Thursday, 24 November 2016

Victorian Plymouth by Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson's excellent new book 'Victorian Plymouth - A Tour Around the Three Towns and Surrounding Neighbourhood' is now available.
It's packed full of photographs and information. Many of the photos haven't been seen before and the book includes fantastic shots of the pier, the Barbican, the Hoe and
views of the people and streets from a long-forgotten Plymouth. The book also features interesting photos from Plymouth's surrounding districts including St Budeaux, Eggbuckland and Devonport.
To accompany the new book, Chris has also brought out a calendar
featuring scenes of Victorian Plymouth.
Both would make ideal Christmas presents and both would appeal to anyone who has an interest in how Plymouth once looked.
They are available from all good bookshops, online and from Chris's shop in New Street on the Barbican.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Last article

I've been so busy writing books for Pen & Sword and other publishers recently that I'm not getting enough time to keep up with this blog. So I've decided to make this my last post so that I can concentrate more on writing. I hope that you've enjoyed all my postings over the last few years and they'll remain on here for people to read in the future.
New books coming out soon include Bath in the Great War, Gloucester in the Great War and Glasgow in the Great War.
Sorry, I'm unable to reply to your questions about local history but a good place to contact for help is the Plymouth main reference library. I've always found them very helpful in the past. They can be contacted by phone at 01752 305900 or by email at

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Plymouth Sound

Nowadays, with endless television and radio stations, it's hard to imagine the excitement when Plymouth got its own radio station. At the time, the main stations were all broadcast by the BBC.
Almost 40 years ago, Plymouth Sound was launched and it soon had a huge following. The station was based in a former organ factory at Earl's Acre off Alma Road in Pennycomequick and was launched on 19th May 1975. The first song broadcast was Cat Stevens' Morning Has Broken.
Andrew Knight, who was aged nine at the time, won a competition to be the first voice heard on the new station. With prompting from station controller, David Bassett, Andrew went live on air at 6am on the morning of Monday 19th May.
Popular presenters at the time included Ian Calvert, Louise Churchill, Carmella McKenzie, Brian Measures, Peter Greig and David Bassett. There were many more in later years.
I was thirteen and at school at the time when the station opened. It's hard to believe now but there was a big thing about how to find the station and how to tune into it (much the same as there was when Channel 4 was launched). There was a show at the Guildhall to find out more about the station and to meet some of the people behind it.
Me and a school pal went along in the hope there would be some free records (we didn't get any). Like everyone else, we came away with souvenirs such as free car stickers and mugs. It seemed a big thing at the time.
Everyone at school listened to the station and by far the most popular presenter was Ian Calvert whose evening show was broadcast just at the time when we were all doing our homework. In between records, Ian talked about his girlfriend, his dogs, his horses and anything else that was going on at the time. I remember him being the first DJ to play David Soul's single when it first came out and also remember he'd sent a tape to Radio One of his show. There were nightly phone-in competitions and the prize was inevitably 6 singles. I'd recognise some of the kids from my class entering the competitions (I won a few) and once we'd collected our prize singles from the station, we'd take them to school and try and swap them. They were always by artists you had never heard of and were, mostly, terrible but the fun was just in winning them.
David Bassett broadcast a talk show at 10am every morning and would have conversations about topical subjects or just anything anyone wanted to talk about. Some of the people who phoned in were unintentionally hilarious which made the show even more entertaining. In the summer holidays, most of the kids at school listened to it and many of them also took part.
Brian Measures hosted an easy listening show in the evening which attracted a large audience. I won a Frank Sinatra LP on his show and my mum went to collect it. While she was waiting at the reception, she said that there was a bloke beside her who didn't stop nattering on and telling jokes. She thought that he was just there to collect a prize but it turned out to be Frank Carson!
Adverts needing an American sounding voice-over were done by my old guitar teacher, Pete Martin (he was actually Canadian). I wonder what happened to him?
The DJs were very popular at the time and I remember Ian Calvert bringing a football team to our school in the 1970s to play the teachers. Our teachers were hopeless (even the sports ones) so they inevitably lost!
The station was a big thing in the 1970s and 1980s and was eventually re-branded Heart Plymouth in 2009 before being amalgamated into Heart Devon in 2010. For me, the best time to listen to it was in the 1970s when it all seemed so new and there were few other radio stations about. As the station grew older, there was suddenly a huge choice of other stations to listen to. By then, I'd moved on to the crackly fading broadcasts of Radio Luxembourg!
Like Westward Television, there seems something very nostalgic about the early days of Plymouth Sound. Today, we're overloaded with stations, many of which are listened to on the internet. Somehow, it just doesn't seem to be the same and a lot of the appeal of the smaller radio stations, where we felt that we knew all the presenters, seems to have been lost over the years.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The ABC advertising hoarding at West Park

I noticed today that the billboard hoarding, on the side of the Peter Goord building, at West Park, has been taken down. Underneath has been revealed an old advert for the ABC Cinema. It's obviously quite old and wasn't there in my lifetime so I'm guessing that it dates from the 1950s or early 1960s.
Unlike modern bill posters, it has been painted onto the side of the building. I think there's more of it but this has been covered with modern spar dash probably some time in the 1970s.
I don't suppose it will be too long before it's covered up and disppears for another fifty years so if you want to see it and take a photo, now's the time.
Footnote: I contacted the Herald about the advertisement and they've written a piece about it here:

Monday, 20 April 2015

Films shot in and around Plymouth

After my article appeared in the Shopper, a couple of months ago, about David Soul filming in Plymouth, several people wrote to me about other films that had been made in the area.
In the 1940s, 'The Way We Live' was shot in the city. It was directed by Jill Craigie who later married Michael Foot, whom she'd met while making the film.
It told the tale of Alice Copperwheat and her family, whose house had been destroyed in the blitz and who were then billeted to Horrabridge before becoming the owners of a brand new pre-fab in the city. There are various interesting scenes showing Plymouth as it was in 1945. Patsy Scantlebury, who lived in St Budeaux, was chosen for the role of Alice after being seen on Plymouth Hoe jitterbugging with an American sailor. At the time, she was just 17. She had previously worked in a post office. Patsy went on to sign a seven year contract with the J Arthur Rank Organization and appeared as an air hostess in the film 'Blind Goddess' as Patsy Drake (her stage name).
John Tozer wrote and asked if I remembered anything about the film 'The Uncle,' part of which was shot at Whitleigh. The film starred Rupert Davies who was very popular during the 1960s for his role as the tv detective 'Maigret.'
John wrote: 'The camera crew stopped outside where we lived and soon drove off toward Aylesbury Crescent with me and two pals cycling behind the car waving our hands! They then filmed an indoor scene in a house on Taunton Avenue, opposite the west end of Aylesbury Crescent.'
The Uncle was made in 1965 and Davies played David Morton, the father of a boy, Gus, played by Robert Duncan. The story concerned the boy's life over one summer. Like many films made in Plymouth, it hasn't been shown much over the years and many people probably won't have heard of it.
In the late 1970s, Tatum O'Neal was in the area shooting 'International Velvet' which also starred Christopher Plummer and Anthony Hopkins. Several of the scenes were shot on the beach at Mothecombe. Tatum was interviewed by Westward Television several times and other scenes for the film were also shot at Newton Abbot racecourse. The movie received mixed reviews.
Also in the late 1970s, Force 10 From Navarone, starring Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw and Edward Fox, was partly shot in the dockyard. Ford was just finding fame at the time as Han Solo in Star Wars.
In 1982, the film 'Remembrance' was released. It featured the story of a group of Royal Naval ratings based at Devonport and their exploits in Plymouth before setting sail for America.
Much of the film was shot in Union Street and featured Timothy Spall, Gary Oldman and John Altman as well as many other stars who have since become far more famous. Timothy Spall recently returned to the area to shoot 'Mr Turner' which was partly filmed at Kingsand.
Remembrance was shown on Channel 4 soon after but, again, hasn't been shown much since. It's good to watch it just to see how Union Street once looked and how it's all changed over the years.
In 1985, Goldcrest advertised in the local papers for extras to appear in their film 'Revolution' which was shot mainly at Burrator and starred Al Pacino, Donald Sutherland, Nastassja Kinski and a host of other well-known stars. I went to the auditions at Ballard House but didn't get a part. If I remember rightly, they were paying £20 a day which seemed a lot back then. Even with a huge budget and many big names, the film was again a flop but can be seen regularly on one of the Freeview channels.
In 1994, 'Sense and Sensibility' was shot at Saltram and starred Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant in a lavish period drama.
'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997), starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, featured action shot, again, in Devonport Dockyard as well as scenes filmed on several naval ships.
In 2009, 'Alice in Wonderland' was shot partly at Antony House and starred Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway and was directed by Tim Burton. A follow up is to be released shortly. Many local people appeared in the background.
There have been many more movies shot in the area over the years such as 'War Horse,' 'We Bought a Zoo' etc and many people in Plymouth will have fond memories of appearing in them as extras.
Of course, there have also been endless tv shows shot in the area and these include Doctor Who, Hornblower, Casualty and, more recently across the Tamar, Poldark. Perhaps people reading this blog have appeared in one of the many productions mentioned? It would be good to feature their memories in a later post.
Update: Richenda kindly wrote to me with her memories of appearing in 'The Uncle:'
Dear Derek
A friend drew my attention to your article on films shot in and around Plymouth in The Shopper.
I was an 'extra' for a day for The Uncle. I was one of at least six teenage girls who had to run across the beach at Tinside. I think involved a lot of waiting around and a few takes until the camera man was happy with the shots. We were each paid £1 for the day. I was about 14 or 15 years old at the time and I seem to remember that the film wasn't put out on general release at the time. Was it a bit controversial?  I did see the film many years later and only our legs were in shot. Very disappointing and difficult to spot my own legs as they dashed across the screen.
There must have been a lot more of a beach at Tinside in those days. Summers were also different. We all had season tickets to the round swimming pool and swam from March to October. We spent most of our summer holidays on the seafront and were joined by large numbers of French students who came and went for two weeks at a time. We helped them with their English speaking.
Best wishes,
Richenda .
As from July 2015, The Uncle will be available on DVD. Here it is on Amazon:

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Balmy weather

Long before global warming was ever mentioned, Plymouth was being hit by balmy weather.
In the great storm of January 1814, the snowfall in Plymouth fell to a depth of twenty inches in just six hours. The snow lasted for six weeks.
During the great blizzard of March 1891, the people of Plymouth had a rare opportunity for skating when the Chelson Meadows flooded and froze over. Water supplies to the city were halted as underground pipes froze.
The photos shown here show a flood in Tamerton Foliot in November 1929. The heavy rains flooded much of Devon and Cornwall during the month and the story of Tamerton Foliot was reported in the Western Morning News of Friday 29th November 1929. It read:
'Waters invaded Tamerton Foliot yesterday and entered many of the cottages, the occupants of which had to move their furniture to drier quarters.
The river, which has swollen to a lake, is partially restrained from the flooded main road by a high wall, and on the stream side it is said that the water is about six feet deep. Planks span the gardens as improvised bridges.

The general traffic to and from the village is diverted to another road but several cars came to grief yesterday on the flooded main road.'
By Monday 2nd November 1929, the Western Morning News was reporting the ongoing plight of Plymouth residents under the headline 'Beleaguered by Floods.' The story read:
'A serious situation faces some of the residents in the Laira district of Plymouth as a result of the floods. They have been besieged in their upper rooms and have had to be conveyed to and fro in a large boat requisitioned for the purpose. Provisions and newspapers were brought to them by the same means. Today, two large lorries provided by the corporation will replace the boat.
Throughout yesterday, pumping operations were carried out by the fire engine.
The rainfall, which has caused so much flooding to the Westcountry during November, has broken all previous records. In the Plymouth area, the fall has been the heaviest since 1914.
In the lower part of Stenlake Terrace, Prince Rock, during the floods, the local postman carried out his duties wheeled in a bath-chair. Thanks to fine spells experienced this weekend, the floods have subsided in most districts.'

After the heavy rain, serious gales hit the area during December bringing down trees and causing much disruption.

On a brighter note, during the previous summer, in July 1928, Plymouth was enjoying a heatwave, which can be seen in the final photo, shown here, of two girls, complete with drinks and a parasol. There was much written in the newspapers about the warm, hot summer of 1928 including this article from the Western Morning News of 20th July:
'In Plymouth, the weather was brilliant. Bathing was popular among holidaymakers. The scene from the Hoe could not have been equalled. In the blue distance could be seen the white-sailed yachts drifting on a sapphire sea. The maximum temperature for the day was 75 degrees comparing favourable with the 80 degrees in the shade in London.'
Fashion also got a mention in the article:
'Noticeable this year at south-western seaside resorts is the variety of summer frocks worn. A feature is the large number of sunshades. Two or three years ago, sunshades went completely out of fashion, but have quickly come back into fashion again.'
Little seems to have changed over the years. Today's weather may seem balmy but, it appears, that it's nothing new!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

More David Soul

After my article appeared in Plymouth's Shopper newspaper, about David Soul's visit to Plymouth in 1977, Sheila Hodgson kindly wrote to me with an update:
'I was interested to read your piece about David Soul in the Plymouth Shopper. The film production company took over the Moorland Links Hotel for the duration of the filming. The Director, Producer etc. and the main stars all stayed there, including David and his then girlfriend - I don't think it was Julia - who stayed in the Manager's flat within the hotel. The Manager moved out and stayed with friends for the whole time. The car park was used for their production wagons and consequently the bar became the meeting point for all the crew. It was a very busy time for all the staff but also a very enjoyable occasion. Unfortunately we didn't get the opportunity to see Mud - although from all accounts we didn't miss much! The interior scenes were shot at the Astor Hotel which was in fact closed at that time. How do I know all this? I was the Manager's PA at the Links at the time, and was on duty on the Sunday when the company first visited the Hotel to discuss the possibility of taking it over, and using the car park for their production wagons. After further discussions with the Manager, the rest as they say is history.'