Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Charles Jennings. (5/5)

Jumble sale, Dulwich, circa 1980. Photo © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

Make Do and Mend 

Between The Buttons: What Mothers Can Do To Save Buying New. (I got up so late I only had time to put on me flippin’ slacks )

A woman sat, in unwomanly rags (Our backs were covered up, more or less, but the other way round was a big success). But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment.

Recycled Clothing Sculpture Making Project: My shirts are made from Mum’s old drawers.

It depends how many boots he’s got to mend. I brought him home six and a half pairs today.

The handbags and the gladrags: These fragments I have shored against my ruins

(Taken from: Gert & Daisy; The Rag Trade; Make Do And Mend; Thomas Hood; Matthew, xi 7; The Goon Show; The Rolling Stones; Steptoe & Son; Rod Stewart; T. S. Eliot)


Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Tim Wells (4/5)

Watching the Lord Mayor’s Show, 1980. © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

Epsolutely by Tim Wells:

Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

The first time I met the parents of my girlfriend Alexis they put on extra posh accents to impress. They were sweet, so was the tea, and already far posher than me. It only took one ‘Ello, luverly to meet you’ from me for them to realise they’d over-invested. But by then they couldn’t back down. Alexis whispered that they weren’t normally that posh and all she’d told them about me was that I was lovely. But they knew, that I knew, that they knew, that I knew, that they knew, that I knew, that they knew, that I knew, that…

Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

Bin men pick up rubbish bags with their pinky fingers daintily extended, John Nettles is the law and the starlings sing ‘You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful…’ in Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

I bought my girl chocolates. There were only Conscious Chocolate, Green & Black’s and Seeds of Change in the pristine shops. Middle-class chocolates with centres such as ‘the better part of town’, ‘a good college’ and ‘a bit of rough’ in Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

There are no coincidences but sometimes the pattern is more obvious. In Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

Alexis had a Porsche, in ‘not red dahling; scarlet’. She’d motor to Marks and Spencer’s, to the Downs and to country pubs for lunch. On our first outing she squeezed me in and sped off in a polite cough of dust. A few miles on she remarked worriedly that the car seemed to be dragging to the left. She drove a bit further and then pulled over. She walked around the sportster but could not find fault, drove further and said that the car was still not right. I asked her how many other fat blokes she’d had in there before?

I got the train back from Epsom, let me tell you about Epsom.

© Tim Wells.

Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Various. (3/5)

‘Oops!’ (Rowing Boat Song), Hen Night, South London pub, circa 1980. © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

From Do You Remember? Forums

What was that dance called?

Posted by Bruce, 05/04/2005:

I remember a dance where you all sat in a line on the floor with your legs astride the person in front and then swayed from side to side and stuff. What was that dance called and what song was it meant to go with?

Posted by Precious Jewels, 08/04/2005:

It was for ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ by the Gap Band…Sweet reminiscing of discos growing up! Did it have a name for the actual dance?!

Posted by lionlevy, 19/04/2005:

Assorted aunties used to refer to it as “that boat song…” Very popular with aged relatives for some reason, despite their assorted dodgy arthritis & rheumatism doing its best to hinder them.

Posted by scallycapsforever, 09/08/2005:

Yeah the row boat song. A classic at family dos the length and breadth of the country it was also hilariously lampooned on ‘Men Behaving Badly’ to ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart.

Posted by Zen Master, 30/04/2005:

Not sure of the name of the dance but the song was a group called Forest, I will find the title later, was played at a birthday evening or event. Great fun all innocent……fun.

Posted by Clive Henry Jones, 27/06/2005:

Yeah, Forrest did “Rock the Boat” but it was a cover of The Hues Corporation’s original. This track was not a dedicated dance track, though, as “Oops upside your head” was (Rowing boat dance). As a DJ, I stll play “Oops” at mixed aged parties because:
a. It’s a good track which fills the dancefloor.
b. You get to look up women’s skirts as they get down (and up) – all innocent, though and I dare you to try to not look and see who’s wearing suspenders & who’s not.
c. You usually gety some saddo walking up and down the line of “rowers” whipping them with his tie.

Posted by SG1973, 26/05/2007:

Saw an interview on tv with the Gap Band and they said when they first came to England to do TOTP they couldn’t understand why everyone sat on the floor swaying from side to side. They’d never seen it done before. Must be an English eccentricity thing.

Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Charles Jennings. (2/5)

Sloane Rangers, Kensington, 1983. © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

Society Wedding by Charles Jennings: 

‘The Boltons, yes. And I mean, the Queen Mother’s actually been there, to dinner, apparently.’


‘But apparently she didn’t sign the visitors’ book.’

‘Well, she wouldn’t would she?’

‘So of course, James’ – the boyfriend – ‘had to volunteer first, so they gave him a box of watercolours and a brush. And he spent ages trying to get the watercolours to go on the brush, but he’d forgotten that he needed some water first.’

‘He’s so sweet, James, so funny.’

‘Thing is, Emma had James’ Jack Russell as a bridesmaid –‘

‘As in a dog?’

‘So sweet!’

‘Emma phoned, the honeymoon was fab, wants to meet up –‘

‘Istanbul? I know that city, actually. Went with Simon and Gemma and Charlie last summer. Charlie’s so funny, he stood outside that big mosque and – ’

‘Why couldn’t she make it tonight?’

‘Dinner with James’ grandmother. She’s ninety and lives in a tiny flat on Trafalgar Square.’

‘I didn’t know anyone lived there!’

So sweet!’

… for The London Column. © Charles Jennings 2011.

Homer Sykes: Britain in the 1980s. Text by Charles Jennings (1/5)

Charity Ball, Hilton Hotel, circa 1980. Photo © Homer Sykes/Photoshelter.

Club Night by Charles Jennings:

Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman. We’d like to do a Commodores number now –

Oh God. Three Times –

A beautiful number.

It’s once –


Twice –

I’m dancing to this. This is my FAVOURITE –Three Times A Lady –I don’t CARE about Roger. He never dances. I don’t care. I’m fucking DANCING this one ANYWAY –

Thank you very much.

… for The London Column. © Charles Jennings 2011.

London Monumental. Photo & text: David Secombe (5/5)

Gill’s Prospero and Ariel, Broadcasting House, 99 Portland Place, W1.  Photo © David Secombe 2010.

The artistic legacy of Eric Gill (1882 – 1940) has been irretrievably sullied by the revelations made public in Fiona MacCarthy’s 1988 biography.  MacCarthy quoted passages from Gill’s diaries in which he recorded a grotesque catalogue of perversions, including incest with his sister and daughters, as well as a passing liason with the family dog.  Gill’s reputation was thus transformed from brilliant bohemian, who fused medieval craftsmanship with modernist practice, to that of a paedophile whose erotic carvings and prints are queasy evidence of a diseased mind.

Many of Gill’s admirers were appalled that MacCarthy had put this knowledge into her book, a sharp contrast to previous biographers who had resolutely ignored the evidence of the diaries. (That MacCarthy was blamed for her act of biographical integrity is appalling in itself.) At any rate, it is no longer possible to survey Gill’s huge output – his many religious carvings in cathedrals and churches, his monuments to the fallen carved in the wake of the First World War, his engravings, even his supremely elegant typefaces (Gill Sans, Perpetua, etc.) – without confronting the upsetting truth about their creator.

There are some fine examples of Gill’s public art in London: in Westminster Cathedral, on 55 Broadway, above St.James’ tube station, and his epic embellishments to the BBC’s flagship headquarters, Broadcasting House in Portland Place.  B.H. features a cluster of works by Gill, most prominently his awe-inspiring Prospero and Ariel, two monumental carved stone figures which loom above the main entrance. There are many photographs of Gill working on the statues in situ: dressed in his customary monastic habit (affording passers-by glimpses of his genitals, as he considered underwear an ‘abomination’), Gill resembles a medieval stonemason carving for his God – or, perhaps, an extra who has wandered off the set of a period epic being filmed by Alexander Korda at Denham Studios.  Broadcasting House is a sleek hymn to the Moderne set in Portland Stone, a Deco jewel keen to slip its moorings and set sail down Regent Street. And, for all Gill’s avowed medievalism, his sculptures are in keeping with the spirit of the times: Prospero and Ariel look fully at home at the prow of the BBC’s own dry-docked ocean liner.

… for The London Column. © David Secombe 2011.

London Monumental. Photo & text: David Secombe (4/5)

Cumberland Terrace, NW1. Photo © David Secombe, 1988.

From The Magus by John Fowles, 1966:

Beyond her stretched the grass, a quarter mile of turf to the edge of the park. Beyond that rose the Regency facade, bestatued, many and elegantly windowed, of Cumberland Terrace. 

A wall of windows, a row of statues of classical gods. They surveyed the park as if from a dress circle.

[…] The afternoon sun made them [the houses of Cumberland Terrace] gleam with light, that Olympian elixir of serene, remote, benign light one sometimes sees in summer clouds.

Although John Fowles’ epic and impossibly romantic novel about the power of myth and storytelling is mostly set on an isolated Greek island, he chooses to end his story in NW1. In the final chapter of the novel, Fowles’ rattled ‘hero’ and his girlfriend have an angsty scene in Regent’s Park, where Nicholas wonders whether they are being spied upon from the windows of John Nash’s Cumberland Terrace. This is a brilliant example of a novelist employing a real location to enhance the themes of his narrative: Fowles exploits the theatricality of Nash’s park-side architecture to suggest that his punch-drunk protagonist continues to be an unwilling player in a drama staged for an unseen audience.

It is a fitting conceit, as the glimpses of Nash’s terraces from the park bely the (relatively) prosaic houses behind the grandeur of the facades. This louche and rather endearing architectural trick led Sir John Summerson, the celebrated eminence grise on all matters Georgian, to stick the boot in thus:

It is magnificent. And behind it all – behind it are rows and rows of identical houses, identical in their narrowness, their thin pretentiousness, their poverty of design. Where the eye apprehends a mansion of great distinction, supported by lesser mansions and service quarters, the mind must interpret it as a block of thin houses, with other blocks of thin houses carrying less ornament or none at all. The sham is flagrant and absurd. The terraces are architectural whims; and though Nash was serious enough in his intention, the effect is an odd combination of fantasy and bathos which only the retrospect of a century can forgive*.

Summerson’s aristocratic disdain is a bit hard to stomach here, and I think we are entitled to give Sir John the bird on this one. Fowles seems to have a better idea of what Nash was up to, and what he succeeded in doing. Nash’s terraces are there to enhance the public space, they exist to ennoble the walkers in the park, they lend drama to the business of taking the air.  It is also at least possible, if not likely, that if they had been ‘dream palaces’ in a more concrete sense they would have gone the way of so many of the grand, inconvenient mansions of Piccadilly and Mayfair, swept away by ruthless economic imperatives well into the post-WW2 era. We can be grateful that the modest ambitions of the houses behind Nash’s palatial frontages have proved adaptable to changing circumstances, and so ensured their survival.

Unforgivably, Summerson also neglects to mention that Patrick Troughton’s Doctor Who had to contend with an invasion of Cybermen outside Cumberland Terrace in 1968: although one could say that it fell slightly outside his brief.

… for The London Column. © David Secombe 2011.

(*Georgian London, Sir John Summerson, 1945/1969.)