Archive for March, 2010

Lino Layers.

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Having serious connection issues today so a short one. If I wasn’t terrified I’d lose internet access any second, I’d waffle on about the links Greenwich has to linoleum manufacture (a glamorous part of our past, natch…) but I am, so I’ll be quick. Angie’s looking for a floor specialist who can screed a floor and lay lino without costing the earth.

Any suggestions?

Greenwich Theatre…The Early Years

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Stephen Moreton-Prichard, 1998

Now here’s a book I’ve been searching for for a long, long time. I’d heard of it, I’d even seen it – at a distance. Unfortunately, I’d never actually had a chance to see its contents. And I was desperate to.

I knew it had an afterward by Neil Rhind, which was good enough for me, and in my mind I’d built it up to be an in-depth history of the theatre from Crowders days, all the way through to sad times, as drawn so poignantly by Geoffrey Fletcher in the 1960s. In my imagination, it logged the valiant fight in the 60s to save the building, covered the people who were active in the campaign, and the rebuild – all the way through to its glory days in the 1970s and 80s when pretty much every British actor who was to become anybody trod its hallowed boards.

And it is a handsome volume. However if I’d had a chance to even leaf through it before I bought it, I probably wouldn’t have lost sleep trying to get a copy for myself. For this is a book that although fascinating in itself, wasn’t written for me. Instead it is a (literal) snapshot of the those glory years for the people who were involved in the place’s saving – people who knew Stephen Moreton-Prichard and Ewan Hooper, and wanted a keepsake of their efforts 30 years on.

It’s essentially a book of photos of the productions, as Stephen Moreton-Prichard turns out to have been the theatre photographer. And they are rather wonderful pictures – from the days when Greenwich was a full producing house and clearly a serious force in British theatre. There are some truly heroic-looking productions – brave choices as well as the old favourites. I’m sure the pictures were chosen to show the breadth of famous actors who worked there, but virtually every photo has some household name in it – sometimes several. For a pure theatre lover, it’s gold.

For me, though, who had been hoping to read some history of the theatre, and its place within the town’s bigger story – and whose knowledge of its recent story is shaky to say the least – it felt a bit like peering through the Play School Arched Window at Derek Griffiths in jazzy dungarees or dressed as an Indian chief rather than seeing the whole picture. Neil Rhind, in just a hundred words or so, manages his best – I found out that Ewan Hooper seems to have been the driving force behind the regeneration of the theatre and that Stephen Moreton-Prichard, as photographer, was in the right place at the right time, turning out to be perfect for the job.

As I say, this book wasn’t created for us – it was made for people who knew first-hand the struggles the place went through, so I guess to reiterate what they’d achieved might have felt like boasting or something. But for me, who wasn’t around at the time, the context is a bit lost. Neil Rhind says that Moreton-Prichard was present at rehearsals, and I’m sure he took photos of the fabric of the building, the rebuild and the people, but this book is just polished production shots and only half the story – however very, very lovely they are.

The only picture of the building itself is on the cover. I’m suspecting it’s of one of the Old-Time Music Hall nights that were very popular in the 1970s, but it’s taken from behind the MC’s back, showing the audience – who are in themselves very fascinating. Whatever happened to dressing up like Margot and Jerry Leadbetter to go to the theatre?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a lovely book, especially if you’re a theatre fan/star spotter, and it’s very, very rare. You may be luckier than me, and find it in less than four years. Just don’t expect to know much more about what has to be an absolutely fascinating story after reading it than you did before.

I have a plea to make – perhaps to Neil. Please will you write us one of your specials about the history – both ancient and recent – of Greenwich Theatre? It seems to me to be important that it’s written by someone who knows first-hand. It’s especially timely now that the theatre is making its first tentative steps into producing again (Duchess of Malfi and Volpone are both on now.) I will order my copy today, if that helps….

In the meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a roll-call of just some of the people you could have expected to see if you visited Greenwich Theatre in the 1970s and 80s:

  • Max Wall
  • Susan Hampshire
  • Martin Shaw
  • Tom Conti
  • Barbara Windsor
  • Michele Dortrice
  • Derek Griffiths
  • Mia Farrow
  • Bernard Bresslaw
  • Andrew Sachs
  • Julia Mackenzie
  • Alfie Bass
  • Derek Jacobi
  • Nicholas Lyndhurst
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Pehelope Keith
  • Tom Courtney
  • Geraldine McEwan
  • Michael Gambon
  • Kenneth Branagh
  • Rupert Everett
  • Edward Woodward
  • Felicity Kendal
  • David Wood
  • Bill Kerr
  • Freddie Jones
  • Fenella Fielding
  • Nicola Pagett
  • Robert Stephens
  • Maria Aitken
  • Ian Ogilvy
  • Roy Hudd

Faded Greenwich (16)

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I have absolutely no idea who L. Brooks was or what they did. Roger spotted this on the side of a house at the top of Devonshire Drive and I’ve done my best to make it clearer but I suspect it’s already too far gone to really tell much at all from it. Every so often if I look at it really fast, I think I can almost make out that top line but – no – it’s gone again.

One thing I love about these faded signs is that windows never seemed to be an issue for the painters – they just did their design around them, rather than making putting them above or below the obstruction to their art. Maybe they just didn’t have a long enough ladder – or a head for heights…

Squeeze Plaque Unveiled.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I know we already mentioned the unveiling of a plaque to those cheery chaps Squeeze last Tuesday, but local photographer Warren King’s sent me some pics and I can’t resist ‘em…

It’s a busy weekend for me, so I’ll just leave you to enjoy ‘em…

Oyster Update

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Folks – amazingly, I got a reply from Oyster this morning about the email I sent them after my bad day on sundry forms of transport. Due to an ‘operational issue’ I am owed a refund of £9.30, which sounds about right to me.

So -clearly it IS worth complaining. Hurrah.

HOWEVER. Much as I’m told that network rail IS included in the capping system, I’m edgy about it. I’m going to be buying paper tickets more often than not now.

Seedy Spam – The Phantom Is Finally Riled

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Okay – I have given them time enough to reply on this one and I’ve had no response whatsoever, so I’m going public, as Darryl over at 853 has done.

For the last two weeks I have been inundated with spam comments from “local” estate agent Alex Neil – dozens of the things, smothering the Phantom archives with irrelevant pap. The comments are always the same sort of thing – a random subject is chosen from the archive, then someone who can barely speak English says something to the effect of “I don’t know much about this subject but buying property is a really good thing in Greenwich,” followed by a link to the Alex Neil website.

I have blocked all the ones I’ve found, but they’re still turning up at a rate of knots – I have just, five minutes ago, whacked a whole bunch of new ones. Please let me know if you see any more and I’ll zap them immediately.

Someone, who stays anonymous, of course, is clearly writing these comments individually, and to order, so I’m assuming that they’re actually being paid to spam local blogs.

I did give Alex Neil the benefit of the doubt and write to them suggesting that maybe a rival or someone who wished them ill was doing this to make them look like shiny-suited seedy scumbags as I couldn’t believe they’d be stupid enough to do this sort of cheap-trash marketing themselves.

I got the automatic reply saying that my email had been received and that someone would be in touch shortly. Well, it’s been nearly a week and I’ve had nothing. If I had found that someone was smirching my name by making it look like I was some tawdry spam-monger, I’d be emailing straight back, denying it, so I’m taking it that it really is that ill-judged and that these comments are coming from Alex Neil themselves. That they really think smothering local blogs with irrelevant comments is going to get them attention.

Well, Alex Neil, you’ve got your wish. I am voluntarily mentioning you. That your advertising tactics stink and that if you think that I am in any way endorsing you by allowing dozens of links to your site through this one, you can think again. You’re giving the guys who actually give a damn about the area (and there ARE estate agents for whom I have a lot of respect – who know and love Greenwich) a really bad name.

Oyster, Schmoyster.

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Tell me, folks, is it just me or is anyone else suddenly finding that their pay-as-you-go Oyster card regularly fails to acknowledge that they have reached the daily travelcard rate? I’ve been long suspecting it, even though it’s hard to keep track when you touch out at a barrier and all it does is tell you to pass through, rather than telling you how much your journey was (particularly bad at tube stations) but it was blatant the day I went to the National Archives.

I took the train to Cannon Street, then the tube to Kew Gardens, which took me to just under a fiver – the tipping point for automatic top up. When I got back on, Automatic top-up stuck a further twenty quid on my card. I got to Cannon Street, and just had time to nip home before going out again. The train was advertised for Platform 2, so I went there. On Platform 2 it also told me it was a Dartford via Greenwich. I got on. First stop Grove-something – Park, End, Row – I don’t know – somewhere I’d never heard of in deepest South East London.

I was cross with myself – I thought I’d made a mistake. It was only when a small army of similarly disgruntled passengers crossed the platform to go back that I realised it wasn’t just me. Still, I kept calm and carried on.

By this point it was too late to go home and change to my evening boots and cloak, so I went to London Bridge. As I got out, my Oyster card charged me SIX POUNDS for the pleasure of wasting an hour of my life. I hadn’t tapped in or tapped out as I’d just crossed the platform at the mysterious Grove station, so it must have been some kind of fine for taking too long to go between Cannon Street and London Bridge.

Cross, but still just about keeping the Phantom temper, I went to my evening appointment. When I came home, my Oyster card charged me another two pounds. I calculate that I was charged over £15 for travel that day. That would never have happened with a paper travelcard. I’ve talked to three people since, and they’ve all noticed that their Oyster cards seem to continue charging them after the travelcard cut-off, but I’m wondering if it’s getting to be universal, and TfL are just hoping we don’t notice.

I’ve written to Oystercard about it. I’ll let you know their reply.

What’s your experience of Oysters? I was so looking forward to them being on mainline stations too – in Greenwich it does make it much more convenient but it seems we’re paying through the nose for that pleasure. My Oystercard, ONE DAY AFTER I TOPPED IT UP, needs cash again. I am seriously considering going back to travelcards.

A Day At The National Archives

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Very occasionally in Real Work I get to the end of the financial year with leave to burn. The ‘selling it back’ option is at such a piss-poor rate I might as well just take the time off. In this particularly circumstance, it was like finding a tenner down the sofa as I could have sworn I’d already taken all my leave when I was suddenly told I had to use up two whole days before the end of March. Yo!

So I decided to visit the National Archives and see just what Greenwich stuff there is secreted there that I could plunder at a later date.

First things first. Ignore the website when it says you don’t need a reader’s ticket. You do.

They actually don’t want people to visit the archives, however much they make the site look cuddly and open. They are utterly swamped with ladies of a certain age hoping to find their Great Uncle Albert who served in the war; they really don’t want anyone else turning up.

So the website goes on and on about how much archive material is online (and, admittedly there is a lot) and how there’s hardly any parking and it’s really out of the way etc. etc. (it’s about a five minute walk from Kew Gardens tube). It also says you only need a ticket if you want to look at original documents, and emphasises what a terrible palaver it is to obtain such an item so don’t even bother, okay. I was only going for a reccy and not bothered about ordering original documents to scrutinise, so I decided to forgo what seemed to be a really laborious procedure and not get a ticket.

What the website doesn’t tell you is that to even get into the map room on the second floor you need a ticket, whether you want to look at original documents or not.

Stupid Phantom as I am, I had taken the website at face value and was ever so politely stopped by a security guard and packed off (most apologetically, I suspect she gets it a lot) to the ticket room. I fished around in my cloak, under my tricorn and down my boots, but just couldn’t drag together the mountain of ID they require. Consequently, the entire second floor is still a mystery to me.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s right and proper they protect irreplaceable records, and I would have been only too happy to apply for a ticket and bring all the clobber needed. I just wish that they hadn’t been so busy telling people to do their research online that they’d failed to say a ticket was vital if you’re actually going to visit the place.

Instead, I contented myself with the first floor, which has much to enjoy. Dozens of computers, mainly occupied by the aforesaid genealogists, but if you look hard enough there are one or two that haven’t been jealously guarded with the proprietorial pencil and notebook.

It’s very geared-up for family history seekers. There are a lot of leaflets telling you how to find your relative if they were in X Squadron or worked in the tin industry; fewer telling you what stuff they actually hold.

Much of it’s catalogues; some good old-fashioned drawers of cards, some paper books, a declining number of microfiche stations, but most of it is online nowadays. There are various search mechanisms within the computer network, though of course, much like the British Library, you have to know what you’re looking for in the first place. If you don’t know (or at least suspect) a document exists before you go in, chances are you still won’t know when you come out, though there seem to be more helpful staff, actually there to assist searches rather than act as threshold guardians to the documents, than at the British Library, and they are far less disapproving of the public too. One might even say friendly.

What IS really good is the access to the fantastic British History Online which is only available in cut-down form if you don’t have a subscription elsewhere. At the Archives you can read it in full (if you have a spare ten years or so – it’s huge.)

You know, I think I need to go on a ‘how to go about researching stuff’ course. There’s clearly an art to finding your way around records and my usual approach of wandering around until I find something that interests me is clearly a bit hit-and-miss. My day at the Archives only told me what I knew already. I am a rank amateur.

Browsing is not the best way to approach the National Archives and since browsing is how I find out most of my favourite stuff, I decided to look on the bookshelves instead. Victorian telephone directories, street maps and record books promised rich rewards, and although the library is no way comprehensive, I spent most of the day in the London and Kent sections with old record books of Greenwich charities, Admiralty expense accounts and sundry Royal Assizes (and no, I’m still not quite sure what they are), using my patent ‘scattergun’ research technique.

You’re allowed to take in a notebook, pencil and a camera, as long as you don’t use a flash, and since photocopies are 20p a shot, I now have a lot of fuzzy photos of articles to squint at on the screen at home. My eyes are already cursing me for being so cheap.

It’s an interesting day out (there’s a nice cafe, a little museum that contains a copy of the Domesday Book and a mummified rat from the days when the archives weren’t so carefully looked after, and a shop that sells family history magazines and books about Hitler) and I’m glad I went. But I’d say that unless you’ve got something absolutely specific in mind, you’re best off with Greenwich Heritage Centre for local stuff.

Squeeze At Greenwich Borough Hall

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

After depressing the hell out of me last night, Darryl at 853 threw me a bone I thought I’d share with you. Squeeze – or at least some of them – at Greenwich Borough Hall yesterday, for the unveiling of a plaque recognising their value in the music business. I’d forgotten how good this song is…

Now, breathe…

End Of The Line?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Hardly a surprise that Greenwich Council, after a long meeting last night, approved the Equestrian Events in Greenwich Park. I’d had a particularly trying day and didn’t make it, so was grateful for 853 Blog’s Twitter-minutes of the evening. I sat by the computer hanging on his every tweet, so thanks, Darryl.

Of course, as he rightly points out, it all begins to look like a bit of a done-deal if you look at the council ‘news’paper Greenwich Time, being distributed hours before the meeting (which means it must have been written and printed before that) showing a jolly Olympics map of the area. What a ghastly waste of trees that thing is…

It’s hardly a secret I’m no fan of the Equestrian Events being at Greenwich Park, and although I wasn’t a member of NOGOE – for me they went a bit too far – I’m disappointed by the decision. I’d have expected our councillors – so memorably brave when facing the Market proposals – to have had a bit more guts. To have forced a few more concrete, written and signed compromises out of LOCOG rather than words.

So, what now? I suppose all we can do is make a nuisance of ourselves, and force LOCOG to do the right thing by the park. Watch them like a hawk to make sure they’re not destroying wildlife, rights of way, archaeology, infrastructure and historic stuff, make a fuss about congestion, VIP lanes and inappropriate use of Blackheath, and then…

…just relax.

The Olympics will bring some good stuff to the area. Maybe even a job or two, though I’m not counting on that one lasting beyond a few weeks. There’s no point in shouting ourselves to an apoplexy over something that ultimately we no longer (if we ever did) have any say. LOCOG won’t care. They’ve got their way, though of course the dice were always loaded in their favour. They don’t need us, but we now need them – to treat Greenwich with respect. I truly believe they won’t do that without being forced, but the time for anger has passed. Now, subtlety is required. I guess we just have to swallow our pride and make concessions to get concessions.

A depressing day.