Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vere Hodgson (four): At the Pictures 2

In Which We Serve

June 20, 1943: Sunday (at Brum). Then Cath and I saw the film In Which We Serve. Splendid. We sat through it twice. Saw Dunkirk and several sea battles. Blitz on Plymouth was exact – wailing of the sirens and the fall of one bomb after another. We have heard them so often, but have been luckier than the family in the film for so far we have not been buried under the debris.

(And on food): May 9, 1943. Sunday. Dr Remy came to tea, and as cakes and scones are uneatable if bought from shops – unless you are starving, we are not – I made some. Tossed together something or other.

The Moon is Down

August 22, 1943: Sunday. Went with Mrs T. to The Moon is Down by Steinbeck, about Norway under the Germans. Cedric Hardwick is the German officer, occupying a mining village. We saw the stunned demeanour of the inhabitants, and the terrible awakening to what had befallen them – and the gradual rise of opposition.

All people inclined to be pacifists should see this film, and they would realize what we have been saved from. The Navy and Air Force saved us by a hair’s breadth. What we owe to those few gallant souls who prepared in time! Just a few people of exceptional intelligence and perspicacity knew long ago and got ready, while the rest of us were stupidly repeating ‘There can be no war ...’ In so many cases these Few lost their lives saving those too blind to see the danger.

(And on food): Plenty of plums, apples and tomatoes in the shops.

Citizen Kane

August 29, 1943: Sunday. Saturday went to see Citizen Kane – one of those old classic films. It was about a blustering unlovely American businessman. His last word on earth was Rosebud, so the film digs back into his life to see what it meant. Never discovered. Most unsatisfactory!

I enjoy listening to the gospel singer on the radio.

(And on food): My osteopath just back from the Castle of Kilrorke in Nairn, where he has a patient. Seems to be 12th C. but every modern convenience inside. As for food they do not know up there that there is a war on. He had cream on his porridge every morning – and pints of it seemed to be wandering around the house.

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

October 3, 1943: Sunday. Went to see Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Low created this character in the years before the war as a figure of fun, but when trouble came we had to depend on him and his like, for there was one else. When the new men got going Colonel Blimp was put in the Home Guard. He was a gentleman, and attributed to his enemies his own high motives. Anton Walbrook, as the German of old-fashioned honour, would have pleased Dr Remy. There is a decent German in the film - something rare. However, they do exist.

(And on food): One morning we had coffee at Kunzle’s and an ersatz cream-bun. They tell us that the last genuine Cream Bun in the world was eaten last weekend in Portugal! Now all is finished until the war is over.

Battle of Britain

October 17, 1943: Sunday. Mrs. O. came for the week-end. Went to see the Battle of Britain produced by the Americans. Idea is to present to the American people exactly what we did for the world in 1940-41. Splendid. Mr Churchill gives the introduction. All very vivid – pictures of Hitler and Goering planning this and that against us. Bombing depicted. The women buckling to – men rushing to catch the paratroops or join the Home Guard.

(And on food): October 4, 1943: Sunday. Apple Rings in again and we like them.

San Demetrio London.

February 28, 1944: Monday. Went to see film of San Demetrio about the Jervis Bay Convoy. We follow the fortunes of one lifeboat. After three miserable days they sight the San Demetrio again, their own ship, which ought to have blown up. They reboard her, though in flames and with petrol – she is a Tanker, and after amazing hardships bring her safely to the Clyde.

(And on food): February 27, 1944. Sunday. Lemons on sale this week. I have had four and made pancakes three nights running.

(Other): Queues for the Tubes start at 4 p.m. … children, prams, old people. At Holland Park there are bunks for 500. They have had 1,500 people there this week. They sleep on the platforms with trains passing. One night they had to send the train on as the passengers could not alight among the sleepers.

The First of the Few. (Picture of the burning of Kiev) .

March 5, 1944: Sunday. Saw The First of the Few with dear Leslie Howard. Went with one of my former Wimbledon pupils. It is the story of R.J. Mitchell who invented the Spitfire. He died before the war, but did as much as anyone to win the Battle of Britain, and save us all. I was specially interested in the Schneider Trophy. One year the Italian won it – it was Major de Bernardi with great rejoicings. A nice modest hero he was.

I knew the family well in Florence. When we won the trophy outright I watched from the Solent. Did not realize Lady Houston gave the money for us to enter, that we learned no end from it. In my short-sighted fashion I deplored it all at the time – not being able to see any use in tearing the sky at such speeds. But it was a glorious sight – sky a perfect blue.

I believe Lawrence of Arabia had much to do with the Race. Many great minds were working to save England even then. But most of us little realized it at the time.

Saw also a Picture of the burning of Kiev – how deeply the Russians must feel as they re-enter their ruined cities – seething with the desire for revenge. It was heart rending – mercifully a silent film, as we could hardly have borne to hear the agonizing cries of the women as they found relatives dead by the burning houses. Some turned their faces to the camera. My blood ran cold, thinking how easily it might have happened in London or Birmingham.

(And on food): My first oranges. Lady in next flat queuing up so kindly took my ration book and got me three lovely ones. She waited three quarters of an hour. We have seen orange peel in the street – most refreshing even to look at it.

The Four Feathers

September 11, 1944: Monday. Went to the Cinema. Enjoyed The Four Feathers with Ralph Richardson. Also the News with pictures of the Germans being marched through Moscow. The expression on the faces of the Generals as the population glared at them …

(An ominous entry two days later)

September 13, 1944: Wednesday. We have heard a lot about the big explosion heard all over London on Friday night. There is nothing about it in the papers … word is just going round. But we fear it is the V2 which has arrived.

For those so inclined:

First editions of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) are somewhat difficult to come by. A reprint edition in paperback is currently available from the publisher: Persephone Books, London at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB. Recommended.

Note: Top image is from the London Transport Museum. Poster: Seeing it Through: Station Woman, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vere Hodgson (three). At the Pictures 1

Poster’s note: The bulk of Vere’s work has to do with the war and its impact. Captured in these extracts is the part of each entry dealing primarily with a film she saw. Sidelights about food in the same, or nearby entries, are often included. Vere Hodgson was certainly more interested in onions than in Olivier. Film was but a diversion. Yet we might reflect on what one of those who came before us watched, and thought about, in dark buildings when film was in its Golden Age and the world on a death watch.

“One can only go to bed and trust to wake in the morning” … Vere Hodgson

(Vere Hodgson’s first entry)

June 25, 1940: Tuesday. Last night at about 1 a.m. we had the first air raid of the war on London. My room is just opposite the police station, so I got the full benefit of the sirens. It made me leap out of the bed half way across the room. I shook all over …


September 5, 1940: Thursday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Mother and I are off to Sutton Coldfield to see Ariel and Cecilia. Hope they will come with us to Pinocchio tomorrow. It is warm here. All theatres in Brum are over by a quarter to nine, to let people get home before warnings.

September 7, 1940: Saturday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Much enjoyed Pinocchio. All came back to tea.

The Great Dictator

March 1, 1941: Saturday. Went to see The Dictator today. How I enjoyed it! Superb satire! For all its tomfoolery written with a profundity of serious purpose. The speeches of Hynkel, half-German, half-English are there. People who understood German were even more convulsed than I was. How Dr Remy would enjoy it … and Aunt Emy too. The palace scenes, where Hynkel did not waste a moment, were all in the spirit of German thoroughness. But Mussolini in real life does not smile so much. All done by an East End Jew! How Hitler would writhe if he could see us laughing at him –and the Italians would flash with fury. Last speech was good, but Chaplin has not the magnetic elocution that Charles Laughton had for that kind of appeal.

Goodbye, Mr Chips

June 24, 1941: Tuesday. Went to see Goodbye, Mr Chips. How I enjoyed it. We sat round it twice. Have an idea the boys were from Rugby.

(And on food): Shopping last Saturday I was behind a dear old lady who had been in her prime under the regime of the late Queen Victoria. She asked for salad oil, and was amazed to be told she could not have any – and moreover would not be likely to have any in the future, as it was unobtainable! 'What are we going to do?' She asked, much puzzled. The shop assistant sweetly replied: ‘We will just have to go without Madam.’ The old lady turned away amazed.
Tomatoes are to be 1 /4d a pound on Monday, although I doubt if we will see any. Sardines are getting scarce. I was charged 10½d for a tin containing four.


August 5, 1941: Tuesday. Monday we did Disney’s Fantasia. The idea is that every musical sound makes a pattern and a colour … these were thrown on the screen. Lovely classical music. One composer wrote The Creation, and Disney pictured it all – chaos and earthquakes. Then life appeared with the amoeba, and finally prehistoric beasts who moved in the rhythm of the music. There was a glorious mythological one, where the Flying Horses were among the loveliest creatures I have ever seen. A work of genius.

(And on food): Returned to Auntie’s flat for tea, and opened a tin of pineapple we found among Auntie’s treasures. Also a tin of prawns to go with our salad.

(August 17, 1941: Sunday.) Macaroni seems unobtainable now. A nuissance! Perhaps a shipload will come in. I asked for it the other day, and a man behind me said: ‘Can I have three bowls of gold dust, please ...’ However, there are some figs which is an agreeable change. And we can get green apples. We all have to register for milk this week – but how much we are going to be allowed, I don’t know. I take half a pint a day – but it may not be that much.

[It Started With Eve] and Bombay Clipper

January 11, 1942: Sunday. Even had the energy to go to the Pictures. Managed to get a packet of soap powder. Clutching this began to wait in the queue. My feet as cold as ice; but after waiting half an hour, felt I must wait the other half. Lovely and warm inside. Saw Mr. Churchill giving part of his speech. Looked old, though and I am afraid when the need is over the string will break suddenly. Charles Laughton with Deanna Durbin [It Started With Eve]– very good show. Also Bombay Clipper. But these American films go too fast. In the end I did not know how the villains were defeated, nor on which side they were.

Poster’s note on Bombay Clipper: Directed by John Rawlins. 1941. With William Gargan, Irene Hervey and Maria Montez.

How Green Was My Valley

June 21, 1942: Sunday. Mabel Lucy and I thoroughly enjoyed How Green Was My Valley. Cheapest seat was 2/6d. Enormous price for a film, but is result of Government tax. But it was worth it – all about a Welsh mining valley – feel much more interested in the Welsh now.

(And on food): June 7, 1941: Sunday. Did some cooking for those staying the night. Bought gigantic cauliflowers, and with a piece of cheese sent from S. Africa and a tin of milk, made four dishes of cauliflower au gratin.

Petrified Forest

April 18, 1943: Sunday. Saturday night Marie and I went to Petrified Forest. Setting in Arizona. All very exciting. Came out in daylight. Piccadilly is a thrilling place these days.
(And on food): A confession about a bottle of Lemon Cordial! Brought me by Kit some time ago – rare, so I determined to save it for my visitors. In this I failed utterly. Each night arriving back have felt cruelly thirsty, and this glorious bottle reposing on my shelf was too much. Little by little I have drunk the lot. The craving for lemon juice by the British Public is almost an obsession – we feel we could drink it neat by the gallon.

(Note: These entries will conclude in the next posting.)

For those so inclined:

First editions of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) are somewhat difficult to come by. A reprint edition in paperback is currently available from the publisher: Persephone Books, London at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vere Hodgson (two): Few Eggs and No Oranges

Vere Hodgson:

And then it came to pass that the war came to Vere Hodgson. First on the radio, then on her local streets and later when the sky was full of aircraft. London: 1940. Ladbroke Road, just up from Holland Park.

Look west to Hammersmith. Look north to Shepherd’s Bush. Look south to the River, look east to Holborn and beyond: to Silvertown, to Canning Town, to The Isle of Dogs. Watch the next wave of aircraft approaching the east to the Docklands, to the flames and the sinking ships and barges. Vere Hodgson, London and England were at war.

All the while, she went to work, went about her private life, visited with friends and listened to the radio. Vere Hodgson drank tea, did without, kept calm and carried on.

She regularly recorded her everyday thoughts about what was happening in London and afar. This social worker entered those reflections in letters, diaries and journals. She wrote about the enemy, until at night his aircraft came again. And Vere Hodgson went to market. In such places it was soon: “few eggs and no oranges.” The phrase eventually moved from sentence to book title. It became the name of her collected wartime compilation, published decades later: Few Eggs and No Oranges. A woman who lived on Ladbroke Road told us about what it was like to be a Londoner at war.

As it came to pass.


Throughout the war Vere Hodgson’s captured thoughts related to her everyday life: philanthropic work, other activities, social group, news of war, and the impact of that conflict on this conscientious woman and her circle. Shortages of food and goods were rarely out of mind. The prospect of death was always in her margins: mentioned and accepted. A cat might cavort or cower as Vere wrote, depending on the proximity of targets and the sounds of exploding bombs. The world, the war and Vere’s pen moved on.

Going to the “pictures” was apparently not a major part of Vere Hodgson’s wartime schedule, but an occasional diversion. Yet offered are her thoughts on films she saw, so that we might reflect when we see the same films now. The next two postings (Vere Hodgson goes to the Pictures) sample her entries on fifteen films that she saw in London or Birmingham and mentioned in Few Eggs and No Oranges. Her comment on Citizen Kane has already been put forth.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vere Hodgson (one): on Citizen Kane

But then again, during those years, Vere Hodgson did have German bombers with which to contend. Three postings on the good Miss Hodgson and her Few Eggs and No Oranges will follow in days to come.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Danny wouldn't do

Andrew Sarris in "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet": The American Talking Film / History and Memory 1927-1949 discusses actresses tested for the part of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca. Margaret Sullavan was among them.

"Margaret Sullavan was too assured, too confident, for the part of a socially intimidated bride hopelessly out of her depth. She would have had Judith Anderson's Mrs. Danvers doing windows in no time flat."

Note: Sarris, in the same book, mentions a radio version of Rebecca in which Sullavan did play the second Mrs. de Winter.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ten random thoughts on the tenth

--- I wish I was in Hammersmith.

--- I like the idea that Turner Classic Movies showed a baseball movie around the same time as The Super Bowl on February 6.

--- We're told that when William Wyler tired of watching excessive close-ups in others' films he would try to look around the subject's head to see what the other characters were doing.

--- When I was a boy, in a dark movie house, The Spiral Staircase scared me more than any of the Universal horror films.

--- My favorite mogul was (and still is) Louis B. Mayer (I know all the bad stuff).

--- I usually admire Lee Marvin, and Jane Fonda was a good comedienne and sexy then -- but the motor of Cat Ballou belongs to Nat Cole and Stubby Kaye.

--- Am I the only one who would have preferred Eli Wallach rather than Frank Sinatra as Maggio?

--- When I go on about being there, back during the Sarris-Kael dust-ups, I feel like one of those cantankerous old Civil War veterans in thirties westerns.

--- Watching it again on Turner Classic Movies in January, I had forgotten how good 99 River Street is.

--- My English friend, Nicholas, of High Barnet, whose family hails from the north, is fond of saying: “You can always tell a Yorkshireman -- but you can't tell him much.”

Note: “Random thoughts” pieces bring to mind the great Jimmy Cannon, whose “Nobody Asked Me, But” set the form. Any similarity stops there.

Source: Photograph of the young woman at the tube platform is from As I Travel

Friday, February 4, 2011

In search of a posting

This photograph enthralls and has for some time. When in need of a posting, I return to it again and again. Somewhere in my memory, perhaps folded into reverie, perhaps behind one of those storefronts, lies a tale that I might link to my past and then to the photo. But such can be elusive.

The location is the Midwest, the village probably Brooklyn, Michigan. The main or "high" street, as our English friends would call it, is quite ordinary. The movie theatre is the Star. I am told the year is 1941, a peaceful yet ominous time. The storefronts are not quite discernable from the camera's point of view. Might one of them initiate a reflection from my past? I could map out a probable store-by-store makeup based on memories of small towns, or from films or photographs from a similar time. And from that map I might locate a misplaced memory: something to take me back to that time, yet to a different place. But such is not likely.

So, I have been unable to find a personal connectivity. And, perhaps, that is as it should be. Seventy years have passed and each enthralling photograph does not a posting make. I will let it stand on its own, still more than six hundred miles away from the Bronx, to a region near Lake Erie, where it will always be 1941 -- before December came.

I will seek no further memories from the townsfolk shown, or their surroundings. I will leave them stranded in time in a long-ago yesterday -- with Fritz Lang’s Western Union playing over and over at the Star. And the photograph will remain in search of a posting.


An afterword on the photograph. It is from l'art et l'automobile. A brief caption provided the state, the year and the name of the film. Cinema Treasures helped locate the village as Brooklyn (known better for its New York manifestation).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011