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).

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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:

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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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Say Cheese!

Something which has changed immeasurably is the way we take photographs. Since the advent of digital photography the number of photographs we take has rocketed. They cost nothing so we take pictures of anything and everything, we send them to people instantly using a variety of means.

Back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up film was expensive and photographs were expensive to develop. We were careful with the photographs we took. I can still remember the excitement of a new pack of photographs to open – and the disappointment we felt if any of them hadn’t come out properly. Perhaps somebody had moved and the image was blurred, maybe the photographer’s finger was in the way, a shaft of light over-exposed the photo or it was too dark and no detail could be seen.

Film was delicate and had to be carefully inserted into the back of the camera and wound on with the camera closed. If light was allowed to leak into a roll of film the whole thing was ruined.

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My first camera was one of these Brownie 127s.

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These are the sort of cameras I remember adults using in the 1950s.

Originally the photographs were all black and white. The prints were often stuck into albums and in those days the albums had matt black pages. Gummed paper corners were bought to fix the photographs in a way that meant they could be removed. Notes on the photographs, if added, were written in white or yellow crayon. I didn’t see self adhesive photograph albums until the late 1970s.

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These are my two first photograph albums filled with photos taken with my Brownie 127 – which I used until 1974 when I bought my first SLR camera!

 

It was the 1960s before my dad started taking colour photographs and he favoured slides. He was a very keen photographer and took photographs of both the family and his work in the forests. When a new pack of slides arrived in the post it was always very exciting. We had a hand-held viewer which could be passed around but eventually my dad bought a projector. Until he could afford a screen, my mum used to hang a white sheet on the wall (walls all tended to be covered in patterned wallpaper then) and the pictures would be projected on to that with the lights off and the curtains drawn.

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My Dad’s first colour slide camera was similar to this and he used it for about twenty years. The flash wasn’t built in, you attached bulbs and a reflector to the top of the camera. Light meters were separate too and my dad had a hand held one a bit like the one on the left below. He would take a reading then set the shutter speed and the aperture manually.

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FullSizeRender Typical 1960s slide projector, screen and colour slides.

Words I Didn’t Know in the 1950s.

There are words and phrases in everyday use now which were never heard when I was a child. Some of them are technological words and refer to things which have been invented in recent decades, some are words from other countries, often food words, others are expressions which have evolved over time.

 

I will begin with food. In the UK in the 50s, especially in remoter parts such as where I grew up, the range of food encountered was far more limited than it is now. With the rise of international travel and trade new food and drink broadened our experience. I was 13 before I saw or ate in a Chinese restaurant, my first curry in an Indian restaurant was in 1969 and my first ever pizza a couple of years later. Other food and drink we think of as ours now, which were unknown in the UK then, are;

baguette, bagel, croissant, panini, pasta (we had tinned spaggetti, macaroni cheese and that was it!), sushi, cappuccino, latte, Americano and espresso, green tea, mayonnaise, chilli, couscous, wholemeal, wholefood.

heinz-spaghetti              1941Menu2 What, no pizza?!

Household objects which were unknown, not even dreamed of then include;

TV remote control, microwave, mobile phone, Internet, website, laptop, email – this particular list is endless.

Some words and expressions which have evolved over time or been invented are;

road rage, gridlocked, anger management, food allergy, chronic fatigue syndrome, post traumatic stress, hyper, OCD, ADHD.

Several decades ago if you were green it meant you were somewhat naive, it had nothing to do with your attitude to the environment. If you were cool you were not warm. A tablet was something you swallowed when not well. If something was brilliant it shone brightly. If you were chilling you were becoming colder. Coke was a fuel for an open fire. Olive oil lived in the bathroom, was bought at the chemist’s shop in tiny bottles and used for earache. If you were gay you were jolly and happy. A mouse was always a small furry creature with a tail. If you were in possession of grass or weed it was in your garden and legal. Camp meant to holiday in a tent and was also a brand of coffee substitute. Fanny and Gay were girls’ names. Spam was a tinned, processed meat.

gay ad     gay ad 2      fanny ad 2

camp ad      spam ad 2

To finish with, here’s a random list of words which didn’t exist (as far as I know!) or meant something completely different in the 1950s – digital, chargrilled, logistics, browser, strimmer, recycle, shredder.