. Justice McCardie denied Roy Fox’s application on the grounds that ‘the contract related specifically to the ‘Monseigneur’ lost his action.

Roy now formed a new band with Sid Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, and secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square.  Roy also performed in Belgium as well as other locations in the UK.  At Christmas he played a variety of instruments in this band.  In 1933-4 Roy made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling; recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.

In later years Roy moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups.  In 1946/47 he led a band in England  with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency. He died in London in 1982, aged 80.

My Fair Lady – Audrey Hepburn – and Aphrodite!

It was on Wednesday 3rd July 1963 that Cecil Beaton recorded the filming of My Fair Lady in his journal:

I had watched Audrey [Hepburn] during the tests, wearing almost no make-up and being photographed in a somewhat flat light. One took for granted her charm and vitality, but it was only when the result was magnified hundreds of times, that one realised that, as Jack Warner said, ‘She’s one in a million.’ Somehow, the celluloid accentuates her expressions of tenderness, humour, fun, hauteur and plaintive childishness. Her nose and jawline do not conform to the golden rule of Praxiteles yet add enormous character to the photographed result. 

After seeing herself without eye make-up Audrey pleased me by saying that, in the future, she was going to soft-pedal its use. The ‘Flemish look’, without make-up, is going to be a surprise. Suddenly, one realizes what a hard look the black liner gives the eye, and how its effect is to close up, and make smaller, the white of the eye. Audrey’s appearance without it will be quite a revolution and, let’s hope, the end of all those black-eyed zombies of the fashion magazines.

Just in case you wish to know – and are like me and did not know who/what Praxiteles was – he was a 4th century BCE Greek from Athens, the son of Cephisodotus the Elder, and was the most renowned of the Attic sculptors of the time, being the first to sculpt the nude female form in a life-size statue.

The Music and the 1920s become the 1930s both sides of the Atlantic

One of the pioneers of the raucous, rapid-fire, eight-to-the-bar piano style described as ‘BOOGIE’ was Jimmy Yancey.  Born in Chicago in 1896 he worked in vaudeville as a singer and tap dancer – starting at the age of 6 – before taking up the piano in 1915.  Although he did not make a recording until 1939 his student – Meade “Lux” Lewis – would become one of the first to document the boogie-woogie piano style on record with his 1927 ‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’ – a masterpiece of intricate cross-rhythms that highlighted Lewis’s skills.   In this same year Pine Top Smith gathered widespread attention with the catchy ‘Pine Top’s Boogie-Woogie’.

The 1930s were a crucial period in the development of the blues. It was then that the Mississippi Delta blues performers Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson travelled throughout the southern states, singing about their woes, freedom, love and sex to community after community.  Johnson – who allegedly made a pack with ‘The Devil’ in order to become a better guitar player – was the first true blues performance artist.  On the east coast, musicians such as Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry and the Rev Gary Davis developed a more folksy, ‘Piedmomt Blues’ style.  Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Count Basie was absorbing the blues and – reinjecting it into the big band jazz style of the swing era.  In New York Billie Holiday, one of the most famous blues/jazz singers of all time’s, began captivating audiences with her haunting, sensuous voice.  We’ll come back to her another day.

In the 1930s, Great Britain was not without its’ own performers.  Jack Hylton – born John Greenhalgh Hilton in 1892 – was an English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario that rose to prominence during the British dance band era.  Being referred as the “British King of Jazz” and “The Ambassador of British Dance Music” by the musical press, not only because of his popularity which extended throughout the world, but also for his use of unusually large ensembles for the time and his polished arrangements.

By the time the Depression started biting in 1930 Jack had downsized his band and began performing less frequently in Europe.  However, in that same year, Maurice Chevalier recorded with Jack, who also made the first record of “Body and Soul”. In 1932, Hylton was decorated by the French government, recording with Paul Robeson the same year and making the first transatlantic entertainment broadcast with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra.

In late 1933 Jack left Decca after refusing to take a pay cut and did not begin making records again until 1935 when he re-joined HMV.  He had spent 1934 touring Europe again, and adopted “The Soldiers in the Park” – more commonly known as “Oh Listen to the Band” –  as his signature tune. In 1935 he appeared in his first feature film, the musical comedy ‘She Shall Have Music’, which starred June Clyde and Claude Dampier.  That same year, Jack was finally able to perform in the United States, something he had repeatedly attempted for almost a decade, but had been opposed by the musician unions who, in 1929 cancelled his tour at the last minute.  Standard Oil signed Jack for a radio show on CBS, not only paying him and his star players, but also paying all expenses for those band members unable to play in the U.S. While in Chicago, Hylton made a number of records with his radio band for Victor but Union pressure led him to return to the UK in 1936. Pat O’Malley and Alec Templeton stayed in America, making a name for them-selves.

Upon returning to Britain, Jack was criticised for adopting the then-popular swing rhythm, so he kept playing in his well-established style, including a series of new “concert recordings”. After a new tour of Europe in 1937, which included a performance at the Scala in Nazi Germany, Hylton began appearing on radio more frequently, starring in Radio Luxembourg’s Rinso Radio Revue until 1939, when he appeared in BBC’s Band Waggon as well as its 1940 film adaption.  He mostly retired from the music industry after 1940, becoming a successful theatrical businessman until his death.

We’ll tell the story of another man of the times next week.

The man who earned the first Victoria Cross

It was on Wednesday 21st June 1854 that 20 year old Charles Davis Lucas won the first Victoria Cross. He came from County Monaghan in Ireland and had joined the Royal Navy when he was thirteen. Now twenty, he was a Mate on HMS Hecla as part of an Anglo-French fleet at the eastern end of the Baltic bombarding the Russian fortress of Bomarsund.  The fortress mounted some eighty massive guns and, as HMS Hecla drew closer to Bomarsund, a live shell landed on the Hecla’s deck and lay there, smoking evilly and obviously about to go off, to murderous effect.

Charles Lucas coolly picked the shell up, carried it to the ship’s side and dropped it into the sea, where it exploded with a huge bang and a giant fountain of spray. Lucas was promoted to lieutenant from that day and his was the first act of heroism to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The medal was not actually instituted until 1856, but it was made retroactive to cover the Crimean War. Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the decoration which bore her name and it was she who suggested the words ‘For Valour’ beneath the medal’s bronze Maltese cross – rather than ‘For the Brave’, which she pointed out could be taken to imply that other people were not.

Charles Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are now displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They are not the original medals though – they were left on a train and never recovered!  Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.

The crosses were actually made of metal from Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol. It was a crucial innovation that the medal was awarded completely regardless of rank and on no consideration other than a single act of valour or devotion in the presence of the enemy.

Many years later the writer C.S.Forester used this incident to good effect in one of his Hornblower stories.

1930 Britain and musicians from Grenada and South Africa

There had been mass unemployment in the 1920s in Britain with most of the decade it hovered between 10% and 12% unemployed.  However that was nothing to the early 1930s when the economy was struck by depression. By the start of 1933 Britain’s unemployment was 22.8% but over the following years unemployment fell substantially and by January 1936 it stood at 13.9% and by 1938 it was around 10%.  However, although a partial recovery took place in Britain in the mid and late 1930s there were semi-permanent depression areas in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales.  Depression and unemployment are one side of the story – but there is another side. During this decade most people with a job found that living standards rose significantly.

From about 1925 to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands.   The British bands never quite adopted the kind of “Swing” music that was generally associated with American “Big Band” jazz. It was quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally more sweet.  Billy Cotton had perhaps the longest fame, as he still had a prime-time TV programme until the late 1960s while the fame of Ted Heath lasted until 1964. Fans tended to divide them into “Sweet” such as that of Ambrose; Geraldo and Victor Silvester and the “Hot” of Harry Roy and Nat Gonella.  The Jack Hylton’s band was “hot” until 1933 – and then became sweeter as their success grew.

Some of the lead singers enjoyed fame on their own – and two of the most famous of the time were Al Bowlly and Leslie “Hutch” Huchinson.  Let’s take ‘Huch’ first:

Leslie Huchinson was born in Grenada in 1900 to George & Marianne Hutchinson.  As a child Hutch took piano lessons.  In 1916, he moved to New York City with the intent to study for a degree in medicine – he had won a place due to his high aptitude – but instead he began playing the piano and singing in bars.  He joined a black band led by Henry “Broadway” Jones, who often played for white millionaires such as the Vanderbilts.  This attracted the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan and, in 1924, Hutch left America for Paris.  There he had a residency in Joe Zelli’s club and became a friend and lover of Cole Porter.  There were regular visitors from England and, in 1927, Huch was encouraged by Edwin Mountbatten to come to England in 1927 to perform in a Rogers and Hart musical.  ‘Hutch’ soon became the darling of British society and the population in general. Hutch became a favourite singer of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and became one of the biggest stars in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s – and was, for a time, the highest paid star in the country.

He was regularly heard on air with the BBC and one of his greatest hits was “These Foolish Things”.  However – in spite of his popularity – Hutch could not escape racial prejudice.  He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead, patronised London’s best tailors, spoke five or six languages and was on friendly terms with the Prince of Wales – but he was still a black man in an era of racial discrimination. When he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was large, but he was often obliged to go in by the servants’ entrance. This embittered him.  None-the-less Hutch stayed on in England and we’ll come back to him at a later time.

Albert Allick Bowlly was a Mozambican-born South African/British singer/songwriter, composer and band-leader who became a popular jazz crooner during the British dance band era of the 1930s. He later worked in the United States and is recorded as making more than 1,000 records between 1927 & 1941.  He was born in Lourenco Marques, in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique to Greek and Lebanese parents who met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was brought up in Johannesburg and, after a series of odd jobs across South Africa in his youth, including being a barber and a jockey!  He gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa during the mid-1920s. However, he fell out with Adeler and was fired from the band in Indonesia and, after a spell with a Filipino band in Surabaya he was employed by Jimmy Liquime in India. Bowlly worked his passage back home by busking.  Next stop was Berlin where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Edgar Adeler! Bowlly arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizalde’s orchestra – but he nearly didn’t make it after foolishly frittering away the fare money he had sent to him by Elizalde.

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, and Bowlly had gone out on his own by the beginning of the 1930s. First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive. In the 1930s, he signed two contracts—one in May 1931 with Rox Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant in London, the other a record contract with Ray Noble’ orchestra in November 1930.

During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs and by 1933 Lew Stone had ousted Fox as bandleader, and Bowlly was singing Stone’s arrangements with Stone’s band. After much radio exposure and a successful British tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for personal appearances and gigs – including undertaking a subsequent solo British tour – but continued to make the bulk of his recordings with Noble.] There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly’s time as, for much of the year, Bowlly would spend all day in the recording studio with Noble’s band, rehearsing and recording, only then to spend the evening playing live at the Monseigneur with Stone’s band.

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!