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Tinseltown


Pete McKenna




First Edition

Published 2016

NEW HAVEN PUBLISHING LTD

www.newhavenpublishingltd.com

newhavenpublishing@gmail.com


The rights of Pete McKenna, as the author of this work, have been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be re-printed or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now unknown or hereafter invented, including photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the

Author and Publisher.



Cover design © Pete Cunliffe

pcunliffe@blueyonder.co.uk







Copyright © 2016 Pete McKenna

All rights reserved



Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Why Don’t You F-F-F Fade Away*

Chapter 2: The Clan*

Chapter 3: Look Mum There’s a Gollywog!*

Chapter 4: London Days Soho Nights and Cappuccino Cream*

Chapter 5: Guy the Gorilla*

Chapter 6: Cheeseburgers Fries and Vesta Meals*

Chapter 7: Motorways and Services*

Chapter 8: Sophia and Gina*

Chapter 9: Gangsters and Politicians*

Chapter 10: Float Like a Butterfly Sting Like a Bee*

Chapter 11: Tinseltown*

Chapter 12: Supersonic*

Chapter 13: Like Father Like Son and Uncle *

Chapter 14: Ian and Myra*

Chapter 15: And At the Going Down of the Sun*

Chapter 16: They Think It’s All Over – It is Now*

Chapter 17: The Belfast Boy*

Chapter 18: Nam*

Chapter 19: Skipper and Boat Stay Together*

Chapter 20: Rivers of Blood*

Chapter 21: Yom Kippur*

Chapter 22: One Giant Step for Mankind Or Was It?*

Chapter 23: Helter Skelter*

Chapter 24: Which Side Do You Dress On Sir?*

Chapter 25: The Sole of the Nation*

Chapter 26: Time Will Pass You By*

Chapter 27: Suited, Booted, Slicked Back and Saxed Up*

Chapter 28: This is The End*

About the Author





Chapter 1

*Why Don’t You F-F-F Fade Away*



My story begins with a monumental change of government policy that occurred over fifty seven years ago without which this story may well have never been told. Conscription has been operating in countries all over the world for thousands of years and it's a system that gives governments the power to enlist people into the armed forces whether they like it or not both in wartime and in peace. Britain first introduced conscription in 1916 amid the carnage and slaughter of the first world war. Lord Kitchener’s face featured on recruiting posters all over the country demanding he needed you to volunteer, creating a tidal wave of patriotic fever as men between eighteen and forty five rushed to sign on the dotted line oblivious to the horrors that were waiting for them. Shipped off to France after rudimentary military training they stood shoulder to shoulder in the trenches waiting for zero hour to go over the top for their final walk across No Man’s Land. The khaki swathe, laughing and joking as if they were strolling down Blackpool promenade on a sunny afternoon, were weighed down with heavy unnecessary equipment that hindered their every move over the uneven ground as they neared the barbed wire. Fathers, sons, etc many of whom had never danced with or kissed the girl in the factory they’ve been fancying for weeks because they were too shy to ask her out on a date; Kitchener’s innocents who swapped the rest of their lives for a slab of white marble, silently laying together in neatly manicured cemeteries across Belgium and France and all because some irrelevant aristocratic Archduke was assassinated in a country most of them never knew existed.

The abolition of conscription was announced in 1920 and re-introduced in 1939 as Hitler’s armies swept through Poland and Europe at lightning speed and he reached the French coast with only Great Britain standing in the way of completing his dream of his Thousand Year Reich Nazi dominated Europe. Around a staggering eight million men and women were conscripted into the armed forces with the conscripts making up eighty percent of the army, sixty percent of the navy and over fifty percent of the air force, presenting a stark contrast to today’s modern armed forces that are made up entirely of volunteers. In Great Britain conscription continued up until the 4th April 1957 when Harold Macmillan, the prime minister of the newly Labour government, announced the abolition of conscription, which for me is when the birth of British street culture took place.

The enormous financial cost of winning the second world war had crippled Britain almost beyond recovery. For over a decade austerity became a byword for day to day life for so many people, but there was light at the end of a very dark and distant tunnel as the country slowly managed to crawl back on its feet. With conscription now a thing of the past, for the first time in our island's illustrious history, British youth were no longer forced to join the armed forces, unlike vast numbers of young Americans drafted in to the military to fight and die in the dense sweaty jungles of Vietnam. The advent of the 60’s heralded a brand new beginning for British youth all across the country who were faced with new opportunities that created new jobs and money allowing them to stamp their own lasting identity on society, much to the chagrin of the po-faced upper class establishment responsible for running the country's affairs for hundreds of years.

Swinging 60’s London rapidly established itself as the epicentre of the new world. Innovative, vibrant, trendy and sexy, London created its own unique style and image that is as relevant today to discerning kids searching for an identity other than tracksuits and trainers as it was back then over fifty years ago. Meanwhile some sixty miles away on the south coast, during a bank holiday in 1964, British youth were already hitting the nation's headlines as Mods fought pitched battles with Rockers on Brighton beach. The defining moment in street culture history, that will never be forgotten was here in the 70’s cult classic film Quadrophenia, boasting a young enthusiastic cast of actors, many of whom are now some of the most respected and talented in the acting profession.

'My Generation' by The Who became the Mod anthem, the words in the song personifying the rebellious mood of the sharp suited, scooter riding, pill popping Mods sending a crystal clear message to the old order to move over because a new movement was coming through. I remember watching grainy violent images on our black and white television in the lounge of youths battling it out on the beach in scenes that sent shockwaves of panic through the very foundation stones of Westminster. My dad, sitting in his armchair as usual, the king of his castle beneath a Chernobyl-like cloud of cigar smoke was ranting and raving that such outrageous things were actually happening before his eyes. "What a bunch of fucking layabouts. The worst thing those Labour wankers ever did was to do away with conscription." But as the lyrics in the song said “Oh the times they are a changing.”

That summer, all along the south coast, something in the air was building up to a climax following several skirmishes between Mods and Rockers in Margate, Hastings, Clacton and Southend, precursors to the main event that took place in Brighton during that sunny bank holiday. As the warring factions descended on the elegant Georgian resort in growing numbers, it was only a matter of time before violence flared as two armies clashed with a vengeance leaving the beleaguered thin blue line of coppers with an impossible task to maintain law and order. For two days anarchy filled the air until the government finally stepped in to restore law and order. Police reinforcements from neighbouring counties were drafted in en masse to quash the violence and arrest the culprits responsible for such an outrage. Those arrested were hauled before makeshift emergency kangaroo courts and given heavy fines and suspended sentences to persuade them to stay out of trouble or else. And as quickly as it happened, the last remaining Mods and Rockers jumped on their scooters and motorbikes and rode out of town with their heads held high, oblivious to the fact that they’d created a timeless moment in the evolution of British street culture history that is as strong today as it was back then.

Much has been written and talked about over the years on the subject of the battle of Brighton beach with many myths, legends and folklore attached to the events that occurred during that bank holiday over fifty years ago, to the point where one can easily question what really did happen. As is often the case, the media of the day certainly played a big part in both highlighting and distorting the truth behind what went on, scaremongering the government and nation into believing revolution was afoot. Adding coal to an already flaming fire, they featured news reports highlighting the facts that thousands of Mods and Rockers took part in the violence described as “internal enemies of the UK who could bring about the disintegration of the nation’s character that could surge and flame like a forest fire.”

Suddenly the ever present threat of those nasty Russians taking over the world was put on the back burner as they added more absurdly dangerous theatricals to a rapidly worsening situation viewing the Mods and Rockers as true enemies of the state. Fake interviews were staged with people entirely unconnected with the Mods and Rockers, the interview with “Mick The Wild One“ being the most noticeable one with the so called Rocker who loved to spend his spare time fighting and stabbing as many Mods as he could get his hands on. Another incident of a body of a drowned young man being found on the beach was given the headline “Mod Found Dead In The Sea.”

The famous sociologist of the day, Stanley Cohen, takes an entirely different balanced view of the incident in his textbook study titled 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics', in which he highlights the media's ludicrous attempts at falsifying what really happened in Brighton. The media's claim that simply thousands of Mods and Rockers were there was grossly exaggerated with Cohen claiming that the actual figure was only in the hundreds. After researching much on the subject, for me I’ll go with Stanley Cohen’s account, but either way, the battle of Brighton beach signalled the end of the early Mod scene. The media portrayal of the incident inadvertently served as a nationwide recruitment campaign for bored kids searching for a new scene to buy a parka and a suit, jump on a scooter and find a club where they could dance the night away to ska and early soul music, with a few pills inside them to keep them bright eyed and bushy tailed, without understanding the true ethics of what being a Mod was all about. Some diehards remained true to the scene but many swapped their number one hairstyles and Ben Sherman shirts for longer hair and wildly coloured silk paisley shirts, turning on, tuning in and dropping out to the newly emerging LSD psychedelic scene, and who could blame them? I mean, what self-respecting Mod about town would go through the hassle of rolling about on a beach fighting with some Rocker in expensive Italian basket weave shoes and tailor made Mohair suit?



.





Chapter 2

*The Clan*



I was born the youngest male member of a family who could well have staked a justifiable legal claim to the saying “actions speak louder than words.“ During the latter part of the nineteenth century, my Irish born grandparents Francis and Margaret left the rebel county of Cork to settle in Blackpool, where they set about raising a somewhat unique family that was always going to be a hard act for me to emulate in the wake of their considerable individual achievements. Francis joined the local police as a uniformed Bobby plodding the streets before ending a long and distinguished career as the Blackpool Borough's first chief of CID. A hard, emotionally cold, strictly religious man of few words, he always made me feel nervous and insignificant whenever the McKenna clan gathered around the Sunday afternoon dining table. He would put the world to rights in the lounge over whisky, cognac and cigars after the banquet, leaving the women to clean up after their menfolk as was their duty back then.

Francis and Margaret bore one daughter Margaret and five sons, Frank, Bernard, Leslie, Jim and John who married my mother Edith, who gave birth to me on the 28th December 1955 in Glenroyd hospital Blackpool. After leaving school Les, Jim and John took up apprenticeships in plumbing, carpentry and bricklaying, before joining up to form what was a highly successful private building company up until the outbreak of the second world war called McKenna Brothers. Frank followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the police, quickly rising to the rank of Detective Sergeant and a founder member of the very first police motorcycle section. Bernard, on the other hand, was the true academic of the family, going on to university to study English and French. A well-spoken intelligent man, he played rugby for the Fylde club before becoming the headmaster of St Bedes Grammar school in St Annes.

When the building company broke up, Les, much the quieter of the brothers, went on to build up a successful solo plumbing business while Jim qualified as a civil engineer, as well as finding the time to play professional football for a few seasons as Leicester City’s goalkeeper. My dad John left the building industry and joined the police force, quickly rising through the ranks to serve alongside his brother Frank in the CID. Both of them earned reputations as fearless, no nonsense coppers who got the job done the way coppers did back then come what may. Like his dad Francis, John was destined for great things, tipped to become the next Detective Chief Inspector if only he could have bit his lip now and again, taken a deep breath instead of acting in haste, and played the necessary games many less gifted coppers played back then to enable them to reap the benefits and ensure their careers were safe and sound behind the heavy locked doors of the Masonic lodge, which conveniently enough was situated only a few hundred yards away from the original police headquarters on King Street. Then as now for many people the Freemasons appeared to be intriguing, influential and powerful, attracting all the local high flying businessmen, lawyers, accountants, company directors and policemen. Even though it was strictly forbidden for coppers to join the secret society they willingly took part in all their absurd archaic theatricals in the hope of gaining rapid promotion through the ranks without shedding the blood sweat and tears to pay their dues the way they should have done.

The powers that prevailed at the time started to apply undue pressure on my dad to persuade him to forego his morals and become a Freemason or kiss goodbye to any chance he stood of future promotion within the force. Many of his colleagues succumbed to the pressure but he refused to be bullied into joining what he always considered to be an insidious, shadowy secret society, and so sensing his time was almost up, he handed in his resignation and walked away from the job he loved doing for so many years and returned the construction industry, ending up as a site agent for Wimpey and Taylor Woodrow running multi million pound projects both at home and abroad. My Mother often confided in me, during countless heart to heart conversations I would never have dared shared with my dad, that he changed from the man she fell in love with and married the day he left the police. All I remember from growing up as a child to early adolescence, his spontaneous temper and blind rage terrified me to the point that I hated being in his company, and these helped to force a wedge between us that lasted for many years after I left home and moved first down to London and then Brighton, where I spent many enjoyable years. Looking back to those times, as I often find myself doing these days, all my uncles with the exception of Les, who was the most normal down to earth mild mannered man you could ever wish to meet, were as different as chalk and cheese, especially when it came down to personal eccentricities.

Jim lived for his crown green bowling and malt whisky, spending most of his spare time in the clubhouse of the Fleetwood bowling club, and whatever time he had left was spent in his lifelong interest in genealogy. He spent many pointless years researching the McKenna family tree trying to prove that the McKenna clan originated from the Scottish Highlands, adamantly refusing to accept the obvious that we originated from Cork in Southern Ireland. The facts spoke for themselves but unfortunately for Jim all roads led back to the Emerald Isle. Leaving Fleetwood bowling club late one Sunday afternoon he hit a car head on and was killed where he sat with a half a bottle remaining of his favourite malt Glenlivet in the pocket of his Harris tweed sports jacket. Knowing him the way I did he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Despite his rigid elitist air, when he allowed himself to be, Uncle Bernard was a thoroughly witty entertaining bloke with a great sense of humour heavily laced with sarcasm and never ending conversational topics and I loved listening to his stories, especially his wartime experiences. From what he told me, he saw a lot of action as an officer in the Royal Signals and during the build up to the Normandy invasion. He found himself attached to the Parachute Regiment laying down vital communication lines behind enemy lines, working closely with the French resistance fighters of the Maquis. After the war, he returned to his teaching career, becoming much more introverted and reclusive than he’d ever been, as his long suffering wife Anne complained many times to my mum over tea and garibaldi biscuits.

He threw himself into his gardening, creating one of the most relaxing peaceful spaces I’ve ever spent time in, as his wife slowly ceased to exist, passing ships in the night from spare room to spare room en route to the bathroom. His private study was filled with his second love in life, French literature, and his shelves were filled with a valuable collection of hardback classics from all the great French writers. He spoke the language fluently better than the average Frenchman and he only drank the finest wines, mainly Chateauneuf Du Pape along with the occasional bottle of Pomerol as a special Sunday treat. For years up until his death, he religiously took the same two weeks off during the school holidays to drive down to Biarritz solo in his rally tuned Mini Cooper S, where he’d spend the entire time relaxing in the faded splendour of the Hotel Atlantique doing what and with whom nobody knew before the long drive home to his house in Haymarket St Annes, back to his school, pupils and wife in that order. Whether or not a conversation I ear-wigged one afternoon between him and my dad, reminiscing about the good old days and what have you, was actually true or not, Bernard, who never told a lie, told my dad that during his wartime days in Northern France he somehow found the time and opportunity to have a “liason“ with the famous French philosopher Albert Camus’ partner at the time. Judging from the large collection of Camus work that took pride of place in his study, I’ve always wondered if perhaps on one occasion my Uncle Bernard took his love of French literature just a bridge too far.

In 1944 a solemn Anthony Eden announced to the nation the cold blooded murder of fifty Allied airmen captured and executed after their escape attempt from Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp in Sagan Germany, a tragic incident that some years later became the basis for the Hollywood blockbuster war film 'The Great Escape'. Flight Engineer Frank McKenna, the former Blackpool detective who’d completed his thirty missions with bomber command over Germany unscathed was relaxing in the officers' mess when the announcement came over the radio. He was listening with interest because a couple of close friends he’d known for many years were among the fifty dead, these being Flight Lieutenant Edgar Humphreys and Flying Officer Robert Stewart. There and then Frank swore to himself that no matter how long it took, he would track down those responsible for the atrocity and bring them in to face justice. The prime mover and driving force in a small dedicated elite team of Royal Air Force investigators, they arrived in the immediate post war chaos of Germany to begin their mission. Nicknamed Sherlock by his colleagues because of the way he applied himself to the task of tracking down the guilty men, two exhausting years later, after leaving no stone unturned, those responsible for killing the airmen were either sentenced to death or given lengthy jail sentences. In 1948 former Squadron Leader Frank McKenna, a humble, quiet, fair minded religious man, was awarded the OBE for his part in what many people believe to be the greatest piece of detective investigational work of the twentieth century.

The many memories I have of Frank are of a man sitting alone in his armchair staring out of the window of his bungalow in Lytham where he lived with his wife Eunice. Solemn faced, brooding, quietly thinking or remembering, he rarely talked about his wartime experiences. My dad confided in me once that because he was a deeply religious man, one of the big things that often troubled him was the fact that he’d taken part in the night time bombing missions over German cities and the death and destruction caused as a result of him being a part of all that, only realising years later what it must have been like for the people on the ground as the bombs rained down, causing temperatures so hot that many people melted where they stood or charred to a crisp. Two wrongs don’t make a right but the German people were subjected to the same murderous treatment Hitler’s Luftwaffe had carried out on the people of London, Coventry and Liverpool in 1940, and there I rest my case.

I once witnessed a row between Frank and my dad, the hotly debated subject matter being the rights and wrongs of police work, good cop and bad cop going by the rules or bending them to in order to get the job done by fair or foul means. "That’s where you and me differed John. You never played by the rules, always steaming in without thinking. That’s always been your problem ever since I can remember. You just can’t help yourself, like that night in the cells. You remember?" Frank told dad, who sat there looking like he was about to blow his top.

"Oh don’t fucking start about that again you stuck up bastard. I did what I did to get the job done and I didn’t hear you complaining at the time. How the fucking hell did I end up with over thirty commendations if I wasn’t doing my job right. Trouble with you, Frank, you’ve always been too fucking soft and polite for your own good" my dad snapped back, sounding like he was ready for a fight, as Frank sat there shaking his head.

"There you go again John like a bull in a bloody china shop. Do you think I’d have ended up with the OBE if I’d have gone about things in Germany like the way you used to go about doing things. No I don’t think so John."

"Oh there you go again, going on about the fucking OBE. Come on Peter we’re off. I’ve had enough of all this bollocks for one day." Another family row over and done with that summed up Dad and his attitude in a nutshell. Hot headed, foul mouthed and unwilling to suffer any criticism, a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at any given moment; small wonder why I wanted to leave home and get away from him as soon as I could.

Shirtlifters - arse bandits - benders - puffs - nancy boys - queers. At the time, all phrases and names associated with the homosexual community my dad hated with a vengeance, when the word gay referred to a person being happy, overjoyed. He was a rigid thinking, old school policeman, brought up with a strict moral code that a man’s rear end should only be used for one purpose only. Anybody who appeared on television sporting long hair was to his way of thinking ‘a right fucking queer‘. Even my favourite footballer, George Best, was a ‘fucking puff who needed a fucking good short back and sides‘, so you can imagine my concealed glee as we watched Manchester United beat Benfica at Wembley to win the European Cup. The brilliant solo goal by George running rings around the Benfica defence before slotting the ball in the back of the net, arm raised, smiling like a man on top of the world, left Dad fuming in his armchair. "The long haired fucking puff. What the fuck does he look like? He needs a fucking good boot up the arse." George Best, arguably the most talented footballer of his time and good looking with it, who had the choice of any woman he looked at, was the most unlikeliest homosexual on the planet, but dad wouldn’t have it any other way. George Best was a fucking puff end of subject story over.

Having thought long and hard about this for many years, I can only conclude that his homophobia stemmed from his involvement with them whilst serving in the police force, staging a one man pogrom against the local queers, going out of his way to make his presence felt whenever he was out and about. To be fair to him, he wasn’t the only officer who thought like he did. Many of his colleagues thought the same way as he did, homophobic and racist with it. Attitudes back then in late 60’s and 70’s Britain were doubtless shared in constabularies all over the country from John O Groat’s to Land’s End, but there was one incident in particular that occurred in the cells in King street that could have spelled the end of dad's career, had it not been for his fellow colleagues turning a blind eye. A call came in to the desk alleging an assault on a young boy by an older male. Dad knew all the major players in town when it came down to messing with kids so he opted to follow up the call, arresting him and bringing him in for questioning that often amounted to a terrifying Gestapo like interrogation, lasting for hours on end until the victim broke down and confessed.

With his jacket off, tie loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up, he finally emerged from the cell to wash the blood from his hands after giving the suspect a right good going over until he was unrecognisable, face swollen, blood pouring from cuts on his face and one eye dangling from its socket. Questions were asked about the incident but those who witnessed the interrogation kept their mouths closed tightly with a couple of them stating that the suspect had fallen over on the stone steps as they were bringing him into the station as a result of being drunk. Incident duly noted and smoothed over leaving Dad's career intact and Frank disgusted but not entirely surprised knowing it was Dad who’d been the officer in charge. Over the years far too many incidents had occurred between the two brothers to convince me they were ever going to see eye to eye on anything, but they did have a grudging brotherly mutual respect for each other with Frank admitting to me on one occasion that as a detective, Dad was light years ahead of him, with an inbuilt ability to suss out a crime scene and those responsible in no time at all. In Frank's opinion he should have gone to the very top of the police tree and would have done had it not been for the fact he always did things his way, bending and breaking all the rules when necessary to get the result he wanted as well as openly socialising with all the wrong people in private and public, which wasn’t the ‘done thing’ for any possible future chief of CID to be doing.

It was a character trait I inherited along the way for many years despite him warning me countless times that ‘if I hang around with mugs then I’ll end up a fucking mug‘; a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black but nevertheless a warning based on a lifetime's experience of doing things the wrong way that I should have acted on. I see that now, when I look back to all the years I knocked around with mugs wasting valuable time and money I’m never going to be able to recover. Frank's greatest wish was that I follow him into the Royal Air Force to pick up from where he’d left off. I’d managed to scrape together enough O Levels to qualify for a short service commission as aircrew, a pilot, engineer or navigator depending on the aptitude tests, and for a time, the thought really appealed to me: charging around the wild blue yonder in a fast jet paid for by the government without a care in the world. A session in the officers' mess enjoying the banter with the rest of the chaps and a night on the town hoping to charm all the ladies into the cramped confines of my cockpit to fiddle around with my joystick after listening to all my colourful exciting stories of flying at the speed of sound.

Looking back with what I know now, Frank was offering me a life changing moment and although I seriously toyed with the idea of joining the RAF, deep down the truth of the matter was that I had absolutely no intention of joining any organisation, civil or military, that controlled my every thought and deed twenty four seven once the ink had dried on the dotted line. Misspent adolescence held me firmly in its grip and I loved every second of it. I was young, fit and full of it and nobody could tell me anything I didn’t already know. I’d started a secure apprenticeship in the construction industry providing me with paid training for four years, after which who cared. I had cash in my pocket, a wardrobe full of all the latest coolest clothes, my own tailor, a Lambretta scooter and a pair of glistening cherry red Doc Martens I could see my face in. "What the fuck do you know about anything you old fucker?" I shouted at Frank one Saturday afternoon, itching to get at the two grams of amphetamine sulphate I’d just scored before shooting off to Wigan Casino for another sweaty northern soul all-nighter. As he did many times, Frank sat there staring at me like I was a lost cause he’d just about given up on. "Like Father like son eh Peter. Go on do me a favour and get out of my sight right now" he snapped back to me with a scathing look, angered and dismayed at my display of youthful ignorance as I slammed the front door shut, jumped on my scooter and roared off his driveway down the long winding road to nowhere I’m still driving down.

Shortly before Dad walked out on my mother, to live a rather sad solitary existence in a series of run down bed-sits around Blackpool, he threw himself wholeheartedly into a series of hobbies based on ambitions he never stood a chance of fulfilling, one of which involved myself and three close mates one summer in the old fishing port of Fleetwood just a few miles down the coast from Blackpool, where he purchased a wreck of a pilot launch he was going to fully restore and sail the seven seas in. In addition to the good ship MV McKENNA he started buying every sailing and yachting magazine going, spending hours soaking up as much information as possible sitting in his armchair in the lounge buried under a cloud of cigar smoke. He also bought a beautifully preserved antique brass sextant in a velvet lined mahogany box which he was going to use to plot his course using the twinkling stars in the night sky. He turned the upstairs spare bedroom into his very own landlocked captain’s cabin, the walls lined with prints and photographs of sailing ships and famous captains of days gone by. At a table buried under a pile of expensive authentic maritime maps he toiled for hours on end with a geometry set and note pad in which he wrote down all the safest routes through some of the world’s most dangerous seas.

Meanwhile my friends and I spent many laughable weekends pissed and stoned working on the boat that in all honesty wouldn’t have made it across Stanley Park boating lake on a calm sunny day without sinking, never mind surviving the constant battering of fifty to seventy foot Atlantic waves, as Dad imagined himself clinging to the wheel precariously inching his way around the notorious storm torn waters of Cape Horn, in a similar way to Francis Chichester during his single-handed sail around the world back in 1967. Disregarding the blindingly obvious, the four of us continued working hard on the boat, using gallons of Nitromors paint stripper, oxide primer and gloss paint, scraping and blowtorching away years of hardened paint, filling and sanding any holes and dents baby smooth, leaving Dad toiling away in the engine room trying to get the ancient Gardner Douglas diesel engine, that was partially submerged in stinking black stagnant water after hand pumping the boat dry, actually working.

Then as quickly as his dream had materialised, the captain's room was emptied of all nautical paraphernalia and the boat sold to a man who wanted to start up a daily fishing charter business, leaving us all wondering what insane Pie In The Sky dream he was going to embark on next. Walking into WH Smiths one Sunday morning before breakfast in the Clifton hotel and my once monthly short back and sides, to pick up a couple of newspapers, he stopped suddenly, this mad glint in his eye as he flicked through a copy of Pilot magazine going straight to the advertisements in the back pages, and showed me an ad that caught not only his eye but also his crazy imagination as I looked in disbelief. ‘Cessna light aircraft for sale due to ill health. An absolute joy to fly but a small amount of work needed to get it through certificate of air worthiness. Phone Robin in Chichester for an informal chat.' For a second I could already see him stepping out of the aircraft after landing at Le Touquet airport, loud applause coming from a crowd of journalists and well-wishers after completing his solo flight around the words backwards and upside down. "What do you think Pete? Frank's got a private pilot licence and if he can get one then it can’t be all that hard to get," he asked me, to which I replied as kindly and respectfully as I could. "Nice idea Dad but if you don’t mind me saying, flying is for the birds." He looked at me for a second as all hope disappeared from his eyes, and returned the magazine to the shelf. "Perhaps you’re right" he sighed, telling me to grab a copy of the Sunday Times. "Come on let’s go and get some breakfast."

I'm ashamed to say it, but I really was never that interested enough to ask either of my parents the reason why they split up so suddenly, because I was having the time of my life. Good friends, good job, living the high life in Blackpool, which in the 70’s was the adventure playground of the world. Twenty five years had slipped by since Mum and Dad first parted, an odd couple who still cared for each other, unable to live together or apart right up until Dad died. I’d see them on my travels around town laughing and joking together in town centre cafes, enjoying each other’s company over coffee and crumpets like the lovesick carefree teenagers they once were. Dad told a former girlfriend of mine, in the time it took me to come back from the bar with a tray of drinks, that he always felt second best from the day I was born, which could explain why he wasn’t there the night I was born, leaving me with yet another question I’ll never be able to answer, since Mum passed away six years ago while I was enjoying a holiday in Spain.

Throughout his life up until his death he managed to maintain his immaculate trademark tailor made image, seen in the cafes and bars around town looking like he didn’t have a care in the world puffing away on his cigars, trilby pulled back on his forehead reminiscing about the good old days with his rapidly dwindling bunch of old but still stylish cronies. To look at him, you’d be convinced that John McKenna was a wealthy man who lived in an expensive house filled with all of life’s luxuries imaginable but nothing could have been further from the truth. To me he was a MOD through and through without realising it, a man who always lived his life with a modicum of decency even though many times he didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in, going home alone to his barely habitable bed-sit convinced that tomorrow was going to be a far better day offering more opportunities than today; such was his eternal optimism that convinced him he was still going to make it even though he didn’t have a clue what it was going to be.

I will always remember one particularly vivid moment during what I called “his bed-sit years“ that still makes me both sad and happy and sums him up perfectly whenever it springs to mind. He’d gone missing - as he often did - for a week or so, nowhere to be seen or heard when suddenly he telephoned the house explaining that he’d been poorly after a bad attack of bronchitis leaving him laid up in bed for most of the week. He was hungry and fancied a Kentucky chicken dinner with chips, coleslaw and gravy and a pint of milk so he could make a brew. Well even though we still had our issues, he was my Dad in need of some food so I jumped on the scooter, picked up what he needed and delivered it to the bed-sit he was living in at the time. It was a horrible, damp, mildewed two roomed basement room beneath the Viking hotel on Blackpool promenade and certainly not the kind of place a man like my dad should have been living in at his age, but things happen to the best and worst of us.

There he was lying stretched out on the bed as I pushed open the door and walked in, dressed in a suit and overcoat, puffing on a cigar and thumbing through an old dog eared copy of Yachting Monthly looking like he wished he’d never given up on his dream of restoring his old boat to sail the seven seas. "Good to see you. Come in Pete" he told me as I slammed the door shut, a thick stale smell of damp and mould permeating what little air there was in the basement and the threadbare carpet covered in an inch of water from one of the upstairs toilet pipes bursting sending water trickling down the walls of Dad’s room. "Make us a coffee Pete, and help yourself to one if you want" he said, sitting up as he opened his Kentucky box and I put the kettle on watching him devour his food like he hadn’t eaten in days, which was probably the case. Unconcerned and oblivious to the truly appalling conditions he was living in, he quickly lit up another cigar before the last piece of fried chicken had time to settle.

One of the most gifted decorated policeman in the history of the force, a man who had it all who should have been sitting pretty enjoying the autumn of his life with a hefty pension, and there he was sipping his coffee in his cracked mug in virtual poverty. For the first time in my life I was shocked not by what had happened to him but the fact that he could live life like he was doing without a care in the world, or for what other people thought about him. “You don’t care so why the fuck should I?” I thought, as we sat in the stinking doom and gloom silently staring at the television ignoring each other as usual, until the coffee and I were gone.


.





Chapter 3

*Look Mum There’s a Gollywog!*



In 1948 a brief advert placed in a Jamaican newspaper offered cheap passage to Britain to all those people who dreamed of beginning a new life in the country many had fought and died for in the second world war. On the 22nd of June 1948, the former German wartime naval troopship renamed the MV Windrush docked at Tilbury, having carried four hundred and ninety two people across the ocean looking forward to the prospect of building a better lives for themselves and their families. Initially they were housed in and around Brixton, employed in low paid menial jobs such as hospital porters and bus conductors, the kind of work many British people viewed as inferior and demeaning, still believing in the words of that old outdated song “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

The years between 1949 to the early 60’s saw a massive influx in the numbers of Afro Caribbean immigrants as they started to branch out of London to all parts of the country. Their culture was unique and radically different to anything British people had seen before. It was all new, from the food they ate and the clothes they wore to the music they listened and danced to. Sharp suited Rude Boys were skanking it up on the dance floors to ska music, strong beats and rhythms the white girls soon started liking, and the more they were seen enjoying themselves with the cool Caribbean lads, the more the white youths started to resent their coloured neighbours as the time bomb started ticking. Fuelled up on the nonsensical right wing rhetoric of Oswald Mosley’s fascist union group, they began to believe that the growing immigrant community were posing a positive threat to their future and livelihood and decided to do something about it before it was too late. In the August and September of 1958, mobs of white Teddy Boys took to the street rampaging through the areas Caribbean’s lived, attacking them and their houses in a brief bloody riot. After calm was restored, the two communities who wanted nothing more than to live together peacefully staged several meetings in the town hall with that purpose in mind, resulting in the first of what has evolved into a hugely successful yearly event attended in the thousands every year - The Notting Hill carnival - so all's well that ends well.

"Look Mum there’s a Golliwog!" was a common phrase kids used without meaning any racial intent but one of genuine surprise whenever they saw a black person out and about, because in Blackpool in the 60’s and 70’s and even today, coloured people were few and far between. Twenty to thirty miles heading towards central Lancashire the story was very different. Towns like Preston, Accrington, Burnley and Blackburn boasted predominant Indian and Asian communities in many parts of town, where you could walk down any street without bumping into a white person, but this has never been the case in Blackpool with a couple of noticeable exceptions, one of which was a cool Caribbean dude called Ross, who to many of the Blackpool In Crowd - who were getting into black music style and culture in a big way courtesy of the northern soul scene - was nothing short of a god.

Ross was Blackpool’s answer to that number one private investigator of the big screen, John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree. The way he looked, dressed, walked and talked helped to establish Ross as one of the coolest guys in town with a conveyor belt of the best looking birds all dying for a chance of being seen out with him never mind underneath him. Ross worked the doors of Trader Jack’s, arguably the trendiest most exclusive nightclub going at the time nestled beneath the mighty Imperial Hotel on north promenade. Not so much a bouncer, he was more of a gifted diplomat who could sense trouble and stop it dead before it had the chance to get started without ever having to resort to violence to back up his sweet words of wisdom. We all knew him from a distance and spoke about him in Saturday morning conversations in the Beehive café, the coolest hangout in town where we waxed lyrical about our mutual love of style and soul music over bacon sandwiches and frothy Cappuccinos. On duty Ross was the James Bond of bouncers, impeccably turned out in black double breasted dinner suit, bow tie and white dress shirt. Off duty he took things a step further opting to wear trendy Swedish Rappson suits with jackets featuring wide penny round lapels and flared trousers, wide collared plain or multi coloured shirts and cashmere polo necks teamed up with expensive fedora hats and full length fur coats and handmade double breasted leather trench coats draped over his shoulders cloak-like unless the weather convinced him to wear them in a more practical conventional style, which was few and far between. God bless you Ross man for all those fleeting unforgettable moments you gave each of us searching for our own individual identity, ships passing in the night doing our own thing. A true style councillor from head to toe.

Throughout Britain in the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, black people faced racial abuse on a daily basis both face to face and on the television, courtesy of successful long running sitcoms containing blatantly offensive racist language that at the time was viewed as being nothing more than good old fashioned humour in a curiously British kind of way; most people who watched the programmes failed to find them offensive in any way shape or form. 'Till Death Us Do Part' was the BBC’s hugely successful series the whole nation sat down to watch, due largely to the main character and star of the show who, love or hate him, somehow wound his way into the audience's hearts and souls. The actor Warren Mitchell found lasting fame and fortune when he accepted the part of the inimitable Alf Garnett, a staunch middle aged working class east end bloke with strong outspoken opinions on just about anyone or anything one cared to mention. He was a bald headed, moustachioed, diehard West Ham fan who was the undisputed head of his small two up two down terraced kingdom a stone’s throw from Upton Park, a typical Royal family loving armchair speaker who was vehemently racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, homophobic. You name it and Alf Garnett hated it with a passion, spouting rhetoric that in today’s television world would have earned him so much more than a slapped wrist and two months' suspension of pay. Interesting to note that years later, he was heard to say that he forever regretted taking on the part of Alf Garnett because he could never live down or escape from the character he created; his very own Svengali that was associated with him throughout the rest of his acting career like it or not.

ITV’s contribution to all this light hearted tongue in cheek racism was another hugely successful weekly sitcom called 'Love Thy Neighbour' which ran for almost four years from the early to mid-70’s. The action centred around the reaction of a white couple when a black couple moved in to the house next door, a situation that was happening all over the country at the time. The two main male fictional characters in the show very rarely saw eye to eye on anything and each episode contained a profusion of black and white racist words the nation loved hearing. Nig Nog, Sambo, Honky, Snowflake, etc etc as the two carried on their relentless futile racist wars while their wives became close friends, laughing at their idiotic husbands, with the black character in the series frequently managing to get one over on his white Honky neighbour as if they were evening up the score in the wars against white and black culture.

As bad as these shows were, for me personally the biggest affront to black people and their culture was the BBC’s 'Black and White Minstrel Show' that actually ran for twenty years from 1958 through to 1978 before the powers that be finally saw sense and removed it from our television screens. Try to imagine, if at all possible, sitting down in the lounge on a Saturday night at peak viewing time to watch an all singing dancing show featuring the cast made up as negro American minstrels, Golliwog style, with black faces, eyes and lips highlighted in white and Afro wigs, singing largely country and gospel songs that were popular at the time, and there you have the 'Black and White Minstrel Show'. In this day and age it is inconceivable to accept that the show had over twenty one million regular viewers in 1964 as well as a successful worldwide theatre show which ran for ten years from 1962 to 1972 earning itself a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the theatre production seen by the most amount of people at the time. More success followed with three albums full of songs from the shows with two claiming the number one spot for lengthy periods of time. And all from some idiotic producer's idea to black up white performers as Golliwogs singing the likes of Old Man River, Mammy and Camptown Races. Thankfully, after receiving a petition accusing the television show of racism, it was finally cancelled in 1978 but its theatre offspring continued to have success until 1987, when it too was cancelled, with many of the cast sporting white faces due to the massive public change of attitude.

The show's performers styled their images on the actual Golliwog doll that’s been around in various guises since Victorian times and was still going strong in the 70’s, proving to be the perfect cuddly toy stablemate to the teddy bear kids loved to play with back in the day. Golliwogs were everywhere when I was kid to the point that if you didn’t own one then you weren’t part of the kid 'in crowd'. You could even find them on the everyday household breakfast table emblazoned on jars of Robertson’s jam and marmalade. Collect enough of the tokens, post them off and in turn you’d receive the first in a series of coloured enamel Golliwog badges you could wear on your school blazer with pride, badges that today are still regarded as highly collectable metal miniatures and back in the day, the more you owned the cooler the kid you became. Thankfully sales of such things have declined over the years as society recognises them as being racially offensive to black people, with one notable exception of course. Yeah, you’ve guessed it, the Top Gear dinosaur himself Jeremy Clarkson proudly owns a family business called Solid Golliwogs proving that no matter how much money you’ve made from voicing your opinions on the pros and cons of the latest super car few people can ever afford to buy, you can still be an idiot.



Chapter 4

*London Days Soho Nights and Cappuccino Cream*


I was only around four years old when Dad announced that we were moving to London so he could be nearer his job. The final day in Blackpool was spent loading up the car, which was an Alvis TC saloon, with all the suitcases and other bits and pieces needed for the new home, a modest two bedroom apartment in south west London surrounded by quite a lot of West Indians, colourful, happy, smiling people who introduced me to the delicious spicy tastes of Caribbean cuisine I’d never tasted before and have loved ever since. Dad was in charge of the Selfridges job, working ten hours a day six days a week, leaving home at the crack of dawn and returning late at night. It was his baptism of fire as a site agent and he needed to make a big impression on his bosses. Many a time we’d find him flat out on the sofa after studying every inch of the pile of architect's plans until he knew them like the back of his hand, ever conscious that the job had to be completed before or on time to avoid a crippling financial penalty, but no matter how exhausted he was, he always managed to be the first one up on Sunday morning, bathed, shaved, suited and booted ready for the family day out which was always different and exciting for me. Those days out are the reason I got to know London so well from an early age, and that proved beneficial to me many years later when I was working all over the city and outskirts, much of which has changed beyond recognition since the days I spent working on Canary Wharf and other dockland multi million pound projects that are now a familiar part of the city skyline.

We visited the Victoria and Albert and Natural History museums so many times I felt like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and many of the other prehistoric skeletal beasts and me were best friends. And the Imperial War museum, an impressive building protected by those huge naval guns, where my interest in military history began. Apart from visits accompanied by my parents, as I grew older I often found my own way there, losing myself in the incredible display of military hardware on offer. Tanks and planes standing silent that had once blown and bombed buildings and people to bits. Hours spent in the research section working on my O and A Level history projects backed up by countless photocopies of original wartime photographs I purchased for a shilling each.

After we moved back to Blackpool around 1965, I’d jump on the train to London for the weekend, two nights in the opulence and style of the Hotel Russell including a half price four course meal in the dining room and all for an unbelievable thirty quid care of the Trust House Forte group short discount breaks. And then there were the many times Dad took me round traditional east end pubs meeting all kinds of shady characters who all seemed pleased to meet my Dad again, often ending up with a five pound note stuck in my top pocket just for being his son. Barrels full of slimy eels waiting to be killed and cooked while chestnuts roasted on an open fire. Fantastic steak dinners with all the trimmings in the Aberdeen Angus chain of restaurants and my first ever taste of Greek and Italian cuisine in Soho. A labyrinth of narrow streets on which you could easily get lost if you didn’t stick to the path. Sleazy clubs flashing neon and burly bouncers guarding the entrances outside. Whether they were there to invite people in or prevent them from leaving I could never tell, but every now and again they’d shout out my Dad's name. Loud gruff voices from the dark followed by quick handshakes, backslapping, brief conversations and more cash in my pocket after introducing me to men bigger than bears with solemn promises of a get together next time he was in town leaving me standing there fascinated by this strange vibrant sexually charged bohemian landscape.

There were shop windows selling piles of black and white magazines with pictures of stern looking women on the front wearing corsets and stockings holding whips and riding crops that you just wouldn’t want to mess with. All kinds of weird sex toys and gadgets appealing to people who liked their sex on the dark side. Sweaty nondescript men running in and out of the shops that you really wouldn’t want to take home to meet mummy and daddy. Fantastic sexy hourglass women with big hair and make-up like the vixens portrayed in the paintings by Jack Vettriano. Fur coats, figure hugging animal print dresses, seamed stockings and high heels prowling the streets like tigers searching for their next victim. The jingle jangle noise of the slot machine arcades, favoured hangouts for all the pretty young rent boys, lipstick and dyed hair hoping that the wealthy driver in the Bentley slowly trawling past would stop to offer them a warm bed for the night in return for services rendered depending on the price and if they played the game of course. A fascinating microcosm of diverse alternative human sexuality while jazzmen Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes provided the perfect nocturnal musical soundtrack. The Macabre Club was one of the weirdest places going in Soho back then, waiters and waitresses with white faces draped in black serving drinks on coffin shaped tables, littered with ashtrays in the shape of pot skulls engraved with the club's name. One of these obviously found its way into Dad's overcoat pocket after I asked if I could have one; it still brings back so many memories of those bright light London nights whenever I catch it staring at me from the sideboard.

Of course no mention of Soho would be complete without mentioning the famous Bar Italia on Frith Street selling the finest Italian coffee and nibbles this side of Naples since it was first opened in 1948 by Lou and Caterina Polledri, who from the beginning set their standards high when it came down to serving customers with top quality food and drink. It was a tradition carried on by their children Luigi Veronica and Anatonio who also pride themselves on fine customer satisfaction. Definitely one of the coolest places to hang out in and a place my Dad first introduced me to when I was around ten years old, the place filled with the aroma of fresh coffee turned into the creamiest cappuccinos I’d ever tasted. The first time I saw a group of scooters parked up in a row, and since then of course the Bar Italia has become the spiritual home of the British Mod movement, boasting over fifty years connection with the scene, which is something to be proud of.


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