I have produced various items for this site which have covered my growing up period from 1946 (from 1950 in Shepherd’s Bush). Several contributors of more tender years than I have commented on the uncluttered (but deprived !) times we lived in. For those of you who grew up from the late 60’s onwards I can understand how difficult it must be to understand what life was like in ‘the olden days’ !
Living in the 50’s was like living in a vacuum compared to life now and you survived on dreams. It was kind of strange, you knew things would change, but you awaited things to be created to enable that change. In certain areas such as Colour TV you were eventually aware that certain things existed in the USA, but not in this country so that was frustrating for those of us looking at Black and White TV’s. So it was just a matter of time (1967 onwards).
Prior to Black and White TV’s you relied on the limited radio service and mainly newspapers for news. Without portable radios (that didn’t involve a suitcase for batteries) you could only get a delayed version of news as was the case with newspapers. Truly portable transistor radios did not arrive until the mid to late 50’s when the Far East copied the American invention (yes it was that way round !)
Our early home radios were unreliable valve based and I can remember my father spending half his life on trips to the nearest electrical shop to find replacement valves. The radio was our window on the world and when you travelled away from your home you were more or less oblivious of what was happening in the world. The highlight of my evening was to carefully fine tune the radio using an orange tuning light, hoping to pick up a short wave transmission from some far flung land and jumping for joy if I managed to get a radio amateur in Australia ! Simple pleasures, but you had no choice.
You did at least have a good selection of newspapers with London having the Evening News, The Star and Standard. And as mentioned in a previous article, the West London Observer or Shepherd’s Bush Gazette became a valuable source of info on the R’s. The newspapers did have classified editions on a Saturday which were more up to date with the events of the day including R’s match reports. When I moved to Essex and during a period you could park near Loftus Road, the car was my usual means of getting to the R’s.
The return journey was timed on a Saturday to reach the Bank intersection in the City of London just in time to catch the paper seller patrolling the traffic lights with the classified edition of the Evening Standard. I can still recall the cry of ‘News, Star, Standard, Classified’. This was a good source of football info although at times not particularly accurate in view of the rush to production !
Huddled round the old valve radio set, BBC Radio did eventually cover matches on a Saturday, but in respect of away matches you had to wait for the results service as latest scores was an item still to come. You could tell by the announcer’s tone for the home teams score as to the R’s score which followed so your heart sank a millisecond in advance of the usual confirmation of defeat !
In researching some items I must confess that I did not realise that Bush Radio’s, one of the earlier radio manufacturers, started in Woodger Road, Shepherd’s Bush, in the 1930’s, hence their name. You and I have been enlightened !
Telephones in the average house during the 50’s were few and far between at our end of the food chain ! Mobile phones could only be dreamed about and were decades away. Telephone Boxes were your only means of communication and mainly used for emergency purposes. It was not too bad for us Kelmscott Gardens kids as we played together on a regular basis so trip organisation to Rangers games or Fishing was not a problem. Can you imagine modern kids walking to someone’s house to sort out something no matter how close they were !
Other than that you had a telegram service for urgent communication, and, sometimes a visit from the local police should there be bad news from distant relatives.
One experience of newspaper stop press accuracy and lack of telephones that I can relate too involved my parents flying on holiday to Germany in the early 60’s. On travelling back from the City on the crowded sweat box known as the Central Line (the old red ones of some vintage) I noticed in the stop press of my evening paper that a plane had crashed near the airport my parents were returning from that day. There were few details. You can imagine my feelings for the rest of the journey home on tube and bus to Kelmscott Gardens with no other way of finding out if they were involved. I had been home about an hour before the door bell sounded and I was faced by a man holding a telegram…..my world collapsed !
Opening the telegram with reluctant fingers took ages so you can imagine my feelings to find that it was to say that they were safe. They were due to get on the plane that crashed, killing all on board, after a total electrical failure on approach to the airport ! A mobile phone and more instant and accurate news would have saved me several hours of worry….such were the times.
Transport was cheap in the 50’s with your usual fare being 1d or 2d in old English. A 2d journey got you a long way ! Early buses were RT and RTL type and Trolley buses. I must have been on a London tram as a nipper, but can only remember being on one in my early days in Yorkshire, probably on a trip to Leeds. The Routemasters were to follow. The Trolley buses had a certain warm smell about them as it was not covered in fuel/exhaust fumes ! Ticket Collectors at first had a wooden clipboard with coloured tickets, which had to be punched, followed by the shiny metal turn handle paper ticket dispensers.
When you strayed to the outer reaches of London, the London Country buses with their green livery took over. Also the Green Line coaches, mainly single-decker, became a way of doing longer journeys from central London to the towns within 30 miles of London. Us kids looked upon the Green Line buses as being luxury travel ! You thought nothing of undertaking a long journey by using several buses. The Red Rover ticket with its single payment became very useful in these instances, with also your trusty bus map in your pocket.
Red Rover Ticket in 1967 (All day travel for 30 pence in today’s money !)
Such journeys were usually trouble free as there were few cars on the road compared with today. You also returned home un-mugged, un-molested and with all your bits in working order no matter how long you were on the buses and despite your age.
However, you did dread some journeys if downstairs was full and you were forced to use the upper smoking deck. Mind you I was brought up in Yorkshire and if you can survive an upstairs trip on a Doncaster bus with coal stained miners puffing away you could survive anything London could throw at you !
The BEA buses (British European Airways) became a familiar sight travelling from West London Air Terminal in Gloucester Road to Heathrow Airport in the mid-fifties to mid-sixties, travelling down Goldhawk Road on their journey. (Later replaced by Routemaster type double-deckers towing a luggage trolley) Stamford Brook Bus Garage was used for some years for this service.
As previously mentioned, you made your own fun and most toys had to be worked on as PC’s and Game Boys etc were decades away. However, it did make us fitter specimens with all the walking, football etc.
Living in the fifties was like living next to a conveyor belt…you waited for the next invention to come along. The belt seemed to be very slow at times !