My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Eating at the top of The Tower

London's Post Office tower was considered the height of luxury back in the 60s. The Revolving restaurant was hailed as "The Most Unique Restaurant in Great Britain" although looking at the photographs now it is not quite as glamorous as my memory would have me believe so perhaps I'm not a million miles away from the brief.

The original Top of the Tower restaurant opened in May 1966 and closed in 1980 amid security fears after an IRA bomb exploded close to the men’s toilets. 

Costing £2 million to construct, the tower is built from 13,000 tons of concrete, steel and glass. At the time of opening it was the tallest building in London and remained so until the building of the NatWest Tower in 1981.

Certificate of Orbit

The bearer has dined in orbit at the Top of the Tower, Butlin's revolving Restaurant, located 525 feet at the top of G.P.O. Tower Maple Street, London, W.1.

J. Arthur Dixon Natural colour photgravure
The Post Office Tower, London, the centre of a new telephone and television communications system. Two lifts convey the public to the top where there is an observation platform, a cocktail bar, and a revolving restaurant.

 Rank’s Look at Life documentary footage from 1966 on You Tube

We visited the Top of the Tower restaurant in the spring of 1969. Terry and I are on the left (as you look at the photo) with our friends Pauline and Michael on the right. Notice how Pauline and I are doing our best model poses for the camera!  Contrast that with the next photo where we have all dissolved into laughter over something or other. How I wish I could remember what! Sadly, Michael died a few years ago, but we are still in touch with Pauline and the three of us meet up from time to time. 

Today, the renamed BT Tower serves as a television network switching centre. Parts of the building are occasionally used for charity events and earlier this summer a pop-up restaurant served lunch and dinner to 1,400 diners selected at random by public ballot. The event celebrated half a century since the tower was officially opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on 8th October 1965.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday No. 293. To see the other Sepia Saturday posts go to the Sepia Saturday Blog and follow the links.

The Certificate of Orbit and postcards are from my own collection.

Friday, 7 August 2015

HMS Scarborough - A Guest Post by John Flitney

See previous post here

A Whitby class / Type 12. Anti-Submarine Frigate

Photograph reproduced from The Scarborough Story, 1959 - 1961 Conway Bourke Ltd. Gosport, Hants 

After completing the gunnery training at Excellent I, along with the others from the training class who were joining Scarborough spent a few weeks in the Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth, which was then named HMS Victory. No not that Victory, I am not that old. That famous ship is in permanent dry dock within the naval dockyard, (and well worth a visit) the barracks was a ‘stone frigate’ outside the dockyard and now renamed HMS Nelson. During those weeks I was able to get long weekend leave, Friday pm to Monday 0700. A local coach company provided coaches for service personnel to most of the major cities in the country and I could get on the one to Manchester and be dropped off at Carfax in Oxford and Dad would come and pick me up from there about 7pm. Only snag was that the return coach got to Oxford at 0330 Monday morning, not Dad’s favourite time of day.

In the barracks we began to meet others who would become our shipmates for the next twenty-one months. On the 29th September,1959 the whole ship’s company assembled for the first time in the RNB drill shed and from there marched to South Slip Jetty in the dockyard and halted alongside our new home HMS Scarborough. After the commissioning ceremony we went aboard and got acquainted with our accommodation and layout of the ship. After all the dockyard officials and other senior officers and dignitaries had left “Clear lower deck!” was piped and we all mustered on the forecastle for a welcoming speech from the captain and to be told what we would be doing in the near future.  The Captain, Captain Josef Bartosik DSC RN, had served with the Polish navy from 1935 - 1945 and then transferred to the British navy and was now appointed Captain (F) 5th Frigate Squadron, that was us and HMS Tenby and HMS Torquay, HMS Salisbury would join us later.

After a few days we sailed for Portland, Dorset, for our ‘shake down’ where we all got used to our routines and got to know our specific duties and places for work, defence and action stations. Then we started the ‘work up’ exercises, all manner of evolutions in harbour and at sea to bring us all together into an efficient fighting unit. That achieved we were sent to Londonderry to take part in a N.A.T.O. exercise ‘Sharpsquall’. Appropriately named as it started for us with a ferocious gale in the Foyle. Scarborough had to secure to a buoy for the night. This entailed securing one anchor to the fo’c’sle deck, parting the anchor cable from it and then passing the chain forward through the ‘Bullring’, a circular fairlead, right at the bows and down to the buoy. That was the easy bit, the difficult part on this particular night, as the wind and water were so rough, was attaching the chain to the ring on the buoy. Not an easy task at best but one made really hard and dangerous for the ‘buoy jumper’ in those conditions. I was one of the sea-boat’s crew for the task and the coxswain had great trouble getting close to the violently moving buoy without damaging the craft and close enough for the man to jump on the thing. The job was eventually achieved and by the time the boat was hoisted back inboard the crew were cold, wet and exhausted. We were sent to the sickbay and to my surprise and pleasure I was given my first tot of rum, I was under age at the time but this was for medicinal reasons, the M. O. said so. During these first weeks aboard we had all been making new friends and I discovered that two other seamen lived in Oxfordshire not many miles from Murcott. Dusty owned a car and when we had weekends free we would share the fuel cost and travel in style in his Ford Eight. This all ended sadly late one Sunday night on the way back to Pompey (Portsmouth). On the old A34 between Newbury and Whitchurch, miles from a phone box as per usual in these instances, the engine blew up putting a con-rod through the side of the crankcase.

Old A34

Not the best place to breakdown so we started walking and discussing what sort of big posh car we would like to stop and pick the three of us up. There was not a lot of traffic at that late hour but eventually a car stopped, it was a stylish Jaguar, leather seats etc. The driver kindly agreed to take us, so we all got in the back much relieved at our good fortune. He dropped us off outside Aggie Western’s Sailors Rest not far from the dockyard main gate. As I recall conversation in the car had dwindle after our discovery of some scanty female underwear on the floor of the vehicle. I think perhaps we were rather enviously speculating what sort of weekend the driver might have had. The other one in the trio was Roger, he and I became ‘oppos’ and would have many ‘runs ashore’ together. He was a keen Gilbert and Sullivan opera fan and introduced me to those delights. Christmas was spent in Portsmouth with leave to both watches. So half the crew were home for Christmas and the others for New Year. During this time the dockyard carried out some maintenance. Then after a few more refresher exercises off Portland and another brief stay in Portsmouth the squadron sailed for the Far East on March 4th. On the way we did a S.E.A.T.O exercise and had a 48 hours visit to Gibraltar. This was my very first time on foreign soil. I spent my evening ashore taking in the sights of the town and I particularly remember the Flamenco dancers in the bars. Gorgeous girls in flowing dresses, very lively music to which they danced and sang with passion, while playing castanets. I didn't drink much but went back aboard intoxicated with the beauty of it all.

From The Scarborough Story, 1959 - 1961  

From Gibraltar we accompanied HMS Ark Royal to Malta, doing various excises with the Mediterranean Fleet on the way.

From The Scarborough Story, 1959 - 1961  

After a few days there we sailed east again to Suez and through the canal stopping next at Aden. My brother Richard was stationed there with the RAF but due to the civil hostilities ashore ships leave was restricted and alas we couldn’t get to meet.

From The Scarborough Story, 1959 - 1961  

Both from my collection

On from Aden to Colombo and then to Singapore arriving there on the 4th of April. Where we would stay for two weeks. Here I quote the words of the ship’s magazine about those weeks

“This gave us time to find the advantages and disadvantages of Terror canteen, Tiger, Sambawang, Tiger, Johore Bahru, Tiger, Singapore itself and Tiger. By the end of the period we were prepared to settle for Tiger.” 

HMS Terror was the naval base/dockyard and barracks situated on the north side of Singapore Island. Close by the dockyard gate was a canteen and bar, here I sampled my first Tiger beer, a brew I still like to this day. When it was really hot weather Tiger Tops was a favourite as it was very refreshing. It was Tiger shandy really. When the bar got really busy there could be as many as nine barmen working flat out. They worked in threes, one pulling the pints, two at a time. His mate had what looked like a water-pistol in each hand, they were actually to dispense the draft lemonade and he would quickly fire a shot in each glass. Payment was made to the third member of the team while this was going on and you were away with your drinks in no time at all. Another first for me was Monsoon drains, large concrete open channels to take the huge amounts of rainwater during the Monsoon period. They could be on average two feet wide and three feet deep as were the ones around the canteen. I mention them now because late one evening at the canteen a group of us saw something amazing. Tables and chairs were set out around the outside of the bar and the further ones were down a flight of steps and over a monsoon drain. The path to and from the bar was poorly lit and the steps quite dark. A group of five came off shore and wanted a last drink, to top off the ones they had already consumed. They nominated the least inebriated among them to get the beers. He trundle off to the bar like he was walking the deck of a ship in a force nine gale. The drinks were served in tapered pint glasses, we saw him next leaving the bar in much the same fashion as he had approached it, only now he had the five glasses clutched between his huge hands. No tray for this boy! On reaching the steps he paused for a moment before starting down, toward the bottom he lost his balance but quickly recovered by taking several steps to his right. This put him away from the bridge and on the edge of the drain, we all held our breath but he quite nonchalantly stepped over it and with succinct directions from his mates made it back to the table. As it happened said table was on sloping ground and even then he managed to put the drinks on it without losing any beer the whole journey. For which he got a big cheer, after taking a bow he sat down and promptly fell backwards out of his chair. For which he got an even louder cheer.

Up in the barracks were all the usual offices, parade ground etc plus a NAAFI shop. There were one or two other shops and a barbers shop with most of the staff being pretty Asian girls. A crafty ploy, I think, by the Commander to encourage ‘Jack’ to get his hair cut regularly. Sambawang was a village close by the dockyard and I first went there with my oppo Roger. He had spent some of his childhood in Penang, an island 440miles up the northwest coast of Malaysia so had some knowledge of the area and he introduced me to the culinary delights of the Orient. Starting with a Chicken Chowmein type dish, at a street stall in the village. There were promises of a proper curry too once we got into Singapore city itself and a visit to the delights of Boogis Street…but that’s another story….

From The Scarborough Story, 1959 - 1961  

to be continued

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