The Editor’s Letter
Although I don’t suppose the news stories that hit the headlines in 1968 were, as a whole, substantially worse than those of any other year, I have to say that looking at the events of half a century ago one would be hard put to find 12 months that were more dispiriting or which presented such a bleak outlook. Beginning with the world at large, the United States of America was involved in the Vietnam War, with daily reports of military setbacks against the Communist Viet Cong forces, the loss of life of young GIS, and violent protests at home calling for American withdrawal proving a constant drain on morale. It was also in 1968 that two figures who represented hope for the future in the United States were assassinated: in April the leading civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, and in June, five years after his brother had suffered the same fate, presidential candidate Senator Robert Kennedy.
Elsewhere, at a time when people on both sides of the Iron Curtain lived with the constant possibility of nuclear attack, the temperature of the Cold War suddenly went even chillier as thousands of Soviet troops and tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and ruthlessly froze the so-called “Prague Spring”. Natural disasters included earthquakes in the Philippines and Sicily which, although they resulted in several hundred deaths, were overshadowed by one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies in history: a famine in Biafra, caused by the Nigerian Civil War.
Although there were not, mercifully, any tragedies or disasters on such a scale in the United Kingdom in 1968 (where Harold Wilson was in his fourth year as Prime Minister at the head of a Labour Government), a number of events sent out worrying signals for those men and women who were concerned that the traditional values, way of life and civil stability that had always been accepted in our society without question were being undermined in Sixties Britain. Among the developments that might have caused them alarm were: clashes between demonstrators and the police in Londonderry (an event that would be looked back upon as the beginning of “The Troubles”); a warning by Conservative MP Enoch Powell about mass immigration into Britain that became known as his “Rivers of Blood” speech; the introduction of five and ten pence coins in preparation for the decimalisation of our currency; the abolition of theatre censorship and the performance of rock musical Hair in London’s West End; news that an 11-year-old girl from Newcastle upon Tyne had been sentenced to life in detention for the manslaughter of two little boys.
Such were some of the items that made the news exactly 50 years ago. There were more optimistic and uplifting stories, of course: the “I’m Backing Britain” campaign in support of the country’s businesses, the triumphant return of solo yachtsman Alec Rose from a 354-day round-the-world voyage, Manchester United’s 4-1 defeat of Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley which made them the first English football club to lift the trophy…even the debuts on BBC Television of two series that over the next few years became long-running, much-loved favourites — Gardeners’ World with Percy Thrower and Dad’s Army (Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn etc.). And if anyone wanted further diversion from the stories of doom and gloom, if they looked beyond the rows of daily papers on sale the next time they were in their newsagents, they would see, among the racks displaying magazines, a bright, attractivelooking quarterly publication that made its first appearance on the shelves in the spring of that year. It was called This England and I am delighted that this year, the magazine that was launched with the slogan “As refreshing as a pot of tea” is celebrating its 50th birthday!
Half a century later, those news headlines are still shouting about wars, acts of terrorism, crime, disasters and scandals involving people in the public eye, but I hope that This England which, like the world around it has undergone a few changes since 1968, continues to provide an informative, uplifting and wholesome alternative and remains true to the principles and values of its founder and long-time editor.
It was several months previously, during a long and boring sermon at his local church in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, that magazine editor and publisher Roy Faiers, a regular worshipper with his wife Dorothy, found himself trying to remember some lines from Shakespeare. As the sunlight filtered weakly through the stained-glass windows, the words he was seeking, from John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II, gradually rippled into his mind: This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England… The final line flashed like a sunburst through the coloured glass, an inspirational moment that he couldn’t wait to share with his close friends and colleagues. So it was, on Monday morning, in their small office above Barclays Bank in Victoria Street, Grimsby — then the world’s leading fishing port — that artist Colin Carr and journalist Peter Chapman learned of Roy Faiers’ ambitious plan to launch This England. The aim of the magazine would be, in Roy’s own words: “To raise the proud banner of England aloft and rekindle the tradional principles of English goodness, decency and common sense in this uncertain world.”
Although during the previous few years Roy Faiers had successfully established six county magazines celebrating the history, culture, customs and people of Lincolnshire, Devon, Norfolk, Suffolk, Somerset and the Cotswolds, the prospect of applying the same template to a national publication was certainly challenging. However, as Peter Chapman later wrote, “Roy Faiers’ dreams quickly become reality”, and after a lot of hard work the team were able to celebrate the arrival of their “baby” — cover price six shillings, with, in a dark-green frame, a colour photograph of the village church at Burrington in Somerset flying the Cross of St. George. They toasted the publication of the first edition not with champagne but with the much more English tea and cakes!
In that first edition, Roy Faiers, a former newspaper reporter for the local evening paper and a freelance journalist for the national press, radio and television who had launched his first magazine, Lincolnshire Life, in 1961, set out his “manifesto” for This England in more detail: “We shall not be slick or sensational. There will be no world scoop articles, no glamour pictures, no fierce controversies. Instead we set out deliberately to produce a wholesome, straightforward and gentle magazine that loves its own dear land, and the people who have sprung from its soil. Instead of politics we shall bring you the poetry of the English countryside in words and pictures. Instead of bigotry we shall portray the beauty of our towns and villages. Instead of prejudice there will be pride in the ancient traditions, the surviving crafts, the legends, the life, the splendour and peace of this England.”
Articles in the Spring 1968 issue included “Sunset of the Mills”, “In Search of Sundials”, “A Page from Pickwick”, “Where have all the eccentrics gone?”, “The Follies of England”, a celebration of “Afternoon Tea”, a “County Cameo” (Northumberland), the story of Percy Shaw the man who invented cat’s eyes and the first in a series about English market towns (Cirencester). The magazine also opened with the now-familiar illustrated introductory poem (those lines from Shakespeare, of course) and featured many examples of Colin Carr’s artwork which, during the halfcentury that followed, became greatly loved by our readers.
Letters praising the magazine poured in, with a number of famous people adding their support. These included encouraging comments from actresses Dame Sybil Thorndike and Dame Anna Neagle, Sir Charles Tennyson the grandson of the Victorian poet, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson. One observer who wasn’t so impressed was “Atticus” of the Sunday Times, saying that This England was “devoted to patriotic selfindulgence” and asking the question: “Is there really a market for the good old days?”
A key event in securing the survival of This England took place during the autumn of 1969 when Roy Faiers and his team embarked on a sales tour across the United States of America on board the iconic Flying Scotsman. Articles about bygone modes of transport, particularly steam trains, have always proved popular on the pages of the magazine so it was appropriate that the journey on the greatest locomotive of them all should have proved such a great success, with a large number of anglophiles climbing aboard to join the This England adventure as new subscribers. The boost in sales, bolstered by some top-notch contributors that included historian Sir Arthur Bryant, novelist R. F. Delderfield and country poet J. H. B. Peel meant that relocation to a more central position in England soon became possible: to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire in 1970 and two years later to Cheltenham on the edge of the Cotswolds where we remain today.
I joined This England in 1982, by which time a number of regular features that would become familiar favourites had been established: “Minor Masterpieces of English Art”, “From an English Country Garden”, “Cathedral ‘Towns’ of England”, “Characters from the Classics” (by Ronald Embleton), “English County Regiments”, “English Heroes”, “Cornucopia”, “This Earth” and, of course, on the back cover which she made her own for many years, Patience Strong’s poem. I remember with pride writing articles for, and taking part in, the various campaigns: “Don’t Let Europe Rule Britannia”, “Save Our Shires”, support for the so-called “Metric Martyrs” etc. More recently we have promoted the idea of an English national anthem for purely English occasions, encouraged the countrywide celebration of St. George’s Day, petitioned (successfully) for a knighthood for Ken Dodd and are currently gathering support for a new Festival of Britain to coincide with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
Sadly, Roy Faiers passed away in 2016 but all of us at This England are committed to continuing his legacy and are excited at the prospect of embarking on the next 50 years. I hope that you will continue to enjoy This England, to contribute to its pages with comments and suggestions and to spread the word about the magazine to your friends and relatives: even after 50 years there are still proud Englishmen and women at home and abroad who do not know of its existence! We have many features planned for the future, beginning in this issue when we are launching a series entitled “English News” (combined with “English Humour”) which will take the place of the long-running “Nelson’s Column” and allow us to highlight, for a change, a few light-hearted, optimistic and uplifting stories from around England. I hope that you like it and find it a refreshing addition to the magazine. As part of our celebrations we have produced a special 50th anniversary publication (see page 29) and published some memories and observations from long-time contributors and loyal readers (see page 22).
All that remains is for me to thank you all for your support and to set off on the next stage of our adventure. It promises to be an exciting journey, so please come with us!