London In Photos, 1960: Bob Collins

I was 8 years old in 1960, so many of these images are familiar to me from my youth.

Bob Collins left his trade as a watchmaker to become a photojournalist. From 1947 until the end of the 1960s, many of his photos became famous. I have chosen a selection of his photos that were all taken in the year 1960.

Here is Bob photographed with his camera, 1960.

People wait to hand their tickets to the ticket collector, Victoria Mainline Station, London.

Before it became a familiar photographic ‘trick’, Bob experimented with blurring, using slow shutter speeds. Victoria Station again.

A patient bus queue on a rainy night in Central London.(I have waited for an 88 bus more times than I care to remember.)

A lady buying fish at Billingsgate Fish Market, City of London.

A Facist Party rally, Trafalgar Square. The far-right supporters had clashed with left-wing opponents.

Female tennis fans at Wimbledon, very smartly dressed.

Bob ventured outside London to catch Londoners enjoying leisure time. Here are some people resting on Brighton Beach, in Sussex.

This man is checking the form at the Epsom Derby horse race, Surrey.

Retro Review: Peeping Tom (1960)

If you read my film posts, you will know that I have mentioned this film quite a few times. Released the same year as the much-lauded and far better known ‘Psycho’, it is a powerful psychological thriller about a serial killer, directed by the talented Michael Powell. Its main claim to fame is that it more or less ended that director’s career, as both the critics and the viewing public just didn’t get it. And sometimes when they did get it, they didn’t like it.

The lurid photography and disturbing subject matter resulted in Powell being vilified. Despite continuing to work on other projects later, this film effectively finished him off as a force in the cinema industry. When you consider that his previous work with Emeric Pressburger left us with such classics as ‘Black Narcissus’, ‘The Red Shoes’, and ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, then you can see just how tragic it was to lose him.

‘Peeping Tom’ later achieved cult status, and rightly so. It was a landmark British film, and in my opinion superior to ‘Psycho’ in every way imaginable. So, what was all the fuss about?

Austrian actor Carl Boehm plays photographer and aspiring film-maker, Mark Lewis. He operates in the seedy world of soft-porn photography in London’s red light district, Soho. The money he earns from the dubious ‘glamour’ shots enables him to try out his cine camera, getting occasional jobs with a mainstream film crew. But he has a dark past, one that has affected him beyond repair. From flashbacks and old cine camera footage, we discover that he was used in experiments by his father. He was deliberately terrified, and his fear caught on camera. That has left him with the desire to replicate those experiments, and to improve on them.

He conceals his small camera, and deliberately encounters a prostitute. Back in her room, he films her as he kills her, then rushes home to watch the results on a projector in his room. This behaviour becomes addictive, and he begins to stalk other women to kill and film. Meanwhile, a young woman who lives in the shared house has become attracted to him. Helen (Anna Massey) makes so secret of wanting to be his girlfriend. But he is afraid to become attached to her, knowing how his compulsion might surface. She eventually screens one of his films while he is out of the house, resulting in the eventual climax.

Considering it was made in 1960, this film stretched almost every boundary of what was seen by the public at the time. It was the first film on general release to ever show a naked female breast, albeit briefly. It exposed the underworld of pornographic photography, with prints and films available from apparently innocent corner shops and newsagents. And years ahead of video cameras, it used the viewfinder of Mark’s camera as a ‘POV’ for the viewer, taking us close-up into the action, right up to the deaths of the victims. It could also be the first film to ever feature ‘Snuff’ films, as Mark watches his own films of the murders he has carried out. I will repeat the date. 1960. We had seen nothing like it. (I saw it some seven or eight years later, as I was too young when it was released.)

Powell uses all his talents to good effect. Some location filming in London, backed up by convincing sets. A solid but not showy cast, all taking their roles very seriously. And the use of light and shade, colour too, to show changes of tension and mood. The music on the soundtrack is effective without being overly-intrusive, and the feel of the era also makes it historically interesting. London was changing, along with the rest of the world. Pop music was in its infancy, fashions becoming important, and the new generation of young people no longer wanted to be like their parents. Taken in the context of its time, this film was jumping a few years ahead, to the permissive London of the Swinging Sixties that was just around the corner.

Seen in retrospect, Powell’s film is both important, and challenging. Can we really sympathise with a serial killer, because he was abused as a child? This was one of the first films to even pose that question. Does an audience feel excitement as it focuses close to the moment of a young woman’s death? Maybe it did, and perhaps that’s why people found it to be so uncomfortable to watch.

For me, it remains as one of the greatest British films of its time, and has not been bettered since.

Retro Review: Let’s Make Love (1960)

Even as a boy, I was always captivated by Marilyn Monroe. She did typify the blonde bombshell female so popular during a certain era, but there was something else too. She had a vulnerability, a touching innocence, and both are things that instinctively make women attractive to certain men, I believe. Some people thought she wasn’t that great an actress, and traded on her looks and figure to achieve fame. I disagree, and think she was an outstanding actress at times, and her good looks actually concealed much of the talent underneath. She had a tragically short life of course, and perhaps didn’t cope well with the fame that surrounded her. But she was undoubtedly a rare combination, someone who was incredibly good to look at, but also knew her strengths when it came to choosing parts.

This film is far from being one of her best. The casting of the non-actor and British crooner Frankie Vaughan was uninspired, to say the least. Yves Montand plays a stereotypical Frenchman, and at times is embarrassing to watch on screen. Even with some genuinely funny moments, and many great musical numbers, it is an implausible tale of a poor dancer and singer being wooed by a millionaire who gets his girl in the end. Despite all this, it remains my favourite Monroe film, because of her. With all the nonsense going on in the background, and some ham acting from many cast members, we get to focus on her. We see her at a time when she was arguably not only at her most attractive, but imbued with a confidence sometimes lacking in more serious films she made.

Co-written by Arthur Miller, directed by the estimable George Cukor, and shown in a lovely Cinemascope print, it was a delight to watch her at the cinema in my childhood. I have watched this film many times since, and never cease to be amazed by her looks, and her subtle skill too.
Watch it just for her.

One film, two versions: Seven Samurai

When I was a little over eight years old, my parents took me to the cinema to see a new western film that everyone was talking about. It was called ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and boasted an all-star cast led by Yul Brynner, with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan, James Coburn and Eli Wallach.
I thought it was just wonderful. The disparate team of men recruited by Brynner’s character go to save a helpless Mexican village from harassment by marauding bandits. Each man has his own skills, and very different personality. They all have their own reasons for accepting the poorly-paid job, and help the villagers in a desperate fight against the much larger gang of bandits.

This film was remade in 2016, but I have never seen that, and probably never will. But this is not about that 1960 western, which as I found out later was itself a remake. Some seven years later, I went to see a film at the National Film theatre, ‘Seven Samurai’. It was made by the legendary Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, in 1954. Set in the 1580s, it is a tale of villagers harassed by bandits, who hire a lone samurai to defend their village. He enlists the help of six others, all equally loners, with different skills, and their own reasons for being there. I started to experience deja vu. The story was not only familiar, but the same. Though set in Japan of course, and with spears and swords instead of rifles and pistols. And it was a simply wonderful film, with an outstanding performance from Toshiro Mifune in the lead role.

There was no Internet then, and I was still at school, so not really able to afford expensive specialist film magazines. But some research in books informed me that the American western was nothing less than an intentional remake, though obviously in a different location, and time period. Despite the similarities, it is hard to compare the two films. One is an historical drama, with memorable set-pieces, and filmed in glorious black and white. The other is a take on the cowboy/western genre, with a superb cast, and good direction. This begs the question, “when is a remake not a remake?” I prefer to think of it as a tribute, an homage to Kurosawa, if you will. Both films are undoubtedly worth watching, and both have merits.

But of course, that leaves Kurosawa, one of my favourite directors. Then there is Toshiro Mifune, a powerful presence on screen, and an actor capable of great nuance too. So I am obviously going to say the the Japanese original is the better film. But the western is very good too.

A Re-post: Recollections of Youth (2)

After posting about Toys yesterday, I noticed it linked to this post from 2014. Some of you will recall it perhaps, as a few of my regular followers left likes or comments. But since 2014, I have been lucky to acquire so many new followers, I thought it was time to look again at this glimpse of my past.

When I was aged eight, in 1960, we moved to a new home, less than a mile from our old one. It was a newly-built maisonette ( a flat with an additional upper floor) and owned by the local authority, so my parents would be renting it. I could still attend the same school, and many of my family lived within walking distance. My memories of where we lived before this are less clear, though I know that we shared a house with my aunt and uncle. This also meant that I lived with my slightly older female cousin, someone I always regarded as the sister I never had. I am sure that they lived upstairs, and we lived on the ground floor. I could check the details of course, but these posts are about my memories, and what I have retained, not those of others who may or may not have much better recall. I have no mental picture of my bedroom there, or any other room for that matter; and few actual memories of events in a place where I lived for some years.

Our move to the new flat is a very different matter. I can remember a great deal about that place. I lived there until just after my fifteenth birthday, and little of what happened there has escaped me. Perhaps this was because we were the first tenants there, or it might be that it seemed very smart to me, and somewhere desirable to live. We had a shed as well, called a bike shed, though at the time we had no bikes. It was used for storage, and I did eventually get a bike to put in it. The key for this small lock-up was very large. It reminded me of the keys that I had seen in old films. I can still see that key clearly, fifty-four years later. Although the block was low-level, with only a ground and first floor, we also had a rubbish chute. I thought this was incredibly modern, and I enjoyed the novelty of putting small bags of rubbish into it, and closing the large metal door. There was a small ‘whoosh’ sound, as it fell into the large bin below.

We also had a small balcony, though we didn’t sit out on it. Mum got some plant containers to put on the railing, and I remember geraniums being planted. It still had one coal fire, in the living room, but it had a gas igniter, which made lighting it very easy. There was a coal-cupboard inside the hallway, and the coal was delivered into it through a hatch on the outside. I can vividly remember the smell, when the cupboard was opened. Coal has such a distinctive smell. The bathroom was heated by an electric fire, mounted on the wall above the door. It glowed very red when lit, and took a long time to warm up the room. The toilet was separate, something I have always considered to be a very sensible arrangement.

My parents decided to go with the latest fashions for furniture and decoration. I don’t remember the wallpaper, but the furnishings were all ‘G-Plan.’ This was the real deal in 1960. Expensive, cutting edge style, and like nothing we had ever had before. We even had ‘room dividers’, large display shelving units used to give a two-room feel to the one living room. They were so well-made, I was still using one in 1977, when I first married. There was also a swivel and recline chair, with large ‘wings’, and wheeled feet. It felt very ‘executive’ to sit in, and was always considered to be Dad’s chair. Like the room dividers, it eventually found its way into other places we lived in, and made it to my first marital home too.

Remembering feelings rather than things is very different. This new home provided me with a larger bedroom. I was allowed to choose how it was decorated. I chose one wall in a wallpaper that was a photo of bamboo. It gave the room a ‘jungle’ feel, and seemed very exotic to my young eyes. This new bedroom was to become my personal sanctuary. It was somewhere to escape from my parents’ disintegrating relationship, by immersing myself into a world of books and imagination. Part of me has always remained in that room, studying, and thinking. I had my own record player, an old Dansette Autochanger. Playing my favourite records, over and over, until I could recite all the lyrics, and anticipate every change in the beat. At that time, they were records of songs from the decades before I was born, giving me a love for the crooners, jazz musicians, and even the big ballad singers of the day. Kay Starr, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Mario Lanza, Crosby and Sinatra; they were all in there, together with the newly-arrived Blues singers, records made many years before, just gaining popularity in the UK. Within a few short years, these would be replaced by the pop records of my youth, but I never lost my love for the other music.

I was given an ancient typewriter by my Mum, which she had sourced from her office job. It was very large, and most impressive. It had red and black ribbons, and could type a stencil too. The carriage was enormous, and the sound of the keys was like a machine-gun. I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard, and to type at a reasonable pace, so as not to jam up the keys into a metallic tangle. I typed ideas mostly, as school work had to be handwritten then. I also had a double bed, as I was given my parents’ very old one, when they got a modern divan. It had a dent in the middle, like an old swayback horse, and I loved to snuggle into that dent. In my small wardrobe, I kept my most treasured possessions. I had a bayonet from the war, and a Gurkha knife, called a Kukhri. Both of these were mementos from my Dad’s time in the Army. I also had his Warrant Officer leather wristband, and an album of small black and white photos he had taken during his years in India. My toy soldiers, wooden fort, and plastic castle, all had pride of place, even after I stopped playing with them. The large reference books; maps and atlases, flags of the world, dictionaries and bible stories, together with my collected comics and old newspapers, were tended carefully, and always treasured. I still have some of those books.

My memories of the hours spent alone in this room are mostly good ones. I never feared loneliness, and when I felt the need, I could always go outside, and see if other kids my age were out doing something. But I liked my room. I knew every inch of it, from the candlewick bedspread that I habitually plucked at, to the stuffed head of a tiger, shot by my Dad in India, that roared down at me from the top of the wardrobe, seemingly emerging from the bamboo on the wallpaper. And even as I sit typing this, I can still feel that dent in my bed.

Recollections of youth (2)

When I was aged eight, in 1960, we moved to a new home, less than a mile from our old one. It was a newly-built maisonette ( a flat with an additional upper floor) and owned by the local authority, so my parents would be renting it. I could still attend the same school, and many of my family lived within walking distance. My memories of where we lived before this are less clear, though I know that we shared a house with my aunt and uncle. This also meant that I lived with my slightly older female cousin, someone I always regarded as the sister I never had. I am sure that they lived upstairs, and we lived on the ground floor. I could check the details of course, but these posts are about my memories, and what I have retained, not those of others who may or may not have much better recall. I have no mental picture of my bedroom there, or any other room for that matter; and few actual memories of events in a place where I lived for some years.

Our move to the new flat is a very different matter. I can remember a great deal about that place. I lived there until just after my fifteenth birthday, and little of what happened there has escaped me. Perhaps this was because we were the first tenants there, or it might be that it seemed very smart to me, and somewhere desirable to live. We had a shed as well, called a bike shed, though at the time we had no bikes. It was used for storage, and I did eventually get a bike to put in it. The key for this small lock-up was very large. It reminded me of the keys that I had seen in old films. I can still see that key clearly, fifty-four years later. Although the block was low-level, with only a ground and first floor, we also had a rubbish chute. I thought this was incredibly modern, and I enjoyed the novelty of putting small bags of rubbish into it, and closing the large metal door. There was a small ‘whoosh’ sound, as it fell into the large bin below.

We also had a small balcony, though we didn’t sit out on it. Mum got some plant containers to put on the railing, and I remember geraniums being planted. It still had one coal fire, in the living room, but it had a gas igniter, which made lighting it very easy. There was a coal-cupboard inside the hallway, and the coal was delivered into it through a hatch on the outside. I can vividly remember the smell, when the cupboard was opened. Coal has such a distinctive smell. The bathroom was heated by an electric fire, mounted on the wall above the door. It glowed very red when lit, and took a long time to warm up the room. The toilet was separate, something I have always considered to be a very sensible arrangement.
My parents decided to go with the latest fashions for furniture and decoration. I don’t remember the wallpaper, but the furnishings were all ‘G-Plan.’ This was the real deal in 1960. Expensive, cutting edge style, and like nothing we had ever had before. We even had ‘room dividers’, large display shelving units used to give a two-room feel to the one living room. They were so well-made, I was still using one in 1977, when I first married. There was also a swivel and recline chair, with large ‘wings’, and wheeled feet. It felt very ‘executive’ to sit in, and was always considered to be Dad’s chair. Like the room dividers, it eventually found its way into other places we lived in, and made it to my first marital home too.

Remembering feelings rather than things is very different. This new home provided me with a larger bedroom. I was allowed to choose how it was decorated. I chose one wall in a wallpaper that was a photo of bamboo. It gave the room a ‘jungle’ feel, and seemed very exotic to my young eyes. This new bedroom was to become my personal sanctuary. It was somewhere to escape from my parents’ disintegrating relationship, by immersing myself into a world of books and imagination. Part of me has always remained in that room, studying, and thinking. I had my own record player, an old Dansette Autochanger. Playing my favourite records, over and over, until I could recite all the lyrics, and anticipate every change in the beat. At that time, they were records of songs from the decades before I was born, giving me a love for the crooners, jazz musicians, and even the big ballad singers of the day. Kay Starr, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Mario Lanza, Crosby and Sinatra; they were all in there, together with the newly-arrived Blues singers, records made many years before, just gaining popularity in the UK. Within a few short years, these would be replaced by the pop records of my youth, but I never lost my love for the other music.

I was given an ancient typewriter by my Mum, which she had sourced from her office job. It was very large, and most impressive. It had red and black ribbons, and could type a stencil too. The carriage was enormous, and the sound of the keys was like a machine-gun. I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard, and to type at a reasonable pace, so as not to jam up the keys into a metallic tangle. I typed ideas mostly, as school work had to be handwritten then. I also had a double bed, as I was given my parents’ very old one, when they got a modern divan. It had a dent in the middle, like an old swayback horse, and I loved to snuggle into that dent. In my small wardrobe, I kept my most treasured possessions. I had a bayonet from the war, and a Gurkha knife, called a Kukhri. Both of these were mementos from my Dad’s time in the Army. I also had his Warrant Officer leather wristband, and an album of small black and white photos he had taken during his years in India. My toy soldiers, wooden fort, and plastic castle, all had pride of place, even after I stopped playing with them. The large reference books; maps and atlases, flags of the world, dictionaries and bible stories, together with my collected comics and old newspapers, were tended carefully, and always treasured. I still have some of those books.

My memories of the hours spent alone in this room are mostly good ones. I never feared loneliness, and when I felt the need, I could always go outside, and see if other kids my age were out doing something. But I liked my room. I knew every inch of it, from the candlewick bedspread that I habitually plucked at, to the stuffed head of a tiger, shot by my Dad in India, that roared down at me from the top of the wardrobe, seemingly emerging from the bamboo on the wallpaper. And even as I sit typing this, I can still feel that dent in my bed.