Guilty Pleasures: Gene Pitney, Scott Walker And Cliff Richard

Me And Pop

No, the articles by Mark Stocker that will dominate 2022 and surely represent the highlight of the Postil Magazine to its more discerning readership, are not about the author and the generally benign relationship he enjoyed with his much loved, late father.

Pop was a square about Pop—his idea of a great number one hit was the theme from The Third Man—I ask you—and his comprehension of heavy metal was minimal. That said, Oliver Stocker could be quite shrewd. Watching Mick Jagger on our Bush black and white television, a masterpiece of c. 1960 cabinetry, he pronounced: “That young man is interesting looking and has real presence. I predict a big future for him.”

I was a little disconcerted, for what right had someone of the older generation to comment in any shape or form upon “my” Mick? Such was my admiration for him that when I read in Fabulous magazine that he disliked tomatoes, I too boycotted them for a couple of weeks.

All this testifies to the place that music of the popular idiom had in my formative years. I am indeed “Talking about my generation” to quote Pete Townsend. I entered my picture of his group (as they were then called) The Who in the 9-12 year old section in the 1966 Window magazine art competition for children of civil servants at the Department of Social Security (where Oliver Stocker worked in the Legal Office) and attained second prize: a proud line in my CV. I think some messily painted family dog beat me to it, but I feel remarkably little bitterness. More to the point, pop music exuded from my every breath and pore….

As I pen these columns, memories are brought back and I feel the corresponding need to share them with my devoted readers. The undertaking is both profoundly intellectual (this can be easily inferred through my multiple literary and historical allusions), and unashamedly emotional. Indeed, I think of Carpenter (Karen, not Edward, you clot) when she reminisces:

When I was young
I'd listen to the radio
Waitin’ for my favourite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile.
Those were such happy times
And not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone
But they’re back again
Just like a long lost friend
All the songs I loved so well.
Every Sha-la-la-la
Every Wo-o-wo-o
Still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling
That they’re startin’ to sing’s
So fine.

Pure poetry, and beautifully enunciated singing. Reader, I will take you on a journey through “Every Sha-la-la-la/ Every Wo-o-wo-o” in these columns in the months ahead, and I thank you in anticipation for joining me. I prefer to keep the contents a closely-guarded secret, and the editor agrees, but I promise to explore a diversity of genres (I’m very PC, you see). Sometimes an arresting theme transcending them, such as “Pop and politics” and “Pop art,” will be my focus.

Throughout, I must acknowledge with warm thanks the patient and sagacious comments and corrections of Emeritus Associate Professor Robert G. H. Burns, a bass-guitarist’s bass guitarist and author of Experiencing Progressive Rock: A Listener’s Companion (2018). Impressed? I am, for starters. Well, without further ado, let us commence.


In this inaugural article, I consider three solo male singers who came to the fore in the 1960s, all of whom had an impact on me. Read on, and—aided by Youtube—appreciate how and why, and see if you feel similarly…

Let’s start with Gene Pitney, who was in the British Top Ten when I became instantly hooked on pop aged nearly eight. My moment of epiphany dates from the first ever episode of Top of the Pops, January 1964, presented by the egregious Jimmy Saville. I remained a TOTP addict up to its 500th edition (1973) but David Cassidy’s nauseating “Daydreamer/ The Puppy Song” was the limit, and I never watched a single episode thereafter. Gene’s current hit marked his British breakthrough, the splendid Bacharach-penned “24 Hours from Tulsa”:

It wasn’t so much a song as a short story. Gene was one day away from the arms of his girlfriend when he met this smashing babe, you see, and this is his confessional. What impressed me was the perfect consonance between the tone and timbre of his unusual tenor voice and his guilt-ridden state. A lot of Gene Pitney is pretty emotional stuff, dim critics would say faux melodramatic, on the verge of operatic, with a tenor that sometime barked with angst.

The tragedies of love central to the Pitney iconography were belied by what was evidently a happy, if sadly shortened, life: his wholesome looks, his invariably gentlemanly nature shown to what must have been many limited and irritating fans, his unaffected Anglophilia and his regular family life (marrying his high school sweetheart after briefly dallying with Marianne Faithfull, a fortunate escape). What clinched it for me, though, was the teenage Gene (and I hope beyond) as a keen coin and fossil collector. A punk rocker would doubtless deem Pitney a fossil, but that’s rude.

Once when I saw Henry Moore being interviewed on TV, I was initially irritated by, then suddenly grasped, why he appeared to be fidgeting all the time: he’d much rather be in the studio, modelling material than being browbeaten by some art historian. With Gene you get a comparable impression: he’d much rather be singing than doing anything else. Exploring his repertoire on YouTube shows something far wider than anything I had expected: put the phone book in front of him and Gene would happily sing it. My favourite songs are often the very early ones: a teen Gene (well, barely out of them) was perfectly cast with Dimitri Tiomkin’s eerie “Town without pity”:

He’s almost as impressive with the upbeat Jagger/Richards “That girl belongs to yesterday.” He’s typically moody in the anthemic “I’m gonna be strong,” which certainly made big girls cry. He sings a shampoo commercial in “She lets her hair down.” With “24 Sycamore,” he glories in unglamorous British semi-detached mock Tudor suburbia. But he’s utterly captivating—and if I may say so, totally Stocker-like—when, relatively late in life, he turned to singing John Betjeman’s poem, “Myfanwy at Oxford”:

Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
Shedding an Anglo-Jackson Shade,
Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
Bicycle down to North Parade?
Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

This is 24 light years from Tulsa but it’s the same irrepressible Pitney. After she’d written her superb double biography of John and Myfanwy Piper, I drew Frances Spalding’s attention to this recording and her response was “I just don’t believe this!”

Scott Walker: an act of sheer class, and he damn well knew it. Calling his first four albums Scott 1, Scott 2, etc. shows that he had no false modesty. He had a musical depth and refinement that I recognise the more amiable Gene lacked, and, not surprisingly, enjoyed a more respectful critical press.

Scott Walter, ca. 1968.

Pseuds particularly admire the experimental Scott Walker of the last 20-30 years of his career; but these impenetrable records sold pathetically and their titles say it all: “Track Three” (akin to the modernist “Untitled”) and “Bish bosch”—give me a break! But much earlier he had the nous, and indeed the talent, to forsake the heart-throb status of his first incarnation as lead singer of the Walker Brothers, who were in their heyday between 1965 and 1967. What I loved about their hits was not just their melodies, impeccable delivery and powerful orchestration, but their emotional generosity. The first verse of “Love her” reads thus:

Love her
and tell her each day
that girl needs to know
tell her so, tell her everything I couldn't say
Like she's warm, and she's sweet and she’s fine,
Oh love her like I should have done.

From beginning to end (the Ronettes’ cover, “Walking in the Rain”), the Walker Brothers were something special. But Scott was bursting to break free, to go up-market. It was a golden time, before the cult of the singer-songwriter which did untold damage to pop and rock (can you imagine Enrico Caruso or Kiri Te Kanawa as composers?) and when an artist was given free rein to choose their own material and not kowtow to mega-capitalist labels and ghastly managerial suits. Scott’s selection of songs has impeccable taste and deftly straddles genres. With the big ballad “Angelica,” he makes a fascinating comparison with Pitney:

Scott’s version is richer and more classically perfect but Gene wins the contest emotionally. Yet Scott made a dear friend (now sadly dead) cry when I sent her “Best of both worlds.” He can do a great Jacques Brel in “Jackie,” and a comparably impressive Tim Hardin in “Black Sheep Boy” and “The Lady Came from Baltimore”:

Yes, a bit soundalike those two, but gorgeously melodic and they don’t outstay their two-minute welcome. With “The Big Hurt,” Scott veers towards soul, but you’d never find him being danced to on the talced floor of the Wigan Casino.

“Scott 4,” alas, flopped and this setback set him on a new path of becoming ever more relentlessly experimental. It was brave but—unlike Philip Guston in painting—ultimately regrettable. Battling with his later material, I felt like screaming, “Oh Scott! Have you changed your name to Scotthausen?”

Cliff Richard, the “Peter Pan” of British pop, who never really made it in the US, is hard to write about. I champion him partly because he has long been the object of vicious, sneering, sniping criticism by critics and journalists with intellectual pretensions. I ask them this: isn’t his Christ-centred life (not one I’d choose, but…) a saner, better role model than that followed by his tragic near contemporaries Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, as well as by improbable survivors like his dissolute near namesake Keith Richards?

Yes, there’s a lot of light-weight froth in Cliff’s vast repertoire and—good god—he has suffered for this (“Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” is an especially toe-curling example). At the same time, there’s also a fair bit that’s good, occasionally damn good. Cliff is so old, he long predates this recent pensioner, and I have to delve back to my pre-Top of the Pops infancy for some of his best songs: it’s hard to get past “Living Doll,” written in 10 minutes by Lionel Bart:

Then there’s the irrepressibly catchy “The Young Ones,” “Summer Holiday” and “Bachelor Boy.” A measure of Cliff’s appeal was when I was in a supermarket fairly recently and their canned music system was playing his early, and still spiritedly rocking, “Please don’t tease.” A little boy was shopping nearby and asked “Mum, what’s that song called?”

“Congratulations,” cheated by an unholy fascist alliance of Spain and Portugal out of winning the 1968 Eurovision Contest by a song that repeats “La-la-la-la” no less than 138 times, remains the YouTube number I send to friends who attain high places or have grandchildren. They seem to approve. You need stronger nerves to cope with Cliff’s remarkable 1999 “Millennium Prayer,” which infuriated his snobbish atheistic critics by setting the Lord’s Prayer to the song of “Auld Lang Syne”:

It was cheeky, it was naff, but you have to hand the concept to its composer, and it is nothing if not a conviction performance by Cliff. He enjoyed the last laugh over the knockers, as the great British public promptly sent it to Number One, the fourteenth in his phenomenal career.

And then, rather too rarely, Cliff records songs that are to my untutored ear, lovely standards. I’m a soft touch for his European composed ballads—the wistful and tender “Constantly” and the melodic “All my love”:

“When in Rome” is a remarkably good and as ever, critically underrated album of the mid-1960s. He goes reggae in a sentimental but effective cover of Harry Belafonte’s “Scarlet Ribbons” (avoid the tacky video, however), and is impressively Country in “Wind me up” and “The minute you’re gone,” recorded in Nashville. Cliff won the reluctant admiration of some of his sharpest critics with his so-called “Renaissance” phase (the early to mid-1970s hadn’t been particularly kind to him), with “Devil Woman,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and, particularly, “Carrie”:

Written by B.A. Robertson, a very different kind of artist, “Carrie” was justly admired by AllMusic pundit Dave Thompson as “an enthrallingly atmospheric number. One of the most electrifying of all Cliff Richard’s recordings.” Cliff is no social commentator, but this came closest to nailing the increasing anomie and alienation of British society in the early Thatcher era. He is trying to track down the young woman of the title, but is told:

Cliff Richard, ca. 1975.
Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
Carrie used to room on the second floor
Sorry that she left no forwarding address
That was known to me.

So, Carrie doesn’t live here anymore
You could always ask at the corner store
Carrie had a date with her own kind of fate
It's plain to see.

Another missing person
One of many we assume
The young wear their freedom
Like cheap perfume.

This is an unhappy real-life situation, really rather banal and almost certainly one of underlying tragedy, but the whole point is we can at once hear it and identify with it. Cliff’s quest culminates in a helpless, inarticulate, despairing “Carrie!” I love the muffled sound effects of the unhelpful information line. Don’t bother listening to Cliff Richard if you seek anything profound, but do so if you want a singer who—perhaps despite yourself and your Guardian-reading proclivities—can and indeed should sometimes move you.


Mark Stocker is an art historian whose recent book is When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971.


Featured image: a portrait of Gene Pitney by James Wilkinson, ca. 1980s.

Mulled Wine À La Broadbridge—A Christmas Delight!

Mrs. B.: “Would you like a punch, Vicar, ’tis the season?”

Vicar of Aldenham and Radlett: “Well, I don’t mind if I do, Mrs Broadbridge!”

So, quick as a flash, I gave him a playful and fairly gentle punch on the rib-cage. He was quite rattled.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit enjoying mulled wine, by John Leech.

“Only joking, Padre!” I reassured him. “Look what I’ve just been cooking up!”

“Oh, I say, Mrs Broadbridge, the devil’s brew! I’d be most partial to some, just a drop or two, mind. I don’t wish to be had up for failing my breath-test.”

“Don’t let those interfering socialists bother you, especially at Christmas, Vicar! We can toast Margaret and Dennis Thatcher!”


Ingredients

  • 2-3 bottles of red Hirondelle wine
  • ½ -¾ cup of Leslie’s Drambuie or Glayva
  • ½ – ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1-2 oranges, sliced, or even 1 orange and 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients and bring to the boil. Stir occasionally.
  2. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cook for a further 5-7 minutes.
  3. Pass it through a strainer into the Broadbridge punch bowl.
  4. Garnish with a further slice of orange and, if you are really being fancy, a cinnamon stick. Les quite likes canned tangerines rather than an orange in the mixture but to me this removes all the subtle tanginess from it.

Serve hot, and enjoy with cheese footballs or Marmite ™ twiglets. Serves 4.

Vicar: “In the name of the Father, Son and not forgetting the Holy Spirit, I give you my thanks and blessing – may I call you Lilian?”

Mrs B: “Ooh, vicar, you’ve made this little girl blush!”

Vicar: “I feel a jolly Christmas Carol coming on. ‘When shepherds washed their socks by night… 🎵’”


The Two Cravats: A Broadbridge Christmas Anecdote

I thought I’d give Leslie a pair of silk cravats, one polka dot and the other paisley, for Christmas. They give a man a certain je ne sais choir [sic], a sophistication, and a cravat looks very good worn with a suede-fronted cardigan. Just the ticket, too, at Porters Park clubhouse at the 19th hole.

Once when we were holidaying in Sussex, I even saw an old chap in a cravat picking blackberries! So, I went to Austin Reed in Watford, and enjoyed a pleasant half-hour choosing and discussing the niceties of cravats with my favourite assistant there, Roger, a real lady’s man but with an intelligent eye for other men and their needs too.

Man wearing a cravat.

So, the great day came and Leslie seemed quite chuffed: ‘A nice variation on the theme of the two ties, Lilian, and very smart they are too’. Every other Boxing Day we book a buffet table, usually with Violet and that smoothie of a husband of hers, Lionel, at the Red Lion (in alternate years they take us to the Griffon in Godalming, a somewhat chi-chi place but they do an excellent Dover sole there).

Well, Leslie was all ready to go and what do I see but him with the paisley cravat round his neck and beaming, perhaps just a little full of himself.

“So,” I said, “You didn’t like the other…”

But then I noticed he had folded the polka dot one into his Burton jacket top pocket.

“Les, you didn’t go to Watford Grammar or manage a branch of Barclay’s for nothing! Our Liam would call you a cool dud, or whatever the slang is.”

And I gave Les a real smacker of a kiss, which I had to immediately wipe off, having carefully applied my Max Factor not ten minutes earlier. But I’m a spontaneous woman and, I hope, a warm-hearted one!


Editor: That’s it, Dr. Stocker, you are now retired as the Postil Magazine’s gag-writer!

Dr. Stocker: Hey! That’s a grave blow, I’m taking this real hard.

Editor: Man up! In 2022 you will be our regular pop music correspondent. And I fully expect our dear lady friend, Mrs. Broadbridge, to make the odd appearance in these columns.

Dr. Stocker: Okay, bro… whatever!


The featured image shows, “The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street,” by William Heath Robinson; painted in 1928.

Verse And Worse: A Response To Philip Larkin

They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad
So you sleep sweet the whole night through
Their values really are quite trad
They only want the best for you!

And they were much loved in their turn
By grandparents in duffel coats
Who, though they seemed a little stern,
Were kindly souls, this poet notes.

Man hands on happiness to man
And with it comes both health and wealth
Make the most of life – you can!
And you’ll have happy kids yourself!


The featured image shows, “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” by Norman Rockwell; painted in 1921.

Wit Collection Exclusive: In Bed With Dr. Stocker

While the venerated Postil Magazine rigorously upholds family values (Editor: ‘I should hope so, my girlfriend watches my every move!’) and while predominantly conformist sexualities prevail among its readership (thanks be to God), this episode of the ever popular “Wit Collection” is unprecedently edgy, courageous and even risqué. I urge readers to enjoy exploring with me potentially delicate themes of fancy, desire and longing without ever descending into the graphic or the remotely vulgar. Lest you tremble, I will seek some kind of intellectual imprimatur by pointing to a proud British tradition of faintly smutty innuendo, while at the same time maintaining a façade of the utmost propriety and decency. The most famous seaside postcard, after all, is one that I cannot for a moment rival, and comes courtesy of the artist/gag-writer Donald McGill:

A bookish man and an embarrassed pretty woman are sitting under a tree.
Bookish man: “Do you like Kipling?”
Blushing girl: “I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!”
“Kippled? Was ist dass?” asked my puzzled friend Zbig, who earnestly and nobly desires to become more English but still has some way to go.

Some hints for fellow learners: the Bloomsbury Group were a pretty dirty lot. As far as I know, no scholar has attempted to constructed a diagram to indicate who bedded whom, where, when, why or how. This would surely defeat the finest Cambridge minds. Lytton Strachey was one of its naughtiest members, but E.M. Forster was the worst of the bunch when he famously declared “Only connect.” Here, I will confine myself to the marriage of Clive Bell and Vanessa Stephen, and the aesthetic precepts of their much-admired Roger Fry and Bernard Berenson. Oh, and Gwen John was one of a number of the lecherous, ageing Rodin’s girlfriends. Kiki Smith is a famous contemporary sculptor. Barnett Newman described the meaningful verticals in his impenetrable abstract paintings as zips. How much more need I explain to you plebs?

One final thing to add. There are more jokes which our somewhat prim and spoilsport editor has felt fit to censor. These can be provided on receipt of a postal order to the value of £6 (mailing address provided upon request).

Edwin Landseer, The Monarch of the Glen, 1851.

What did Clive say to Vanessa when they exchanged their wedding kiss?’ “Tu es très Bell!”
And the morning after, to his best friend, who asked him whether he knew what to do: “Roger, Roger of course! I knew I was right about her Significant Form… not to mention Berenson’s tactile values.”

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The military tribunal in 1915 is assessing a problematic recruit. “So, Mr Strachey, what would you do if a German solder were attempting to violate your sister?”
“Ha, I’d come between them!”

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What did Picasso say to the otherly-abled hitch-hiker with three eyes, no arms and one leg? “Aye, aye, aye, you look like my kind of girl, ’armless enough. Hop in!”

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Back in the 1970s, a notorious Cambridge college imposed a strict R18 admissions policy: Emanuelle.

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I’ve set up a dating agency for unsexy chemists which, of course, is called “Love Chemistry.” Unfortunately, we attracted lots of geeks in anoraks who, of course, love chemistry. They had to be explained that our prime aim is covalent bonding.

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As a practising photographer myself (did you say pornographer? see me afterwards!) I felt it appropriate to create a still-life homage to the iconic Robert Mapplethorpe, Banana and Sliced Pawpaw.

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What did Dr Stocker, art critic of The Sun, say of an abject, sexualised, edgy exhibition by a well-known American sculptress? “Very Kinky Smith!”

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Barnett Newman had just spent a shattering day working in the studio. His girlfriend (looking very demure) therefore demanded: “Barney, please unzip!”

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Guido Reni had just painted a remarkably camp looking Jesus. The title was obvious: Ecce Homo.

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What did Rodin’s mistresses call him? The Monarch of the Gwen.

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What was Quentin Crisp’s favourite Noel Coward song? The Stately Homos of England.

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The raunchy Pop Artist Allen Jones has just been convicted for an act of gross indecency. Noting previous good conduct, however, the Magistrate informed him: “Mr Jones, I think this calls for a suspender sentence.”

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What is Giovanna Arnolfini coyly saying to her husband in Van Eyck’s famous portrait? “You turn me on, Vladimir!”

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The title of a new exhibition of highly select etchings, containing suspect erotic content, is “Top of the Rops.”

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What did the feminists write on the door to The Turkish Bath? NO INGRESS.

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Captions for Ingres’s Turkish Bath: Waiting for Hugh Hefner. Or possibly… Women for Trump HQ.

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What was Angelica Kauffmann’s advertising slogan? Put the Madam into Adam!

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What is the bumper sticker of gay-friendly Flemish art historians? I likes Van Dycks.

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What did a witty Mannerist art critic observe of Parmigianino’s latest masterpiece? “He gives a whole new meaning to neckrophilia.”

Parmigianino, Madonna with the Long Neck, 1535-40

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Sub-title of my fine new book on American Architecture from Green & Green to the Chrysler Building: Organic to Orgasmic.

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My friend Moshe reacted fiercely to Barry Manilow coming out: “Oy vey! Next thing he’ll be telling us he’s Jewish!”

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My mate Ron has just come out. “I’m a pansexual, Mark,” he told me. “Me too,” I replied, “Those Le Creuset ones, wow, they’re really hot!”

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Real Estate Ad: Shabby Mackintosh for sale. Suit Art Nouveau pervert.

A bonny cathair for a “Scotsman wi’ wee shanks an’ a verra long back,” by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Glasgow Museums).

An evil-looking man in a long raincoat goes into the newsagents and asks the young shop girl: “Have you a copy of The Spectator?” The blushing girl replies: “Oh no, Sir! We don’t stock that sort of thing!”

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Binary soul star Marvin Gaye is a real he-man (despite the name). His latest hit is “It takes 10, baby!”

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My portly non-binary friend Don(na) urges me to opt for pretzels as “Trans fat chips are fat trans unfriendly!”


Dr. Mark Stocker is the resident humorist for the Postil Magazine. Overdoses of his jokes can damage your health. Please indulge with caution.


The featured image shows, “The Arnolfini Portrait,” by Jan van Eyck; painted 1434.

Guilty Pleasures: Reggae

I know that my childhood and youth would have been a lot less pleasant had I been deprived of reggae. My love of it is admittedly superficial but strong – the insanely compelling reggae beat, the equally compelling melodies and – something all too rare in rock and even in mainstream pop – a frequently wacky sense of humour that is charming and disarming. A sheltered youth, I never went to a proper reggae concert, the sole exception being the King’s College, Cambridge downmarket version of a May Ball, where the star act was the stellar Desmond Dekker. He played most of the big hits pretty damn well. Who can forget the a capella opening of “The Israelite:”

Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed…

Not much humour there, I admit. But Desmond could also produce something maddeningly catchy in “Sing a little song:”

When your heart is filled with sorrow
Sing a little song, sing a little song
When you’re worried and feel heavy-laden
Sing a little song, sing a little song.

What good advice. It’s like a secular variant on Cardinal Basil Hume saying – and I paraphrase – “If someone or something has angered you, don’t answer back. Instead, bite your tongue and just say, ‘Thanks be to God!’” I’m not much of a religious believer, but that really moved me. Of course, reggae itself can be religious, and why not? The lovely voice of John Holt is made for non-Rastafarian Christ-centred (or maybe Baby Jesus-centred) songs of praise. Once I found myself in a crowded bus in Samoa, wedged into a tiny seat by a generously proportioned Samoan lady, couldn’t reach my water bottle and thus in some discomfort, but was enchanted by the blaring sound system playing a succession of reggae Christmas carols – in August!

Who are my reggae favourites? Relatively conventional chart-orientated acts I suppose, which is hardly surprising for someone whose main idea of intellectual television when growing up was “Top of the Pops.” I’ve never been a huge fan of Bob Marley, though I immensely like his “One love,” and sometimes style myself, – never having quite reached the summit of academe – as “Robert Marley Professor of Rastafarian Studies, University of Oxford.” It would probably not go down particularly well in these woke days. In a pre-woke culture, white artists could happily record reggae and apart from a few far left white spoilsports, there were smiles all around. Sometimes the results could be woeful – the British singer Paul Nicholas was one such example with his fairly big hit “Reggae like it used to be.” But even here the following lyrics delighted me:

I had a reggae-pneumonia, I went to my doctor
He said “I got just what you need
Three times a day, a little reggae like it used to be”
We got reggae, we got reggae, we got reggae…

Yes, reggae is a fabulous cure for pneumonia and other ailments. While many people go for “I shot the sheriff” by Eric Clapton as the all-time white reggae classic, I beg to differ. For me it’s Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer mak’er.” The title itself a dreadful pun. It’s been said that people who dislike much of Led Zepp nonetheless adore this song, and I’m no exception. It takes courage to record a great cover version of it, but Sheryl Crow did so with panache. And, of course, a lot of reggae itself is by definition reggaefied covers of standard classics: few, I think, are more beautiful than Ken Boothe’s version of the David Gates/ Bread “Everything I own,” and the great British public thought so too in 1974, sending it to a deserved number 1.

The ageless Cliff Richard, a favourite of our friend Mrs Broadbridge, cut a reggae beat version of the Harry Belafonte classic “Scarlet Ribbons,” and excellent it is too. A very obscure white tribute to reggae came from the outstanding Johnny Arthey, conductor and composer, revered in his time by everyone in the British music business but very little known to the masses. Through his string arrangements, added to Jamaican recordings, he helped reggae artists such as The Pioneers trying to force a breakthrough on the British market.

Surely the best “wacky” reggae performer is Pluto Shervington, who notched up a number of hits while failing to attain the stardom that he richly deserved. One of his biggest hits, “Dat,” is about the tragic predicament of a Rastafarian trying to sell pork (without naming it aloud), contrary to his faith so that he can afford some ganja. In another song, the same fellow also fell prey to indigestion and worse following a curry derived from an illicitly obtained ram goat:

Well I pop two belch and I make a sigh
I tek a walk go outta street
But while I waitin down di road, fi bum a ride
I feel a gripe and I start feel very weak…

There’s a deeply conservative moral in this, of course.

Then there are reggae songs which, on first hearing, you knew would be huge and deserved hits. One such was the late Johnny Nash’s “I can see clearly now,” a song of wonderful optimism and a mite profounder than “Sing a little song.” So far I have been a reggae sexist (well, it can be quite a macho culture), so a tribute to reggae’s “Queens” is in order.

One is relatively obscure – Cynthia Richards who has a lovely voice and whose version of Cilla Black’s “Conversations” is great but lacked the expensive orchestration (hardly Cynthia’s fault) that money could have bought. Sadly, she never got the break via Johnny Arthey or anyone else to make it big outside Jamaica.

Someone who made it bigger was Susan Cadogan, whose raunchy and delectable “Hurt so good” (I will spare readers the lyrics) was a big hit in Britain in 1975. I was delighted to note that in later life Ms Cadogan became a respected university librarian, and I impudently suggested to a few not-so-young women in that profession that it was never too late to do a Susan Cadogan in reverse. This was received with watery smiles. And of course there’s Marcia Griffiths, one half of Bob and Marcia, of “Young, gifted and black” fame.

Ah, Wordsworthian happy, aspirational days, so unlike today… but I write as somebody who is ageing, talentless and white. I need cheering up. I know what, I think I’ll play myself some reggae on my tape-deck…


Dr. Mark Stocker is the resident classical and late Baroque music critic for the Postil Magazine.

More Guilty Pleasures: Northern Soul

Flash back to the mid-1970s. Was Britain’s intellectual nerve centre the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking and his black holes? No! Or Margaret Thatcher boning up on her Chicago economics? Warmer but no. Dear reader, ’twas the dancefloors of Northern and Midlands England where it was all happening: the rule of Northern Soul (hence the name). Its epicentre was the Wigan Casino – which was not a casino, while the Twisted Wheel in nearby Manchester was another Northern Soul mecca, as was the Torch Club at Tunstall, one of Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns and where I would now hang out at the Wedgwood Museum.

On those legendary soul “all-nighters,” talc was shaken on the floor to facilitate the glissando of the extraordinary dancers, an integral part of the Northern Soul aesthetic experience that complemented its aural delights and which anticipated the better-known break-dancing of a later era. And lest I put the cart before the horse, the music matched the dancers.

So, where did the music come from? Lonely Northern soul connoisseurs who could afford the airfares would go on quests to grungy US record stores and perhaps car boot sales to snap up rare vinyl, songs then going for a song but now often worth serious money, by the likes of Garrett Saunders and Susan Rafey.

Who? If you ask that, you haven’t lived… Well, to continue my story, the aforementioned connoisseurs would bring back their precious cargo and it would be played till it snapped, crackled and popped, to the delight of the Casino or Twisted Wheel regulars. They danced till the stars came home – or perhaps till the arrival of HM’s constabulary, no doubt in search of minute quantities of cannabis, not in itself particularly conducive to dance-floor aestheticism or athleticism.

I consider these Northern Soul connoisseurs the equivalents, nay, the superiors, of, say, Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, hunting down their priceless classical texts 500 years earlier. And their patrons weren’t poncy Renaissance princelings in tights like Lorenzo the Magnificent, but the white working-class heroes and heroines who took to the talced floor and, as I say, danced away the heartaches of their humdrum lives. This cultural appropriation of obscure vinyl was surely akin to Palladianism, that distinctively English take on a great Northern Italian architect, but whereas Palladianism is posh (like Lorenzo), and formed part of one’s liberal education, Northern Soul is triumphantly proletarian and regrettably did not.

I was a gormless, liberally-educated posh boy when it was in its pomp; I had barely heard of Wigan Casino and nearly 50 years on I bitterly rue one of life’s missed cultural opportunities. But an “all-nighter” would have finished me off – I would have wanted my cocoa by midnight, or 1 a.m. most definitely. And it would have been a logistical nightmare: getting to Wigan from Cambridge would have probably taken over 6 hours, involved numerous changes of train and bus, and left me with little change from £20, which sustained me for almost a week in those days. I would have had to ask a suspicious mater and pater for more, when I should have been writing my next essay. Stocker the swotter. Shucks!

Old American records that matched the genre but had flopped commercially ten years earlier, their singers long retired and now probably cleaning houses like Darlene Love at her lowest ebb, suddenly became gold dust. As for the bemused artists – well, I certainly hope they were chuffed. To be a Northern Soul star, it positively helped to be a miffed miss and a slipped disk and not, pray, a chart hit. Northern Soul eschewed the mainstream: it studiously avoided the cloyingly commercial, such as “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand” by Diana Ross. As the author Anthony Burgess memorably replied, “I’d rather not.”

Diana just didn’t get it when she dissed Northern Soul as not being very good in the first place. It was uneven, sure, but it had an emotional generosity that transcended any shortcomings in musicianship. And sometimes its production values, perforce very economical, can make the outcome all the more moving. Give me the kitchen utensil percussion of Susan Rafey’s “The Big Hurt” any day in preference to a slickly professional Motown production of c. 1970.

Yet there were some Northern Soul chart hits, and I love many of them. Probably the best known is (the white Jewish) Len Barry’s gorgeous “1-2-3.” I still feel a thrill when I hear the recitative – and philosophy – of Len to the accompaniment merely of drums:

Baby, there’s nothin’ hard about love
Basic’ly, it’s as easy as pie
The hard part is livin’ without love
Without your love, baby, I would die!

A more minor hit-maker was Donnie Elbert; his version of the Four Tops’ “I can’t help myself” is exhilarating, his desperate tenor matching the emotional tenor – he sure cannot help himself, o sugar pie, honey bunch!

Then there was the slightly bigger R. Dean Taylor, a white Canadian(!) artist, whose “Gotta see Jane” is – like a lot of the genre – disturbingly obsessive, even menacing, and sounds as it’s been sung through a megaphone as Taylor relentlessly motors through wind and rain, destination wrongly forsaken lady love. The same singer’s hit “There’s a ghost in my house” with its stop-start rhythm would make the vast dance floor cast of Northern Soulsters go collectively bonkers.

But, I repeat, most Northern Soul worth its salt was “top of the flops” territory, as in the delectable girl group The Poppies’ “There’s a pain in my heart” (a nice juxtaposition with “There’s a ghost in my house”) which sadly failed to match the stunning chart success of its predecessor, “He’s ready” (Billboard #106).

A pain in my heart. Yes, even an up-tempo number like this reveals the emotional scarring and tragedy that is the sine qua non of so much Northern Soul, love’s agonies, not its ecstasies. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big-voiced Garrett Saunders blew his brains out after singing “In a day or two,” by which time shallow friends try and reassure him he will have recovered from disappointment in love.

Women singers could pile on the agony superbly: I think of Lorraine Ellison’s powerfully imploring “Stay with me, baby,” an anaemic cover version of which was cut by the normally admirable Walker Brothers. Then there’s the tragic Linda Jones, who died of diabetes aged 27 after failing to take her insulin. Her big hit (#74) “For Your Precious Love” scales alpine emotional heights and is justly esteemed by anyone with aspirations to Northern soulfulness.
Yet Northern soul can be happy, silly and sometimes today profoundly politically incorrect. Take “Girls, girls, girls,” when Chuck Jackson philosophises with a series of rhetorical questions, after confiding, speaking not singing, “Let me ask you something, fellas…”

What’s warm when the fire glows with glitter?
What’s sweet when all else seems so bitter?
What’s cold when your dreams start to wither?
And gives strength when you feel like a quitter?
Look to your heart when the trouble starts!
It’s girls this thing that I’m describing
Girls that make a man keep striving
Many shapes and sizes
Man’s greatest prize
Is girls! (girls) Girls! (girls)

Tell me, how many red-blooded fellows would not concur with Chuck’s sentiments? (Sorry, girls, I mean women…). Another, rather less loaded but joyous and celebratory Northern Soul classic is Robert Knight’s “The Power of Love,” which cheekily borrows its melody from Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slave.” The Toys’ “Lover’s Concerto” – a bit too prettily successful for my liking – flagrantly borrows in turn from Bach’s Minuet in G major, which I was playing for my Grade II piano at the very time the girl-group were high in the charts.
But it’s the Toys’ less successful follow-up “Attack” that is far more Northern Soulful. Its changes of key and still more its lyrics, are unforgettable. I’ll treat you to the first couple of verses, and the plot thickens:

Once I walked beside you, so in love were we then
It had always been that way since we were children
Then one day she saw you, lied and flirted for you
Helplessly I watched her take your love away.
While she’s not with you she cheats and she enjoys to
How can I sit by and cry while she destroys you?
Though you may not want me, my heart keeps repeating
Onward, onward, time to stop retreating
Attack! Attack!

Awesome stuff, Northern Soul as emotional revenge. I wish Frankie Valli had recorded a cover with his famed falsetto.

Indeed, the genre is more than music, more than dance, more than a provincial British working-class cultural movement and, if you dare condemn it for colonialist appropriation, I can but pity you.

In its heyday and in its ageing aficionados’ hearts, it was something fundamental, a way of life, a faith. Lest we forget, its celebrated logo – itself a cheeky appropriation of the Black Power clenched fist – exhorts us to “Keep the faith.” Well, I’m a believer!


Dr. Mark Stocker is the resident Greek and Renaissance dance critic for the Postil Magazine.

Down With Australia!

Dear reader – it’s just possible that you missed out on reading (or if you have nerves of steel watching) Candace Owens’s recent modest proposal to invade Australia. A good account of it can be found here.

That arch neo-conservative, Dr. Stocker, was deeply moved by Ms Owens’s utterances and accordingly felt impelled to lend her his warm support. He rattled his sabre (actually his Solingen kitchen knife) as he penned the following stirring message…

Power to Candace, whose nuanced intellect and lifelong knowledge of international relations I salute. Across the pond we heartily loathe the Australians whose attitude to NZ has a track record of being consistently arrogant and patronising. They even bowl under-arm in cricket – it’s not cricket!

God, how I hate them. Personally, I have been turned down for jobs in Australia three times, the first when I was insulted at my interview, the second when the museum director capriciously changed his mind and decided to appoint no-one to the job and the third when I had approximately five times the number of publications of the successful, in-house candidate.

As if that weren’t enough, the conspicuous recent lack of interest among Australian numismatists in my book, When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971, has been deeply hurtful. Our onetime prime minister, Rob Muldoon, famously said of Australia: we welcome the emigration of New Zealanders there; each departing Kiwi doubles our nation’s average IQ rating, and in turn doubles Australia’s – win, win!

Dame Edna Everage, considering Candace Owens’s invasion of Australia plan.

To augment the US forces sent to liberate Australia, I would advocate top level deployment of NZ’s armed services. You don’t trifle with them, particularly our brave Māori fighters who made Rommel himself tremble in World War Two! The recent “AUKUS” military alliance signed by Australia, the UK and the US, is a mere bagatelle, a feint to disguise Candace’s ulterior plan, and can be torn up as easily as Herr Hitler shredded the gormless Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” scrap of paper, biting the carpet for good measure. So, go Candace, the US and NZ! And may our Aussie foes crumple and crumble, just as they do so unerringly on the footy field!

NOTE: Dr. Stocker’s statement has been vigorously endorsed by his good friend and fellow Postil Magazine contributor Dr. Zbigniew Janowski who comments: “It’s currently compulsory to vote in Australia – can you believe this egalitarian madness? Their franchise must henceforth be restricted to graduates of Oxford and Cambridge Universities with MA degrees or higher. Invasion will surely facilitate this!”


Dr. Mark Stocker is a leading New Zealand political commentator and president of the Candace Owens Appreciation Society.


The chart from Nicholas Vallard’s manuscript sea atlas (1547), showing Jave La Grande’s west coast (the first map of Australia).

Mrs Lilian Broadbridge Returns

Well, I’m literally over the moon! Nirmal (we’re on first name terms!) says that he was so impressed by my political vision and the short shrift I gave to those feminist sacred cows, that he wants more from me. Rather than everything being politics, politics, politics (reminds me of the rather rude “Boobies, boobies, boobies,” I know it’s trashy but I did so enjoy Valley of the Dolls!), I thought this month things should take a more intellectual turn. I also know that Doctor Mark would approve.

And so, without much further ado, here is my 5 pence, I won’t say 5 new pence or heaven forbid – cents – on the worlds of art and music. And as there are probably more “petrol heads” reading this magazine than they would ever admit, I thought I’d add my perspective on cars.

It’s just possible that some readers who haven’t had the privilege of living in Radlett during the time I was in my true prime there (from the 1950s to the 1980s) may not know a few of the names I drop, so I’ve asked Doctor Mark to supply a brief glossary. Enjoy!

Mark Stocker: Sigh, how much am I paid? But anything for a quiet life, so here goes:

Sir William Russell Flint – slightly risqué British early 20th century watercolour painter of nudes and landscapes.

Rowland Hilder – hugely popular mid-20th century British landscape painter

Pietro Annigoni – kitsch, skilled and popular Italian 20th century painter, famous for portraits of the Queen. No known ballerina works, but never underestimate Mrs Broadbridge’s fertile imagination.

Matt Monro – British later 20th century singer, normally in the ‘lounge’ genre. Outstanding vibrato. Fond of golf, and alas, the bottle. Died too young.

Semprini – mid 20th century pianist, composer and conductor. Despite the name, British.

Mantovani – British orchestra leader, and with his pal Semprini, purveyors of popular dance music. Unlike Semprini, totally Italian, but bless him, says Mrs Broadbridge, he died in Tunbridge Wells!

Sir Jimmy Young – prominent later 20th century British radio host, formerly a hit parade crooner. Marginally more trendy than Manto and Semps,but not much.

Austin Allegro, Austin Maxi and Ferrari Dino – three kinds of cars, the first two outstanding British engineering of the late 60s/early 70s, the third foreign rubbish, though beloved of the utterly vulgar Mark Broadbridge.


Mrs Broadbridge On Gay Lib

It’s in my name and it’s in my character – Broadbridge and broad-minded. As a lifelong Tory you’d probably think I would be very intolerant about men loving other men, but though it’s wrong, I can understand it a bit and sympathise quite a lot. Certainly it’s unnatural – a man and a woman should love each other, marry and have children – that’s the normal run of things and god save us if it was anything else though sometimes these days you do honestly wonder.

That reminds me of a very funny joke I heard the other day, I think it was that clever young man David Frost. His friend told Mr Frost he was emigrating. Why? Homosexuality. But surely you’re not one of those people? No, of course not, but that’s the whole problem. First it was a capital offence, then it was corporal, then you’d simply be fined, and now it’s legal. I’m leaving before it becomes compulsory!

Seriously, I think there’s a good case for being true to one’s innermost feelings, and I don’t think any amount of Jesus can cure them. And let’s face it, there are some pretty dreadful women around, so sometimes I hardly blame them! It’s unnatural, yes, but homosexuals are human, they have thoughts and feelings, and Barry, my hairdresser, even seems to know my thoughts and feelings better than me. Lovely man.

I wanted him and his friend, Clint, to come to tea but Leslie wouldn’t have it. “Those homos, surely not? Whatever has come over you, Lilian?” Well, I was cross and said “You’re a homo too!” He got very angry but I quickly added “Homo sapiens! And I’m a Les-bian, hahaha!” He did manage a wan smile, and nothing came of it. Hate the sin, I say, though sometimes I am really quite fascinated about exactly who does what to whom, when and where (I have a curious mind, you may have noticed), but love the sinner.

Oh, talking of all that, the American lady down the road whose husband Bill is a big shot in Handley Page, Cleo, Miss San Diego 1920 she was I’ll have you know, always leaves very particular orders to our milkman – I think she must fancy him or something. Well, the other day I took a little peep at one of her notes by the empty bottles and she’d written this: ‘2 homos’ [laughs uproariously].

Mrs B On The Royals, c. 1980

I wish our Charlie Boy would hurry up and get married and settled. It’s getting ridiculous, everybody bar him can see that. He needs a good woman to talk to him, just as I do to Leslie, rather than all that talking he does to oak trees or some elderly Highland stag he’s hunting. You won’t get much sense out of them. I do like him but he can be a bit daft at times, unlike his father, who I love and admire to bits.

The Queen is a very, very fine woman, my idea of a perfect Englishwoman, don’t misunderstand me. But she’s not a patch on that terrific, witty, intelligent and oh so handsome husband of hers. Honestly, Philip is like a Greek god – well, he is Greek after all – and I can just picture him on Mount Olympus where the gods feast on Ambrosia – good old English creamed rice pudding!

I know I should bone up on the British constitution before I speak my mind, but I’ve got this idea. Tell me, just why is it that the Duke of Windsor, who cosied up to the Nazis and had that horrid, skinny, greedy American woman Mrs Simpson telling him what to do all the time, why was he able to abdicate perfectly easily whereas they can’t make Philip our king? Couldn’t they simply swap their positions and have the Queen as his consort? It’s degrading for a fine man like Philip to always be following two steps back, downright silly, and I take my hat off to him for never complaining. And if they swapped jobs, she’d have much more time to spend with her beloved horses, so it would be a win-win situation!

She may be a rich woman but she must be an ever so lonely one, our Queen. Like Mrs Thatcher, it’s an isolated situation she’s in and it really must get to her sometimes, despite her lovely husband and the good old Queen Mum. Margaret and her playboys wouldn’t help much though, and I’m none too keen on that rather calculating and wilful Princess Anne either.

All this made me think about the Queen having those corgis around her. On the face of it, it’s a puzzle – a very fine woman indeed but a breed of dog I don’t care for at all. But then it all made sense. Corgis love their owners and hate everybody else – probably poor old Philip too [giggles]. She though gets unquestioning love from those corgis and they help keep the horrible pappa – what’s that Italian word for them? Papa…papageno? No, paparazzi – the corgis keep those intrusive papa… bastards (sorry) away. I always wanted an apricot poodle myself, but it was a rare moment when Leslie put his foot down: ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle. The Broadbridge home is not a poodle parlour!’ I was cross at the time but secretly quite impressed.

Mrs Broadbridge On Art

When I said to young Mark ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, he told me “That’s very Kantian, Mrs Broadbridge!”

Well, whatever these eggheads care to call it is fine by me, but I must be careful how I pronounce such a strange word. I can’t claim to have the sophistication or knowledge of Sir Kenneth Clark – or even Mark, but both Leslie and I certainly know what we like. The female nude is the most beautiful and time-honoured object ever known to man in art, and I admired Les’s sophistication when he bought our two signed prints by Sir William Russell Flint. He’s a knighted academician you know – and that’s what I always say to anyone who calls them ‘sexy’ – a bit embarrassing but I have to laugh!

William Russell Flint, Jemima. Leslie Broadbridge’s favourite artist.

To me, the more accurate and realistic the art is, the more impressive I find it. Abstract art does nothing, nothing to me: it’s 99.9% pretentiousness. I know a bit of Cockney rhyming slang from the telly and have a guess what rhymes with a load of Jackson Pollocks [prolonged giggling]. As for Picasso, I feel frankly sorry for him. I know he’s rich and has got all those silly girlfriends one third his age and is always swanning around in the South of France, but he lost his way badly with all that cubed rubbish after painting those lovely, very sad circus folk. What went wrong, I ask?

Henry Moore, well, he makes me think of one of my favourite hymns but not in a flattering way: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’! [giggles] Back to the art that we have in our humble abode. We’re a cut above the folk who are satisfied with reproductions everywhere, though they are fine for the spare bedrooms and the hallway. I’m a generous supporter of Radlett Art Society, and I have a number of their nice landscapes and flowers in vases – still lifes, as they call them – or is it lives?

And I’m very proud of my Rowland Hilder original signed print, it’s so wonderfully English – a corner of England ought to be in every self-respecting person’s lounge, I say. If Leslie had his way, he’d have more of the Russell Flints, but I tell him there’s a fine line between respectable art, and art that makes you blush. Broadbridges are broad-minded, but we definitely draw the line at Hawaiian girls on velvet, though I am partial to those rather magnificent stallions in sunset.

If I had a lot of money, I’d definitely get an Annigoni ballerina – that to me would be the ultimate. Oh, I must tell you, Leslie told me many years ago that he’d like one of those [rolls her eyes] tiger-skin rugs but I shut him up promptly: ‘Les, that’s vulgar! Over my dead body!’ He’s said nothing about it since. I feel I’ve hardly started so now I must tell you all about our joint passion, our pride and joy, our small but highly selective collection of Royal Doulton Toby Jugs…

Mrs Broadbridge On Music

Music has really gone to the dogs since the late 1950s, I think it must be, what with that horrid rock and roll. Music by juvenile delinquents for juvenile delinquents I call it. And though I liked the Beatles, especially Paul, and the Seekers, it all nosedived again in the late 1960s and now seems to be at the beck and call of long-haired druggie weirdos and those squalid, promiscuous festivals. Gone to pot, haha! No, thank you. Give me a good melody, any day: Oh what a beautiful morning, Three coins in the fountain, Stardust, proper songs like that – Michelle by the Beatles is rather lovely, too.

The key thing is, you could hear every word they were singing, whereas singers today don’t have a clue apart from Matt Monro – I hear he used to be a bus conductor and I can just imagine him singing out ‘Fares, please!’ to the tune of ‘Born free’ [giggles]. I wouldn’t really call myself musical – when I grew up we had a nicely polished walnut Broadwood piano, but only my elder sister Violet was allowed to touch it and I can never forgive her for that. She lives in Surrey, and is honestly rather hoity-toity. We still see each other at Christmas, so it’s quite civil really.

But I can sing in tune – this may surprise you but I’ve got quite a powerful voice, and I beat time well. I certainly don’t mind what I call light classical – In a monastery garden, the lovely Mario Lanza (Elvis tried to imitate him – ‘It’s now or never’, and the answer is obviously never!) And those wonderful bands that Les and I would dance to in our courting days – I may be a large woman but I have genuinely dainty feet, or at least I did till those horrid bunions. We would dance away to Semprini, Mantovani, the Joe Loss Orchestra and more. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Happy days – and the youth of today just don’t know what they’re missing!

Mantovani, “King of Strings.” Music the Broadbridges danced to in their salad days.

Mrs Broadbridge On Race Relations

If I may say so, and I know it’s very controversial, but Enoch really has a point. I don’t think it’s really being racist to admit we have allowed too many of these Coloured Folk into our overcrowded country and you certainly won’t catch me in that curry house, stinks to high heaven, I bet.

Though I’ll tell you this [winks conspiratorially] Leslie and I do like our sweet and sour pork – Les likes his lemon chicken actually – at the New Garden, just for a bit of a treat every now and again. And, Joshua, Joshua, our very own Negro ticket collector at the station, he’s a real gentleman, lovely smile, and honestly, he puts the likes of us to shame. It’s a complicated world, isn’t it?

Mrs Broadbridge On Cars

I’m not one to hold forth on cars, I have plenty of other interests, leave that one to the men of the family. But when Les and I buy a new one, which is every 8 to 10 years or so, of course I like to try them all out and weigh up their pros and cons. It’s got to have a tasteful colour: beige, light green and primrose all appeal to me, nice and very fashionable colours for bathrooms too these days I believe.

And I do like a firm front seat, high up, so I’m Queen of the Road, and I can see everything ahead of me but also comment if need be on Les’s driving. He’s very good, but even he has his occasional lapses, like that silly little boy playing on the drive – but that could have happened to anyone, he wasn’t badly hurt and we even gave him a box of mini Mars bars when he was in hospital. We’re kind souls!

Well, I can’t abide those seat belts or any government which forces you to wear them – they can belt up, as far as I’m concerned. I do like my simulated sheepskin seat cover, and as a little luxury, a stereo radio, so I can listen in to Jimmy Young if we’re out at the time. As for the make of the car, I still say, when all is said and done, buy British. Les drives our beige Allegro with pride and honestly, it doesn’t break down at all often. And we certainly haven’t had a mishap like Mr Curtis with his Austin Maxi when he opened the door and the handle came off in his hand [giggles] – but Theo can be rather a rough man! No, very few breakdowns, touch wood – and I think there’s still a bit of veneered wood on the dashboard, though it’s not like it used to be.

Austin Allegro, Mark II. The Broadbridge mode of transport.

Fancy cars are strictly for the younger generation. So far I’ve said nothing about my Mark. He was a bright kid and very much his own man, downright willful, really. Still is. His profession, which sounds very grand, is a purveyor of recreational medication, and he’s certainly done very well for himself there – a grander house than Violet’s in Surrey and a villa in Spain, I’ll have you know. And a new girlfriend, they’re mostly blonde, seems to pop up every other month, though some of them really do speak “common,” as they say.

But you should see his car! A bright red Ferrari Diana, I think it’s called. He might have been a bit of a rebel but, bless him, he’s proud of the Broadbridge name and he’s got this cherished number plate which he tells me cost him several thousand which reads, wait for it, BB 69. The BB is obvious, but the 69 is more puzzling, unless dear Mark was thinking of his father, who indeed turned 69 only the other day. Boys will be boys!

Mrs Broadbridge On God

Though I don’t go to church except at Christmas, I like it because it’s there, a reminder of God and a reminder of that good Vicar, the Rev Manley, that we had for so many years. He once admired my jam at the Horticultural show, second prize for damson it was. Peggy Major’s was all runny – a damson in distress [giggles]. But that new young vicar looks like Mick Jagger, if you ask me, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays the guitar in Christ Church – perish the thought. If I was God, I certainly wouldn’t want to be serenaded like that, even though Cliff Richard isn’t bad – and such a handsome lad with a touch of the Indian in him.

Looking at the world today, we really could do with another Jesus, or at the very least another visit from Jesus, but if he prefers to stay safe up in heaven, I wouldn’t blame him one little bit. God help us! Occasionally a churchy friend asks me about what I believe in, and whether Jesus matters to me. I tell them I’m full of admiration for him. He was obviously a very great, wonderful man who performed all these miracles, turning water into wine, turning loaves into fishes, when all poor old Uri Geller can do is bend spoons, of all the useless things!

If there is a saviour of today, I’d definitely say it was Margaret Thatcher. She really is quite someone. Almost spiritual, I reckon, there’s an aura about her whole being and that handbag is like the symbol of a great saint. Her eyes are a seer’s eyes and her mind is extraordinary. Jesus himself would look up to her! The Christians I can’t stand are those RC’s – dumb Irish mostly – always crossing themselves, and saying Father this, and Father that, while the chances are their beloved Father is sleeping with his housekeeper.

Bloody hypocrites (excuse my French) but I have to say I do rather like that Cardinal Hume – he makes you think it can’t be all bad. Basil. Nice man! But even worse are those Christians who go from door to door, spreading the word so they say, more like spreading diseases says I. The Broadbridge oak is firmly closed to them. Those Jehovahs people don’t believe in blood donations – I know I should give my blood but I’m squeamish, I would faint, but they’re always needing other people’s blood for this and that, so why in god’s name can’t they see this?

The best thing ever said to the door-knockers was by Mrs Stocker, who lives in that semi in Theobald Street. She opened the door and saw a couple of these men in dark suits. I know she’s a foreigner and her English can be faulty but you’d never believe what she said to them: “Hello, are you hormones?” They just fled, serves ’em right! I had such a laugh when she told me.

But now for a serious question, which Christians who are deeper thinkers than me are always going on about. Is there life after death? Ooh, my brain hurts is what my lovely grandson, Liam, would say to that but as I’m quite an intelligent woman, I’ll give it some thought.

No matter how good we are, when we’re dead we’re dead – we simply crumble into dust and that’s why I want a good Christian burial myself, the idea of being microwaved in a crematorium is dreadful – and you should hear the cheap recorded music they play there these days – “Come on baby, light my fire” was one of the songs [giggles]. But seriously, I know I’d die happy if the remains of Lilian Broadbridge become part of the soil that gives birth to a beautiful Peace rose, with a thrush perched on it, singing. Peace, perfect Peace, they should write on my gravestone.

Mrs Broadbridge On Her Nearest And Dearest

Mrs Broadbridge confessed to me the following in a lucid moment:
‘I do know I talk a fair bit about myself, but I’m considerably shyer than you think, and also, this may surprise you, I’m really quite a private person when it comes down to it. Keep your private life private is what I tell my nearest and dearest. Leslie knows that full well, and my Mark has worked that one out too in his profession.

By the way, I’ve always wanted to try one of his medications but he seems to keep the lid firmly shut on that. “No, Mrs B (that’s what he calls me, isn’t that lovely?), you cope fine on that modest dose of Valium that Dr Saunders puts you on – it helps make you the Mum you are. You won’t need that stuff I deal in, I mean purvey, honest!” Fair enough!

As for Susan, Mrs Broadbridge changes the subject, rolls her eyes, or looks the other way at the very mention of her daughter, a primary school aide in St Albans, while Roger, her son-in-law, ‘that bearded, geography teacher in a comprehensive… a bit of a drip if you ask me’, is if anything worse. Roger’s Labour Party activities are of course completely beyond the pale.

In her more compassionate moments, Mrs Broadbridge realises she’s being a little tough on Susan and at one point even briefly dabbed her primrose Kleenex when she told me this:

‘Let’s face it, that well-known Broadbridge charm has somehow by-passed our Susan. And she’s rather a plain girl with it. But she means well, I know that in my heart of hearts. And she’s flesh and blood, though she’s now Susan Jones, and you can’t take that away from her.

Her daughter Amy [shudders] does take after her mother, but I do remember her birthdays and she always gets a little something from Les and me at Christmas. She really needs to get her adenoids seen to. But Liam, Liam – the young scamp! I’d cross Tyke’s Water, I’d fight Hitler’s war for him.

That reminds me, I must go down the village to check at the pet shop when that ferret will be ready for him. Repulsive creature (the ferret I mean, of course!) but I’d love to see his face when he opens the box.

Talking of ferrets, I was watching Sir Kenneth Clark on da Vinci the other day and he was holding forth, as Sir Kenneth does with such style, about this portrait in communist Poland of a lovely blonde aristocratic girl which he called “Lady with an Ermine.” Well, these arty people really don’t have a clue – it’s obviously a ferret; my Fowler ancestors were good North Country people, and back in the day the menfolk, when they were in their cups, were known to stuff a live ferret down their mates’ trousers! I got that from Granny Fowler when I was a little girl and it all makes sense when I see my Liam and Mark!’

To confirm the above, and though no eavesdropper, this author was passing by the Broadbridge household just the other day and noticed Susan’s Ford Anglia parked there. The oak front door had been left inadvertently open, no doubt by her. Crouching down low beside the ivied wall, he was an unwitting witness to the somewhat one-sided conversation that follows. Clearly, Susan had been momentarily careless…

‘Don’t call me Mum, why do I have to tell you this? I never call you Sue though you say you wouldn’t mind. Call me Mother, or even, dammit, Mrs Broadbridge, if that won’t suit you. As for those flowers you gave me, you should know that reds and pinks shouldn’t be mixed like that and anyway, Leslie would tell you we’ve got quite enough Michaelmas daisies in our garden. But I suppose it was a kind thought. Now, here’s a shopping list of special things we can’t get down the village to get me in St Albans because the Allegro is in with the mechanics for the next few days. Normally I wouldn’t be imposing on you like this, and I’m sure you know that too. Though I’ve got one of those free passes they seem to dole out willy-nilly, I simply can’t abide those buses which never come, and when they do, they always seem to be full of silly pensioners!”

“Yes, Mother, and I’ll pay of course!”

“No, Susan, I know you mean well but I have my Mother’s Pride, and I don’t mean the bread. Here’s a £10 note and don’t lose your change, though it was your brother who’d always do that, bless him! Why not let our Liam keep the change, he could get himself a couple of those… what do they call them… transformers?”

“Okay, Mother.”

I resolved to linger no longer, but I noticed Susan grinning bravely, knowing that Mrs Broadbridge’s unquestioning love of one of her two grandchildren was something to hold on to, and no doubt resolving to split the change between Liam and Amy.

More Politics With Mrs Broadbridge

Young Mark, our near neighbour who’s a rising university star, tells me he’s a liberal. A man of intelligence and culture (you should hear him talking about art, mark my words, he’ll be the new Kenneth Clark before you can say palette knife!) – but – and it’s a big but, I think his brain must have turned into mush when it comes to politics.

I have words for him: wishy-washy, flip-flop, wet behind the ears and more. He’s so interested in what the person he’s supposed to be arguing with him says, half the time he ends up agreeing with them, though occasionally he can show sense and agrees with me! But that doesn’t stop him coming up with daft sayings every now and then like “A lot of crime is a cry for help. It’s not the criminals, it’s society that’s to blame!” [puts on a high pitched, feminine voice]. One of those bleeding-heart do-gooders who live in cloud cuckoo land is our Dr Mark.

Honestly, you need the intelligence of a five-year-old to know right from wrong and all those Cambridge degrees must have turned him a bit soft in the head. I say, let the punishment fit the crime – the Bible was on to a good thing when it said “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The other day, would you believe it, my bright little spark Liam bit poor Mr Van Noorden, the dentist! Well, he got his comeuppance alright when Mr Van Noorden went on to remove two of his teeth. That’ll learn him, as they say. ‘And count yourself lucky I don’t tie them to the door and slam it!’ he told him. Liam was quiet that whole evening Susan tells me, which must be a first. I reckon a bit of wisdom (not a wisdom tooth, he’s too young for that!) had sunk in.

Now back to politics: though I’m a true blue Tory, I don’t welcome all the kowtowing they do to those Brussels folk in the Common Market. It might benefit our trade but it certainly doesn’t benefit the cost of living. After decimalisation – they decimated us, as I tell people, there’s going to be metrication, and if that isn’t enough, fluoride in the water supply, all by order of Brussels!

I really don’t care much for those Continentals; at least all those coloured folk, well the older ones holding down jobs at least, do love and respect our Queen. While I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting we should have another war with the Jerries (though I loved wartime, I have to say), I’m very wary of them all the same. They need to remember that the three most important dates in German history are 1918, 1945 and (after extra time), 1966.

Those effete French aren’t much better: just imagine what it would be like on the buses and trains when we’re swamped with them and they’re breathing garlic at you. Their cooking is ever so la-di-da – cooking for poofs I call it – but the meat is just gristle and the way they disguise it with any amount of subtle sauces would never fool me. Chances are it’s rabbit or horsemeat – and they even ate cats and rats when they fought with the Germans a century ago! What with our problems with the coloureds, who wants a swarm of continentals on top of that?

Yet I do admit I have a soft spot for Italians, their men are ever so handsome in those tailored jackets and tight trousers (I can’t for a moment imagine my Leslie in a pair of them, he’d do the splits in seconds!). And to a man, those Italians know how to treat a lady, they have real charm. I’ve been to the Costa del Sol a couple of times and lovely and warm it is too (and getting all tiddly on far too much sherry and paella, yum yum!) but I would love a romantic holiday in Venice. I’d get a season ticket for those gondolas, and would look up with delight at the charming pilot who, while he’s steering me to the Doge’s Palace would be serenading me, just me, with “O sole mio!”

Back to politics. No wishy-washy liberals for me, and no stinking socialists taxing Leslie and me out of existence, and caving into striking miners, giving us power cuts and all those foul-mouthed trade union leaders with their Yorkshire and Scottish accents – at least you can’t understand a word the Scots say! Government by the government, say I, not those pesky unions.

Quite frankly, and if only more people could see it, the Conservatives are the only party with any backbone, and what with Mrs Thatcher now in No. 10, I believe she will be the greatest thing since Churchill and will make us all proud to be British again. With any luck she may even lead us out of the Common Market! The Tories are the party of the nation – One Nation as some of them call it – the party of the Queen and the Church (and don’t get me started on those liberal clergymen); the party of the armed forces, the police, law and order, an eye for an eye, three strikes and you’re in the clink.

A couple of years ago, Lady Radley took me along with her to the Conservatives’ conference in Brighton – I wore my best hat and quite enjoyed it for a couple of hours, though those politicos did talk a bit too much for my liking. A real highlight was that handsome Michael Heseltine, ‘Tarzan’ as some of the cheeky journalists call him – well, I can tell you, I’d be his Jane any day!

Bottesford Women’s Institute, 1977. “My kind of girls, salt of the earth types, and pity any man that crosses them!” (Mrs Broadbridge).

Appendix: The Mrs Broadbridge Limericks

Mrs Broadbridge
Down the village, on each working day
Mrs Broadbridge would chatter away
On the dear price of meat,
On her bunionèd feet
And whether that vicar was gay.

Mr Broadbridge’s revenge
The bank clerk who murdered his wife
Spoke thus, before sentenced to life:
‘Such a truculent nag,
An insufferable hag,
So I went – like this – with my knife!’

Mrs Broadbridge in heaven
The food, it’s all pretty and pink!
That angel, he gave me a wink!
James Last plays all day,
Frank sings us ‘My Way’,
I’ll stay here a while, I think!


Me And Liberalism

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” No, Voltaire didn’t write this (it was one, Evelyn Hall), but it sums up what I regard as the quintessence of liberalism.

Till maybe 25 years ago, I was perfectly happy being called a classic liberal and many people did so. It meant being at ease with yourself and yet not complacent – an enemy of injustice and a believer in the rule of law. All too often the latter has been travestied by the so-called liberals of today as being “law and order,” “lock up the crims,” etc. Only it doesn’t mean that at all. It means a belief in the law, essential to any civilised nation state, and a belief in the equality of all to the access and due process of law. A noble, liberal idea.

I use the word “travesty,” and sadly it applies to all too many so-called liberals of today: liberalism has become confused with, and almost inextricably entangled with, a kind of leftism that would disavow Evelyn Scott’s statement. With it comes an exponential increase in cancel culture, in “no platform,” and in vehement opposition to “your right to say it” if “it” is equated with hate speech.

No, liberalism should be all about learning from opinions different than yours and being ready to modify them in the process. For me a moment of epiphany was when I took on the thankless task of lead speaker defending Edward Heath’s failing government in a high school debate. I was no Tory (and I’m still not) but I found myself writing, “Capitalism is surely the least worst system we’ve got. It has its weaknesses, even its evils. But to his credit Mr Heath is aware of these and has pitted himself against what he calls, ‘The unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.’ He wants to reform it, not overthrow it.”

I lost heavily – partly because one Jeremy Black was in brilliant form on the other side (and he personally supported Heath). I was dog-tucker, as we say in Australasia, but I had learnt a lot by putting myself in the government’s shoes.

I was aided and abetted in my speech by my father, who realised late in life that his mistake was to have had too much faith in essentially illiberal Marxism and too little in fighting – to repeat Heath’s phrase – “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism.” Liberalism ultimately overcame socialism for him, even though it took a lifetime.

A question: do you think we can have a debate with the decency and at the same time the robust intelligence, on the same theme, at any high school today?

Traditional liberalism has always run the risk of looking feeble, flaccid and wishy-washy. We are the “best people” who seem to “lack all conviction” to the extremists around us. Liberalism’s belief in respecting the constitution, law and institutions like the monarchy, parliament and the church (yet enjoying constructive criticism of them) can mean that it is prone to gradualism – which is only one step away from the ‘masterly inactivity’ practised as a fine art by the British politician A.J. Balfour.

But that reading of liberalism ignores the “defend to death” element of Scott’s quotation and its vehement opposition to injustice and extremism – circumstances in which liberals may risk being momentarily illiberal without losing sight of the big picture.

Historically, I know I would have been a Girondist in the French Revolution, a Parliamentary Reformer in 1832 (sorry, Professor Clark), a Dreyfusard, a Menshevik in 1917, a civil rights and anti-apartheid marcher back in the 1960s – oh, and add to the mix being pro National Health Service and Prague Spring.

Probably the last great political liberal was Roy Jenkins (d. 2003), a pioneering Home Secretary in the 1960s, as well as a distinguished Chancellor of the Exchequer, upholding capitalism in difficult times. His last great work was a biography of Churchill, never an easy fit in the Liberal Party (nor indeed the Conservatives, who think they understand him but don’t); considerably to the right of Jenkins in many ways, and today a target for mindless defacers of his statue outside parliament. Jenkins’s unequivocal verdict? The greatest British prime minister of the 20th century.

Roy Jenkins, where are you when we need you? And, I ask in the same breath, oh Guardian, Guardian, what crimes of journalism and fake news have in the last 20 years been committed in your name? Why have you stopped publishing my letters and why do all your journalists ignore me when I factually correct them? I lament for liberalism.

Zbigniew Janowski, who commissioned this essay, has tried his damnedest to work on this and purge my threatened, and probably by most people’s definition, vestigial liberalism. I commend his vigour in doing so – but he won’t ever quite succeed. This is because liberalism is a thing I cling on to.

We classic liberals are the hardest to convert to socialism (perish the thought), but equally to conservatism. Our religious equivalent is agnosticism; and anyone can tell you it’s far easier to convert an atheist into a true believer – or the reverse. We would have lasted for about 5 minutes under Stalin, Pol Pot or the Chief Executive of the Museum of New Zealand in the late 1990s. We are the easiest and softest targets of “passionate intensity” to quote Yeats. And yet we’re quietly proud of who we are and what, as a threatened species, we stand for.


Mark

Mark Stocker is an art hiostoran who writes books and articles on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art.

The featured image shows, “Launceston, Cornwall,” by JMW Turner; painted ca. 1814-1827.

The Compleat Mrs Lilian Broadbridge

Preamble

I grew up in Radlett, Hertfordshire, about 15 miles from London, in the same cunningly modified semi-detached late 1930s home for the first 19 years of my life, and would periodically return there, sometimes from New Zealand, for a further 19 years.

Our place was right by a bluebell wood and opposite wheat fields. Back then, Radlett was a rather smug, solidly, perhaps even slightly upper, middle-class place. Today it is dominated by footballers, plutocrats and other nouveaux riches. In my day, there were two titled people on my Horticultural Society delivery list (Dad was an avid dahlia grower) – and our quarterly bulletin was the splendidly titled, Weeder’s Digest.

The heroine of the literary amuse-bouches that follow, Mrs. Lilian Broadbridge, long gone to Jesus, lived in a detached house in the street running parallel to us, Newberries Avenue. Fortunately her back garden was one along, but within easy hailing distance – and, by Jove, her voice carried.

Were she alive today, I think she would be tickled pink by the thought of having her views on race relations and the Royal Family as well as her wider Weltanschauung committed to print (these are coming up in the months ahead)!. There’s even a thank-you letter from her to Dr Dass to that effect.

Her husband, Leslie, was a shadowy presence, whose later years were absorbed in his stamp collection, watching cricket on TV, and silently working in the garden during her lengthy absences ‘down the village’, as everyone called it.


Mrs. Broadbridge Talks Politics

Though I always vote what my Leslie votes for, for us it’s just like what Henry Ford said about cars. You can have any colour, so long as it’s true blue [laughs]. He actually said black, I know a thing or two about history, but you know what I mean. A proud, true blue Tory, that’s me, born, bred – and educated.

Mrs. Thatcher wants to protect our great grammar schools, and I can tell you that getting into Watford Grammar was a life-saver for young Les. You won’t catch me dead in a ditch voting Labour! Their aim is to make everyone, regardless of their ability and intelligence, everyone equal. That’s alright on a desert island maybe, but on our island with 55 million people on it, it’s another matter. Equality is the slippery slope to communism, mark my words. And what did we fight the War for, with Winston at the helm, if it wasn’t to keep out those nasty Nazis and their pals the Reds?

Labour wants to tax you up to the hilt, down to the final penny. Les and I have precious little to show for after the taxman cometh, even with Mrs. Thatcher, thank heaven she’s in no. 10 now. And the price of those fresh vegetables at Draper’s (you’d never catch me going to Daryll’s on the other side of Watling Street), is really shocking. Melons 50p each! Never did I ever think it would come to this.

We have to scrimp and save, Les and me. And when we drove through the council estate on our way to Watford the other day, there was a late model Rover, or even worse a Toyota (I’ll never forgive them for what they did to our lads in the War).

Where was I? Yes, a gleaming Toyota parked on just about every drive, it made me almost ashamed of our Allegro. I ask you, where does all their money come from? And you should see what they cram into their trolleys in the supermarket, honestly, all those Cola bottles, beer cans by the dozen, huge packets of crisps, it’s money no object – alright for some!

Well, talking of shopping, I’d best be going down the village again myself, Les is clean out of his pipe tobacco, he’s a very particular man is our Les, but let me tell you this, though I love watching Cilla on Blind Date and some of those young men are really handsome, I’d never, ever hope to find a better or more loving husband…

Mark interjects (no chance earlier): So he’s a real man, is he?

Mrs Broadbridge: Oh you are a one! [Dissolves into laughter].

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, favourite reading of Leslie Broadbridge.

Mrs Broadbridge On Feminism

Those feminists are whiners and whingers. I never needed feminism and
just look at me now! As for bra-burning, well that’s even more stupid. When Leslie was courting me, he admired my endowments. Wearing a bra is part and parcel of them. Burning it would be like smashing my lovely, privately prescribed, tortoiseshell glasses, cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Germaine Greer, seen confronting Mrs. Lilian Broadbridge.

And let me tell you this. If a woman can’t influence her husband in every way, she must be some kind of a ninny. I’m quite progressive, really, and once the children are at school, I quite understand it if a woman wants to go back into the big wide world and find a job – and do very well in it. But that’s about as far as my feminism goes and if that cocky Germaine Greer ever comes anywhere near Newberries Avenue, I’ll jolly well give her a piece of my mind!


Mrs Broadbridge Says Thank You

[Ooh! I have a soft spot for handsome Indian gents, while Les is a big fan of that cunning slow bowler in the pink turban, the Venerable Bedi he calls him!]

Dear Dr Dass,
Never would I have thought that our clever young Mark, from that semi-detached in Theobald Street, would be featuring an article on the likes of us!! Truth be told, I’m really chuffed. You notice, as a literary man, how
I write it correctly, not “never would I of thought.” There lies a story! I wrote that in primary school and got a black star, my only one. My teacher said, and full of sarcasm Miss Venables was, ‘You don’t want to be one of the great unwashed!’

No I do not, and to this day I’ll have you know I enjoy two hot baths a week, complete with my lovely Yardley Lavender salts. Leslie, he does the same, and – I’ll let you into a little secret – he sings rather loudly in the bath. Lordy, I heard him bellowing out :We all live in a yellow submarine” last night, and it gave me quite a giggle.

Well, that’s more than enough of our private lives for the time being at least, but before I go, just to say many thanks indeed for publishing our boy!!

Sincerely yours and God bless,
Lilian Broadbridge (Mrs.)


The featured image shows, “Housewives’ Choice,” by Winifred Hartley; painted in 1956. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Crawford.