World Cup Heroes: Jimmy Greaves

From the point of view of a ten year old in the thrall of World Cup football it was hard to believe that Jimmy Greaves – that amiable joker on Saturday lunchtime telly, where he presented a football show called ‘On The Ball’ – was a genuine England football legend. Dad was sanguine. “You should have seen him play back in the day. He was amazing. He would have been playing in that 1966 World Cup Final if...

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Who Was Erik Rhodes?

Erik Rhodes is one of those actors from the dim and distant past whose name no one remembers. But the instant he appears on screen you know. He was a Broadway bit-parter born in Oklahoma who hit upon a role that propelled him to stardom. He played a thick-skinned suave continental gigolos so well that he would almost steal the show from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with the finest barrage of one-liners in movie history. Twice. Who...

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The Man in Black: The Legend of Dale Earnhardt

The Man in Black: The Legend of Dale Earnhardt. It was on the third lap of the 2002 Daytona 500 that the tribute began. Fans stood silently as the NASCAR field thundered on. Fittingly the leading cars, the silver 29 and the NAPA 15 were both owned by Dale Earnhardt Incorporated – and the fans held hands aloft with three fingers high. The intent was to remember friends and heroes but at that moment they had only one man in mind....

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Paul Robeson’s Proud Valley

As the shadows of World War II were beginning to cast long shadows over London, Ealing Studios were beginning an ambitious new film. It was shot partly in the coal mining region of South Wales, and adapted the story of a black miner from West Virginia who drifted to Wales by way of England, searching for work. It documented the hard realities of Welsh coal miners’ lives and at the same time created a role that its star, legendary...

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Just Kids – Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

I first heard Patti Smith as a teenager. The song – if you can call it a song, was Piss Factory, an extraordinary conversational poem set to haunting improvised free-jazz piano by Richard Sohl. It turned out to be from Patti Smith’s first recording session, and tells a story partly related to her time working in a low paid job back in New Jersey, at a factory that made baby buggies. It was a soul destroying environment,...

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Ted Hughes, An Unauthorized Life

Andy Royston walks out on the wily windy moors with the ghost of Ted Hughes. Poor Heathcliff trying to tear away the veil between death and life… crying out to Cathy’s soul… to haunt him and torment him… till he died.” Emily Brontë “I have often had the fancy that there is one myth for every man, which, if we but knew it, would make us understand all he did and thought” W.B. Yeats Living as I...

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The Train Whistle Blows

You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. George Bailey – It’s A Wonderful Life. It seems quite odd these days to imagine inventing the steam engine but not having any means of signalling a train’s imminence. But when George Stephenson was developing his steam engines, back in 1814, his first engines travelled so slowly and made such a racket...

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Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett

Accentuate the Positive – The language of Louise Bennett. Back in my high school days the deputy headmaster was trying to make a point about accent and dialect. He turned to me and suddenly I was held up as an example of someone making no effort to speak properly; what he called the Queen’s English. I was dumbfounded (or should I say gobsmacked) by this. I hadn’t considered that the way that I spoke made any...

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Off the Beaten Track – England’s Fabulous Footpaths

One of my favourite places on this wonderful planet of ours is Charleston Farmhouse way out in the English countryside. It sits below the Firle Beacon on the Sussex South Downs and was the country retreat of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, leading members of the famed Bloomsbury Set. It’s a beautiful setting and a lovely house to visit, beautifully cared for by the Charleston Trust. The old farm, featuring a brick house...

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Electrophobia!

Andy Royston looks into the darker side of this newfangled electricity fad. I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak . . . and so soon as the dazzling light vanished the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. . . . I eagerly inquired of my father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, “Electricity.”- Victor Frankenstein 1880, New York City. The metropolis...

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All Time Hero: Jack Johnson

We learn and grow, we make heroes of our own. For me, being a child of the 60s there were astronauts and civil rights leaders, soccer stars and Olympic champs. Gran loved her music, so Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson and Ray Charles were high on my list. Dad’s a big sports fan, and Cassius Clay impressed as much by his trash talking as his skills in the ring. The undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. If someone wanted to...

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A Soap Opera – The Invention of Sunlight

Andy Royston gets all in a lather about a bar of soap. “I know half my advertising isn’t working, I just don’t know which half”. W.H. Lever Before Victorian times hard soap would be made at home – a simple mix of ashes and fat, with dry weather and salt to set the soap. If you bought, you would buy a piece cut from a block. In the 1800s block soap was simple stuff. There were about a half dozen basic...

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Tribute to Mum and Dad – Joan and Colin

Andy Royston celebrates his parents, Joan and Colin, Yorkshire born and bred. Inspired by Sam Monaco’s moving tribute to his own parents.   The older I get, and the more people that I meet, I’m beginning to realize that I must be the luckiest man in the world. I didn’t think so when I was a kid, growing up in a small farming village at the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfields. I didn’t think that I was...

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Best of British – Night Mail

Andy Royston celebrates Night Mail, one of the most influential documentary films of all time. “If you wanted to see what camera and sound could really do, you had to see some little film sponsored by the Post Office or the Gas, Light & Coke company.” J.B. Priestley For much of the time between the wars the General Post Office (GPO) was the largest employer in Britain. It was at the leading edge of business practice...

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Of Palm Trees and Buried Treasure

Since men first set out to sea there have been tales of imaginary islands. A disc of sand and a coconut palm tree anchored in an azure ocean; a pirate’s treasure buried beneath and some unexpected stories to tell. As a child I was hooked on all those stories. Swashbuckling buccaneers and buried gold from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, castaway tales from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Captain Nemo’s...

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Re-inventing Key Largo

By the time that Maxwell Anderson wrote his prose play Key Largo, the drama’s island setting on the southern tip of Florida had almost erased the name. Anderson’s self-important drama was actually focused on the Spanish Civil war and was written in the form of a Shakesperean tragedy. The trip to Florida by the plays protagonist King McCloud (Key West is his destination) was one of atonement as he seeks out a fallen...

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Those Loftus Road Nights

Night time matches were the best. Early evening I’d head up into the setting sun to East Acton where my young mate Hiro lived, then we’d walk back down to the Bush and join the gathering crowds. We never missed a home game and took in a few away trips too.  We’d started going to games back when Rangers were really good, “top team in London” under the guidance of coach Gerry Francis and led by the mighty...

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Ring in the Spring – Woodland Bluebells

It’s been a long time since I lived within walking distance of an English wood. At this time of year the best ones become a magical perfumed carpet of blue flowers and can’t help but remind me of a childhood long gone. On visits to England I always to try to take a walk through the woodlands, to breathe in that heady scent concoction: Gorse, wild garlic, Scots pine, wet woodland, hawthorn blossom, honeysuckle, stinkhorn,...

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The First Car I Ever Drove

“I’m going to check on a car I have in a showroom, and I need your help,” said Rich. “You coming?” It was a fine Florida morning and the nice cherry red XJ6 Vanden Plas that Rich drove was a classy motor with good air conditioning. What London lads would call a proper eyeballer. I had nothing else to do so I said “OK, let’s go”. Ten miles later we pulled off US-1 and into the lot of a...

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Who were Charters and Caldicott

I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching a classic movie I’m always taken by the characters on the edge of the action. The more than curious bystander who gets caught up in the action almost accidentally. Take Alfred Hitchcock’s classic take on Agatha Christie’s novel The Lady Vanishes. Two inept and veddy British cricket fans  are amongst passengers on a train out of the European country of...

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A quart of Ale is a dish for a King

Growing up in rural England knowing a good beer should be second nature. But I grew up in a period in England when there was a big push for this new lighter coloured stuff called lager. Most kids of my age had dads who had a love of those big Party Seven keg cans that were impossible to open. The stuff inside wasn’t easy on a pre-teen palette, but to dad a good home party needed Worthington E, Double Diamond, Youngs Tartan, and...

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