Sixty-seven years ago the genius of two men turned the seaside town of Southport into the centre of the universe. This is the story of how and why.
It was a time of contrasts. On the one hand World War II was fresh in people’s minds and austerity was the order of the day; on the other was the excitement and promised prosperity of the space and atomic ages.
Into this world, in April 1950, came a dream of things to come; a revolutionary comic called Eagle that introduced us to the Pilot of the Future.
He was the distilled essence of the British fighter ace – courageous, quick thinking, honourable, a knight of the skies – and his name was Daniel McGregor Dare.
There was a time when I read the local TV news with Anthony H. Wilson.
As a television presenter he had the rare ability to be the same human being in two dimensions as he was in three.
He also had the gift of writing out loud. What went down on paper and then came out of the telly was always Wilson.
Tony also enjoyed making things as difficult as possible for no apparent reason.
In 1985 he decided to mark the launch of the Liverpool based movie Letter toBrezhnev with a live report from the city.
The technology at his disposal was as follows: new but unreliable outside broadcast facilities in the shape of shiny blue Range Rovers with big antennae on top; ENG tapes for his packaged pieces; massive ACR cassettes for movie clips and other bits and bobs of archive footage; and quarter inch audio tape with which to play in music.
It’s the 25th anniversary of ITV Granada’s This Morning. This auspicious date has made me think of my time spent working in the bizarre continuum television refers to as Daytime.
I worked on This Morning for more than eighteen months and, for reasons that now elude me, allowed myself to be lured later to the BBC’s Good Morning with Anne and Nick.
Suddenly I found myself on the other side in a war of attrition that would not end until one of the opponents was completely destroyed. I needed all my wits about me to devise ever better Celebrity Flat Pack Challenges, build up “star guests” who frankly often surprised us by being still in the land of the living, and think of some kind of antiques that expert Eric Knowles hadn’t already explained and valued. Oh, and write captions that might keep students watching – over footage of our chef making soup, The Hand that Rocks the Ladle. For an item about looking after privets, Postcards from the Hedge. And for a piece about budget lingerie, Going for a Thong.
The golfing triumph a century ago of Francis Ouimet is the stuff of sporting fairytale. It inspired an engaging Disney movie called “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, written by Mark Frost and based on his fine book of the same title. This is my own more modest account.
In September 1913, the privileged gods of amateur golf and their socially inferior professional counterparts were in Brookline, Massachusetts, preparing for the US Open championship. Little did they suspect that golfing history was about to be made by such an unlikely character, and that the nature of the game would be changed for the better and forever.
Among the field that competed over the Country Club course was a lanky, 20 year-old lad called Francis Ouimet. He stood 6 foot 2, weighed 12 and a half stone, and was the son of Arthur Ouimet, a French-Canadian immigrant, and Mary Ellen Burke, who had come to America from Ireland. When Francis was 4 his family bought a house on Clyde Street in Brookline, just a wedge shot’s distance from the Country Club’s 17th hole. Despite this proximity the Ouimets were from the wrong side of the tracks, while Brookline was sited firmly and luxuriously on the right side.
In the mid-nineteenth century two of America’s greatest writers met in Lancashire. The time they spent together was short but significant.
Herman Melville, creator of Captain Ahab’s obsessive hunt for the white whale, Moby Dick, was slave to a self-destructive quest of his own. An outsider, possessed by a hectic and confused interior life, Melville had long hovered between belief and doubt, faith and cynicism, light and darkness. But by the early 1850s a malign and persistent shadow had fallen across him: at worst the universe was a conspiracy to inflict suffering; at best it was a vast practical joke. His well-being, both physical and spiritual, began to decline. He was pale and distracted and endured headaches and pain.
In 1856 Melville made an escape bid from his troubled self. He left New York on board a screw steamer bound for Glasgow with the aim of visiting Europe and the Holy Land. “I stayed in Glasgow three or four days,” he recorded in his journal. “From Glasgow I went to Edinburgh, remaining there five days I think. From Edinburgh I finally went to York. After a day’s stay to view the Minster, I came here.”
Here was Liverpool. Melville arrived just after mid-day on Saturday the 8th of November. He took a room in the White Bear hotel and then re-traced some of the steps he had taken during his first visit when, aged 20, he had sailed to the port as a boy on a packet. He was planning to sail from Liverpool to Constantinople, but also take the opportunity to look up his old friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, like Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, was a bright bloom in the first great flowering of American literature. Best known for The Scarlet Letter he was now American Consul at Liverpool and had made a home for his wife and children in Southport.
When you ponder the spirit and genius of invention, spare a thought for visionaries who back the wrong technology. This is the story of the world’s first mechanically powered submarine and the 19th century vicar who designed her. When the boat’s wreck was discovered in 1995 I organised the first filming of her lying on the seabed. You can see some of the footage by clicking or tapping here.
Resurgam was the brainchild of the Reverend George Garrett, curate of Moss Side, in Manchester. Brilliant, somewhat eccentric, but also level-headed, he realised that submarines could police the British coastline and strike at any menacing Russian ironclads. He could safeguard his country by building the ultimate deterrent of his day – and make his fortune in the process.
Resurgam, betraying Garrett’s clerical background, means “I shall rise again”. The name was to prove bizarrely ironic.