I have to smile when I hear people say that one should not live in the past…after all that’s where I spend most of my day and I love it!!! It often causes mild alarm to appear on the faces of those who find history boring or irrelevant but, what the heck, I get my revenge by thinking: “Everything you do Buddy, is anchored firmly in the past. You can’t get away from it. You can’t even ignore it because it is the one tangible dimension of time which pervades every inch of ground you walk on, every building you see and every person you meet.” *laughs maniacally*
Seriously though, there are certain ‘places’ in the past that I love to visit over and over again. Too many to mention here but I am going to mention one in particular because this is a part of South African history that has touched many of us personally. I am talking about Springbok Radio…The Station for Brighter Broadcasting!
When I was growing up, Springbok Radio was a fundamental part of our household. It was there when my Mom made supper, it was at the dinner table when we listened to the “The World at 7pm” (mostly with Dennis Smith, Neville Dawson or Victor Mackison reporting) and afterwards it would keep us around the table over a cup of coffee, riveted to another episode of No Place to Hide with Mark Saxon and Sergei (do you remember Sergei’s faithful pistol called Petruschka?) .
What wonderful days they were. There was no television service in South Africa until 1976 and before that radio was King. Programmes such as Inspector Carr Investigates, Call Back The Past with Percy Sieff, The Creaking Door, The Top Twenty hosted by Gruesome Gresham (David Gresham) which my brother and I used to listen to clandestinely on a Saturday night when we were supposed to be asleep…and what about the Chappie Chipmunk Club, Brian O’Shaughnessy as Jet Jungle, Test the Team with Dewar McCormack as quizmaster and Venture with Kim Shippey?
The live studio shows were always popular too – The Surf Show Pick-A-Box with Bob Courtney, the Caltex Show with Peter Merrill, Check Your Mate with Percy Sieff and Judy Henderson and Fun With The Forces also with Percy Sieff. The Super Dooper Shopper Show recorded live in shopping centres around the country became quite the thing where people could win expensive appliances and shopping vouchers.
Of course no one could forget Friday nights when you heard the words “They prowl the empty streets at night…waiting… in fast cars and on foot…living with crime and violence….” Squad Cars! Ja… those were the days! Loads and loads of other programmes spring to mind but I better leave it at that or we’ll be here all day (well…er…I don’t mind if you don’t mind.)
As fate would have it, after I left school, I landed a job in the SABC’s operations or technical department in Cape Town and had the privilege of working with many of the personalities who had ‘joined’ us in our home via the radio when I was younger : Bill Prince, Dewar McCormack, Peter Merrill, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Judy Henderson, Percy Sieff, Pip Freedman, Leslie McKenzie, Andre Botma, (drama producer of the Destined Hour and Lux Radio Theatre), Andre Brink, Driaan Engelbrecht (Afrikaans drama producer) to name but a few. In the first few weeks in my new job it was quite amazing to meet the faces belonging to the voices I knew so well over the air. Later I was to work with Colin Fluxman, Martin Bailie the little Irish Devil and Oom Dana Niehaus. I also had the privilege of working one weekend with Tannie Esmé Euverard. She was just as kind in real life as she sounded on the air.
Springbok Radio fell silent on New Year’s Eve 1985. Since its first broadcast on the 1st May 1950 it had been a presence in every South African home. It was vibrant and had huge variety in its programming format not to mention the personalities. Some of them were celebrities like modern day film stars and would be mobbed at outside broadcasts. But for all that, the Powers That Be at the SABC in Johannesburg decided that, with the advent of television, Springbok Radio was no longer commercially viable and that was that. I still cannot believe that skillful repositioning of the station would not have worked; after all it has been done with other stations within the mighty SABC.
I was in the Cape Town studios on that last day. I had recorded and done live programmes for the station for almost 8 years so it was a sad occasion for me, as it probably also was for many of my colleagues. Some of the personalities were absorbed into other areas of the industry – some went to other radio stations like Percy Sieff who hosted his Zoom with Oom show on Radio Good Hope on Wednesday nights. Brian O’Shaughnessy jumped the great divide into television becoming famous as Buller Wilmot in the TV series The Villagers and ended up producing radio drama in Cape Town for the SABC’s English Service. Martin Bailie also successfully made the switch to television. Many did ‘voice over” work recording radio commercials and some went into theatre. But whichever way you look at it something died the day Springbok closed down. It felt like an entire era had come to an end as indeed it had and whilst I continued to work for radio for the next 10 years it just did not feel the same. Brings to mind the song by The Buggles – Video killed the Radio Star.
One of the best sites for information and sound clips on Springbok Radio is that of the Pumamouse - Enjoy!!!
Another very good website is the Springbok Radio Preservation Society
Friday, January 19, 2007
Sunday, January 07, 2007
A very Happy New Year to all genealogists and fellow Blog Dwellers!!! Here’s hoping that 2007 will be unbelievably, awesomely, thrillingly rewarding for you and may the little Blue Bird of Happiness fly very carefully over your glass of champers!
Speaking of things that fly – I am very proud to show you this painting by my Dad Michael Warr who lives in the Little Karoo town of Barrydale in the Cape. It is an oil painting commissioned by Mitzi Stokes the daughter of WW2 air ace, Group Captain Petrus ‘Dutch’ Hugo. Hugo was a South African who joined the Royal Air Force in 1938 and flew throughout the war in various places. He was renowned for his excellent flying and combat skills.
Many hours of research went into this painting to ensure its accuracy. For example, working from a small black and white snapshot of Hugo’s Spitfire taken on the ground in Corsica, Michael was able to identify the squadron and therefore the exact model of Spitfire that Hugo had flown. He also had to find the exact colours used in the camouflage markings for that particular squadron. No mean feat. The way the Spitfire is depicted in the painting shows it off to its best advantage. I think Michael has done an excellent job.
A very good summary of Dutch Hugo’s achievements can be found in the Military History Journal (article no. 4) - (South African Military History Society)
Women in the Military.
My friend Anne Lehmkuhl has started a project which I know will make a valuable contribution to the heritage of this country. She aims to write an account of South African women in the military and has begun to put together material she is ferreting out in the most amazing places. Apart from the obvious sources like the Military Museum, Airforce Museum, Ysterplaat, Defence Force Archives, Pretoria etc, Anne is also gathering firsthand accounts of South African women who served in the Second World War, the South African Bush War, the Boer War, the first fighter pilots, helicopter pilots etc. It stands to reason there will be a lot of ‘firsts’ in this account but that is not the sole reason for doing the project. Anne felt that so much has been achieved by South African women in the military throughout the ages that the time has now come to tell their stories.
Having served in the South African Air Force herself, Anne is highly qualified to evaluate and follow up on any information she finds. The book is limited to South African women who have served in the military but can cover any time frame or place in the world. If anyone would like to share their stories, photos etc. please contact Anne - she would love to hear from you.
Hey Anne – how about a few snippets from time to time…as a kind of preview????
Monday, January 01, 2007
Time flies doesn’t it? Almost three months gone and not a word from the errant Genealogist. Tut tut!! That’s really bad. However…as an excuse (you can skip this part if you don’t want the technical bits) I have been rather distracted by a spate of break-ins in the area in which I live (38 in about a month) and to be honest I thought it only a matter of time before our house was targeted. All the incidents occurred around 3am when all good citizens should be abed (barring those who are protecting the said good cits of course) so yours truly, being a real worry-wart, could not sleep during the wee hours. (My nickname for the foreseeable future is Grumpy).
Anyway, one morning I was checking out the grounds after another sleepless night in which I swore I heard ‘noises’ out in the darkness and was pleased to discover that there is naught amiss with my hearing. The thieves had robbed a house two doors down, used my garden wall as cover to empty and dispose of now useless wallets etc. and then jumped over another neighbour’s wall to rob him! I think we have a guardian angel looking out for us because the robbers used our grounds as a thoroughfare and did not smash our invitingly unprotected patio doors. Either that or they thought “This house looks like it won’t have a flat screen TV and a laptop, let’s hit next door instead, they have a satellite dish.” Have since had one of those slam-lock thingies installed, so feel much safer now.
I think the police got fed up of getting calls from our neighbourhood every five minutes so just before dawn one morning they decided to send in helicopters and police on foot with BIG guns - SWAT style. They apprehended two robbers. Mmmm…they could not have been the only ones but nevertheless it has helped. With all of this and getting a new puppy into the household my creative, genealogical Muse decided to depart for more receptive pastures and I have only just managed to coax her back.
So, having got all that off my chest I must tell you that I have not exactly been idle over the past (almost) three months. The grey matter has been hard at work mulling over all sorts of ideas (this is what happens when you can’t sleep) and hopefully some of them will be revealed in the weeks to come. Can’t let all the cats out of the bag in one go, can I?
I hope everyone has had a truly Blessed Christmas. We had a fairly quiet one for a change and did not overdo the feasting part… well not too much anyway. This did not deter me from having the traditional afternoon snooze though. Whilst in that blissful state I could not help thinking about accounts I have read of Christmases spent in very different surroundings and under very different circumstances. For one I am thinking of the Boer War (or the South African War / Second Anglo-Boer War whichever rocks your boat). I prefer the latter as the ‘official’ name myself – no ambiguity there – you know exactly who was fighting whom. Anyway – I have a book called “Boer War” compiled and edited by Nicholas Riall the grandson of one Malcolm Riall, a heliographer in the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) from 1899 to 1902.
In his diary Malcolm describes Christmas day 1900 like this:
“Men are on full rations today, but through some mistake there is not enough bread and they get biscuits instead. Great slaughter of chickens and turkeys which have been fattening up round camps for months past for Christmas dinners.“
Another description of a past Christmas which is a little more poignant for me because my Great Grandfather and his family were all there, is that of Christmas 1899 during the Siege of Kimberley. From a diary written during the siege by T. Phelan and published in 1913 under the title “The Siege of Kimberley : Its Humerous and Social Side” there is mention of the appalling heat on Christmas Eve and how grateful they all were that they had cooler weather on Christmas day itself and had not all been ‘cremated’. The next morning they enjoyed a Christmas breakfast:
“Christmas breakfast consisted of black tea, khaki bread and golden syrup – an appetising rainbow on a ‘merry’ morning.” He mentions the thrill of being served a dish of real butter by their landlady. “It was an astounding phenomenon in itself but the sharing of it in a season of famine with the poor relations like her boarders was the kindest cut of all. Butter it was; we remembered the taste and there was the circumstantial evidence of our eyes.” Amazing how small things can light up one’s life in a situation like that.
The part about Cecil Rhodes “with characteristic thoughtfulness” sending large quantities of Cape brandy down to the ‘camp’ where the soldiers were is too long to include here but the following sentence from the account sums it up: “The quantity of what was styled Cape brandy consumed in camp baffles computation.” 'Nuff said!
Well that’s it for now – we too were well stocked up on our own giggle juice to help usher out the Old Year and ring in the New – not enough to baffle computation though. More on that later.
Oh yes – I once came across a death notice for lady whose surname was Christmas. Her parents had baptised her Mary (Evelyn). Poor thing. I have the death notice to prove it.