Sep 302017
 

On this date in 1967 BBC Radio 1 came on the air at 6:50 am with Tony Blackburn presenting its first show. I was listening on my faithful trannie. Before then the BBC consisted of three services: the Light Programme (broadcasting light – but not pop – music on both long and medium waves), the Third Programme (really imaginative name for a service that came after the Home and Light Programmes, broadcasting classical music), and the Home Service (heir to the original BBC radio programming of news, commentary, sports, quiz shows, etc.). Those 3 became Radio 2, Radio 3, and Radio 4 respectively, with Radio 2 broadcasting only on long wave, giving up the medium wave space to Radio 1.

Radio 1 was the BBC’s response to pirate radio stations which blossomed in the mid-1960s. The original “pirate” station was Radio Luxembourg It was an important forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom. It was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum. It boasted the most powerful privately-owned transmitter in the world (1,300 kW broadcasting on medium wave). In the late 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, it captured very large audiences in Britain and Ireland with its program of popular entertainment, especially music. I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg most evenings, when the signal was clearest, but they had the annoying habit of cutting off the end of records, presumably for copyright reasons.  Alan Freeman was one of the most famous DJs.

During the day I listened to Radio Caroline or Radio London, whichever signal was clearer. I lived to the west of London though, where signals broadcast from offshore were not stellar. I don’t know, and haven’t taken the time to research, why the BBC did not broadcast pop music in the 1960s until they came up with Radio 1. I imagine expense was a significant factor – with stuffiness not far behind. The BBC relied on radio and television licenses plus government funding for its operating budget, and I would think that fees for playing pop music were prohibitive.  The pirate stations got round this by being – er – pirates. But there was no getting around the fact that the pirates were immensely popular, and a complete nuisance. The Beeb sucked it up, hired the most popular DJs from the pirates, and went on the air with an all-music format.

The first disc jockey to broadcast on the new station was Tony Blackburn, whose cheery style, first heard on Radio Caroline and Radio London, won him the prime slot on what became known as the “Radio 1 Breakfast Show.” The first words on Radio 1 – after a countdown by the Controller of Radios 1 and 2, Robin Scott, and a jingle, recorded at PAMS in Dallas, Texas, beginning “The voice of Radio 1” – were “… And, good morning everyone. Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1”. This was the first use of US-style jingles on BBC radio, but the style was familiar to listeners who were acquainted with Blackburn and other DJs from their days on pirate radio. The first complete record played on Radio 1 was “Flowers in the Rain” by The Move. The second single was “Massachusetts” by The Bee Gees. The initial rota of staff included John Peel and a gaggle of others, hired from pirates, such as Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, Mike Raven, David Ryder, Jim Fisher, Jimmy Young, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Simon Dee, Terry Wogan, Duncan Johnson, Doug Crawford, Tommy Vance, Chris Denning, Emperor Rosko, Pete Murray, and Bob Holness. Many of the most popular pirate radio voices, such as Simon Dee, had only a one-hour slot per week, (“Midday Spin.”)

Flashback time:

I confess I listened to Tony Blackburn every morning even though he was thoroughly mainstream and a bit of a twerp. My mum would bring me a cup of tea in my bedroom at half past seven before she headed off to work in London and would turn on my much-prized (gigantic) stereo to Tony Blackburn and I would snooze and listen until I had to get ready for school. That stereo was the talk of my entire school, and I was the only student (or teacher for that matter) who had one.  I had worked at a factory during my Easter and summer holidays to buy it. It was an utter scandal. My mates liked it and came around sometimes to listen, but teachers and parents were horrified. “How could that boy throw all that money away on a stereo when he should have put it in the bank?????” Stereos were very rare in those days.  Most records were issued in mono (though you could get stereo), and most people had cheap mono record players.  I wanted REAL SOUND.  Stereo players were very expensive. I’d guess the modern equivalent would be around $10,000 (maybe a bit less). I didn’t care.  That stereo brought me years and years of enjoyment, and my mum was still using it until she died (in 2000).  I’d say that’s fair bang for your buck. I had no interest in money then, and still don’t. I work to earn what I want (or need), then quit.

John Peel was more a favorite of mine than Tony Blackburn. He played weird stuff that no one else played and his DJ style was legendarily laconic. He had relatively unpopular time slots, such as Sunday afternoons, and I would put him on sometimes when I was doing my homework – not often, because I like to work undisturbed. But sometimes the homework bordered on the mindless and so a distraction was welcome. It was on one such program that I first heard Young Tradition, an a capella group specializing in traditional music. Henceforth, I bought all their records and eventually became close friends with the bass singer Royston Wood (RIP), and later with Heather Wood, and on nodding terms with Pete Bellamy (RIP).

Sadly, or not, I completely lost interest in pop music when I went to Oxford in 1970. The stereo came with me, but I listened only to traditional music on it (except for parties when I dragged out “oldies” (even by then) from Hendrix, Who, et al).  Radio 1 was gone and forgotten.

Given the Move were first on Radio 1 it’s easy for me to use one of their songs as inspiration for a recipe. The Move were one of a select group of bands that came along too late to be part of the US’s pop scene “British Invasion” and so they are mostly known only to old gits like me who lived in England in the late 1960s. Blackberry Way was one of their hits – an incredibly forgettable song – so let’s go with blackberries.

I grew blackberries in my garden for many years.  They were incredibly prolific and hardy, with massive thorny branches, but luscious fat fruit if you were willing to brave the pricks. Before that I went blackberrying along the hedgerows. They’ve always been a fav. I’m quite happy with a fresh bowl topped with whipped cream, but this gallery will give you some ideas. Blackberry sorbet (or ice cream) is great; blackberries make a nice addition to apple crumble; blackberry and apple Charlotte, blackberry cobbler . . . you’ll figure it out.

Sep 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1886) of Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE, MC one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirized the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Sassoon’s view, were responsible for a jingoism-fuelled war. Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his “Soldier’s Declaration” of 1917, culminating in his admission to a military psychiatric hospital. This resulted in his forming a friendship with Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by him. (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/wilfred-owen/ )

Sassoon was born and grew up in the neo-gothic mansion named “Weirleigh” in Matfield, Kent, to a Jewish father and an Anglo-Catholic mother. His father, Alfred Ezra Sassoon (1861–1895), son of Sassoon David Sassoon, was a member of the wealthy Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. For marrying outside the faith, Alfred was disinherited. Siegfried’s mother, Theresa, belonged to the Thornycroft family, sculptors responsible for many of the best-known statues in London—her brother was Sir Hamo Thornycroft. There was no German ancestry in Siegfried’s family; his mother named him Siegfried because of her love of Wagner’s operas. His middle name, Loraine, was the surname of a clergyman with whom she was friendly.

Sassoon was educated at the New Beacon School, Sevenoaks, Kent; at Marlborough College, Marlborough, Wiltshire (where he was a member of Cotton House), and at Clare College, Cambridge, where from 1905 to 1907 he read history. He went down from Cambridge without a degree and spent the next few years hunting, playing cricket and writing verse some of which he published privately. Since his father had been disinherited from the Sassoon fortune for marrying a Gentile, Sassoon had only a small private fortune that allowed him to live modestly without having to earn a living (however, he would later be left a generous legacy by an aunt, Rachel Beer, allowing him to buy the great estate of Heytesbury House in Wiltshire. His first published success, The Daffodil Murderer (1913), was a parody of John Masefield’s The Everlasting Mercy. Robert Graves, in Good-Bye to All That describes it as a “parody of Masefield which, midway through, had forgotten to be a parody and turned into rather good Masefield.”

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Motivated by patriotism, Sassoon joined the British Army just as the threat of a new European war was recognized, and was in service with the Sussex Yeomanry on 4 August 1914, the day the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. He broke his arm badly in a riding accident and was put out of action before even leaving England, spending the spring of 1915 convalescing. He was commissioned into the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve), Royal Welch Fusiliers, as a second lieutenant on 29 May 1915. On 1 November his younger brother Hamo was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign, and in the same month Sassoon was sent to the 1st Battalion in France. There he met Robert Graves, and they became close friends. United by their poetic vocation, they often read and discussed each other’s work. Though this did not have much perceptible influence on Graves’s poetry, his views on what may be called ‘gritty realism’ profoundly affected Sassoon’s concept of what constituted poetry. He soon became horrified by the realities of war, and the tone of his writing changed completely. Where his early poems exhibit a Romantic, dilettantish sweetness, his war poetry moves to an increasingly discordant tone, intended to convey the ugly truths of the trenches to an audience hitherto lulled by patriotic propaganda. Details such as rotting corpses, mangled limbs, filth, cowardice and suicide are all trademarks of his work at this time, and this philosophy of ‘no truth unfitting’ had a significant effect on the movement towards Modernist poetry.

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Sassoon’s periods of duty on the Western Front were marked by exceptionally brave actions, including the single-handed capture of a German trench in the Hindenburg Line. Armed with grenades, he scattered sixty German soldiers. He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupants. A pointless feat, since instead of signaling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.

Sassoon’s bravery was inspiring to the extent that soldiers of his company said that they felt confident only when they were accompanied by him. He often went out on night-raids and bombing patrols and demonstrated ruthless efficiency as a company commander. Deepening depression at the horror and misery the soldiers were forced to endure produced in Sassoon a paradoxically manic courage, and he was nicknamed “Mad Jack” by his men for his near-suicidal exploits. On 27 July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross; the citation read:

2nd Lt. Siegfried Lorraine [sic] Sassoon, 3rd (attd. 1st) Bn., R. W. Fus.

For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all the killed and wounded were brought in.

Sassoon was also later (unsuccessfully) recommended for the Victoria Cross.

Despite his decorations and reputation, in 1917 Sassoon decided to make a stand against the conduct of the war. One of the reasons for his violent anti-war feeling was the death of his friend David Cuthbert Thomas, who appears as “Dick Tiltwood” in the Sherston trilogy. Sassoon would spend years trying to overcome his grief.

At the end of a spell of convalescent leave, Sassoon declined to return to duty; instead, encouraged by pacifist friends such as Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell, he sent a letter to his commanding officer entitled “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration.” Forwarded to the press and read out in the House of Commons by a sympathetic member of parliament, the letter was seen by some as treasonous (“I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority”) or at best as condemning the war government’s motives (“I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest”). Rather than court-martial Sassoon, the Under-Secretary of State for War, Ian Macpherson, decided that he was unfit for service and had him sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, where he was officially treated for neurasthenia or “shell shock” (now usually referred to as post traumatic stress disorder).

Before declining to return to active service Sassoon had thrown the ribbon of his Military Cross into the river Mersey. According to his description of this incident in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer he did not, as one would infer from the context of his action, do this as a symbolic rejection of militaristic values, but simply out of the need to perform some destructive act in catharsis of the black mood which was afflicting him; one of his pre-war sporting trophies, had he had one to hand, would have served his purpose equally well.

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At Craiglockhart, Sassoon met Wilfred Owen, a fellow poet who would eventually exceed him in fame. It was thanks to Sassoon that Owen persevered in his ambition to write better poetry. A manuscript copy of Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” containing Sassoon’s handwritten amendments survives as testimony to the extent of his influence and is currently on display at London’s Imperial War Museum. Sassoon became to Owen “Keats and Christ and Elijah”; surviving documents demonstrate clearly the depth of Owen’s love and admiration for him.

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Both men returned to active service in France, but Owen was killed in 1918. Sassoon, despite all this, was promoted to lieutenant, and having spent some time out of danger in Palestine, eventually returned to the Front. On 13 July 1918, Sassoon was almost immediately wounded again—by friendly fire when he was shot in the head by a fellow British soldier who had mistaken him for a German near Arras, France. As a result, he spent the remainder of the war in Britain. By this time he had been promoted acting captain. He relinquished his commission on health grounds on 12 March 1919, but was allowed to retain the rank of captain. After the war, Sassoon was instrumental in bringing Owen’s work to the attention of a wider audience. Their friendship is the subject of Stephen MacDonald’s play, Not About Heroes.

Having lived for a period at Oxford, where he spent more time visiting literary friends than studying, he dabbled briefly in the politics of the Labour movement, and in 1919 took up a post as literary editor of the socialist Daily Herald. During his period at the Herald, Sassoon was responsible for employing several eminent names as reviewers, including E. M. Forster and Charlotte Mew, and commissioned original material from “names” like Arnold Bennett and Osbert Sitwell. His artistic interests extended to music. While at Oxford he was introduced to the young William Walton, to whom he became a friend and patron. Walton later dedicated his Portsmouth Point overture to Sassoon in recognition of his financial assistance and moral support. Sassoon later embarked on a lecture tour of the USA, as well as travelling in Europe and throughout Britain. He acquired a car, a gift from the publisher Frankie Schuster, and became renowned among his friends for his lack of driving skill, but this did not prevent him making full use of the mobility it gave him.

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Sassoon was a great admirer of the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan. On a visit to Wales in 1923, he paid a pilgrimage to Vaughan’s grave at Llansantffraed, Powys, and there wrote one of his best-known peacetime poems, “At the Grave of Henry Vaughan”. The deaths of three of his closest friends – Edmund Gosse, Thomas Hardy, and Frankie Schuster (the publisher) – within a short space of time, came as another serious setback to his personal happiness.

At the same time, Sassoon was preparing to take a new direction. While in America, he had experimented with a novel. In 1928, he branched out into prose, with Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, the anonymously-published first volume of a fictionalised autobiography, which was almost immediately accepted as a classic, bringing its author new fame as a humorous writer. The book won the 1928 James Tait Black Award for fiction. Sassoon followed it with Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936). In later years, he revisited his youth and early manhood with three volumes of genuine autobiography, which were also widely acclaimed. These were The Old Century, The Weald of Youth and Siegfried’s Journey.

Siegfried Sassoon died one week before his 81st birthday, of stomach cancer, and is buried at St Andrew’s Church, Mells, Somerset.

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Sassoon was born in Kent which at one time was known as the Garden Of England. It lost that title to South Yorkshire after its orchards and farmlands became overgrown with suburban houses. For centuries it was legendary for cherry and apple orchards, hops, and the nut, related to hazelnuts (filberts), the cobnut. Cobnuts can sometimes be found raw, that is, not dried or roasted, and are delicious in salads. They are also dried like hazelnuts with a similar flavor. I feel some inventiveness coming on, so I am going to speculate on a recipe which I will experiment with when I get hold of a food processor (and counter space for it): cherries with nut crumble. My basic idea is to make a crumble topping, but to replace some of the rolled oats with coarsely ground hazelnuts or cobnuts. So . . .

© Cherry Nut Crumble

First make your cherry filling. Remove the stalks and pit about 20 ounces of sour cherries. Place in a non-reactive pan, cover with a 50-50 mix of sugar and water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the cherries are soft, but not mushy. You can use a 21 ounce can of cherry pie filling if you are lazy. With a slotted spoon transfer the cooked cherries to a deep ovenproof dish.

In a food processor combine 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 cup of granulated sugar, ½ cup of unsalted butter that has been chilled and diced, ½ cup rolled oats, and ½ cup hazelnuts or cobnuts coarsely chopped. Pulse the mix 8 to 10 times until all the ingredients are chopped and well mixed. Pour the crumble mix over the cherries and pat it down firmly. Dot the top with butter and bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cherry filling is bubbling.

Serve with egg custard, vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.

Crumbles are also delicious served chilled the next day with whipped cream.