On one of the coldest mornings in Canberra's recorded history, this blog was running hot. At 7.28am today, its page view counter turned over to the three million mark. I haven't been all that active in blogging since March, but the page views just keep on ticking over. The blog, now almost 6½-years-old, went from two million page views to three million in 20 months, the same time it took to go from one million to two million. It contains 2300 posts and has 170 followers - comments are approaching 8800.
Monday, 3 July 2017
Friday, 30 June 2017
I got back on Wednesday from Bombala in south-eastern New South Wales - where the koala "bear" soft toy craze started almost 90 years ago, in 1927 - to hear the sad news that Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond had passed away in London, at the age of 91. I guess one could argue that Paddington Bear is the late 1950s British manifestation of Australia's symbolic koala soft toy, though the koala - notwithstanding the overwrought opinions of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory - is not a bear at all.
Karen Jankel, Michael Bond’s daughter, with Bond's Olympia typewriter.
Nor is the Olympia SM9 semi-portable typewriter upon which Bond is claimed to have created Paddington Bear the typewriter Bond actually used when he wrote his first Paddington Bear story, in 1954. Bond bought the Olympia in 1965, 11 years later.
Thomas Michael Bond was born in Newbury, Berkshire, on January 13, 1926. He served in Egypt with the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army in World War Two and while based outside Cairo was offered the use of a typewriter in the orderly's office. It was with this machine that Bond wrote his first short story, in a tent in 1945. He sold the story to the magazine London Opinion, for which he was was paid seven guineas, and thought he "wouldn't mind being a writer". In 1958, after producing a number of plays and short stories and while working as a BBC television cameraman, Bond's first book, A Bear Called Paddington, was published. By 1965, Bond was able to give up his BBC job, buy his Olympia typewriter, and work full-time as a writer. Over the next 52 years more than 35 million Paddington books were sold in more than 40 languages, and have inspired pop bands, race horses, plays, hot air balloons, a movie and a television series.
Bond married Brenda Mary Johnson in 1950 and in Selfridges on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve three years later, on a whim, he bought her a hand-puppet bear as a Christmas tree stocking filler. Bond remembered, "It was the last one on the shelf and looked rather forlorn, I felt sorry for it. I called it Paddington because I'd always wanted to use the name; I think it has a nice, safe, West Country sound." A few weeks afterwards, in early 1954, Bond sat in the couple's one-room flat off the Portobello Road, west London, staring at his then typewriter (not the Olympia) and a blank piece of paper. "Glancing round in search of inspiration, my gaze came to rest on Paddington, who gave me a hard stare from the mantelpiece, and the muse struck, along with what was destined to become the equivalent of a literary catchphrase. Suppose a real live bear ended up at Paddington station? Where might it have sprung from, and why? If it had any sense it would find a quiet spot near the Lost Property Office and hope for the best. I knew exactly how my own parents would react if they saw it, particularly if it had a label round its neck, like a refugee in the last war. There are few things sadder in life than a refugee." Bond typed, "Mr and Mrs Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform." He later recalled, ''It was never intended as a book. I just wrote something to get my mind going. But it rather caught my fancy, so I carried on."
This was the start of Bond's series of books recounting the tales of Paddington Bear, a bear from "darkest Peru", whose Aunt Lucy sends him to England carrying a jar of marmalade. In the first book the Brown family find the bear at Paddington Station, and adopt him, naming the bear after the railway station. Bond gave Paddington the government-surplus duffel coat and bush hat that he himself wore. And around his neck he hung a luggage label bearing the words, "Please look after this bear. Thank you." Bond said, "Paddington was the first character-driven story I’d ever written and for some reason he came alive."
Saturday, 24 June 2017
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Saturday, 27 May 2017
Monday, 24 April 2017
Serious enquiries only. If you know typewriters you will know about the historical significance of these models and will also know what they are worth. Singapore OUT.
Remington 2, first machine to have shift device. Oliver 5. Both in excellent working order.
First four-bank Bijou (Erika) portable and first model Remington portable. My two "go-to" machines.
Two Standard Foldings.
Two early Simplexes, first model and No 5.
Frolio 5 and Junior.
NZTC Blick 7 and Blick 6.
Salem Hall (pointer arm missing) and Blick Featherweight.
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
French-Jewish author and activist Marek Halter writing on his Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter in his studio in the Marais district of Paris on September 5, 1979, following the publication of his book The Uncertain Life of Marco Mahler (La vie incertaine de Marco Mahler).
Halter is best known for his historical novels, which have been translated into English, Polish, Hebrew and many other languages. He was born in Warsaw on January 27, 1936. During World War II, he and his parents escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto and fled to the Soviet Union, spending the remainder of the war in Ukraine, Moscow and finally in Kokand, in Uzbekistan. In 1945 he was chosen to travel to Moscow to present flowers to Joseph Stalin. In 1946 the family returned to Poland and in 1950 they emigrated to France, taking up residence in Paris.
Halter studied pantomime under Marcel Marceau and was admitted to the École Nationale des beaux-arts to study painting. In 1954, he received the Deauville international prize, and was also awarded a prize at the Biennale d'Ancone. His first international exhibit was in 1955 in Buenos Aires, and he remained in there for two years, returning to France in 1957, where he engaged in political journalism and advocacy. In 1991 Halter organised the French College in Moscow.
In 1968 he and his wife Clara Halter founded the magazine Élements, which published works by Israeli, Palestinian and Arab writers. Halter's first book, the political autobiography Le Fou et les Rois (The Jester and the Kings), was awarded the Prix Aujourd'hui in 1976.
Halter's other novels include The Messiah, The Mysteries of Jerusalem, The Book of Abraham (1986) and its sequel The Children of Abraham (1990), The Wind of the Khazars (2003), Sarah (2004), Zipporah (2005), Lilah (2006), and Mary of Nazareth (2008). Non-fiction works include Stories of Deliverance: Speaking with Men And Women Who Rescued Jews from the Holocaust (1998).
Friday, 24 March 2017
Colin Dexter with his Imperial Good Companion 4
portable typewriter in Oxford in 1977.Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter has died in Oxford, England, aged 86. Born Norman Colin Dexter at Stamford, Lincolnshire, Dexter was a crime fiction novelist who wrote the Inspector Morse series of books between 1975-99.
He began writing mysteries in 1972 during a family holiday: "We were in a little guest house halfway between Caernarfon and Pwllheli [in Wales]. It was a Saturday and it was raining - it's not unknown for it to rain in North Wales. The children were moaning ... I was sitting at the kitchen table with nothing else to do, and I wrote the first few paragraphs of a potential detective novel." Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and introduced the character of Inspector Morse, an irascible detective whose penchants for cryptic crosswords, English literature, cask ale and Wagner reflect Dexter's own enthusiasms.
TV series: John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse (right)
and Kevin Whately as Detective Sergeant Lewis.
Friday, 17 March 2017
Calling himself Elston Gunnn, Bob Dylan unsuccessfully auditioned as a piano player with Bobby Vee's group The Shadows. Dylan is seen here typing on an Olivetti Lettera 32 portable.
A then 19-year-old Tony Meehan, left, was the original drummer (behind Hank B.Marvin) with Cliff Richard's band The Drifters, who later changed their name to The Shadows, causing Bobby Vee to change the name of his band to The Vees. Meehan, seen here with Jay and Tommy Scott and a Facit typewriter, as executive producer and chief A&R man for the Shadrich recording company, had, six months earlier, virtually dismissed The Beatles as a recording group. On January 1, 1962, The Beatles were auditioned at Decca by Meehan. Beatles manager Brian Epstein had paid Meehan to produce the recordings. Decca rejected The Beatles, instead choosing The Tremeloes, who auditioned the same day. A month later, Meehan expressed condescending comments about The Beatles’ audition and The Beatles moved on to George Martin at the Pharlphone (EMI) label.
Bobby Vee sadly fell victim to Alzheimer's disease in Rogers, Minnesota, on October 24 last year, aged 73. The last time I was talking to Bobby was in June 2006, when he told me the great story about the time he stood in for Buddy Holly. It happened the night of "The Day the Music Died". Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens had died in a plane crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa, at about 1.07am on February 3, 1959, and a little more than 17 hours later Bobby and his school band were sharing the stage with the like of Dion DiMucci and Waylon Jennings in the Winter Dance Party show at Moorhead, Minnesota, determined not to perform That'll Be The Day (That I Die), Blue Days, Black Nights or even, for that matter, Rock Around With Ollie Vee.
Bobby and his older brothers and their schoolmates had been eagerly looking forward to seeing Holly live in Moorhead for weeks before the show. Once Bobby, who earned pocket money as a newspaper boy, had got over delivering the bad news on the doorsteps of Fargo, North Dakota - that Holly was dead - he and his band answered a call to take the place of Holly and The Crickets at the rock and pop show across the Red River. The Vee band had long since, thankfully, got rid of its wayward one-key piano player, Elston Gunnn (note, three “n’s”), a then busboy at the Red Apple Café in Fargo who was also known as Robert Allen Zimmerman, later Bob Dylan.
Bobby Vee with The Shadows, who changed their name to The Vees after seeing the English Shadows perform.
Already knowing most of these details, what took me by surprise in my chat with Bobby was when he told me the name of the Fargo high school band was The Shadows. Around about the time of Holly’s death, the better known (to Australians, at least) English group called The Shadows had had to change their name from The Drifters, on receiving an injunction stating that that sobriquet had already been taken by a well established (since 1954) doo wop vocal group formed by Clyde McPhatter, one which had had a string of hits on the US mainstream and R & B charts, including, notably, There Goes My Baby in 1959.
Hank B. Marvin, left, with Cliff Richard in the original English Drifters. Tony Meehan is peering out under Marvin's arm.
I asked Bobby if he was aware of the English instrumentalists. “Oh, yes,” he said. “We changed our name the moment we saw them in a concert one night.” That was in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1960, during a rare early US tour by Cliff Richard, on which he and The Shadows shared the bill with Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and none other than the injunction-toting Clyde McPhatter. Avalon, by the by, had taken the place of the Fargo high school band when the Winter Dance Party continued on from Moorhead in February 1959. “We knew as soon as the ‘real Shadows’ started playing and moving we weren’t in the same league as them, and felt embarrassed we’d even temporarily stolen their name,” said Bobby. “On the drive home to Fargo after the show that night, there was complete silence in the car for a long while, and then one of us said, ‘Well, what are we going to have to call ourselves then?’” They sensibly came up with The Vees.
The English Shadows, with Brian Bennett, left, replacing Meehan, but still with bassist Jet Harris, second left, arrive in Australia in 1961. Lead guitarist Hank B. Marvin is second from right, beside Bruce Welch. Memo Sheldon Cooper: You may think you are the smartest man alive, but a koala is NOT a bear.
That year, 1960, was momentous for the so-called “real” Shadows. They had a monster worldwide hit with Jerry Lordan’s Apache. Worldwide, that is, as in everywhere except where it really mattered - in the US. Stateside, the version of Apache which went to the top of the charts was an intriguingly intricate one played on a Gibson guitar by the Dane Jørgen Ingmann-Pedersen. On The Shadows’ version, lead guitarist Hank B. Marvin (now 30 years resident in Western Australia, where he runs the Nivram recording studio on Tiverton Street, Perth) played a Fender Stratocaster using Joe Brown’s cast-off Italian-built Binson Echorec chamber.
Jørgen Ingmann and his wife Grethe winning the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest with Dansevise.
Back then, as the mix-up with The Drifters name indicates, news of what was happening in rock and pop on either side of the Atlantic was far from free-flowing. The Shadows’ distinctive sound came about by mistake. They wanted to emulate the sound of Ricky Nelson’s backing group, and found out James Burton used a Fender. Richard ordered the guitars by mail order catalogue, and a Stratocaster turned up. Burton used a Telecaster. Unlike Brown with his echo chamber, however, Richard and The Shadows liked the Strat sound and kept it.
That simple twist of fate over Ingmann's version of Apache meant The Shadows were never able to achieve the same impact in the US as they did everywhere else in the world. Marvin influenced few American guitarists the way he did English guitar heroes, like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler, Pete Townshend and so many more.
The original Ventures, never in the same league as The Shadows.
Thus the decision of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame foundation in February 2008 to induct The Ventures ahead of The Shadows was perhaps understandable, if no doubt galling for the legends of Shadows fans across the world, including in Australia. The foundation mentioned The Ventures’ Walk Don't Run and their cover of the Hawaii Five-O theme tune, although, of course, the version of Hawaii Five-O which everyone and their dog identifies with is the original TV series theme written and performed by Mort Stevens. Most galling of all, however, was the foundation’s claim that The Ventures provided the “defining instrumental guitar rock in the 1960s”. The Ventures simply do not stack up in this regard against The Shadows, especially the original line-up of Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan.
I must disclose at this point that the soundtrack of my early adolescence was provided by The Shadows, and although my passion for their music has gradually waned over the past half century, I still regard them as, tune for tune, the greatest instrumental group ever, bar none. I know, too, I am far from alone in this opinion. Yet having said all that, I must also confess the best piece of guitar rock music I’ve ever heard is the intro to Richard’s Move It, which was played not by Marvin but by session musician Ernie Shear, using a blond Hofner with a DeArmond pick-up near the bridge and a Selmer amp. Unbeatable.
Monday, 13 March 2017
In an irresistible flight of absolute fancy, I imagine Patricia Beddison Gray, just turned eight by a fortnight and being baby sat at home at Westridge, Canberra, on the night of March 18, 1932, quietly casting a curse on all journalists. Her parents, Australian Forestry School lecturer Hugh Richard Gray and his wife Judy, had gone out for the evening, to the Kurrajong Hotel for the first Press Gallery Ball held in the nation’s new capital, and were waltzing the night away to the music of the Roxy Dance Band. The reality, I gather, is that Patricia Gray was far too sensible, even at eight, to try to put a hex on anyone, including journalists. Yet in 1980 Patricia and her husband, Frank Benson Horner, published a book, When Words Fail: A Casebook of Language Lapses in Australia, that had every journalist in the country ducking for cover.
"For the purposes of this book," the Horners wrote, "words fail to meet the user's needs in three ways. First, and most obviously, they fail when they do not convey the intended meaning ... Secondly, words fail when they convey the intended meaning, but at the expense of their continued usefulness … The third way in which words fail to meet the user's needs is by alienating the reader." It’s arguable whether truer words have ever been written about the grammatically indifferent traditional content of Australian newspapers.
A young Pat Horner at a Sydney University reunion in 1953
Pat Horner began compiling When Words Fail when she was teaching at Narrabundah College in 1968, adding to examples in text books. She was initially drawn to “really exotic mixed metaphors”. Soon the Horners were leaving notepads around their Deakin home to record the howlers they heard on radio and TV. When Frank retired from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, he joined Pat in putting When Words Fail together. Happily, the project didn’t end with the publication of the book, and the Horners’ service to the English language continued for another 18 years, with a regular Saturday column appearing under the same title in The Age newspaper in Melbourne. Pat died in 2000 and Frank four years later.
In his Canberra Times review of When Words Fail (“Propriety and Elegance and a Bit of the Vernacular”), columnist Maurice Dunlevy jocularly referred to the Horners as “picking on” journalists, since “Mixing metaphors is the nearest most newspapers ever come to poetry.” Dunlevy said “the language of Australian public life is often as clumsy as a duck in a ploughed paddock”. He believed that “no attack on the press … has been so savage and yet so subtle as that by [these] two Canberrans”. Their work was “wicked and seemingly dispassionate” … “Frank Horner and Patricia Horner have attacked the freedom of the press by ridiculing the freedom with which the press uses language.” Dunlevy added, “Who … cares if the language of the news is as rough as a pig's breakfast? The Homers care, that's who. And because they care they may deprive journalists of their freedom not to care. Their documentary casebook collects examples of when words have failed professional speakers and writers in Australia today and their notes comment on the failures.”
Oh, for such a couple of guardians of the English language “as she’s writ” today. What appears online and in print from the fingers of modern journalists would require not one slim work like When Words Fail, but something of the four-volume, 510,000-word magnitude of Winston Churchill’s opus, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Thirty-seven years on from the appearance of When Words Fail, Dunlevy’s own words have failed and, it’s clear, nobody cares any longer.
A week or so ago I was drawn to this book by its cover, adorned with a wonderful illustration by Frank Horner’s brother, Arthur Wellesley Horner (1916-1997), creator of the Colonel Pewter cartoon strip (which sometimes featured Fleet Street reporter Wesley Upchat). Frank and Arthur were members of an extraordinarily talented family, which also included Aboriginal rights activist John Curwen (“Jack”) Horner (1922-2010). They were the sons of Arthur Horner (1883-1969), a man who rose from being a vice-telegraph messenger in his home town of Riverton in South Australia in 1902 to director of Posts and Telegraphs in the federal Postmaster-General’s Department in 1948.
Jean and Jack Horner
Arthur Horner was said to have “had a seemingly limitless imagination and amazing dexterity of vision and technique in the comics medium”.
Born at East Malvern in Victoria on October 28, 1917, Dr Frank Horner joined the New South Wales Bureau of Statistics in 1935 and attended evening classes at Sydney University to obtain a degree in economics. He was seconded to the Commonwealth Treasury in 1940 but was eventually commissioned as a naval officer serving mainly in New Guinea waters between 1943-46. Frank's wedding day with Pat in January 1946 was put back a week because he had come down with malaria on the original date.
After post-graduate studies for his doctorate at the London School of Economics, Frank returned to the bureau as assistant statistician and rose to the position of assistant Government Statistician. In 1958 he joined the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics in Canberra and was appointed deputy Commonwealth Statistician in 1964. Frank was known for his pioneering work in the introduction of social indicators to Australia and for his professional rigour.
Following retirement from the public service, Frank abandoned figures for words and concentrated his efforts on researching early French voyages in the Pacific. He published two elegant works, French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia in 1987 and Looking for La Pérouse: D’Entrecasteaux in Australia and the South Pacific 1792-1793 in 1995. For these two ground-breaking books Frank was decorated by the French government. On November 19, 2002, France’s Ambassador to Australia, Pierre Viaux, presented Frank with the insignia of the Palmes Académiques (see image below).
Frank was also passionate about classical music and was on the committees of the Canberra Youth Orchestra and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
This “Gang Gang” column about When Words Fail appeared in The Canberra Times in September 1980. Frank and Pat Horner might have been highly amused that when the article appeared in print, it quoted Frank as using the word “badder”, which a reader quickly pointed out in a letter to the editor. Frank replied that he’d actually said “harder” and blamed the reporter’s tape recorder (personally, I’d have blamed the reporter and the sub-editor and the check sub).
Pat Horner’s father, Dick Gray (1895-1979), was born in Oxford in England and died there, but spent more than 30 years of his life in Australia. After serving in World War I, he became inspector of forests on the Nile in the Sudan and in July 1923 took up an appointment as a forester in Western Australia. In 1927 he moved to Canberra to be one of the original lecturers at the Australian Forestry School.
Dick Gray, circled, in 1935. Behind him, to his left, is one of his students, Lindsay Pryor, ironically the son of a cartoonist, Oswald Pryor, and the father of a well-known newspaper cartoonist, Geoff Pryor.
Patricia was born at Waverley Private Hospital on Adelaide Terrace in Perth on March 4, 1924. Her parents moved to Canberra three years later and Pat soon proved to be a brilliant student. She attended Telopea Park School and at age 11 passed a high school entrance examination. Pat then gained a Canberra scholarship from the Canberra High School on her leaving certificate in 1940, aged 16. She did war work at Mount Stromlo Observatory in 1941. The next year Pat produced outstanding results in her first year Arts course at Sydney University; she tied for first in English I and won the MacCullum Prize and the Maud Stiles Prize for women students. She was third in History. Pat graduated in 1946. Clearly possessed of a sharp intellect, in later life she was unafraid to speak out on an extremely diverse range of issues, from opening public libraries on Sundays to National Gallery entry fees, banning casinos in Canberra and saving the city’s trees, building a biological centre and providing better remand care.
Jack Horner, like Frank, was educated at Sydney High School. He then studied art at East Sydney Technical College before being called up to serve in the Australian Army in 1943. In 1950, Jack and his wife Jean travelled to England, where they found work designing and painting scenery for theatre productions. They returned to Australia in 1953 – when Jack started work with the Law Book Company. The couple became involved with the Workers’ Educational Association and developed an awareness of discrimination against Aborigines, which led to their involvement in campaigning for Aboriginal rights and taking an active role in organisations supporting the cause. Jack and Jean joined the newly-formed Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship in 1957 and campaigned for the repeal of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act 1935. As the fellowship’s secretary from 1958-66, Jack was responsible for campaigns to remove discriminating clauses relating to Aboriginal people from New South Wales laws and he was secretary of the “Vote Yes” Committee for the 1967 referendum to remove similar clauses from the Australian Constitution. Jack and Jean were executive members of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Jack as vice-president and general secretary and Jean as the treasurer. They were also members of the Australian Council of Churches Commission on Aboriginal Development. Jack’s works include Seeking Racial Justice: An Insider's Memoir for the Movement of Aboriginal Advancement, 1938-1978 and co-authorship of A Dictionary of Australian History.
* I acknowledge considerable assistance from Harriet Barry, daughter of Pat and Frank Horner.