Dum-dee dum-dee dum-dee dum, dum-dee dum-dee dum dum . . .

I guess many readers of my blog outside the UK will have no idea at all what this apparent gibberish title is all about.

But I bet there are some UK readers—and avid BBC Radio 4 listeners—who will understand it right away.

Yes, it’s Barwick Green, the theme to the BBC’s long-running radio soap opera, The Archers, by Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood.

Normally, it’s only the first 15 seconds that’s ever heard, so it’s quite a treat to listen to the whole composition.

The Archers, ‘an everyday story of country folk’ has been broadcast continually since 1 January 1951, with more than 17,600 episodes. Can you imagine that?

I grew up listening to The Archers, and that continued through the late 60s while I was at university. But since the 1970s, I can’t remember the last time I heard an episode. Not surprising really since I was abroad for about 27 years.

Created by Godfrey Basely, The Archers was originally a radio drama that also served up practical farming advice. I read somewhere that the Ministry of Agriculture was also part of the team that developed the drama. Central to all the storylines were ‘Dan and Doris Archer’ and their family at ‘Brookfield Farm’, and set in the Midland county of ‘Borsetshire’, the mythical Archer country located somewhere south of Birmingham.

I live in Bromsgrove, about 13 miles south of Birmingham and more or less the same distance north of Worcester. Bromsgrove, a small market town (or at least it once was) in north Worcestershire is generally considered as the model for ‘Borchester’. And villages in the rural areas around Bromsgrove, such as Hanbury and Inkberrow, are also considered as ‘Archer models’. Perhaps the cathedral city of Worcester (with its own university) is the model for ‘Felpersham’.

Now I’m no longer a fan of The Archers (although it still has a faithful following) and haven’t been for a very long time. So why this sudden interest in the program, and the urge to write something here on my blog.

Well, a couple of days ago I was looking through some old slides I’d digitized, and came across a set of six that took me back more than 60 years. As I’ve written elsewhere, I was born in Congleton, Cheshire, and didn’t move to Leek until I was seven in 1956. Although we lived close to Congleton town centre at 13 Moody Street, I (and my two brothers and sister) attended primary school in the village of Mossley, a couple of miles to the southeast.

And from about 1954 it must have been (I don’t think earlier), and for the next four or five years, my dad was one of a team helping to raise funds for a new village hall in Mossley, on a plot of land donated by the Chappell family who lived close by.

Each year the highlight was a May Fair, quite large even by today’s standards. And of course, there had to be ‘celebrity’ to open each Fair. So for each one, a member of the cast of The Archers was invited in that capacity.

Denis Folwell, who played ‘Jack Archer’, son of Dan and Doris, and landlord of the local pub, ‘The Bull’, was the first Archer invited. Then came Doris, played by Wolverhampton-born actress Gwen Berryman, see in this series of photos below.

Other Archers characters invited were ‘Tom Forrest’ (Bob Arnold), and ‘Walter Gabriel’ (“My old pal, my old beauty”, played by Chris Gittins). I don’t think Dan Archer (Harry Oakes) came to Mossley, but I did meet him one year at another May Fair in a village near Congleton when I went along with my father to cover this event, as he was Chief Photographer at the Congleton Chronicle. I seem to recall I also met Dan and Doris’s other son, ‘Phil’, played by Norman Painting, but whether this was at Mossley or elsewhere, I just don’t remember.

The May Fairs were a lot of fun. A big marquee for afternoon teas, sideshows, fancy dress competitions (which my elder brother won at the very first Mossley May Fair, dressed as a press photographer, and with a message on his back: Following in Father’s Footsteps!). And they were always held in the grounds of a Chappell family home, a large house across the road from Mossley Holy Trinity Church, at the crossroads of Biddulph Road (A527) and Leek Road/Reade’s Lane where an old friend of my parents, the Rev. Cyril Green was the vicar. From a quick look at Google maps (satellite view) it looks as if the Chappell’s house has been demolished and the whole site redeveloped.

With a little help from my friends . . .

These days, I feel I can easily remember things that happened decades ago during my childhood. Ask me what I did yesterday or at least during the past few days and I often struggle to remember the details.

But recently I’ve been reminded of things that did happen 50 or more years ago that I had most definitely forgotten. And through the power of the Internet, and most probably Google, I have reconnected with a couple of childhood friends who I had not been in contact with for more than 50 years.

When I started this blog more than two years ago I never expected that long-lost friends would be in contact with me.

Almost two years ago, on 5 April 2012, I posted a story about the Beatles and my childhood love of skiffle music. I included this photo, and mentioned that the boy and little girl listening to me and my brother Ed were my best friend in Leek, Geoff Sharratt, and his sister Susan. A few months later I was contacted by Susan who had been doing some genealogy research and came across my blog. I’ve been in touch with Geoff on a regular basis since then, and posted another story in November 2012 about us renewing our friendship. We certainly had a lot to catch up on.

skifflepic

The Jackson Duo strutting their stuff, watched by their mother and friends Geoff and Susan Sharratt

5. Geoff, Sue and Mike Jackson above Rudyard Lake

Geoff, Susan and Mike in the late 50s, overlooking Rudyard Lake near Leek

Geoff and Sue

Geoff and Sue

Then in the middle of February, out of the blue I received a message from Alan Brennan, my first and best friend when I was growing up in Congleton. Alan has certainly filled in some gaps in my memories. I left Congleton in April 1956 when I was seven; Alan is 13 months younger than me. Although we lived just a few doors away from each other we didn’t go to the same school. But whenever we were home it seems to me that we were inseparable and got into some scrapes.

That’s me in the center of the photo below, partially dressed as a native American (sans war bonnet) and carrying a stick. Alan is to my right, the little boy looking rather shy in short trousers in front of the pirate, my elder brother Ed.

Coronation Day 1953

 

Alan has continued to live in Congleton, and like me has now retired. Here are a couple of photos he sent me recently. In the 1955 photo we were having a picnic at Rocky Pool near Timbersbrook, just east of Congleton. Alan’s parents are standing, a family friend is seated. In the background is the Brennan’s car – a Vauxhall Wyvern. I mentioned to Alan in one of our emails that I did indeed remember the car and thought it was a Wyvern, which he confirmed. The old memory was certainly working on that detail!

 

Summer1955mjPhotos (1)

 

May Day celebrations, pre-1956. That’s me on the left, and my brother Ed on the right. I’m not sure if that’s Alan standing on my left. Looks like Alan’s Dad’s car in the top left corner.

 

Alan with his wife Lyn

Alan with his wife Lyn

A walk down memory lane . . . literally

We took the opportunity of a National Trust outing to Little Moreton Hall a couple of days ago – a glorious and warm early September day, hardly a cloud in the sky at times – to explore the Cheshire market town of Congleton, where I was born almost 65 years ago, in November 1948. I lived there until April 1956, when we moved to Leek, another market town in North Staffordshire, about 12 miles away.

I’ve only ever been back to Congleton a handful of times in 60 years. So it was a real walk down memory lane – literally – to visit where we used to live in Moody Street (at No. 13) and other nearby places where we all used to play.

Coronation Day, 2 June 1953; at the bottom of Howey Lane.  Back Row L → R : Margaret Jackson; Jennifer Duncalfe; Josie Moulton; Meg Moulton; Susan Carter; Ed Jackson; Richard Barzdo; NK: Peter Duncalfe; NK; George Foster; David Hurst; Stephen Carter; Martin Jackson. Front Row L → R : NK; Carol Brennan; NK: Alan Brennan: Robert Barzdo; NK; Mike Jackson.

Coronation Day, 2 June 1953; at the bottom of Howey Lane.
Back Row L → R : Margaret Jackson; Jennifer Duncalf; Josie Moulton; Meg Moulton; Susan Carter; Ed Jackson; Richard Barzdo; NK: Peter Duncalf; NK; George Foster; David Hurst; Stephen Carter; Martin Jackson.
Front Row L → R : NK; Carol Brennan; Patricia Stringer: Alan Brennan: Alex Barzdo; Janet Stringer; Mike Jackson.

Same location, 60 years on.

My parents, Fred and Lilian Jackson, moved to Congleton in 1940 from Bath where my eldest brother Martin was born on the day the Germans invaded Poland: 1 September 1939. My dad returned to the photographic business Marson’s in the High Street, and remained there before being called-up to serve in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. While he was away serving King and country, my mother and two children (Margaret had been born in January 1941) moved to my grandparent’s village of Hollington in Derbyshire.

After the war, my father returned to Congleton in the expectation of regaining his former employment – but things didn’t work out. Instead, he joined local newspaper, The Congleton Chronicle and remained as head of the engraving department then as photographer until we moved to Leek 10 years later. In the meantime, my elder brother Edgar had appeared on the scene in July 1946, followed by me a couple of years later. And 13 Moody Street was a ‘tied’ house, opened by the Chronicle’s proprietors, the Head family. In fact, Mr Lionel Head and his wife, who was editor of the Chronicle, lived next door, at No. 15.

13 Moody Street was the end house of a Georgian terrace (Moody Terrace) of eight houses. It still has the same door as six decades ago – but I don’t remember it being red then. And even the same brass door knocker, door knob and letter box.

Just up Moody Terrace lived my best friend, Alan Brennan (at No. 21 or thereabouts); we got into some scrapes. But what I do remember, as the Coronation Day photo shows, is that the various age groups among all the children close-by did interact. One of our favorites was playing in an old air-raid shelter near the local cemetery, or wandering up to the local canal – the Macclesfield Canal – and playing on the swing bridge. Of course, 60 years ago there were few cars. When Steph tried to take the photo of me above, standing at the bottom of Howey Lane, a car came by every few seconds. Moody Street (and surrounding streets) was a very safe place to play in the 1950s.

May Day 1952 (?). I'm on the left and my elder brother Edgar is on the right.

May Day pre-1956. L to R: me; Martin Firth; ?; ?; Patricia Stringer is the May Queen; Deirdre Firth; ?; my elder brother Edgar.

Just round the corner from Moody Street is Priesty Fields, and today this has been joined to a network of public paths connecting Congleton and Astbury, and many other local places. Just off Priesty Fields is The Vale and allotments, with rear access to many of the houses in Moody Terrace.

In the winter, when there was snow on the ground we all used to go tobogganing in Priesty Fields. After six decades, it’s more like ‘Priesty Woods’ there has been so much vegetation grown up.

Part of the town centre is now a traffic-free pedestrian area, in what was Bridge Street. The High Street is still open to traffic. Look at the difference between 1952 and today in these next two photos.

The Congleton Chronicle still occupies the same building in the High Street – I just had to have my photo taken outside. But then, somewhat emboldened, I decided to go inside and introduce myself, with no plan whatsoever as to what I hoped to achieve. Almost immediately the current Chief Photographer, Glyn Boon – who joined the newspaper in 1961 – came in, and once he realized who I was, fetched his camera, and took my photo outside as well. There might be a story in the Chronicle before too long. But then he invited Steph and me to go upstairs and view my dad’s old workroom on the top floor. The very last time I could have been there was in March 1956 – probably earlier. I used to visit him there all the time when I was a little boy. I remembered the stairs as if it were yesterday, but now it’s a quiet building – everything digital now. I remember lots of noise as the printing presses were running, pulleys running everywhere, the smell of ink, Under similar circumstances Health & Safety would have a field day today – just imagine a five year old in such a ‘dangerous’ place. We didn’t think about it then.

It was very special seeing my dad’s work room. And having now been back to Congleton and had quite a good look round, it has triggered many more memories, which I have been sharing on Facebook and through Skype with Martin (now living in central Portugal) and Edgar (who’s been in Canada since 1968).