Today in London History – on the day Queen Elizabeth II is laid to rest we go back to the springtime of her reign – September 19, 1960.
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London Walks here with your daily London fix.
Story time. History time.
September 19, 1960 was also a Monday. What a different read. Today, this Monday – September 19th, 2022 – the day of the Queen’s funeral – there’s a certain hush, a sombreness, a sadness, a grownup-ness, we’re on our own now, an all changed, changed utterly tonality.
And, yes, here’s a warning? A spoiler alert? At the very end of this podcast I’m going to bid a personal farewell to the Queen. I’m going to put in the stream my paper lantern with a candle in it. A paper lantern made up of a few words. My words…with a bit of help from…well, you should be able to guess.
Sixty-two years ago – September 19th, 1960 – well, looking back there from the promontory we’re on now, it all looks innocent and carefree, and, yes, childlike. As I scanned the papers for that September day in 1960 I kept thinking, if you’d moved about amongst them – button-holed them – as a kind of Teiresias or ancient mariner – told them, in an appropriately croaky voice – “you do realise that on this day, 62 years hence – September 19th, 2022 – they’ll be laying to rest your young Queen – though needless to say she won’t be young come that hour – they would have looked at you uncomprehendingly. Who is this madman? What’s he on about?
And I think in the last analysis that’s the reason this podcast – today’s podcast – has come about.
I seriously considered 24 hours of silence from this quarter – a full measure of paying respects – but decided not to, thought no, in its own way, this is appropriate. It’s an offering. It’s propitiatory. Let’s go back to the springtime of the Queen’s reign. Back to child-like innocence and freshness – or so it seems, viewed from here.
And what were the bubbles that London was transfixed by – the bubbles that came out of the pipe of September 19th, 1960?
Traffic wardens. London got its first traffic wardens on this day, 62 years ago.
And like a child with a new plaything, London was fascinated by them. Let’s rephrase that. Fascinated isn’t bad, but much exercised is better.
The press was full of it. We learn – as the London of September 1960 learned – there were 100 of them. Those were different days. They were all men. They were recruited from retired police officers, retired servicemen and younger men whose height was not quite sufficient for the police. They had to be over 25 or under 55.
So, yes, no women – no lovely Rita Meter Maid. And well you might ask, why not? Several MPs did in fact raise the matter with the Commissioner of Police. It was his decision whether or not to employ women. He said, he did not propose to recruit them in the early stages. That was a decision that brought expressions of regret from several MPs, who accused Chief Constables of prejudice of against women. Defending the Commissioner of Police, a Home Office official said the Commissioner had an open mind on the subject. In other words, he kicked the ball into the tall grass.
But, seriously, the past is a different country. Stuff got said – completely matter of factly – that would get cancel-zapped instanta in our day and age. And rightly so. Do you really want an example? Well, if you insist. Here’s some red meat for you from an MP “regretting” the decision not to recruit women. He said, “I have seen some women on point duty who are quite as efficient, particularly in the clearness of their signals, as any man.”
Breathtaking, isn’t it.
Anyway, moving on, there were 525 applicants for the first batch of wardens. Their pay was £565 a year. Their average age was 50. A Mr Edward Dredge was perhaps a fairly representative member of that first batch of traffic wardens. He was an ex-serviceman. He had been a Regimental Sergeant Major with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Asked why he’d become a traffic warden, Mr Dredge said, “I have a flair for uniforms and authority, and I think this is a worthwhile job. I believe we will become an integral part of the police force.” Personal note here: inconceivable that those six words – “I have a flair for uniforms” – would ever cross my lips. How was it that supervisor put it in my annual employee assessment at Worldwide Television News: “David Tucker is unmanageable.” Those are the colours I want to march under; that’s the uniform I want to wear.
Now, a couple more particulars. The tickets the traffic wardens issued were £2 jobs. If you paid up in time the matter would be put to rest – no further proceedings.
To get £2 into perspective for you, Mary’s first acting job came ten years later. She was in Gone With the Wind at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Played Scarlett O’Hara’s little sister. Her first weekly wage packet was £26.
Now to see if the scheme was paying for itself. On an average turn of duty the wardens gave out between five and seven tickets per day. Six tickets a day would generate £12 a day in fines. Or £60 a week. The average weekly wage of a warden was just over £10 so it looks as though the scheme had a certain viability. Had it been a private business venture you’d come right out and use the p-word: it was profitable.
And any other attendant bubbles with the main story. Sure. It made the news when prominent people got a parking ticket. The Prime Minister’s wife, Lady Dorothy Macmillan, got one – it was issued by Traffic Warden No. 30. That way of putting it is a flash of insight into the times (not that things have changed all that much). It almost could be a valuation at an Antiques Road Show. The one protagonist gets quite a high valuation name-wise: Lady Dorothy Macmillan. The other’s just a spear carrier, an extra – just a number. Number 30. Plus change. Anyway, it was a matter of some excitement that the prime minister’s wife got a ticket.
And how that 1960s London reading public must have lapped up the news that a Magistrate got a ticket. The subtitle read: Can Pay Fine at Own Court.
The story begins, “As Traffic Warden No. 26, George Evans” – well, at least George’s name broke the surface, he wasn’t just a number – anyway, “As Traffic Warden No. 26 George Evans, fixed a ticket to a car parked in Derby Street Mayfair, yesterday, I asked him if he remembered doing it to a black Rover 90 in the same place on Monday. I told him the owner of the Rover was Mr Geoffrey Raphael, Chief magistrate at Marylebone Court.” I note in passing that the Chief Magistrate was Mr. Raphael whereas No. 26 is just plain old George Evans. The nuances of class differentiations and social rank can be so fine but they’re always very telling.
Anyway, another nice touch, we learn from the Telegraph story that the Chief Magistrate dealt with 12 parking summonses in his Marylebone Court
the day before the reporter filed his story. Sensing the ripeness of the story the reporter asked the Chief Magistrate about his own ticket. We’re told that Mr. Raphael smiled and said, “I shall have to fall back on the old formula of ‘no comment.’”
And, finally, I liked this touch as well.
It was almost as if some deep-seated British bird-watching instinct came into play as this new phenomenon – Traffic Wardens – was espied, in the distance, heading this way. The press went to great lengths to apprise the public of what to look for if they wanted to see a Traffic Warden. Ergo the detailed descriptions of the uniform. This for example, “The uniforms have gilt buttons and “Traffic Warden” yellow flashes on the shoulders. This flash will also be used on the band of the peaked cap, which has a gilt crown badge.”
And of course in no time at all, snobbery and its slightly better-bred cousin taste reared their heads – the one a pretty ugly head – in what I, as a Yank, can only describe as an inimitably British fashion.
For example, Mayfair resident – of course it was Mayfair – Mayfair resident Lord Willoughby de Broke – I mean, no novelist would dare invent a name like that – how do you keep a straight face if someone says to you, “David, allow me to introduce you to Lord Willoughby de Broke” – anyway, Lord Willoughby de Broke said he was all in favour of the warden system but it was bad luck they had to wear such an unfortunate uniform.
“Parking meter attendants are dressed in the kind of clothes one is apt to associate with the chucker-out in a third-class nightclub, and the uniform of the traffic warden, with its unfortunate colour, is somewhat reminiscent of a sanitary orderly in the Army.”
Well, how do you follow that act? You don’t.
So Mayfair’s finest, Lord Willoughby de Broke, gets the last word.
And for a Today in London recommendation, a visit to London’s poshest art gallery, the Royal Academy. Followed – or preceded – by a leisurely stroll through London’s poshest – its finest – its classiest – its oldest arcade – the Burlington Arcade. Somewhere on that outing – the Royal Academy or the Burlington Arcade – you can depend on it, you’ll happen across a 2022 version of Lord Willoughby de Broke.
You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.
And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.
That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.
It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.
Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.
It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”
And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.
And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.
Ok, here’s the paper lantern with the candle in it. The paper lantern made of words.
Good night, your majesty. Farewell, sweet lady. Rest in peace fellow human being.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”