The tale of Fabulous Harry — Never kid a kidder — part deux!

18 Apr

NEVER KID A KIDDER — PART DEUX

 

Sometime towards the summer of 1985 I was sitting in my office in Glasgow’s George Square, minding my own business and trying not to think about the day ahead. As a second year legal trainee I had been tasked with the tedious job of writing up the company books of the numerous companies that used our office as its registered base.

Admittedly, it was a change from drafting wills, buying council houses, taking divorce affidavits and any number of other things which can make a legal trainee’s day about as exciting as standing at a bus stop for hours on end on a wet night.

I had come in early in the hope that I could get all of the dreaded books done on the one day rather than face two days of corporeal tedium.

About 8:30am the bell over the front door sounded signifying that someone had entered the office, and I automatically presumed it would be one of the partners or another member of staff.

How wrong I was!

I wasn’t really paying attention but somewhere in the back of my mind I registered that the entrant to the office was clearly female as I could hear what sounded like high heels walking up the corridor that passed my door which was slightly open. Sure enough, a smartly dressed woman walked clean past my door towards the reception desk which, of course, she found unmanned.

After maybe ten seconds or so, the heels started clicking again and this time they stopped at my door which was pushed open after the heel wearer had given it a gentle knock.

And there, for the first time, I came face to face with the absolutely gorgeous Annette. Of course I didn’t know she was called Annette – all I saw was a stunningly good looking woman in her mid to late thirties, dressed in a very classy looking pin stripped suit, dark blue blouse with what appeared to be matching leather shoes with, sure enough, a fairly high heel.

She had shoulder length dark hair, stood about 5’7 in the heels, mesmeric eyes, great legs, a stunning figure and an awesome smile. My morning had just gotten a great deal more interesting than any 25 year old could have imagined.

Then, Annette spoke – revealing that not only was she drop dead gorgeous but that she was also French- making her all the more interesting.

Within the space of her first few words it was obvious that she was in state of panic! However, within seconds it became clear that she needed someone to come with her immediately to provide some form of legal representation for     “ ‘Arry” who I gathered was just around the corner somewhere in his office which had received an unexpected and unannounced visit from some kind of unwanted official.

I had no hesitation at all in dumping the boring corporate files, throwing some note books and a couple of pens into a briefcase, before  following “La Magnifique Derriere “ out of the door and onto George Square.

When Annette said literally round the corner, she was neither joking nor exaggerating as she immediately lead me into the offices at No 5 St Vincent Place which more or less stood above Murray Frame the tobacconist at the corner of Queen Street and St Vincent Street.

For anyone who has never been inside that particular office building, I would forever describe it as the nearest Glasgow ever came to having the type of building where a Scottish Sam Spade would ply his trade.

There were corridors with various doors leading off to individual offices and suites, and after turning a corner or two, Annette finally opened a half glass door which boasted the name H.M. Enterprises Ltd. Inside, the door opened onto a small hallway off which there were three further doors, and Annette immediately made her way to the furthest away of the three which she opened without knocking and ushered me inside.

When I walked into the room I found three men sitting around a rather large and ornate desk. Two of these had their back to me and both immediately turned to face me as soon as the door opened, and it was obvious that these were the “unwanted visitors” who had descended on the premises unannounced.

Behind the desk and facing me was the man who was clearly the owner of the premises. I had never seen him before, but in the few short yards between George Square and 5 St Vincent Place I had figured out that this must be one of the firm’s most famous – or should that be infamous – clients, the semi legendary Harry Maguire.

Before any of the room’s occupants could say anything, I strode strongly into the room and said confidently “Good Morning, Mr Maguire, I didn’t expect to see you today. I gather you wanted to see me urgently?”.

A somewhat bemused Harry quickly recovered from the surprise at seeing me saying “ Oh Hello son, sorry to drag you over here but these gentlemen have suddenly turned up to ask some questions, and I thought it best if you were here so that they couldn’t  ask me any tricky ones or to be honest write down a load of cobblers that I never said in the first place!”

This drew an instant protest from a small bespectacled man who was seated nearest the door, but silence from his rather more laid back colleague who merely raised his eyes to the ceiling.

I quickly introduced myself as Mr James, gave them the name of my firm and in turn found myself being introduced to Mr Robert Wilson of Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue ( the small intense chap with the glasses ) and Superintendent John Carmichael – the altogether taller and more laid back representative from Strathclyde Police – both of whom, it appeared, had a substantial interest in whatever the fabulous Harry was up to.

However, as yet, I had no idea what that interest was, or what Harry actually did, or had done, to merit any sort of enquiry.

“ So – what do you want with my client?” I asked trying not to show either nerves or any lack of experience.

It was the neat and precise Mr Wilson who provided the answer.

“ Well, we at the Inland Revenue have reason to believe that Mr Maguire here has under declared his income for several years with the net result that he owes the Inland Revenue a substantial sum of money – a VERY substantial sum of money. In cases where the sum is large enough, we contact the Police just in case there is some kind of illegal activity taking place, and in this case Superintendent Carmichael is here to investigate the possibility of your client being involved in a fraudulent activity. However, before you protest, he will not be asking any questions as he is merely a witness to my civil enquiries at the moment, and depending on the answers that your client provides in response to my enquiries, Superintendent Carmichael and his colleagues can then decide whether or not to pursue a criminal enquiry.”

I started to explain that perhaps my client would not be answering any questions at all when the bold Harry decided to take control of the entire proceedings.

“……. Eh Gents, before we go any further here, I want to have a word with my boy here in private if you don’t mind. So, in the interim, can I offer you gentlemen a cup of tea or coffee – it is uncivilised to go through the morning without a cup of something – it is no good for the bowels!”

This last remark brought a rather stunned silence before both Wilson and Carmichael opted for coffee which they were assured would be provided by the gorgeous Annette within moments.

With refreshments organised, Harry Maguire and I excused ourselves from the room and had our first ever direct conversation.

As soon as we were far enough away from his office door, Maguire turned to me and asked in his lightly high pitched and rasping voice:

“ So – who are you? Where is wee John?”

The Wee John concerned was the senior partner of my firm, my boss, and Harry’s lawyer.

“ Sorry Mr Maguire, but when the young lady came into the office and explained that you needed someone here urgently there was no one else in so I thought I had better come over and see if I could be of any assistance rather than send her back saying no one was there to help. If we keep them waiting or just refuse to answer the questions for the moment, no doubt one of the partners will come in soon enough and we can get them to come over here and relieve me. Unfortunately, Mr Quigley ( Wee John ) is in Kilmarnock this morning so he won’t be available all morning.”

“ Is that so?” said Harry eyeing me up and down before bursting into a bit of a smile.

For those who never met the fabulous Maguire during his lifetime, by this date he was in his early fifties, had a slightly broken nose, a mane of silver hair and looked not unlike Jack Palance the movie star.

On this particular morning, he was dressed in a very classy looking (but slightly dated to my eye) herring bone pin stripped suit, white shirt, blue tie and sported black patent leather slip on shoes. He wore no watch or any other kind of jewellery, and appeared completely unfazed by the fact that he had received an unexpected visit from a Policeman and a man from the Inland Revenue alleging substantial back taxes and potentially fraud.

“ So what’s your name. son?”

“ James”

“ James what?”

“ James” I replied with a smile.

“ What? “ asked Harry with his rasp reaching a new high in terms of pitch.

“My name – Its James James! You know? As in Jimmy James, the comedian? My dad – who is called Charlie – was a big fan and so thought it would be fun to name me after the comedian, Jimmy James. However, Jimmy doesn’t sound very professional so here I am…. James James!”

It was an explanation which I had given many times, and I felt I was now quite good at it.

I waited for Harry’s reply and when it came it was somewhat surprising.

“ Ach well son, it could be worse, yer da could have been a fan of Dick Richards the film director in which case you could have been Dick Dick!” and at that he burst out laughing at his own joke.

After a few seconds I again suggested that we should try and delay things so that someone more senior could come and take my place at any interview but by this time Harry was having none of it.

“ No son, I am happy with you here. I wondered what the hell you were on about with all that Hello Mr Maguire nice to see you stuff when you walked in but I get it now. Did the lovely Annette tell you my name? She is a good girl – I’d be lost without her you know?”

“ Actually, no she didn’t give me your name, I just knew it from files in the office and knew you had an office at this address so….”

“ Clever boy! You’ll go far! Right—let me do most of the talking when we go back in here and if I need your help I will give you the signal to jump in…”

“ Eh I am really not sure that is a good idea Mr Maguire – I am not sure you are obliged to answer any questions and I will be up front with you I am a trainee and you would be far better off with someone else here!”

“ Listen, Dick Dick, I am not afraid of these guys and have nothing to hide at all, besides I like you—I think we will get on famously!”

And that is how it came to be that I found myself a few minutes later sitting side by side with the fabulous Harry facing the questions from the diminutive Wilson with the languid Superintendent looking on.

“ So, gentlemen, fire away, how can I brighten your day?” asked Harry to get the ball rolling.

“ Well” said Mr Wilson delving into his brief case and pulling out a folder containing various papers, “ As you are aware Mr Maguire, over the past several years some of my colleagues have been trying to resolve matters with regard to our enquiries into your declared income.”

“ I thought that had all been settled?” said Harry

“ No Mr Maguire it has not been settled as you very well know!” replied Wilson somewhat agitated.

“ Well I haven’t heard from anyone from the revenue in ages! I used to speak to….. oh what was his name?” mused Harry

Wilson looked up from his papers and seemed very determined to get something off his chest:

“ The case officer before me, Mr Maguire, was my colleague Mr Standing, and before him it was Mr Wyper – both of whom have now retired, leaving me to take up the cudgels so to speak.”

“ Oh – they have retired?” said Harry.

“ Yes, Mr Maguire – both have taken early retirement on health grounds, and to be honest Mr Maguire both cited dealing with you as something that materially contributed to the deterioration of their mental well being!” responded Wilson with clear resentment.

He continued:

“ But you will find me a very different kettle of fish Mr Maguire and I will not be put off or in any way distracted by the tricks and procedures you have used previously!”

At this Harry, who had been leaning back in his chair while Wilson was making this speech, suddenly perched forward, rested his elbows on the desk, cupped his chin in his hands and said rather softy:

“ Are you saying, Mr Wilson, that your ex colleagues had lost the plot? Gone mad? Are now in need of medical treatment? And that you are here, as sane as sane can be, to pursue a case which these poor deranged fellows prepared whilst in some state of work related madness? That doesn’t seem like a very good plan to me!”

Superintendent Carmichael let out an involuntary snort at this tongue in cheek rebuke which only resulted in Harry rounding on him with a smile: “ And you Superman, did you know you were here on the back of case papers prepared by two men who are deemed semi lunatics by their own department? Is that not wasting Police time?…… I am only asking you understand!”

Carmichael went to open his mouth but quickly closed it when Wilson’s hand shot up indicating that his silence was preferred if not demanded.

 

Instead, Wilson fixed Harry with a stare:

“ Mr Maguire, there is nothing wrong with my colleagues’ sanity, they have merely retired and have indicated that they found the job stressful—and that one of the causes of that stress was you. That is all!”

“ Me? I caused stress? I have no idea what you mean? How on earth did I cause stress?” protested Harry with an overshow of dramatics worthy of James Cagney.

“ Well, for a start, Mr Maguire they found it impossible to contact you as you repeatedly misled them as to your whereabouts and the address of your business premises. You refused to disclose that this is your place of business, the true nature of your business, the contact details – namely telephone number of your business – and any details whatsoever which allowed them to conclude their legitimate enquiries. Is that not so?”

At this point I interjected:

“ I am sorry but Mr Maguire is not going to answer any questions like that as you are asking him to admit to misleading government officials and he is not obliged to make any such admission or even comment on such an allegation. So why don’t you get on with why you are here as opposed to what happened or supposedly happened to your colleagues?”

Harry burst out laughing:

“ See Mr Wilson! That is why I wanted the boy here—cause he is smart. Knows his stuff! Knows when you are trying to back me into a naughty corner!” he said smiling “ But, notwithstanding his warning and indeed his advice – I have no idea whatsoever what you are on about so why don’t you explain it to me?”

Harry waved away any concerns I had about this and so gave Wilson full reign to ask whatever he wanted – I just hoped that Harry had good answers—ones which would not get him in trouble.

Wilson continued:

“ Mr Maguire, not once in over three years worth of trying have my colleagues ever been able to reach you on the telephone!”

“ I spoke to them often” said Harry

“ Yes, you did speak to them but always by way of a call which you made to them, and which calls were always interrupted by your having to hang up because something extraordinary happened which meant that you had to terminate the call! I have notes here which indicate that you had to end various calls because you had suddenly been bitten by a stray dog, had received an electric shock from the telephone, were suddenly overcome with Diahorrea, were calling from a telephone box where you were suddenly overcome as a result of something foul smelling or had ran out of money, and on more than one occasion when you seemed to think you had somehow got a cross line and that there were various parties on the line who, according to you, were ordering a new tyre, or half a dozen hot pies, or asking for the speaking clock or directions to Culloden! In short, Mr Maguire, all your calls were nonsense calls and have been noted as such!”

“ That is not true!” said Harry ever so calmly.

However, Mr Wilson was on a roll and so ignored him.

“ Further, Mr Maguire, you have often given my colleagues various telephone numbers on which they could call you back. Unfortunately, as you well know, none of those numbers had anything to do with you and were completely false.”

Harry started to protest, but the little be-spectacled man just kept on going:

“ Over the years you have represented to my colleagues that they could call you at telephone numbers which, when dialled, put them through to Calderpark Zoo, The BBC,  The Scottish National Orchestra, Cotters Tours, The Gay Switchboard, The Samaritans, The Save the Whale Campaign and various others including the fan club for a Brighton based pop group called “ Micky and the Tax Inspectors”! – In short Mr Maguire I am here to ensure you cannot and will not muck us about any further!” announced Mr Wilson in triumph.

At this juncture I will confess to stifling some laughter. I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on here but the idea of two tax inspectors making all these daft phone calls inwardly had me in stitches, but at the same time I was trying to keep a degree of decorum although the more strident wee Mr Wilson became the more difficult that was.

As for Harry, he was absolutely deadpan.

“ Those numbers were all correct” he said matter of factly “ I have no idea what you are on about!”

“ All correct? “ spat Wilson “ Are you seriously telling me that you were at any of these places?”

“All of them!” said Harry

“ So what were you doing at The gay switchboard or the Scottish National Orchestra?” sneered Mr Wilson

For the first time Harry showed a little temper- although on looking back now I have no idea if it was faked temper or not.

“ It is none of your bloody business what I was doing at The Gay Switchboard or why I was there, you stupid little man, but I was there. And as for the SNO I was there helping them out after an audition!”

“ I am sorry but that is sheer nonsense Mr Maguire, I don’t believe you, and there is nothing to suggest that you have ever worked for The Gay Switchboard in any capacity, or ever been part of the SNO! You are nothing but a liar!”

I was about to jump in but instead Harry jumped up abruptly and suddenly marched over to a cupboard—as he did so he more or less shouted at the tax man:

“ Have you ever heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan?” he didn’t wait for an answer “ I never worked at the Gay switchboard—I was a volunteer helping them out—for a fortnight!”

As he spoke he opened the cupboard door and without warning he suddenly produced a violin and a bow. He propped the violin under his chin and began playing the instrument with a degree of seeming expertise which was so unexpected it was jaw dropping.

After about 90 seconds of his impersonation of Nicolo Paganini he stopped and simply said “ At the request of a friend who is an arranger for not only the SNO but also the BBC symphony orchestra – I have gone on the fiddle so to speak for both of those organisations – again as a volunteer! So stick that in your file and wipe your arse with it! – if you pardon the expression!”

The look on the tax inspectors face was a picture.

Superintendent Carmichael had covered his face with his rather large hand and was clearly hiding a huge smile.

I could barely believe what I had just seen and the gorgeous Annette merely remained in the corner pouting for all the world like something straight out of Les Folies Bergère.

However, if I thought that this remarkable show of virtuosity on the violin had brought the meeting to an end I was very mistaken.

Mr Wilson was very quick to move on.

“ How much money do you have in the bank Mr Maguire?”

Again I started to interject but Harry ignored me and simply sat down once again in his seat.

“ I have no idea Mr Wilson – I haven’t been round to the bank today to check!”

“ Well how much did you have there yesterday?” asked Wilson

“ Which Bank?” mocked Harry

“ You have more than one?” said Wilson apparently intrigued

“ I have four different banks” said Harry again catching Wilson by surprise          “ and I don’t add up all the balances to the penny and so can’t tell you exactly how much I have in there”

“OK – so how much did you have in the Bank of Scotland across the road on George Square when you checked yesterday”

“ About two hundered thousand pounds” said Harry matter of factly.

“ Actually, as at yesterday, the balance was £215, 467.98 Mr Maguire!” said Wilson showing that he was very much on top of Harry’s finances.

“ Aye well I was near enough” was the only reply.

“ You also have an account in the Nationwide Building Society do you not?”

“ You tell me” said Harry “ I suspect you know the colour of my underpants!”

Wilson ignored the remark

“ Your Nationwide account yesterday stood in credit in the sum of £412,762.08 Mr Maguire is that not so?”

“Yes that will be about right I think. Is that about right Annette? You know I would be lost without her—she does all the bank reconciliation thing as I am rubbish with numbers. Sure I am rubbish with numbers Annette?”

For the first time the four males in the room all focused on the stunning Annette who simply shrugged in a film star sort of way and said “’Arry is terrible with numbers – he can barely count to ten!” all in a French accent.

Wilson immediately rounded on Harry:

“ I am sorry but I am not going to accept that, Mr Maguire, you are clearly proficient with numbers and finance if you can earn that sort of money and more.”

“ Oh” said Harry “ I never earned any of it, I won it!”

“ Ah now we are getting somewhere Mr Maguire, are you seriously telling me that you have won something like £600, 000 or so!”

“ Oh no” said Harry “ I have won nearer £2Million—maybe more! And before you ask or complain – you don’t pay any tax on money you have won do you? And I suspect that is why you have your knickers in a twist, Mr Wilson, because you think I have earned the money when in fact I won it fairly and squarely—in which case it has nothing whatsoever to do with you!”

Now we were into the nub of the reason for the sudden appearance of the tax man and the policeman. Harry Maguire clearly had amassed huge sums of unexplained money and the tax man was coming after him for it and looking for unpaid tax, while the policeman found the whole thing suspicious.

As I sat there, the only thing I was certain of was that I knew squat all about tax law and that someone else should be here instead of me – someone who knew the law and someone who could shut Harry up for his own good.

However, that was not to be, and Mr Wilson pressed on.

“Are you telling me, seriously, that you have earned all that money from gambling?” he asked derisively.

“Absolutely!” Said Harry with a huge grin “ Mind you it has taken me the best part of 20 years”

“ I have your tax returns for at least a decade, Mr Maguire, and it shows no evidence or declarations saying that you have earned any huge sums of money, or declared interest on huge sums of money or anything like that. In fact your returns say that you earn something like £20,000 per annum and does not disclose any substantial assets at all.”

“ That is correct” replied Harry “but it does declare the interest earned from the sums in the bank, and shows no business expenses other than some petrol etc. Currently, I am getting a very low rate of interest because the manager at the Nationwide is a clown—I intend to fix that which should mean more money for me and more tax for you! Won’t that be nice?”

“ Yes, I will give you that it shows sums by way of interest, Mr Maguire, but are you saying that you live off the interest from the bank? And I don’t get the point you are making about business expenses at all.”

“ OK Mr Wilson, let me explain.” And with that Harry opened a drawer and produced four sets of bank accounts and a calculator. “ I have four bank accounts, and if I add up all the sums in the various bank accounts I think I have just over £2m in cash there.”

Wilson nearly choked and the police inspector suddenly sat up in his chair and paid attention.

“ Every year I get a statement of the interest paid on whatever I have in the bank and that makes up the vast majority of my declared income—and that is entered on my tax return. You will find it is all perfectly above board.”

“ So you are saying you have no other income?”

“ No, I do have other income, some of which I declare and some of which is just not taxable.”

“ Over and above the interest I earn a further £2,000- £5,000 per year which I declare and pay tax on”

“ And what is this non-declarable income you claim to have?” asked Wilson with more than a hint of scepticism.

“ It is money I earn from gambling” said Harry as a matter of fact.

“ And just how much is that?” asked Wilson

“ Don’t answer that Harry” I said suddenly. “ Mr Wilson are you here to make an accusation against my client or are you just here on a fishing exercise? To be honest, Mr Maguire has given you a considerable amount of his time, told you his tax returns are correct and up to date, and to be honest if you think that is not the case then go back to your office and  put that in writing together with the reasons why you think that is the case. Do not, simply start fishing around when you have been told what the position is!”.

To be honest, I was only trying to stop the irrepressible Harry from saying something that he might later regret or which might cause him some trouble, but even if I say so myself, I sounded pretty convincing.

Except, Wilson was not for budging and my outburst seemed to only annoy him and make him more intransigent if anything.

He turned to me:

“ Mr James, with all due respect to you, the position here is that your client declares a certain amount of income each year. The sums declared do not explain vast sums of money which are held on deposit in the name of your client, or how that money came to be there, where it came from and so on and so forth. Notwithstanding the virtuoso violin performance we saw earlier on, your client has avoided and evaded all reasonable and proper lines of enquiry from my office and has deliberately avoided proper telephone contact, answered no written enquiry and has not volunteered any explanation as to how he obtained the money in the bank. I am now asking for that information and upon receiving any explanation I will make a decision on behalf of my department. However, until I receive that explanation, the department is looking upon the funds as undeclared income and is of the view that your client owes something like £450,000 in back taxes plus interest and penalties!”

“ Ach you are off your head” said Harry bemusedly “ But I will tell you what. I wouldn’t mind if you sent me a letter stating that you think I am due £450,000 in tax in respect of undeclared income.”

“ Why would you want such a letter?” asked Wilson suspiciously.

“ Because I want to use it as a bank reference!” said Harry with a mischievous grin “ The Bank manager doesn’t recognise gambling winnings as income and so won’t give me a loan based on that money and won’t give me a proper rate of interest. However, a letter from you, Mr Wilson, might just do the trick!”

One again Superintendent Carmichael stifled a laugh.

I thought Wilson was going to explode.

“ Look, you are a tax cheat and a fraud!” he bellowed  “ it would be up to you to prove that the money came from gambling, if you cannot do that the money is deemed to be taxable. So – how much money do you say you earn by way of gambling and do you have the betting slips to back up whatever figure you are about to declare?”

“ Harry, you do not have to answer any of this now” I advised

“ Yes you do” Wilson almost screamed.

Harry simply smiled and waved my objection away.

“ Mr Wilson, I earn approximately £120,000 to £150,000 a year from gambling – but I have not one single betting slip to prove that. In fact I do not bet – or very rarely bet – on anything!”

It seemed to me that the rest of the room was stunned—apart from the gorgeous Annette who simply remained silent and from where I was sitting seemed absolutely unfazed by the entire situation.

“ Well in that case, Mr Maguire, all the money in the bank must be deemed as income. Tax , penalties and interest  must be paid and it is up to Superintendent  Carmichael here to determine whether or not this amounts to an attempted fraud on the revenue and whether a report should go to the procurator fiscal. In the interim, unless you make a substantial payment to account, I have no option but to leave here and freeze your bank accounts!”

Wilson was all business and deadly serious, but so too was Harry who suddenly switched his tone and started out on another extraordinary virtuoso performance – one which I would remember for the rest of my life.

“ The problem with you, Mr Wilson, is that you are stupid! I will not be paying any money to account and you will not be arresting my bank account. If you even attempt to do so I will get Dick Dick here to sue your ass off. In fact your department will be sued so badly that they will have no option but to pension you off and hope that no one ever mentions your name again.”

Wilson was clearly outraged and went to speak but Harry steam road rollered right over him!

“ Come with me and let me explain why you are being stupid.”

At that Harry walked out from behind his desk but never stopped talking.

“ Not only are YOU stupid Mr Wilson, but the Government is stupid, the public are stupid and to be frank damn near everyone is stupid. The only people that I know who are not stupid are me, Annette and young Dick Dick there!”

I was glad to have been excluded from the stupid class but had no idea what I had done to demonstrate this lack of stupidity.

Harry was by now out in the hall with everyone following on.

“ Let me give you a guided tour” he continued and with that he opened the middle door of the three and walked inside.

Once inside I saw a larger room than the one we had just left and immediately noticed that the walls were completely covered by blackboards. Each blackboard was written on with a series of vertical columns showing names at the extreme left hand side of the board and each board had about 30 names written in this way. I couldn’t count the boards quickly enough.

 

Beside the names there were 5 boxes, and each box seemed to have a different name to the one on the left hand side.

That was all I had time to take in before Harry started speaking again.

“ Have a look at this.” Said Harry producing a copy of the sporting life which was opened at an advert which someone had circled with a pen.

I craned my neck to read the advert which read:

 

“ BETTING CONSORTIUM: Join our betting and tips consortium and be guaranteed daily winners at race tracks throughout Britain, Ireland and Europe.

Entry Fee £50 non returnable. In return you will receive expert advice on how to gamble successfully each and every day with guaranteed winners and guaranteed winnings. Send your cheque for £50 to register to PO Box 861 Glasgow. Established since 1965.”

Printed over the advert in huge block capitals were the words “ NO VACANCIES”.

Wilson, Carmichael and I read this simultaneously and more or less at the one time looked up to Harry for a further explanation:

He continued:

“ I have ran that advert every week since 1965, though back then it was only £10 to join” He explained.

Wilson jumped in “ So Mr Maguire, you charge people £50 per head to join your consortium, if that is what it is, and that income is taxable!” he said triumphantly.

“ Go to the top of the class Mr Wilson, it is absolutely taxable and I declare all the money gained that way in my tax return” said Harry.

Wilson was slightly crestfallen I thought.

Harry continued.

“ Now, you will see that the advert is marked clearly as saying “No Vacancies” so I am clearly not asking for the £50 and I am saying that the consortium has precisely that—“ No vacancies”.”

“ So you are not getting any £50 subscriptions?” asked Wilson

“ Only when I take the no Vacancies sign off the advert, which I do about three times per year. And when I do Mr Wilson I get between 50 and 100 cheques for £50 and that is my extra income of between say £2,000 and £5,000 which I declare. Capice?”

Wilson nodded.

Harry then turned to the Blackboards.

“ The names on the extreme left of each board are the current consortium members who have paid their subscriptions. Some paid over a decade ago, some will be only this year. They are only asked to pay the £50 once and in return I give them the tips which they then use or don’t use as they see fit.”

I thought this was beginning to make some sense.

Wilson picked up the paper again and his old self confidence seemed to return.

“ So, you are allegedly an expert on horses Mr Maguire, and you would have me believe that you are so expert that you can pick winners so regularly that you can make over £100,000 per year from this……. racket? – and all without any insider information and with no jiggery pokery at all? I am sure Superintendent Carmichael will want to know just how you do this?” he said smiling.

Fabulous Harry pulled at the cuffs of his jacket, raised his eyes to the heavens, fixed Wilson with a stare and replied.

“ God, you are stupid! On the contrary, Mr Wilson, I know nothing about horses at all – I barely know the arse from the head, and I know no horse trainers, jockeys, owners or anyone connected to horse racing whatsoever!”

Wilson was again beside himself.

“ Well in that case you are clearly defrauding these people – your advert says that they will get expert advice on horses and that you guarantee winners!”

“ Well done Mr Wilson, you can read – almost! Nowhere in that advert does it say that I am an expert on horses. It says “expert advice” but it does say guaranteed winners – and that is what the members of the consortium get – guaranteed winners!”

“ How is that then?” asked Wilson

“ OK look at the boards – I have precisely 250 names in the left hand column. Sometimes it is less than that but there is never any more than 250. Beside each name there are 5 columns. Each day I supply each of those names with the names of 5 horses and at least some of those horses will win or be placed. Guaranteed!”

“ How do you know that?” asked Wilson

“ Because each of the horses given comes from a race where there are no more than 5 or 6 runners. and every one of those runners is given to someone on the board and so as a matter of fact a large percentage of the people named on the board will be allocated the winner of the race as a matter of practice. An even larger percentage will have the winner or a placed horse. If you follow that practice through a total of 5 races per day, it is virtually impossible for each of the names on the board not to have been given  the name of a winning horse. In fact the odds – and don’t ask me to work out the odds as I am rubbish with numbers as I said – the odds are that each of the names will have been given the names of three horses who will have won or been placed. Further, you can almost always guarantee that in a five or six horse race, one of the horses concerned is an absolute donkey, and so you can discount that one from the selection process so increasing your chances of picking the winner from the remainder. The odds might be short, but I do not promise big odds, I promise winners and placed horses. ”

There was a silence in the room as everyone stared at the Blackboards.

Harry moved to a filing cabinet and pulled out some typewritten sheets of paper and handed one each to myself, Carmichael and a dumbfounded Wilson.

“ When you pay the £50, we will send a copy of these terms and conditions by return. It states there that by accepting the terms and conditions, the consortium member agrees to “share” their winnings with me. It further states that they will send me a cheque once per week with my share of the winnings from all the races they had a bet on that week but in the event I do not receive a cheque for a three week consecutive period or for six weeks in any one year then the consortium member has been deemed to leave the consortium and that I am free to sell the space to a new member. That covers people going on holiday or being in the hospital and things like that. However, if I don’t get a cheque for a month then they are out!”

I caught a glimpse of Annette who smiled knowingly back at me as she knew that ‘Arry was running rings round Mr Wilson who at that point piped up with a question.

“ How do you check that these members are not fiddling you?” He asked.

“ What do you mean?” replied Harry?

“ What percentage of the bet are they meant to give you and how do you check up on them?” replied Wilson

“ Well, I don’t really” replied Harry “ but if you look at the terms and conditions again you will see that in the bottom paragraph it states “ This consortium is operated for the benefit of serious stakeholders and those interested in horse racing. If you are addicted to gambling in any way you should not participate in the consortium and should seek professional advice. For those who do participate and bet on each of the tips provided either by way of single or multiple bets, we would expect winnings to be such that a reasonable average weekly share to be sent back to the consortium administrator to be around £10. If any member consistently sends the exact sum of £10 then their membership shall be terminated automatically as they shall be deemed to be acting outwith the spirit of the consortium. Further, the administrator reserves the right to “spot check” the bets of any member by asking to see the member’s betting slips for any one or more weeks. In the event that the member concerned refuses to produce the requested betting slips then they shall be automatically ejected from the consortium and their place in the consortium shall be taken by the next person on the waiting list.” So you see gentlemen, I don’t really check but I know that on average these guys will send me £10 per week no matter what!  Now, my maths is sufficiently good to know that 250 x £10 x 48 weeks comes to £120,000 a year minimum in my share of bets successfully placed. And all of it, Mr Wilson, is free of tax as it is the proceeds of gambling!”

Wilson was absolutely dumbfounded. His mouth was open but no noise came out at all until he finally said

“ But this must take ages to administer?”

Which set Harry off again with a wicked grin and a glint in his eye.

“Well, that is where Annette comes in. You see we look at the race card the day before, pick out the races we want to focus on, then allocate the horses on the board, and then we used to call each and every consortium member by telephone to give them the tips. Nowadays we simplify things by sending them by fax via the two machines you see over there. Some people still prefer a phone call as they don’t have a fax but most do and we try and persuade them to invest in one.”

Harry Continued:

“ Annette also opens the mail and so receives the cheques logging them against the names of the senders. That way we keep tabs on who has or who has not sent cheques. We then just bank the cheques, every day – unless we are on holiday in which case we just repeat the tipping process using a ledger instead of the blackboards and we leave the banking part until we come back. I would add that all of this is very hard work and that by lunchtime most days we are always very tired and so at that stage we go for a wee lie down!”

And with that he opened a connecting door to the third room which everyone could see was fitted out as a bedroom complete with an ensuite shower!

I thought Mr Wilson was going to have apoplexy, whereas Superintendent Carmichael merely blushed a crimson red whilst the gorgeous Annette merely pouted some more and feigned a very poor excuse for mock embarrassment.

I just felt my face wearing a huge grin which I could not disguise at all!

Five minutes later, we were all back in the main room with Harry behind his desk. It was still only mid morning and Harry asked Annette to fetch everyone a coffee and a scone.

Mr Wilson, checked and rechecked his papers, and mumbled on about undeclared income but you could see that his heart was no longer in it and that he knew he was wasting his time. Harry’s scheme, whilst very clever, could never be called illegal and sure enough the money appeared to come from gambling which was not taxable.

I thought all was going swimmingly well until the big policeman found his voice and asked an innocent enough question:

“ Mr Maguire, that is one of the cleverest ways of making money I have ever heard of – not that I necessarily approve you understand—but can I ask how you thought it up and what you did before this?”

Mr Wilson was not paying much attention to this as he was busy writing something on a sheet of paper when Harry began to answer.

“ Well, Superintendent, it’s like this. I started out doing this in 1965 after someone else did the dirty on me in relation to something else. Something else which just showed me how stupid people were.”

“ What was that?”

“ Oh I am not sure I should tell you that, Superintendent, you might disapprove of what I was up to then.”

“ Go on try me!” said the Policeman jovially “ what were you up to?”

Harry looked him straight in the eye and said “ I robbed trains!”

I spilt my coffee all over myself and shouted “ Harry!”

Mr Wilson immediately looked up and the Inspector nearly jumped out of his seat!

“ What did you just say Mr Maguire?” asked the Inspector purposefully

And again Harry was off.

“ I robbed trains Inspector, or to be more precise I robbed a train!”

The room was silent for a moment.

“When was this?” asked the policeman

“ 1963” replied Harry.

I immediately tried to interject as the two men were now just staring at one another with the tone altogether different after the levity of Harry’s betting scheme being explained.

“ I am not sure I believe you Mr Maguire” said the inspector “ but go on satisfy my policeman’s curiosity: What kind of train?”

“ Oh a mail train” said Harry in an absolutely deadpan voice.

Carmichael now spoke very slowly and purposefully.

“ Be very careful Mr Maguire, listen to what Mr James there said earlier before replying, are you voluntarily telling me, knowing that I am a serving policeman, that you were involved in the robbing of a mail train in 1963?”

“ Absolutely” said Harry draining his cup “ I was that soldier—March 1963!”

Carmichael couldn’t help himself:

“ So you are saying that you took part in the great train robbery in 1963?”

Harry looked straight back at him and burst into a huge grin.

“ Oh Superintendent!  Don’t be so silly! Why would I admit to that? No that took place in August 1963 – I said March 1963 which is obviously several months before and this was on the Inverness to Aberdeen line.”

“ Go on” said the policeman sceptically.

Before proceeding Harry looked at me and said “ It is ok Dick Dick I know what I am doing so don’t be alarmed” and then he turned back to the Superintendent.

“ In 1963 I was 30 years old and had been drinking far too heavily for quite some time. I was working up north and had occasion to get the night mail train from Inverness to Aberdeen. I boarded the train drunk and once on it I proceeded to get even more drunk in the company of the man who was in charge of the mail van. When he got more than a little the worse for wear I helped him back to his van where he promptly fell asleep leaving me with two big sacks full of mail. I’m afraid drink and temptation got the better of me and I took the mad notion to jump off the train with the two mail bags which I did – with some difficulty.”

“ However, I did manage to jump off with the bags and simply lay on the ground as I watched the train speed away with no one any the wiser that I was off with the mail bags. And that was that I’m afraid”

“ Did you get caught?” asked the Policeman.

“ No” said Harry “ I got sober! The following day I realised I was in trouble and did the only thing I could think of – I hid the mail bags in a field, managed to get a lift to Aberdeen, got myself rested and spruced up, got a work colleague to take me back towards Inverness in a car, recovered the mail bags which I said I had found when going for a pee in the field and promptly handed them back to the GPO who had not even noticed they were missing by that point. They were most grateful and never reported the incident. In turn I got the fright of my life and vowed never be to so stupid again and to cut down on the bevvy as they say! I managed the latter if not the former!”

You could see the relief on Superintendent Carmichael’s eyes when he realised that he did not have an escaped great train robber on his hands.

“ Well that is a great story Mr Maguire but technically still an unreported crime – until now!” said Carmichael sternly

“ Ha ha never kid a kidder Superman, sure I might just be pulling your leg?”

“True” said the Policeman laughing nervously.

5 minutes later the policeman and the tax inspector were gone and Annette was in the room next door hurriedly marking up the names of horses against the names of people.

I was left with Harry whom I had met only a few hours before.

“ Well that was an interesting morning” he said with a huge grin.

“ Sure was  I replied!”

“ Are you really called Jimmy James?” he asked

“ Did you really rob a mail train?” I replied

“ Yes that really happened” he said philosophically “ The worst decision I made in my life!” he added.

“ Well you sorted it out in the end!”

“Yea sort of.”

I looked at him and despite myself I asked the question;

“ What do you mean sort of?”

By this time I was at the door heading back out into the common corridor of No 5 St Vincent Place.

Fabulous Harry looked at me in his fabulous suit and with his broken nose and took a deep breath.

“ Well after the incident in Inverness I went to London for a change of scene and a new start. I didn’t stop drinking immediately and one night in the pub when I had had a few I told a some guys  about what had happened on the mail train to Aberdeen – about jumping off the train with the mail bags. I said it was so easy that it was not true and I even suggested that if it was that easy on the train to Aberdeen then it must be that easy on every other mail train and of course pointed out that the biggest mail train was the one which ran from Glasgow to London. To me , it was just a good story about something that had happened to a daft laddie.”

“ A few months later and the Glasgow to London mail train was robbed and low and behold two of the guys who had been in that pub were involved. I stress, I knew nothing about it, wasn’t involved at all but I did give them the idea.”

I stood there with my jaw open while Harry continued.

“ Of course the rest is history, they botched the whole job, the guard was unfortunately killed, Biggs escaped and went on the run—as did others—but they all got caught in the end. But I was very annoyed. I felt used and angry as they were a shower of dirty dogs for taking my story and turning it into a crime that cost a man’s life and so in some small way I  determined to get my own back  somehow.”

“ And how did you do that?” I asked knowing that I was perhaps playing the straight man.

Harry looked at me with a straight glare but with a glint in his eye and replied in a phoney Irish accent:

“ If you look up the Great Train Robbery anywhere you will see a story that says that the whole idea was the brainchild of an Irishman who thought up and planned the whole thing. He was never caught and got away with one sixteenth of the money – precisely £164,480 and a few pence! Well that was all cobblers – there was no Irishman. The two guys in the pub just made him up and told the others that was his share for thinking up the plan and that he had to be paid. Within days of the Robbery the actual money was laundered through pawn shops and bookmakers in the area that was local to me and I saw some of that happening. The truth was that the so called Irishman’s share was split between the wives of these two crooks – both of whom subsequently spent many years in Jail while that daft bastard Biggs ran about all over the world with Jack Slipper chasing him and ignoring what was right under his nose! Coppers and tax men are stupid you know?”

“ So” I asked “ what did that have to do with you? And how did you get your own back so to speak?”

As he was closing the door Harry looked at me and said “ Sure, with the two guys in the jail someone had to keep their women warm of a cold night and help them spend the money! Didn’t they?”

And with a wink, the door was closed and he was gone!

In due course I became great friends with fabulous Harry Maguire and we had many a laugh. I never did quite get to the point where I knew what he would do next or what was absolutely true and what was not.

He continued to amass ever greater sums of money and eventually bought property abroad including a house in Portugal which was once let out to the American Ambassador! He even at one time bought a share in a race horse or two.

Eventually, he and the gorgeous Annette sailed off into the sunset and lived in various houses around Europe.

About a year ago, Annette suddenly appeared without warning at my office and brought the news that Harry had passed away. I was very sad at the news as he was a great character and I was very fond of him.

She also told me that she had brought me a gift – something that Harry had instructed her to bring to me once he had passed away. When I asked what it was, she left my room briefly, went to reception and brought back a worn leather violin case which was locked shut by two hasps.

I felt tears as she simply placed the case on my desk and all I could do was look at it. Eventually, I explained that I didn’t play the violin – and didn’t know anyone who did so said that I was not sure what I would do with it.

Annette simply said “Arry wanted you to have it for old times sake” and so I kept it and gave it pride of place on top of a book case in my room.

Annette and I said our goodbyes and I have never seen her from that day to this.

In the intervening time, no one really mentioned the violin case or made any comment on it. It merely sat in plain view on top of the book case.

Further,I never even thought of opening the violin case – not until three weeks ago when the office had a bit of a party as I had decided to retire and this was my farewell bash.

There was a lot of good wishes and laughter in my rather large room and at one point someone suggested that I have my photograph taken with the violin that the gorgeous Annette had brought in for me and which had just sat on the book case ever since.

Reluctantly, I was persuaded to take the case down and open it, and there inside lay the violin and the bow. Despite my not being able to play it, I was cajoled into picking it up and posing with it for a photo.

So I picked up the bow and then took the violin out of the case. I clumsily placed the head under my chin with a great lack of expertise and put my hand down the neck of the instrument as I thought you should.

I had never even looked at the instrument, never thought to look at the make or if there was any inscription or anything. Up close, I saw a small sticker affixed to the stock which had read “ For Harry” but the Harry had been scored out and “ Dick Dick” written in pen in its place.

I was so focused on this sticker that I had not noticed that one of my fingers had accidently touched a tiny button which was disguised as part of the violin and was barely noticeable. The Minute I touched it, the instrument burst into life without me doing anything and for the next 90 seconds produced the most gorgeous violin sound – a sound that I had not heard in decades – and of course all who saw this were amazed that even without using the bow I had somehow made this instrument sound like Nicolo Paganini at his best.

They laughed, I cried.

Mr Wilson and Superintendent Carmichael – if you are still around I hope you are reading this!

Never Kid a Kidder!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tale of the Little Prince — Never Kid a Kidder ( Part 1 )

8 Dec

The University of Harvard rightly boats that it is one of the most respected educational establishments in the world, and in particular it boasts a business school whose name is synonymous with the smartest business brains in the world. You can be reasonably sure that there are no flies on a Harvard man—- or woman.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States and boasts over 360,000 Alumi around the world. Despite being the very epitome of the American ideal, Harvard was always open to accepting students from foreign lands and from backgrounds which were entirely foreign to the great and the good of American society.

So it came to pass that in 1923 Harvard opened its doors to  Prince Michael Alexandrovich Dmitry Obelensky, a young refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution. Prince Michael Alexandrovitch had applied to enter Harvard and was rapturously received by no less a personage than the president of the University as if the Prince were conferring a great honour on this most ancient of American universities by honouring the campus with his very presence alone. The Prince was a student of engineering, enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and for two full terms he held court at the University with his easy wit and charm. He played chess and backgammon for the University team, was clearly bright and intelligent, and was widely popular!

However, rubber cheques, it turned out, were not acceptable currency in and around Harvard and when his bank account turned out to be as fictitious as his title, a greatly embarrassed president swiftly awarded Prince Michael Alexandrovitch the order of the boot and spectacularly sent him on his way.

You see Prince Michael the phoney had persuaded the authorities that the educational certificates he had earned during his youth in Russia had not survived the Revolution.Further investigation showed that he had spent some time in London before arriving in New York, and Scotland Yard records showed that in London he had succeeded in running up a series of convictions for larceny and fraud. In fact he had only been spared prison by agreeing to be deported to Guatemala! 

However, he ended up in America but was deported to France after the Harvard affair, and even in Paris he succeeded in getting into some trouble eventually spending a period in prison for vagrancy among other things– an ignominious end and fall from grace for a once “respected Russian aristocrat”.

Except that Prince Michael was of course no aristocrat at all — and there was no prospect whatsoever that deportation from the United States,ignominy and a spell in a Paris jail were ever going to keep him down.

Our Prince was born altogether far more modestly as Herschel Geguzin, and had begun life as the son of a dried-goods merchant who owned a shop in Vilnius, Lithuania – then part of the Russian empire and subject to intermittent pogroms that made life difficult and dangerous for its Jewish inhabitants. Geguzin’s father had died before he was born, and, coming to the United States alone at the age of 10, the future Prince had passed most of what was left of his childhood being shunted from children’s asylums to one reform school after another in the poorer districts of New York, earning the title of  “celebrated bad boy” of no less than six New York orphan homes to which he was committed.For the remainder of his childhood, Geguzin – now known by the crudely Anglicised name of Harry Gerguson – spent working, rather in the style of Anne of Green Gables, as an orphan farmhand in Illinois.

After the deportation and the time in Paris, it is astonishing that “Prince Michael” was able to return to America – but return he did.

What made this all the more remarkable was that he was instantly recognisable standing at barely 5ft tall, and that he returned with an absolute belter of a disguise this time posing as……. Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitry Obolensky Romanoff the last of the Romanov princes — yet at the same time he claimed to be a Jewish boy from New York who just happened to have a slightly English accent!

By 1936 The little Prince was once again facing extradition as he could not prove that had ever obtained any right to enter America in the first place, and once again his various schemes for loans and whatever had fallen foul of the law. Accordingly, he quickly borrowed a car and headed west popping up successively in Wichita, St Louis, Chicago and Kansas City. In these cities he would introduce himself as the Russian prince and con his way into staying in some of the swankiest apartments and homes in town. He enjoyed a fairly successful social season in Newport, where the evidence suggests that he contrived to attend a ball given by the Vanderbilts. Throughout this period, he lived on “loans” fraudulently obtained on the basis of false promises of repayment, and by persuading sundry art dealers to let him have works of art that he convinced them he could sell, on commission, in the Russian colonies. It is even suggested that he succeeded in borrowing some money by “pledging” the Russian Crown jewels!  In short, the Prince became a confidence man, and a pretty good one, too.

Eventually he arrived in what was so obviously a natural home for such a character– Hollywood California, and by this time his transformation into the Russian Prince was complete– in fact so complete that it was scarcely credible with everyone knowing that he was a complete and utter fraud — pretending expertly not to be a fraud.

Originally he was paid to work at the Clover Club casino, where he was hired to simply appear each night with his air of mystery and amazing stories. His mystique attracted crowds who spent heavily, though the casino owners knew at the same time that occasionally he would win big at the tables.

In due course, with the financial assistance of some famous backers, he struck out for himself and opened Romanoff’s restaurant becoming the most celebrated restaurateur in Hollywood with all the stars, and the great and the good queuing up for a table.  

By this time, he habitually smoked cigarettes monogrammed with the imperial Russian ‘R’; and told stories about being schooled at Eton, at Harrow and at Winchester, attending not only Oxford and Harvard, but also the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, Cambridge, Yale, Princeton, the Sorbonne and Heidelberg. This might have been only a little remarkable for a man who – at least according to his own account – had driven a taxi for the French army during the defence of Paris and then fought on the Western Front as a British lieutenant, and on the Eastern Front as a Cossack colonel; who “knew the Sudan like the back of my hand”; who had won the Legion D’Honeur for some act of unspecified gallantry, and had gone on to defend the Winter Palace against rampaging Bolsheviks; had served six years in solitary confinement for killing a German nobleman in a duel; and who was able to produce at least some proof that he enjoyed a close, if oddly hazy, relationship with the former ruling dynasty of Russia.

 

Variously he also claimed to have killed Rasputin, had been given the titles Count Gladstone and Comte de Rochemonde, had been a spy under the name Captain Shaughnessy and was a relation of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers.

What was most amazing, however, was that such an existence was a truly startling achievement for a man who had actually done none of those things, was none of those things, who knew none of those people— and who was, in reality, no sort of aristocrat, soldier or spy at all– with everyone knowing it.

His ridiculous fame became such that he regularly appeared on TV games shows and when he was meant to be a mystery guest on one show, it was decided that his peculiar accent was so recognisable he was asked to communicate with the panellists by  simply blowing a whistle!

As the years passed and the fame grew there was no letting up on the professionalism of his con artistry. He became close friends with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and David Niven, married a beautiful woman many years his junior and gained a level of respectability and celebrity whilst all the time maintaining his great act or con.

He would meet and greet members of the English establishment and regale them with tales of their own family and playing cricket in little known village cricket fields of their acquaintance. He spoke to them in such detail about the family history, local surroundings and villages that they were convinced he was actually telling the truth about being there and knowing their family. Quite how he achieved such knowledge and detail was never disclosed.

Romanoff’s restaurant was recognised as the best in Hollywood, and he lived out his days and nights there in opulent grandeur disposing the favoured seating arrangements of the stars, according to his own personal liking for them, despatching the disliked to the corners of a back room which he would occasionally deign to visit to refold an untidy napkin and see that its crest, of the double-headed eagle, appeared on top.

The Prince may have been a phoney-baloney, but it’s hard to fake genuine good taste and Romanoff had it in spades. The French cuisine he developed was the finest in the city, and drew all the local gourmands, who tolerated his insults and his habit of having his bulldogs dine with him at his table. They happily paid his high prices, but were treated to high quality food. He ran a constantly packed house full of people who were only referred to in town by just a single name:  Zanuck, Mayer, Cohn, Gable, Cooper, Sinatra,— all soon became regulars, along with an endless roster of famous faces.

If you were lucky enough to get a table– even one at the back of the house– when walking to the table with the maitre’d you may have to pass Lana Turner, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Sir Cedric Hardwick, Clifton Webb, Robert Morley, Cole Porter, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger on the way. 

The little Prince became known for his trademark spats, moustache and walking stick, and an impeccable (albeit faux) Oxford accent all of which helped to charm his way into Tinseltown society, and became much sought after for fancy soirées and polo matches. When Hollywood film-makers needed a technical adviser for a movie set in Europe, Romanoff claimed to be an expert on everywhere and everyone who had ever lived anywhere you could think of, and drew a comfortable salary for advising on “authenticity” of all things European. Yet everyone knew that was all bullshit and everyone was in on the gag. Most of the locals were self-invented, although perhaps not on quite such a grand scale–so they let him get away with it because they loved keeping company with a man of such bottomless chutzpah.

In the Restaurant he insisted that everyone should wear a tie much to the disgust of Humphrey Bogart who preferred to go open necked. During the filming of the Maltese Falcon, Bogart and fellow Star Peter Lorre came into the restaurant  wearing giant bow ties in mock protest.

The restaurant was also the seen of one of the most famous photographs in Hollywood when in 1957 a photographer snapped Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at a table with Loren gazing surreptitiously at Mansefield’s ample bosom which is barely covered by her chosen dress.

Such events did nothing to harm the reputation of the Little Prince who by this time held sway in his own fantasy court.

However, perhaps the greatest evidence of the transformation of the boy from Vilnius into a widely accepted phoney prince came with the strange tale of a Lieutenant Commander Bernstein who was cutting a dash as an officer and hero in the casinos and clubs in Southern California. One night the Lieutenant Commander was regaling the company with his tales of heroism in the South Pacific when the Little Prince, who was listening, suddenly declared that he had an announcement to make.

The company looked round, and the diminutive dapper man brought himself up to his full height, pointed at the Lieutenant Commander and said ” He– is a phoney!”

The crowd were stunned and over the protest of the angry officer someone asked the well known restauranter  ” How do you know that?”.

Prince Michael Alexandrovich Dmitry Obelensky Romanoff sometime son of Czar Nicholas III, graduate from half the universities of Europe, treasurer of the Russian Crown Jewels, Killer of Rasputin, Cossack Officer, and true child of a long deceased shop owner from Vilnius, simply stared back and diffidently announced to one and all: ” Well, I know a little bit about phonies — and this man sometimes forgets to limp! Besides– his cheques bounce! He is a phoney and a fraud!”

A few days later Bernstein was arrested by the FBI and charged with impersonating a Naval Officer and for illegally passing cheques!

He had been trumped — by the little Prince!

All of which goes to prove– Never kid a kidder!

 

Big Nick, Rosa Parks, Vivian Malone Jones —- and yes, yet another man called—- Wallace!

5 Dec

One rainy day in 1943, whilst the worst of The Second World War was raging in Europe, a 30 year old black woman boarded a bus in Montgomery Alabama in the Southern United States of America. She proffered her money for her ticket and the driver– one James Fred Blake — who saw action as a member of the army in that same war—- handed her the requested ticket.

However, before the young woman was allowed to take her seat, Bus Driver Blake ordered her off the bus stating that whilst she had a ticket to ride, she had entered the bus by the wrong door. Basically, our young woman was black and she had boarded the bus by way of the “White’s only” door,

Not wishing to create a fuss, the young woman got off the bus– once again using the “White’s only” door — and walked the few yards towards the entrance reserved for ” Coloured’s or Black” people at the rear of the vehicle. As she walked towards the door at the back of the bus– still clutching her ticket — Bus Driver Blake closed the doors and drove off leaving his potential passenger standing in the evening rain.

Twelve years later, on the 1st of December 1955, Bus Driver Blake was once again at the wheel of his bus, when lo and behold the once 30 year old woman he had left standing in the rain boarded his bus again. This time she had entered through the correct door, had bought her ticket and had sat down on the bus and Mr Blake carried on with his driving without further ado.

Little did he know, that the small petite woman had remembered who he was and how he had left her standing in the rain all those years before, and little did he know that within the next few short minutes he would become embroiled in a situation that would lead to his passenger becoming famous in American folklore and being seen as a beacon for human rights- not just in America but throughout the world.

As the bus filled up, Mr Blake would attempt to enforce a local law which had stood since 1900, by making the black or coloured passengers move to the back of the bus so that the “White folks” could take a seat at the front.

However, on this December day in 1955, this one small black woman– a seamstress from a local department store– simply refused to move even when she was threatened with the police and potential arrest, with the result that Blake had to call on the forces of the Law to have her removed and ultimately charged.

When the police arrived they quickly established that the name of the woman concerned was Rosa McAuley Parks.

She was charged with a violation of Chapter 6, Section 11 of the segregation law of the Montgomery City code and as she was being lead away she asked the policeman ” why do you push us around so?” only for the policeman to reply  “I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest.”

The story of Rosa Parks is well known, however it is often misunderstood in relation to its significance in ending segregation in the Southern United States and in the State of Alabama in particular.

Other black women had been arrested for refusing to move along on buses long before Rosa Parks, yet the practice and the law had continued just as before.

However, in the case of Rosa Parks the difference was that she herself was seen as an outstanding citizen who was respected by black and white alike, was a dedicated civil rights campaigner, and someone who after 20 years or more campaigning on behalf of blacks had decided on that December day that enough was enough. On that day and on that bus she took the view that she was confident enough to take the State of Alabama and the City of Montgomery in particular to the highest court in the land. She later said, “I only knew that, as I was being arrested, that it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind…”.

In short, she- with the help of others- decided to move from a stance of organised protest on the streets to the stage of the most formal of protests in the most formal of institutions in America — The courts. She was in complete agreement with her arresting policeman– the law was indeed the law, and it should be on her side.

By the time Rosa came to trial, The entire black community in Montgomery had decided to boycott the bus company and for well over a year black people would walk to work, cycle to work, take communal taxis or what have you rather than take a bus. The bus company in turn lost a fortune with many of their vehicles ultimately sitting idle.

The Boycott had been announced from Church Pulpits throughout Montgomery on Sunday 4th December and within a few days of Rosa’s arrest some 35,000 leaflets had been distributed protesting at her treatment, calling for a boycott, and demanding a change in the law.

Mr Blake, the City of Montgomery and its “Jim Crow” law had picked on the wrong woman!

Her trial (on 15th December)  lasted only half an hour and she was ultimately fined the outrageous sum of $10 ( her fare had been 10 cents ) and was ordered to pay $4 in costs.

Rosa Parks immediately appealed and the bus boycott  was extended for the duration of the proceedings.

However, there was genuine fear in the black community that Rosa’s appeal would be deliberately delayed and impeded within the court system, and so a civil challenge to the offending law was raised on behalf of a number of other black women who had previously been charged with similar bus offences.

Accordingly on February 1, 1956, Fred Gray (attorney for the Montgomery Improvement Association) filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Montgomery on behalf of another  five black women  who had all been the victims of discrimination on local buses. W.A. Gayle, the Mayor of Montgomery, was the defendant.

Among the plaintiffs was one Aurelia Browder who had been arrested on April 19, 1955, 7 months before the arrest of Rosa Parks, for sitting in the white section of a public city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was convicted and fined for her alleged crime. The other plaintiffs were Susie McDonald, Jeanette Reese, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith.

On June 5 1956, the judges released their decision in the landmark case of Browder v Gayle and determined that segregated buses violated the equal protection and due process guarantees of the 14th Amendment and were therefore unconstitutional. The City of Montgomery could not enforce any law “which may require plaintiffs or any other Negroes similarly situated to submit to segregation in the use of bus transportation facilities in the City of Montgomery.” Both the city and the state appealed this decision and on December 17, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously upheld the ruling, issuing a court order to the state of Alabama to desegregate its buses there and then. The Montgomery bus boycott ended on December 21, after 381 days.

Rosa Parks, Aurelia Browder and others had won.

However, the significance of the victory was not heeded by the State of Alabama, and in many respects remains misunderstood by subsequent civil rights protesters in that it was not Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat that had brought down the state, but rather the determination to force the state to fall within, recognise and abide by not only the law but the full force of the constitution of the United States of America that had always offered US citizens of every colour the appropriate legal protection.

If the City of Montgomery and the State of Alabama received a legal kicking in the cases of Rosa Parks and Aurelia Browder, that was to be nothing when compared with the upheaval caused by a young black woman called Vivian Juanita Malone Jones and a young black man by the name of James Hood.

After two years of deliberation and court proceedings, Malone and Hood were granted permission to enrol in the University of Alabama by order of District Court Judge Harlan Grooms in 1963. The district court had ruled that the University of Alabama’s practice of denying African-American students admission into their university was a violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case in which the act of educating black children in schools separate from white students was charged as unconstitutional.

The court cases for Malone and Hood had been brought by arrangement through  The NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People ) Legal Defence and Educational Fund of Alabama, and standing in their way (literally) was the Democratic Governor of the State– Governor George Wallace.

Having ruled in favour of Malone and Hood, Judge Grooms had also forbidden Governor Wallace from interfering with the students’ registration at the University of Alabama as the Governor had openly proclaimed that he would “stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent black children from registering at the University.

It was at this stage that the world got to see one of the most remarkable events in the history of the United States of America.

Picture the scene: It is the 11th of June 1963 and a huge crowd gathers at the entrance to the Foster Auditorium on the University of Alabama Campus. The temperature is well above 100 degrees and the heat is oppressive. The campus is swarming with not only students, but hundreds of press men, members of the Alabama State Guard, and all sorts of members of the public when a most unlikely figure appears accompanied by two US Marshalls.

The figure concerned is the gentle giant hulk of Nicholas de Belleville Katzenbach, Deputy District Attorney of the United States of America who stood all of 6ft 5 inches tall.

Katzenbach is the epitomy of a legal G Man. His parents were Edward L. Katzenbach, who served as Attorney General of New Jersey, and Marie Hilson Katzenbach, who was the first female president of the New Jersey State Board of Education. His uncle, Frank S. Katzenbach, served as mayor of Trenton and as a Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Big Nick was the stereotype square man in a square hole, a man destined to be a Government legal officer from birth— or so it seemed — and he was there in Alabama with the full power and might of The President of the United States at his back.

As Katzenbach heads towards the entrance of the Foster Auditorium, while the two black students remain in a car guarded by yet more US Marshalls, he is met at the schoolhouse door by the much shorter, barrel chested and jutting chin figure of Governor Wallace — just as the Governor had promised.

The giant law man starts to publicly inform the Governor, in the nicest and most mild mannered way possible, that he is there to uphold the law and ensure that Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood are registered at the University, and he politely asks The Governor to step aside.

However, before he gets too far, big Nick is interrupted by Governor Wallace who proceeds to read a long speech which essentially tells the Deputy District Attorney and President Kennedy to get lost and makes it quite clear that court order or no court order, The Governor, with the assistance of the State Guard, will forcibly prevent Malone Jones and Hood from entering the building and completing their registration.

The crowd, the press and the Deputy District Attorney– who has to continually wipe himself down with a hanky due to the heat– are forced to look on in astonishment.

When the Governor finishes his speech, Katzenbach repeats his plea to the Governor but ultimately is simply forced to go back to his car.

Yet within a short time, with the press and the crowd still present, the giant Law man returns and this time he is accompanied by General Henry Graham of the Alabama State Guard. In the intervening period, Katzenbach had called President John F. Kennedy, and asked him to federalize the Alabama State Guard thus taking away the Governor’s position as commander in chief of the guard and now placing the general under the direct command of Kennedy himself. At this stage, General Graham approached the auditorium and commands Governor Wallace to step aside, saying, “Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States.”

Wallace then protested further for a short period, but eventually moved, and Katzenbach proceeds to ensure that Malone Jones and Hood are registered as students.

Within a few months, Kennedy would be shot dead in Dealey Plaza, and Lyndon Baines Johnson would assume the Presidency. Katzenbach would go on to become not only the District Attorney of the United States but also the Undersecretary of State. The Big man would cause some controversy in relation to the Kennedy Assassination when he wrote that in his opinion “Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat—too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)…….” and it was then said that he was one of the chief architects behind the Warren Commission findings and the possible cover up of the true events surrounding the Kennedy Assassination.

He would later leave Government Office and would take up various positions in private practice and industry, however his sphere of influence in later years can be seen by the fact that in 1980, Katzenbach testified in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the defence of W. Mark Felt, who was later revealed to be the “Deep Throat” of the Watergate scandal and later Deputy Director of the FBI; Felt was accused and later found guilty of ordering illegal wiretaps on American citizens.

In December 1996, Katzenbach was one of New Jersey’s fifteen members of the Electoral College, who cast their votes for the Clinton/Gore ticket and later he also testified on behalf of President Clinton on December 8, 1998, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing which was considering whether or not to impeach President Clinton.

However the most amazing thing about the incident at the schoolhouse door was that it brought Governor George Wallace to the attention of the greater American public for the first time.

You would think that Wallace’s repeated public calls for segregation and his stance at the door would have made him hugely unpopular– however that is not the case,

Wallace later revealed that part of his stance on segregation was based on the not unreasonable belief that if he had not taken the stance that he did then there would have likely been all sorts of civil unrest at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and that he did what he did to keep the peace. When you listen to what he actually said in his parting speech at the schoolhouse door there is much to support that contention.

He later publicly regretted the stance at the Schoolhouse door saying “I stood there and kept peace, but it still was a bad public relations posture and I’m sorry I did it that way.”

Wallace briefly ran for president in 1964, and when he couldn’t legally run for Governor again, his wife ran instead and was elected.

In 1968, he was back on the presidential campaign trail. Wallace was no longer a Democrat by this time, and instead stood as the leader of the American Independent Party. He pledged, if elected, to put troops on the streets of Washington, if needed to make the city safe.

“This is not race I’m talking about. Every time I mention this they say this has racial overtones,” Wallace commented. “When does it come to have racial overtones in this country to stand for law and order?”

The man who couldn’t change history in 1963 did change history in 1968 by winning the presidential votes of more than 9 million people. That support came mostly at the expense of Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Humphrey ultimately ended up half a million votes behind the Republican winner, Richard Nixon. Without Wallace, Humphrey would likely have won and Nixon would have been defeated.

Wallace began another presidential run in 1972, however that campaign ended when Arthur Bremer cut him down with five pistol shots in a Maryland car park after a campaign rally.

The former Governor won the 1972 Michigan Democratic primary while fighting for his life in a hospital. He made a triumphal appearance two months later at the Democratic National Convention, which nominated George McGovern, and in the process was proclaimed a hero.

He would never walk again or make a serious bid for the presidency, but his political career was far from over.

He continued to win elections for Governor and gained the support of many black voters and politicians for whom he’d once been a symbol of hate.

Finally, in 1986, Wallace acknowledged he was too old and sick to continue.

“I bid you a fond and affectionate farewell,” he said.

At the end of his career, many people were sorry to see him go.

Wallace was a Democrat at a time when virtually every Southern politician was a Democrat; a segregationist at a time when, he believed, most white Southerners were as well. He was a lifelong populist who said he wanted to be remembered as the education governor.

Wallace lived to see a Republican succeed him in the Alabama statehouse and to see his son, George Wallace Jr., continue the family political tradition.

His physical condition deteriorated and Parkinson’s disease added to the pain from the 1972 shooting.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered he stated “I did the best I could for the state of Alabama and the United States,” and of his stand at the schoolhouse door he commented “It shouldn’t have happened, and the state of Alabama is better now as a result of the integration of its schools.”

Despite earning high academic achievements from the University of Alabama, and becoming the first ever Black Graduate, Vivian Malone Jones never received a job offer in Alabama. She later joined the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. and served as a research analyst. While in Washington, she attended George Washington University, pursued a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and earned a job as an employee relations specialist for the Veteran’s Administration central office.

She took a position as the Executive Director of the Voter Education Project and worked towards voter equality for minorities, thus assisting millions of African-Americans to register to vote. She then became the Director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Director of Environmental Justice for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a position she held until her retirement in 1996.

In October 1996, Jones was chosen by the George Wallace Family Foundation to be the first ever recipient of its Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage. At the awards ceremony, Former Governor Wallace, who had never met Jones despite the events of 1963 said, “Vivian Malone Jones was at the centre of the fight over states’ rights and conducted herself with grace, strength and, above all, courage.”

In 2000, the University of Alabama bestowed on her a doctorate of humane letters.

Rosa Parks eventually had to leave Alabama and so she and her husband migrated north to Detroit like many other Southern Black Americans.

Parks’ act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr.,then a new minister in town who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement.

In Detroit, she found similar work and from 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American U.S. Representative. After retirement, she wrote her autobiography, and lived a largely private life. In her final years, she suffered from dementia.

Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and second non-U.S. government official to lie in honour at the Capitol Rotunda.

Her birthday, February 4, and the day she was arrested, December 1, have both become Rosa Parks Day,  and are commemorated in the U.S. states of California and Ohio.

Bus driver James Fred Blake drove the Montgomery City Bus until his retirement in 1974 and never had to look for another job. He said of Rosa Parks ” I was only doing my job. I had my orders.”

However, perhaps the greatest achievement brought about by a combination of events surrounding Rosa Parks, Vivian Malone Jones and Governor George Wallace comes about by way of a seldom told story:

In 1994 the Ku Klux Klan applied to sponsor a portion of United States Interstate 55 in St. Louis County and Jefferson County, near St. Louis Missouri. The sponsorship effectively meant that the Klan were paying for the highway to be cleaned up. In return for the sponsorship, the organisation would be entitled to erect signs which stated that the said portion of the Highway was maintained and looked after by the Ku Klux Klan.

Since the state could not legally refuse the KKK’s sponsorship of the Highway, the Missouri legislature decided to act and voted to give a name the section of highway concerned.

And that is how it came to pass that the Ku Klux Klan became responsible for maintaining the “Rosa Parks Highway” !

P.S.

If you are in any way interested in watching the entire stance at the schoolhouse door confrontation between Governor George Wallace and big gentle Nicholas Katzenbach you can see the entire extraordinary incident here:

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/47362544#47362544

Death on the Clyde — The Politicians Poppycock!

9 Nov

Good Evening.

Tomorrow morning, 11th November, you will wake to find your television full of pictures of politicians by the score, members of the Royal Family, and various other booted and suited individuals all laying wreaths to those who fell in the two world wars and subsequent military campaigns.

There will be solemn and sombre music, moments of reverential silence, accompanied by deep mournful and respectful voices giving commentary to the nation.

Men and women in uniform, both young and old will be seen marching with medals as the nation — whether that be The United Kingdom or the potentially Independent nation that is Scotland— supposedly pays its respect to those that are no longer with us as a result of such conflict.

I, for one, will not be watching.

This will not be a break from past practice– in fact that will be the repetition of an automatic annual reaction to the Armistice — what do I call it?— Celebration? Commemoration? Remembrance?

Whatever it is– it is not– and never will be for me!

Now before some reading this throw up their hands in horror at that reaction, let me explain precisely why I am turned off by the parades, the politicians, the solemn voices and all that pomp and circumstance shit! Because shit — real fake, insincere, horrible, two faced, disgusting shit is how I see it.

A few years ago I had my four Children in Normandy. Not unnaturally my boys wanted to go and see the museums that housed tanks, landing craft, Big Guns and all that sort of thing. I refused to take them, and explained that the only thing I was prepared to do was to go to the graveyards– to see the lines of endless white crosses or fields of poppies which represent the fallen men ( and women ) who were sent to war on a political whim, and who were never given the chance to take their kids on a holiday to anywhere.

I wanted my children to see the consequences of these mechanical relics which were now housed in the museums and to realise that war is a truly horrible awful thing that should never be the subject political posturing for the sake of it.

Guns, bombs, bullets, pomp and circumstance to the tune of Edward Elgar is not for me. I was brought up on watching the Armistice Sunday event from the Royal Albert Hall where the army, navy and airforce teams dismantled a big gun and dragged it over fences before putting it back together again with the first one to fire their gun being declared the winner! Oh how the crowd roared and cheered on the teams.

Yet moments later, here comes the the last post and thousands of poppies falling from the sky with the television showing the great and the good who had to be seen to be there before heading off home. The gun race and all that phoney pomp did not seem respectful to me.

Nor is the customary race by every Tom Dick and useless Harry on the television to see how early and how quickly they can appear on the small screen sporting a poppy. It is crass and disrespectful rather than a show of any long-lasting intention of reverently remembering the war and those who died there.

In a few weeks, the annual poppy wearing crew replace the red flower with a Santa hat and red ermine because the poppy is out of season and Santa is in — and that sickens me to the quick. It insults the intelligence.

If you want to remember the war victims, for me it takes a touch more than turning up on the Sunday closest to November 11th with your best mohair coat and po-faced fake expression of solemnity and sincerity. It takes far far more than that.

However, let me also add that the very sight of a red poppy on someone’s jacket brings one thought to my mind– one word — one emotion and one sense of anger that can all be summed up in one word.

CLYDEBANK!

There are those who believe that the poppy is the sole preserve of the earl Hague fund for fallen soldiers or indeed for Erskine Hospital. It is not, and in my mind, whilst I support all that the Hague fund and Erskine Hospital do, I cannot help but ask the question:

And what about Clydebank? What about the people of Clydebank? Where is the fund for them? Where is the facility which provides help and succour for them, for their children and their grandchildren?

Before 1870 there was no such place as Clydebank.

There was just an area to the west of Glasgow on the North Bank of the Clyde which in the main was rural, and agricultural. It consisted of some villages (  (Hardgate, Faifley, Duntocher, Dalmuir, Old Kilpatrick), farms and estates, with some small scale mining operations (coal, limestone and whinstone), several cotton mills and some small boatbuilding yards.

However, the shipyards and factories of Glasgow were overflowing and in 1870 J&G Thomson the shipbuilders purchased some suitably flat land on the “West Barns o’Clyde”, from the estates of Miss Hamilton of Cochno. The ground was  on the north bank of the river, opposite the point where the River Cart flows into the River Clyde. The land was situated close to the Forth and Clyde Canal and to the main road running west out of Glasgow to Dumbarton, and so was conveniently positioned for transporting materials and workers to and from the shipyard. The position opposite the mouth of the River Cart was also to prove important as the shipyard grew, since it enabled the company to build much bigger, heavier ships than would otherwise have been possible that far up the Clyde. Construction of the new shipyard started on 1 May 1871.

Initially, the company transported workers to and from the shipyard by paddle steamer. However it was not ideal, having to ship workers to and fro all the time, so the company also started building blocks of tenement flats to house the workers. These first blocks of housing became known unofficially as “Tamson’s (Thomson’s) Buildings”, after the name of the company.

Gradually, as the shipyard grew, so did the cluster of buildings grow nearby. More houses, a school, a large shed which served as canteen, community hall and church (known as the “Tarry Kirk”), then finally two proper churches in 1876 and 1877. As the resident population grew, so did the needs and problems associated with a growing population. Other manufacturers and employers moved into the area, and by 1880 approximately 2,000 men were living and working there.

In 1882 a railway line was built running from Glasgow out to the new shipyard (the Glasgow, Yoker and Clydebank Railway). This was followed by the Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway during the 1890s. Between 1882 and 1884, the Singer Manufacturing Company built the massive sewing machine factory in Kilbowie, less than half a mile north of the Clyde Bank shipyard.This factory was to be one of the wonders of the industrial age as they could manufacture everything on site. Singers forged their own steel and iron, created their own moulds and could carry out every known industrial process within the walls of the plant. It would later be regarded as the most efficient factory in the world.

More people moved into the area, and finally, in 1886, the local populace petitioned for the creation of a police burgh, on the basis that the area now qualified as a “populous place”. The petition was granted, and the new town was named after the shipyard which had given birth to it – Clydebank — the risingest burgh on the Clyde.

However, Thomsons were not alone in seeing the benefits of moving down the Clyde. William Beardmore and Company was a Scottish engineering and shipbuilding conglomerate based in Glasgow primarily at Parkhead Forge. The Forge had previously been the home of Reoch Brothers & Co but by 1886 Beardmores had taken over and would eventually employ up to 40,000 men in the plant.

In 1900, Beardmore took over the shipyard of Robert Napier in Govan. This was a logical diversification from the company’s core steel forgings business. In 1900, Beardmore also began construction of what would become The Naval Construction Yard, at Dalmuir in west Clydebank; the largest and most advanced shipyard in the United Kingdom at the time. HMS Agamemnon was the yard’s first order to complete in 1906 and was seen as such a huge deal that a street was named after the great Ship.

And how Clydebank would come to dread the very name Agamemnon Street in years to come.

Beardmore eventually sold the company’s Govan shipyard to Harland and Wolff in 1912. Other notable warships produced by Beardmores at Dalmuir include the Dreadnoughts, HMS Conqueror (1911), HMS Benbow (1913) and HMS Ramillies (1917). In 1917, Beardmore completed the aircraft carrier HMS Argus, the first carrier to have a full-length flat top flight deck. Beardmore expanded the activities at Dalmuir to include the manufacture of all sorts or arms and armaments, the site employing 13,000 people at its peak.

However, the post 1914-18 war recession hit the firm hard, and the shipyard was forced to close in 1930. Part of the site and some of the existing buildings later became incorporated into ROF Royal Ordinance Factory Dalmuir, and part was used by the General Post Office for their cable-laying ships.

Beyond the Shipyards, Clydebank and Dalmuir would have biscuit factories, distilleries, the co-op and various other large scale employers.

The population of the area went from virtually nil to circa 40,000 in just over 30 years.

Clydebank was Britain’s first — and model– New Town.

People were drawn to the town– Irish Immigrants, Higlanders and others from without the West of Scotland.

Whilst there were great big industrial factories and plant, by the 1930′s work was sometimes scarce for many with thousands of men reporting each day as casual labour looking for daily work as they could not secure a permanent job. To ensure work you had to keep on the right side of the union man and the bosses — and sometimes the housing wasn’t the greatest.

However, Clydebank and its people had a spirit, a sense of identity and perhaps most important of all an industrial workforce knowledge that was second to none anywhere on the planet. In short, if it could be built– it could be built in Clydebank— and The Government knew it!

Accordingly when the second world war came, it took a matter of weeks to convert the massive Singer sewing machine plant into a munitions factory. That remarkable factory and its workforce simply took delivery of plans and set about making moulds and casings for the manufacture of munitions instead of sewing machines. No Problem. More casual labour was hired for the war effort and the other employers similarly took on more Bankies.

The shipyards produced incomparable ships  and the populace– like any other between 1939 and 1945– sent its youth off to war to fight the Nazi threat that had devastated Europe.

Then came the nights of 13th and 14th March 1941.

Everyone has heard of the Clydebank Blitz or at least I hope they have.

But in my opinion, successive Prime Ministers, Cabinet Members, Politicans of all parties and all the pomp and circumstance merchants have never ever understood it– and its consequences,

First it has to be remembered that the news of the very events of that night were suppressed on the instructions of Winston Churchill. To reveal the true extent of the devastation would have been to damage the nations moral. Accordingly the absolute truth of what happened that night and subsequently is not as well known as you might think.

For days before the bombing German reconnaissance planes had been seen in the sky. The Clyde coast was fairly well prepared for war with Anderson shelters, defence guns, air raid sirens all in position. However nothing would prepare Clydebank for what was to come.

At around 9pm on a crisp clear March night the Sirens went off and the people sped for the Anderson Shelters as they had done before.

However, unlike any previous night, this time the air was filled with the sound of the repetitive drone of Hundreds of planes from the elite German pathfinder force KG100. The planes flew low– so low that the Swastikas could be seen on their wings. They flew in a spread out formation with the result that out of thousands off passes only two planes would be shot down by return fire which was aided by a Polish Warship which was berthed at John Browns.

Imagine the scale of this air assault.

Those planes flew over Clydebank for NINE HOURS!

NINE HOURS OF INCESSANT BOMBING!

They threw down countless incendiaries, thousands upon thousands of tons of bombs for hour after hour with the result that the emergency services were deprived of communications, water, lighting and so on. Theirs was an impossible task against such constant bombardment.

Such was the ferocity of the bombing that in certain areas the oxygen was bombed clean out of the air with the result that many died– not from shock and blast but from suffocation because there was no air left to breathe– it had been bombed out of the atmosphere.

NINE HOURS this went on for. Despite the bombing going on all through the night, the light out side was brighter than brightest daylight– as the town literally burned and burned.

The entire Rocks family were wiped out — all 13 of them— including 13 year old Tommy who only weeks before had stood on the opposite side of a boxing ring to my dad who cowered down in an air raid shelter for the duration thinking literally that the world was about to end at any minute—- FOR NINE HOURS.

The Gorbals Fire brigade lost a man. Firefighter Crerand– father to Celtic’s Paddy would not survive the night and would never get to see his son wear the green and white hoops or the red of Manchester United or the European Cup.

Overnight the entire town became homeless and when the people emerged the following day they found that there was nothing but sheer devastation. Essentially, in a space of 9 hours, Clydebank had become a population of refugees who were completely and absolutely destitute. There are many who tell horrific tales from that night– tales which would scar them for life.

Throughout the following day, worn and weary survivors were put on buses and evacuated to anywhere. My own father’s family were taken to Airth after waiting hours for a bus. Few whom they met could believe what they heard.

However, others couldn’t make it out that day and so they were still there when the bombers returned for a second night!

Another NINE Hours of incessant bombing.

Some have theorised that the operation was a military failure for the Luftwaffe because relatively few of the factories were damaged and the ship yards remained in tact in the main. Some say that the pilots mistook the Clyde and Forth canal for the river Clyde and that this was why they missed the shipyards in part.

I do not buy into that theory at all.

This was a crack airforce unit who had flown over half of Europe just to get to Clydebank. They had crossed major rivers and passed many other major shipyards and rivers below them. They could tell the difference between a river and a canal quite easily.

No– on those nights they did not come to target steel and metal– they came to target Clydebank’s greatest asset– possibly Scotland’s greatest asset in the war effort– the people of Clydebank.

Up Kilbowie Road  far away from the banks of the Clyde stood a housing development called the Holy City– so called because the houses all had flat roofs and stood on the hill so resembling Jerusalem. Not a single stick of that estate was left standing!

Out of  the 12,000 houses in the town only 7 remained undamaged. 9,500 houses were totally destroyed or severely damaged.

Officially 48,000 people were declared homeless as the entire town was evacuated, but in truth that number might be nearer 60,000.

There was substantial industrial damage. Many industrial targets received direct hits or severe blast and incendiary damage; Beardmores, The Royal Ordnance Factory, John Brown’s Shipyard, Arnott Young, Rothesay Dock, Tullis Engineering and Singers Factory, were all hit and the massive Singer’s wood yard destroyed. Many large schools and churches perished. At one of the primary targets – the MOD oil storage at Dalnottar, on the periphery of the town – eleven huge tanks had been destroyed, others severely damaged. Millions of gallons of fuel were lost in the resulting inferno. When the site was finally cleared, 96 bomb craters were counted  with the craters measuring 30 ft wide and 20ft deep.

Officially, 528 died with thousands severely injured. I say officially 528 died, but if you extend the definition of Clydebank for that one night then apparently the tally doubles. I have read one story which tells the tale of someone returning after the bombing and asking for a death count. When they are told that the number is 500 and rising their reaction or answer is revealing:

“500? 500 died? In which street?”

There were not enough coffins in the entire area for the dead and there are those who believe that the true death toll has never been released and has been deliberately understated.

Yet, in my opinion, the worst for Clydebank was still to come.

My Grandfather like many others stayed away for only a few days. He wanted to get back to what had been his home and to get back to work to help the war effort. Accordingly he returned to his home in Burns Street Dalmuir and  did what he could with the house putting Polythene over the window frames, clearing the rubble and trying to make the house as habitable as possible. He was one of the lucky ones– half the street was no longer there.

Then he went back to work– in Agamemnon Street!

Agamemnon Street– named after Beardmore’s great ship and home to the large grey steel factory of Turner & Newell’s Asbestos Factory!

Asbestos Manufacture in Scotland was not a new phenomena, but the new factory was massive and took Asbestos Cement manufacture to a new level.

Yet, By the time Turners started operations in Clydebank in 1938, the British government had introduced measures aimed at regulating the asbestos hazard. The Asbestos Regulations of 1931 were a response to growing medical evidence from 1924 of confirmed deaths from asbestosis (though a female factory inspector had recognised the problem as early as 1898).

In short, the British Government already knew that those working with Asbestos were being subjected to effective death by poisoning– and in Clydebank Asbestos was everywhere. It was in the Shipyards and in every major plant and building. Shipworkers had Asbestos snowball fights and Turners even had a football pitch made with Asbestos ash!

For years after the blitz many Bankies  were terrified when they heard the noise of a commercial jet engine in the sky and of course the town was on the direct flightpath to the airport at Inchinnan. Many were terrified of finding an unexploded bomb. Many simply did not return after the events of 1941 and left the town forever. For Clydebank, the war did not end in 1945.

However, far far more returned to try and make a fist of the town that had once been their happy home and were completely unaware that they had returned to the Asbestos capital of Europe where there would be record numbers who would effectively be poisoned to death.

Further, after the war the rubble from the blitz was simply swept up into piles… and left.

The priority for the new Atlee Government was the establishment of the “New Towns” of Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride and so on.

Clydebank…. was left. Deserted. Abandoned. Discarded and Ignored by the same people who year after year in the years to come were to be found on the televisions and newsreels each Armistice Sunday wearing the solemn expression, the big coat and the compulsory Poppy someone had pinned to the lapel for the cameras!

But what did they do for Clydebank?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is nothing!

Yes Singers reopened, the ship yards returned, and the Goodyear Tyre Factory towards Drumchapel provided employment but relatively soon it became plain that the town was not going to be rebuilt and that the infrastructure that had once made Clydebank the risingest Burgh on the Clyde was not going to be replaced.

Yet there remained an amazing sense of community.

There was a Cafe Society– Singers Cafe, Simeone’s cafe and many others. I know of Catholic men and women who first met at Masonic Hall dances and later married– something that was, I suspect, unheard of in other towns.

There were football teams– Clydebank, Duntocher Hibs, Yoker Athletic as well as Boys Guild, Boys Brigade and other teams.

There was Dalmuir park and the fantastic illuminations.

There were concerts and entertainments  and a real sense of togetherness among a people who had suffered greatly — yet successive governments seemed blind to all of this and literally left the town alone.

But the town was dying. There was no investment from Industry, no great interest from politicians of all parties ( despite valiant attempts from local counsellors, MP’s and union leaders ) with the result that people moved away and more importantly their sons , daughters and grandchildren moved away as well.

Despite what Clydebank had been and what it had suffered in the second world war there was no attempt at making it a special case for investment bar lickspittle lip service. By the time we get to the dozen years covering the late sixties, the seventies and the early eighties Singers, Goodyear, and much of the shipyards were gone–  so were the people– and a sense of hope.

Worst of all— all the potential that had existed  in the early part of the 20th Century was gone.

As the number of claims from Asbestosis grew, the owners of Turners and Newells sold their plant and assets and declared the company bankrupt in an attempt at avoiding the claims.

In the end they were forced to put some money into a trust with the result that anyone making a claim for mesothelioma ( asbestos cancer ) as a result of working in Agamemnon Street receives roughly 29 pence in the pound. The number of claims continues to grow and grow as there were still people working in Turners right up until 1970. Whatsmore many of the victims never worked there at all. They were women like my grandmother who washed their husbands overalls by hand and so fell victim to the deadly asbestos dust without ever setting foot in the place!

Today if you go to Clydebank you will see the strangely short rows of tenements on Kilbowie Road and Dumbarton Road– remnants of what used to stand there before that March night in 1941. You will see a town that was never rebuilt, never acknowledged as having suffered any kind of calamity or tragedy in any real or meaningful sense and where a shattered people were simply left to pick up the pieces of a prolonged tragedy that no one else experienced or could understand.

The people who remain are Bankies and proud of it.

However 20% of the population is officially described as “employment deprived” and for years the town has cried out for a new beginning– and at long last that new beginning is starting to emerge with the new College and Clydebank and Dalmuir regeneration projects.

But it has taken an awfully long time to start turning.

For me, I  spent the first few years of my life in Clydebank before my parents like many others moved to Glasgow. However, spiritually I am still a Bankie even though I do not live there. I deliberately try to go to Clydebank and spend a few quid in the town when I can, and I have been known to go and soak up the history– the memorial to that Polish Warship in Solidarity Square, a drive up Kilbowie Road, Dalmuir and Burns Street where my dad lived,  and even a walk about the former singers factory site and where stood the once famous clock which caused so much distress when they took it down.

So tomorrow– when you see the po-faced officios on your television with all of their wreaths and poppies– think about Clydebank and its people. Those who died, those who had to leave, and those who were forced to leave due to economic and social genocide presided over by successive occupiers of 10 Downing Street.

The Germans did much to damage Clydebank and its people– sadly the Conservative Party, The labour party and those who held office and march to the Cenotaph in Whitehall did more.

In short they practised the Violence of Silence and looked the other way for far too long.

Yet  these same types will give speeches tomorrow, praising soldiers and those who are buried abroad in Flanders Field or elsewhere and the reverential newsreaders will put on their most solemn faces and voices right on queue— like cheap actors playing their part.

And none of them will think of Clydebank for a nanosecond.

Below I have attached a couple of links to some photographs.

Tomorrow I will not sport a poppy- I prefer to sit quietly and look at these images and say a we prayer to the man upstairs.

And if you can, take a wee wander round Clydebank and look closely– really closely– and you will still see the effects of March 1941 and the years of Government neglect.

And if you are a poppy wearing apologist for a politician of any party or none at all who has never been to Clydebank or done anything to assist in or support its regeneration — then please get a pen and paper write out your resignation today and retire from Public life.

You will be doing a great service on behalf of many people as to paraphrase Winston Churchill:

Never  in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so many, and never have so many had so little done for them over so long a period.

With an acknowledgement to Tom McKendrick and various others as the source of the images below

Lest we forget

Clydebank!

http://www.tommckendrick.com/code/casualties1.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:German_parachute_mine.jpg

http://www.tommckendrick.com/code/blitzmap1.htm

http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/spw060143

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/images/l/DP048412/&imgrefurl=http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/128291/&h=626&w=800&sz=167&tbnid=6CRfJ4HSC7I8YM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=115&zoom=1&usg=__2kKILzoaNxqDIVx53c3cfdhbt3o=&docid=9Lo7QgwqcWaztM&sa=X&ei=epJ-Uva_OoWShQevwIDwDQ&ved=0CDAQ9QEwAA

 

http://www.myclydebankphotos.co.uk/page39.htm

http://www.panoramio.com/photo/21362320

Brogan’s Heroes — The Railway, Sports Justice and What’s the Bleeding time?

20 Sep

Good Evening,

Time.

Time – or universal time – is a relatively modern concept, and the world survived quite happily without it for thousands of years.

Many people may well be surprised to learn that the one device which single handedly brought about uniform time throughout the United Kingdom was the steam train. Until 1840, The United Kingdom had a whole series of local times  which were roughly similar but which in actual fact had no actual correlation to one another.

However, from 1840 onwards there was a move towards what was known as “Railway Time” which was seen as necessary to ensure that there was some form of recognised timescale for the arrival and departure of the new steam trains otherwise there would be huge confusion as to when the new contraptions would be coming and going.

However, it took another 40 years before time in the UK became standardised by law. In between times ( no pun intended ) the railway companies agreed to use Greenwich Mean Time as their standard time, especially because the exact GMT could be sent to other parts of the country via the telegraph.

However, It was not until 2 August 1880, when the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act received the Royal Assent, that a unified standard time for the whole of Great Britain achieved legal status and effectively became both law and practice.

Today, everything we do is affected by and measured by time.

Our phones tell us the time, the radio constantly informs us of the time, all television programmes are scheduled to time with such standardisation of society that as soon as you hear the familiar tune announcing the evening news you know that it is six o’clock without having to look or check.

All air-travel understandably is controlled by time, your car tells you the time, sat nav’s estimate the time between A and B, shops and other places are sometimes only allowed to open between certain times.

And of course for some, the choice of wrist watch — a simple and straightforward device for simply telling you the time— is a matter of extreme fashion and expenditure, with many brands of watch costing thousands of pounds whilst providing exactly the same information as a watch which can cost less than a fiver.

It is sometimes hard to fathom just why companies that do nothing other than make time pieces hold such a stranglehold in the world of advertising and marketing– especially in the world of sports. Whilst many events have sponsors such as banks or beer companies or insurance companies, all of them put together find it hard to see off what might be considered the time keepers union when it comes to sports sponsorship.

Rado, Sekonda, Patek Phillipe, Rotary, Citizen, Omega, Cartier, Swatch, Tag Heuer — and of course the Big Daddy of them all– Rolex– seem to appear with recurring regularity at golf and tennis events around the world — yet they all sell just the one product.

You will not find a similar collection of car manufacturers, house builders, airlines or whatever in world sport sponsorship. You may find any number of these businesses in a secondary role but they will play second fiddle to the time team as often as not!

Amazingly neither tennis nor golf are sports which are principally regulated by time — unlike football, rugby or whatever — yet it is here that the watch men are absolutely to the fore. Football and other similar sports are actually played within a set time whereas other sports do not deem time as the key regulating factor.

For that reason I have often wondered why the watch men do not recruit football managers as the ideal people to lead an advertising campaign. Can you imagine the impact of an angry Sir Alex permanently pointing to this or that brand of watch for the benefit of a referee or fourth official?

Yet currently our televisions are filled with another seemingly angry Scot who has become synonymous with time fixation.

The 118 118 advertising people have decided to dip into the time archives to revive old footage of the one and only James Robertson Justice repeating perhaps the most famous medical joke in history to promote the 118 service.

It was as the boorish, loud and establishment figure of Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor in the House films, that  allowed Roberstson Justice playing the all domineering head surgeon to demand of one of his students ” What’s the bleeding time?” only to be met with Dirk Bogarde replying ” ten past ten , sir”.

The scene became famous in the annals of British Cinematic comedy and showed Robertson Justice in a role which in many ways defined his public persona.

Yet, if anyone had cared to take a little time to examine things further, you would quickly find James Robertson Justice was absolutely nothing like Sir Lancelot Spratt — in fact he was nothing like anyone else on the planet!

James Norval Harald Justice was born on 15th June 1907 in Lewisham South London. He was the son of an Aberdeen born Geologist.

He was educated at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and went on to study science at University College, London. However, in what would clearly become the start of a trend, he left after a year and became a geology student at the University of Bonn, where once again he again left after just a year — although he would later claim to hold a PHd from the university. This is a claim which others have said is…. questionable!

He was a very keen sportsman and played rugby for the Beckenham Rugby Football Club  ( for just a year of course ) during the 1924/1925 season where one of his team mates was Johnny Craddock who went on to partner the famous Fanny in later life!

By the time he returned from Bonn he apparently spoke an amazing number of languages fluently (possibly up to 20) including French, Greek, Danish, Russian, German, Italian, Dutch and Gaelic. This helped him to become a journalist with Reuters where he worked alongside Sir Ian Fleming and the father of Peter Ustinov amongst others.

Yet again, after a year Justice decided to move on, and this time he emigrated to Canada  where he worked as an insurance salesman, taught English at a boys’ school, became a lumberjack and mined for gold. He came back to England penniless, working his passage on a Dutch freighter.

Amazingly, when he returned to Britain, he somehow talked himself into the job of secretary to the British Ice Hockey Association and went on to manage the national team at the 1932 European Championships in Berlin where they achieved a seventh place finish. He combined his administrative duties in 1931–32 with a season as goaltender with the London Lions Ice Hockey Club.

Next came motor racing!

Justice entered a Wolseley Hornet Special in the JCC Thousand Mile Race at Brooklands on 3 and 4 May 1932. The car was unplaced. However, the following year a “J. Justice (J.A.P. Special)” competed in the Brighton Speed Trials. His car of choice which he christened “Tallulah” noisily expired before the end of the course, and was pushed back to the start in full view of the spectators. The Brighton event was won by Whitney Straight and according to Denis Jenkinson: “Flitting round the periphery of the team was James Robertson-Justice.”

In February 1934 Straight took delivery of a new Maserati but revealed: “Jimmy Justice went off to Italy to collect the first car which was 8CM number 3011″ and Motor Sport reported in 1963: “We remember him at Lewes with a G.N. and in a Relay Race with a Wolseley Hornet.”

After the car racing escapade, Justice left Britain again to become a policeman for the League of Nations in the Territory of the Saar Basin (a region of Germany occupied and governed by France and Germany under a League of Nations mandate originating in the Treaty of Versailles).

When the Nazis came to power he left the area, and set off to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side joining the International Brigade. It was here that he first grew his signature trademark bushy beard, which he then retained throughout his career no matter what he did.

On return to Britain, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, but after sustaining an injury in 1943 (thought to be shrapnel from a German shell), he was pensioned off. In the interim, he had married nurse Dyllis Hayden in 1941 and together the couple would have a son who tragically died at the age of four when he drowned in a stream near the family home.

When Justice returned from the war he took the deliberate decision to reinvent himself and for the rest of his life he claimed ever stronger Scottish roots — whether they were real or not! For example, at one time he claimed to have been born in 1905 in the grounds of a distillery on the Isle of Skye, and on another occasion he claimed to have been born in Dumfries and Galloway. On the back of this newly emphasised Scottish persona, he persuaded the Labour Party to allow him to contest the North Angus and Mearns (UK Parliament constituency) in the 1950 general election. Sadly he lost, and we shall never know just where James Justice MP might have gone in the political world, but I am of the view he would have been a fabulously interesting although completely maverick MP.

In 1944, Justice had decided to take up acting and joined the Players Club in London which was then chaired by the amazing Lionel Sachs who would later find fame with the BBC TV show ” The Good Old Days”.

The club was the precursor of that show and staged music hall nights and variety shows.

One night, Justice stood in for Sachs and as a result he was offered a film roll in 1944 having been “discovered” in the club.

This was the start of an acting career, fame and celebrity.

His first leading role was as headmaster in the film Vice Versa, written and directed by Peter Ustinov, who cast him partly because he’d been “a collaborator of my father’s at Reuters.”

He would go on to appear in 84 films.

However it was the character of Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor in the House films which ran throughout the 50′s and 60′s that Justice is possibly best remembered for. The overbearing  Sir Lancelot showed James Justice’s comedic timing and expression to a tee and for the rest of his life he would be cast in reasonably similar roles and persona’s. With his large frame, trademark beard and booming voice he was instantly recognisable in any film.

However, he was in no way finished with his own eccentricities and his determination to insist and demonstrate his Scottishness.

He appeared in no less than four films with Gregory Peck, including Captain Horatio Hornblower, RN, and most notably, Moby Dick, in which Robertson-Justice played the one-armed sea captain also attacked by the white whale. In the 1961 box office hit The Guns of Navarone he once again co-starred with Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker and Anthony Quayle. However Justice was also asked to be the narrator in the film as well as act.

However, sometimes he would insist that the credits in films should be changed to accommodate his Scottish roots. Accordingly in some films he was credited as Seamus Mòr na Feusag — The Scottish Gaelic translation of this phrase is literally  “Big James with the Beard” — at other times he was credited as James R. Justice, James Robertson or James Robertson-Justice.

In private he much preferred the big James with the beard tag or just plain “Jimmy”!

He has twice served as Rector of Edinburgh University. First from 1957 to 1960, and again from 1963 to 1966, In between, the post was filled by the Right Honourable Joe Grimmond MP the leader of the Liberal party, and when his second spell ended he was succeeded by Malcolm Muggeridge.

He was a close friend of Prince Philip despite his lefty politics, he went on to become an informed naturalist and an expert falconer–  and he even taught the young Prince Charles how to handle a Falcon.

He would continue to act, however not long after he completed filming on the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968, the seemingly invincible Justice suffered a severe stroke which brought his career effectively to an end.

By this time he had long separated from his wife who had left him after the tragedy with their son and after Justice had embarked on numerous affairs including one with Molly Parkin who described him as her sexual Svengali!

However, Justice and his wife did not divorce until 1968, by which time the great bearded one had been living with the German actress Irene von Meyendorff for a period of 8 years.

Von Meyendorff would nurse him through numerous strokes over the next seven years, before marrying him ( he was her fourth and final husband ) 3 days before he died on July 2nd 1975.

By the time of his death, Big James with the beard was penniless having lived enough of a life for several men, and having spent any money he ever earned on whatever took his fancy –everything from racing cars to horses.

However, before leaving the Justice story it is worth noting what he thought of as his most important and proudest screen roll.

At precisely 5:30pm on the 31st of August 1957, Scottish Television began its first ever broadcast with a variety special programme entitled This is Scotland. The broadcast came live from the Theatre Royal studios in Glasgow and featured a huge number of Scottish show business personalities and celebrated Scotland the nation. In truth the entire show was a remarkable production.

Those taking part included Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Ludovic Kennedy,Jimmy Logan,Stanley Baxter, Kenneth McKellar,Alistair Sim, Moira Shearer, Jack Buchanan, Ross Taylor,Sheila O’Neill, Andrew Keir,The Starlets,The Mitchell Singers, Geraldo’s orchestra,The Clyde Valley Stompers, and The Rock’n’Roll Sinners.

However, the main presenter on this the first ITV franchise show outside London was Scottish James with the big beard!

It is clear from the live nature of the show that Justice is visually moved and proud to be reading from the first autocue used for a broadcast from Scotland and he is forced to pause when reading the description of Scotland and all its glories. The sheer emotion of the moment clearly gets to him before he is able to recover.

Whatever he was, whatever he did in life and wherever he believed he was born, James Robertson Justice believed he was a larger than life Scot and in accordance with his wishes, Big James was cremated and his ashes were scattered on a remote Scottish moor to linger there for time immemorial.

His classic piece of comedy from Doctor in the house can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVWjAeAa52o

And the entire first programme ever broadcast by Scottish Television with James Robertson Justice can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7UqDUeWn14

We will not see his likes again anytime soon.

Brogan’s Heroes — The tale of the army pilot.

15 Sep

The story goes that the man was simply sitting in his kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee one morning and generally minding his own business when it happened.

All was peaceful outside. The man lived in a house that could only be described as showing the obvious trappings of success. The house was in a good neighbourhood, was spacious with several bedrooms and public rooms, had a sweeping lawn outside — all of which would make it the envy of many a passer by.

Apparently, as he drank his coffee and read his newspaper, he was faintly aware of what was going on outside. There were the usual traffic noises, he could hear a helicopter buzzing overhead somewhere, he could hear kids — maybe his kids– playing and making the noises that kids make when lost in completely innocent play.

So he drank his coffee and continued reading.

Then, something changed.

Surely the helicopter was getting louder?

In fact so loud that it must be very low, and on checking out the window the man could see that trees and bushes were now bending in the wake of the wind being created by the rotor blades.

In the time the man took to utter the words ” What the Fuck?” sure enough a commercial chopper appeared as if from nowhere and literally came to rest on the man’s well manicured lawn as he looked on from his kitchen in a mixture of amazement, fear and complete fury.

Just who did the pilot think he was landing on the lawn?

Before the rotor blades stopped spinning, the door of the helicopter opened and the pilot stepped out. He was alone in the chopper and so was clearly to blame for the unexpected arrival. He was not accompanied nor apparently acting on anyone’s instructions in deciding to set the helicopter down in the man’s garden.

There was no sign of distress in either the pilot or the helicopter and so there was no suggestion that this was an emergency landing. The helicopter was an old one and its decal showed that it belonged to a company based in Louisiana called Petroleum Helicopter’s International.

Whoever he was, this pilot had just decided to land his rickety old helicopter in the man’s garden without a by your leave, and the man was not best chuffed.

As for the pilot himself?

Well he emerged from the Helicopter wearing boots, denim jeans and a shirt. He had a mop of unruly thick hair, stood about 5’10″ tall, was bearded and looked like a bum who had just got out of a helicopter! In later years the householder would swear that when the pilot emerged from the helicopter he was carrying a bottle of beer! In contrast, the pilot would always claim that this was definitely not so, stating that you never ever flew one of those things with a drink in you—- NEVER!

What you would never guess from the pilot’s appearance was that this was a dyed in the wool, 3rd generation military man.

The pilot was the son and grandson of distinguished forces stock with his father in particular reaching the rank of a US Air Force Major General complete with stars, stripes, medals and bars.

The Pilot himself had been raised “an army brat” and had eventually seen 5 years in the services rising to the rank of captain. He had served in the 8th Infantry “pathfinder” division of the US Army and had successfully completed the 61 day Ranger School . For those who don’t know, The US Ranger School is where certain members of the US Armed forces are trained in special ops and put through a series of courses and tasks which taxes the participants to the point of death!

The courses include airborne assaults, desert survivals, mountaineering training, swamp tests, Water survival tests, Ambush scenarios, Assault scenarios, Physical tests ( 49 push ups in 2 minutes, 59 sit ups in 2 minutes, 5 mile run ( with gear ) in under 40 minutes, Psychological and Mental tests ( effectively simulating torture ), Demolition training, leadership techniques and training, and all sorts of other things some of which have now been stopped as they are seen as inhumane!

Following the completion of Ranger School, a student will usually find himself “in the worst shape of his life”. Military folk wisdom has it that Ranger School’s physical toll is like years of natural ageing; high levels of  stress, along with prolonged sleep deprivation ( training is 20 hours per day ) and continual physical strain, inhibit full physical and mental recovery throughout the course.

Common maladies during the course include weight loss, dehydration, trench foot, heatstroke, frostbite, chilblains, fractures, tissue tears (ligaments, tendons, muscles), swollen hands, feet, knees, nerve damage, loss of limb sensitivity, cellulitis, contact dermatitis, cuts, and insect, spider, bee, and wildlife bites.

In short, to complete Ranger Training you have to be one tough son of a bitch — and one had just landed a helicopter on the man’s lawn!

However, by the time he landed the helicopter on the lawn, the pilot had turned his back on the military life — a decision which would cause a rift with his entire family as his parents saw it as a decision which rejected everything they stood for and believed in. It was a rift of such force, it would never heal.

Before going into the military, the Pilot of the helicopter had graduated from San Mateo High School in California, and had gone on to attend Pomona College in Claremont California. Pomona is ranked as one of the most exclusive colleges in America and is noted for its liberal arts faculty. To say that it is an exclusive college is an understatement, as on average it accepts only 13% of applicants and the average class size is just 15.

The college has a superb academic reputation and an enviable sports reputation. Many of its alumni would go on to work in Law and Government, Business and Finance, Education, Health and medicine and all the major professions.

However, the pilot– who graduated from Pomona Summa Cum Lauda with a BA in Literature would follow none of these paths.

However, while at the college he was to feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine as one of their ” Faces in the Crowd” for 1958 celebrating his athletic prowess in the fields of Rugby, Boxing ( He had featured in the Golden Gloves ), American Football and track and field.

The Sports Illustrated “Faces in the Crowd” feature was used for years to celebrate unknown amateur athletes or young athletes who would go on to make their mark or set records in a big way. Other “Faces in the crowd” from around the same time included Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Unser, Bobby Fischer, Al Oerter, Billy Jean King, Wilma Rudolph and Arthur Ashe.

Whilst at Pomona, the pilot would be instrumental in reviving the Claremont Colleges Rugby Club of California which has remained a Southern California rugby dynasty and institution.

From Pomona, the pilot earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Merton College Oxford where he studied for several years gaining a Bachelor of Philosophy to add to his literature degree from Pomona. He also gained an Oxford Blue for boxing whilst in England. From Oxford, he proceeded into the US Army where he learned to fly a helicopter at Fort Rucker in Alabama, completed Ranger School, before being sent with the 8th Infantry to West Germany on active oversees duty at the height of the cold war.

When his tour of duty came to an end in 1965, he was offered a professorship at West Point where he was asked to teach English Literature and Philosophy.

However, he had already decided on another course altogether, and it was his decision to turn his back on the military and academia which lead to the permanent estrangement from his family.

Instead, our Pilot had decided on another lifestyle entirely– a course that would lead him to land a helicopter on someone else’s lawn out of the blue one day and risk the consequences!

Having left behind some of the finest educational establishments in the world, and a cosy career as a military academic which could have lead to politics, the diplomatic corps or who knows what, the Pilot had headed down to Tennessee ( by this time  with a wife and child in tow ) where he held down a number of manual jobs before he took up a position as a janitor sweeping the floors at Columbia Studios in Nashville Tennessee. However, the janitor’s job did not pay enough to keep house and home, and so every second week he would move on down to Louisiana where he would fly service helicopters out to the rigs situated in the Gulf of Mexico. After a one week stint on the chopper, he would resume his sweeping duties in Nashville.

It was while he was at Columbia that he had first met the man with the house. The man was already a living legend in many respects, and respected as someone who was at the very top of his profession. A touch on the wild side, and definitely not someone to be trifled with, the janitor come pilot had approached the man at Colombia in an attempt to pitch his talents with a view to impressing the man and getting in tow with him.

Alas the man had looked at what the pilot had to offer, considered the proposition and had said politely but firmly, ” Thanks- but no thanks!”.

It was this rejection that had lead the Pilot to take the extreme step of having another go by simply turning up one day in the helicopter and setting down unannounced on the man’s lawn.

So— Imagine the scene:

The owner of the house is drinking his coffee when a great big helicopter suddenly lands in the garden and the be-denimed, bearded, bum looking pilot gets out of the cockpit carrying a parcel and starts to stroll up the lawn. In one telling of this story, the owner of the house comes out of the house carrying a shot gun such is his disgruntlement at the helicopter descending onto his property.

The gun carrying owner is a somewhat shocked and annoyed Johnny Cash — a man not noted in the mid 1960′s for his patience and understanding.

He is met on his lawn, by the boot wearing janitor with the degrees from Oxford and Pomona, the graduate from US Ranger School, the former US Army Captain, Oxford Blue and Sports Illustrated cover boy who simply extends his hand as cool as you like and says:

” Hi, my name is Kris Kristofferson and I wonder if you would listen to some more of my songs?”.

The above is just one version of the story about the unknown Kristofferson landing a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn.

Kristofferson is on record saying that as far as he recalled Cash might not even have been there at all ( which Cash denied ) and Cash alleges that Kristofferson got out of the chopper and offered the beer as well as a tape of songs ( which Kristofferson denies ).

What can’t be denied is that the incident took place and that Cash once again listened to songs written by the academic janitor.

Among the songs that he heard was one song among several that Kristofferson had written while his legs had been dangling off the edge of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico — it was called Sunday Morning Coming Down, which Cash would later claim he sort of made his own for a number of years.

Before he ever became a performer of any note himself, Kris Kristofferson would write songs which various other people then sang and turned into hits. In 1966, Dave Dudley released a successful Kristofferson single, “Viet Nam Blues”.  Within the next few years, more Kristofferson originals hit the charts, performed by Roy Drusky (“Jody and the Kid”); Billy Walker & the Tennessee Walkers (“From the Bottle to the Bottom”); Ray Stevens (“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”); Jerry Lee Lewis (“Once More with Feeling”); Faron Young (“Your Time’s Comin’”); and Roger Miller (“Me and Bobby McGee”, “Best of all Possible Worlds”, “Darby’s Castle”).

Kristofferson would eventually achieve some success as a performer himself, when Johnny Cash’s introduced him as a singer songwriter at the Newport Folk Festival.

Yet Kristofferson was never going to be the greatest singer songwriter. He did not have the most pitch perfect voice and to be fair his guitar skills were never those of a six string maestro.

Notwithstanding his limitations as a performing artist, over the next few decades any number of people would take and record Kristofferson compositions and turn them into huge hits earning him substantial royalties.

Beyond Johnny Cash, other luminaries such as Janice Joplin, Perry Como, Ray Price, Joe Simon, Bobby Bare, Jerry Lee Lewis, O.C Smith, Patti Page, Willie Nelson, and many many more took his songs and turned them into standards. One by one, the leading artists of the day brought their interpretation to Kristofferson’s lyrics, emotions and general ability to tell a story and teach a lesson with his words.

He had become a lecturer in literature and philosophy after all.

In 1971, Kristofferson swept through the Grammy’s with several of his songs being nominated with Help Me Make It Through the Night being awarded Country Song of the year.

It would be easy from here to recount his successes in terms of awards and nominations. It would be just as easy to describe how he broke into acting, starred in films directed by Dennis Hopper and Sam Pekinpah and went on to play the lead role opposite Barbara Streisand in the hugely successful remake of a Star is Borne ( an experience he described as tougher than any boot camp ) for which he won a Golden Globe award and later films like Convoy and others.

He was also nominated for an Oscar for his original score for the film songwriter.

At one time, Kristofferson could do no wrong in terms of music and film.

Yet, all of that ignores his drinking and how he made his way through  a few marriages including his marriage to Rita Coolidge, had several high profile affairs including Janis Joplin and Streisand and Joan Baez, and how he eventually kicked the bottle and achieved a status as a songwriter poet with inclusion in various song writing halls of fame.

Interestingly,  Rita Coolidge’s ancestry is part Cherokee Indian and part Scots. Kristofferson’s grandfather was in the Swedish Army, but his mother’s line was Scottish/Irish.

Since 1983 he has been married to Lisa Meyers and together they have 5 children ( in all he has 8 kids ) and he now lives a tough old life on the Islands of Hawaii.

Kristofferson is now 77 years of age and still tours regularly. He became part of the county supergroup ” The Highwaymen” along with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, but continues to travel playing solo concerts with just his guitar, his music stand and his voice.

As I have said, he is not the greatest solo artist in the world but what cannot be denied is that he has an unmistakeable presence and a unique style — the last time he was in Glasgow he played to a packed Royal Concert  Hall and did not make it to the end of the first song before stopping to tell the assembled audience that George W Bush was an asshole!

President Clinton did not escape his wrath either as the former military man and Ranger condemned drone attacks in Iraq which killed innocent men, women and children, and was able to cite poets and songwriters as among those who  had perished.

However, perhaps the point of this long diatribe is to tell a tale of someone else entirely — then maybe it is not!

Roddy Hart is less than half the age of Kris kristofferson and went to University graduating with a Law Degree — well nobody is perfect!

However, he decided against a career in the law and instead chose a music career like Kristofferson and so far the ” Boy has done good” with successful albums and of course his own Radio show on Radio Scotland.

However, a while back when he was less well known he took the mad notion to send some demo recordings to………… Kris Kristofferson…… although not really expecting much chance of receiving a reply.

To his surprise, the once bum like pilot and Oxford Scholar did reply, invited Hart to Hawaii and recorded one of his songs.

Since then the two have become great friends.

Perhaps Roddy Hart didn’t land a helicopter in Kristofferson’s garden but the similarity is there.

It could be argued that Kristofferson’s most famous lyric says” Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to do” yet he has said that when his time comes he wants to be buried under a stone which contains another songwriters lyrics….. another songwriter of a similar age, who dated some of the same women and who made his way in the music business around the same time as Kris Kristofferson.

The lyrics concerned come from Leonard Cohen and they perhaps some up Kris Kristofferson’s attitude to life from a very early age:

Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

However, before he is ready to lie beneath the headstone he is about to release his umpteenth studio album and is involved in touring it around Europe. Incidentally, I did hear a story which said that Kristofferson preferred to drive between Gigs with his family in a great big Winnebago, which he would also sleep in at night rather than stay in hotels etc like other major acts.

Roddy Hart and his band the Lonesome Fire are also touring, indeed three of them made a wee pit stop and performed an acoustic set in Fopp on Byres Road on Saturday!

However at the end of the month Roddy Hart will play an acoustic set on his own in Glasgow……… and he will be accompanied by a septuagenarian who once landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn!

Two days later, the pair will again team up for a repeat performance in downtown Wick.

Whether they will travel from Glasgow to Wick by way of helicopter is not known.

Moonbeams Murray —- an international treasure.

14 Aug

Good Evening,

We have just passed that moment when envelopes drop through the letter box with a dreaded thud. Inside said envelopes, bits of paper, which have been typed and prepared god alone knows where, set out this year’s results for standard grades, highers and advanced highers. These envelopes effectively determine the immediate futures of hundreds of thousands of child adults— those teenagers who are not quite children anymore — yet not altogether fully fledged adults either.

This exam sitting and results waiting process continues year after year, with annual comparisons to the results of previous years being blasted all over the newspapers and airwaves. ” Passes are up” says one ” Exams are too easy” says another: ” More kids going to University” cries the TV and yet ” More graduates among the long term unemployed” say the business pages.

This is all very hard for the wizened grey haired old buggers like me to follow, let alone those hundreds of thousands of child adults who are the unfortunate subjects of these headlines. Equally, it has to be said that while waiting on your own results was not the most pleasant of experiences, waiting on the results of your children is undoubtedly worse– as you have no control over the outcome, could not influence the answers on the paper, and yet have to manage the emotions, expectations, joys and disappointments once those dreaded envelopes have been opened.

I cannot help get the feeling that our children are ever more channelled by modern education. They are streamed and corralled down certain well defined routes which year after year lead to the same results, same career paths, and same lifelong projectories. Don’t get me wrong this is not necessarily a bad thing—– but—- occasionally I think it is good for the child adult– and indeed the adult child—- to be reminded that such a life course does not suit everyone.

Nor should it.

Of course, our television is full of people who find fleeting fame and perhaps considerable fortune by means of a different route. The Professional footballer at the top of the tree can earn a life changing fortune in the course of a few short years, The X factor winner, the latest Hollywood sensation, celebrity chat show host and so many more so called “personalities” may well provide for their families and descendants by means that have nothing whatsoever to do with exam results and those dreaded envelopes. They merely project their voices and images over the airwaves and collect the dosh in return for………. well whatever it is they do in return for the pound sterling or the American Dollar.

However, let’s forget celebrity and fame for a moment, and instead celebrate and praise the very folk who are often mocked and portrayed in a dreadful stereotypical fashion by Hollywood and its “darlings”, yet who very often do not quite follow the traditional educational route that results from the exam envelope falling through the door.

They are the class “Geeks” — those individuals who may or may not have the typical social skills of the average teenager, but who for some reason are fascinated by all things technical– possibly mechanical or electrical— and who from an early age always seem to be engrossed in tinkering with some item which to everyone else seems boring and a complete waste of time.

Such folk are often regarded as slightly backward and even plain “nuts”.

These individuals  are often no use whatsoever at writing down any type of coherent answer to your average higher paper question. Stereotypically, they are also not to be found on the football field or the drama class or behind a microphone belting out the latest hits.

Instead they are often thought of in a world of their own, slightly isolated , often bespectacled and holding their head at a slightly funny angle while staring at something which requires mending, or altering or which plain does not work and about which the rest of us don’t really give a damn.

Except that without the said Geeks the rest of us would all be forced to work a great deal harder, would be greatly inconvenienced, would moan a great deal more and could possibly even be dead.

Oh and bar a remarkable few, said people in the main remain completely anonymous and unknown to the public.

So let me introduce you to one such little known geek— little known at least in Britain. Admittedly he is from a different country and a differnet age– yet he has undoubtedly affected and changed the life of every single person who has read this article thus far– and indeed everyone who has not.

Everyone has heard of Marconi, Edison, John Logie Baird, Alexander Fleming, the Wright Brothers and even Mr Dyson– but few will have heard of……………. Mr Jerome L Murray.

Many geeky people have gone into Industry and through research and development have become accredited “Inventors” within specific sectors of a given industry or trade– such as Alexander Fleming or Marie Curie.

What sets Jerome Murray apart from many a research genius was his completely geeky maverick nature, and his “hobby” which can best be described as an ability to look at something that would be part of every ordinary day and say ” That shouldn’t be that way” and come up with the most efficient, if simple, of solutions.

Jerome, was born in New York City in 1912 and lived there for most of his life. Eventually, he would gain a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (thus showing he was no academic slouch) and while working for an aeronautical company he would develop, design and invent many a thing to do with the jet engine and its small individual components  – all of which made such engines more efficient, faster, safer and the likes.

However, long before any academia called, and long before he became a test pilot which lead to his working in the world of aeronautics, Jerome Murray changed the lives of literally millions of people just by being…… a enquiring but nosey geek!

Throughout his life, he had an ability to see things that others could just not see at all– spot a problem that could be fixed or see a situation which just need not exist at all.

This ability to see a problem and a solution first manifested itself when he was just fifteen years old and still at school.

America had huge farmlands stretching thousands of miles throughout the continent, and in the twenties many of the remote farms had no electricity whatsoever. The young fifteen year old Murray saw this and invented  a simple windmill attached to a small generator which in turn powered a radio. Murray sold this invention to a well known radio manufacturer- Cosby Radio– who then sold it to thousands of farmers throughout America who were only to happy to buy the device so that they could access the radio waves– whether for entertainment or otherwise.

This ability to look at ordinary everyday situations and improve them was to be a constant throughout his life.

When television arrived, Murray noticed that the picture often improved if the TV antenna on the roof or on the top of the box set was moved to a different angle. However, rather than get out on to the roof or out of the chair each time the antenna needed adjusting, Murray came up with the TV Antenna Rotator, which automatically changed the angle of the TV Antenna at the touch of a button. This device generated over $40 Million in sales over several decades.

Similarly, he noticed the effort required and cut variation when different people went to cut the Sunday Roast– the result was his invention and development of the electric carving knife. Similarly, he transformed the culinary experience in the kitchen when he noticed that there was no way of knowing exactly when a pressure cooker had in fact steamed vegetables or other items to perfection– accordingly he came up with the whistle that is to be found on every pressure cooker in the world today.

A trip to the dentist resulted in his inventing the high speed minuscule dental drill thus revolutionising the trip to the dentist. Further, we can also thank Jerome Murray for envelopes that you do not need to lick– such as those that bring the aforementioned exam results.

The powered seat in your car, and the ability to close the roof of a convertible by means of a switch in the arm rest are both down to the keen eye and brain process of Murray.

One day in 1951, Murray was standing at Miami Airport watching passengers disembarking from a plane and landing on the tarmac in driving rain. He saw them come down some rickety steps and was somewhat aghast to see passengers who required wheelchair assistance being unloaded by way of a forklift truck!

As a result, Murray came up with the airport ramp that connects to the door of the aircraft and leads straight into the terminal building, thus enabling all passengers to embark and disembark from a plane with ease– and without needing to be exposed to either blistering sun or biting wind and rain. Of course such ramps are now to be found in every large airport throughout the world.

However, by far his most important piece of tinkering came with what was originally known as the “Murray Pump”.

In truth the pump is really called the peristaltic pump, which moves fluids in a wavelike motion of contractions and expansions similar to the way that the peristalsis moves the contents of the digestive tract. The pump was the first device in the world capable of pumping blood without damaging cells, which was a breakthrough for open-heart surgery and later other operations such as kidney transplants and so on.

However the use of the pump does not end with surgery as the pump’s uses now range from kidney dialysis to food processing, such as assembly-line injection of vegetable soup into cans without crushing the peas and carrots.

Not only that, Murray later donated the design, copyright and rights to the pump to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore so that the hospital could develop it further and benefit from any ongoing use elsewhere. Once again, Murray’s invention was to be used throughout the world.

Inventors work by inspiration, Murray once said,  he thought it was a skill that cannot be taught.

”I’ve never seen courses in the art of inventing,” he said. ”Science and marketing can be learned, but inspiration comes from within.”

Most of his ideas, he said, came from observation and trying to find a better way and he said he always looked for a gimmick and a short cut that would do the job cheaply and efficiently.

When asked whether inventors should be well educated, Jerome Murray said some of the greatest inventors such as Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford came from ”a one-room schoolhouse” and so did not always need university degrees and screeds of highers or other academic qualifications.

On being questioned about being perhaps perceived as being geeky or slightly odd he made the following observation:

”The Wright brothers had the same (basic schoolhouse) education,” he said in a 1991 interview. ”They were considered a couple of nuts with a bicycle factory in Dayton, Ohio, yet they invented all the aerodynamics of basic flight.” Those same nuts effectively invented one of the worlds greatest and most lucrative industries changing all of our lives forever.

Alas, Jerome Murray shuffled off his mortal coil in January 1998 by which time he had moved to New Jersey but still attended his office in New York most days. He was 85 years old and had what could be considered a good innings for someone who was born before the great war. At the time of his death he held over 75 national and international patents– all of which came from his “hobby”!

Yet, as the writer and broadcaster Alistair Cook remarked at the time, the rest of us should be grateful for every day of his very being yet surely regret that he did not live longer and continue with his hobby of seeing the solutions to problems that no one else knew existed.

What the Murray brain would have done with a world now linked by the world wide web we can only guess.

However, if any of you are a parent to a geeky, bespectacled,slightly introverted, gadget tinkering kid who perhaps did not get the results they wanted from the white envelop — remember the name Jerome L Murray and his like — as without him our day to day lives would be much the poorer and very different in all sorts of ways.

Oh– and if you started reading this article because you thought it was about someone else called Murray — well, hey, you never know there may well be an article about the late  great Chic on another occasion!

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