The death of Iona Opie who, with her late husband Peter, brought to light the rich and often amusing culture of children’s playground games and rhymes, sparked a memory of filming in a primary school for an episode in the ITV series Seven Ages shown back I the late 1970s. I had been fascinated by the Opie’s work for a long time with their maps of the different “truce” terms children use to get out of playground games and meticulous recording of regional variations in nonsense songs. My film was set in Colchester in Essex where I hoped to find a decent cross section of the population of all ages from infants to the elderly. I cannot remember now how we alighted on the primary school we chose to film five to eleven year olds but we got a friendly reception despite the belief amongst the staff that the kind of juvenile folk culture the Opie’s once recorded no longer existed.
The teachers were startled when I and the director took a couple of ...Read more
All the fuss about Jeremy Corbyn’s image has brought to a mind an incident from long ago when smoking was quite acceptable in public and a puff on a pipe could be regarded as avuncular and reassuring. In the run-up to the general election in February 1974 I was given an assignment by the group of newspapers I worked for to follow Harold Wilson and his entourage in the hope of getting an interview. I sat with fellow reporters below a platform somewhere in south London ( Putney I think ) while Wilson complained bitterly about the political bias of the Press, stabbing the air with his pipe stem. He puffed away the whole evening so that by the time the meeting was closed the place was wreathed in smoke. I tried to get my interview backstage but a BBC Panorama crew got him into a car to drive back to his home in Lord North Street, Westminster. I managed to get a lift in the car behind with Mary, his wife. I recall her worrying about whether their son Giles would have a hot water bottle ...Read more
My father John in party mood. He was a great raconteur and essayist
During my time as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Mary College, London I found that many students, and especially those who were diligent in their research, imagined that they could not start to write an essay before they had worked out in their head what it was they wanted to say. Yet whenever they began to write they found they were overwhelmed by the knowledge they had acquired and could not find a way into it. It is a familiar dilemma for anyone writing factual articles or books. Students would tell me they had been advised to map out their essay before they started writing, to follow the rules about referencing and to make sure they had a clear and firm conclusion. What they presented to me as a draft was, nevertheless, invariably a jumble of quotes and propositions which were barely intelligible.
They would ask if I could help them with grammar and “writing style” as if that was ...Read more
Reading a review at the weekend of the book The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake reminded me of a very pleasant afternoon I spent with the author a few years ago. My book about early wireless, Signor Marconi's Magic Box, came out at more or less the same time as his Seven Experiments that could change the world.
We ended up in the studio of BBC radio London talking together on the day time show hosted by Robert Elms http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/radio/presenters/robert_elms/. It turned out we both had an interest in homing pigeons, not as bird fanciers but from the point of view of science and history. His publisher had ordered a cab to take him back home to Hampstead and I shared it with him. We ended up having a drink in his back garden and later exchanged books.
I had always been fascinated by the ability of homing pigeons, all descendants of the wild blue rock dove, to find their way back to a loft, though they might be flying over land that was quite unfamiliar to them. ...Read more
So that I could get to research the Marconi Archive which is now safely housed and expertly catalogued in the Bodleian Library, Oxford I applied for admission . I had to find a sponsor and was lucky that a neighbour who is a publisher and was an Oxford student long ago was on hand to sign the relevant papers. As I left his house he called after me: " You will not be able to kindle any fires. " I smiled back wondering what he meant.
The admission procedure was very jolly. I was ticked off for not completing one of the forms correctly then told by the lady dealing with library tickets that my misdemeanour would, on this occasion, by over looked. I had my passport for identification and my debit card for payment, a very modest sum for six months access. But before I was finally granted permission to enter the library I had to read an oath. It was printed on a laminated card and I was instructedto read it aloud.
"I hereby undertake not to remove ...Read more