Michael’s Memories

Michael Hancock’s Memories in his own words

I have been a lifetime hoarder and so it’s always a bit of a search for an item such as this, which I found in an obscure manilla folder marked “Childhood Memorabilia”! after 50 minutes hunting!  (No thanks necessary whatsoever as it has provided me with a most entertainingly nostalgic browse.)

The Parish Magazine from Christmas 1950, cost sixpence!  That’s “old pence” of course – 2 1/2p in today’s money

I found two other small but related items I would’ve included but I’ve already mislaid them!  Nothing really of great interest to you; for example one was my Official Acceptance card into the Church Choir!

The Choir

Born in 1938, I would’ve been 12 by the time of this pair of commissioned photographs which shows me, in the lower of the pair, with my hated bright ginger hair, having reached the elevated position of being head chorister at the front end of the pew, nearest to the congregation!

Yes, every woman in my early life just adored my ginger hair. In fact, it was horribly curly to boot, as evident from a framed photo I have, hidden away from prying eyes in the loft.

 I don’t recall singing a solo during that photo-session as the photo was taken. I think the other choirboys might’ve been caught looking at the photographer to be caught apparently “not singing” though they would’ve been.  Of course the Head Boy would’ve never been so distracted.  They may even have been posed in “mid-voice”.

So I reckon I must be several years older than your father Janet.  I certainly don’t recall his name, nor that of Stuart Douglas you say was in the choir during the 50s. It must’ve been the late 50s as I would certainly have remembered his name as I knew all those in the Mens’ choir so well at the time, including Norman Knight, a totally blind chorister who joined the choir, with his hymn and psalm books in braille of course.  Also the deepest bass in the choir, Fred Clark, who also happened to be one of four unmarried siblings in a fabulous family of four living opposite us in Wickham Avenue, only one of whom actually worked for a living.  The one female was Olive, a nicer woman it would be hard to imagine, let alone neighbour.  There are one or two in the Men’s pews who I don’t recognise so maybe Stuart was one of them?

I wonder if Jack Harrow who you mentioned was related to Anthony Harrow, who was in the choir at the same time as me?  He lived in West Way.  I don’t recall Lionel Polley at all.  I would be most interested to see the “old photo” in the vestry if you are able to copy it.  I assume it is dated?  

The Vicar!

While writing, I attach also this lovely photo of Canon and Mrs Enid Rawlins who were incumbent at St John’s for a record 26 consecutive years after spending many years “in the Bush”.  I sent him up once by drawing a cartoon of him in the Young Communicants’ Club’s quarterly magazine, “Eagle Eye” – printed on an old-fashioned duplicator from a typed wax stencil, long before your time, I’m quite sure – uttering the immortal words yet again: “When I was in the Bush…..” before continuing with yet another anecdote from those years to spice up his sermon.  My caricature found its way to the Croydon Advertiser’s offices where it was published in the letters section, “Clerical leg-pull”.  (1 Oct 1954).  I feel even more flattered as a budding caricaturist at the time to read the editor’s description of the cleric as: “easily recognisable as the Vicar…”!

A lovely couple and the former a great comfort to my Mother when she was widowed prematurely in 1957, visiting us regularly with his time and a prayer.

“Story of a Parish”

I’ve been delayed even further by reading not only the very meagre 8 pages of that Parish magazine shown above but also every word of the 48 page “The Story of a Parish” written as part of the church’s 100th Commemoration Year in 1956 – neither probably read for almost 70- years!  The latter, quite lavishly illustrated with b&w photos, absolutely fascinating after a long if lapsed association with the church and many of its notables, most notably Canon Rawlins himself, who wrote the Introduction and much of the text in collaboration with one of the most prominent churchwardens, Mr J Polley.  With two “forewords” by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Coventry, formerly the hugely popular Bishop of Croydon, Cuthbert Bardsley, “The Story of a Parish” covers its history from 1834 up to the date of its publication in 1956.  Maybe with your connections Janet, you might be familiar with the now-vintage publication? I wonder if the book “Growth of a Parish” by Nina Foster you mentioned is an updated version – heaven forfend that it is a copy! – of the book I told you of:  “The Story of a Parish”?

Clock Chimes

I liked to attend church every Good Friday in recognition of what Christ suffered but – this year – this is not possible. I made my annual pilgrimage to my parents’ grave last Saturday morning, specifically to give it a good wash-and-brush-up, so I had four opportunities to hear the so-sad sound of the tower’s damaged clock chiming mechanism.  It is supposed to chime 4, 8, 12 and 16 times using different notes on the four quarters respectively, followed by the appropriate strikes of a different bell on the hour.  I am quite surprised you claim little or no knowledge about the bell chimes!  But I was interested to hear of the gentleman who maintained them, long after I’d left the choir. As I knelt there tidying up my parents grave, I felt really saddened to hear one or more of the chimes missing, indicating that the relevant bell was either damaged or had been removed for repair.  Your note received later that evening explained the reason for the latest fund-raising and its target.  If the congregations and locals are half as generous as Canon Rawlins recorded frequently in this magazine, the donations will not fall short.

Acting history

You will be unaware of my acting history which, until the local Spring Park Dramatic Club collapsed from lack of members a few years ago, and a break to concentrate on establishing a career after four years at Croydon College of Art followed by two years National Service.  Who knows, there may even be one or two of your readers of similar vintage to me who might even think,  “Michael Hancock? – that name sounds vaguely familiar”!  So, as an ac-tor, I love to see my name in print!  See related history below

A significant secular memory for me from the period in question concerns a revue that, apart from the middle ‘half” of a one-act sketch from Samuel French Ltd (specialist booksellers to the acting fraternity), I wrote as well as the opening chorus music – the whole revue called “Watch This Space”.  I actually have a much-treasured tape-recording of the whole show that a friend came along to record, being one of the first-ever owners of such a device at that time.  I can’t actually play it now since his machine was monophonic and all my own music acquisitions purchased a decade later were in stereo.  (Yes, I am sure I could spend a tidy sum in having it professionally converted.  May do that one day, though I’d better be quick.)

That reminds me of yet another related anecdote:  The two performances of that revue proved to be so successful that we decided to put it on again the following May in aid of the Lord Mayor of Croydon’s “Hungarian Relief Fund”.  I was thrilled to send him a cheque for £250, which, in today’s money would’ve been worth a staggering £7,000.  In fact, I can’t believe that figure now, recalling our ticket prices would’ve been something like 3/6d or 4/6d.  Still, maths never was my strong point.  But that’s what I’ve just calculated after checking our currency’s inflation over those decades on the web.

In fact (another anecdote coming up), at the end of Evensong – it may even have been Choral Eucharist), a “spinster of this parish”, unforgettably named “Felicity Moon”, approached the organist and choirmaster, Arthur Rogers, as he ended his “playout” piece, to ask him if that “red-headed boy could be available to play the shepherd boy, Ezra, in the Nativity Play she was producing.  So, since I was 10 then, it must’ve been 1948. I mentioned last time that lovely spinster neighbour opposite, Olive Clark.  She played perfectly the Virgin Mary.  You may have heard of one of the most venerable members of the congregation and a great benefactor, Hugh Appleton who played one of the Three Kings? So that (Ezra) was literally the start of my long (amateur) acting career though I only had one, maybe three short lines to speak.

Last evening, you will recall me telling you of my first acting experience:  playing the shepherd boy, Ezra, in St John’s Nativity Play. I also told you how much of a hoarder I am still.  Consequently, I have spent well over an hour or more hunting out this photo I just knew I had somewhere, before getting my scanner to perform properly not to mention rotating and cropping it in my rarely-used photo-enhancement software.  Again, I’m not complaining because it provided yet another nostalgic trip through my life in black and white, right back to the age of 3 or 5 on a beach in Somerset.  So lots of browsing and a bit of sorting while I was about it.

So herewith I am delighted to send you the attached scan of this wonderful photograph of the three “Shepherds” posing on the chancel steps (you can see the raredos in the background).  Arthur Diamond is on the left and Mr Polley centre.  (I just can’t remember his first name.)  And of course, yours truly on the right.  I am reminded of how good the costumes were.

The photograph, taken by the long-defunct Croydon Times’s photographer, has 5th January 1952 stamped on the back, providing a usefully authentic confirmation of the actual date.  It also makes sense of my age being 13 then (or maybe 12 still when invited by Miss Moon) rather than the 10 I had estimated yesterday.

Thank you for your Easter greeting which, in keeping with the lockdown, I spent mostly in my garden which I am so fortunate to have, as well as the trip to Tesco for the week’s essentials.  Taking advantage of the company’s considerate planning, I have one – of not many – good reasons to be thankful for being “Over 70” – the group allowed prioritised access to the store on three mornings of every week between 9am and 10am before the crowds are allowed in.  The store is in a dictatorial-like state now with diagonal black and yellow guide tapes affixed to the lanes to marshal shoppers into some semblance of order.  Very effective it is too and I witnessed no instance of animosity amongst any of those while I was there.  And a commendable turn-out by the staff.

Are the choristers still invited over to the Vicarage for coffee and biscuits after the morning service?  Probably not since I note your mention of the “Sunday afternoon tearoom”.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!  So we may yet meet up, at Tesco, if not there!

I am really pleased that you and your husband found my replies of such interest.  Of course it “would be OK” to reproduce my rambling reminiscences I sent to you, edited as much or as little as you see fit!  

Michael Hancock’s Memories (reproduced by Janet Martin from a series of emails – Easter 2020)

“Thank you, for sharing your memories of the 1950’s with us Michael. I hope you like your first web publication!”

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