I'd Love a Babycham

I'd Love a Babycham

Exiled Valiant Barry Edge lives in Perth, Western Australia and is a regular columnist for onevalefan. Barry begs the question as to what similarities and differences will eventually be drawn in relation to Port Vale’s great start in the 2003/04 campaign vis-à-vis 1953/54.

I’d Love a Babycham
When comparing or contrasting across time there is always the danger of falling into the trap of ignoring recent events to the exclusion of one’s own youthful memory – however faded it may be. But such was the case when I found myself wondering what similarities and differences will eventually be drawn in relation to Port Vale’s great start in the 2003/04 campaign vis-à-vis 1953/54. And whilst I was musing what may be similar or different between the two eras it occurred to me that my memory of Port Vale’s 1953/54 season included events unrelated to what was happening on the park.

For those of my generation the winter months of January/February 1953 will be remembered for bleak and freezing weather with abnormally high tides and winter gales wreaking the greatest havoc along the entire eastern seaboard. In Greater London places like Canvey Island literally disappeared below the water line.

For the same period in 2003 Britain again suffered from similar weather with disastrous effect. But fifty years ago it was impossible to pick-up a newspaper that didn’t carry harrowing headlines with stories and pictures of death and destruction. A chilling comparison I know – with no disrespectful pun intended.

In stark contrast to the above I found myself thinking of comics e.g. The Dandy, The Beano, Knockout, Eagle and The Topper. But the reason for doing so was prompted by recent baby sitting duties of our youngest grandchildren, ages 7 and 9 respectively, and their recent trip to Perth to say hello to Harry Potter’s creator. Yes, JK Rowling was in town to promote her latest book and merchandise and Michael and Rachel were definitely going to be there – with mum and dad, of course.

At the same time as playing with their latest Harry Potter video games on separate television sets they excitedly shared with us their collective experience of meeting Ms Rowling after queuing for hours with thousands of other adults and children, and they reminded us time and again that there no way in the wide world they were going to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. I remember thinking that their efforts to meet Ms Rowling etc was a little over the top to acquire a signed copy of a book and other merchandise.

Or was it? Did we behave in similar ways when new toys, books and comics came onto the market? Perhaps we did.

We were still in the grip of Britain’s nightmare winter when a new comic and a children’s magazine were released. It was either late February, or early March 1953 when The Topper and Enid Blyton’s Magazine first hit the news-stands. Yours truly wanted The Topper, my sister the ‘Magazine. All up it would cost us eight pence, and all we had to do was to go to the nearest stockist of children’s books, comics and magazines to purchase our copies.

So far, so good.

My beautiful sister had a verbal knack of getting me to do all the legwork when it came to shopping for sweets and comic books. With the usual warning of ‘hurry up, and no dawdling with your mates’ yours truly headed for French’s newsagency in Werrington Road, Bucknall. There were plenty of copies of Enid Blyton’s Magazine still available. But The Topper had been sold out within hours of arrival.

In hindsight it would have been much easier to have taken the Enid Blyton’s Magazine straight home to my sister before continuing my search for a copy of The Topper. But I didn’t. Instead, I walked to every known place in Werrington Road where comics were sold – from the Trent Bridge end of Bucknall to Cellarhead – before turning left at the Cellarhead crossroads. The lady in the shop at Wetley Rocks must have been more than a little bemused after hearing of my unsuccessful search for a copy of The Topper. She too apologised for having sold out.

As I was leaving the shop to make my way home, a despondent lad to say the least, the lady called after me to wait a moment before disappearing to the rear of her shop. A few minutes later she returned with a copy of The Topper saying her son had finished reading it and that I could have it for four pence. Without hesitation I paid my money, said thank you numerous times, left the shop and walked back to Bucknall. I was the happiest kid in the whole of the Trent Valley.

By the time I arrived home my sister was beside herself with fury. But soon forgave me when she started to read her ‘Magazine.

For our grandchildren in 2003 it was Harry Potter. For yours truly in 1953 it was The Topper. And like them there no way in the wide world that I was going to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

In 2003 it’s Paula Radcliffe, lady of marathons, grapping world headlines. Back in 1953 it was the great Jim Peters, man of marathons, grabbing world headlines. Radcliffe seems to go from strength to strength – just as Jim Peters did half a century ago. She remains unbeaten over two and half years and 12 races. Jim Peters was also unbeaten between 1949 and 1953. Paula Radcliffe simply burns off her opposition. So did Jim Peters.

The long drawn out Korean War ended in 1953. But history tells us that no peace treaty was signed which means, technically, the war is still in progress. In contrast, the war in Iraq started and ended in 2003. But will history also record a similar outcome for the Iraqi people because of disagreement between various world governments? Yes, I know, it’s a dubious comparison. But the Iraqi conflict, like Korea’s, is far from over.

English ‘Test cricket in 2003 seems to have ended on a positive note against South Africa. But 1953 was much, much better when twenty years of frustration finally ended after Denis Compton, the Brylcreem Boy from Middlesex, played a shot to long off to score the winning runs and claim a series win against Australia.

Then there was Babycham, a ‘Champagne Perry’ that stormed the market in 1953, with its own distinctive small bottles and specially sculptured drinking glasses. It targeted young women by offering an alternative to gin, sherry and stout. We were told it was the drink for all celebrations; Christmas, New Year, engagements and marriages. From memory I think one of the commercial promotions went something like ‘If you’re celebrating, then Babycham should be there too’. But the promotional phrase that caught on best was ‘I’d Love a Babycham’.

And what’s the Babycham comparison for 2003?

I’d love Port Vale to do in 2003/04 what it did in 1953/54.

See you later…

Barry Edge Western Australia September 25, 2003

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