Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
Early Memories #0    | HISTORY Page | Obituary Page |

0. The Beginnings . . .

Been rewriting the early reminiscences, to try and get them in some sort of sequence, and perhaps add a few linking episodes. Long way to go yet, might do a piece on the household at my grandmother's house—it was pretty lively as my mother had five sisters and two brothers!

By the time I had any awareness of the scene, my grandfather had recently died, Harry had emigrated to Australia, Will had married and was working at Metro-Vicks, Dorothy had married, Jean and Hilda were abroad dancing with the Tiller Girls, Pat and Molly were still at home, as was my mother, Lucy, since my father was travelling the vaudeville circuit with his show, featuring himself as the Great Deville, illusionist, magician and escapologist extraordinaire...

I have vague memories of my stay at St. Paul's infants' school, under the watchful eyes of my two younger aunts. and recall they performed in a Christmas party piece, and of later being taken to a Halle concert (where I recognised some of the music used at the party—but was disappointed because no one came on and did a dance to it!—which I later realised was from Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King").

I have some memories of travelling with my father on one of his tours of the northern music halls. Dad had two brothers; his elder brother, Percy, was a theatrical producer for much of his working life, and I suspect he may have prompted Barton to start his career in showbiz. I have vague memories of being taken on one of his tours in the late 20s, when he was working at Cockermouth. My strongest impression of rehearsals is the atmosphere, that faintly musty smell of vacated plush seats mingled with a hint of stale tobacco smoke, typical of empty unheated places of entertainment.

The memories might expand into a piece; can do an item on the mags and comics we read and swapped; enlarge on the paper planes paragraph; perhaps do a piece on the Bannon sisters, and Mona, the nurse's daughter, who lived lower down Brunswick Street. Wow, it floods out once you really start brooding about it... unfortunately in the form of lots of quirky disconnected details that raise yet more questions than answers. A bit like playing back a mangled tape and trying to make sense of the sound. Having all the letters from my stay in India makes resurrecting and expanding memories of that so much easier! ■

Letter to Fran & Brian Varley, November 1996 / January 1997

Ramsden Street, A-u-L, is listed in the index of our A to Z, but I'm damned if I could spot it on the map—anywhere near Turner Lane? You remind me that several more of the Parker family followed Harry to Australia. Harry rose to the dizzy height of Lord Mayor of Melbourne [well, Mayor of Ringwood, actually. Ed.] after the war.

After her stint with the Tiller Girls, my aunt Jean married into a wealthy family running an extensive wine business out there, and later carved out a career for herself in the directory publishing business. In fact, I was pressured, while in India, to join her in Australia when demobbed. The suggestion had its temptations, but I didn't feel I could leave Marion hanging on with a baby after all the time we'd already been apart.

Jean was childless and a somewhat domineering type, and I wasn't at all sure we'd hit it off if I took the plunge (she was already at loggerheads with Harry and his [prolific] family!). She eventually took a cousin of mine, Peter, under her wing and saw him through university there and into the legal profession. He had to assert himself and break loose finally, to lead his own life.

He came over for his mother's (my aunt Hilda) funeral and we talked a lot about the life there, confirming my feelings that I would not have settled easily into the relationship. Though we might not be exchanging letters if I'd taken the plunge. ■

Letter to Fran & Brian Varley, 23 November 1996

During the tidying up I came across a file with some of the ancient family photos which I might try out on the copier and see if the results are worth sending on. Mainly on my mother's side of the family... The family shop when my grandad was a wholesaler at Smithfield market.

There's several pics of Uncle Harry (Harry Ernest Parker) in full regalia as a Lance-corporal in the Gordon Highlanders with the BEF in France, wearing an impressive sheepskin jacket ! Most of these pics were passed over by my youngest aunt, Hilda, when I was trying to pick up on family details in the first flush of my retirement. Unfortunately, Hilda had a heart attack while I was in hospital for a hernia op, so I never caught up with all the background to fill up the holes in my patchy childhood memories.

I know my grandad, Barnes Ernest Parker, came to Manchester from Lincoln to marry Janet Hawes, and then must have returned to set up home, since there is a family group taken at Lincoln. The couple are surrounded by daughters Dorothy and Lucy (my mum), with William (complete with waistcoat and watchchain) in the middle. Grandad has Harry (in sailor suit) between his knees and Grandma has a baby (my aunty Pat) on her knee.

Some time after that, the family moved to Manchester, and grandad became a wholesaler at Smithfield market and opened a greengrocer's shop in Crumpsall, some time before the WW1. I think the enterprise must have crumbled during the war years and that was when the family moved to Brunswick Street, and grandad ran an agency for the Britannic Assurance Company in the 20s...

My gran had at least three sisters: I distinctly remember one, Florrie, a bossy sort who was a frequent visitor to Brunswick Street. Lizzie married into the Pattreioux family, who operated a cigarette factory making several popular local brands. They issued several sets of cigarette cards— photographs of sportsmen: footballers, cricketers, speedway riders—and I was thrilled to get free sets of 'em all. And them was an Auntie Clara, whom I can remember from conversation but don't recall ever meeting.

I had good intentions at one time of doing some research in the records of Central Library, to try and track down family activities, but have never got round to it. The other surviving aunt died a few years after Hilda, but she cut herself off from the family and was not given to reminiscence, so I drew a blank there! ■

Letter to Fran & Brian Varley, end December 1996

After producing that New Year card, I was tempted to take the story of my initiation into the RAF back to the days when I first registered and had a medical—that goes back to December 1940, when call-up usually came about a month after the medical. I spent Christmas at Glasgow with Marion, arriving back to find that Manchester had been blitzed for a couple of nights in my absence...

Rereading letters from the period to try and get the facts in order, I realise that from then on I led a charmed life. My records were destroyed in the blitz so I belatedly fill in another set of details some months later, and prepare again for the inevitable. Manchester had another blitz in May 1941. Yeah, you guessed it: my records were destroyed. I fill in yet another set of forms and grit my teeth, but nothing happens.

Nothing happened for so long that I began to think I had a Guardian up there looking after me. Marion, meanwhile, owing to the problematic transport situation, decided to come and live in Manchester and got a job in the local transport offices, and that was when Zenith prospered, when Mike got illusions of grandeur and wanted to form another national fan club, and Fanarchy reared its rational head.

I was working at a chemical plant at that time, and began to assume that my continued delay in call-up was largely due to that fact. Come mid-1942, we decided to get married. My call-up papers promptly arrived for the same date we had decided to go to the registry office, so as there was no hope of delaying call-up on compassionate, or even passionate, grounds after all that delay, we brought the ceremony forward a week before I was due to leave for Padgate. Such is the skeletal framework in which I have to fit the story of the rise and fall of Fanarchy in wartime fandom.

Wow, almost enough material there to write a novel, I guess. But I shall restrain myself for the nonce. Anyway, it's got me started on some writing again. Hot drinks time, and your comment on the adhesive properties raises memories of momentous struggles when I first came out of hospital with the Bovril habit. I found the only way to get easy access to the mixture was to soak and wash the plastic lid free of all remnants of the extract, and ensure the bottle-top has a good wipe. Once done, and the earlier the better, all struggle ceases as thereafter the lid comes off like a dream.

Letter to Fran & Brian Varley, 06 January 1997

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