Sunday, 9 April 2017

MAJESTIC Port Talbot, South Wales

"It's like another world" I often say to myself when I return to a place that has changed beyond all recognition. Back in the early 1990's I was spending a lot of time traveling to South Wales to record oral history interviews with people who were involved in the steel industry. Inevitably this meant many trips to Port Talbot, a town that had been associated with steel making since the beginning of the twentieth century.

During my time off  between the interviewing sessions, I'd wander around taking photographs, and I often made a beeline for old cinema buildings, which have always fascinated me. This photograph captures the deserted hulk of what was once the marvelous MAJESTIC cinema, which had first opened in 1938.

During what was actually a very short life for this cinema, it had several name changes including the Odeon and the Plaza, and then THE MAJESTIC spent the last decade of its life as a bingo hall until it closed down forever in 1980.

I took the photo during the very last years of a long period that the MAJESTIC had stood empty - before the wrecking ball paid a visit in 1995.

Not so Fine & Fair for the Majestic
The entrance to the MAJESTIC was the all-black tiled area situated to the right of Fyne & Fayre Footwear. Bill posters cover the front, and a few shopping carts and a coin-in-the-slot toy machine have been spread outside by the shop's enterprising proprietor. But in the end the whole parade was to be flattened as well.

Today a massive Tesco complete with car park covers a landscape which looked so vibrant in a lovely 1958 photo that I've come across online - and which asks so many questions about how such a bustling scene ended up looking so maudlin when I took my photograph 25 years ago?

John Wayne starring in John Huston's 'The Barbarian and the Geisha' at ODEON, Port Talbot

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What has happened to ELLIS?

An odd one this. I took the photograph about twenty five plus years ago, but I cannot recall where...

It was a time when I was actively compiling a collection of the discarded - mostly former shops and signage - during the course of my travels around the nation as an oral historian working for the British Library.

Here we have a two story house, possibly dating back to the inter-war years, with a shopfront attached. Not sure what Ellis sold, but highly likely it was some kind of a local provisions store. Judging by the broken first floor windows and the very much closed wooden shutters, the property had been empty for some time at the point when I was standing at the front gate with my camera...

I wonder how long the Ellis family had been associated with the house and shop?

What has happened to the site since I took the photograph?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Party in a Squat in Balls Pond Road, London N1 c.1990

Another recent rediscovery - a couple of photos that I took on the day of a party in a squatted building on the Balls Pond Road. A friend was playing in a jazz ensemble in one of the rooms, and I remember that throughout the place there were plenty of sculptural installations pieced together from found objects. Most of these gatherings seem to blur around this period as there were so many places like this in London - often short-lived but perfect sites to host these kinds of word-of-mouth happenings.

The next step would then be either being knocked down for redevelopment (as in this case), or smartened up to be transformed into luxury flats or offices.

But out of the blue comes a visual reminder of London's recent history in the days before the ubiquitous smartphone grab destined for immediate social media consumption. 

WHAT'S BEHIND is inscribed on the corrugated metal fencing - but what's the story of the requisitioned four door family saloon in front?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Mark Twain in East Germany: Ladies, Language, Liberty, Literature, Liquor, Love

Back in December 2013, I wrote a post about 'Seven Sea Books' of East Berlin. Last Saturday I picked up a copy of a paperback called 'Your Personal Mark Twain' for £1. It looked unread, I'd never seen it before, and significantly it has slotted neatly into my very slowly increasing collection of books published by 'Seven Seas'...

Seven Seas were based in Glinkastrasse 13-15 East Berlin, and had been founded in 1958 by the American Gertrude Gelbin, the wife of the German author Stefan Heym (whose real name was in fact Helmut Flieg).

Heym had fled Nazi Germany in 1933. He lived in the US from 1935, and during WW2 was attached to the American psychological warfare unit. His task was to compose destabilizing communications to the German soldiers. Then in 1952, he and his wife Gertrude decided to quit 'the West' in protest of the American involvement in the Korean War. 

Seven Seas Books published Heym's own writing, as well as the work of 'Blacklisted' Hollywood screenwriters like Abraham Polonsky and Ring Lardner Jnr, and what they called 'The Classics' - Charles Dickens, William Morris, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. The editions were all printed in English, and mostly geared for the export market - India, Ghana and Australia were popular destinations. In the former German Democratic Republic they'd have cost you 2.85 Deutsche Marks a piece...

Gertrude Gelbin declared that the Seven Seas publications were by 'progressive authors, neglected or censored in their own countries, and favouring work that demonstrated anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-war themes, but which also possessed considerable literary merit'.

Although there doesn't appear to be a great deal written about the history of Seven Seas, several online posts include incomplete listings of their output over some twenty or so years. Around 140 books in all...

Published in 1961, book cover designed by Lothar Reher

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Bird in Bush Road, London SE15

A Bird in the Hand is worth two in the Bush

Before the mid 1980s, I rarely ventured into South East London. All that was to change when Ricko, a good pal from my Polytechnic days, and his girlfriend at the time, moved into a huge Victorian squatted house just off the Old Kent Road. I spent many days there over the years, and we'd regularly walk the neighbourhood - often photographing the remnants of an earlier time that had been left to crumble away. It was an era when no-one anticipated terms like regeneration and gentrification would ever apply to places like Camberwell, Peckham or New Cross.

I recall that I took this photograph in the sweetly named 'Bird in Bush Road' - showing a section of a decaying cobblers shop and the part reflection of the housing opposite. A quick online search does not explain the origin of the street's unusual name, but we're told that the street was formerly known as Carlton Street, and re-named 'Bird in Bush Road' in 1912.

I'm pleased that I did get this one snap rather than none at all, but I do now wish I'd taken two (or more) photos of this place, and the landscape around the site of the former shop.

The things that we already have are worth more than the things we only hope to get?

Monday, 19 December 2016

Season's Greetings from Highfield Road, Coventry 1970

It's Boxing Day 1970, and Coventry City are playing West Bromwich Albion at home. Fans turning up at the Highfield Road stadium that afternoon must have thought they'd swallowed a psychedelic sixpence in their Christmas pud when they spotted that their traditional Sky Blue coloured match day programme had turned bright red - and on the cover there's Santa Claus shooting a perfect left footed volley!

This was in fact a wacky festive concoction designed by John Elvin, the editor of 'Sky Blue', and published by his award-winning Sportsgraphic company - who had already won acclaim for their work on West Brom's 'Albion News' publication the previous year (coincidentally City's opponents this particular Boxing Day).

Over the course of the 1970/71 season, Sportsgraphic published 27 issues of 'Sky Blue' which included Division One and League Cup matches, a friendly versus the 1970 Scottish Cup champions Aberdeen, and two matches in the European Fairs Cup - including a second round contest against mighty Bayern Munich.

The Sportsgraphic vision for 'Sky Blue' was applauded in some circles as a design sensation, but from the outset its hefty price of two bob - which was twice the cost of a typical match day programme - did not sit happily with some of the fans. But Elvin made it clear that their two shillings would contribute to creating what would be the most exciting kind of match day read, anywhere. His editorials were chatty and playful - and the layouts were as hip, experimental and ultra modern as the coolest designs of the new decade.

But even though the prestigious 'Football League Review' programme awards would vote the 'Sky Blue' as the best club publication in the country in 1971 - Sportsgraphic had already been handed their notice to quit, even before the season was over.

Final Score 1-1, watched by 27,527. Oh, and the Manager of the Sky Blues was, appropriately, NOEL Cantwell..

Such a shame, as these publications are beautiful objects in their own right. Studying them now some 46 years on, 'Sky Blue' 1970/71 truly does deserve the praise it received at the time from those who were won over by the uncompromising graphics cut and pasted in Elvin's front room office at the end of a row of terraced housing opposite the Highfield Road ground.

I'm not sure what happened next for Sportsgraphic - but it seems that the world of football was never again prepared to embrace the originality of Elvin's mission to transform the simple match day programme into a work of art. Check this selection of Sky Blue covers and interior pages:

While contemplating a merry Christmas in Coventry circa 1970, I've stumbled upon another festive coincidence. Coventry City actually participated in the last ever fixture to be played in the English Football League on Christmas Day itself.

The year was 1959, it was the old Third Division, and their opponents at Highfield Road that Xmas day were Wrexham. In fact on the following day, Boxing Day 1959, as was the tradition of football past, Coventry traveled to Wales to play the reverse fixture at the Racecourse Ground. For the record, City won both matches.

So sad then to see that Coventry City are now currently languishing near the bottom of the third tier of the English Football League, and without a home ground of their own. Roll the clock back to 1970, and  the Sky Blues had beaten the German giants Bayern Munich at home 2-1 (though they had already been walloped away), and the very same season had become the stuff of legend with the incredible free-kick against Everton at Highfield Road scored by Ernie Hunt from Willie Carr's two-footed 'flick-up' (which thankfully was televised for posterity).

I remember us school kids attempting to replicate that extraordinary goal over and over again for years and years afterwards. On that nostalgic note...


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Venus Factor

It was Mars last month. Now it’s the turn of Venus - the second brightest object in the night sky.
Only the Moon is brighter. Venus doesn’t have any moons - and it rotates in the opposite direction to the Sun. It’s the hottest planet in our solar system, and as it does not tilt on its axis, Venus has no seasonal variation. But, it is often called Earth’s sister planet - as they are almost the same size. 
Back in 1961, the Soviet Union sent the very first mission to Venus - the space probe 'Venera 1' which lost contact with its base.
In Roman mythology, Venus was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed Venus as his ancestor.
The Romans adapted the myth and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite - and Venus was revered as the embodiment of love and sexuality.

A selection of vintage book and pulp magazine covers continues the science fiction theme of last month’s edition of ‘After You’ve Gone’, but I have also slipped in the lives and loves of the Venuses of other genres...

And perhaps it's appropriate to sign off this collection of book covers with a 1973 edition of 'The Venus Factor' - dubbed TRULY THE WOMEN'S LIB OF SCIENCE FICTION!

It's a collection of short SF and fantasy stories written by women between the 1920s and the 1960s. Authors include Judith Merril, Anne McCaffrey and Agatha Christie...