The choice of name in this new House, built by the Bristol Brewery Georges & Co. Ltd., is of interest as it was chosen in an attempt to establish some sort of cultural connexion in an otherwise rather featureless housing estate.
Many of the roads in the neighbourhood bear the names of great English writers and it is intended that “The Blue Boy” should be a central pivot of this motive. Above the door to the large bar is a pleasing and colourful wall plaque. Elliptical in shape it is in fact a hand-painted reproduction on glazed frost-proof tiles of Gainsborough’s painting of the Master Buttall better as “The Blue Boy”. It is framed in painted hardboard that accentuates it and effectively separates it from the surrounding brickwork.
The photo above is from 1957 and the young man at the drawing board is Reg Norkett, who we managed to track down.
We found the photo in the autumn 1957 edition of the Hopleaf Gazetteas shared by Raymond Simonds on his website — a wonderful trove of archive material from his family’s brewery. It accompanies a brief profile of the Architects’ Department which mentions Reg Norkett’s name in passing.
Without any great expectations we Googled him and found his address on the website of a professional organisation for architects; we wrote him a letter and have since exchanged a few emails. What follows is a lightly edited version of his responses to our questions with a little commentary from us here and there.
First, we asked Mr Norkett for some general background – where was he from, and how did he end up at Simonds?
I was born in Reading in 1936, educated at Redlands Primary School – then Junior school – which was the local school. I then went to Reading Blue Coat School at Sonning near Reading as a boarder from 1948 to 1953.
During my time at school I realised I was interested in a career in the building/construction industry as, e.g. a surveyor or architect. I managed to obtain the required number of O levels to commence professional training and was initially employed in the Borough Architects Deparment at Reading Borough Council, as Junior Assistant in the Clerk of Works Section. I commenced training in part-time study for a National Certificate in Building at the local Technical College.
However I was keen to be involved in the Design and preparation of drawings and so on, which I discussed with the Borough Architect. He approached the Chief Architect at H&G Simonds, Mr Reginald Southall, who is shown in one of the photographs in the Hop Leaf Gazette which you forwarded.
I was offered a junior position in the Architects Department, joining the company in 1954, and commencing study part-time at the Oxford School of Architecture.
In 1947 the world was in the grip of flying saucer fever in the wake of American pilot Kenneth Arnold’s supposed sighting of several UFOs in Washington State in June that year.
As far as we can tell, Britain’s first flying saucer sightings of this period were in Kent as reported in various local newspapers, such as the Dundee Evening Telegraph on 10 July:
Claims to have seen a ‘flying saucer’ have been made by two people living in villages near Rochester, Kent.. Miss Tomkins, of The Nook, Snodland, said, ‘At 10.30 on Wednesday night I was astonished to see a peculiar round object in the sky travelling at great speed. I should say it was 1500 feet up.’ … A resident of Cucton, about a mile from Snodland, said he saw the ‘flying saucer’ at the same time and described it as being silver in colour.
Months later there was another similar event as reported in the Gloucester Citizen for 25 March 1948:
Mr and Mrs G. Knight of William Road, Ashford, Kent, claim to have seen a ‘flying saucer’… They say it appeared to be a large ball of dull-red colour several times the size of the largest star, and leaving a streak behind it. It was seen travelling across the sky in a south-easterly direction towards the Channel between Folkestone and Ashford.
This local angle perhaps explains why the name The Flying Saucer was chosen for a new pub in Hempstead, Kent, announced in 1951. The sign by T.C.R. Adams (about whom we’d like to know more) was displayed before the pub was up-and-running, at an exhibition in London to accompany the publication of a book, English Inn Signs.
Here’s one side:
The other featured a cartoon of a woman hurling crockery at her startled husband — flying saucers, geddit? Ho ho.
This Dover/Kent history website has more on the story: it says the licence for the pub came from a slum establishment demolished during clearance and was applied (we think) to a building that had until this time been operating as a working men’s club.
Perhaps surprisingly, The Flying Saucer is still there and trading under the same name, having had many different signs over the years, and what was a hip joke in 1951 has become a charming quirk almost 70 years on.
We’ve picked up lots of material on pubs that hasn’t made it into final text of The Big Project but we’re going to share some of it here in the coming months.
Back in 1955 people were really worried about the newly ubiquitous TV set killing off clubs, societies, cinemas, and even threatening the church. Publicans were grumbling, too, as journalist Derrick Boothroyd discovered when researching an article, ‘New Ideas Can Fight TV Competition’, for the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. (28/02, p.9.)
He spoke to some who ‘moaned’ that their pubs were deserted, especially when the boxing was on TV, but for balance also found someone who was more upbeat — the landlord of a ‘bright and cheerful’ public house:
TV has affected us undoubtedly… But it’s nothing like as bad as some people make out. I find the only nights that my trade is poor are when there is something really big on. Mind you, I’ve got to set out to attract people now and I think that’s what a lot publicans tend to forget. But provided you offer some incentive I don’t think TV need be feared. The average man — and the average working man in particular — is not the type who wants to stay at home every night. He wants to go out and have yap with his pals at the local — and if he has a decent local to go to, he’ll still go even if he has two TV sets. I should add however that it’s no solution to put TV in your pub. Everyone watches it and no one drinks. I’ve had mine taken out —and so have a lot other landlords.
Sixty-plus years on that still sounds like good advice to us. We hadn’t really considered it but it’s funny how many of the pubs we warm to, from down-home to high-falutin, are TV free.
The chap in the photograph above is E.C. Handel, known as Ted, who was head of Watney’s advertising/public affairs/PR department from the 1950s until the 1970s.
If you’ve read Brew Britannia (and if not, why not, &c.) you might recall his starring role as a foil for the upstart Campaign for Real Ale, engaging Christopher Hutt in a bad-tempered exchange of letters in the Financial Times which only served to boost CAMRA’s profile:
Most of your readers will probably not have heard of CAMRA… so I should explain that it is a group that includes in its small membership (about 1,500) a number of journalists who see in the ‘ancient v. modern’ beer situation a golden opportunity for ‘controversial journalism’… we have always taken the trouble to answer letters from CAMRA and to point out the innacuracies of the arguments they produce so monotonously. (16 June 1973)
The funny thing is, even though we spent months hunting down biographical details and tracking down people who knew him, including his son, this is the first time we’ve actually seen him. The picture comes from the April 1959 edition of Watney’s in-house magazine The Red Barrel and is excerpted from a group photo of the entire advertising department.
He looks rather severe, doesn’t he? And maybe a bit anxious. He certainly doesn’t look like someone who drank much beer. But maybe the chair was uncomfortable or his waistcoat itchy that day. You can’t read too much into a single picture.