Nigel Jenkins welcomes Tony Fowler to Probus 04.08.2022
PROBUS TALK 04.08.22
Brylcreem and Dandruff - The 50's
Club Member Phil Bawn entertained us with a light-hearted and enjoyable presentation on his life, concentrating on the 1950’s.
Phil left school at 15 and followed his interest in cars with employment at garages and associated factories interrupted only by his National Service.
Members were asked to cast their minds back to the 50’s and guess who was the singer in a number of popular hits. Most were identified but a few challenged even this audience!
Rationing was still in place in the 1950’s and Phil reminded us of when various items became freely available. The price of petrol at the time was 3 shillings per gallon (equivalent to about 3p/litre – Happy days!) and motoring was a pleasure on open uncrowded roads.
Teddy boys and girls in pretty dresses provided a contrast of life in the 50’s.
National Service was conducted mainly at Bodmin, Cornwall and the experience gave Phil opportunity to indulge his love of cars and bikes; especially the CO’s Standard Vanguard.
Phil’s first car was a 1930 Morris Minor followed by a move to two wheels with a 1946 Triumph Panther.
Marriage to Doreen in 1958 brought a change of employment with Phil joining Hoover as a Service Engineer and Demonstrator. The role allowed him to select his own vehicle which needed to be capable of transporting a Twin Tub washing machine. Phil did this on several models by removing the front seat!
His interest in cars progressed culminating in a red 1956 Austin Healey 100 a most sought-after model. Phil, Austin Healey club secretary, still has a unique model of the car.
Phil’s capability in playing the sax, keyboards and vocals started to come to the fore with gigs at the Top Rank venue in Bristol and the formation of the 16 member Jack Daniels Big Band which he ran for 20 years including a gig in Brittany fulfilling a lifetime ambition.
Phil ended his talk with a Guess Who? based on a series of photos of Probus Club members in the 1950’s – most enjoyable if rather embarrassing for those involved.
Thank you, Phil, for a talk that brought back many happy memories.
PROBUS TALK 28.7.22
Our speaker on 28th July was Jeff Berliner on the subject of Fleet Street. In fact he undersold himself as he spoke about the media in general, television as well as newspapers for which he was well qualified as he had worked in both.
He started as a journalist on the Middlesex Chronicle in 1964 at a time when journalists interviewed people compared with the present situation which he dubbed lazy journalism as it consists largely of press releases.
In a rundown of the various disputes which racked the media (and, of course, many other industries) he mentioned the 1957 printers’ strike which was broken by journalists and other disputes such the action taken by Lord Thomson of Fleet Street who succeeded his father Roy in 1977. The Times and Sunday Times were closed down for twelve months in September 1978 to determine who was running the paper, an echo of Edward Heath’s question before the general election of 1974 - who is running the country? This was not a strike but a management lockout. It followed the miner’ strike of 1973 the three day week and culminated in “the winter of discontent”.
Greg Dyke was mentioned for the introduction of Roland Rat on TVam in 1984 to appeal to children and compete with the BBC’s Breakfast Show.
Eddie Shah introduced computer inputting by journalists which made compositors redundant when he launched the Today newspaper in 1986 and then Rupert Murdoch got out of Fleet Street and transferred production to Wapping leading to the epic scenes of protest by the sacked print workers.
The sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in 1987 highlighted another problem that TV crews sent to cover the disaster were paid at studio rates and thereby earned large amounts. This led to Mrs. Thatcher introducing the Deregulation of Broadcasting Act in 1990 to promote competition with the aim of eliminating restrictive practices.
Some defects in the way the BBC is organised were mentioned, such as lack of communication between departments leading to such scandals as those in respect of Jimmy Saville, Martin Bashir and most recently, Tim Westwood. Jeff’s summed this up by the phrase “Didn’t you know?”
This was a short but quickfire talk, worthy of Amol Rajan. In giving thanks to Jeff, Richard Dorrell congratulated him on holding our attention. We are all consumers of the media and the interest in the subject was apparent by the number of questions. One thorny topic was the future of the BBC licence which Jeff thought was unsustainable but nobody has come up with an acceptable alternative. It all hinges on agreement as to what the BBC’s actual role is or should be. Jeff made the interesting point that the BBC is chasing an audience which doesn’t exist. Plenty of food for thought here!
PROBUS TALK 21.7.22
Our speaker on 21st July was our member Rob Gorman with Part 2 of the account of his career “Not Bad for a Staffordshire Lad”. He started with a resumé of Part 1 and continued his account of senior finance jobs with various firms most which entailed travel abroad, to the USA, France, India, Spain, Brazil, Germany and Austria. In case we thought it was like a paid holiday he assured us that in between the lavish entertainment and sightseeing he was hard at work. On a team building exercise in America he was certainly put through it on a Tall Trees Exercise involving abseiling, zip wires and the like.
By changing firms in this country he moved around and in each place he joined an operatic society. In 1992 he left working with industry for a job with Herefordshire College of Art & Design, then the Learning & Skills Council in Gloucestershire, the Skills Funding Agency in Bristol (working with Further Education Colleges in the southern region, advising on funding for capital projects etc.) and lastly as Clerk to the Governors of Hereford Sixth Form College.
Finally, instead of retiring, he did TV and advertising work as an extra and moved to Evesham.
This was a very personal account with throwbacks to the death of his mother when he was a teenager and how he overcame this traumatic time.
PROBUS TALK 14.7.22
Our speaker on 14th July was our member Martin Jones whose subject was “Post-Royal Navy Life” which followed his previous talk about his naval career.
He left the Navy in 1972 after twelve years and sought employment. As an engineer he had transferable skills and soon found a job in in Bishops Cleeve in private industry which had an increasing role in providing and maintaining defence equipment. He was involved with test equipment for head-up displays for aircraft, giros and echo sounders which was more advanced than that in use by the Navy.
He joined a product support unit on computerised plotting systems at Heathrow, also upgrading navigation systems on Hercules aircraft at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire with Babcocks. Martin mentioned that while at Lyneham he witnessed the arrival of the bodies of those killed in Iraq. This led to the hearses being transported through Wootton Basset where the streets were lined people paying their respects. Such was the publicity that incoming flights were diverted to Brize Norton where the coffins could be transported out of the base more discreetly.
Martin also worked on Norwegian submarines in Emden, Germany where he noticed that German engineers were accorded much higher status than British engineers. In addition to working at Bremen dockyard he also calibrated test equipment at RAF bases including Bruggen in Germany. Further travelling took him to Scotland where he stayed at a pub with a periscope in the roof, also Florida where he enthused about the food.
After this varied career, medical problems caught up with him and he took early retirement in 2008.
In thanking Martin for his talk Chris Donough mentioned that hearing the experiences of members was his prime reason for joining Probus, a sentiment with which members would undoubtedly concur.
PROBUS TALK 7.7.22
On 7th July Dr.Tim Brain gave us a masterly presentation on Contemporary Police Issues. As a former Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, he avoided giving any personal opinions about these issues, leaving us to ponder them. The initial conclusion was “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one” as it is a balancing act between trying to please some of the people some of the time with limited resources.There were plenty of graphs and pie charts illustrating how the police are funded, what their time is principally spent on (responding to incidents), how the lack of spending on mental health has placed a major burden on police and how police numbers have been reduced over the years until the present government’s plan for 20,000 extra police, which will take a long time to be implemented as staff have to be trained. Another factor is the reduction in civilian staff which means front-line officers having to cover administrative tasks When Sir Robert Peel founded the police in 1829, their role was to patrol the streets and prevent crime. Interestingly, surveys show that crime is now well down the public’s list of concerns.
Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales (only one in Scotland), our own West Mercia force is one of the largest. The Metropolitan Police is by far the largest force and takes a quarter of total police funding, partly due to its counter-terrorism role which is national.
The controversial “stop and search” procedure was explored as was the requirement that the police represent the diversity of the population they serve, particularly a problem in London where 50% of residents are not “white British”.
Direct action was a particular problem for the police – blocking motorways etc. Demonstrations are a jealously guarded democratic right but employ large numbers of police.
I have only outlined a few of the huge number of facts presented by the speaker which he admitted would probably make us lose sleep!
PROBUS TALK 30.6.22
The title of the talk on 30th June was Neville Chamberlain and his family and who better qualified to speak to us than his granddaughter Susan Humphrey. She didn’t actually know him as he died before she was born. She did however show us a number of family photographs.
Neville’s father was the distinguished politician and social reformer who as Mayor did so much for Birmingham. As an MP he rose to prominence in national politics. He had six children. His two sons also had distinguished careers in national politics, Austen by his first wife, who died after giving birth to him and Neville by his second wife. Austen became Chancellor of the Exchequer and his half brother Neville, born in 1869, became Prime Minister in 1937. He had the unenviable task of announcing to the nation on 3rd September 1939 that Britain was at war with Germany, despite his valiant efforts to appease Hitler and bring peace. He subsequently had a bad press and ever since, the word appeasement has had pejorative connotations. Despite the fact that he supported rearmament before the war, his efforts to negotiate with Hitler bought Britain time when it was not in a position to fight a war and the Munich Agreement soon demonstrated to the world that Hitler’s word could not be trusted. Chamberlain’s policy was popular at the time. Many of the establishment had sympathy for some of Hitler’s ideas and of course the memory of the horrors of the First World War was still fresh. Criticism of his conduct of the war forced Chamberlain to resign in 1940 and Churchill took over as PM, leading a coalition government. Chamberlain was a member of the War Cabinet, resigning when diagnosed as having colon cancer. He died within three months. Although Churchill paid tribute to him at his funeral it was not fulsome praise and when he wrote “The Gathering Storm” he was quite scathing about his policies before the war.
The lead up to WW2 is what Neville is mostly remembered for, but Susan showed he had widespread interests quite apart from politics and following in his father’s footsteps in the field of social reform.
This was an illuminating talk which showed the many aspects of the man which are not widely known.
PROBUS TALK 16.6.22
Paradise in Portugal
On 16th June David Cramp gave a presentation entitled Paradise in Portugal. As a member of RSPB he concentrated on birds, of which he saw an amazing variety.
Starting in the Algarve on the south coast, he showed us the water birds on the lagoons. The rest of his holiday was spent in a remote quinta (country estate) in the Alentejo region in the middle of the country. This had no mains water, no sewerage connection and no mains electricity (no wonder it was derelict when the present owner bought it!). The nearest village was 25 miles away. The attraction for bird watchers was that it had a bird hide.
In addition to the many species of bird observed we saw butterflies, lizards and wildflowers. The small abandoned farms of the area have never been treated with pesticides so wildflowers are prolific. Another feature of Portugal, apart from vines and olive trees, is the cork oak. The country is the world’s largest producer of cork and the bark of the cork oak is harvested every eight to ten years.
This was a picture of Portugal that most tourists never see. A paradise indeed.
PROBUS TALK 19.05.22
Worcestershire Postal Service 1840-2000
Chris Jackson clearly has a wealth of experience and knowledge within his field. He also has his own private collection of stamp and letter examples going back to the earliest days of the postage stamp, many of which he displayed for us.
The inventor of the adhesive postage stamp was a teacher and social reformer, by the name of
(Sir) Rowland Hill, born in Kidderminster in 1795.
Prior to his invention, letters were normally paid for by their recipients, who were often too poor to pay the cost, and would often refuse them. Costs were based on distance and number of sheets, (which often led to ‘cross writing’ on one page).
The Penny Black, first issued on 6th May 1840, the UK’s first adhesive postage stamp. Weight up to half an ounce.
This stamp represented the new ‘Uniform Penny Post’ – the carriage of a letter between two places, regardless of distance.
This was followed closely by the Penny Blue-weight up to one ounce.
Chris then went through a number of examples of letters and envelopes addressed to people of Worcestershire, with a variety of styles and content. Initially letters where often also used as envelopes being folded by bringing the corners to the centre, sealing with wax and then affixing the new stamp. The stamped addressed envelope was also brought in to make the process easier.
This was an enjoyable, informative talk, generating a number of interesting comments and questions.
PROBUS TALK 19.05.22
On 19th May we were treated to a stunning presentation on Panama wildlife by Arthur Ball. As he said, the only thing most people know about the country is that it has a canal. With the help of the USA it achieved independence from Colombia in 1903, which paved the way for the construction of the canal which remains a vital world trade route and a mainstay of the Panamanian economy.
The small party of which Arthur was part stayed in a disused American radar tower which has spacious accommodation and is ideal as an observatory for wildlife as it is above the dense canopy of the rainforest which covers 40% of the country. There are 223 species of birds and 25 species of mammals in Panama, not to mention butterflies, insects, frogs and snakes. The colours of the birds are incredible and we saw an amazing variety. The mammals included sloths and howler monkeys and we heard the sounds made by some species.
As a total contrast to this paradise of wildlife were the skyscrapers of Panama City and the nonstop procession of huge container ships going through the locks which have now been supplemented by larger locks. A large artificial lake forms part of the canal and the party went out on a small boat (out of the shipping channel!). A train trip on the railway which parallels the canal was also included in the holiday.
It would be easy to run out of superlatives in describing this talk as the photography was breath-taking.
Visit to Gloucester Quays
Members and their friends and family joined our trip to Gloucester Quays including a visit to The National Waterways Museum and a Boat Trip on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, as well as a visit to The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.
In the heart of Gloucester's historic docks, the National Waterways Museum tells the fascinating story of Britain's 2000 miles of waterways, and helps capture life in a working dock. Displays covered many aspects of the waterways from the ingenious engineering to home life on board a narrowboat, and from the wildlife of our canals to different kinds of waterways crafts. Knowledgeable guides lead us through the history and features of canal life pointing out many fascinating aspects of constructing, maintaining and living on canals.
The guided tour was followed by a boat trip on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Along the way, the skipper pointed out buildings and facilities on the history and present use of the ship canal which was constructed to avoid a difficult to navigate section of the River Severn.
Interestingly the boat “Queen Boadicea II” was built in 1936 as a Thames pleasure boat, played her part in the Second World War as one of the Dunkirk Little Ships. She saw action in Dunkirk harbour where she evacuated many stranded soldiers. After the war she returned to passenger service on the Thames. After working for some time on the River Dart, QBII came to Gloucester where she continues to work as a pleasure boat, carrying visitors along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.
After lunch we visited The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum which covers Gloucestershire soldiers over the last 300 years. The story begins in 1694, travels through the Napoleonic Wars, the Age of Empire, World Wars, Korea and right up to modern day conflicts. A fascinating collection well-presented and supported by very informative guides highlighting the interesting stories behind the artifacts.
An enjoyable day for all.
Probus Club of Evesham
PROBUS TALK 21.04.22
Frosty Cassocks and Church Mice-John Macartney
This week’s interesting talk was about The Churches Conservation Trust-a charity with over 450 churches on its books.
Of particular interest was Evesham’s own St. Lawrence Church-called a ‘landmark’ church because of its importance within this region.
The TCC is the only national charity protecting churches at risk. Particularly those with an archaeological, historic or architectural interest. It has an annual income of around £8m with an equivalent expenditure.
In 701, a swineherd named Eof claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, and related this to Egwin, Bishop of Evesham. The Bishop then founded Evesham Abbey on the site of Eof’s vision.
The Abbey remained on the site until 1540, when it was dissolved and struck down on the orders of King Henry V111-one of the last to be dissolved.
There is a cloister arch, built of local Cotswold stone, being the only part of the former Abbey remaining, but now in poor condition.
St. Lawrence Church, with its excellent acoustics, is no longer used for regular worship, that being carried out at All Saints. However, it can be used up to 6 times a year for special events. The CCT has spent around £500k on the church, mainly to repair the tower and do some re-pointing in the original lime mortar.
In the oldest part of the church tower there is a panel of the Crucifixion, dating from about 1195 and still visible.
There are also a number of excellent stained glass windows, including a Preedy window in the former vestry, a Simon de Montford one on the North wall, and also a memorial to Bishop St. Egwin on the same wall.
There is a Victorian copy of a 13th century font, showing its origins as an RC Church. It was found acting as a bird bath on the roof, but now returned to its proper place!
Other local churches of historic interest, which are within the CCT include:
St. Bartholomew Old Church, Lower Sapey-used for many years as a piggery. St. Arilds Church, Oldbury on the Hill (the church that time forgot), St. Nicholas, Saintbury-has no electricity, and used but once a year, and St. John the Baptist, Avon Bassett.
Finally, the first slide contained 2 mice figures. John could not describe their type, but this writer ventures a ‘town’ and a ‘country’ mouse!
A very enjoyable talk on an interesting local subject.
PROBUS TALK 14.04.22
Our speaker on 14th April was Barry Simon whose subject was The History of English Church Architecture.
He started on a humorous note by recounting the time when leading a walk to visit a church, the party had to cross a field of cattle which included a bull. He distracted the bull by reading him the notes of a talk on church architecture which had the desired effect and the party was able to reach the church. Luckily, Probus members did not emulate the bull and walk away.
Barry ran through the various distinct periods of architectural styles – Saxon, Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular, ranging from about 700 to c.1540. After the Reformation, styles tended to be less defined, although the Renaissance brought about the revival of classical styles (Greek and Roman).
Barry showed us many examples of all the styles from the local area, with features to look out for. The difficulty with this is that churches were for ever being modernised and extended and very few are wholly of one style. Northleach is however wholly Perpendicular.
By the nineteenth century, many churches were in a parlous state and the Victorians set out with great enthusiasm on a programme of restoration. Unfortunately they paid little heed to history and many features were lost. However, had no action been taken many of these churches would have been lost.
In former times churches were the centre of the local community and put to many uses. With the decline of churchgoing churches are again being used as a community resource.
This was a most informative and comprehensive talk from which I’m sure we all learnt a lot about our heritage.
PROBUS TALK 07.04.22
Our speaker on 7th April was our member Rob Gorman about his life, the talk being entitled “Who would have thought that this lad from Staffordshire…..”
Born and brought up in Cannock, his father worked in engineering. His mother died while he was at school and leaving school, he started work with the engineering company Avery, where he was given day release for business studies. His father died not long afterwards and a Guardian was appointed. Having a liking for accountancy, he took a job as an audit clerk at a firm of Wolverhampton accountants, and having passed his finals he got a job at the accountancy firm which is now KPMG.
Rob then ran through the various firms he worked for and the posts he occupied, also the various business trips he undertook to Copenhagen, the USA, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, with some glimpses of these places.
He met his wife Gail while on holiday in Crete. After a look at Seoul, Peter ran out of time and will resume the rest of his life in a future talk. In between recounting his experiences of holding down responsible jobs and jet-setting (including Concorde), Rob also had time to join various operatic societies in the West Midlands, performing in both opera and musicals.
I think Rob conclusively proved that accountants need not be boring and if you have the will and aptitude to take opportunities you can overcome whatever early life may throw at you.