Thursday, 27 July 2017

Constructive Criticism is Always Welcome, but I Like My Book How It Is and Here’s Why

I was thrilled to bits when my first book The Best Year Of Our Lives received the go-ahead from the publishing company CreateSpace a week or so ago. Even more so when the ebook - a concept with which I had hitherto not been entirely familiar - was likewise accepted.

Getting it published was a modest achievement as achievements go. After all, CreateSpace is a self-publishing platform and all its approval meant was that the formatting of the book was of a sufficiently acceptable standard to allow it to be inflicted upon the wider public. As the book is self-published, CreateSpace passes no judgment as to the content. Whether the book is worth reading or not is entirely the reader’s to decide.

Nevertheless, after so much time had been spent on composing and compiling my magnus opus, my homage to my adolescence in 1976 and my tribute to all those dear friends - some still in touch, some sadly estranged - who shared that wonderful year with me, it was a magnificent feeling knowing that my work was finally going to be unleashed upon a world which had waited for so long with bated breath for its long-heralded appearance.

I am no expert in graphic design (to put it mildly), and being on a very limited budget I politely ignored all the advice which suggested that I should source some nifty up-to-date digital imaging software which would enable me to furnish my work with a piece of glitzy artwork with which to lure potential buyers. Being more or less proficient in the very old version of Microsoft Publisher which I had at my disposal I set about creating a few text boxes and importing some bog-standard basic background which was to comprise the bedrock of my front cover.


I ought to own up and say at this point that I am not a complete charlatan, or “bodger” as they say in the various strands of the construction trade. There was, I confess, a modicum of method in my madness. I had already persuaded my hugely artistic daughter Rosie to design the cover picture, which was to be eight young people drawn in a slightly cartoonish style against the very serious and sober backdrop of a real-life river scene, dominated by a bridge which by design looks not dissimilar from one with which fellow river-dwellers from the Isleworth/Twickenham/Richmond area will be familiar. Extremely satisfied with Rosie’s response to that brief, I took the decision that nothing about the background should be allowed to deflect attention from it. The plainer it could be, the better.

Then there was the choice of font for the book title. Try as I would, and did, for subject relevance I was soon compelled to admit that nothing out there did the job quite like good old reliable, dependable Cooper Black. I would invite anybody who wonders why to read Just My Type: How Cooper Black Became 2017’s Most Fashionable Font - “it is an Instagram filter for fonts - it just says ‘1970s’ the minute you look at it”. Quite. It is also the font that was used time and again on the covers of the legendary “Top Of The Pops” and “Hot Hits” LPs which used to be available for 50p at every respectable newsagent’s for the benefit of those of us who couldn’t always afford to buy the real thing.


Inside the book, those with a discerning eye will have noted my use of ragged right as opposed to justified right alignment in the paperback. What gives? Every author uses justified right - does this not just scream out “self-published” for every comer to hear? Possibly. It just looked better, to my eye, in consideration of the font that I used for the text and the general layout of the book. If I can be persuaded otherwise in the fullness of time then I’ll change it for future editions, but until or unless that happens the ragged right remains.

And what if the book does indeed betray its self-published origins? Is that a cause for shame? Self-publishing is without question the direction in which the entire literary world is heading. Fifty Shades Of Grey anyone?

I will never know whether my work was destined to suffer the indignity of rejection, or fatal alteration, at the hands of some faceless individual whose only interest was in the financial bottom line because I made the conscious decision not to even attempt to go along that route. The object of the exercise, for me, was to get the book out, and to let the reader decide.

Time will tell if I have done the right thing. I do welcome advice - I have even been known on occasions to act upon it. But I can say, with my head held high, that this work is mine and mine only. As will be any mistakes.

Monday, 2 May 2016

10 High Street Stores of 1976 that have Disappeared

By Justin Parkinson


The futures of Austin Reed and British Home Stores are under threat. But what other well-known High Street stores have disappeared over the last 40 years?

It's 1976 and you're out shopping. If you want to buy a record or some sweets, try Woolworths. Shoes? Have a look in Freeman, Hardy and Willis. For a dress, shirt, trousers or other clothing, go to C&A.

If you need to withdraw some money, there's a good chance you'll have to queue in the Midland Bank. And for tonight's dinner, you might pop into Dewhurst for some meat and Fine Fare for the rest of the food shop.

So, what happened to these and other shops whose logos once dominated the High Street?


The US-founded store, which opened its first UK branch in 1909, selling goods ranging from hardware to boiled sweets, records to toys, was a fixture until the company entered administration. All 807 stores held clearance sales, with the last branch, in Glasgow's Argyle Street, closing in January 2009. Around 30,000 people lost their jobs.

Woolworths - nicknamed Woolies and known for its Pick 'n' Mix self-service sweet counters - suffered from increasing competition.

"The High Street has always changed rapidly," says Neil Wrigley, professor of human geography at Southampton University. "In recent years it's had competition from online retailers, which had almost no market share before the year 2000. And there's been a movement towards more services, such as coffee shops." There was a very difficult period from 2008 to 2012, but that seems to have ended, he adds.

There have been several reports of a planned revival of Woolworths in the UK, but these have come to nothing.


The electrical chain, founded in Southend, Essex, in 1937, closed in 2006. Many of its High Street branches were rebranded Dixons remained as an online brand, but later this also came under Currys.

The Dixons name came when founder Charles Kalms flicked through a telephone directory, looking for inspiration.


The chain of clothing stores announced its withdrawal from the UK in 2000, with the loss of 4,800 jobs. Its 109 shops had come under increasing competition from other mid-market clothing retailers, such as Gap and Next, the company said. The last UK stores, in Hounslow, west London, and Bradford, closed in May 2001.

Founded in the 1920s by the Dutch brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer, C&A, at least in the UK, was accused of failing to move with fashion and recorded several losses in the late 1990s.

"Some shops lost their consumer demand," says Wrigley. "People didn't want clothes that their mothers and fathers would've wanted. It's similar to what appears to be happening at BHS now." C&A continues to trade across much of Europe.


In 1976, the store selling art prints, cards and stationery was a growing presence on the High Street. Perhaps its most famous poster image, Tennis Girl - a photograph of a young woman baring her bottom while playing tennis - was taken during the summer of that year.

There were more than 20 stores by 1979 and 165 by the mid-1990s, but internet competition hit it hard. The last Athena store, in Exeter, closed in 2014, 50 years after the first had opened in Hampstead, north London. But the company remains active online.

The High Street trading environment had become "very difficult" by the 2000s, says Simon Coates, one of Athena's directors. "Athena really struck a chord when it started," he adds. "It became part of many people's Saturday to buy sweets from Woolworths, a CD from HMV and a poster from Athena, but other retailers started stocking stuff like we sold, stuff they'd never have sold before. The supermarkets started selling greetings cards and then there was the challenge from the internet. Anyone could print their own art online."

Coates thinks Athena remained too long on the High Street, while being charged "huge rents and rates". The company, which once employed around 1,000 staff, now operates from premises near York. It no longer sells prints of Tennis Girl.

Radio Rentals

Set up in a back street in Brighton in the 1930s, Radio Rentals catered for a growing demand for radios. The rental model continued through the introduction of television and, later, video cassette recorders - about to take off in 1976.

During the late 1970s a newspaper advert for a long-play video recorder mocked a national obsession with the ITV soap opera Crossroads, known for its wobbly sets and criticised for the standard of its acting, stating: "It can take 16 episodes of Crossroads (if you can)."

But, as consumer electronics became cheaper, more people bought radios, TVs and video recorders. Radio Rentals gradually became amalgamated into the TV and domestic appliance rental firm BoxClever. The Radio Rentals brand continues in Australia.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis

The shoe manufacturer, with beginnings in Leicester in the 1870s, became a familiar presences in hundreds of High Streets.

A series of adverts in the 1950s referred to it as "our happy family shoe shop".

Freeman, Hardy and Willis (sometimes known simply as Freeman, Hardy, Willis) became part of the British Shoe Corporation and ceased trading in the mid-1990s.


Founded in 1933 as a business charging radio batteries, Comet opened its first store in Hull in 1968, expanding rapidly after that.

There were 236 stores when it went into administration in November 2012, reduced to 49 by the time the final closures happened a month later. Comet ran up losses of £95m in the year to April 2012.


The chain of butchers shops, founded on Merseyside in the late 19th Century, had 1,400 outlets by 1997 but went into administration in 2006.

Its traditional model faced increasing competition, says Phil Lyon, a gastronomy lecturer at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. "The supermarkets started packaging meat in plastic containers, so it became commodified, rather than people wanting to request specific cuts or a certain weight of minced beef or steak," he adds. "There was also a bit of a move away from red meat to white meat, which didn't help."

In recent years there's been a resurgence of individual High Street butchers in many areas, Lyon says, but these cater for more of niche market than that once dominated by Dewhurst.

Fine Fare

The supermarket, established in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, in the 1950s, expanded during the 1960s and 1970s.

It was name-checked in the song Aisle of Plenty from the 1973 Genesis album Selling England by the Pound, a satire on consumerism. In it, a woman who says she feels she doesn't belong in modern society decides to "co-operate" because she realises she's "thankful for her Fine Fare discount".

In 1986, the BBC's Domesday Reloaded project spoke to customers at the Fine Fare branch in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, reporting that "they liked to shop for everything in one place. They found the self-service convenient and quick."

But people, in the age of expanding car ownership, wanted even more convenience, according to Wrigley, who has investigated the subject for the Economic and Social Research Council. "We went through a period of out-of-town shopping increasing in the 1960s and later," he says. "Fine Fare would have been one of the companies that suffered as the big supermarkets like Sainsbury's and Tesco expanded. But that's been reversing in recent years, with the High Street taking back trade from the out-of-town stores."

Fine Fare was sold to the owner of Gateway in the late 1980s and the stores were rebranded.

Midland Bank

With its distinctive griffin logo, Midland was one of the "big four" UK banks in the 1970s, along with Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest. In 1958 it had become the first UK bank to offer unsecured loans and, in 1966, the first to provide cheque guarantee cards.

Midland, established as the Birmingham and Midland Bank in 1836, was taken over by HSBC in 1992 and its branches were renamed HSBC from 1999. HSBC says this change provided a "clear and consistent identity".

"It can feel like a bereavement when we lose a High Street brand," says Lyon. "There's an instant reaction to the loss of something familiar, but it tends to fade away."

Reproduced with acknowledgements to BBC News Magazine.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Annus Mirabilis, or the Year the Music Died?

My introduction to “pop” music came, peculiarly, in the person of Michael Jackson.

We were at primary school, I was ten years old. For reasons which I cannot recall, one particular day was declared to be a “free” day – no lessons, no classwork, no booky stuff. Instead we were invited to bring in our 45s, to be played to the class on the old record player brought into school by the teacher.

Being inspired primarily by other things, mainly football and toy cars, I didn’t actually possess any records of my own, so I brought in some of my mother’s. Who, unfortunately, had rather conservative musical tastes, and my classmates groaned and stuck their fingers in their ears as the sound of Frank Sinatra strained datedly from the turntable. My friend Paul, unable to take any more, lifted the needle in mid-croon and replaced it with a record of his own, Michael Jackson’s “Rockin’ Robin”. Humiliation turned very quickly into devotion. I was hooked.

As befits my obsessive personality, I transformed myself very quickly from pop novice into classroom authority on the music charts. By the end of 1972 and into ‘73, by now a first-year pupil at senior school, I was the first to rush out and purchase every latest release by the big chart acts of the day – Slade, The Sweet, Gary Glitter, T. Rex. The new chart was announced at noon every Tuesday, and I would race down to the toilets as soon as the bell sounded for the lunchtime break with my illicitly-smuggled transistor radio wedged firmly in my blazer pocket and pre-set to Radio One, pen and notebook at the ready, to list all the latest Top 30 placings. By the end of the dinner break I could recite them all sequentially without reference to my notes.


My dear late father and I would argue at some length about my musical enthusiasms. He was a rock’n’roll man, raised on Elvis and Little Richard although by no means averse to the Beatles and some of the stuff which had defined at least the earlier part of the sixties. My music and its accompanying culture, he informed me, were ridiculous. The long hair, the wind-flapping loon pants, the absurdly impractical platform boots, the (to him) banal and repetitive lyrics (not at all evident, I would point out sarcastically, in ditties such as “She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah”), and all the monster-sized egos which paraded themselves shockingly around the stage every Thursday evening on Top of the Pops.

Worst of all, all the music of my era apparently sounded the same. Not so, it would seem, the simplistic be-bop of Stone Age rock’n’roll or the pudding-bowl haircuts and four-guys-in-suits which defined the so-called musical revolution of the early- to mid-sixties. No, it was Elton with his Zoom! spectacles, Glitter with his ostentatious if ever so slightly too tight costumes, Marc with his corkscrew locks and Bowie with his androgynous Ziggy persona who were apparently identical to behold. How could anyone be so blind?

In fact so locked was I in that moment that even now a part of me still thinks of Mud, Wizzard and Suzi Quatro, not to mention Sparks and the Rubettes, as being “new” acts. Of course I bought into those as well when they arrived, especially Suzi Q who doubled for a time as my childhood fantasy woman (not least I imagine because she was about the same height as me).

One “new” act by which I was particularly captivated was Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. Not glam in the sense of sequins and tassels and look-at-me stacked heels, but showy enough to hold a ‘70s audience for long enough to appreciate some really nifty songsmithery from a truly gifted writer and artist. And then there were always Mott and Roxy.


Of course such a full-on onslaught of sparkle and glamour was doomed to enjoy a limited shelf-life, and by the time 1976 arrived I was already, musically speaking, a man lost in time, with only the evergreen Bowie for company. And yet, at fourteen, I was beginning to take my first tentative steps along the awkward road from childhood into maturity, and was much in need of a cultural backdrop against which to strut my stuff. What I found was a zeitgeist both unique and peculiar, a mosaic of fading glam intermixed with an uplifting discofied soul which I found eminently palatable in spite of my normally European tastes (I’d long since jettisoned Michael Jackson from my list of idols by this time, Rockin’ Robin notwithstanding). Add into the mix the most glorious summer of all and I was in ecstasy, an emotional and spiritual state of being which I had never encountered previously, and have never found since. 1976 isn’t formally recognised as having been the best year ever to have grown up in for nothing.

And then, at the height of it all, came punk. Spitting, snarling and, worst of all to me, pretentious. I could swear with the best of them, but vulgarity was for classroom banter or the rest room at the youth club, it was never part of my music. Anybody who gobbed at me could expect a fight, it wasn’t something I went to a gig to experience. Worst of all, on my streets at least, many of the kids who seemed to embrace this sudden outpouring of anarchy and revolution were the kind I had always thought of as being, well, a bit middle-class. Geeks, spotty types and pencil monitors had suddenly become the ambassadors of rage, and I couldn’t quite work out how or why.

By the time the world had become bored with the cultural one-trick pony that was punk, it was too late. As the impact of the explosion faded, what emerged from the dust and the smoke was Grease and John Travolta. It was as though the proverbial gods were punishing us for having turned our backs on our spiritual nirvana. The twentieth century equivalent of a plague of frogs. The flares had gone, alas, and we had climbed down from our platforms forever.

Of course, my story is precisely that. Others remember 1976 with fondness precisely because of punk, viewing it as a liberating force sent to rescue us all from the ever-encroaching triteness of disco, to move us on from a post-glam musical wasteland which no longer quite knew what it was about. Oddly enough I can understand and even sympathise with this view. Hidden amongst my collection of singles which still lurks in a forgotten cupboard somewhere at my mother’s home are a few of the more well-known numbers by the Sex Pistols and Sham 69. At times I swayed with the wind, no matter how hard I struggled to stand firm.


The fact is that 1976 was a special year for all sorts of reasons and that applies whether one was a punk, a disco kid or a lost soul still wandering confused by the demise of glam. It was a special place that we all inhabited at the same time, moving around in the same age often oblivious to the existence of one another. It was like a veritable black hole which sucked in everyone from every genre of adolescent society and spat them all out sometime later transmogrified into Bee Gees.

Some wag recently remarked that in spite of all the strikes and shortages, bombings, football hooliganism, Carnival riots, Cold Wars and Cod Wars we were all younger in 1976 and it is this fact alone that makes us regard it lovingly through rose-tinted spectacles. This doesn’t of course explain the special affection this particular year holds in our hearts which is absent in respect of other years. There’s always one, isn't there? Fact is, the Spirit of 1976 lives on as a memory that will never be erased, a candle that will always burn. Don’t take away the music, whichever tune from 1976 it is that floats your boat.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Welcome to The Spirit of 1976

The Spirit of 1976 is a brand new blog dedicated to the glorious year of 1976 and all that happened throughout that year in the field of music, fashion, TV, entertainment, news, culture, politics and a lot more besides.

This blog is to be part of a whole raft of media dedicated to the theme including a Facebook group, website and eventually videos and literature.

Please bookmark this site and pop back from time to time to check its progress, or better still subscribe to its feed.

Welcome aboard - enjoy!