Wednesday, 3 September 2014

How to answer the BBC in 1988

Dance Tales Story Ballets Janette Heffernan


In 1988 I was honoured by a commission from the BBC Children's Department for my Dance Tales story ballets series. This was the first and only time TVNZ had actually had an entertainment programme concept accepted so it was important that everything went well. I was the first woman independent director into the bargain as their boys would not take directions from me! I was informed. It was the 1980s!

Sad to say my experience with this BBC department was a nightmare. The BBC felt they were dealing with colonials and colonials needed to be kept in their place. They made life impossible. They insisted on having the choice of ballets. I sent 60 possibles and the BBC chose five, one The Little Match Girl for their Christmas programmes. The BBC insisted on choice of voice for voice overs and although audition tapes were sent three months before production refused to say if the voices I had chosen were acceptable. Even after many letters and eventually expensive toll calls I never received an answer.

I just went ahead! The male narrator had a soft East Enders accent and I had the received English. It was and still is a good choice especially as in hindsight the BBC of those days is now rather over the top. The BBC was furious and wanted me to rerecord. On my budget this was out of the question so I stood up for my actor. Fortunately the BBC liked my voice!

All through production I received the most hostile epistles. My commercial half hour productions relied heavily on expensive after effects which again are  essential today but the BBC insisted that in the 15 minute versions not one effect was in sight. This was because in those days the BBC could not afford the effects and if the British children were introduced to them they would insist on them all their programmes. The BBC went to great lengths to see that this did not happen.

The programme  sample VHS were delivered on time but were not shown at Christmas and it was not until Easter that they were put into the schedule. Easter Week has just three days so two programmes were not wanted and the BBC decided not to pay for these.  They did not tell me this but just said two of the programmes were not up to standard and not required.  This was very serious for me as I relied on this payment.

The BBC were adamant and turned nasty. They cancelled all five. I too was furious  and hurt as I felt that the programmes which were good enough to be finalists for the LA Monitor Awards for  technical excellence were worth broadcasting by the BBC and they had chosen them.

I went straight to the top. I wrote a long letter to the Director General complaining of the treatment that had been metered out to my small professional opera/ballet company and asked him to have a look. A few days later I got a call from the BBC Children's Television telling me that the BBC had found they could use the programmes after all. Victory!

BUT there was still the sting in the BBC's tail. When we sent the final finished tapes I received this telegram in Auckland New Zealand dated 20 April 1988:

Re: Dance Tales 
REGRET MATERIAL SENT IN RESPECT OF DANCE TALES TECHNICALLY UNACCEPTABLE. YOU HAVE SUPPLIED PLASTIC G SPOOLS WHICH CAN SPIN ON THE MACHINE. CLAUSE 7 OF THE CONTRACT CALLS FOR1' METAL SPOOLS. FORMAT PAL . 

THE G SPOOLS ARE BEING RETURNED TO YOU. LET ME KNOW WHEN THE CORRECT MATERIAL WILL BE SENT.

MS DUGGAN.

London to Auckland and back  is 22 thousand miles and the tapes had already cost a fortune to send by airmail as they were so heavy. I was not happy. I rang my wonderful Executive Producer at Vidcom.

Bill Harman who had the most delightful cockney voice ever and who voiced  The Carpenter in Walrus and Carpenter was  up to the BBC and wrote them a letter. A letter of such brilliance I wish I had composed it myself. It summed up all the BBC silliness in a few simple phrases.


Vidcom  Ltd, Auckland, NZ 

20 April 1988

Dear Ms Duggan
Re Dance Tales 
As the production house that produced these programmes, we have been informed by Janette Heffernan that you have rejected the programmes due to the tapes being wound onto small plastic "G" spools which can spin.

We do not encounter this problem as we use up-to-date Ampex VPR 3 machines, but would suggest is your VTR's are not compatible that you re-spool the tapes onto reels which will function correctly for you rather than send them back to us (in NZ) to put onto metal spools.

If this is not possible, please contact me so that I can arrange for an independent production house in London to re-spool them for you to save an inordinate amount of time and unnecessary freighting.

Yours sincerely
Bill Harman
Executive Producer


We never heard another word. The programmes were a great success all over the world but the BBC Children's Department did not survive the year and I am not surprised.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Hugh Miller Golf Ball Manufacturer The Professional Golfer June 1924

I thought I knew about my grandfather's early life until I found this article in The Professional Golfer June 1924 Page 4. Just shows you how wrong one's family can be on occasions.

Our readers will have no difficulty in recognising the familiar features of Hugh Miller whose picture appears in this issue. Hugh is rather bashful where autobiography is concerned, but I have managed to extract from him a few particulars concerning his own career which will doubtless interest the "boys".

Hugh is of course a Caledonian.His school days, however were all spent in the U.S.A. These over , he returned to Scotland and entered the firm of his late uncle, Mr. Hugh Miller (Messrs. Miller and Taylor) as an employee. In 1904 Hugh assisted his uncle in experimenting in the manufacture of rubber-cores, and when the firm put their first ball on the market ( The "Reliance") Hugh started to travel among the professionals, covering practically the whole of the British Isles. As time went on the firm decided it would be more convenient if Hugh made his headquarters in London, and he accordingly moved south as their London agent. This was in 1910.

The firm was located at 10 Dyer's Buildings Holborn, and Hugh carried on here until he joined the forces, serving in the Mechanical Transport. On his demobilisation in 1919 he joined Messrs. Miller and Taylor and remained with them until February 1922 when he left the golf trade - as he thought, for good. But three months were as long as he could stay away from the "boys," and in May of the same year he started out in business for himself, from the old address of 10 Dyer's Building which he had taken over.

Many a joke was cracked over his venture in being the pioneer in taking round his goods in a "tin lizzie" and no one enjoyed them more than "the victim", but all good things come to an end, and on selling his business in April to Mr. D.M. Stocks, son of the well known caddie bag maker of Edinburgh, Hugh joined the firm of Messrs. Game-Balls Co.Ltd. of Brentford, Middlesex as golf ball sales Manager.

To use his own words, Hugh is "convinced that his firm has the goods." while we, for our part, wish him every possible fortune in  his new venture. At any rate his heart is in the golf trade: he will be in his element in his new and responsible post and success must come.

It did!  Grand Father Miller knew success and failure. He made and lost three fortunes.  The first loss was when his uncle Hugh Miller who had relied on his nephew running the firm since 1904 died having promised the firm. Instead in 1922 it seems, uncle Hugh left his firm and fortune to Hugh's younger twin sisters Martha and Mary Miller remarking in the will that Hugh Miller was a young man and well able to make his way in the world. My grandfather left with an  inscribed silver plate and nothing else.

The Harlequin Golf Ball of 1924, The Magic Performer from Tee to Green, was manufactured by the Game Balls Co. and cost 2/6. One was sold by Christies in 1996 for £1000.

He made another fortune with the multi coloured golf umbrella which we all know today.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Special Constable Hughie Miller directs traffic at Hyde Park Corner during the Blitz.



At the start of World War II my father, who had been a young Lloyds underwriter, a job which he hated had enlisted as a Special Constable and for the first 18 months of the war had been billeted in St James's Park near Hyde Park Corner.

During on enemy raid in 1941 the traffic lights in Central London went down and it was up to the likes of my young and inexperienced father to keep the roads of the West End moving My father had to step in it appears without any prior training and take on perhaps one of the most challenging roundabouts in the whole of the city, Hyde Park Corner, as Oedipus will relate, a place where three roads meet.

A passing journalist was so impressed at my father's performance that he wrote a review of which my father was particularly proud and he kept it for years in his wallet and he would produce it at suitable moments to impress anyone unwise enough to give him the opportunity. Sadly this precious fragment was lost until tonight cleaning out the attic I came across his old army kit bag. There is was and here it is:

The Professional Stroll
 Up at Hyde Park Corner I found the perfect Traffic Special. He was in complete control of the roadway where is says "Piccadilly Traffic," "Knightsbridge Traffic", "Hyde Park Corner Traffic".
He had even learned to stroll negligently to the island after letting loose the floodgates.
Most of his colleagues still scuttled like frightened rabbits or like  you or I would.
With just the right professional touch he pulled them up and let them go. He looked professionally bored. He had accepted just that "Am I wasting my time on you?" expression of the true traffic policeman.
My father loved to tell these stories of his adventures during the War but regretfully they fell on stoney ground with me. I cannot recall one of them so it is with some pleasure that I can add this to my blog as a sort of apology for being so unkind. I would expect that the unknown journalist too would be surprised that this tiny entry knocked off in a few minutes would be remembered  75 years after the event.

My father could have stayed in the Specials as it was a reserved job and indeed he was awarded the Territorial Medal which is the Dad's Army medal but he chose to go into the army as a private. As can be seen from this story Daddy had talent for leadership and with three weeks he was spotted sent to Octu and became an Officer. He ended up a Major.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Glasgow Home of my Ancestors



My grandfather, Hugh Miller, came from the slums of Glasgow. He made a fortune by giving the world the multi coloured golf umbrella. He bought Mackintosh furniture in 1900 which I still possess but he left for London, admittedly he was  shafted by his family. He was not left the family firm which was gifted by his uncle to his two sisters after Hugh had made the fortune as according to his uncle Hugh was a young man and well able to look after himself. Hugh sent his son, Hughie, my father to Glasgow Academy, which my father hated and never returned.

He retained his Glaswegian accent and so did my father but they never returned and I have never been either. For them Glasgow was a grim reminder of a life they disliked rather like my aversion to the semi detached in Canons Park where I lived for 18 years after the war.

I have never set foot in Glasgow so from the safety of New Zealand where I choose to live as it is so beautiful and the weather is acceptable it was fascinating to watch Glasgow's Commonwealth Games which I think may give a rather true picture of a rather dour place. I think is is a near as I shall ever get to the home of my ancestors.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Baden Baden - My Magic Mountain


Once in a blue moon one has the sort of day that surprises the living daylights out of you and turns from a hum drum day into that special memorable moment. It is not planned. It is not expected but fate intervenes and it just happens. It is one of those magical days you will never forget. I had such a day when unexpectedly I was taken to Baden Baden for a walk!

The day had not started well. I was in Germany, a country I had vowed since my youth, never to visit. Living in London during and after the Second World War had put me off Germany for life. I lived daily with the damage the bombs had done but I was forced to visit as my daughter was competing in a gym competition in Karlsruhr so I had to go.

The Rythmic gym trip to see my daughter compete internationally in several European countries and then to travel on to Venice, Paris, London and LA should have been the trip of a lifetime but had turned into a nightmare for me. I had been promised in NZ that all arrangements had been made for me. I should travel as part of the NZ team and be treated as one of them. Unfortunately this was incorrect. Although my airfares had been booked as part of the team nothing else was, no hotels and more importantly no passes to events. I had to beg my way around Europe. The official coach Leslie could not have been more unhelpful or nastier and took a delight in being offensive. I was not invited to any function, but I just went anyway. It made me feel as if I was definitely not wanted on voyage.

It was the last day and Stephan, our designated host, had arranged a trip in a van so we could see some of the local scenery, i.e. The Black Forest. Everyone was tired out and not enthusiastic. I had had a particularly nasty night as I had been left out of  a 'do' yet again. Stephan I found irritating too. When I had tried out my less than brilliant German he had gone into a long explanation about the different cases. I was only trying out my German ! So in all I was not a happy bunny. 


But the trip was arranged so I thought I ought to go. The start was not encouraging. The Black Forest is rather overrated to a native of New Zealand.  All the fir trees looked ill thanks to the acid rain. A local beauty spot looked very poor beer in comparison to some of the NZ lakes and the van was none too new. I wanted to go home! We drove up a mountain and the van was parked in a field and we were told we had to walk down the mountain into Baden Baden where we would be met at the bottom. This I felt was the last straw.  I had my wrong shoes on and I did not want to walk anywhere. However the driver insisted I walked and refused to let me ride with him.

He dumped us and drove off. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I was left in the middle of a field of yellow daffodils that you see above for as far as the eye could see. It was May and the countryside when I really looked was awash with blossom of all colours. The day was balmy and warm and the sky was blue flecked with white clouds. There was absolutely no noise but the hum of bees in the clover.

I took a deep breathe and realised I was standing in the opening shot of The Sound of Music. As I started to walk I realised that perhaps this might be something out of the ordinary. It certainly was. This one walk is one that I shall always remember. It was an epiphany. It took us about one hour to walk the path down to the Spa town of Baden Baden. Down and down we went, through the Alpine meadows into the valley where the town was situated. All the way were wonderful views to enjoy and every house was surrounded by bulbs and blossom. The scent was intoxicating. It was like walking through a Grimm's fairy tale and a perfume factory.

My mood changed. I began to appreciate just how beautiful the world was. The warm day, the smell of the spring flowers, the wonderful feeling of the joy of life. Oh why isn't life always just like this moment. I wanted to find an excuse to stay like the hero of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann who does. He thought he might have TB and stayed for seven years in his sanitarium in Davos only to be rooted out by the Great War.

On the way we passed a romantic German Schloss with the grounds teaming with colourful tulips and cherry blossoms. Snow White's castle perhaps? Down to the old steps with iron gas lights that Stephan climbed and lit. I used to watch the lamp lighters at home in London come with a long pole and light the gas and now Stephan was showing me how it was  done.

At last we reached the attractive town square for coffee and kucken. I found to my surprise and delight that traditional Black Forest Gateau was actually white. Then we sauntered around the Spa, Baden Baden is an expensive spa resort but you can drink the healing waters for free. It tasted awful, like warm weathered vegetable stock but you can't have everything. That unexpected walk made me feel good to be alive. I felt ecstatic. This alone was worth the journey from NZ and Stephan annoying though he had been had given me a day I shall treasure. I never would have believed that anything could be so glorious.

It was one of life's bonuses. Something unexpected and life changing. I knew I was privileged to be in Baden Baden. I wanted to stay forever which of course I could not and if I did the dream would fade as the light of day break through. If I had to choose one walk or even one perfect morning in my life this would be it. I was totally alone amongst people who really wished I was not with them but this did not seem to matter. I could enjoy it without them although it would have been nicer with them. It was one of those elusive moments in life when one is truly happy.

I shall never go back, a return visit may disappoint, return visits often do but I did take a few photos and they impart some of the idea but not the whole idea of my glorious morning in Baden Baden









Saturday, 5 July 2014

My dress from Benjamin Britten

Sekers Silk fabric given to Janette Miller by Benjamin Britten
 Cleaning out an attic after a life time has been a daunting operation. I have had to confront 40 years of things that are only worth pennies today but were too nice to throw away. Nobody wants old dresses or costumes any more. They are binned.

However I cannot bin them and over the years I have opened up my cavernous attic and just thrown things in but today I have to have a new bathroom if I want to remain in my house and that means clearing the attic. Citizen Kane has nothing on me. Day by day a life time of memories is parading before me and I delight in every one of them. Things, unlike people on some occasions, are just objects of pure joy and so it is with the dress above. The photo does not do this beautiful dress justice. It has a curious story as the prologue from The Turn of The Screw so rightly puts it because the fabric of this dress came from Benjamin Britten.

I was nineteen, small for my age but very beautiful. I had known Mr Britten for four years but it was only this year that he took a personal interest in me. He was a perfect gentleman and a delightful friend I was bright and very intelligent and fun. I like the things that he enjoyed, Mahler, Bartok, sports cars and Gaudia Bretzka! I was performing in The Screw at Rosehill a delicious tiny theatre run by the silk millionaire Mickie Sekers who was so rich he could afford to bring the whole Covent Garden cast including Britten and Pears to Whitehaven where his mills were located for three weeks at the best hotel in St. Bees.

For those few months  I was Britten's favourite although in truth I did not realise it at the time. I don't think he had ever met or talked to a girl of my age and I think he found the experience new and enjoyable. During this time and for a couple of years after I was spoilt by him. He gave me tickets to concerts and invitations to concerts and sit with him even when he saw me in the crowd outside. I found his company enjoyable as he had so much that I would like in life but he envied me my life too. Ah if only he had been 19 and not 50! But he was 50 and I was 19!

As a treat it was announced that the three ladies of the cast and Ben, Peter were to be given 6 metres of what ever fabric they chose when we all visited the Sekers factory. It seemed that Quint being a man and Miles and Flora being children although I was 19, didn't count. I was used to this situation by now. When it came to my turn somehow the rules are changed. I was not amused and I unlike the others had the ear of the master. Why no one noticed that I shall never know. I just told him that is was unfair that three of us should be excluded.  Ben was immediately sympathetic and we were upgraded without further a do.

The mills lived up to their reputation and were satanic and noisy. One would go deaf I reckoned in about a week. After much deliberation I decided on 6 metres of a beautiful Prussian blue striped silk satin. I knew that this would look glorious as a gathered skirt for the evening and I look good in this colour, especially with white. I was thrilled as I could never have afforded to buy such luxurious material and to see it being made was fascinating. An afternoon I shall never forget.

However Ben did not accompany us that day so the next morning he asked me to bring and show him what I had chosen the following day which I did. I humped 6 metres of blue satin to rehearsal. It was on a big roll so as not to crease it and this caused a furore in the Pullman car and comments of Flora being annoying. Being Flora was not fun. Ben liked my choice very much. He said I had perfect taste but he thought it might be difficult to find something for the bodice. Obviously the large stripes would not suit. I said I thought a white blouse would do it  and in truth I think would have been the best choice but Ben was not convinced.

To my surprise the next day another 6 metres of plain blue silk satin arrived on a roll at my hotel for Die Schöne Müllerin, (my name is Miller) much to the surprise and annoyance of the rest of the company. Flora had been given 12 metres and everyone else had to make do with 6! Britten had asked Mickie Sekers as a favour and Sekers complied. Years later I needed a recital gown and I had the material made up by Morris Angel the theatrical costumier in Shaftsbury Avenue. It had the prettiest little corset to make it look beautiful and a tiny pad in one shoulder as my shoulders are uneven.

When I think back on this I have a horrible feeling I never said a proper thank you to Mr. Britten for going to all that trouble on my behalf. I could be thoughtless as many 19 years old are. I remember the feeling of hostility from some of the cast and especially Britten's older ladies of whom he had one or two. Viola Tunard was so sharp I cut myself on her more than once as she was so jealous.  Peter Pears was not amused either.  He used to call me My Dear Young Lady in public and Die Schöne Müllerin in private! But I was 19 and blissfully unaware that I was the current favourite and youth can be cruel.  I knew I did not belong to their world and I had other things I wanted to do. Maybe that was the attraction as I was unobtainable. I wonder how many other young women were given beautiful material from Benjamin Britten? And I still have the dress.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Brixham and the Perfect 1950's Childhood


Brixham is a traditional fishing village in Torbay. South Devon and 40 years ago was fairly unspoilt and the perfect place to spend one's schools holiday.

The first time I saw Brixham was in at Easter in 1954. My two maiden aunts Flo and Jo Thorpe had bought a small  gift shop which they named Variety Fayre in Middle Street, Brixham. It was love at first sight.  Originally the shop had been a typical Fisherman's cottage hewn out of the rock with a brick frontage, which was actually falling down and inside was a rickety staircase which led to three floors.

It was the place itself that I fell in love with. It was so different from the semi detached streets of Stanmore. It was wild and romantic.

Across the road was the William of Orange Pub which date back to the 17th Century and in which King William of Orange spent his first night on  English shore in 1688. A statue of the King, with the usual seagull on his head, graced the harbour. Middle Street had just enough room for one car and and one could almost touch the butcher's. When it rained the water ran down the street. This historic building was unceremoniously pulled down in favour of a road to ease the traffic flow. It took a season and cost a fortune and on the first day of the road opening cars parked on it this narrowing the road again. It was the most expensive car park ever and took years to receive a no parking zone. What a cultural crime.

Brixham in those days was a working harbour with the daily fish market and the smell of fish a few yards away. It was fun to watch the fish being hauled ashore and hear the auctioneer's prattle.  The harbour was full of trawlers and sea gulls. Brixham seagulls are garrulous and noisy.

The little town was built layer upon layer into the cliff. The church had the only clarion of bells that played a tune. "Abide with Me' was struck out at 6 pm every night to honour the fact that this most famous of hymns was written by the local vicar who decided to commit suicide and jump off the local cliff at Berry Head on to see the sunset and sit down and write Abide with Me instead. This hymn was a favourite of George V1 who had it played at the Cup Final at Wembley where my grandfather wa chief accountant so I suppose it would be a suitable choice for my funeral it I have one. My family do not do funerals.

It was heaven and in this heaven I spent every Easter and summer holiday until well into my teens usually with my cousins Gillian and occasionally John and my mother. We all adored it. It was like a living Swallows and Amazons, as children had more freedom in those days and we spent days messing about in boats, swimming and for me riding. Primrosing was another delight, long walks across the cliffs with poles to tie bunches of primroses on. We even found a few wild violets.

What I adored was the fact the grass went right down to the beach not the miles of concrete esplanade that I was used to see.

I have not been back in 40 years and in truth Brixham does not look so different today in the postcards but I suspect it has been prettified. This started very soon after my aunts arrived. I can see from the maps that vast areas of rustic farmland have been covered in concrete and the primrose and violet paths have gone but I still love it. Ah the dreams of youth!

PS:  Recently I watched Restoration Man, a TV programme that featured  the restoration of a church in Brixham which I found fascinating. There seemed to be parts of Brixham that I did not recognise, in fact a lot of Brixham that I did not recognise. A quick tour on Google Earth soon filled me in. In my day 1954 to 1970 Birixham did not look like an apology for an Italian fishing village with all those pink and blue houses. In my day Brixham was grey and working class and I loved it like that. Now it is a bit precious.

Also a coastal path has been added which I think looks rather nice. The restored church look wonderful but I am not sure the old fishermen would have approved.

Fishcombe Cove - a favourite swimming spot.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Auntie Jo'sThamesway Theatre

Dance Tales Story Ballets - The Little Match Girl
I think my love of theatre can be attributed to my beautifully, brilliant and eccentric Auntie Jo who played the piano, taught dancing to young ladies, was a superb secretary and manager and loved the theatre.

Auntie Jo had a theatre of her own, a toy theatre which had lights and a curtain. She would produce a pantomime for the family at Christmas. Rehearsals were held in secret so that we children had no idea of what was in store and then after the Christmas feast was cleared up the huge dining room would be turned into a theatre.

It was magic. Christmas at Thamesway was unforgettable and for me every Christmas is judged on this standard. So far only one has been as good.



Local children were invited to this performance and this is how I met Pam Vincent/Burke who's mother and father ran the cafe down the road. Pam and I loved it and I think this is what made us both decide to go on the stage. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and Pam has become my sort of sister. She too can verify that this performance was magic and made the rather bleak postwar Christmas truly one out of the box.

Jack in the Beanstalk,1946 was the most memorable pantomime and the grown up's worked so hard to make it a proper grown up affair. We all loved Jack hiding in the fireplace and we screamed at the Giant who because he was paper on a stick weighted with a penny was enormous. We all rushed to the theatre when the Giant fell down the beanstalk to his death!

Daddy took it home  to Stanmore and made a few additions. He rewired the footlights and added a proscenium arch. Mummy made a new curtain. 

Aunty Jo went on to produce The Coronation and I had to spend hours cutting out the Royal Procession. We did it in 1953. Aunty Jo had the night before at the Palace with Princess Margaret dressed in green tulle and sequins, smoking and playing the piano. Aunty Jo made my cousin Gillian and I rehearse for days to get it quite right. It was very impressive.

Later I owned the theatre and I produced Red Riding Hood. It was my first production and it took me a whole year, to make the puppets and paint the scenery. I used it in Dance Tales, in The Little Matchgirl, and the children in the studio still loved it.

The theatre unused and unloved lives in my attic. I have not the heart to throw it away. Nobody wants a toy theatre in 2014 but it is my Rosebud.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Canons Park Tube Station The Least Used Tube Station


The trouble with a blog is finding interesting things to write in it. Other people's lives can be so boring and so can one's own life. Mine was particularly boring and Canons Park Tube Station has taken up hours and hours of my youth.

I came across this photo of Canons Park Tube Station in Wikipedia. It actually has its own Wiki page! I was astonished at anywhere so uninteresting and ugly could be worth a mention in an Encyclopedia. I was wrong.

Canons Park Tube Station was about three quarters of a mile from my semi detached  house in Stanmore where I lived from the age of four to 21. The only way to get anywhere was to either walk or get the bus to this tube station. The  daily decision of whether to walk the distance or wait for the 18 bus which seldom if ever came and when it did was usually full up was source of annoyance for 16 years.

I have spent hours of my life waiting for the bus or walking to this station. In the 1950's the fog was so bad I could hardly see my hand in front of my face and I had to count to curbstones to find my way home. I had to do this in the rain and the snow and even in fine weather I hated it.

My father who had a van and later a car never once gave me a lift in all those years. I had to cart all my heavy school books and later ballet paraphernalia each day. Even when Mummy and I went to Brixham for our holidays Daddy never gave us a lift with cases and later dog. On this occasion we waited for the 18 bus. Even when I was performing Daddy refused to help and I had to leave at 6.30 am and do the walk before the TV recording of  'The Turn of the Screw' which was not the easiest thing to sing for a 16 year old. I had to get the train back after at around 11 pm and do the walk. In fact even after the Royal Gala at Covent Garden the train ride back at 11 pm took the gilt of the ginger bread and bought one down to earth. Merle Park was on the train too with me plus bouquet. 

The 18 Bus is itself worth a blog. It never came! Once  waited for two hours for one and missed the first Act of 'Ondine' at Covent Garden for which I shall never forgive it. Its route went from Wembley Stadium through Harrow to Edgware Station.

Canons Park Station itself must be the ugliest station on the whole tube. It is, so Wiki says, the least used. It is just a bridge and two windy cold platforms which are high up and battered by the elements. Freezing sleet and snow in winter and  rain in summer.



A waiting room you may ask? Yes there was one but only held about ten people and in the morning one had to be right at the front of the platform to get a seat on the train as it was twenty minutes to Baker Street if you did not change to the fast train at Wembley Park. Again decisions should one change to the fast train and stand to Baker Street, sometimes the fast train sat in a tunnel for hours or sit and stop at every station and again be stuck in a tunnel.

The hours I have stood waiting on that platform must add up to months if not years of my life. Outside the rush hour one just never knew if a train would appear. There was nothing to do but wait.

My journey there and back during my London years must have taken up about two hours of every day. During my convent school days the school bus had a pick up point so I past it every weekday.

The last memory of Canon's Park is waiting at the 18 bus stop on the way home in the pouring rain as if I remember there was no bus shelter. The queues were long as there was the 114 that also stopped there. Sometimes I would walk the mile home as the chances of getting on a bus were slim and it was a long walk past dreary semi detached houses.

I vowed as soon as I could I should escape from the bleakness of the landscape. For me it had not one redeeming feature perhaps only the gasometers nestled in the elms trees was the only thing of beauty and I kid you not.

Now when I look out on the beautiful Auckland Harbour which I do daily I am so grateful that I never have to see Canons Park Station again because I doubt if I could ever afford a house in that area even if I wanted to.



Honey & Tippy Thorpe's School in Belguim

Honey & Tippy Thorpe Belgium 1920s

How the middle upper classes educated their daughters in 1920s/1930s


Pop and Ma Thorpe had four beautiful daughters. The first two Auntie Flo and Auntie Jo were born in England in Manchester in the early 1900's then there was a big gap of 6 years before Auntie Tippy( Eileen) was born in Ceylon in 1911.  My mother Honey (Agnes) Thorpe was born in Datchet near Windsor in 1915.

My grandparents must have wanted a son but sadly they had four daughters. What to do with them? Boys would have gone to Public school and Oxford but girls?  Girls education was non existent at that time so the two elder girls were sent a boarding school in Herne Bay and later a rather classy establishment in Chiswick. They remained in England.

The fate of the younger two was not so happy as they got shipped off to a convent in Liege in Belgium. My grandparents socially arisen from the slums of Manchester into the Upper Middle Classes copied what other Middle Class families did and dumped their girl children and in the case of my mother and her sister for years in boarding schools far from home. My mother hardly went home in 11 years! At the age of six my mother and her 9 year old sister travelled across the English Channel to Belgium never to return until they were grown up. In the case of my mother 16. Her mother visited them occasionally and once or twice they went home for Xmas but that was it.

Now this was not all doom and gloom. My mother seemed to enjoy it. My grandmother was a bit of an acid drop so the nuns must have seemed kinder and nicer and indeed both sisters opted to stay in Belgium for Xmas. Says something about granny I think.

Both girls learned to speak perfect French. They were educated in French and my mother learned all her secretarial skills in French. She had very high speeds as her certificates prove. The big problem was that she did not learn English. She was totally uneducated in English and I discovered when I was 45 that she could hardly read in English. The Daily Mail was about her limit although we did change to the Telegraph when I insisted. Reading the world's masterpieces was beyond her.

They were taught religion naturally, and needlework. Belgium young ladies were trained to become lace makers. Brussels Lace to be exact. This is the finest of lace and is a mixture of torchon lace and embroidery. Mother's leaving certificate was a magnificent embroidered table cloth which I use as a bedspread. If she had stayed in Belgium she would have gone to a school in Brussels to be taught this difficult craft.

The problem is that my mother was brilliant academically. She should have gone to Oxford. When it came to numbers her accountancy skills were exceptional. Like her accountant father mother could run up a column of £.s.d. in one go. She did the Family Books all her life to the last farthing.

Sex education was sadly lacking too. On one of the few occasions the two sisters did return to UK Auntie Tippy had her first period on the ferry across the channel. Nobody had informed them that this was natural. My mother thought Auntie Tip was dying in the loo! They made the journey on the boat alone but were met at the other end.

I don't think my mother wanted to return to England. She was totally unprepared for life in London socially and educationally. Life in a big city must have been a shock.