Category Archives: 20th century

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.

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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.

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.

The wars are over and a new world begins

With the end of the conflict both sides of the Atlantic took a deep breath and moved on.  The third decade of the 20th century- the 1920s – looked exciting.  It would be the decade that marked the beginning of the modern music era. The music recording industry was just beginning to develop and a myriad of new technologies was coming along.  That would help to create the way music would be made and distributed.

By the 1910s the first commercial public radio stations had begun broadcasting in the United States and, once radio became widespread and popular, the worlds of radio and recorded music began to merge. The music recording industry’s profits dropped with the proliferation of commercial radio and, beginning in 1923, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) required licensing fees to play their music on the radio. A final influence on the music industry came near the end of the decade when silent movies turned into “talkies”, incorporating recorded sounds and creating a whole new venue for the distribution of popular music. Movie versions of Broadway musicals became extremely popular and introduced different types of music to audiences across the world.

What we all know is that the modern music industry developed wider skills in the 1920s with all of the new technologies that were created and used to make and distribute music. The music world was wide open, making way for the popularization of genres like Jazz, Blues, Broadway and Dance Bands.

The gramophone had been created in the late 1880s; become popular in the early 1900s and developed the way the music was recorded in the mid-1920s. As the recording process improved, a number of independent record labels began to appear and, in doing so, helped to expand the modern music industry.  For many this expanded in the harbour city of Charleston in South Carolina.

The Charleston was a dance with rhythm that had popularized the mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 composer/pianist – one James P. Johnson.  It was called “The Charleston” and had originated in a Broadway show ‘Running Wild’ and became one of the most popular hits of the decade.  The show itself only ran from 29th October 1923 to 28th June 1924 but the Charleston, as a dance by the public, peaked in the mid-1926 to 1927.

The Charleston – and similar dances such as the Black Bottom which involved “Kicking up your heels – were very popular through to the end of the 1920s

Jazz music had begun in the early 1900s within the New Orleans community and reached the mainstream in the 1920s when Southern African American musicians began moving up to Chicago looking for work. The Twenties are often called the Jazz Age because the popularization of that music had an enormous cultural effect.  The music was important because it influenced fashion, dances, accepted moral standards, youth culture, and race relations. It was one of the first types of music to be culturally appropriated by the American white middle class and Jazz scholars often separate the music into “Jazz” and “White Jazz”. This marked a difference in style and meaning between original African American jazz artists and popularized white jazz artists. Jazz music was also popular on the newly booming radio networks and it was one of the ways that white musicians appropriated and popularized the music as many national stations refused to play records by black artists at the time.

Two predominant black artists that had popularity and played in jazz bands. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were two, while one influential white jazz artist at the time was Bix Beiderbecke. Jazz gained popularity and spread through the country in clubs, speakeasies, and dance halls where Jazz bands would play their new music.

We’ll have a looks at Britain’s music work next week!

The world is changing – and perhaps not for the better

It’s the second decade of the 20th century and the world continues to develop and change.

At this time Great Britain was at the centre of the world’s largest empire, a beneficiary of colonial resources and trade.  It occupied territory on four different continents and was at the centre of a vast trading and commercial empire.  However, domestically, 19th century Britain was often unsettled by demands for improved conditions and political reform.  British rulers had engaged in imperial expansion over the years but had sought to avoid war – a policy dubbed ‘splendid isolation’.  However – this policy approach was waning in the early 1900s as British interest concentrated on events in Europe, particularly the unification of Germany and the expansionist policies adopted by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In the USA Sophie Tucker was singing of ‘Some of These Days’; Arthur Collins & Byron Harlan were telling us all about ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.  We also have the American Quartet group singing  ‘Moonlight Bay’; Billy Murray telling the story of ‘Casey Jones’ while Al Jolson was singing ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)’ to the US population at large.

By 1914 Britain was no longer the dominant economic power in Europe. It still had the world’s largest shipbuilding industry but in other areas such as coal, iron, chemicals and light engineering, Britain was being out-performed by Germany.

Britain was a constitutional monarchy under George V with a government formed by the majority party of the House of Commons with members being elected by some 8 million registered male voters. The aristocratic House of Lords had limited power to veto legislation.

Since the later part of the 19th century the British government had considered Germany to be the main threat to its empire. This was reinforced by Germany’s decision in 1882 to form a Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy – an alliance to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.  France felt threatened by the Triple Alliance and was concerned by the growth in the German Navy and, in 1904, the two countries had signed the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding) with the objective of the alliance was to encourage co-operation against the perceived German threat. Three years later Russia, who also feared the growth of the German Army, joined Britain and France – and the ‘Triple Entente’ was formed.

By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain’s overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  The USA had no links with either side at this time.

Despite everything, there was music to generate some cheerfulness.  One such number was ‘Pack up your troubles in your old Kit Bag – and Smile, Smile, Smile’ written in 1915 by Welsh brothers Felix Powell – an army staff sergeant – and George Henry Powell who became a conscientious objector.  A later play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song.  In its many ways it became very popular and boosted British morale despite the horrors of that war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces, or defending Britain’s war aims. Here are the words if you want to turn back those challenging times:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile. While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile, boys, that’s the style.  What’s the use of worrying?  It never was worthwhile, so pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile.

Another of these songs, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ was so similar in musical structure that the two were sometimes sung side by side.

The aftermath of Marlene Dietrich’s life

It was on Saturday 6th May 1992 that Marlene Dietrich died of renal failure at her flat in Paris – she was 90.  Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday 14th May 1992 and her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. It was rather a surprise, therefore, when the U.S. institutions showed no interest at all in Marlene’s estate.  Germany was different: the Deutsche Kinemathek had officially opened in February 1963 with Gerhard Lamprecht as its founding director. Over the following decades he had meticulously put together an extensive collection of films, documents and equipment. The City State of Berlin had acquired this collection and then handed it over to the new institution for its preservation and use.

It must be remembered that Marlene was German by birth and, on Sunday 24th October 1993, the largest portion of her estate was sold to Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek – and that very soon became the core of the exhibition at Filmmuseum Berlin.

Marlene’s collection included some 3,000 textile items from the 1920s to the 1990s, including film and stage costumes as well as over a thousand items from Marlene’s personal wardrobe.  There was also a photograph collection containing some 15,000 photographs from various sources including Cecil Beaton and Lord Snowdon.  There were also 300,000 or so pages of documents with correspondence from such individuals as Yul Brynner / Orson Wells / Nancy & Ronald Reagan / Ernest Hemingway and Burt Bacharach.

Separate to this there was Marlene’s Manhattan apartment along with her personal effects.  The personal items – such as jewellery and items of clothing were sold by public auction at Sotheby’s in Los Angeles on Saturday 1st November 1997.  Her former apartment at 993 Park Avenue, Manhattan was sold for $615,000 in 1998.

In 1992 a plaque was unveiled at Leberstrase 65 in Berlin-Schöneberg, the site of Marlene’s birth and on Thursday 14th August 1997 a postage stamp bearing her portrait was issued in Germany.

Glamorous star of the cinema screen, idolised vamp and charismatic diva – Marlene Dietrich was one of the most captivating women of the 20th century. In spite of her fame, star-performer’s salary and brilliant Hollywood career, the “Blue Angel” always remained true to her ideals and lived according to her own code of conduct, which not only made her perhaps the most uncompromising star of her era, but also a role model for all women who believe in realizing their visions.

The War was over and Marlene moved on

After the 2nd World War things began to change for so many people.  Marlene was one of them! In 1953 she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.  The show was short and mainly consisting of a few songs associated with Marlene and her daringly sheer “nude dress” – a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé that gave an illusion of transparency.  Surprise Surprise – it attracted a lot of publicity!  One of these ‘attractions’ led to her being signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.  She also had her Las Vegas contracts renewed.   From that point forward to the mid-1970s she was a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities world-wide.

Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together, they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach’s arrangements helped to disguise her limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Francis Wyndham offered a critical appraisal of the phenomenon of ‘Dietrich in Concert’ when he wrote in 1964: “What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist’s sleight of hand and the stooge’s desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience’s sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her.”

At this time Burt Bacharach felt he needed to devote his full-time to song writing. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964.  However – Marlene had come to rely on him in order to perform and, in a TV interview in 1971 she credited Bert Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years. She said:-

‘From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…  He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro.’

In November 1972 a version of Marlene’s Broadway show ‘An Evening with Marlene Dietrich’ was filmed in London.  It was titled ‘I Wish You Love’ and Marlene as paid $250,000 for her co-operation but she was unhappy with the result. Non-the-less the show must go on and in January 1973 it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US.
Continue reading The War was over and Marlene moved on

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”