Where We Are Now
From time to time it is good policy to review and revise. After all, the memory can play tricks and even the writer of these pages is apt to become confused by his, (or is it her?), own sheer inventiveness.
It is June 1958. Our Monarch is the young Queen Elizabeth. The second to bear that name, unless that is you live in Scotland where they get very upset by such impudence as they did not have the first one. All agree, however, that Prince Philip is pretty much a “bobby dazzler” and to quote one well known daily woman what does, but not a lot, “he can leave his slippers ootside ma bedroom any day”. Even Mrs Muriel Wylie considers him rather dashing.
Prince Philip has just opened the London Planetarium. Here it is possible, for ready money, to sit in a chair and watch the stars inside rather than stand outside in the cold for free. However, Prince Philip quite likes it if people stay outdoors for long periods and to this end he has just invented The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.
The Prime Minister is Harold Macmillan who leads a Conservative government, which is quite good unless you happen to be a socialist in which case you will disagree with Mr Macmillan’s assertion, that the recent spending cuts are nothing more than “little local difficulties”.
Sadness and Hopefulness
The year began in a rather sad way when an aeroplane crashed at Munich airport killing twenty one of the forty four people on board including many members of the Manchester United Football team returning from a European Cup tie in Belgrade. Fifteen days after the crash Duncan Edwards, thought by many to be the best footballer in England, died of his injuries in a Munich hospital.
More positively perhaps in the same month the philosopher Bertrand Russell launched the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. You may remember that our hero or is it anti-hero, Jasper Wylie, was an enthusiastic member but got lost and indeed arrested on his way to Aldermaston in April.
The Circle of Paint
It appears that in 1950’s Britain many people despise all things Victorian, as most are seen as dust traps.
For those opposed to dusting, their saviour has arrived in the form a man called Barry Bucknell, who likes DIY, advising people to cover their panelled doors with hardboard and give them a coat of white paint. This reduces dusting considerably. Using a crystal ball, it would seem that many years into the future people will come to the conclusion that this was a mistake and spend a lot of money taking the hardboard off and discovering the joy of wooden moulding and, of course, dusting.
Muriel Adapts to Customer Demands
Meanwhile this new view of simpler interior design has an impact on our heroine Mrs Muriel Wylie who is, by her own admission, someone who cannot deal with false modesty especially when it comes to her own gifts, and is a simply marvellous woman. Muriel owns an interior decorating shop, “Chez Nous”, which caters for those and such as those in the more exclusive parts of Scottish society found in places such as Kelvinside in Glasgow, Morningside in Edinburgh and half a street in Paisley.
Muriel, formerly a lover of anything with a bit of gilt or gesso not to mention a large tassel or tie back, has come to terms with Scandinavian design and is currently selling much in the way of furniture with “sticky oot legs” and glass ashtrays.
Muriel is preoccupied with obtaining a share of the market for light modern furnishings for the new open plan ‘semis’ being built for the post war generation of families.
Her Cousin Lulubelle keeps an eye on the books!
The 1950s – A Modern Britain
The modernisation of Britain can also be seen in the construction of the first motorway which has begun as well as the Church of England giving its backing to family planning.
Planning is a big thing in Britain – there are plans for everything and sex without consequences is as important as plans to decentralise the economy and diversify the regions. Chances are family planning will work better than trying to improve the lot of people outside London and the South East. This is probably because many people, with essential skills, dislike being moved from Hertfordshire to the North where it is colder and no one can understand them. Nor are they welcome as they can afford larger houses than the locals.
In matters of technology 1958 saw the de Havilland Comet 4 make its maiden flight and Britain entered the commercial jet age. An article by Dr Ian Donald has appeared in The Lancet describing the use of ultrasound as a tool to be used in medicine.
Real Life is Far from Gay
On the cultural front My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews has opened in London and more interestingly perhaps Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey has opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and is directed by Joan Littlewood. This play with its themes of alcoholism, lack of money, class race, gender and sexual orientation reflects life for many people in 1950’s Britain. Many aspects of life such as divorce, adoption and the lives of women trapped in domestic drudgery are swept under the carpet with comments such as “we don’t talk about that sort of thing”.
Pregnancy outside marriage is a fate worse than death and many a child still passed off as a sister rather than a daughter. It is a world of new things and old hypocrisies.
Gay is a word used positively to describe things such as fashions, cosmetics or blancmange.
The very theatrical have to be very careful, even communicating in another language to ensure their safety.
Some have had to leave the country. Indeed Sebastian, the nephew of our leading characters Muriel and Jasper, who will eventually find his niche as in the Shakespearean world, has fled to New York to escape prosecution for being “far too theatrical”.
The Passing of a Moment
Britain has learned a harsh lesson with the 1956 Suez Crisis, but is still coming to terms with the fact that it is no longer the motherland of a great Empire. It has had its moment in the sun which is setting. A shortage of labour has encouraged people from the colonies to come to Britain. Being of a different colour they have a hard time but keep the country running.
On the other hand Britain encourages those whom it regards as potential trouble makers of the future to go and live in Australia and Canada. These are often child migrants sent away in the mistaken belief that their parents are dead. Still better than they become delinquents For Britain is terrified of delinquency, as it threatens the wearing of bowler hats and the carrying of umbrellas.
Still Clinging to “The Finest Hour”- just!
Despite all this Britain still has an international role and has just taken part in the International Conference on the Seas. This is partly about territorial ambitions on the part of the Comrades who want to extend coastal limits, but also a realisation that the resources of the seas need to be conserved and not over exploited. This was held in Geneva which is near Switzerland close to Europe.
Now as well as being an interior decorator par excellence Muriel Wylie was during the last Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos an agent for the S.O.E.. According to Sir Winston she was largely responsible for shortening the war by months (or was it hours?) as a result of blowing up many bridges in France and poisoning the frankfurters at a Gestapo “getting to know you” lunch for new recruits.
Muriel worked alongside Winnie who has, or should I say had, a wool shop in Auchterarder near Perth and is a known authority on Novelty Knitting. Making up the numbers was explosive expert Dynamite Di who now works with the BBC. Both Muriel and Winnie have been retained as “active” by MI5 and MI6. From time to time they disappear into the shadows when requested by either The Handsome Stranger, head of section, or by Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of the music faculty at Glasgow’s very good varsity and a noted code breaker.
Go to That London but Go Easy on the Expenses
For the purposes of monitoring the comrades Winnie was sent to Geneva in the guise of a crotchet workshop leader. The purpose of the workshop was to amuse the wives of delegates. It was also, and this is highly classified so not a word to Bessie, to try and recover the strategic map of coastal waters between the Soviet Union and Japan which was cleverly disguised as a large crotchet blanket. This was stolen from the Wylies’ Glasgow residence having been hidden on the person of Mrs Travers, their daily woman.
The thief fled “oot the windae” and left an important clue in the form of a packet of boil in the bag German sausages and a torn ticket stub revealing a cow horn. After several days of frantic activity in the shadows, Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes called on Muriel and said they had narrowed the evidence down to one person who had been trailed to ‘That London’ and Muriel would have to go to and sort things out. Due to former chancellor Sir Peter Thorneycroft’s January economic cuts she would have to go by Starlight Express from St Enoch’s Station to ‘That London’ and stay in Earls Court as the department was very short of cash.
Four Free Tickets, a Feather Boa and a Poisoned Needle
On the bright side they have received from an unknown benefactor, tickets for My Fair Lady with the cryptic message. “The clue is in the song, it is plain for all to see”. Sir Boozy Hawkes said as there were four tickets and they had an understanding with the Earls Court hotel having paid to repair the recent gunshot holes in the plaster work of the lounge bar, Muriel can take Jasper and “that cleaning woman with the enticing support stockings and forbidding corsetry, and I suppose that aristocratic old tart, I mean that very noble former cabaret star, Lady Pentland-Firth. She is always useful when it comes to diverting the comrades. Honestly the things that woman can do with feathers”.
On the not so bright side and in a strange twist of affairs Winnie and her squeeze Mr Chan, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in the Govan Road, “dinners A – C a speciality”, have been found frozen in an Alpine hideaway and subsequently discovered to have died from poisoned crotchet needles.
So Muriel and Jasper accompanied by Mrs Travers and Lady Pentland-Firth have departed for the capital of the United Kingdom which is to be found near Britain and Woking where we will join them next time; in London that is not Woking.