People

Spiv cartoon 001

Harry Mottram has a suitcase full of demob suits. Here he relates his life as a spiv

I once sold black market nylons. And I had quite a good line in Scotch, fags and Swiss watches. But the Scotch wasn’t Scotch, the cigarettes weren’t legal and the watches fell off the back of an army truck. For three days in the summer of 2010 I was a spiv in a community play in Somerset. The Axbridge Pageant was and is a vast community drama played out on the streets of the town every ten years. It has a cast of hundreds, an audience of thousands and comes complete with Saxon battles, civil war drama and World War II – and my part as the black marketeer.
Packed with clichéd wartime characters such as rosy cheeked land girls, bungling home guard troops and an ARP job’s worth the scene was set for my part as a spiv to enter as the likable rogue trader ready to do a runner once the local bobbie appeared. As a pastiche of the era it was perfect – just what the audience wanted. But as a piece of living history it was a caricature of the time rather an accurate reconstruction.

Radio hero: Arthur English in Variety Bandbox

Radio hero: Arthur English in Variety Bandbox

There was one obvious anomaly: while all able bodied men were off fighting Hitler I was busy making a living bypassing the rationing system and selling retail goods at extortionate prices. Society didn’t take the spiv to its heart in quite the same way as the one I portrayed. In reality spivs (police acronym for Suspected Persons and Itinerant Vagrants) would not generally have been welcomed so publicly. Out of the public view, at the back of a pub and the tradesmen’s entrance the spiv was welcome, but if you were caught dabbling in the black market in the open there was public condemnation.
The pageant audience seemed to love the spiv character with my suitcase and correspondent shoes and trilby hat. I’d like to think it was my acting but the truth is they warmed to and identified with the anti-authoritarian character working the black economy. For the spiv strikes a note with anyone who would like to get one over on the taxman, the police or the Government.

Wide boy: Private Walker in Dad's Army popularised the spiv in the TV series

Wide boy: Private Walker in Dad’s Army popularised the spiv in the TV series

My theatrical spiv character played into the stereotype created by post war comedies on television, the radio and cinema. During the war years spivs bent the rules and sold everyday stuff that wasn’t available in the shops. After the war however they either went back to conventional jobs, traded more legitimately on the fringes of the black market or became criminals. But in popular culture George Cole who appeared as Flash Harry in the 1954 film The Belles of St Trinian’s, Terry-Thomas as Alfred Green in the 1956 Boulting Brothers movie Brothers in Law were fast-talking limable rogues. And the radio comedian Arthur English personified the archetypal spiv in the BBC radio programme Bandbox as The Prince of the Wide Boys in which he refined the appearance of the character: pencil moustache, wide-brimmed hat, light-coloured suit and a bright patterned tie.
Perhaps in reality the real spiv was closer to the criminal and sociopath Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock Graham Greene’s pre-war novel of Brighton gangland, and the black marketeer Harry Lime in The Third Man in the 1949 Carol Reed film. Vicious, selfish and violent, these characters represented the dark side of the spiv. As the war broke out in 1939 and bombs brought chaos to London the light fingered saw an opportunity to relieve bombed homes and shops of their goods. With shortages both during and after the war criminals quickly filled the market selling anything from petticoats to petrol, and with fewer police and the blackout, crime soared. Despite the threat of £500 fines and prison sentences this new class of businessmen graduated from selling excess clothing coupons to clearing out entire warehouses at the point of a gun and formed the nucleus of the crime gangs of the 1950s.

Back hander: playing the spiv in the Axbridge Pageant

Back hander: playing the spiv in the Axbridge Pageant

Writing in The Guardian in 2010 Duncan Campbell wrote about Billy Hill, a dapper gangster from Seven Dials in London who would emerge from the war as the leading figure in the capital’s underworld. Campbell wrote: “He immediately appreciated what a fabulous opportunity the war presented. ‘I don’t pretend to be a King and country man, but I must say I did put my name down to serve and until they came to get me I was making the most out of a situation,’ said Hill in his ghosted autobiography, Boss of Britain’s Underworld, published in 1955. ‘So that big, wide, handsome and, oh, so profitable black market walked into our ever open arms. Some day someone should write a treatise on Britain’s wartime black market. It was the most fantastic side of civilian life in wartime. Make no mistake. It cost Britain millions of pounds. I didn’t merely make use of the black market. I fed it.’” It’s a telling anecdote from a man who went on organise bank robberies and bullion heists and to be mentor to the Kray twins.
These real life spivs were a long way from Private Walker and his pork chops destined for Captain Mainwaring’s dinner table in Dad’s Army, or indeed my illicit bottles of Scotch or black market nylons offered to the citizens of Axbridge.

Goal keepers: the good, the bad and the downright dodgy

jack hillman

In 2008 Stretchmark Theatre produced the one man show Dodgy Keeper. This is an essay written at the time on the theme of goalkeepers, goalkeeping and dodgy goalkeepers in particular.

Goalkeeping and dodgy goalies

As Joe Royle once said, “all goalkeepers are mad.” Nobody except a fool, a lunatic or an eccentric wants to go in goal. You need to be one stud short of a boot. Not all there. Just look at Petr Cech (Chelsea). His skull is a patchwork of titanium – anyone normal would choose a slightly less physical sport following such head injuries – but not the iron man. And there was (and is) John Burridge whose career as a professional keeper lasted three decades – with a long list of injuries caused by the boots, elbows and knees of colliding strikers. Ouch.

So why go in goal? Well… due to the unpopularity of the position, you’ve got a good chance of having a game. First name on the team sheet, the keeper is the foundation of every team. True, they are cursed, criticised and condemned when things go wrong – and sacrificed like David James was for England. Treated as the fall-guy when the team is beaten by a freak goal – but in contrast is praised, pampered and prized when penalty shoot-outs are won. And it’s not unknown for a goalkeeper to score at the other end. Peter Schmeichel managed to net 13 times at the other end during his career in the Premiership. That’s more than many outfield players.

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Esmond Million

But unlike many outfield players, the keeper only has to make one mistake to get noticed. You need a thick skin, a strong nerve and a maturity of character to see you through the mental and physical challenges that the position throws up. Which is why the keeper is often older than most of his or her team mates. Pat Jennings was 40 when Norman Whiteside joined the Northern Ireland squad at 16. Talk about men and boys. What on earth could they have found in common to talk about?

Why is it that the term “dodgy keeper” has become so universal an insult, when no other member of a football squad attracts such a label? Is it because that keepers are virtually the only player who could possibly influence a game? Well they think they can – but as in the case of Bristol Rover’s Esmond Million, that wasn’t as easy as it appeared. With their fabulous wages, you’d think they wouldn’t be tempted – but since the great Edwardian dodgy keeper, Happy Jack Hillman, the temptation is always there.

So who were the dodgiest keepers of all time? Well, there’s been a few candidates over the years. Jimmy Warner for Aston Villa was thought to have fixed the cup final against West Brom a century ago, while Dick Beattie of Portsmouth was involved in a betting syndicate. (And according to The Sun, so was Bruce Grobellaar). El Loco, the Columbian goalkeeper of the 1980s, did a spell in jail over a kidnapping while N’Kono of the Cameroun was banged up after he tried to use witchcraft to sway a game in the African Nation’s Cup. And then there are keepers like Mark Bosnich, who were considered dodgy for rather more recreational drug-using reasons. Or how about the late pope, John Paul II (Poland before the war), who had him upstairs on his side? Wasn’t that a bit dodgy?

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Fatty in goal

It all rather comes back to the original question of why go in goal in the first place. Perhaps, some of these lofty gents felt they needed a bit of extra financial rewards for al the insults they suffered and all the knocks that they took. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the craic. The thrill of knowing something about the game that the rest of team couldn’t guess at.

Why? Why would anyone want to go in goal?

When outfield players run free and roam, the field in search of booted ball,

Nameless in space and place, clear fifty yards from responsibility’s call.

Their sharpened shouts of ‘pass and move’, ‘man on’ and ‘boot it long’.

Absolve these running puffing players, of any fault or any wrong.

Not for them the fear of one mistake, that costs the team a vital game,

The ‘keeper’s howler’ remembered, red-faced, in head-bowed shame.

For who would stand in sleet and fog, awaiting the captain’s call,

To leap and catch the half-scuffed shot, the skidding, muddied ball?

Or meet the sweating, reddened striker, boots, laces, flying mud,

Skinned, shinned, kicked and crunched, flesh torn by tearing stud.

But… to punt the ball from length to length and see it arc in greying sky,

Or clear the through pass back up field or punch a header high.

And flying flick that certain goal, past painted post, arms outstretched,

And reap the cheers, blokish hugs, and pints bought in respect.

Arh! Yes.

For every keeper knows that certain moment in their white-lined land,

When they rise, and grab the vicious volley,

And seize glory in both hands.

Harry Mottram

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She liked brass bands, fire engines and men in uniform – the strange world of Miss Emily Fazakerley

Model Indie Heaslip emulates the eccentric Miss Emily of Banwell for a fashion shoot in Strawberry Line Times. Pic: Harry Mottram

Model Indie Heaslip emulates the eccentric Miss Emily of Banwell for a fashion shoot in Strawberry Line Times. Pic: Harry Mottram

One lived in a haystack, one joined the Serbian army and another set up her own fire brigade. The world would be a much duller place without that most individual of human beings: the female eccentric.

Flora Sandes was the only woman from Britain to join the Serbian army and fight the advancing Austrians in the First World War. Louisa (no known surname) lived in a haystack near Congresbury in the late 18th century and for a time was something of a celebrity with fashionable visitors riding out to visit her. And finally we have Emily Fazakerley from Banwell.

Born in Ynys Mon, Cymbru (Wales), in 1840 she was the daughter of Henry Fazakerley of Fazakerley House Lancashire, and lived in Plas Castell at Denbigh Castle and was educated in London. Emily moved to Banwell Abbey in 1883 for health reasons and was to leave a lasting impression when she arrived by train on the Strawberry Line at Banwell and Sandford Station. Looking slightly severe in her funereal black gown the Welsh aristocrat cut an exotic image of a cross between Mary Poppins and Queen Victoria.

Described as a “wealthy, eccentric, lady bountiful” on Barry Mather’s website about the history of Banwell, the wealthy spinster of the parish was noted for her acts of generosity to the community. These included donating land and a cottage to set up a fire station in 1887, and buying a horse drawn fire engine and uniforms for the new fire brigade. Clearly Emily had an eye for theatre as she established a brass band and had special uniforms for the musicians made by Mr Lewis the village tailor.

Once she had moved into the Abbey in Banwell (now split into four homes) Emily took a keen interest in the social life of the village. In the 19th century the village was like many in England – suffering from unemployment and in particular a lack of social services. Although the Education Act of 1870 had begun to provide elementary state education there was no formal provision for training and further education. Poverty was a problem and the utilities, health service and emergency services we take for granted barely existed.

It was recorded that: “On a sudden whim, she would invite all the women in the village to tea and they, numbering as many as 50, would march through the village escorted by the band. They were not only entertained to tea but sent home loaded with blankets, sheets, tea and every kind of household utensil – to the value of about £50 (a considerable sum in those days). When a tinker called at the Abbey she would sometimes purchase his entire stock – brushes, pans etc. to build up her stock of gifts to give to the village.”

Many homes were still thatched and all houses used open fires – so the threat of fire was considerable to the tightly packed homes of the village. Emily decided to set up a fire brigade complete with a fire station and the latest equipment.

And her philanthropy didn’t end there. Emily also founded a village band – dressing the members in smart uniforms and equipping them with musical instruments. One of the band – the late Fred Day – recalled “Miss Fazakerley took a great interest in the band and invited it to play at the Abbey on many occasions – we used to go there nearly every night. We didn’t know many tunes and were not much of a band, but we used to struggle through two or three numbers such as Rule Britannia. However, she seemed very pleased with us and after we had played would call out to the Butler “Cornelius, march them to supper”. And what a supper it was.”

Cornelius the butler was also called upon to set light to bonfires in the grounds of the Abbey – so she could invite the firemen to demonstrate how effective they were. Whether these were official hoax calls is unclear – but then if you’ve paid for the fire brigade’s creation it is only fair you can call them out occasionally for your own amusement.

Another passion of the extraordinary Miss Fazakerley was her legendary shopping trips to Bristol where she would sometimes hire a special steam train on the Strawberry Line. Setting off from Banwell and Sandford Railway Station accompanied by her staff and waited upon by Cornelius the butler she visited the chic shops of Bristol’s Corn Street, Victoria Street and Castle Street – no doubt stopping for lunch at the Tudor Dutch House on the corner of Wine Street and High Street.

The friend of tinkers and the poor, founder of fire stations and village bands it seemed the eccentric Miss Fazakerley could do no wrong. That was until the incident of the church clock in 1884. It was one innovation too far. St Andrew’s parish church was in need of a new clock and so in her own individual way Miss Fazakerley had one brought from her family home in Denbigh Castle and paid for the workmen to have it installed on the church tower. Lit by gas which automatically switched on at night it appeared to be the perfect timepiece. However this was the 19th century and folks weren’t so keen on all modernisations. It would be the equivalent of a vast digital clock being put there today along with neon lighting. It would do the job but somehow not in the right way. The villagers took against the new clock and made their feelings felt. It must have been a painful moment in the relationship between the parishioners and Emily – but she got the message and had the clock removed. A short time late the villagers replaced it with a clock of their own choosing – which is still there to this day. Oh well… you can’t win them all.

In 1888 Miss Fazakerley died at the age of 48. Her death stunned the village with the residents in genuine shock. Her frail and imp-like body was laid in an oak and lead coffin and placed in state in the Abbey chapel. Hundreds of mourners visited the coffin to pay their last respects – an act of homage that has largely disappeared in our own times. Her final journey was fittingly by horse and carriage to Banwell and Sandford station where her coffin was taken to London to be buried in the family plot. But it was a departure that combined her two defining characteristics: public theatre and community spirit. Accompanied by the Banwell Fire Brigade and of the village brass band hundreds of mourners made up of residents, family members and friends walked at funereal pace the mile or so to the station while in the distance could be heard the tolling of the church bell – rung in her honour.

One obituary recorded: “To give a general estimate of her character is a pleasing and by no means a difficult task. The impression that has gone abroad concerning her, needs modification. Her eccentricities and naturally excitable temper left sometimes a wrong impression. Her very follies leaned to virtue’s side. Her failings were her virtue. She was generous even to a fault. Her concern for the poor during the recent very severe weather was sometimes painful to witness. She had an idea that they were dying of hunger and cold and that she must provide them with soup, bread, meat, coals and clothing. Her one aim was to do well, and had her life been spared she would have done still more good. As it is, she has left her mark upon Banwell so deeply engraved that while one of the present inhabitants still survive, her name will be held in grateful remembrance. Well may it be said ‘She was a lady, take her for all in all, we shall not look upon her like again’.”

At the beginning of this article I called Emily a Great British eccentric – or words to that effect. But perhaps she was not an eccentric but rather an individual. Are not eccentrics simply people who do as they wish and are not bothered by the opinions of others and the conventions of society? Individuals who are happy as themselves. Why we need to pick on them is perhaps more to do with the fact that most of us are not particularly unusual. We blend in almost unnoticed in society – which is the way we like it. While Emily was certainly an individual – and although she was rich and could do as she chose – you don’t have to be wealthy to be called an eccentric as Louisa in the haystack proved – a lady who we may well revisit in a future issue.

Acknowledgements to Roy Rice of Banwell on his history of the Banwell Fire Brigade.