Stevenage New Town. Friends and Neighbours.

Stevenage was an interesting place to live in at that time. It was obviously still being built. There were small neighbourhoods each with it’s own school. A few years later I became friendly with Mary Tabor.

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She was the first housing Officer for the Development Corporation responsible for bringing new tenants from the overcrowded London boroughs. Often a whole factory would move down with it’s employees. She brought bus loads of Londoners down to look at the houses and schools. She told me how some thought it was heaven, (a proper bathroom and a garden, grass verges, trees) and remained happy with their move. Some people, though they were glad to have a nice house, missed their family and old friends, the bustle of the London streets, the pubs, the closeness of shops etc.and tried to move back. The pioneers were building a new community, that was attractive to people who believed in a fresh start after the war, so it was a good mix. Mary lived a few doors away from me. a few doors beyond her house lived  the Hampsons.  Tom (Tommy) Hampson was an Olympic gold medalist in the 400 metres in the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games. He was a lovely man, he also won a silver in the relay. He had the job of Social Relations Officer for the corporation.

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When we moved in, our next door neighbour was Wallace Hildick and his wife. Wally ( E W) was a well known writer of books for children of secondary school age. There was a whole series featuring a boy named Jim Starling, another series with Birdy Jones and finally Lemon Kelly.

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He eventually left to edit a well known Literary Review magazine in America. We missed him but the house was then occupied by David Hobman. His wife was a well known figure skater. At that time he was trying to make a living as an actor. He was a big man with an impressive booming voice. After I had gone from that house he went on to found Age Concern and remained with them for the rest of his life. He was a great advocate for the aged. He received the CBE for his dedication. He is dead now but there is a Hobman Lecture every year under the auspices of specialists in Gerontology. I noticed that this years lecture is taking place in November. The lecturer is the woman Bishop of London, who previous to being ordained was advisor on nursing to the government. She had been a nurse all her life. Her subject is to be Spirituality and the Aged.

I’m mentioning these people to make the point that left wing intellectuals didn’t just extol the virtues of new towns for other people, they actually came to live there until new jobs enforced a move.

Our nearest and dearest friends were another young married couple Brian (Leo) Mcdowell and his wife Jackie. They were both language teachers (German), Jackie taught in my school. Ironically after leaving Stevenage, he and Jackie went to teach in a forces school in Cyprus. He eventually became a painter and was the most successful of all of us! His love of Cyprus and it’s past is clear. His paintings are mainly in water colour.

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We shared a love of Modern Jazz, especially the MJQ,  theatre, films and books. There were lots of happy nights listening to music, drinking wine and talking.

The Latin teacher in my school, Veronica Anstey, was also a friend. We worked together on the school drama productions. She was very tall and elegant, she came from Doncaster. Her husband John was short and crippled, he had had polio when he was a child. He was crazy over Traditional jazz, had a massive record collection and was obsessively knowlegeable about all the players. It wasn’t really our thing but we went along with it. He was quite pompous and rude to Veronica I thought, he wasn’t my favourite person. Long after I had left the school they had divorced. He was a barrister who specialised in party wall cases and made a fortune. He had an obit. in the best papers, I believe that he married one of Veronica’s ex pupils. I felt incredibly pleased when I read how much she was valued as a teacher by Bettany Hughes. Veronica also became influential in the Classics Association running their conferences. I read that she married again and became Veronica Evans. She was a strong feisty woman.

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We frequented the Royal Court theatre in it’s left wing hey day. I saw Waiting for Godot, Krapps Last Tape, Arnold Wesker, John Osborne putting the boot into the establishment. John Berger as a critic.  Later at Lamda Glenda Jackson, then a student, in a wonderful experimental production of the Marat Sade, The seminal Midsummer Nights Dream by Peter Brooke. Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham at Sadlers Wells

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At the Festival Hall we were at the premier of a piece by Vaughn Williams. There was great applause at the end and a portly figure in a cardigan stood up from one of the seats, it was him. Then there was a World Theatre Season, Kabuki, Kathakali and Chinese traditional Opera (that took a bit of getting used to but the costumes and make up were glorious)

The cinema at the time was memorable too. The Nouvelle Vague in French Cinema, Last Year in Marienbad, Jules et Jim, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with it’s explosion of colour. I loved Bergman  the Seventh Seal was my favourite it had such an air of dark mystery and so atmospheric in the way it was shot, but also Tarkovsky.

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As I write this I am SO glad that I had those experiences, so much was packed in to a fairly short time. It built on everything that Corsham had been all about. I think we were a bit pseud, wearing our black polos and smoking Gaulloises but you can be at that age when you are finding out who you are. Of course part of this was because we couldn’t think of starting a family in our very full house.

Strangely I don’t remember seeing many art exhibitions at that time. There may have been some but they obviously didn’t make an impression on me.

John Newsome, the visionary head of the Herts Education Committee believed in bringing the best professional young musicians to give concerts in schools, we had a young Julian Bream and an  expert in the Gamelan, who brought all the brass pan instruments with him The Gamelan was so exciting and absorbing. The pans are tuned to a diatonic scale so that it virtually means all the notes seem to harmonise without discords. It meant that any of us could get up and play along and it is such a haunting sound. What a time it was when there was so much faith in the arts but I suppose part of it was also because we were young!drawinggamelan

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