Backing Britain? What a Carry On
QUESTION Whatever became of the ‘I’m Backing Britain’ movement of the Sixties? THE I’m Backing Britain campaign of early 1968 stemmed from a backdrop of a weak economy, including widespread tax increases, a deficit of £1 billion, high interest rates and the devaluing of the pound from $2.80 to $2.40 in late 1967.
There were also anxieties over national decline, loss of empire and the ‘ British disease’ of badly trained, poorly motivated employees and mediocre management.
The catalyst for the movement were the ‘famous five’: five young typists (Valerie White, 21, Joan Southwell, 20, Christine French, 17, Carol Fry, 16, and Brenda Mumford, 15) at Colt Ventilation and Heating Ltd, a small company in Surbiton, Surrey.
Following a company circular that stated ‘ the balance of payments deficit would disappear overnight if the working population of the UK worked a five-and-a-half day week without demanding higher incomes’, they made a New Year’s resolution to work an extra half-an-hour a day without more pay.
The typists received thousands of congratulatory letters and calls. Prince Philip sent a telegram: ‘It was the best news I’ve heard.’ Harold Wilson wrote that the campaign ‘was a helpful and robust response to the gloom and near-defeatism after devaluation’.
Within a week, the typists were at the centre of a media storm, and t he I’m Backing Britain Campaign was born. The country was soon awash with badges, mugs, flags, car stickers and T-shirts.
The new Poet Laureate, Cecil Day-lewis, sponsored by the Daily Mail, wrote a poem entitled Now And Then supporting the campaign, which it compared to the Blitz. It began: Do you remember those
mornings after the Blitzes When the living went on living. And concluded with the
rallying call To work then, islanders, as men and women Members one of another,
looking beyond Mean rules and rivalries towards
the dream you could Make real, of glory, common wealth, and home. Naturally, there were voices of dissent, not least from the trades unions which saw the campaign as a back-handed attempt by employers to extend working hours.
By the end of March, the campaign had dissipated and was somewhat overshadowed by Robert Maxwell, then a Labour MP, and his Buy British campaign.
It took a terminal knock when a major London wholesaler admitted his I’m Backing Britain T-shirts had been made in Portugal, stating: ‘We just can’t find a British T-shirt that will give us the same quality at a price that will compare.’
A Bruce Forsyth single I’ m Backing Britain sold just 7,319 copies. By August, even the five typists were only occasionally coming into work early.
Press attention turned to ridicule. The film Carry On Up The Khyber, made in the summer of 1968, concludes with the raising of a Union Jack with ‘I’m Backing Britain’ on it. Peter Butterworth turns to the camera and says: ‘Of course, they’re all raving mad, you know!’
Peter McAllister, Rothesay, Bute. jazz organists? ONE of the most talented exponents of jazz on the Hammond B3 organ is Barbara Dennerlein, born in Munich in 1964, whose fluent improvised solos and stunning foot-pedal technique have put her among the best jazz organists in the world.
Barbara’s CD recordings can be heard on the Enja and Verve labels as well as on her own Bebab label.
Then there’s American Rhoda Scott, born in 1938, now living in
QUESTION Are there are any female France. Also a fine player of the Hammond B3’s pedals, she is unusual in playing barefoot for a better ‘feel’. She can be seen duetting with Barbara Dennerlein on a YouTube video clip.
Before that, the major female jazz organist was Shirley Scott (no relation to Rhoda), an American who performed worldwide in the Fifties and Sixties. She died in 2002.
Tommy Saville, Bottesford, Notts.
QUESTION In Britain, we use the expression ‘kick the bucket’ when someone dies. In Holland, they ‘lay the piece of lead’ and in Poland, ‘they kick the calendar’. What other unusual foreign idioms are there? THERE are thousands. Here are some favourites. I n Central America, to think you are the last Coca-cola in the desert means to have a high opinion of yourself.
In Puerto Rica, to have a face like a busy telephone is to be angry. In Arabic, an ant milker is a miser. In Portugal, telling someone to ‘go to the fava bean’ means get lost.
In Turkey, if something suspicious is going on, a local might say: ‘It’s not festival time, it’s not a pleasure trip, so why did my brother-in-law kiss me?’ In China, to ‘smoke from seven orifices of the head’ means to be very angry.
Hindi-speakers call an uninvited guest a ‘squeezer of limes’.
In Germany, to ‘live like a maggot in bacon’ is to enjoy a life of luxury.
In Spain, when someone ‘looks for a five-footed cat’, they are asking for trouble. In Sweden, ‘there’s no cow on the ice’ means not to panic. Finally, from Ireland: ‘May the road rise to meet you’ means have a safe journey.
A. S. Barnaby, Swanage, Dorset.
QUESTION How many characters feature in Charles Dickens’s books? Did he have a method for making up wonderful names such as Sweedlepipe, Honeythunder, Bumble and Pumblechook? FURTHER to earlier answers, my family and I are descended from the original Moses Pickwick. He was a foundling from Pickwick, near Bath, and in 1694 or 1695 was taken to Corsham workhouse, where he was given the name Moses. He married Anne Marshman in 1719 and had t en children. My family are descended f rom Miriam, the youngest daughter.
Moses’s grandson, Eleazer (17491837), established a Bath coaching business and took over several inns, including the White Hart Inn, opposite the Pump Room.
It was with this Pickwick coach company that Dickens travelled to and from London and Bath when he was a reporter for the Morning Chronicle. At the time, he had secured a commission from the publishers Chapman & Hall to provide the text to go with a series of sporting ‘comic strips’ to appear in shilling monthly instalments.
Eleazer sold the White Hart Inn to his nephew Moses, and this was the same Moses Pickwick whose name Dickens said appeared in ‘gilt letters of a goodly size’ on stage coaches to Bath. (Chapter 35, The Pick-wick Papers).
The I’m Backing Britain girls at a 1985 reunion (from left): Brenda Mumford, Joan Southwell, Valerie White, Carol Fry and Christine French