Annuals of history

Every Christmas, during the ‘60s, I would be given, alongside two tangerines; a handful of walnuts and 2-packets of last years’ dates, the mandatory annual.

Which subject would my parents choose?  Had they been listening to me throughout the year to get a feel in what I was interested in?

As, for several years on the trot, I received the Rupert annual, they clearly hadn’t.  Unless they thought I was a secret Daily Express reader, I was always slightly disappointed.  I didn’t possess a matching pair of distasteful yellow scarf and trousers – if I had been posher, I might have had; but this was Balham in the ‘60s, so that was never happening.

I’d have liked to have got the first edition, published in 1936, featuring stories where Rupert trains with Jesse Owens and Hitler invades Nutwood, with the pretence that there were German speakers living there.

After a while of the annuals still being in pristine condition the following December, my parents changed tack.

The Coronation Street annual was never the same after 1964, as it no longer featured pictures of Martha Longhurst.

I was thrilled, in 1967, to get the Man from U.N.C.L.E. annual – I’d always wanted to be Illya Kuryakin and had, as a teenager, an interest in east European female gymnasts.

My parental procurement of my annual annual stopped in 1972.  Aged 15, you really don’t want your mates coming round to your place and seeing The Clangers annual taking pride of place on your bookcase.

There were some great soup recipes inside, though.

Blob on the landscape

blobby bow tie

The record which topped the charts during my first Christmas, in 1957, was Harry Belafonte singing Mary’s Boy Child which is When a child is born played backwards.  It wasn’t until 1967 with The Scaffold’s Lily the Pink, that the Christmas songs became novelty songs – you’ll never hear the choir of King’s College Cambridge singing Ernie during any of their Nine Lessons & Carols services.

1956 had Johnnie Ray singing Just a walkin’ in the rain – if he’d had released that during Christmas 1962 he’d have had to have changed the words to Just a walkin’ in the snow as Britain witnessed its worst winter since the Black Death.

Is it, that at Christmas, peoples’ music tastes change so dramatically that they are bound to buy the worst record that week?

Why would you buy Long-haired lover from Liverpool (1972) sung by someone who’d rarely travelled outside of Utah?  In my view the 1980 hit There’s no one quite like Grandma is correct – my maternal grandmother had no teeth, stockings which were never fully pulled up properly and the most vituperative person ever.  And Mr Blobby (1993) – if Mr Blobby’d been one of the three wise men, then fair enough, he deserves a Christmas No. 1; but he wasn’t unless there were actually four wise men carrying gold, frankincense, myrrh and a yellow, spotted bow-tie.

Bring back Johnny Ray singing Just a walkin’ in the disturbingly mild for the time of year.

Rum ‘n’ raison baby Jesus


I’d like to know when the baby Jesus got replaced by a KitKat?

It is now Advent and Advent calendars are in evidence; in some shops they’ve been available since August Bank Holiday.

Advent calendars these days contain sufficient chocolate to raise your cholesterol levels by 10%, but when did this start?

Growing up in the sixties, when you got an Advent calendar at the start of Advent and not at the beginning of the grouse shooting season in mid-August, behind the twenty-four tabs were pictures of likely presents and Christmas-related things: a spinning-top, some holly, a snowman (especially if your town was twinned with Reykjavik – I think Balham was, but only for 1963).

The flap with the number 24 on hid a picture of the aforementioned baby Jesus. Today, people are disappointed when it’s not the daily output of the Bournville factory behind any of the flaps.

If I were the Archbishop of Canterbury, my Christmas Message this year would be directed at the British Dental Association. I blame them; although KitKat is marginally tastier than cardboard!

Lo, He comes with clouds descending – only this year with added caramel filling.


Pret a baby Jesus manger

panto horse

If Joseph, had had chicken pox during the birth of his son, Jesus, I could have played him with authority during my primary school nativity play.

Every year, during the sixties, at my south London primary school, I’d get selected for a major part and every year I’d contract a children’s illness and be unable to smell any grease paint or hear any crowd roaring. The only smells I smelled were Vick, a selection of grapes and calamine lotion.

When I was due to play Melchior I had mumps; selected to play the innkeeper I’d caught German measles and when invited to play Mary (it was a progressive school) I’d got a particularly virulent strain of scarlet fever – which any amount of gold, frankincense or myrrh wasn’t going to shift.

With the teachers/casting agents increasingly fed up with my inability to play a leading role, I was given the part as the back end of a stable donkey (although I managed to make it less stable). I was going to enter into this properly and include the Stanislavski method of acting by spending months at a donkey sanctuary.  I didn’t because, knowing my luck, I’d have contracted foot and mouth and have been put down.

My thespian activities, however, did improve and I’ve written about this before at

There is now room at the inn as they’ve had a particularly bad review on Trip Advisor!