The span of life was once said to be three score years and ten. Some folks stand a better chance than others of living long enough to get a personal message from the Queen. It used to be a telegram, but nowadays it’s a rather posh Birthday Card. And although she’s just been congratulated for seventy years of her service in a job that is – like stock farming – impossible to put to one side, she also looks likely to reach that age at which her greetings are sent to an increasing number of her subjects every year.
The Platinum Jubilee sparked a media frenzy of TV shows, newspaper and magazine articles indulging in a nostalgic retrospect of the changes Britain and the Commonwealth have gone through during the ‘New Elizabethan’ era. Back when Elizabeth became Queen, the World was recovering from the second global war in less than fifty years, and Britain’s Empire was beginning to shrink, as India and Pakistan set out removing the ‘Ind. Imp.’ abbreviation which used to proclaim Britain’s Royal rulers: ‘Emperor of India’.
Seeing the changes in technology and the progress of the World beyond British shores, post-war governments wanted to encourage us to modernise their behaviour, not only to rebuild the grey ruins of bomb-damaged cities, but also to improve intensive farming and mechanisation in the country. In the year before Elizabeth became Queen nobody had colour television, and very few had the black and white valve sets that saw a sales boom when the 1953 Coronation was televised, but the government still saw the British Broadcasting Corporation as a valuable propaganda tool, which had carried out worthy service during the recent war, a programme was begun on the ‘wireless’ (The Home Service) named ‘The Archers’, intended to educate and inform the farming community, guided by an Agricultural Story Editor, Announced as ‘an everyday tale of Countryfolk’ the radio soap has run continually since 1951, and the part of Peggy Archer – now Peggy Woolley – has been played since the beginning by June Spencer (CBE) who is 103!
Peggy owns the local pub, ‘The Bull’ in the somewhat ‘Cotswoldy’ village of Ambridge, and the storyline seems no longer eager to reflect all the changes affecting real life in Britain. Not only does the script avoid party politics, but it has also inhabited a parallel rural idyll in which bird ‘flu has been the only recent pandemic, and nobody seems aware of war or economic crises. Despite the commercial vicissitudes leading to the closure of the local hotel, and the reorientation of a pig farm, nobody seems remotely worried by closure of ‘The Bull’.
We see pubs changing into ‘gastro’ hospitality venues: diversifying to attract tourists, with local inhabitants marginalised as genuine ‘local’ watering holes shut down. Even the joke about a local pub poshing itself up, and the regular who complained; “I’m going to miss the spittoons” being told by the landlord; “You always did miss them. That’s why we got rid of them.” is nostalgic.
Back in the fifties I remember regular meetings at Ann’s Pantry between women of the Cole, Gillman, Lock, Barker, King, Yaxley and Clutterbuck families. In the many pubs in the evenings menfolk gathered, and almost nothing was seen of incomers or weekenders. On market days anyone unknown by name was usually known by sight, and we’d greet – and be greeted by – the characters of the town.
In June we celebrated memories. My memories led me to think of a Cirencester resident with whom I’d enjoyed a ‘first name’ acquaintance in recent years, and who died during June after a long and fulfilling life. Just as we shall never again see many places as they used to be, there are people we shall miss, but let’s be happy that we shall never forget them.
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