Spirit of England - An English Chrismas - the 1950s

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

see - So Long Ago So Clear - a 1950s Biography

Of course Christmas was important for a little boy. 
The first few Christmases for little Peter, however, seemed to merge together. 
Christmas presents did not seem to loom very large in these memories.
Instead it is the Christmas tree and the decorations that seem to have had the greatest impact. 
The tree was always a real fir tree, which reached right up to the ceiling, meaning that for Peter the Christmas tree was immense.
The decorations, which were probably left over from before the war, were mostly made of paper. Compared to later Christmases there seemed to be very little tinsel and glitter.
Those things that did glitter were pre-war, German glass decorations for the Christmas tree.
The only other glitter came from strips of lammeta, which were hung from the branches of the tree, in imitation of frost and icicles. 
Christmases were always celebrated almost entirely in the front room, where there was a permanent fire roaring in the grate. 

Even when the room was abandoned, the lights, which were large, plastic and Disney style, were left lighted on the tree.
Like most of the decorations, these lights were pre-war, and consisted of 'antique plastic' bells, in various primary colours, with a small tungsten bulb. 
The room itself was decorated with home-made, paper-chains of colored paper, and swags of twisted, crepe paper.
These chains and swags were run from the central ceiling-rose to the edges and corners of the room.
Also, in the corners, were elaborate colored paper decorations, forming balls and bells, which were quite large, being nearly a foot in diameter. 
Three very noticeable features of the Christmas season were the presence of fruit, nuts and alcohol, as these were all items that were absent for most of the rest of the year. 
Peter's presents were, in the early days, not very spectacular, being mainly clothes and books, as Jane was obsessed with getting Peter to read.

During the war (1939-1945) Christmas was very much 'on hold'.
For those were serving abroad, Christmas could be a very miserable affair.

Shepherd's Hotel - Cairo
For John Crawford, in Egypt, Christmas had plenty of alcoholic cheer at Shepherd's Hotel in Cairo, but little of the atmosphere of an English Christmas.

For Jane, it was a very much a series of 'Utility Christmases', as London limped along, first with the 'Blitz', and then with the VI's and VII's.
And, of course, rationing and shortages made Christmas very much a matter of 'make do and mend'.
When the war ended, however, things began to get back to normal.
Much to everyone's disappointment, though, rationing continued, with even bread (which had not been rationed during the war) being strictly rationed.
It was only in the early fifties that Christmas, at last, began to return to normal.
Even the relatively wealthy middle and upper-middle classes, however, didn't indulge in the uncontrolled extravagance that is now, in the twenty-first century, considered normal.
This was partly because people could not obtain a Christmas on credit, as people do now, but was also because years of privation had tempered people's appetites.
With sales of alcohol a tiny fraction, nationwide, compared to now, most people had a relatively 'sober' Christmas.
In addition, preparations for Christmas only began in the second half of December, and most Christmas shopping took place on the last few days before Christmas Day, with much of it centering on Christmas Eve.
There was also a strong religious element to Christmas celebrations, with large attendances at Anglican and Catholic Churches for Midnight Mass, and Christmas Morning Services.

Baker Street
For Peter, Christmas began in early December with a number of trips to Poulton's Toy Shop in Hounslow Broadway.
Although the trips were supposedly to buy one or two 'Britain's' toy soldiers, in reality Jane was checking to see which toys Peter was really interested in.
In addition, there would be at least one trip to Baker Street, and then to the shops in Oxford Street - Selfridges, in Oxford Street and, of course, Hamley's in Regents

Street to further detirmine the toys that Peter might like.  
Later, of course, unknown to Peter, Jane and John whoul make their own trip to buy the toys that Peter wanted.

'Cussons' Talcum Powder
On Christmas Eve, while Jane got on with preparing the Christmas meal, John would take Peter to the carol singing outside Murfits, on the Broadway, and then to Boots the Chemist (nothing like todays self survice stores), and Peter would be given a special Christmas allowance that he was allowed (and expected) to spend on a present for Jane - which was usually some 'Yardley' or 'Cussons' soap and talcum powder.
With the sound of Carols under the Christmas tree in the highstreet, and the brilliantly lit shops, with their sparkling displays of Christmas goods, Christmas Eve was always a magical time for Peter.

Christmas Turkey
And, of course, there would be meetings with neighbors, and friendly shopkeepers, because in the early fifties everyone knew one another (and many, of course, had been together through the dangers and privations of the war).
John would also buy the Christmas turkey.
Turkeys, in the early fifties, were more popular than chicken because, surprisingly, chicken was extremely expensive.
And the turkey was not frozen, but hanging from the outside of the butcher's shop, which had sawdust on the floor.

The Christmas of 1953 was, for 'our Peter', just as wonderful as all his previous Christmases at 55 Pears Road had been.
The important Christmas toy of that year was a large, clockwork Triang Mimic Sherman tank.
Not only could it roll over numerous obstacles on its caterpillar tracks, while the turret turned from side to side, but it also emitted puffs of white 'smoke' from the gun barrel, as if it were firing shells.

Now Peter had already had his Coronation Coach, and many new toy soldiers, but Peter was 'spoilt', so there were more soldiers, and also a rifle and a couple of pistols.

And of course there was the inevitable 'Eagle Annual' (see left), featuring Dan Dare.

By the Christmas 1953 Peter had got through Dan's first, unnamed adventure, (Operation Venus - as it is now called) and he had also worked his way through the 'Red Moon Mystery' and 'Marooned on Mercury'.
1953 had opened with 'Operation Saturn' (see right) which would turn out to be a long story, and one that would have some considerable significance for Peter, as we shall see later.

'A 1950s Christmas'
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

Spirit of England - Jeremy Thorpe - 'the worst Prime Minister we never had'

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

John Jeremy Thorpe, PC (29 April 1929 – 4 December 2014) was a British politician who served as leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976, and as Member of Parliament for North Devon from 1959 to 1979.
His political career collapsed when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had a homosexual affair with him in the early 1960s, when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain.
In 1976, the scandal, not surprisingly, forced him to resign as Liberal leader.
Of course, Thorpe denied any affair with Scott.
Subsequently, Thorpe was charged with conspiring to murder Scott.
He was, much to most people's surprise, acquitted in 1979, shortly after losing his parliamentary seat in the general election.

Early Life

Thorpe was born in Surrey, England, the son of John Henry Thorpe, a maternal grandson of Sir John Norton-Griffiths (both Conservative MPs), and a descendant of Thomas Thorpe, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1452 to 1453.
He was therefore a member of the minor aristocracy and the 'establishment', and remained as such until his eventual disgrace, brought upon by his trial (even although he was aquitted).
Thorpe was educated at Hazelwood School in Limpsfield, Surrey, Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read Law.
He was politically and socially active at Oxford, and was president of the Liberal Club and the Law Society before becoming, inevitably, president of the Oxford Union in 1951.
He was called to the bar in 1954, whilst working as a TV interviewer.

Member of Parliament

Thorpe was selected as Liberal candidate for Conservative-held North Devon in 1952. In the 1955 general election he halved the Conservative majority.
In the 1959 election, he won narrowly.
He remained MP for North Devon for the next 20 years, until defeated by a Conservative in the 1979 election.

Liberal Party Leader

In 1965, he became Liberal Party Treasurer and, following Jo Grimond's resignation as leader in 1967, he won the resulting party leadership election with the support of 6 of the 12 Liberal MPs.
Thorpe's style, in contrast to Grimond's intellectualism, was considered by some to be youthful and dynamic, although he was sometimes ridiculed as being too gimmicky, as when, for example, he called for Rhodesia to be bombed, after the country's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965.
He was a staunch defender of human rights as exemplified by his prominent role in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
He was also a key figure in the campaign for Britain to join the Common Market.
A ccolorful character, to put it mildly, Thorpe was renowned for his assortment of Edwardian suits, silk waistcoats and trilby hats, and was noted as a raconteur and impressionist.
It should not, of course, come as a surprise to anyone that he was bi-sexual, as all the appropriate signs were present.
His leadership of the party was not immediately successful.
The 1970 general election was calamitous for the Liberals; they fell from 13 seats to 6 (winning three, including Thorpe's, by tiny majorities).
Between 1972 and 1974, Thorpe led the Liberals to an impressive string of by-election victories, at Rochdale, Sutton and Cheam, Ripon, the Isle of Ely and Berwick - the so-called Liberal revival.
In the February 1974 general election, the Liberals gained 19.3% of the vote.
During the campaign, some opinion polls at times placed the party as high as 30%.
This was a great improvement over the 8.5% the Liberals attracted in the 1966 General Election before Thorpe's election as leader.
The February 1974 election resulted in a "hung parliament", with no party having a majority.
The Conservatives won 297 seats, Labour 301 (despite having fewer votes than the Conservatives), the Liberals 14, and the remaining 22 went to minor parties.
Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath proposed a coalition government with the Liberals, and Thorpe as offered the post of Home Secretary.
Thorpe asked for significant commitments toward electoral reform, but Heath could not give them.
As a Conservative-Liberal coalition would still have been seven seats short of a majority, its survival would have depended on the attitudes of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the Northern Irish parties.
The Liberal Party, and many who had voted for it, were not enthusiastic about keeping Heath in office and Thorpe declined the offer, fearing a coalition with the Conservatives would split his party.
On 4 March the talks to form a coalition collapsed, paving the way for Harold Wilson and Labour to return to power as a minority government, after four years in opposition.

Personal Life

Thorpe married interior decorator Caroline Allpass (1938–70), daughter of Warwick Allpass and Marcell William, in May 1968.
Their son Rupert was born in 1969.
Caroline Thorpe was killed in a car crash in June 1970.
Thorpe then married Marion Stein in 1973.
A distinguished concert pianist, she had previously married the 7th Earl of Harewood, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, and was much more of his class.
She died in March 2014.

Relationship with Norman Scott

Rumours about Thorpe's sexuality dogged both his university and his political career, and this was at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain.
In 1961, Norman Scott (b. 12 February 1940), a former model, met Thorpe.
Scott was working as a stable lad.
Scott subsequently claimed that he and Thorpe had a sexual relationship between 1961 and 1963.
Scott's airing of these claims led to an inquiry in the Liberal Party in 1971 which, without going very deeply into the matter, exonerated Thorpe. 
Scott continued, however, to make the allegations.
Attempts were then made to contain or silence him, but to no avail, until the fallout following the shooting of Scott's dog Rinka, by a hired gunman, brought the matter into the open.
After further newspaper revelations, Thorpe was forced to resign the Liberal leadership, which did not end public or police interest in the affair.
Inquiries led to Thorpe, and three others, being charged with conspiracy to murder Scott.
During the investigation, an antique firearms collector, Dennis Meighan, admitted to providing the gun used to shoot the dog, and confessed he had been hired by a representative of a person called "a Mr Big in the Liberal Party" to kill Scott for £13,500.
Meighan has claimed that his 1975 oral confession had been significantly abridged by the authorities when it was offered to him in written form: "I read the statement, which did me no end of favors, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favors as well, because it left him completely out of it.
So I thought, 'Well, I've got to sign this'.
It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, etcetera, was left out as well."
The trial was scheduled for a week before the general election of 1979, but Thorpe obtained a fortnight's delay to fight the election, in which he lost his seat.
One of the chief prosecution witnesses was former Liberal MP and failed businessman Peter Bessell, who claimed to have been present while the murder plot was discussed in the Liberal Party.
One alleged plan had been to shoot Scott in Cornwall, and dispose of the body down a disused tin mine shaft.
Thorpe did not give evidence.
His counsel, led by George Carman QC, argued that, although Thorpe and Scott had been friends, there had been no sexual relationship (?).
Carman claimed that Scott had sought to blackmail Thorpe and that, although Thorpe and his friends had discussed "frightening" Scott into silence, they had never conspired to kill him.
Mr Justice Cantley's summing-up was widely criticized for an alleged pro-establishment bias, and it made headlines when he had the temerity to describe Scott as "a crook, an accomplished liar ... a fraud".
The four defendants were all acquitted on 22 June 1979.
Dennis Meighan was never called to give evidence, and remained silent until 2014, when he acknowledged his involvement and commented:
"It was a cover-up, no question, but it suited me fine".
If Thorpe had been a 'normal' person - and he was far from that - he would have ended up in prison - for a long time.
He was, however, one of the 'privileged few', part of the 'establishment'.
Unlike Scott, who had drawn a 'short straw' in life, Thorpe had been born with the proverbial 'silver spoon', and was 'fire-proof', and untouchable.
That he was bi-sexual is almost certainly true, and it seems not only credible, but also very likely that he had a 'full-blown' homosexual affair with Scott.
It is also almost certain that he was frantic to get Scott to 'shut up', and he had the money, influence and inviolability to accomplish that.
Scott, it would appear, was very lucky to get away with his life.
And would we have wanted a man of such low and despicable morality to have been Prime Minister ?
Judge for yourself.

Later Life and Death

Not long after the trial, Thorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and retired from public life.
For many years, the disease was at an advanced stage.
He attended the funeral of Roy Jenkins in 2003.
In 1999, Thorpe published his memoirs, 'In My Own Time', describing key episodes in his political life. 
He did not shed any light on the Norman Scott affair, and never made any public statements regarding his sexual orientation - but then he didn't really have to.
On 4 December 2014, Thorpe died at his home in London of Parkinson's disease, aged 85.

The Spirit of England - A London Christmas - 2016

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016


Although an American, Zac has lived all his life in London, and has, therefore, seen many an English Christmas.
And as the late John Lennon once sand
'And so this is Christmas.....'
'So 2016 was a 'traditional' Christmas - as Pete and Zac put up their Christmas tree in the 'drawing room a day before Christmas eve, (rather than at the end of October or beginning of December as so many people do now), - and there it stayed, unadorned - and then, on Christmas Eve Pete spent the afternoon arranging the baubles, chains and other decorations - all in gold - and the lights (LEDs of course, white and blue on separate circuits), and finally crowning the tree with the German style glass finial (identical to that from the tree in the 1950s).
Garlands of gold tinsel were then put round the baroque mirrors and picture frames.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
Portrait of Pete

And then, in the evening, the presents were opened, (for Christmas Eve is the traditional time to open presents), and a new portrait of Pete was unveiled, and hung as a Christmas addition to the room.'

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
Zac in the 'Wonder Room' at Selfridges - in late November
Oxford Street - London - England

For Londoners lucky enough to have enough money spare to spend on Christmas shopping Christmas shopping often starts early, and of course London has some of the best shops to be found for Christmas shopping.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
Zac at Tom Ford - Selfridges - in late November
Oxford Street - London - England

Zac starts his Christmas Shopping early - and one of his favorite shops is Selfridges in Oxford Street

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
Zac leaves Selfridges after a Successful Shopping Expedition
note there are no bags - Zac has his shopping delivered to his apartment

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
'Zac and Peter Pan'
Kensington Gardens - London - England

And of course, no Christmas would be complete without a visit to 'Peter Pan'.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
'Christmas Zac at the Hylas Fountain'
Regents Park - London - England

'Dreaming of a white Christmas'

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
'White is always the Color of Christmas'

Zac and Pete at selfridges - Oxford Street - London - England

part to of the 'Dreaming of a white Christmas' series

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2014
'Destination Christmas'
and this is from two years ago

Zac and Pete in Oxford Street - London - England

part to of the 'Dreaming of a white Christmas' series

to be continued