DIARY 23 December 1967 Christmas

Garland collage

Home for Christmas 1967

I had always enjoyed Christmas; it was a perennial big family event. Mom and Dad did their best with presents for us children. The decorations, saved from previous years, were brought out; the artificial tree and glass baubles; paper garlands with string passed through them so that you could fold them flat and use them next year.

We usually managed a turkey although we might have beef or chicken instead. The table was always elaborate, whatever we had. Mom and Dad did not drink but at Christmas Dad would go down to the off licence with a two-pint Winchester and have it filled with British Sherry. Mom might buy a liqueur called ‘Green Goddess’ which was rarely drunk by anyone.

We would attend midnight mass on Christmas eve. The next morning, we would wake up and look for a pillow case full of presents, usually a plastic toy, a comic annual from an aunt, a tin of sweets, some new clothes, a game and an orange. It was a pleasant time for the whole family.

In 1967 year, things were a bit different. We were not children anymore; my elder sister had her own toddlers and was living in Kings Norton with her husband; my younger sister was working at Cadbury’s and at a newsagent on Saturdays[1]. My brother was fourteen and wishing he could leave school. I was the odd one out who went to university.

1967 Derek Perry   Was this facial growth even fashionable at the time?

I had returned to Birmingham after my first term at Chelsea College. I was now older, almost a man at age 19, and I had increasingly grotesque facial hair to prove it. I don’t think Dad or Mom approved but they said nothing; Dad’s attitude was that it was my choice and I had to live with the consequences. I received funny looks in Birmingham; there were suggestions that my orange neckerchief and pink shirt made me look effeminate, not helped by my new accent which was said to make me sound ‘posh’.

Dad was seriously ill. He had suffered a heart attack a few weeks previously and, after a short time in hospital, had been sent home. There was bemusement that he was being given rat poison[2] as a medication but he was short of breath, suffered occasional chest pains and could walk only a short distance. Dad had been ill for a very long time. Today we would call it COPD[3]; it was not his first heart attack and it would not be his last.

HE Perry, Tracy, Martin - Copy  Dad loved his grandchildren.

We were careful not so say or do anything to upset the peace but it put us all under a lot of strain. It was worse for Dad’s new grandchildren. As normal toddlers they would be lively and noisy but their visits were restricted because of the strain they might put on him. This was a pity because he loved them both and they brought him a lot of pleasure.

The decorations and tinsel were faded; the wonder of childhood was subdued; Father Christmas wasn’t real; illness spread melancholy rather than cheer. I escaped to see my girlfriend; she lived with her Mother in Selly Oak and they did not share my family’s festive traditions.

Nevertheless, we watched the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour on television and were satisfied that it made us feel better while irritating the older generation.

After seven years at school I had managed to lose contact with all my former school friends. Most of them lived on the other side of the city in places like Acocks Green or Sheldon so we were unlikely to bump into each other. Roy and Rayner remained my closest friends but their teenage years were also over. Roy was engaged to Sue and training as a policeman but was already considering it an unsuitable career. Rayner was applying to join Birmingham Repertory Theatre and was looking for work as an actor. I was already a stranger from out of town. 

I was glad to get back to London as soon as possible. I was not happy to leave my girlfriend but we were planning weekend visits which promised more than miserable damp days in Selly Oak.
                                                                                                                                               © Derek Perry 2017

[1] She would later become full time manager of the shop.

[2] Warfarin is an anti-coagulant, introduced in 1948 as a rat poison. By the end of the 1950s it had been approved for the treatment of thrombosis and embolism and is still in regular use.

[3] COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease including emphysema.

DIARY 25 September 1967 Birthday boy

19 years old today

1967 Derek Perry CROP

Probably my ‘official’ photo from 1967 for my passport and ID cards. Possibly the only time I wore a suit and tie that year. Hair still struggling to grow out of my school cut but the sideburns are doing rather well. I hoped the spectacles would make me look intellectual but John Lennon style wire spectacles were much desired.

Nineteen today. Celebrations were overshadowed by the fact of me leaving home soon and my Father becoming seriously ill.

My girlfriend gave me a silver Saint Christopher medallion; a nice one, set in a silver ring and personally engraved ‘with love’. A gift for a traveller which I treasured for a long time. I can’t remember how we celebrated; we were not part of any group we could go to a party with, but we did occasionally go dancing. I would be leaving for London within a week.

The Station Inn opposite Selly Oak station used a large room for ‘socials’ which meant having someone play records to dance to and the occasional live band. I definitely recall seeing Jimmy Cliff. There was also a band called ‘Way of Life’ who appeared at the Station Inn earlier in the year with a great drummer called John Bonham[1]; by the end of 1967 he had joined up with a guitarist called Robert Plant to form ‘Band of Joy’.

The Station Inn had ultra-violet lighting which would make white knickers glow in the dark unless you wore a dark skirt. This lighting had other strange effects. At that time, there was an attempt to market dry shampoo which meant combing a white powder through your hair. This was impossible to remove completely and young women would appear with an ethereal halo due to the ultra-violet. 

Station Inn 1996

The Station Inn a few years later; behind the five windows was the music room. For a short time, this was on the Birmingham’s music club circuit. Now renamed ‘The Bristol Pear’ but I am not sure why.

My Father had been ill for several years with heart disease. About four years earlier he had suffered a heart attack which left him weakened and short of breath. He had to give up his job as a milkman; heaving full crates of milk had become impossible. However, Cadbury’s gave him a sitting down job measuring the size of chocolate particles using a microscope which required much less effort.

Nevertheless, he spent the next few years short of breath, occasionally in pain and on constant medication. There were several scares when he would be taken to hospital by ambulance. Nowadays, with the availability of better medication and surgery, Dad would have been restored to better health. For us teenage brothers and sisters, we had to avoid upsetting him in case of triggering a heart attack; this was difficult, at a time when we would be naturally rebelling, to have to tread so carefully.

Just before my birthday we had to call the ambulance again. Dad survived and was allowed home a few days later; at the age of 55 it looked as if he might be housebound for the rest of his life. It was not a particularly happy birthday.

[1] Do I have to tell you he was one of the greatest drummers in the world in one of the greatest bands in the world, Led Zeppelin? On this day, 25 September 1980 John Bonham died after consuming 40 shots of vodka.

DIARY 18 September 1967 Whither university?

Whither university for this boy?

BRISTOL RD, SELLY OAK 22-8-52  Dawlish Road 1964 JPG

Left: Birmingham University tower and the Great Hall. The clock tower is 99 metres tall and is the largest freestanding clock tower in the world. It dominated the skyline over Bristol Road, the main street through Selly Oak. Dawlish Road joins it to the right, opposite the white building. Right. Dawlish Road in the 1960s. Fifty years later many of these houses are let to students.

No-one in my family had ever been to any university. My father grew up in Dawlish Road, Selly Oak with the tower of Birmingham University looming over the terraced streets barely a mile away.  Despite its proximity it was a world away; I did not venture into the grounds until I was sixteen.  

I knew no-one who had ever been to a university among my extended family, friends or neighbours.  My parents had left school at fourteen with no prospect of further education. In the 1960s, you only had to stay in school until you were fifteen. With plenty of jobs and a pointless education, most young people were glad to leave. Your future was decided at age 11 when everyone took a school examination called the ‘Eleven-plus’. Those who passed would be offered a place in a grammar school or similar. The rest, including everyone at Raddlebarn School except me, went to a secondary modern school.

In a secondary modern school the pupils were not expected to take ‘O’ levels[1]; boys and girls were kept busy learning useful basic skills while they waited to be fifteen and left for a job in a factory or a shop. I passed the eleven-plus and took another exam to get into King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys[2]. This was an offshoot of King Edward VI School in Edgbaston, founded by the eponymous Edward in 1552. The Camp Hill school dated from 1883 and had moved into fine new buildings with extensive grounds and sports facilities at Kings Heath in 1956.

We were advised by a family friend who was a headmistress that this was a very good school and I deserved to go because I was so clever. She tutored me through the 11-plus. There was some reluctance from my parents because of the cost. My place was free but the school uniform would cost a fortune. Apart from the jacket and tie, they required a rugby shirt in school colours and even gym shorts in a specific shade of maroon only available from one shop. My Dad explained the problem but, as always, said that such choices were mine. If I thought it was a good idea then he would help as much as possible. Although I had only just turned twelve I got a job as a butcher’s boy to help pay for it.

While my old school friends went off to be factory fodder, I was to read Shakespeare, learn Latin and French, study nature and even a bit of philosophy. No use whatsoever at Cadbury’s or ‘the Austin’. No-one, including myself, understood what I was meant to do with all this apparently useless knowledge; I thought it was a reward for being clever. It seems that the middle and upper classes did not have enough intelligent people to manage their affairs so they selected a few of us brighter working class children to be trained up as managers and administrators.

Going to Camp Hill school was not an end in itself. After leaving school, you would be expected to go on and qualify as something else or go into your father’s business. For me, I had no idea what a useful qualification might look like; and there was no family business to aspire to.[3] When I passed my ‘A’ levels I had no idea what I would do. Going to university allowed me to put off the decision of how to obtain an income. I assumed I would go to Birmingham University so that I could live cheaply at home. In those days, there were no fees and I would get a grant[4].

My family was somewhat perplexed by my decision. I do not remember being congratulated on getting a university place because to them my future was now completely uncertain. It was put to me that with my ‘A’ levels I could get a damn good job with Cadbury’s or ‘the Austin’. However, my mental landscape was widening and the prospect of being stuck in a factory disconcerted me.

In any case, I was clearly a bright boy and deserved better. I had already excelled at church, at Boy Scouts, at the local youth club, as a paper boy. I was ahead of everyone at primary school.  At King Edward VI Camp Hill School I was up against boys who had also excelled by passing the 11-plus. Winning first place became less frequent but I still won prizes and plaudits for biology and nature studies. Despite my lack of interest in sport, I was even selected to play rugby for the school (2nd XV) and cross-country team[5]. I was quite popular amongst my classmates.

It seemed natural that I would continue to aspire. I had achieved everything that could be achieved by a boy from Raddlebarn. Unfortunately, I had no idea what else I could do or how I would be received. Before I left school I found out that it would not be so easy. I was good at zoology and had a genuine interest in nature. Becoming a doctor (GP) seemed a good idea, and I had heard that Cambridge had a well-respected medical school. I was informed by the school careers master that this was out of my league; what he meant was that working class boys did not become doctors.

At the time I accepted this situation and opted to study pharmacy.  Becoming a chemist with a shop seemed more feasible; I could not imagine becoming like the only doctor I knew, our middle-aged grey-suited GP, Dr Donovan.

So off I went, to London, because that was where I had been offered a place to study pharmacy. I had been warned that university was not like school but I decided I could handle the different teaching methods. What I was not prepared for were the social differences.

[1] Education authorities later invented the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) for these schools which was a sort of second grade ‘O’ level; you could get a GCSE in typing or technical drawing.

[2] King Edward VI Camp Hill School would never call itself a ‘grammar school’. There was a grammar school nearby in Kings Norton which dated back as far as King Edward VI High School and even had the original half-timbered building to prove it. However, it was always considered somewhat inferior despite being a perfectly good school.

[3] In my family, working life would always mean having a job working for someone else. The idea that any of us might run our own business or employ our own workers was beyond our comprehension. When I was eleven years old, a regular school exercise was a spelling test in which I invariably scored 100%. Except once when a girl named Gloria came top because I could not spell the word ‘business’. The concept was so alien that I could not even spell the word correctly.

[4] The grant was £385 per year for living expenses during term time only; during vacations I would have to get a job (the Post Office at Christmas was useful for this). This gave me over £10 a week during term time, not much less than the wage an eighteen-year old might expect starting work in 1967.

[5] The main result of all this physical activity was that I developed muscular thighs which ruined the fit of slim jeans and slacks.

DIARY 1 September 1967 Summer

My lonely summer

lulworth-cove-and-durdle

Durdle Door, near Lulworth Cove. I came here for three years running 1965 to 1967 with friends, staying in a caravan site on top of the cliffs.

I spent a miserable week alone in a decrepit caravan at Lulworth Cove in September 1967. I should have been joined by my friend Rayner Bourton[1] but he wanted to be an actor and had been diverted by an opportunity. It took him three days to let me know but he had a good excuse, whatever it was. His absence did not increase my misery.

I spent my time wandering along the beaches and reading. I joined another boy of my age who was taking a boat from beach to beach along the coast selling ice cream. I went along for the ride and he seemed happy with my company. Otherwise, I was on my own.

My girlfriend was on a P&O cruise to the Canary Islands with her mother. Her father had died the previous year and this trip was meant to be either a consolation or a celebration. I had hitched a lift in her mother’s car to the south coast. I would see her off at Southampton, go to Lulworth and greet her as she returned. The ship’s departure was delayed for 24 hours so I was sneaked on board for the night and we watched The Manchurian Candidate in the ship’s cinema.

Next morning, I said ‘bon voyage’ to my girlfriend and she sailed off. Instead of a quick hug and a wave goodbye this enormous ship slowly heaved itself away from the dockside and down the Solent to the sound of a band playing, with flags flying and hooters hooting. Perhaps it was the theatrical nature of this departure but I felt as if I was saying goodbye to something for ever.

I had already thought a lot about going to London and leaving my girlfriend behind. Perhaps I should have been sensible and accepted that a long-distance relationship would not work. But, I was inexperienced in such things, and I was in love. I could still spend my weekends in Birmingham.  Was the feeling I had as the ship disappeared a premonition?

I got through my lonely week in the caravan somehow. I scratched her name in ten-foot high letters on the beach and watched the tide wash it away. I wrote love letters I never posted. I spent the last of my money on a bunch of red roses to be delivered to her when the ship docked. This extravagant gesture was not simply to welcome her back; it was meant somehow to obliterate the gap that was now between us.

I went back to Southampton to greet her as the ship arrived. I felt immediately that something had changed. Her greeting seemed perfunctory; I had expected something more affectionate. My roses had been delivered but they were in an untidy bunch and some had bent stems. I was put in the back of the car and felt ignored with mother and daughter in the front seats. I felt even more superfluous when she suggested we pick up a couple of hitchhikers.

I was devastated; what had happened to her? Why was she rejecting me? There were hints of a relationship with the ship’s photographer but how far had it gone? She had changed somehow in ways that I could not understand. I began to realise that my future with her may be uncertain. She would be seeking out new things just as I was would be doing in London.

Back in Birmingham I had a few days to sort out my luggage. It would be many years before I could deal with the emotional baggage from that summer.

[1] Rayner Bourton lived in Selly Park with his aunt. We were teenage friends, making a threesome with Roy Harrison. Rayner became an actor and was the first Rocky Horror on stage in The Rocky Horror Show. Roy became an estate agent and married Sue, the girl I wanted to take home one night.

DIARY 27 Jul 1967 On the brink

1966 Derek Perry retouch

The way I looked when I was a schoolboy. Note the school tie, tied with the narrow end showing, with a Windsor knot, wide end tucked in the shirt. For some reason, I am not wearing my fashionable black square-rimmed glasses. My hair was fair and curly, a bit of a disappointment because I could not style it as a ‘Beatle-cut’.

On the brink

Today is my girlfriend’s birthday. She has just turned 17 and goes to school in Bournville. I am 18 and have just finished school in Kings Heath.[1] I am waiting for my ‘A’ level results to see if I will be going to university in London in October.

I met my girlfriend the previous year at a youth club. I had walked other girls home from the same club but, as relationships go, they often didn’t last longer than that walk home. Some only allowed me to take them home for safety’s sake, including one girl who I considered to be very pretty with the latest bobbed hair style. The next night, my best friend walked her home; she must have like him a lot more than me because they are still married to each other.

This girlfriend was different to the other girls I had met. She was intelligent and knowledgeable. She read a lot and went to see arty films and knew about obscure musicians. She taught me how to pronounce ‘Dvořák’. I was also considered to be highly intelligent; that is a fact and not a boast.[2] But I was very ignorant of culture, politics, geography, history, literature. You don’t get these things at a boy’s school; we had sport and science.

My girlfriend opened the door to culture. We went to see foreign films, visited art galleries, listened to folk and jazz records, and went dancing. I can’t remember what we might have done to celebrate her birthday but it could well have been a Swedish film, perhaps by Ingmar Bergman. I recall seeing Smiles of a Summer Night with her.  In Birmingham, in those days, the only place to see foreign films was the Cinephone cinema on Bristol Street. This was not an art house movie theatre by any means; its staple fare was soft porn, usually Scandinavian. Bergman was probably shown simply because it was Swedish.

Until then, my life had been unremarkable. Within the petty hierarchies of family, school and church I had achieved some recognition; eldest son, head boy at primary school and class leader at Sunday school.  My place was assured and comfortable. Physical horizons were limited and stretched not much further than school and church (later replaced by the youth club). Intellectual horizons were equally narrow and my personal mental map was a landscape lacking in imagination.

I did not really know why I wanted to go to university, especially one in London.[3] I was clever and going to university seemed to be what clever people did. I could see Birmingham University’s tower from Raddlebarn Road, so I could at least imagine what university looked like if only at a distance. I thought it was just a bigger school with lots of people who studied a lot. My mental image of a student was someone with glasses wearing a tweed jacket, tie and a college scarf round his neck. I had chosen a subject (pharmacy) that was only available in a few places, including Nottingham and London. My future was decided when I was offered a place at Chelsea College of Science and Science and Technology, newly recognised as a college of the University of London.

There I was, somewhat naïve, waiting to go to Chelsea which was in the throes of being ‘swinging’ London. This boy, whose mind was already being stirred by new ideas and experiences, was beginning his personal voyage of discovery. It would prove to be eventful…

 

[1] King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Vicarage Road, Kings Heath.

[2] Some years later, in my late thirties, I went for some psychological tests to assess my mental health. They established (I forget the precise mathematical formulation) that if you took a group of 1000 people with a similar background to mine, I would be in the top five according to my ability to solve certain intelligence tests. Their conclusion was that I was probably bored because I was too intelligent. Perhaps like Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin is the spaceship’s robot, afflicted with severe depression and boredom, because he has a ‘brain the size of a planet’. I am not sure that I trust a diagnosis of mental illness based on a humorous fictional fantasy.

[3] Coming soon: Going to university in the 1960s (see Encyclopedia).