Saturday, April 21, 2018



One of the first books I read (and reviewed) when I joined Billericay Readers' Group in 2000 was Geoffrey Wellum's FIRST LIGHT and I loved it.  Last night on BBC TV The One Show, the spotlight was on the four remaining wonderful members of 'The Few' and I will be reading Wellum's book once again. This is a superb, beautifully written masterpiece and so very poignant relating to the Squadron Leader's manuscript of that dangerous period in history.   What an amazing life Wellum has led who was just 18 when he joined the Royal Air Force and took to the skies.  Our hero will be 97 on 4 August and I hope to have a chance of meeting him if possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Here we have a slightly different birthday treat for Peter flying the Tiger Moth plane yesterday via Classic Wings based at Duxford Imperial War Museum centre in Cambridgeshire. We enjoyed photographing so many ancient aeroplanes, interviewing some clever aerial chaps and spending time in the IWM American Museum, touring the area for several hours before taking to the air. Wonderful day for us all.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Yours truly and former Barking Mayor Pat Manley
Yesterday's visit to Chadwell Heath History Fair was once again a great pleasure. Enjoyed signing a few of my own books and catching up with friends and meeting some new history enthusiasts.  Excellent lectures from Bill George, President of the Barking & District Historical Society speaking about local artist Frank Tingey's work and later listening to Tom Cromwell of English Heritage who filled in all the gaps regarding Barking Abbey, a place that's always fascinated me.  Meeting up with Pat Manley, former mayor of Barking, was a pleasure and I enjoyed listening to the latest news from Pip Field (Company Drinks) and Christine Wagg author of Homes for London (The Peabody Story), among others. Very impressed with Terry Felton's books on the history of Romford Football Club - huge amount of work involved there over a longish period, but the finished results are so impressive and sure to be of enormous interest to football fans around the world.
Authors Linda Rhodes and Terry Felton with one of the five volumes of the history of Romford Football Club

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Writers - like gardeners - usually think ahead.  Some of the column articles appearing this month in national press were created and written at the end of 2017. Already, even before summer starts, many writers are researching ideas for Christmas.  Sounds silly, but as keen gardeners are sowing seeds for the latter part of this year, so my self-sufficiency colleagues are foraging through their press files for ideas for the festive season.  

Saturday, April 07, 2018


I am writing features on both gardening and cookery this month.  With gardening pen in hand, off we go today, sowing seeds, making cuttings and generally preparing plants for some local fundraising groups. Oh, and if it doesn't rain, I might even mow the lawns.
Courtesy of Gardens Illustrated

One plant that always seem to attract folk is the succulent houseleek (sempervivum calcareum) which is one of the most wonderfully easy plants to grow. A single variety looks great, but more so in a group.  The most important thing to get right with houseleeks is compost - or lack of it.  They seem to love being potted up into an old sink, or other crusty old vessel and I find that they don't seem to mind the position in the garden - always creating babies which I grow on for other gardening events. I use just an ordinary gritty compost, on which the houseleeks just sit - so easy and so pretty. Why not try growing some?
Discovered this warrior at Tamworth Castle a few years back - note his armour! So cleverly made of houseleeks.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


A youthful Jess Conrad and yours truly in the '60s.
Just caught sight of the new five part ITV series of programmes (Tuesdays at 9pm)  which includes nine British showbiz legends on their way to  Las Vegas.  Some famous names from comedy, music and variety from the years gone by who will be given one last shot at putting on their dream gig in the variety capital of the world. The theatre in Las Vegas is booked for one night only and our intrepid friends will be given the chance to fulfil the dream they thought had long gone and will put on a spectacular variety performance at one of the iconic venues in Las Vegas.

I have met and interviewed some of these showbiz folk which include  comedy double act Cannon & Ball, entertainer Bernie Clifton, comedian Mick Miller, pianist and entertainer Bobby Crush, singer Kenny Lynch, 60s pop idol Jess Conrad OBE, actress and singer Anita Harris and actress, singer and comedienne Su Pollard.

It will be interesting following their journey from their departure in the UK to the moment they step onto the stage in Vegas.  They’ll live in a house together, enjoy and explore the Vegas Strip and rehearse and reminisce together to deliver a show that they'll all be proud of.  Viewers will also be treated to a unique insight into the legends' vast and varied careers as they look back and talk firsthand about their incredible stories. The first four episodes will air on ITV prime time with an additional feature length special of their full variety performances in Vegas airing exclusively on ITV3. Head Of ITV's Entertainment Commissioning Siobhan Greene said: “Last Laugh In Vegas is the chance for the audience to reconnect with true iconic entertainers, as they get the trip of a lifetime to perform in the show business capital of the world.”

Monday, April 02, 2018


As a freelance writer working across many genres, it is always great to work with like-minded folk. Congratulations to the editors and staff of Home Farmer magazine who are celebrating their tenth birthday this year.  From a self-sufficiency viewpoint, Home Farmer is the very best magazine to read and learn about growing food - whether in maybe tiny veg patches or some of the huge allotments which serve as great green places in which to work and, dare I say, relax, away from noisy, busy London.
The magazine's strapline ' For Dreamers and Realists' - Your Key to  Practical Self-sufficiency - really does what it says on the tin! We learn about preserving your harvest, wonderful ideas for cooking food, bee-keeping, looking after livestock, foraging, crafts among dozens of other satisfying pastimes, including, of course, how to make your own organic wine from the produce you grow and find in hedgerows and fields. That's where I come in, endeavouring each month to write a thousand or so words describing the process of fermenting wine from simple ingredients found in your own garden or veg patch, free of insecticides.  April edition outlines how to make 'quickie' wines from my own grapes - Rondo and Seyval Blanc along with other recipes. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Shire Hall - newly renovated and updated in Tindal Square
Something new for me was the walking trip on Saturday around the city of Chelmsford with Alan Pamphilon and two dozen other folk. Alan is an author and super historian and part of his tour introduced us to twelve amazing buildings that had associations with some of the world's most famous people in history.  As part of the current Essex Book Festival, Alan led the 90-minute tour, sharing stories of a dozen famous people who have had such a huge impact on Chelmsford,  including Judge Tindal, Ernst Hoffmann of ball-bearing fame, Colonel R Crompton, pioneer of electric street lighting, and of course, Guglielmo Marconi "father of radio" who invited Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian opera singer to sing in his New Street factory in 1920 to publicise Chelmsford as the "birthplace of radio" I appreciated the trip and the chance of meeting up with some friends who joined the tour.
Alan Pamphilon on Saturday

To book a Chelmsford History Walk contact Alan Pamphilon via SWWJ #swwj Chelmsford Remembered @chelmsfordchronicle


Ros Green and her team at Essex Book Festival have pulled off another excellent month of fabulous events across the county (and there are still a couple of days left - check out
For me, it has been a pleasure, once again - I think for our 19th year - that I have visited some of our most interesting Essex venues and met authors, performers and readers from many literary and entertainment fields. It's always lovely to meet a first time author and it was great to meet a pal, the publisher Una Rose (Estuary Publishing) and her latest author Patricia Volante with her new title - hot off the press - ROSSI'S The Story of Southend's Favourite Ice Cream. 

On Saturday last at Chelmsford Library, Patricia happily signed copies of her book, which is already in the bookshops, providing a  a super gift for Southend residents and those who enjoy family history - this family is fascinating!    www.estuarypublishing.
Patricia Volante - author of Rossi's - The Story of Southend's Favourite Ice Cream

Una Rose MD of Estuary Publishing and yours truly

Friday, March 23, 2018


Glenys Newton

Michelle Ward

Michelle Ward, the popular Phoenix 98fm's radio presenter, welcomed another Essex Book Festival participant into the studio a few days ago.

The author and storyteller, Glenys Newton attended the launch gathering in Place 21, Southend in January and promised to come to Brentwood studio when she could fit this into her busy schedule. She managed this on Tuesday and will be back on Sunday to perform at the Kelvedon Hatch Bunker on Sunday 25 March, along with many other creative performers.Glenys is the author of two best selling books 'Home Flown - A Laymamma's Guide to an Empty Nest' and 'No Wonder We're All Mad - Storytelling our way to mental health'

The Essex Book Festival is the highlight of Essex’s cultural calendar and every March its Festival Director Ros Green organises and  hosts 60+ events in over 30 venues across the county, including libraries, theatres, schools, universities, art galleries and informal cafes.

This Book Festival was established by Essex County Council in 1999 to celebrate the book in all its forms with the widest possible audience in Essex. Since then it has grown into one of the leading festivals of its kind in the Eastern Region, inviting local writers and writers from all over the world to take part its activities. It also hosts a year round series of writing and reading programmes for all ages and abilities. The Festival is based within the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Essex's Colchester campus. There are still tickets for some of the remaining events.  More information at website  @EssexBookFest

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


As a freelance writer for many years, it's sometimes interesting to travel back in time to some of my earliest features, many of which, were written for overseas journals and magazines. As Botswana has been in the news lately, I was wondering how its national magazine Sa'adia is faring?  At the end of the 90s, I was commissioned to work on the launch edition, providing both short stories and non-fiction features for this super consumer journal which was a huge success.  This launch cover introducing Mpule Kwetagobe, Miss Botswana 2000 was photographed by Mariam Gillan and editor Lizette Jonker.

It was a pleasure to meet up with MD Comfort Smith in London a few years later and I couldn't resist taking a snap of her and my favourite TV gardener Bob Flowerdew - think this was at the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster. 
TV Gardener Bob Flowerdew and Managing Director of Sa'adia Magazine Comfort Smith

Thursday, March 08, 2018


There are so many free journals popping through our letterboxes these days. Most of them can be described as local business guides or advertising journals. Some have useful  community information but  on the whole, most are just chocker block full of useless ads which seem to be repeated in similar journals. There is usually no local history, interesting images or content that is of consequence to the local community - not what we are looking for. Some editors use inappropriate national type covers which are mostly disappointing, giving no indication of the places within. Most are quickly binned - what a waste of paper, time and effort. But now and again something different comes along and here it is = THE VILLAGE EMPORIUM, an A5 fully coloured, 50-page magazine which  is circulated around 32 villages in Essex. Janet, Julie and Sarah, the editors, provide an excellent read, outlining the best upcoming events happening in this lovely part of our county. Lots of readers enjoy the competitions, advice columns, crossword puzzles, garden visits, events (including my pet topic - the 2018 Essex Book Festival with 100+ events taking place across the county in libraries, theatres, lecture halls and hotels), so this March-April issue will not be disposed of. Of course, we don't escape the ads, but now and again, we will find some new, interesting advertisers, which is what it is all about. Find out a little more via


As this is rather a special day for women, and particularly those interested in writing, some of my new colleagues in the Society of Women Writers and Journalists suggested, as I am their archivist, that I reprise some of those wonderful pioneers from our history book.

Our Society is truly international.  Over its 124 years, it has attracted some of the most famous writers in literary history.  I proudly wrote about them in one of my books  THE WOMAN WRITER which has been helpful to many academics studying women writers' lives over the past century, but I also included numerous journalists, authors, playwrights, poets, film-makers and entertainers from every genre.  

Over the decades, we have attracted many of the most celebrated authors, among them have been  Lady Sarah Wilson (Sir Winston Churchill's aunt), Lady Violet Astor, Elise Sprott pioneer at the |BBC, Ursula Bloom, Theodora Roscoe, Margery Allingham, Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, Rebecca West, Alice Meynall, Phyllis Bentley, Joyce Grenfell, Vera Brittain, Shirley Williams (Lady Williams), Elizabeth Longford (Lady Longford), Nina Bawden, and the lovely Jean Bowden, to name just a few. 

In recent years we have welcomed P D James, Elizabeth Bowen, Jacqueline Wilson, Sandra Howard, Victoria Wood, Martina Cole, Jennifer Worth, Ann Widdecombe and our new president, Baroness Floella Benjamin, along with many more wonderful  personalities who mingled with us at special weekend events and lunches at the National Liberal Club as members, patrons and guests. Do keep any eye on our Society website which keeps us all up to date on what is happening. Social media also plays its important part in highlighting upcoming activities.


Since 1975, members of the SWWJ have been celebrating International Women's Day - which is why many of our current members are thinking about his special time. While the first observance of a Women's Day occurred on 28 February 1909 in New York, 8 March was suggested as a more appropriate day by the 1910 International Women's Conference. After females gained suffrage in Russia in 1917, 8 March became a national holiday there - the day was then celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations. 

So today, hundreds of social media posts generally linked to this special day, are flooding the networks, but we, in London, have a special relationship with so many of our former famous members - household names and pioneers of writing, drama, film, poetry and general entertainment. In my next posting today, you will find out a little more about our famous pioneering spirits and some of the exciting plans for this year and our 125th celebrations in 2019. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Very sad today to hear of the passing of Trevor Baylis OBE, one of the most interesting men I have interviewed. I met Trevor many years ago at the Lords Cricket Ground when I was covering a completely different topic, but became fascinated when meeting this inventor, creator of the clockwork radio.  He sent me a copy of his book CLOCK THIS which outlines his life working all over the world and creating numerous ingenious patents.  He built his own house on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham and I had an open invitation to visit.

He was a world famous personality, a sought after speaker and a great inspiration to young people helping them to set up their own businesses. But few know about his connection with our home town, Billericay and Trevor's connection with the famous Rosaire Circus family. He gave me a copy of autobiography and from it I see that he was born in Kilburn, London and spent his boyhood in Southall.

Trevor was a champion  swimmer and, by the age of 15, he was swimming competitively for Britain. At 16 he joined the Soil Mechanics Laboratory in Southall and began studying mechanical and structural engineering at the local technical college. During his National Service years serving as a physical training instructor, he swam competitively for the army, later becoming a stuntman on TV shows, performing escape feats under water.

But before fame and fortune, Trevor arrived in Billericay with his friend Johnny Pugh and his father, Digger, a circus entrepreneur. "In those days I wanted to be a circus tumbler and Digger taught me the tricks of the trade. We met up with Wally Texan, a knife thrower with the world-famous Circus Rosaire whose winter quarters were in the Billericay countryside. When we arrived, the Rosaires met us. Digger had come to audition an act he wanted for the Sunderland Empire variety bill. It was an Ali Baba routine in which a girl writhed with a snake while dancing to languorous music. As she coiled herself around the serpent, a ‘Caliph’ swiped the air close to her permanent wave with a scimitar. The girl got into a basket with the python and the Caliph pierced the weave with about twenty swords. After a few passes around the basket, he withdrew the swords making a great play of how sharp they were. Then - hey presto - the girl and her pet emerged unharmed and everyone took a bow. Digger liked the act. ‘Forty quid for the week, Ralph,’ he said to the Caliph. And make sure the snake doesn’t misbehave - they’ve just redecorated the dressing rooms."

"In the woods nearby, we found the cages for the menagerie where a collection of animals housed for the winter. Here we met the beautiful Joan Rosaire who had a sharp-shooting act. I fell in love with Joan and included her in my book. I have some wonderful memories of Billericay and often wonder how things would have worked out if I had gone on to become a circus performer."

Joan Rosaire still lives in the Billericay area and is currently writing her own memoir of a life in the circus.   Watch this space! 

Monday, February 26, 2018


Phoenix 98fm presenter Michelle Ward welcomed Seona Ford and me into the studio last week to celebrate the start of the Essex Book Festival which opened a few days ago at Essex University with Billy Bragg fighting the snowdrifts to welcome the doughty readers of the county.  Billy charted the history, impact and legacy of Britain's original pop movement, exploring Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Tuesday, 20 February and meeting up with Seona Ford, Chair of the Essex Book Festival and the supersonic team at Phoenix 98fm headed by Michelle Ward. Listen in at midway.
Henry Blofeld, one of our stars of the Essex Book Festival

Monday, February 19, 2018


As many amateur winemakers know, the craft of fermenting goes on throughout the year. Nothing could be more delightful than gathering your own grapes in October -  grown organically - frozen for a few months, and then enjoyed after the business of creating a wine of your choice. For the March edition of the fabulous magazine HOME FARMER (W H Smith and most good newsagents), I wrote about a superb English winemaker, Bert Mower, who lives in my home town and whose wines have won dozens of international awards. Bert kindly gave me some of his vine cuttings (Rondo and Seyval Blanc) and these have been growing in our back garden for a couple of years now.

Friday, February 16, 2018


A cold, stormy afternoon yesterday, but one of indulgence and déjà vu for me when I, at last, used my birthday gift voucher at Ruth Scally's Spa Cottage in Billericay. Ruth's beauty salon created in 2004, is, I reckon, the very best in this area. It was great to meet my masseuse specialist, Sarah, again, who gave a fabulous treatment.

The déjà vu moment came when I realised Sarah’s treatment room was the very one that I had written about in my weekly column when Ruth invited the lovely Jeanne Argent (nee Gentry) to visit. Jeanne had lived at the cottage as a child and had actually been born in that very room in the 1920s. Although it’s twelve years since we and local media had gathered with champagne and lovely food, together with Derek, Jeanne’s late husband, and Billericay Town Crier, Jim Shrubb, Jeanne was delighted when I phoned her yesterday, bringing her up to date. 

So, lots of love from Jeanne to Ruth, Roger  and Coral, her new business partner and the team for keeping that beautiful 200-year-old  Spa Cottage in superb condition as well as the very best in beauty treatment and care.  As I mentioned at the time, this is a venture that will go from strength to strength. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Emmeline Pankhurst
What a day this has been on radio, TV, internet and film celebrating the centenary of the introduction of the Representation of the People Act 1918. ago in the UK, certain women became eligible to vote. and stand for Parliament. Amidst the celebrations, let's not forget those women who were excluded from voting for another ten years, and the women still denied a political voice, even today.  While it is important to recognise that the Act at this time gave only certain privileged women the right to vote - those who were 30-years of age and property-owning - it was a small step in the right direction

The topic of suffragists and suffragettes - and the distinction between the two, makes interesting reading, but our Society of Women Writers and Journalists, founded in 1894 (by a wonderful man) has an interesting archive full of information about some of the brave women who took part in the struggle for emancipation.

As someone who, from 1979-2005  worked at the Palace of Westminster and passed daily through St Stephen's Hall where the doughty women had chained themselves to the statues, I've long had strong feelings linked to that Hall. A few memorable images will shortly be posted on this blog. 

Some of my Russian students wanted to learn when other countries eventually granted women's suffrage. This was in the closing years of the Great War.   Russia, Germany, Canada and Poland also recognised women's right to vote. Propertied British women as described, who were over 30-years-of-age had the vote in 1918, Dutch women in 1919, and American women won the vote on 26 August 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Friday, February 02, 2018


Steve Scruton currently on BBC Essex

You all know, by now, that I love radio in all its forms - national, regional,local and hospital radio and have broadcast from at least eight different studios in London and the South East.  Mainly I talk about social history linked to museums in the county. Research is vital in my work and the results over twenty years, have been published in at least ten books and seven anthologies. One of my latest titles has been read by former Barking & Dagenham folk who now live all over the world. Available on Amazon and in most bookshops such as W H Smith, Waterstones and particularly Upminster-based  Swan Bookshop. 
Dudley Moore on a return visit to his old school Dagenham County High - pictured with his music teacher

My latest book, following two years' research

Billy Bragg who lived opposite Barking Park - soon to launch the Essex Book Festival

Vera Lynn - super message from her for inclusion in my latest book

With appreciation to the Ford Motor Company's historian Dave Hill

West Ham photo from1972 - some memorable faces there, including Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Frank Lampard and the super Sir Trevor Brooking, among other great footballers of the time.