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.

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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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Things We Never Even Dreamed Of In The 50s and 60s.

Phones you can carry around with you, that take pictures and can make video calls.

When we had our first telephone connected in our home I was about six years old. It was SO exciting! Our number was 9 as we were the ninth telephone in the village. It was heavy, black and was connected to the wall in one corner of our lounge. Not everyone had a camera and now we walk around with phones in our pockets which can take pictures too – as well as a multitude of other amazing things! I remember fantasising with my brother and sister about phones of the future. ‘What if you could see the person you were talking to as well! Just imagine!” Now children are growing up with Skype and Face Time and think nothing of it.

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

When I was young, and indeed right into adulthood, if you needed to find something out you looked it up in a reference book. If you didn’t have one at home – in an encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary etc – you went to your local library. Now we can turn on a laptop or whip a phone out of our pocket and find out what we need to know instantly.

Image: A reporter's laptop shows the Wikipedia blacked out opening page in Brussels      section_image_webss2

Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

This is in here because I had to post a large parcel last week. Here in the UK, Royal Mail were the one and only postal service in the 50s and 60s. My parcel would have cost a fortune via The Post Office (who I normally use) so I researched couriers. I used a well known courier firm and located a convenient drop off point which happened to be a small pharmacy a few miles from where I live. It felt strange to be at a pharmacy counter, next to people picking up prescriptions and buying aspirin, to hand over my parcel.

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Cars with radios which can also tell you which way to go.

Radios years ago were too big and cumbersome to be carried around and most also needed to be connected to mains electricity. Being able to listen to the radio in the car wasn’t something which ever occurred to us as a possibility. My first car radio was bought as a separate item and had to be fitted in to the car. As for Sat Navs! We had maps, road atlases and, in our family, an AA Handbook which came with membership of the AA breakdown service and contained a wealth of information about anywhere you wanted to visit. The idea of a voice reading out directions as you drove along would have been completely unbelievable in my childhood – or even twenty years ago!

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People saying that red meat, bread, wheat, dairy, tea, coffee,sugar etc etc is bad for you. 

First of all, I do know that we are now far better informed about allergies and about food which is better taken in moderation. What makes me smile is that back in the 1950s, these things were the staples of life and were all considered to be ‘good food’. My grandmother on my dad’s side loved feeding people up and really did think that sugar was ‘good for you’. She would be more than a little puzzled to see the complicated labels on food now.

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Clothes made overseas which can be bought for less than it would cost you to make them.

In my childhood nobody we knew could afford to buy all their clothes in shops. My mum made most of our clothes and evenings were spent knitting or using her sewing machine. By the time my children were in school it was cheaper to buy ready made clothes than to knit or sew your own. Mass-produced knitwear and cheaper synthetic fibres meant that it cost me far more to go into a wool shop and buy the yarn to knit a sweater. I still enjoy knitting but as an enjoyable pastime rather than an essential.

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

Nobody I knew flew in my childhood. I used to see planes in the sky but I never considered that ‘normal’ people might one day be using aircraft as a means of travelling to visit family or go on holiday.

ryanair--which-originally-predicted-a-remain-vote-launches-999-flight-sale-for-people-who-need-a-getaway-after-brexit-wins.jpg      maxresdefault

Buying things with a piece of plastic.

Back in the 50s and 60s, we had cash and we had cheques. I remember my mum and dad using cheque books in shops when we occasionally did a ‘big shopping trip’ such as to buy new winter coats and shoes. The rest of the time it was notes and coins. Cheque books looked like the above for many years (courtesy of Wikipedia) with the diagonal lines across and the account holder’s address always written on the back in the presence of the shopkeeper. I would now struggle to find my cheque book although I do have one somewhere!

I remember the first TV ad I saw for a credit card. It was a Barclaycard advert and it featured a girl in a bikini heading out to the beach and shops with just a rectangular piece of plastic tucked into her waistband.

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Buying things without even plastic.

My 2017 self can now purchase a huge range of goods – including rail and plane tickets from my Smart Phone or laptop.

 

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.

Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape

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.

 

 

 

Music

I’m going to talk about the music I remember hearing as I grew up. In the Fifties the radio was our main source of music with the occasional play of my mum and dad’s 78’s. We children loved Children’s Favourites which was on a Saturday morning and was presented by Uncle Mac. The Laughing Policeman was played every week. Others I remember are The Ugly Duckling, The Runaway Train and Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Two Way Family Favourites was always on as we ate our Sunday dinner. Some of the songs I remember are Mockingbird Hill (Patti Page), Drink, Drink, Drink (Mario Lanza), Que Sera, Sera (Doris Day) and This Ole House (Rosemary Clooney).

  

Those recollections are from the 1950’s. In the 1960’s I was old enough to have my own mind about what I wanted to listen to and I enthralled by The Beatles from when I first heard Love Me Do in 1963. When we (me, my brother and my sister) discovered Radio Luxembourg we couldn’t get enough of it. In the mid sixties we acquired out first portable radio. Once we were in bed my dad used to put the radio in the hall outside our bedrooms and leave Radio Luxembourg on for half an hour. After thirty minutes listening to some of our favourite pop songs we would hear my dad approaching to turn the radio off which was our signal to stop chatting and get to sleep.

  

TV and Radio

Well, I say TV and radio but until 1962 it was all radio for us. We got our first TV when I was 11 and we had just one channel – BBC1. Radio programmes I remember are Forces’ Favourites which was always on while we ate our Sunday dinner. Children’s  Favourites on a Saturday morning – was it Uncle Mac who presented it or am I confusing two programmes? Mum and Dad used to listen to Round the Horne and the Navy Lark. If I was ever at home during the day such as in the school holidays, my mum would be listening to Housewive’s Choice, Mrs Dale’s Diary, Eileen Fowler’s keep fit programme and Woman’s Hour. My earlier memories from pre-school days are of Listen With Mother. That theme tune still thrills me when I hear it.

    

Before we had a television in the house we sometimes congregated at a home with a TV to watch a national event such as a royal wedding (Princess Margaret in 1960, for example) or funeral. Once we had a TV I can remember other people coming to our house to watch events and Princess Alexandra’s wedding was one of them.

We kids were too old by then for the pre-school TV programmes but in the school holidays we loved to watch Watch with Mother. Television was such a novelty it didn’t matter one bit that Rag, Tag and Bobtail, The Woodentops and Andy Pandy were aimed at 2, 3 and 4 year olds.

Here are some early television programmes I remember enjoying –

R.C.M.P., Whirlybirds, Garry Halliday, Noggin the Nog, Sketch Club, Tales of the Riverbank, Zoo Quest and What’s My Line?.