Sounds of the 50s

This will be an odd one to write as it is to do with sounds and therefore does not lend itself as much to the visual element of a blog post. You will need to use your imaginations and,  if you date back to those times, your memories.

SHOPPING.

It occurred to me the other day when I was shopping in a local town that shops have a completely different sound to them now from when I was a child. I can’t climb back into those times and listen but here are some of the things I thought of which have changed.

Music. I don’t remember shops of any sort playing music in the store. Now most of them seem to. Some of them even have their own radio stations! I know Topshop had a very well known radio station for many years. Others which have or did have their own stations include Ikea, Debenhams and Asda. Announcements of special offers and new lines are frequently broadcast over the sound system in large supermarkets.

Tills. In any shop or restaurants these days the bleep is the normal sound of the tills. Bleep as each item is scanned, bleep as the amount is totalled, bleep when payment is entered, bleep for change and receipt. They are so low level and so universal that we don’t even notice them any more. Old fashioned tills had a loud ker-ching noise and a metallic clang as the drawer opened and shut.

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Examples of 1950s tills compared with a modern one

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Pneumatic Change Machines. Occasionally, on our shopping trips to a larger town or city, I would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of department stores. The different floors, the sales assistants in their neat uniforms, the lifts with uniformed attendants operating them and especially by the pneumatic cash tubes which dispensed your change and your receipt.The bill and your payment was sealed in a canister and posted into a tube. There was a whooshing noise and the canister was sucked into a network of tubes. Minutes later the case would be dropped back to the assistant with a receipt and any change due enclosed. I have had a lot of fun researching the pneumatic tube system. I thought it had disappeared but have learned that some hospitals now use the system to send materials – notes, medication etc around the building to different departments.

PneuCarrier

The case in which money and paperwork was sealed to be sent along the tubes.

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The bit we didn’t see behind the scenes!

Shop doors.

Most shops were small independent shops. The classic sound of a small shop was the bell (they all seemed to have the same sound) which rang when the door was opened and alerted the shopkeeper.

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Markets.

One kind of shopping which has sounded exactly the same for probably hundreds of years is the market. No piped music, no traffic noise, stall holders calling out their goods for sale and special offers.

vk_jorvik_marketplace     canal-street-market

Viking market.                                         Victorian market.

JS46380121      Broadway street market in the East End of London

1950s market.                                            Present day market.

ROADS AND RAILWAYS  – AND AIR TRAVEL!

Pedestrian crossings didn’t bleep. Car engines were noisier and there was often that dismal noise of a car failing to start while the driver turned the ignition key again and again. Some cars now such as the electric ones are almost completely silent.

As for pedestrians, we are all used to the bleeping crossing we have now. In the 50s there was only ‘Zebra Crossing’ with the Belisha Beacon and the black and white stripes.

belisha-beacon-300x196           High Street (2745) (Old) Antrim H1

Let’s not forget the chug of a steam driven train and the noise of the whistle – sounds which are guaranteed to make anyone of my age feel nostalgic!

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The sound of aircraft in the sky above is a common occurrence. Even if you don’t live on a main flight path you will hear regularly light aircraft and helicopters overhead. It was a novelty back in the 1950s although I do have a memory of the very occasional deafening boom and being told it was a plane breaking the sound barrier. I have no idea if that was right. Our valley was used for test flights by the RAF so we did have pairs of fighter planes zooming up in between the hills from time to time.

RADIO AND TV.

Whenever I come across and old clip of 1950s radio and TV broadcasts I am struck by two things – the quality of the sound and the accents of the presenters. We sometimes fail to realise how much progress has been made in a few decades of sound production. Radio broadcasts from the 50s now sound so crackly! Even 70s and 80s broadcasts sound poorer if we listen to them now. In Britain at that time, and well into the late 60s, early 70s, presenters had extremely posh accents. Indeed, a ‘cut glass’ English accent is still often referred to as a BBC accent (the BBC being the only broadcasting company here at that time).

bbc-radio-announcer-alvar-lidell-at-microphone-1942-england-uk

KITCHENS AND COOKING.

There is a lot more bleeping in kitchens these days! The bleep of the microwave, the bleep when the dishwasher has finished, the timer on the oven etc. Fridges are quieter, there is often the whirr of a food processor or the hum of a washing machine or dishwasher.

COMMUNICATION.

Phones only had one sound – no choice of ‘ringtone’ then! Sometimes you could be walking past a call box and hear it ring. People without house phones would give out the box number to friends and family for arranged times so that they could keep in touch. Doors mostly had knockers or just a door to knock on. If there was a doorbell, they all had the same sound. Nobody had burglar alarms or car alarms. Church bells were a familiar sound everywhere. Now many have now been silenced sometimes as a result of health and safety surveys, sometimes because of complaints from residents nearby. Households now have the sound of email and text messages from mobile phones, laptops and PCs and printers. Electronic gadgets have changed how we check the time. Back in the 50s, if a clock or watch stopped and you needed to check the time, you could call the ‘Speaking Clock’. A well-spoken man (it was always a man in those days!) would tell you the exact time to the second. In our house it was as a last resort only as there was a charge. Sounds which typify today are the ubiquitous ring tones of mobile phones and the sound of people walking along by themselves and deep in conversation on them.

 

A few other things I’ve heard about even if I didn’t experience them personally (because I lived in a remote farming area) are:

Rag_and_Bone_Man,_Miall_Street,_Rochdale,_Lancashire_-_geograph.org.uk_-_192836

The rag and bone man who drove along in his horse and cart calling out ‘rag and bone’ – I heard it occasionally when we stayed at my grandmother’s as she lived in a town.

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The hooter signalling the start and end of the shift at the mills.

 

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Children’s Favourites.

The children of today get into pop music whilst still in Primary School. When I was a small child in the 1950s our mums and dads listened to adults’ music like Rosemary Clooney, Anne Shelton,  Doris Day, Perry Como and Frankie Vaughan. I remember thinking it weird that so many of the songs seemed to be about love! We children had our own music. These were songs written and recorded as children’s songs. Some came from film musicals, some were based on traditional songs and others had been written simply to entertain kids. In the UK we had a radio programme called Children’s Favourites which was on the BBC’s Light Programme (Radio 2’s predecessor) on Saturday mornings from 9.00 am. Children wrote in with requests so every single record was preceded by the presenter reading out a message from a child saying which song they wanted to hear and why. From 1954 until 1965 the presenter was ‘Uncle Mac’ whose real name was Derek McCulloch and he’s the one I remember hearing every Saturday. The same songs were played, give or take a few, every week and carried on being popular for years not just weeks or months – and we loved them! I have written about some of the ones I remember best and I’ve also included any facts and figures I’ve discovered whilst researching for the post.

derek-mcculloch  ‘Uncle Mac’ the voice of Saturday mornings in the 1950s.

 

henry-blair-with-ray-turner-sparkys-magic-piano-no4-capitol-78 ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano’ is the second in a series of children’s audio stories featuring Sparky, an original character created for Capitol Records in 1947. Sparky is a little boy with an overactive imagination. His adventures involve inanimate objects which magically come to life and talk to him. This is the one I remember best. Sparky’s voice was Henry Blair and the magic piano’s voice was created using a piece of equipment called Sonovox.

 

lpws_song  I was amazed to read that the song ‘The Laughing Policeman’ which I used to hear in the 50s had been recorded in 1926! Charled Penrose sang it and it was written by him and his wife but based on ‘The Laughing Song’ by George Johnson which was first recorded in the 1890s. This was proper music hall stuff!

mqdefault  Big Rock Candy Mountain next. I loved this song! I loved the way Burl Ives’ wonderful voice and the fantasy world described in the lyrics painted vivid pictures in your mind as you listened. His ‘I Know an Old Lady’ was another regularly played song.

61dbU5VR7rL._SX425_ In 1952, a film was released based on the life of Danish story teller Hans Christian Andersen. Several of the popular songs of the 50s were from this film. Danny Kaye starred as Andersen and sang the ones I remember best – ‘The King’s New Clothes’, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

2.Nellie_LabelRecorded in 1956, written by Ralph Butler and sung by Mandy Miller the song ‘Nellie the Elephant’ was used for many years to teach the correct rate for compressions in CPR in First Aid classes. Expert opinions differ so don’t take it as gospel!

download  The tune to ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ was written by John Walter Bratton in 1907 and the lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy in 1932. Irish born Kennedy lived in Somerset and is buried there. Local folklore claims that a wood in Staplegrove Elm, Somerset was the inspiration for the song. The popular 1950s version was recorded by Val Rosing.

lita1  This novelty song, written by Bob Merrill in 1952, is reputed to be loosely based on the folk tune Carnival of Venice. A recording by Lita Roza was the one most widely heard in the UK, reaching No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1953. It also distinguished Roza as the first British woman to have a number-one hit in the UK chart as well as being the first song to reach number 1 with a question in the title.

article-2196740-14C8D8CE000005DC-199_634x491.jpg  Two children’s Favourites perennials were ‘You’re a Pink Toothbrush’ and ‘Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer’ by Max Bygraves. He was seen as the amiable family man but was reputed to be a serial philanderer who had many extra-marital affairs, some resulting in children. He did, however, remain devoted to his wife until the end of her life when they were both in their late eighties.

ronnie-hilton-a-windmill-in-old-amsterdam-1965    1339-800x800  Yorkshire born Ronnie Hilton was a popular ballad singer who had several hits in the 50s including a  Number One hit in 1953. His very popular children’s song was ‘The Windmill in Old Amsterdam’.

hqdefault             michael-holliday-the-runaway-train-columbia-78 This was such a fun song! So far I have been unable to find out whether ‘The Runaway Train’ is based on a true story. Liverpool born Holliday was hailed as Britain’s answer to crooners like Sinatra. However, he was plagued with mental health issues and died from a suspected overdose in his late thirties.

These were listened to on the radio and I never saw any pictures relating to the songs but I could picture them in my mind as clearly as if I was watching a music video as kids do today.

 

Pictures sourced using Google images, facts courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thanks too to my friend Lynn who reminded me about ‘High Hopes’ by Frank Sinatra. The song, from the 1959 film ‘A Hole in the Head’, describes two scenarios where animals do seemingly impossible acts. First, an ant moves a rubber tree plant by itself, then a ram single-handedly destroys a “billion kilowatt dam”. The song featured a chorus of children’s voices and has quite motivational lyrics – but I just thought it was a fun song!

romanticism-soundtrack-project-a-rose-7-638      frank-sinatra

Motivational words.                                      Frank Sinatra in 1959.

Space Exploration in the 50s and 60s.

As I follow Tim Peake’s travels in the news I have to remind myself how much Space travel has advanced in my lifetime. We take it all in our stride now and read Tim Peake’s adventures much as we would follow a Polar expedition. But then I stop and think. It is absolutely amazing that travelling to Space has become ‘normal’ in a handful of decades.

My memories are just that – my own personal recollections and impressions. This is not a scientific account. I have checked dates for accuracy but the rest is my own thoughts.

When I was a very small child the sky had stars, the Sun and the Moon in it and that was the sum total of my knowledge of Space. Children’s stories and rhymes of the time talked about the Man in the moon. We used to gaze up on a clear night and try and make out his face.

Moon          moon (1)          Moon

In 1957 the first satellite was launched into Space and the name Sputnik became a household word. I was distressed to hear about a little dog being sent up to Space by herself. Several dogs went up into Space and the idea haunted me. I particularly remember hearing about one whose Russian name meant Little Lemon. All of this was followed on the radio as I was ten before we had our first television.

Laika_(Soviet_dog) Laika, the first dog in Space.                                         Laika_ac_Laika_(6982605741)Her monument in Moscow.

Bush-radio

My next main memory of Space travel is that of the first man to be launched into Space, Yuri Gagarin. This was in April 1961. I was in my last year at Primary School. My little village school had around 30 pupils and two teachers, Our Head Mr Lewis acquired the school’s first television in time for us to watch the TV coverage of the launch as it fell on a school day. This was such an exciting thing to happen! The first man in Space and the school’s first TV!!

It would probably have looked like these and the picture was, of course, in black and white.

tv 2    1961 tv

A lot of other things happened before and after Yuri Gagarin – more dogs went into Space and some returned, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in Space and the first men stepped onto the moon. In 1970 I was a first year university student and although there were televisions in most Common rooms (definitely none in students’ rooms!) the only colour set on the whole campus was in the main Union building. In April 1970 Apollo 13 was launched and loads of us crowded into the common room with the colour TV to see this major event. I couldn’t actually see very much as I was right at the back behind a huge crowd of other students who had got in there first – but I didn’t care, I was there! Apollo 13 was the ill-fated one which suffered an explosion and had to limp back sooner than planned – with no loss of life, fortunately!

tv4 The 1970 TV was probably something like this with a larger screen than the 1961 models and a few more buttons.