My childhood recollections of 1950s policemen (no policewomen then!) are based on the ones I knew from story books and from seeing PC’s on point duty when we went away on holiday to bigger towns than ours. Point duty was what came before roundabouts and traffic lights and they wore white oversleeves to make them easily visible. It was a very important duty because there were no motorways or by-passes so all main routes passed through towns. A journey to a summer holiday destination involved queue after queue.
Mr Plod was the kindly policeman in the Noddy stories.
Also by Enid Blyton, The Famous Five and the Secret Seven were always having adventures and sorting out misdeeds. The policeman was usually there at the end to take them safely home or to thank them.
Dixon of Dock Green and, later, Z-Cars were two police dramas of the 50s and 60s and were much loved by everyone. They were very tame and innocent compared with today’s crime dramas.
The friendly neighbourhood copper and the village ‘Bobby on a bicycle ‘ were images which formed our ideas of the police as friendly, helpful and kind.
Finally, a note about a policeman very well known in the area I live in now. Bill Harber was the iconic policeman with the distinctive handlebar moustache who was on point duty in the Barnsley town centre in the fifties and sixties before Barnsley was by-passed by the M1.
Bill, who died in 2017 aged 86, is well remembered from his decades directing traffic in Barnsley town centre and became almost a landmark. I started work in Barnsley in 1974 and used to see him on duty in the town.
When I was a child the job choices were far more limited than they are for today’s youth. If your family were farmers, ran a shop, a pub or other business you were destined to move into that after school. If there wasn’t a family business for you, you either worked for one of the local businesses or industries or you ventured further afield. So, in my primary school days, our career aspirations were based on what we had experienced so far, which was either connected to the family’s income, or to the working people we had come across in our lives. I can remember being eight or nine and thinking that boys were so lucky because they could be train drivers, doctors or firemen. Showing a gender issue at that time which has changed somewhat over the years – but very slowly.
‘Business and jobs in the 1950s differed significantly from what we see today. Comparatively, family shops thrived, men were the primary breadwinners and diversity in the workforce was lacking.Men had jobs similar to those of today, without the computer and technology field, which wasn’t nearly what it is today. Jobs were mainly industrial or agricultural, with many men working in blue-collar jobs as mechanics, plumbers, bus drivers, warehouse workers and road construction workers. Some worked in office jobs as executives and middle management. If women did work, they were secretaries, teachers, nurses, stewardesses and shorthand typists. Small businesses were also abundant, including family run shops such as newsagents, sweet shops, shoe repair shops, chemist shops (we didn’t call them pharmacies then) and food markets. People shopped locally back then, and the small stores thrived.’
I loved the game Happy Families – but I’ve never actually met a candlestick maker.
I sometimes muse on the fact that many of my peers’ children are in careers which didn’t even exist back in the 50s and 60s. Some of this is to do with new technology, some to do with renaming of existing roles. Some, however, are so new we could never have imagined them several decades ago. Imagine meeting an adult in the 50s who said ‘I’m a Web Designer.’ ‘I’m in HR.’ ‘I’m in Logistics.’ ‘I’m a food innovator.’ or ‘I work in IT.’
Office interiors 1950s and now.
Post Office sorting depots 1950s and now,
1950s switchboard and a call centre of today.
Photographs and information thanks to Google Images, Wikipedia. I make every effort to use filters which ensure I don’t infringe copyright but if anyone objects to the use of an image in this blog please contact me so that I can remove it.
After publishing Words No Longer With Us recently, I kept thinking of other words and expressions which were in use in Britain in the 50s and rarely heard now. So here are a few more!
Words connected to telephones in the 1950s.
Transfer charge call/ Party line/Crossed line/ Button A/ Button B – There is no such thing as a party line now and I don’t think anyone gets crossed lines any more. For those who don’t remember them, both involved another person coming in on your phone conversation. I don’t know if it’s still possible to make a transfer charge call but I used the system on several occasions when I needed to phone home from a call box and didn’t have the right coins.
This one came to mind the other day. Cradle is still in use as an adjective as in cradling someone or something in your arms. I remember my baby sister sleeping in a cradle when she was tiny, before she went into a cot. It was the word used in the expression ‘from the cradle to the grave’ and in nursery rhymes like Rock a Bye Baby. Now the little baskets are always called moses baskets, cribs or occasionally carry-cots.
Words to do with records
A side and B side/ 45/ 78/ LP/ Juke box – Juke boxes could be found in cafes and pubs everywhere and were such fun to use. You could select a few songs if you had the right coins and then enjoy hearing them played when their turn came in the queue. Records (vinyl discs) were often known by their size. We referred to a 45, a 78 or an LP. Because records had two playable sides there was always the A side, which was the song you bought the record for, and the B side which was a less known, often inferior song. An afterthought – what is a juke?
Pullover/ jersey/ – We didn’t have sweaters back in the ‘old days’. The word jumper was used and still is but more commonly we called them pullovers or jerseys.
Coms/ Liberty Bodice/ Petticoat – These are underwear terms. Coms was short for combinations. The word referred to an item of male underwear which was a vest and long johns combined. In the 50s, when I was young, they were still worn by old men. Less so by younger men of my dad’s generation.
Young children often wore a special sort of vest in winter called a Liberty Bodice. Most people my age remember them. My mum didn’t make us wear them, I’m not sure why, but I don’t think we missed out as my friends all say they hated them. The photo will explain what they looked like.
My mum wore a petticoat all her life. Now known as a slip or an underskirt, they are no longer an everyday item of underwear. My mum and other women of her generation would have felt undressed without one. She had summer ones and winter one and always favoured the full rather than the waist petticoat.
Pinny/ Mac/ Frock/ Sunday Best – Back in ‘the old days’ women always wore aprons in the kitchen. Back to my mum again – she wore one all her life and would put it on even if she was only going in to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and a sandwich. A dress was always known as a frock when I was little. You only ever hear it used now in a semi-serious way as in ‘I’m going to wear a posh frock’. I heard the expression Sunday Best used the other day and I realised that I hadn’t heard it in ages!
As always, my thanks and credit to Google, Google Images and Wikipedia. I make every effort not to infringe copyright but if anyone objects to my use of an image, contact me and I will remove it.
Many thanks to Liz, a follower of this blog, for suggesting this post after reading the last one on new words.
Gumption – This was a term for common sense. ‘Use your gumption.’ ‘She’s got no gumption.’ were the kind of things heard in conversation. My mum even used to shorten it when exasperated ‘Where’s your gumpsh?’ would be the sort of thing we’d hear her say. You can’t photograph common sense so here’s an ad for a household cleaner which was very popular here in the 50’s and was called – Gumption! I haven’t seen it for donkey’s years. So I had a rummage on the Internet. It’s long gone from here but is still available in Australia. I found a big tub of it for sale on Ebay. It was £4.13 to buy plus £23.06 postage.
Cheerio – We all know there is a cereal called Cheerios. Cheerio hasn’t completely disappeared as a word but is much less heard than in the 50s. Cheerio! for goodbye was very common back then. Even though it’s not completely dead and is still used, albeit less so, I’ve put it in here because I wanted to tell you how it originated. It was used first in London in the 17th Century and came about because when rich people wanted to hail cab, which was actually a sedan chair, they would call out of a window ‘Chair, Ho!’ The sound of this call became associated with leaving on a journey and evolved into Cheerio!
Drawers – No, not the ones you keep your underwear in. This is your actual underwear. In Victorian times knickers/ pants/ underpants were known as drawers. It was still in use by older people when I was a child and now is probably only ever used humorously – by those who remember what drawers were. I won’t bother with a picture for this one!
Cravat – The word and the item still exist but I can’t remember when I last saw a man wearing one or heard the word spoken. Here is the lovely Michael Caine sporting a jaunty number.
Natty – My mum used to use this. I never hear it now. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘(of a person or an article of clothing) smart and fashionable.’ If we were out somewhere and saw a gent in a loud or bad taste suit she would quip, quietly, ‘That’s a natty bit of gent’s suiting!’ Her dad, my grandfather, was a tailor so perhaps she got the expression from him.
Trews/ Slacks/ Flannels – All words for trousers, all now somewhat archaic. Slacks were more casual and could be men’s or women’s. Standard grey men’s trousers, usually worn with sports jackets or blazers, were always called flannels. Flannel is a soft woven fabric, of various fineness, originally made from carded wool or worsted yarn, but is now often made from either wool, cotton, or synthetic fibre.
Wireless – Once a noun, now an adjective. We still use the word wireless and it now describes an electronic connection made without wires. When I was a child in the 50s, the radio was never referred to as a radio. It was the wireless.
Gramophone – This was the first term used to describe a machine which played discs. This then morphed into record player and later into deck.
Radiogram – This was a radio and record player (gramophone and wireless) combined and cleverly disguised as a sideboard. Some also had a space for storing records. My mum and dad bought one when I was 8 or 9 and I thought it was amazing!
HP/ Never-Never – From the 1930s, if you wanted to purchase goods but couldn’t afford to buy them outright, there was the option of a hire-purchase agreement also known as the never-never. Credit cards, standing orders and direct debits didn’t exist.
Florin, shilling, sixpence, threepence, farthing, halfpenny, ten bob note, crown, half-crown, guinea etc – these are all words from our old currency. When we decimalised we only kept the pounds and the pennies (pence). When I was very young, and for many years before that, public toilets always had a slot on the door which took one penny. This gave rise to the very British expression ‘spend a penny’ which isn’t heard as much now.
Shooting Brake – These quirky vehicles were popular in the 50s and for some reason were known as shooting brakes. Basically an estate car with a wooden trim, they had a very distinctive look.
Wellington Boot/ Gumboot/ Galoshes – now always just called wellies. At some point in the early 1800s Arthur Wellesley, then Viscount Wellington, asked his shoemaker, Mr George Hoby of St James’s Street, London, to make a boot which was easier to wear with the new, fashionable, tighter-fitting trousers. Hoby removed the tassel and cut the boots lower to make them more comfortable for riding. Meanwhile, in 1856 the Edinburgh-based North British Rubber Company had started to manufacture Britain’s first rubber or ‘gum’ boots. With the name of the duke still retaining a patriotic pull on consumers, these new boots were soon also renamed Wellingtons in Britain. Their popularity did not become widespread until the First World War, when in 1916 the company was commissioned to produce millions of pairs as standard winter kit for ordinary soldiers, to prevent ‘trench foot’, a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure to damp. At the end of the war, soldiers brought them home and introduced these extremely practical items of footwear to farms, gardens and allotments all over the country. A century later, music festivals and fashion catwalks are still benefiting from this wartime legacy.
As always, I need to say that all my images are sourced from the Internet using filters in the hope that I don’t infringe copyright. If anyone objects to the use of any image please contact me immediately and I will remove it.
Credit to Wikipedia, English Heritage, Pinterest, OED, Historic UK
This follows on from the last blog post. In that one I looked at the TV programmes aimed at young children and timed to fit in between getting back from school and the family meal. After the six o’clock news there was another slot where programmes were shown which could be enjoyed by whole families before the kids went to bed. Pre-watershed we would say now! Here are the ones which are etched into my memory which were shown in one of those two slots or on Saturday afternoon. Yes, there was some daytime TV on a Saturday! Mostly sport and some family entertainment.
Dixon of Dock Green – Oh, how we loved this programme! I see now that it had already been running several years when we got TV and that it carried on into the seventies. Police dramas are big in TV now and this was one of the first. But it was so mild, so everyday, so genteel and polite! If you watched it – you’ll know exactly what I mean. Evening all!
Z Cars – This was the second police drama in my life. For a while they ran concurrently. It was a bit more high speed and punchy – but still very tame compared with police dramas of today.
R.C.M.P. – A Canadian (obviously!) made series which ran for a couple of years in the early sixties, we loved this! I can’t now remember any of the characters or stories but we looked forward to every week’s episode.
Whirlybirds U.S. – As favourite TV shows go, this one is in the top five for me and my siblings. Again, I don’t remember any of the actual adventures or the names of any characters but it left me with a lifelong love of helicopters.
Gary Halliday – This was British made and another HUGE favourite with me and my siblings. Halliday was a pilot for a commercial airline and flew to his adventures in an aircraft with the call sign Golf Alpha Oboe Roger George. He was assisted by co-pilot Bill Dodds. Their enemy was The Voice who was never seen by other characters, so that at the end of each series he could escape and reappear in the next. I remember one summer holiday when I, my brother and sister became Gary Halliday characters for days, maybe weeks on end. Even when we went inside for lunch or tea we built it into our role play. Our front porch was the cockpit of our aircraft.
The Lone Ranger This was a US series which was launched in the mid 50s and arrived several years later here in Britain. The masked horse rider, the horse called Silver, the trusty Native American mate called Tonto – it was wonderful!
The Range Rider This was another US import of the late 50s / early 60s with a horse-riding hero. We loved this too but I must have loved the Lone Ranger more because I remember his horse’s name!
Emergency Ward 10 – Running from 57 to 67, this was the precursor to the current medical drama series we have on UK TV here now, Casualty and Holby City.
Dr Kildare – The US import which was the equivalent of Emergency Ward 10. The main doctor character was the impossibly handsome Richard Chamberlain.
What’s My Line? – This was an early version of the TV panel game. Each week, a few guests mimed their job and the panel – the same people every week – tried to guess what they did for a living. My family absolutely loved it. I can still remember one of the mimes when a zoo keeper acted out the washing of an elephant.
Juke Box Jury – The perfect programme for those early days of ‘pop’ music! I seem to remember it was on at around ‘tea time’ on a Saturday. We got to hear new singles and we watched the panel like or dislike them. It was a lot more fun than it sounds!
As always, if anyone objects to my use of any image sourced from the internet – as carefully as I can – please contact me so that I can remove it.
I have covered TV before but this time I’m looking purely at the children’s programmes I, my brother and sister watched in the very first few years of family TV. I was ten years old when we first got a television, in 1961. For several years we only had one channel – BBC1. Many people my age remember Muffin the Mule but he is not covered here simply because I never watched the programme. I have looked it up and it ran from 1946 to 1955 which was well before we had TV.
The first ones listed are the programmes made for children and shown in the slot which covered after school until the 6.00pm news or, in the case of Watch With Mother, just after lunch. The dates show the years they were shown on British TV.
Noggin the Nog 1959 – 65 Peter Firmin was inspired to create the characters by a set of 12th century Norse chess pieces – discovered on the Isle of Lewis – that he saw in the British Museum. The cartoon was written and produced by Oliver Postgate, who was also a narrator. Firmin and Postgate produced many children’s programmes for the BBC, including Pogles’ Wood, Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss and the Clangers.
Captain Pugwash 1957 – 66 This was a delightful cartoon about a Pirate ship called the Black Pig and the pirates who sailed in it. They had plenty of adventures, none of which I remember now, but the theme tune and the cartoon characters I recall with great pleasure.
Watch With Mother 1952 – 75 This was broadcast at 1:30 pm each day and comprised:
Picture Book – Mondays, from 1955
Andy Pandy – Tuesdays, from 1950
Flower Pot Men – Wednesdays, from 1952
Rag, Tag and Bobtail – Thursdays, from 1953
The Woodentops – Fridays, from 1955
It was aimed at pre-school children but I remember it so well and how much we loved it – even though we had no TV until I was ten. I think we must have watched it in the school holidays or if we were ever home from school poorly. TV didn’t start until 4 pm when the children’s programmes started. Watch With Mother was the only daytime TV back then so it was a novelty!
Crackerjack 1956 – 84 Looking this up, I was amazed to see that it ran for nearly thirty years. I remember it being a ot of fun and that the children who were guests on it seemed to win a lot of prizes. I also remember that if they got a question wrong they got a cabbage instead.
Sketch Club 1958 – 61 We loved this programme! It was hosted by a man called Adrian Hill and he gave tips and hints on how to draw and paint. I have looked him up and found that he served in the Army in WW1 and was the first artist commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to record the conflict on the Western Front. After WW1 he worked with returning soldiers encouraging them to draw as part of their recovery. He also helped set up a scheme whereby works of art were loaned to hospitals across the country. He believed that art activities and art appreciation greatly assisted the recovery of those injured and traumatised by the war. He is credited with coining the term ‘art therapy’. I knew none of this when I watched his programme but I loved Sketch Club.
Tales of the Riverbank 1960 – 63 Everyone my age growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 60s remembers this programme, the voice of Johnny Morris and the beautiful theme tune – which I now know is Andante in C by Guiliani.
Zoo Quest 1954 – 63 This was Sir David Attenborough’s first TV programme. I remember loving it and thinking he was wonderful – he still is! I loved seeing all the different animals and I seem to remember they were often in Madagascar which I hadn’t heard of until watching Zoo Quest. Doing my research for this post I have learned that the programme was all about a team from London Zoo on a mission to find and capture animals to bring back to the zoo. Wildlife programmes are very different now with the emphasis more on observing and preserving than capturing!
I was going to list some of the early evening programmes we enjoyed (such as Dixon of Dock Green) but the post would be too long so I’ll cover them in a separate one.
As always, if anyone objects to the use of any of my photographs, sourced from the Internet, please contact me so that I can remove it.
No, not the garden variety! Those wonderful, colourful, hardbacked books full of articles, photographs, cartoons, puzzles, competitions, facts, jokes, craft ideas and SO much fun! The books we loved to be bought at Christmas and which were eagerly awaited every year. Those mines of fun, facts and entertainment which you could carry on dipping into all year – until the next one came out. Most children had a regular weekly comic and that comic would produce an annual every winter. Even as an early teen when I and my sister were taking magazines like Jackie, they, too had annuals. Radio and TV programmes, newspapers, clubas, organisations etc etc ALL published annuals.
In the late 50s/ early 60s I, my brother and my sister took Princess, Hotspur and Bunty and the annuals were something to be looked forward to all year.
It was a Jackie Annual from 1980 which made me think of writing this post. I often buy, on EBay or in charity shops, an annual for a friend’s year of birth when they have reached a milestone birthday. I enjoy sourcing them – even if they wonder what on earth that gift was all about! I recently acquired the Jackie 1980 annual for a family 40th birthday – female, obviously! I enjoyed leafing through it before posting it. They’re such a glimpse into how the world was in another era.
As children we hadn’t been familiar with Rupert Bear until two older boy cousins passed ALL their old Rupert Annuals on to us – and we loved them! We enjoyed all the cartoon stories of Rupert’s adventures and knew all the characters. My sister once said it used to annoy her that Rupert was never told off when he was late home for tea – but that aside, we loved them. My sister and I can still fold table napkins into water lilies after learning how to do it from an origami page in one of the Rupert annuals.
Recently, I reached into my kitchen drawer for something and my mind wandered on to how household gadgets and equipment have changed over the years. I started thinking about items which, back in the 1950s here in Britain, were in every household. Some of these are virtually unknown now, others are still seen in some households but are no longer commonplace.
In the 1950s here in Britain there were no washing machines. My mum got her first one in the late 60s and it was nothing like the ones we use now! It seemed like luxury but was really very basic. Before that, clothes were washed by hand. the aids which most people used were 1.) a washboard or rubbing board. Wet soapy clothes were rubbed up and down against it to loosen the dirt. 2.) a mangle or wringer to squeeze more water out of the clothes than hand wringing could, thus shortening drying time, 3.) once people were electrified, a water boiler was invented – here the main brand was Burco – which was basically a very large electric kettle which enabled people (women!) to heat larger quantities of water for family laundry. My earliest memories of laundry in the 50s are the Burco boiler combined with the old fashioned mangle. The washing tongs was essential for dragging clothes out of boiling hot suds into the rinsing water. They were wooden with a meal joint at the top Big hand wash items, such a blankets from the beds, were washed in the bath.
Always used outside because the water just ran straight out of the wrung clothes onto the floor.
Washboard/ rubbing board
Before the days of fitted carets and vacuum cleaners, there were loose rugs and mats which were cleaned by being shaken and beaten outside, There was also a non-electric gadget called a carpet sweeper which was use for picking up bits and fluff in between beatings.
My mum used her mincer every week. Each weekend we had a joint of meat for Sunday lunch in true British style. The leftover meat was minced on Monday and turned into something ese like shepherd’s pie. The gadget clamped on to a table and you fed lumps of meat into the top, turned the handle and minced meat came out of the front.
No children’s birthday party would have been complete without jelly! Weekday jelly was just made in a bowl but for special occasions you could use a mould. I’ve chosen this photograph because it’s exactly like the one my mum had. The rabbit jelly was always the centrepiece of the birthday tea.
Pyrex was the what every modern kitchen had to have in the 50s and 60s! Young couples were bought Pyrex oven to table wear as wedding presents,
Hand whisk and rotary beater.
The electric hand held mixer and later the food processor (remember the name Kenwood Chef?) rendered the rotary whisk obsolete.
Many of the households I was familiar with as a child didn’t have indoor plumbing. This included my paternal grandparents’ house. When the facilities are at the bottom of the garden, the chamber pot or ‘potty’ was under the bed ready for you.
My dad had one in his greenhouse and we three children had one in the bedroom in winter to take the chill off the air as we were getting ready for bed, also in the morning when we were getting up. Central heating was a long way in the future when I was young!
Back in the 50’s in Britain, bedding consisted of a top sheet, a bottom sheet, woollen blankets, a coverlet or bedspread and an eiderdown which was a feather stuffed quilt and a sort of precursor to the modern duvet.
Candlewick Bedspread So new and stylish in the 1950s!
I was thinking the other day about things which adults used to say to children back in the 1950s which you don’t hear so often nowadays. It wasn’t just parents who said these things. Teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, adults in story books – they all dished them out.
Some readers who date back to those years will recognise these even if they didn’t hear them all said in their own households.
At meal times;
We’d have been glad of that when food was rationed.
There are children starving in . . . my mum used to say China, I’m sure adults used used a variety of countries!
There’s no pudding until your plate is empty/ you’ve eaten your greens.
Eat your crusts or your hair won’t curl. They couldn’t be said to me as I had curly hair – but I still had to eat my crusts.
In the 1950s, the war was a very recent memory. Six years of hardship and rationing meant that parents had little time for children being fussy about food. It was seen as ungrateful.
These books were a recent memory for our parents.
Children should be seen but not heard. What a dreadful thing to say to a child – but it was something we heard it said to us then. I don’t remember my parents saying it but older relatives would come out with it if they thought the children were talking to much – or just annoying them,
Money doesn’t grow on trees. This was commonly said to children when they asked for something which couldn’t be afforded. When we were a little older, my siblings and I used to joke that it actually did grow on trees for our family because my dad was a forester.
Wait until your father gets home. This one probably has a long history. It is redolent of eras in the past where the fathers were the absolute head of their households and were quite remote and strict. Punishment would be administered by the father on return from work when the work-weary mother (all mothers were home based then) related the child’s transgression. Most modern fathers would hate to be used as a threat in this way.
Your school days are the best days of your life. I promised myself when I was a teenager in high school that I would never say that to a child because at that time I didn’t believe they could possibly be the best years of your life.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Adults probably still ask children that. I hated being asked the question because it used to throw me into a panic! I always felt I should be coming out with something definite and impressive. In fact, I didn’t have a clue. Many of the jobs I fancied as a child (fireman, for one!) couldn’t then be done by women, anyway.
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think people talked in proverbs a lot more then. We actually had to learn a whole list of them for the 11+ exam! A stitch in time saves nine. Make hay while the sun shines. Many hands make light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth.etc. By the way, those last two totally contradict each other which always puzzled me when I was younger!
Picture of a 1950s embroidery.
It’s worth remembering that our parents had been brought up by parents who had Victorian parents and some of the rigid expectations of children from that time were passed down through the generations. There were grisly stories written for children to shock them into behaving. These were known as moral tales. There was one collection of stories written in the 19th century which contained a dozen or so such stories. We had a copy of it at home and it fascinated us! The only two stories I remember from it now are Naughty Little Suck-a-Thumb and Shock-Headed Peter. I’ve just looked these stories up for this post and I’ve learned that they were originally written in German by a man called Hoffmann who wrote them for his young son. Having looked up the two I remember best, I am amazed to find I remember every word of both. We read and read that book! My sister was a confirmed suck-a-thumb and was both horrified by and strangely drawn to the picture of the severed thumbs!
The gruesome picture above is especially for my sister – who still has both her thumbs! Just to explain; in my family we weren’t read these stories as a warning. Things had moved on since they were written. My mum found them entertaining and enjoyed reading them to us and telling us about how Victorian children were brought up.
As always, I acknowledge that I have sourced my images from the Internet and made efforts to copy only those which are marked as available for re-use. If anyone objects to my use of any image, please contact me and it will be removed.