16th 2002, I became an octogenarian. It didn’t worry me all that
much, on that particular evening I played to a packed house at Bournemouth
Pavilion Theatre. For a birthday show, invites went out to friends and
acquaintances for drinks and eats at the Director’s Bar.
audience were warm and congratulatory in a marvellous party mood, everything
that’s needed for an after-the-show get together. More than 120 well-wishers
raised their champagne glasses as life began, life as an eighty-year old.
following pages were suggested as a keepsake by my close friend, Eric Sykes –
“Jot it down,” he said, “you’ll get so much pleasure reading it again
when you are ninety-nine.”
Eric and I have been friends since we were attached to the BBC show, Educating Archie, way back in the 1950s. If I had done as he suggested and made a daily entry, this book would have been thicker than Tolstoy’s War and Peace. But he was right, days completely forgotten come up as surprises when re-read, so I am hoping you will get a little of the pleasure penned in these entries given to myself. I am not Tolstoy, but like himself as a writer, he was an entertainer. Let’s hope a little of it comes across as you turn the pages and I can go on doing what I have been doing for more than half a century – entertain… so I wanna tell you a story…
‘THE GOLDEN YEARS’
so Jules Verne did it in 80 days, nowadays those astronauts can go round our
hemisphere in eighty minutes – what’s the rush?
It took me eighty years up till last October 16th, Monsieur
Verne didn’t have traffic lights, breakdowns on the M.1, he didn’t have to
contend with garages being out of gasoline and having to start a war in the
Middle East to make sure of a full tank. There
was no M.O.T. on those balloons, he didn’t need pit stops, insurance and a
dozen other things to hold him up.
get through customs and baggage scans must have cut his journey down
considerably – take a breather.
you were born in the year of 1922 like I was eighty years ago, you’d have
known the difference in today’s mode of living, there was no B.B.C., no
refrigerators, no ball point pens, no electric blankets, television hadn’t
been thought of. Men had returned from a war minus arms and legs, coughing
from the gas released to cower the enemy, the only bit of luck our fighting men
could pray for was the wind to change. That
was the Great War when 4 million soldiers from both sides were fighting a war to
end all wars, which was what they did – for twenty years.
That was until a fellow named Adolf said, “Your country needs you”. I
know it originated from a bloke they called Lord Kitchener but Adolf used it as
a catchphrase too, and once the youth of Germany took it up, we were used to
make sure many of them were slaughtered in the same way with bombs raining down
on them, the same way we were expected to retaliate after London, Coventry,
Liverpool etc, had been blown to smithereens.
Jules Verne only had to face the elements and those elements were much easier to
face in his day, mainly because we didn’t have a Labour Government then. We
became a wealthy nation once again – how? Income Tax.
We were taxed more than we had ever been, the high taxes were to pay for
that war, the strange thing was that our main ally (America) became even richer
– that was because we all accepted more of that Lord Kitchener ‘Moody’,
their leader Mr Roosevelt had charm too.
if you were like me and a few million others, you’d have to make up your mind
to start all over. Put away the
uniform the R.A.F. had dressed us in for four years, paying us the princely sum
of fourteen shillings every fortnight for our goodies and smokes, smokes that
were driving many of us into a short life through lung cancer.
Jules Verne had no worries, up there in his balloon he could light up a
cigar and not feel an outcast.
let me tell you a story… earlier this year I was booked for a cabaret
appearance aboard a cruise ship going out of Sydney on January 23rd,
we took it slowly through the Barrier Reef until we arrived at Cairns in
Queensland. The trip was blissful,
a friendly crew and staff, every meal a banquet plus a smoke room to light a
cigar should you feel like it with a glass of brandy at your side
“Did you ever smoke?” asked a colleague who saw me on the dockside
at Cairns. I was puffing away at a large cigar having trouble drawing on the
Havana, which I was smoking almost secretly, there are few places a cigarette
smoker can go nowadays, and cigar smokers are scorned even more.
I told my enquirer that I smoked for a while during my R.A.F. service
days only because it was fashionable to act like Bogart or Edward G. Robinson,
dropped it after I was demobbed, he watched me trying to get some smoke through
the huge Havana adding, “You need a poultice on the back of your neck.”
I thought the particular cigar I was puffing was like the expensive
ones, sold at a store in Jermyn Street just off Piccadilly, they sell for more
than eight pound each – eight quid for a thirty minute smoke is
expensive in anybody’s language, no wonder the sailor on the wharf was
surprised when I asked him if I could beg a light, he watched as I used three of
his matches trying to light up, then took the remaining box shaking his head in
disbelief at this bloke with a big cigar unable to afford a box of matches.
“Wanna keep ‘em?” he asked, I thanked him and told him no, I only
smoke one at Christmas, which is true.
Let me tell you a story… Earlier in the week our young Philippine
waiter was telling me of the wonderful musicians he had heard when the ship
docked previously in Havana, the place where cigars are supposedly the best in
the world, the place where the beautiful maidens roll the cigars on their thighs
to keep the moisture in the leaf for a cool smoke by connoisseurs.
He went on to tell that a box selling at more than two hundred pounds he
could get for fifty dollars. Any bargain hunter knows that is a good deal.
“Did you get any?” I asked, he did a shifty look right and left then
told me he could get me a box of twenty five for fifty U.S. dollars – at the
end of dinner he passed me the box and I passed him fifty bucks. I was now
smoking one on the dockside at Cairns thinking to myself that I didn’t think
much of these famous Havanas, half way through the smoke I decided I’d had
enough, perhaps it was the matches I’d borrowed that was making this such a
I let the cigar go out then decided to investigate the contents of this
awful tasting tobacco. As I
suspected when I shredded the leaf and watched what can only be described as
sawdust – for sale to ‘mugs like me’, I could only smile and think to
myself that everybody has to make a living.
If there is anybody around who would like a box of twenty four Havana
cigars – you can have them for twenty U.S. dollars.
Here endeth the lesson.
Bournemouth U.K. - 16th October 2002
was born on this day, (eighty years ago) October 16th 1922, a time
when the unemployed were in the millions.
father joined the dole queues after seven years in the British Army, four of
them in France, I think the only words of French he ever learned was ‘fermè
le porte’ and ‘shut the door’ was not a lot of good to my father who spent
most of those years in a tent or a dug out.
What a lovely man. When he
was dying of cancer at a hospital in Dartford, Kent, I managed to catch a flight
from Sydney, Australia to spend a few hours at his bedside. As I pressed his
hand he murmured, “Keep ‘em laughing son”. Eventually I left the Joyce
Green Hospital and cried myself to sleep that night.
wife Blossom had tip toed into the bedroom and laid out on our large double bed
birthday cards, (one hundred and seven of them) with faxes, presents and gifts
galore without waking me. When I did awake she told me that the postman was
getting fed up with deliveries to our address in Sandbourne Road, suggesting I
should rise and thank him for all the effort – which I did.
my dressing gown on I wandered downstairs to a chorus of “Happy birthday dear
Maxie…” from several of the family that included Bloss, my son Anthony with
his wife Celia and their three children, all with a glass of champagne in hand
– I was given a glass for the toast (I can’t remember ever drinking
champagne at 8.30a.m), after which my wife reminded me I had a busy day ahead.
was a rehearsal for a show I was in that evening at the Pavilion, there was an
interview with Fred Dineage for the evening news on Meridian T.V. The local
newspaper was sending a photographer to let the world see what an old man looks
like on his 80th birthday. There
were phone–ins from radio stations as far as Radio Scotland, one from a D.J.
named Bob Rogers calling from Sydney, Australia, all with happy wishes and too
much to take in for a poor old fella like me, funny thing was I felt no
different to when I was seventy nine.
However, today I become an octogenarian, imagine eighty years of age, and these pages are to remind me of my first year as an eighty year old.
My 80th birthday - These
two young ladies baked and decorated
the birthday cake shaped as a piano, it was complimented by all.
Unless I put these photos back in the album we will need another 1000
pages, because as they say –
“Memories are made of this”.
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