VT Coughtrey

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Chapter 4: Working-class 'affluence'
Chapter written 1998 & last revised 2013
NOTES Shortly after the death of my grandfather in 1951 there were three more significant developments in my life.  In that year large firms handed out to their workers lump sums of money that were substantial by the standards of those days.  It was said to be a conspiracy to bring down the very left-wing Labour government of the day by giving away profits, thus starving the government of taxes.  Well, that's what my father said - has anyone got another version?  Despite being a staunch labour man (causing fierce political arguments with Grandad, a life-long Liberal), my father gratefully accepted the ₤107 handed out by his employer, Adhesive Tapes (Sellotape).  This was equivalent to four months of his usual wages as a machine operator.  He had never in his life seen so much money.
The new radio was a Portadyne.  It was very distinctive, having a front that sloped backwards.  I've found plenty of pictures on the Net of other Portadyne models of the late 40s to early 50s, but there's no sign of the model we had.  Can anyone help?His instinct, normal for the working class at that time, was to spend this windfall as fast as possible.  I was showered with even more toys than usual, the outings to air displays, museums and shows were stepped up, a new 3-piece suite was purchased, state-of the-art garden equipment was acquired, and we had our first holiday - two weeks in Herne Bay.  My father also bought the most expensive radio set he could find, to replace the pre-war home-made one.  On November 5th we could afford our first firework display.  Fireworks became very important to me.  In subsequent years I would spend weeks each year planning the displays down to the last detail and constructing elaborate stands for them.  I always insisted on their being bought weeks in advance so I could get them down from where they were supposedly out of reach, while my parents were at work and my grandmother asleep, and play with them.
See photo of a very similar 14" Ferguson. Another important event was the death, in 1952, of the King (George VI).  I was in the school playground when I heard the news.  Actually, it didn't mean much to me in itself, but it was the cause of the introduction of television into our lives.  Very few individual households had TV as yet, but I'd been taken into the family room of the Mitre once to watch a pantomime on ice. (The pub is still there, in the High Street, but of course it's a very long time since it had a family room).  The build up to the coronation of the new Queen in 1953 was the great breakthrough for television in Britain.  It's unlikely that there's ever been another sales explosion to match it.  My father bought a 14inch Ferguson in order to watch the Coronation.  But the middle class in those days still regarded TV as a vulgar and dangerous new plaything of the lower orders, Coronation or not.  The word got out - spread triumphantly by me, no doubt - that we had one of the dreadful things, and the neighbours started calling out as I passed by "Getting square eyeballs yet, Victor?" This was all they would ever say about television.  To some extent, I think they were dismayed by the fact that Hire Purchase was beginning to make it possible for humbler folk to acquire expensive items.  They certainly thought that credit purchasing was immoral.  My father made considerable use of it, but never got behind with payments.
As far as the Coronation, on June 2nd 1953, was concerned, I actually missed it on TV for the simple reason that I had won a raffle at school, along with several others, and the prize was to be taken to the Mall to watch the procession.  This was considered by everyone to be a great privilege, but the fact is that all I can remember is choking on a hard-boiled egg, getting wet, being deafened by the brainless cheering of thousands of children and catching a glimpse of the roof of a gold coach.  I also remember someone running about with a placard proclaiming that Hilary had just conquered Everest.
When I got back I announced that the outing had been "rotten". My parents said it had been wonderful on the telly, and I was very annoyed.  Actually, "rotten" was my usual way of responding to the question "have you had a nice day?", even when I'd just returned from a day out with my father.  Sometimes my mother would reprimand me for this gross ingratitude but my father would just smile indulgently and say "Leave him alone!".  Anyway, television subsequently became as important in my life as in most other people's, for better or worse.  There was only one channel at first and that broadcast for only 3 or 4 hours a day.  Programmes that made a big impression in the early days include The Appleyards, The Grove Family, What's My Line? and especially Nathaniel Titlark, in which Bernard Miles was brilliant as the eponymous wily country bumpkin.
The third, but by no means least important event of that period was my sudden friendship with Walter Wonfor, the terror of the school playground.  This not only had immediate beneficial effects, but it was to endure as a lifelong friendship of great importance.  More about Walter on the next page.
You will find photos relevant to this chapter in the INDEX OF PHOTOS.
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