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20th Century Notts: 1964-1966

John Baird
Thu 23 Aug, 2018

As a writer becomes a Freeman of the City, Anarchy produces a Nottingham issue, and it's revealed that Enid Blyton's adventure stories are not wanted by our libraries. If that's not enough, Ian McKellen plays Arthur Seaton, a man he "couldn't have been less like".

1964

Anarchy 38, Freedom Press (1964)

Anarchy was a monthly journal that ran for more than ten years. In 1964 there was a Nottingham issue which included amongst its contributors Alan Sillitoe (with a piece entitled Poor People), Philip Callow (on Nottingham United), and Ray Gosling (with Robin Hood Rides Again), who wrote about the rebel scene in Nottingham and his part in it. Freedom Press was founded in 1886, making it one of the oldest anarchic publishing houses in the world. This Nottingham issue was republished by Five Leaves Publications as one of their series of Occasional Papers.

Nottingham unites things for me, more than any other place. (Philip Callow from Anarchy 38)

I have nothing to lose, no reputation, no business, no property – and I can afford to say just what I please. A Council wouldn’t work at all with many madmen – but without one or two fearless little men it can get too big for its boots and DIE. (Ray Gosling from Anarchy 38)

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It was in 1964 that it was revealed that Enid Blyton’s Noddy and Big Ears books had been banned from Nottingham libraries. The Nottingham Public Libraries Committee unanimously stood behind their City Librarian who defended the decision. In the previous nine years no Enid Blyton books had been bought for our libraries’ children’s sections. In total, Nottingham Public Libraries only stocked one of Blyton’s books, a collection of bible stories. So, despite the popularity of Noddy and Big Ears, there was no shelf space (or should that be elf space?) to be found for their adventures.

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Frank Dunlop directed a play version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for the Nottingham Playhouse. Ian McKellen starred as Arthur Seaton but, like Albert Finney before him, he didn’t quite capture the Nottingham accent. For inspiration, McKellen had visited Mrs Sillitoe in the back-to-back terraced house where Alan had been brought up but the actor didn't watch the 1960 movie. McKellen described Arthur Seaton as “an engaging lout, anti-everything except his own gratification with women, drink and boisterous pleasure. I couldn’t have been less like him but I ran with the part." He added that, "The sets were large and evocative of the city that the audience and actors lived in.”

1965

Start Somewhere by Michael Standen (1965)

Michael Standen, a former pupil at High Pavement School, used his schooldays as inspiration for his successful debut novel. Set in Nottingham in the early 1960s, Start Somewhere follows a group of teenagers as they enter adulthood. It opens with humorous high jinks in the Arboretum as we get to know eighteen-year-old Frank Griffin, his mates and his working-class family. Attitudes around social class are well observed, the parents’ views and those of the grammar school students providing a mix of changing expectations and behaviours, and teenage romance adds a coming-of-age air to this enjoyable read, republished by Nottingham’s Shoestring Press in 2009.

The policeman looked up. Frank had the sensation of their eyes meeting somewhere in the shadow of that helmet. He jumped, running. (from Start Somewhere)

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Cecil Roberts became the first author to be named one of the honorary Freemen of the City of Nottingham. He received the title at the Council House in the May of ’65. As a fifteen-year-old, Roberts had worked beneath the Council House - when it was the equally grand Exchange Building - as a clerk in the Market and Fairs Department. Young Roberts was based in a cubby-hole; bereft of daylight and fresh air he endured the smells coming from the butchers in the bloody Shambles, the stalls of poultry and the nearby penny lavatories. Roberts was the only author to be granted a Freeman of Nottingham title during the 20th Century. He later discovered that a mouse had nibbled up his ceremonial scroll. In 2008 Alan Sillitoe became this century’s only writer to receive the honour.

1966

The Red Towers of Granada by Geoffrey Trease (1966)

It’s 1290 and a sixteen-year-old scholar by the name of Robin has been branded a leper. This leads to him being made an outcast by his church and community. After coming to the aid of an elderly man in Sherwood Forest, Robin finds a friend. This man is Solomon, a Jewish doctor, and they travel to Nottingham’s Jewish Quarter where Robin’s skin disorder is treated. The two heroes embark on an exciting mission for the Queen that involves a quest for the Elixir of life that takes them to the Moorish Spain of Cordoba and Granada. The Red Towers of Granada was republished by Macmillan in 1992.

It is a strange and terrible thing to listen to one's own funeral service... (from The Red Towers of Granada)

The Jewish Quarter mentioned above was between Hounds Gate and Castle Gate, an area Trease was familiar with. To this day the Trease family’s wine merchants’ business, Weavers, is still trading on Castle Gate. It’s now run by brother and sister Philip and Mary Trease, the 5th generation of the family.

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It was in 1966 that the Nottingham Film Theatre first opened its doors to the public; the first in a wave of Regional Film Theatres to be established around the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With BFI sponsorship it began screening films three days a month. This was at 14-18 Broad Street, now the much more comfortable Broadway Cinema, back then the building was split between the chapel, which housed the cinema, and the church house, where the admin offices were. A New York-style alleyway ran between the buildings and a homeless man slept on the fire escape.

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