The Swingeing 60s!

albion fair
Press Pub, Best Pub, the Albion Inn, Mexborough, known locally as The Staff.

May 1963: I’m sitting, supping in a boozer on Mexborough High Street. It’s The Albion Inn, the ‘Press’ pub where our editorial staff gather, swapping tall tales, gleaning snippets for the next exclusive.
But I’m the only reporter present on this occasion, when the majority of the clientele are pitmen, for this is Miners’ Monday (every Monday), when colliery workers have traditionally ‘laked’, that is took unofficial time off, from coal face duties to recover from an arduous weekend blowing a good portion of their wages on Barnsley Bitter.
They are back on the beer today topping up the booze with titbits from a salesman’s wicker basket, notably juicy pigs’ trotters along with tripe, and speciality chicklin’ and bag (don’t ask).
Just another not so manic Monday in this pit town, unmoved by the events three days before in Dallas Texas, when President John F Kennedy was shot to death, causing ITV to abandon that evening’s showing of Coronation Street, due to hit the screens about the time the bullets slammed into JFK’s head and neck. The earth had shifted slightly on its axis, more so the following evening, Saturday the 23rd when we’d watched the first ever screening of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell as the incredible Time Lord.
But back to Monday, and another slightly incredible sight in the beer swilling Albion Inn, when door into the best side of the bar, away from the pitmen, swings open in and there enters a vision straight out of Montagu Burton’s tailoring emporium. His light brown tweed suit is matched by a well brushed bowler hat, in a darker brown, with silken band. His tidily buttoned sued waistcoat sports a gold belcher chain leading to a silver watch in one pocket and a gold cigarette lighter in the other.
He purchases a bottle of Guinness for one shilling and seven pence, pulls out a pack of cigarettes, lights one, exhales the smoke from the corner of his mouth. He smokes Capstan Full Strength, so fair to assume his lungs are shaded to match his elegant attire.
So out of place was he, even in the ‘up market’ side of the bar, I had to enquire of the landlady, a jolly portly lady by the name of Marion, “Who’s Mr Posh Socks?”
Smiling politely to vouchsafe her reply, “Oh, you mean Burglar Bob,” she replied,
Not to be phased, I queried, “But why do they call him Burglar Bob”?
Her pink jowls now set in a serious mode, she explains, “Coz he burgles people”.
And that was that.
Who it was that Bob burgled I never found out, but he must have been good at it as he never appeared as a convicted villain in the court reports published by our rag.
In this context you will not be surprised to learn that the local poacher was one ‘Bush’ Mangham, who by the way supplied yours truly with an illicitly acquired pheasant from time to time, and a rabbit or two.
From this incident you may accurately assume that I have ended up in a right rum old place.
The situation which had brought me here is no less noteworthy.
The 1960s fast became a final frontier, the ten-year mission, to explore strange new cultures, to seek out new music and new explanations, to boldly rock where no cat had rocked before
I should point out that my own voyage of discovery in the Swinging Sixties got hijacked early on when an alien force propelled me into a previously unknown part of the Yorkshire Galaxy.
That not-so-magical mystery tour was launched when my dad was sent to jail, at which point my English, Philosophy, Fine Art and History studies at Leeds University came to an abrupt end. Sheffield Job Centre’s kindly manager had called personally at my home to set me up with an interview. How kind, and how long will that sort of personal service continue in these changing times.
Jetting off in an ancient black Ford V8 Pilot which my dad had bought at auction for forty quid, my task was to land a journalistic posting, and contribute towards the non-existent family fortunes. I made my crash landing in the West Riding township of Mexborough, a close community with coal mining at its heart, 20 miles from my home in the comparatively sedate pit village of Kiveton Park, which boasted no pubs but three places of worship.
Sidney Hacking was no mug. Editor of The Times when I arrived in 1962, he conducted a thorough examination of my credentials.
Mr Hacking, SCH to his colleagues, sported a warm handshake and a friendly smile. His face was that of a mild mannered gent, cultured, someone who knew his Amadeus from his Elgar. But the eyes were something else, softly brown, yet deeply, sharply intense. Pull wool over these peepers? Think Kleenex tissues and a laser beam.
As for my gentlemanly interrogation, after the educational formalities it got as far as: “So, what did you get up to at Grammar School Robert, apart from study?”.
“Oh, err..I was Captain of Tennis, and played Sheffield Parks League”.
A twitch of the lips, the eyes lit up, now hazel in colour: “When can you start?”
It turned out SCH was non-playing Captain of Yorkshire County Tennis Team..
That was Friday. I started work on the Monday. Fine and dandy, except that a condition of my employment was coming to live in the Mexborough area. I obtained lodgings in a battered terrace cottage owned by a similarly battered old lady called Mrs Oliver.
I slept on a lumpy flock mattress which appeared to contain copious amounts of wool from which the sheep had not been fully detached. Adding to my woes was a flaming peptic ulcer, lit up by the tribulations of my family’s misfortunes, and further fanned by the decision of my fiancée to dump me in favour of a flier from the Royal Australian Air Force. I was not a happy bunny.
The final straw, lodgings-wise was a double whammy. Mrs Oliver enquired if I would mind sharing my bed with a Scottish mineworker, presumably imported to improve productivity in the strike-prone local pits. And to cap that my dad’s trial concluded. He was sent to jail for five years.
Dad’s incarceration left my broken down mum home alone with my two year old sister to care for. Moving back to Sheffield was my only course, and SCH agreed. A kind man and an astute talent spotter, having also opened the South Yorkshire Times portal to Michael Parkinson. Now he’d landed me, with an opening weekly salary of £6.15s.
Not long after my dad started his sentence at 5, Love Lane, Wakefield, quaintly addressed maximum security jail, we received a letter from the Ministry of Defence.
Apparently one result of his financial crimes (you’ve gotta feel sorry for the poor old banks wanting their pound of flesh) this personally honourable guy was no longer entitled to assume the honorary title of Captain Tommy Tomlinson. It seemed four years pursuing the cause of civilisation (and Her Majesty’s interests) in the Middle East as a member of the Royal Military Police, from 1942 to 45, counted for nothing. Her Majesty now deemed fit to detain him once again.
After my dad’s incarceration, my first months did not contain many headline busting excitement, though his own case had made front page news in the Sheffield Star evening paper. One of my first duties for the SYT, at Christmas 1962, was to pop downstairs to the branch of Woolworth’s occupying the ground floor of our building, my mission…….to interview Santa Claus.
This was a task assigned to the junior junior, who also had to exercise a certain amount of intellectual rigour dealing with a regular Monday morning call at our High Street reception desk.. This was Joe Eccles, who would turn up fresh as paint, well scrubbed, hair diligently well combed and waxed, and sporting a beautifully laundered light blue boiler suit.
His request were simple: that we should devote column inches in the South Yorkshire Times to expose a government plot which was polluting the air with mysterious microbes which Joe could see, testifying to their presence by waving his arms wildly in front of his face and chest. Sadly for Joe, he was on his tod in witnessing this invasion.
“ This,” as Star Trek’s Scotty never said, “is life Bob, but not as we know it”.


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