This is probably the most inconsequential blog post I've ever written (no, there's plenty of those: Ed.). It's just that two things happened yesterday that confirmed that we do now live in two parallel retail universes. One is how we'd actually like it to be: shops on a high street where we hope we'll get anything we want (within reason), and cyberspace where although we won't be able to touch anything we'll still get our hearts' desires and won't have to wait long to get them. But I do like to give local traders first dibs. So, wanting black Pentel Sign pens for a set of drawings I'm doing, I enquired at Ryman's in my local town. They were very helpful as always but not only didn't they stock them they hadn't heard of them either. This was the fibre tip pen that once rivalled the Biro in its ubiquity. On Saturday Youngest Boy discovered the one I had got and after a weekend of drawing and emptying it said it was the best pen he'd ever drawn with. A quick tap-tap on the keyboard yesterday means a pack of twelve are now winging their way to Ashley Towers.
From Ryman's I went to the local cookshop, specifically for sherry schooners. "Sherry what?" asked Bloke A. "Schooner" I said, staring out into the street. "Shooner?". " No, look," but then Bloke B (a manager I supposed) said "No, haven't seen one of those for years. Sort of thing you would've seen in 1970's pubs." I said thank you and left. Tappity-tap. Six schooners were dispatched to me this morning.
General ignorance aside, in both cases I wouldn't have minded waiting if both shops had said they could get them for the next day. After all, I know all about Click 'n' Collect now, after having had my first go at it with John Lewis and Waitrose on Saturday. (All went very well until I had to show the girl my driving licence which has a picture of myself sans spectacles that looks like a Photofit of a serial killer.) I know, I know. I've just got to accept how it is, and leave Ryman's for the coloured plastic folders I like and the cookshop for bright red teapots.
I must thank Nick Wright for unearthing this little gem. It's well worth the 27 minutes it takes to tell its story. Amazingly, I have often thought about it since I first saw it back in 1963, a filler that you'd watch before the main feature. I wonder if it was in anticipation of seeing Tom Jones again. The reason I remembered it was because of something that always caught my attention in certain films made around this period. Many country lane locations were in Buckinghamshire, owing to the close proximity of studios such as Pinewood and Denham, and the highways department favoured a particular yellow gravel as the final top coat. So different from the roads of my home county of Leicestershire that, as now, used the far more common grey chippings.So you'll see it here at the end when the 'homemade' car gets its first run out, as yellow gravel is spun to the sides of lanes in the Chilterns.
The film was made very professionally by BP, from the time when they used a green and yellow shield and the initials stood for 'British Petroleum' instead of the yawn-inducing 'Beyond Petroleum'. Everything is a joy here, the houses with proper windows, the garage pumps, the other traffic. And a lead character who looks like a younger brother of Stanley Baxter. Now there was a frequenter of Buckinghamshire lanes. Essential Unmitigated viewing are his The Fast Lady and Father Came Too. Daddy in both films was James Robertson Justice, always good value of course.
The studio they were made at appeared on a visit to Beaconsfield in the early sixties when I managed to escape from my parents in order to wander about on my own. On a leafy lane I saw a big pair of gates open with the legend 'Independent Artists' above it. A film company made up of actors like Robertson Justice escaping the studio system (ie: Rank) to make their own films. In front of me was a complete street with a chemist, a bank, a greengrocer etc. I wandered in, expecting to be yelled at any minute, but all was eerily silent. Then I discovered the 'High Street' was just two sets of dummy shop fronts, supported by a maze of scaffolding poles at the back. I just stood there astonished, expecting any minute to see Leslie Philips pop out of a door and jump into an open top XK120. Yes, a very defining moment, one to add to my other star filled stories like the fact that a Chiltern cousin serviced Rupert (Maigret) Davies's lawnmower. Anyway, do put your feet up and enjoy this over the weekend.
Note that Ron Grainer's score includes a pastiche of his Steptoe & Son theme. Come to that, he wrote the Maigret theme too. Full circle.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph