Tag Archives: UK

Corrie Origin Story

Sixty years ago today, on December 9, 1960, the first episode of Coronation Street aired. Since then, its origin story has been told many times, many ways.

Granada_Studios_Manchester_geograph.org_.uk_GaryReggae-2005-wikicommonsHere is the story as told to me by the two people who had the idea for a home-grown serial for Northern England television.

In 1960, Harry Elton was a producer at Granada Studios. I talked to him by telephone in 1991. He was at his home in Ottawa, Ontario. Tony Warren was a young writer for Granada in 1960. I met him in Manchester in 1992. Although several months and thousands of kilometres apart, their stories meshed as if they were in the same room finishing each other’s sentences. So I wove the two together.

How it began

Elton: Granada was trying to develop local programming in accordance with government regulations about local content on the new private, commercial networks. I remembered the soap operas I had seen when growing up in Canada and later in Detroit. I knew that they were extremely popular, and that production costs were lower because the same sets could be used over and over and actors could be signed on long contracts.

There was this kid writing for Granada, Captain Biggles and other series. He had a way of hearing Manchester, Salford talk. I asked him to write a pilot and outline for a thirteen-week season, about life in the north. He went away, and came back with the first episode of Coronation Street.

Warren: I invented it out of sheer desperation… I was adapting [Biggles] novels of Captain W. E. Johns, which I found fascist and incomprehensible. I said to Harry Elton, let me write what I know about – show business. He said that’s the kiss of death for television… I said I know about the north of England. And more to humour me than anything else he said go away and come back in twenty-four hours with a show that’ll take the world by the ears.

Elton: I remember after the pilot was shown… they sat down to pronounce. The first man, who was an American variety person, said, That’s a soap opera! You don’t put that crap on at seven o’clock at night, you put that on in the daytime.

Corrie-St-1960-youtube.comCecil Bernstein [Granada co-founder] said, Harry, you’ve made a horrible mistake, and we can’t blame you because you’re a Canadian… North Country accents are the language of George Formby and Old Mother Riley. And whenever people hear it, they laugh. They’ll never take it seriously.

The general manager, who had been working with Korda in film, said, There’s not a single thing I like about that programme. I don’t like the characters, I don’t like the sets, and I don’t like the stories. Surely people watch television to be taken out of their dreary lives, not to have their noses rubbed into reality!

Warren: Harry Elton refused to be defeated… He set up monitors all round the studio. And he sent out memos to everybody from the chairman down to the cleaners and said, today at one o’clock, we will be showing two episodes of a home-grown serial that we believe in. We would like you to watch it and fill in questionnaires.

tv-times-16-dec-1960-ep-3-coronationstreet.fandom.comThe reactions in these questionnaires were exactly the same as the reactions have always been ever since to Coronation Street. The people either loved it or they loathed it, but they didn’t feel indifferently about it. The ones who loved it far outweighed the ones who loathed it. And so it was the people who got the show onto the air, not the powers that be! The people and a Canadian!

Elton: Just as all my distinguished colleagues felt that the show wouldn’t work, the critics, all of them I think… knocked the show. Television was important enough, and there were only the two channels, so that everybody wrote on it. It was in The Times, The Observer, The Guardian.

There was a young Canadian who was writing television criticism for one of the distinguished weeklies… He said, This is pap! This is what Lenin was talking about when he talked about religion – it was the opium of the people. Granada are now putting out this crap to make the working classes, who are the victims of British society, feel contented in their miserable lot. That Canadian’s name was Mordecai Richler.

Jump borders

corriepedia-on-twitter Corrie Origin StoryTony Warren wrote only those first thirteen episodes. But in those, he set the standard for the show. It was what he had written in a memo to the bosses at the very beginning: “A fascinating freemasonry, a volume of unwritten rules. These are the driving forces behind life in a working-class street in the north of England… The purpose… is to entertain by examining a community of this kind and initiating the viewer into the ways of the people who live there.”

He allowed for that examination because he was so adept at reproducing that world. Harry Elton said of Tony Warren: “His ability was to reflect the way people really talked, but with a sharp edge… Everywhere he went on buses he would have a pencil and a piece of paper and he would listen to people talk, and write down what they said… So he set the style… It was real people talking to each other about real problems… When you have that kind of reality, it has a universality about it that lets it jump over borders.”

Tony Warren said: “I couldn’t turn to the court pages of a newspaper without reading ‘She came from a Coronation Street-type background’. I remember a morning sitting on a bus, overhearing two women ‘Did you see it last night?’ I thought, I’ll never escape this thing!”

Harry Elton returned to Canada in 1963, where he worked in radio and television, including the CBC, and for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. His wife, Marguerite tony-warren-harry-elton-1995-corriepediaMcDonald, was the original host of CBC Radio’s political programme The House. Mr. Elton died in 2004 at the age of 74.

Tony Warren became a novelist, writing about the North of England and show business. He also was a consultant for Coronation Street, “the only person who is paid to watch it” as he delightedly told me. He died in 2016 at the age of 79.

Coronation Street 60 Screen_Shot_2020 itvThe 2010 movie The Road to Coronation Street is a beautiful telling of the show’s origins . If you haven’t watched it, do (see below). The story told above is from Other Worlds, my book about British and American soaps . The week of 60th anniversary special episodes starts in Canada on CBC on Friday, December 18th.

General Jack and Warrior

Warrior was called “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill.” He was a war horse. The 15.2 hand Thoroughbred gelding was General Jack Seely’s charger. Gen. Seely was a British career soldier and MP. He was also the first commanding officer of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Warrior and Seely painting by Munnings Canadian War MuseumThe Brigade was comprised of three cavalry units and an artillery battery. They were:

• Royal Canadian Dragoons
• Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians)
• 2nd King Edward’s Horse (The King’s Overseas Dominions Regiment)
• The Fort Garry Horse (replaced the British 2KEH in1916)
• Royal Canadian Horse Artillery

Lucky man, lucky horse

Seely himself was called “the luckiest man in the Army.” He and Warrior narrowly missed death many times over four years of battle. They both returned to their home in England.

Seely and Warrior arrived in France in August 1914. Warrior first saw shell fire the next month at Mons in September 1914. In December, Seely was made commander of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. He and Warrior were at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915, where the dismounted Brigade fought as infantry. They were at the Somme on July 1st 1916. In 1917 they were at Passchendaele and then Cambrai. In March 1918 Warrior and Seely led one of the last cavalry charges in modern warfare. It was the Battle of Moreuil Wood. The renowned horse artist Sir Alfred Munnings painted the scene.

Alfred_Munnings-Moreuil-Wood-wikicommons

War is over

In April 1918 General Seely inhaled poisonous gas. So his war was over. But Warrior’s was not. He stayed until the end. General R. W. Patterson took over command of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, with Warrior as his mount. Finally, in December of 1918, Warrior returned to Seely’s home on the Isle of Wight.

Jack Seely continued his political career after the war. He did not forget, though, that many hundreds of thousands of British horses remained in Europe. He spoke to his friend and colleague Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill, a soldier who knew the value of these horses’ service, successfully repatriated about 60,000 of them.

Queen-Mary-with-Warrior-1934-warriorwarhorse.comGeneral Seely was made Baron Mottistone in 1933. Warrior was a respected celebrity. He attended remembrance events and greeted visiting dignitaries to the island, like Queen Mary. He won the 1922 Isle of Wight point-to-point, a race his sire had won 15 years earlier. Jack Seely wrote several memoirs, including My Horse Warrior. It was illustrated by Sir Alfred Munnings.

Gen Seely and Warrior warriorwarhorse.comSeely and Warrior lived at Mottistone Manor for the rest of their lives. Warrior died in 1941, at nearly 33. Lord Mottistone died age 77 in 1947.

Warrior was sired by Straybit, bred by Mr. E. Hobson. Straybit was by Burnaby out of Myrthe. Warrior’s dam was called Cinderella. Her registered name is not known, and so neither is her ancestry. Seely bought her in 1902 after watching her in military manoeuvres.

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Warrior pedigree from Pedigree Query – tap to enlarge

Jack – or John Edward Bernard Seely – was the son of Sir Charles Seely, 1st Baronet, and Emily Evans. Sir Charles too was an MP and son of an MP. Jack had seven children with his first wife Emily Crichton, and a son and stepson with second wife Evelyn Murray Nicholson. Military and political service, the Isle of Wight and horses are found throughout the careers of his descendants.

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Brough Scott, son of Seely’s daughter Irene, is a horse racing journalist and former jockey. He wrote a biography of his grandfather entitled Galloper Jack and reissued My Horse Warrior. In honour of the centenary of World War I, Warrior was awarded the Dickin Medal for animal bravery in 2014. On his website Warrior, Scott writes:

“His greatness was also in the simple, uplifting, heroism of having faced danger without flinching and never having let fear take the reins. That same heroism was shown by the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules that were not blessed with Warrior’s outrageous slice of fortune for survival.”

Lady Ashburnham Pickle

A mustard relish, Lady Ashburnham pickle originated in New Brunswick. It is also called Lady Ashburn or Lady A relish. Whatever you call it, it’s the best mustard pickle that I have ever eaten.

lady ashburnham pickle photo d-stewartI have, however, never made it. Fortunately, I know people who do and they keep me supplied. I’m especially proud of the relish pictured here because those are our cucumbers in it.

You want large cucumbers, I was told, preferably when they’ve gone yellow. So the good news is that you can leave this until you’ve finished your other pickles. The bad news is that you can leave this until you’ve finished your other pickles. By the time I’ve done bread and butters, dills and relish, I don’t want to see another cucumber! Thankfully, others have more stamina.

I fell in love with Lady Ashburnham relish when I bought a jar from the lady who ran the Cowtown Market on Main Street in Sussex. She had made it, and was surprised that I had never heard of it or of Lady Ashburnham. So she told me about her, then I googled for more.

yellow-cucumber-photo-d-stewartFrom My New Brunswick, here is how to make the relish. Equally delicious is the story of the Ashburnhams of Fredericton, which follows here.

Lady Ashburnham Pickle: Ingredients

6 large cucumbers (peeled with seeds removed and chopped into a ¼ to ½ inch dice)
¼ cup [pickling] salt
4 cups onions, chopped fine
2½ cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
3 Tbsps. flour
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed

Instructions

Cut your cucumbers and onions into small pieces and mix together in a large pot; I use a food processor for the onions but cut the cucumber by hand. (I find the cucumbers are much too delicate to chop in a processor and they may very quickly turn to mush).

Add salt to cucumbers and onions, and let sit overnight.

Next day, drain and rinse salt. Add the remaining ingredients.

Cook over low heat for 45 mins, making sure to stir the pickles often.

Carefully pack into hot sterilized jars. Wait for the “pop”, store and enjoy!

Lady Ashburnham of Fredericton

lady ashburnham fredericton-region-museum-fbLady Ashburnham was born Maria Elizabeth Anderson in 1858 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her parents were William Henry Anderson and Lucy Ann Stephenson.

Rye, as she was called, worked as a night telephone operator in Fredericton. Thomas Ashburnham was one of her frequent callers. She’d put him through to the livery stable so he could get a ride home. They began talking more during his calls, eventually met, fell in love and married in June 1903.

Capt. Ashburnham was the 5th son of the Earl of Ashburnham in Sussex, England. Retired from the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars, he emigrated to New Brunswick in 1901.

lady ashburnham chart d stewart
Earls of Ashburnham and Anderson Family Tree (tap to enlarge)

But in 1913, his eldest brother Bertram died. The 5h Earl had a daughter but his only son died soon after birth. And of his six brothers, only Thomas was still alive. So Thomas found himself the 6th Earl of Ashburnham and Viscount St Asaph.

Finding Freedom, 1914 style

The new earl and countess moved to the family estate in Sussex. It didn’t work out so well. Rye did not feel comfortable with his family. So they did a Harry and Meghan. They soon returned to Fredericton, but they kept the titles. Over the next few years he sold his properties in England and Wales except for Ashburnham Place.

Ashburnham Place Sussex UK
Ashburnham Place in the late 1800s (tap to enlarge) from Landed Families of Britain.

In Fredericton they moved back into their Ashburnham House on Brunswick Ave. It was two houses they had knocked together into one quite grand house. There they entertained. Rye’s younger sister Lucy was their housekeeper. One of her specialties was a mustard pickle. It proved very popular at dinner parties. “I hope Lady A has some of her lovely pickle with dinner tonight,” I imagine was said by more than one guest.

In 1924 Lord and Lady Ashburnham sailed to England for a visit. He caught pneumonia on the way and died soon after their arrival. He is buried at Ashburnham Place. Lady Ashburnham returned to Fredericton.

163-165-brunswick-st-google-2019
Brunswick Street houses from Google street view (tap to enlarge)

The Ashburnhams had no children. With no male heirs in the family, the peerages became extinct. The family estate went to his niece Catherine, Bertram’s daughter. She died in 1953, leaving no children, so it passed to her cousin’s son, Rev. John David Bickerstheth. He donated most of it to the Ashburnham Christian Trust.

Lady Ashburnham kept Ashburnham House in Fredericton where she remained until her death in 1938. Her sister Lucy died in 1943 at the age of 79. Titles and houses may be gone, but the pickle remains. A treasured legacy from the Anderson sisters.

There is a lovely painting of the house in Fredericton in its heyday in a book by Fernando Poyatos (Amazon link below).

Covid Corrie

Overnight, Covid-19 will hit Weatherfield. People who had been freely walking around Coronation Street without a corona care in the world will be masked and distancing themselves. Tonight in Britain, and soon in Canada, the residents of Coronation Street will be living like we have been.

Covid Corrie taping photo ITV standard.co.ukExecutive producer Iain MacLeod was on CBC Radio’s q this morning to talk about how the show is dealing with a pandemic that has outlasted their stock of episodes in the can. The virus, and all the precautions, will hit immediately. There’s nothing else they can do, he said. To have a build up to it would require extensive reshooting. So they are asking for a suspension of disbelief from viewers. As he said, the viewers know the reality, so should recognize that the show has little choice.

Taping in a pandemic

Corrie and all the soaps began making changes months ago as the pandemic became increasingly serious. Coronation Street cut back from six episodes to three a week. That bought time with already taped episodes spread over twice as long.

Older and at-risk actors were furloughed. Writers scrambled to explain their disappearance. Social distancing was instituted for actors. Camera people and editors scrambled to make it look as if people weren’t staying clear of others while they actually were.

Steamy romantic scenes stopped. Large crowd scenes stopped. But the show has to look like the show, and street life had to look normal. The constraints imposed by health precautions called for inventive production techniques. Camera angles, for example, could give an illusion of closeness between actors when they were actually far apart.

Production ceased for a couple of months. I think that is probably a first ever in its 60 year history. When work resumed, they decided to bring the pandemic into the life of the street. The distancing they had already been practicing would become part of the story.

Covid-19 production problems remain, however. Within the bubble of our family, we don’t need to stay distant and wear masks. But the actors playing members of a family don’t live together in real life. So camera and editing tricks still are needed to get around that. Stand-ins were used if possible. The real life mother of a child stood in for the screen mother in one scene, Cole said. A mannequin stood in for an actor in another.

The show will go on. But bringing reality in is a good thing, I think. Watching television, I find myself distracted when people are too close together. Get back, I think, don’t you know better! A soap is part of our daily lives, so it’s especially jarring to see its world so obviously at odds with our own. And maybe we’ll make a new game for watching: spot the Covid camera trick.

In The Army Now

Bill Stewart received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Minnesota on December 18, 1941 (See Pt. 2). That was 11 days after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

bill stewart abt 1942I went directly to induction into the military at Ft. Snelling MN. Military service was not completely strange to me because I had two years of ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] in high school. I passed through three training schools. The first in Tulare CA, next at Taft CA and the last at Phoenix AZ. There were “wash outs” but we never knew who or what; they simply disappeared.

I had a great sense of accomplishment when I made my first solo flight. My wings were pinned on me by my flight instructor in bill-stewart usaaf wingsPhoenix. I was one of a group of P38 pilots sent up to Everett WA on a train. No sooner were we off the train than we were sent on another train to Orange County CA airport. Our job was to defend Southern California. Ha! The Air Force was trying to determine where we were needed most.

Shipping out

After two weeks in California we were flown to New York and put on a “banana boat” for shipment to England. The interior of the ship had been modified to accept bunks rather than produce. My good friend Andy Winter and I were standing on the stern of the ship when the gun crew on the deck above decided to let go with three inch deck guns.

My ear drums were blasted at that impact. The ship was sunk later in the war at the Straits of Gibraltar with all personnel lost.

We docked in Scotland. Some of us pilots were stationed at Ayr – a rehabilitation area for exhausted RAF pilots. These were seasoned fighter pilots; we were supposed to learn from them. The US command apparently didn’t know what to do with us. That first day at Ayr we heard that a US pilot had flown into a mountain in the north of Ireland with an Admiral on board.

capt-bill-stewart-blackpool-nov-1943-or-1944I was soon sent to London for treatment for my ear damaged by the deck gun blasts. The doctor treated my ear with a sulpha solution. This was before sulpha was commonly available.

In London I worked in US fighter command headquarters for one month. While there I prepared an accident chart for General Hunter. This was a simple bar chart comparing pilot error accidents with mechanical failure accidents. Most accidents, I confirmed, were caused by pilot error. The General was pleased with my work.

Then I was sent to another air base in England to learn to fly all the different airplanes. There is a use for pilots in many different aspects of war. By that I mean flying in gasoline, bombs and ammo and flying out wounded to hospitals. We didn’t have helicopters for flexible use as are commonly available today.

Tailored Jacket

Discipline was a bit lax in the squadron I was in. But one day when a pilot from Oklahoma came to flight line for duty wearing his western boots, he was very firmly corrected. There was, however, a gradual change in jackets that was not in any of the manuals.

Jacket_Owned_and_Worn_by_General_Dwight_D._Eisenhower_-_NARA_-_7717661_page_1-wikicommons
Gen. Eisenhower’s Ike Jacket, NARA photo

A pilot named Costa reported for flight duty in a handsome jacket none of us had ever seen before. It was of Air Force uniform material with generous shoulder width and a slim waist The jacket, professionally made by a London tailor, was cut off at the waist and patterned after a Cuban dinner jacket. The jacket was so becoming that it soon became popular with other pilots who could afford to have one tailored. The senior officers knew something had to be done before the situation got out of hand. But what to do?

Apparently the senior officers liked the unauthorized jacket so much that they decided to go to the top: General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They wisely named it “The Eisenhower Jacket” and it must have been readily approved.

Pilot Costa was thought to be from a family of Cuban diplomats. He was part of our squadron because he was one of the few men to have experience in a B17. Costa was flying one of the original B17s in the Pacific when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

* See English Channel 1944 for section Bill wrote here.

Squadron Operations Officer

After several months of service, I was made squadron operations officer. But when pilots crashed, disappeared or were transferred, I was not told what happened to them. However, I was asked on several occasions to write letters to the families of deceased pilots.

Another problem for me was the lack of instructions. For example, I was sent to investigate and report on crashed aircraft. I did not feel qualified to properly do this job but probably was better qualified than the other pilots. Did I have the authority to go on another air base and question the ground crew of the crashed airplane? I made a natural assumption that the pilot was the ultimate person to determine whether a plan was flyable and not the ground crew.

Preparing for a flight of P38s from England to Africa, one pilot objected to the flying readiness of the aircraft. The ground officer of the departure field threatened to bring charges of insubordination against him. I was one of the pilots, not the squadron leader, so I had no jurisdiction over the situation. The pilot apparently ran out of fuel over the Straits of Gibraltar and crashed. He died.

Later a general asked me if I wanted to lead a squadron of P38s on a flight to Africa. I said I did not. The general did not take kindly to this response. Several weeks later I was reprimanded verbally by another general over the phone.

bill-stewart-in-32nd-Lightning-built
“Bill Stewart in the 32nd P38 Lightning ever built”

I still think that I am correct that the pilot determines the flying readiness of an aircraft. All aircraft are not in proper condition all the time. In Germany I had 21 stretcher cases and one or two nurses and one engine was missing fire. I immediately turned the aircraft around and landed.

Memorable Flights

Among my memorable experiences is the flight where I had a planeload of British prisoners captured at Dunkirk. So they probably had been in France or Germany almost seven years. The ex-prisoners would come up to the cockpit and look ahead to the land of England and cry. I helped them a little bit on this one because I cried too. Their teeth were in deplorable condition but they were so happy. These men were still fairly young.

I also had the opportunity of flying repatriates from Buchenwald concentration camp. I did not even turn off the motor of the airplane. Someone else directed the loading and bench seating along the sides of the plane. Then I quickly took off. During the war the pilots did not know what was going on on the ground, such as the concentration camps and crematoria. We knew nothing about that. The leadership knew but intelligence told us only what they wanted us to know.

bill-stewart-B17-1944-mid-Atlantic
“Bill Stewart in B17, 1944 Mid-Atlantic”

I wish to mention one other incident because of the unusual severity of the situation. In the summer of 1944 Andy Winter and I were flying a B17 from England to Oklahoma City. At approximately 2 a.m. we took off from the Pan American air base at Belem, Brazil.

It was my turn to pilot on this leg of our journey. We immediately entered an intense rainstorm. I had never before seen or experienced rain of such volume and force. No lightning, no thunder. Just rain and turbulence. This was above the estuary of the Amazon River. I was flying by hand since we had no operating automatic pilot. The B17 was acting like one of those twenty five cent bucking broncos at fun places! I was surprised that the airplane could take it. But it never missed firing in this deluge. I was exhausted when we landed at Puerto Rico.

Commercial Pilot’s License #283070

I was honorably discharged from the service 22 Oct 1945. I had earned the rank of Captain sometime in 1943 and probably had flown about twelve different heavy aircraft. Upon discharge I was awarded a Commercial Pilot’s License to fly multi-engine aircraft. License number 283070: I held in my hand what I had worked toward for so many years.

I had accomplished my lifetime goal. But my values had changed. I Marji Smock Stewarthad to make a decision. Did I want to continue flying and being away from home? Or did I want to seek a non-traveling job? By this time I had been away from friends and loved ones more than nine years, which had a profound effect on me and my ultimate decision.

I loved my family and, by now, a pretty girl named Marji. I placed a stable family life and marriage above a flying career with its financial rewards and recognition.

Thanks and Apologies

I appreciate the Air Force teaching me to fly. The feeling of unbounded freedom in the sky does indeed increase one’s confidence. I needed that. Also there is that spiritual bond to one’s creator when you know that the only thing between you and death is a higher power.

flying-fortress-Boeing_Y1B-17_in_flight-USAF-wikipedia
B17 or “Flying Fortress” in flight, USAF photo

My profound thanks to the British people. I was there three years. Although I had very limited time for personal contacts or sightseeing, I appreciated their courtesies and their strengths.

And my apologies to the new PX in Germany for an incident sometime in 1945. If it was my plane that brought you a planeload of cups – A, B, C and D – I had nothing to do with choosing brassieres instead of paper cups!

bill-stewart-ca-1987We in Bill Stewart’s family are very grateful to the men who fired the deck guns on that transport ship. The ear damage Bill sustained prevented him from becoming a combat pilot. Their life expectancy in WWII was 4 weeks.

My professor and friend Dr. George Park was a US combat pilot who, thankfully, did survive. He said he loved flying. So I asked if he’d thought about becoming a commercial pilot after the war. No, he laughed, the kind of flying he’d learned didn’t translate well. Wouldn’t make for a reassuring flight for civilian passengers.

Next: Life on Civvy Street.

English Channel 1944

William Stewart, a US Army Air Force Captain in World War II, tells about his flight across the English Channel on December 15, 1944. Enemy planes were a risk, yes, but so too was the weather.

bill-stewart-usaaf English Channel postI was standing back of the pilot in a B17 stripped down bomber with about 17 pilots on board. I was flight operations officer for our squadron. We all were riding as passengers, flying over the English Channel and back to our base in England.

I was not trying to tell the pilot how to fly the plane. He was a better pilot than I. But I wanted to see the weather ahead through the pilot’s window.

Fog and clouds were the major nemeses for countries surrounded by water. Most of the deaths in my squadron were caused by fog or poor weather and only a few by mechanical failure. I was surprised to have spent so many hours over France and Germany – flying gasoline, ammo and bombs in and wounded out – and not taken any gunfire to my airplane. But, while flying over Muenster in Germany one day, I struck a balloon cable between my fuselage and right engine. This ripped all the de-icing boot off my right wing but it didn’t bring me down. I was flying an old dependable DC3 or, as some call it, a C47.

Foggy English Channel

So, this December day, crossing the English Channel, I was looking out the front of the cockpit to see how bad it was ahead of us. The weather was terrible to say the least. Most think of the weather as moving from west to east. But it forms and changes all the time in place.

vloa Spitfire - wwii photo Bill Stewart
Photo of Spitfire taken by Capt Bill Stewart from his plane, 1943 UK

We were flying about 100 feet off the water in what looked like a tunnel. This tunnel obviously was made by the heat of aircraft engines ahead of us; there was no air movement.

Suddenly the pilot said “That looks like an airplane on the water down there.” I had not seen anything. Maybe we had met another plane or overtaken another. Things happen quickly when you meet head on, each going over 150 miles per hour.

bill-stewart-wwiiI asked the pilot if we had enough gasoline to get back to Paris and he said “No.” This is an example of a difficult and tight situation. Most are not as bad as this but there are many bad ones.

The pilot continued to fly ahead. Soon we could see the cliffs of Dover or a similar place dead ahead. When we got close to the cliffs, the pilot turned north. The tide was out, thus we had a sandy beach if we had to crash. We all had to look up to see the church steeples and houses on top of the cliffs. The pilot was an excellent flyer and, by radio, the co-pilot somehow located a control tower and airfield close by. This was one of the most difficult situations I was ever in during my years of flying in England.

Glenn Miller, Air Force Major and band leader

Glen-Miller-Major-US-Army-Air-Corps-wikicommons disappeared English Channel 1944We landed at some RAF base near the coast. Only a superb pilot could have found it and lined up with the runway in near zero visibility. Later the next morning we learned that a plane flying Glenn Miller had disappeared over the channel.

There may not be any air movement, yet fog just forms in still air. You don’t realize that, unless you are flying in it. Over water, fog is a real killer for pilots. The pilot has no horizons.

Glenn_Miller_Band-1940-1941-rayanthonyband.com-wikicommonsBill Stewart (1915-2005) is my father-in-law. This is from an unpublished memoir he and his wife, Marji Smock Stewart, wrote. He never knew if the plane that pilot saw in the water was Glenn Miller’s plane. But it was that same day, same place.

Jump!

I’ve wondered what real jockeys think about horse racing novels. Especially those where newcomers – human and horse – manage against all the odds to win THE BIG RACE. It’s a frequent, and beloved, theme. National Velvet, The Black Stallion.

cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper
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Jockeys know too well the years of blood, sweat, tears and broken bones that go into racing. Trainers do too. For the horses, many may be called but an infinitesimal number make it to the top races. So when I read the back cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper, I was dubious. An older woman finds a horribly injured filly – and the rest is racing history. However, I absolutely love Jilly Cooper’s novels. Especially the Rutshire horsey ones. if anyone can do justice to the horse world with this premise, I thought, she can. And she does.

It takes a village

It takes a village to get a horse to the races. Fortunately our heroines, horse and human, can call on a village full of trainers, riders and wannabe owners. All of them love racing and most love horses. Enough of them have money. Horse_racing_Paul-2009-Bangor-on-Dee-wikicommonsThe wherewithal for preparing a horse – and a Jilly Cooper story – is here. The truly good, the selfish and silly, those evil to the core, and all points between. In this novel, Jilly Cooper keeps a curtain drawn on most of the evil done. Thank heavens! Some descriptions of horse “training” in her earlier books still give me nightmares.

So it works. It’s classic Jilly Cooper and as true to life as any of her tales of the English horsey set life may be. The covers of her books alone tell you what to expect. A fun, racy (in all senses) farce. Many people, horses, dogs, cats – all with huge personalities. A lot of sex, a lot of drinking. Schemes and manipulation. It’s as competitive off the course as on.

cover of Mount! by Jilly Cooper
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You get pulled into this world and you happily live there for as long as you can. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next. But you don’t want to come to the end either. So like many of the characters, you face a difficult choice. It’s just not as difficult as the choices that the characters must too often make. I thought I had read all Jilly Cooper’s novels so was delighted to find Jump! (2010). Looking further, I found another, Mount!, published in 2016. Jump! is about hurdles and steeplechase while Mount! is about flat racing. I can’t wait.

You could start reading the Rutshire Chronicles with Jump! since it’s set much later than the others. And the major characters are new. The main characters of the earlier ones are in Jump! but you can figure out their history.

Real-life Jump!

Amazon link for UnbreakableLooking through Amazon.ca, I found this book. A 41-year old countess and a little mare compete against top Nazi riders in a Czechoslovakian steeplechase just before World War II. It sounds like Jump! and National Velvet put together – but it’s a true story. Unbreakable is about Lata Brandisová and her horse and their 1937 Grand Pardubice. (tap image for link)

Today is Derby Day in Kentucky. Best of luck and safe ride to all the horses and jockeys!

King’s Curse

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The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is about Henry VIII. It was published in 2014. Despite knowing this, I kept checking the publication date because of passages like this:

Dear God, I’d never tell the truth to this king… He has become a man quite out of control of his teachers, of the priests, perhaps of himself. There is no point giving the king an honest opinion, he wants nothing but praise of himself. He cannot bear one word of criticism. He is merciless against those who speak against him. (p. 495)

In 2019, two years into US President Donald Trump’s reign, The King’s Curse reads like subversive allegory. That is unintentional of course. It was written pre-Trump. Also Philippa Gregory is a historian, and keeps her imagination true to historical likelihoods.

A passage in her author’s note, about “how easily a ruler can slide into tyranny,” is chilling, though. And it applies equally to those born to the position or elected.

Because no one effectively defended

As Henry moved from one advisor to another, as his moods deteriorated and his use of the gallows became an act of terror against his people, one sees in this well-known, well-loved Tudor world the rising of a despot. He could hang the faithful men and women of the North because nobody rose up to defend Thomas More, John Fisher, or even the Duke of Buckingham. He learned that he could execute two wives, divorce another, and threaten his last because no one effectively defended his first. (p. 603)

Henry VIII just wanted people to like him. He was a breath of fresh air at the beginning. Accomplished in everything he did, young and handsome, in love with his Queen Katherine. But then it went wrong. His moral compass, it seems, centred on himself. The belief system and welfare of the country took second place to what he needed. And he needed a son. So began his complete upheaval of everything sacred and secular in Britain. For Henry, the political was extremely personal.

Lady Margaret Pole

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possibly Margaret Pole, National Portrait Gallery

The King’s Curse tells Henry VIII’s story from boyhood, when he was the “spare”, to midway through his six wives. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, tells the story. She is a York from the Plantagenet line of British monarchs. The Yorks wore the white rose in the War of the Roses, opposed to their cousins, the Lancasters, whose emblem was the red rose.

Henry VIII’s father was the first Tudor king. Henry VII took the throne after defeating Richard III, the last Yorkist king, in battle. So Henry VIII was desperate for a son to ensure the continuation of the still new House of Tudor. But it lasted only to the next generation. First the brief reign of his young son Edward VI, then his daughter Mary, and finally Elizabeth I. She fulfilled her father’s dreams of empire but, having no children, the Tudor dynasty died with her.

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Tudor Succession: Mary, Henry VIII, Edward, Elizabeth (detail) National Museum Cardiff

The King’s Curse is the last in The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. It also fits in with her Tudor Court novels (philippagregory.com). Despite it being late in the story, you could easily start her books with this one. It stands alone and touches on much of what is in the other novels. For more on those, see my Reading History.

pagination from Touchstone paperback ed. 2014

Weatherfield Brexit

future_homemakers_War-Ration-Book-NARA_ca-1943-FDR-Library-wikicommonsAre people in Weatherfield stockpiling water, tinned food and toilet tissue? They are in real life Britain, according to news reports. People fear shortages, due to goods tied up at customs when Britain leaves the EU. Entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge. You can buy a Brexit Box, a 30 day supply of freeze-dried food. At £295, they are moving briskly.

Since hearing about the Brexit Box, I’ve been imagining Kirk jumping on that bandwagon. What would he see as essentials for survival? But there’s no point in my going back to the Street in hopes of such a storyline. Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders decided in 2016 not to deal with Brexit, according to the Daily Star. Already all over the news, so not something their viewers wanted to see in their soaps as well.

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Brexit Box, from emergencyfoodstorage.co.uk – tins, packets, water filter and fire starter

Brexit stories

Perhaps saying nothing was the right decision. The Archers, a BBC radio serial on air since 1951, had its farming family talk about Brexit – like they would be. But complaints poured in: enough about Brexit in the news, didn’t want it in their show too.

And yet what a perfect venue for discussion of such a monumental decision. The Archers, Coronation Street and all UK continuing serials. Each is set in a different part of the country, each has characters who would be affected in different ways by staying in the EU or leaving. Fans know the characters well. Like their audiences, leaving the EU would benefit some and hurt others.

The characters’ history and circumstances provide a way to look at the economic, political and societal aspects of Brexit. Maybe it’s Liz popping over to Spain to see her son Andy, Underworld worried about getting materials, or the corner shop facing emptied shelves as the tinned beans are snatched up. What would the McDonalds, or Connors, think about the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the south? Having already been the target of racial abuse, would Alya fear further attacks?

Britons face these questions now, and uncertainty has caused divisiveness. It is a shame, I think, that Coronation Street has not laid out some Brexit scenarios for its characters The long arc storytelling of soaps is ideal for this.

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How to build a fallout shelter FEMA ca 1957

And unlike North American daytime soaps, British serials are part of personal and public discourse. If it happens on Coronation Street, it’s in the news the next day. Looking at Brexit through Dev’s eyes, or Carla’s, can only help get all aspects out there in a real but non-confrontational way.

Spotted Dick and Custard

Coronation Street is often criticized for showing a Britain of the past. For not reflecting the ethnic and socio-political diversity in what is no longer a nation of (white) shopkeepers, at their best during the war. Maybe this would be a time to use that to show that Britons have been through worse, and survived. That there was a UK before the EU. That immigration and diversity have always been part of the British Isles. Conflict too. But they did survive.

Maybe the oldies need to gather the young’uns in the Rovers. Have Rita lead a singsong of The White Cliffs of Dover. Ken can quote Percy Sugden: “When you’ve prepared spotted dick and custard for one hundred and fifty of ’em under heavy artillery fire and not allowed one lump in that custard, you can do anything.”

York and Mountbatten Weddings

A big year for royal weddings. Tomorrow, October 12th, Princess Eugenie will marry. In May, her cousin Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Both large, lavish and televised. But, in between the weddings of the Queen’s grandchildren, a distant Mountbatten cousin got married. That wedding was private but it caused a big ‘wow’.

Princess Eugenie

The Royal Family Facebook eugenie and jack oct-2018Princess Eugenie of York is marrying Jack Brooksbank. “Who?” seems to be a common question in online comments – about both of them. She is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Jack worked in a bar in London. Yes, he’s a commoner. But it’s an upscale bar, and his pedigree has baronets and the like in it. He and Eugenie are third cousins and he has kin connections with other royals. As the Daily Mail put it, his family may have started as Yorkshire farmers, but “they grew rich… and married well.”

Eugenie and Jack will marry in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, same place as Harry and Meghan. A two-day reception will be at Eugenie’s family home, the Royal Lodge in Windsor. Their guest list, at over 850 for the ceremony, is even larger than Harry and Meghan’s.

But there is not as much public hoopla for Eugenie’s wedding as there was for Harry’s. That is despite Eugenie’s being the first wedding of a British Princess since her Aunt Anne’s. Maybe that’s because she’s the daughter of the Queen’s second son whereas Harry is the second son of the first-born. Maybe too because Jack, in himself and his family background, does not cause celebration of Royal Family diversity and inclusivity as Harry and Meghan’s marriage did. Also as the wedding of their distant cousin did.

Lord Ivar Mountbatten

town and country-facebook-ivar and james-7-oct-2018‘I’ll see your divorced American bi-racial bride, and raise you a white English groom.’ So might Lord Ivar Mountbatten have said. His engagement caused a flap when it was announced in June. The second marriage of a British aristocrat – what was the big deal? First gay marriage in the Royal extended family, that’s what. Lord Ivar married James Coyle in front of a couple hundred family and friends. None of the Royals were there, but they sent their best wishes.

Who’s Lord Ivar Mountbatten? You might ask. I did. His late father was David, 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven. David was the Queen’s third cousin and Prince Philip’s first cousin. He was Philip’s best man at his wedding and a close friend. Read any biography of Prince Philip, you’ll find David Mountbatten stories. He was quite the lad.

Mountbatten Family
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Click/tap to enlarge Mountbatten family tree

David and Philip’s uncle was Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The last Viceroy of India, he was assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Louis’ wife was Edwina Ashley. Read any book about interesting – ‘scandalous’ – women of the early 20th century and you’ll find Edwina Mountbatten.

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Nada, 2nd Marchioness of Milford Haven, ca. 1916

In those same stories is Edwina’s friend and sister-in-law, David’s mother Nadejda de Torby. An English marchioness by marriage, Nada was a Russian countess by birth. She was also Russian literary ‘royalty’, being a great granddaughter of Alexander Pushkin.

So an interesting family. Lord Ivar Mountbatten’s own life was pretty standard for the aristocracy. A geologist and gentleman farmer with a wife and daughters. Then, in 2011, an amicable divorce. Four years later, he came out. He and James Coyle made public their relationship. Mr. Coyle, an airline cabin services director, has no royal antecedents as best my googling can detect.

Lord Mountbatten and Mr. Coyle married Sept 22, 2018 at Lord Mountbatten’s Devon estate. Those are the names and titles each will continue to use. So the protocol people didn’t have to scramble to figure out title usage for same-sex spouses, but this marriage gives them a heads-up on it.

Princess Eugenie’s wedding will be televised on TLC in the US (starting live at 4:25 ET). It’s on ITV in the UK. But apparently not in Canada at all. Pity! You can read more here about the Mountbatten family. For my thoughts on Harry and Meghan’s wedding, see Princess Harry.