The other day, sorting out my study and endeavouring to relieve it of unnecessary papers and files and random photographs cluttering drawers, shelves and boxes, I came across a yellowing few pages of a broadsheet newspaper – The Daily Express – for Monday February 25th 1974.
Eagerly, I turned the enormous pages (how did people ever read such a cumbersome thing on crowded commuter trains?) expecting that this edition had been kept for some significance, the report of an extraordinary event – but could find nothing. Quite why these few pages had escaped being thrown out years, decades, in the last century, I have no idea. Monday February 25th 1974 appeared to have been a very, very ordinary day.
Except that in its very ordinariness, these few pages of the Daily Express are revelatory.
Take the THEATRES listings.
How rich was the West End of London in February 1974!
Working through the theatres from the Adelphi to Wyndhams is to read the incredible casts of actors and actresses, (as we were allowed to call them in those days) in fact, a kind of honours board of thespians, all appearing on the same night in London.
Let’s take those actresses for a start. There’s Ingrid Bergman, Sheila Hancock, Geraldine McEwan, Coral Browne, Maggie Smith, Dora Bryan, Claire Bloom, Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave to mention just a few. Yes, all of them appearing in plays on that night, all in dressing rooms scattered within half a mile of each other.
And onto the men. There’s Albert Finney, John Geilguid, Edward Fox, Richard Briers, Leslie Phillips, Alastair Sim, Denholm Elliott, Rex Harrison, Robert Hardy, Jeremy Brett, Joss Ackland, Leo McKern, John Mills, Ray Brooks – and more.
And it’s gratifying to me to remember that I saw a great many of these plays, usually in the company of my theatre-loving mother who introduced me to so much of the best in drama. Plays listed here in my yellowing Daily Express – The Constant Wife, Absurd Person Singular, Sleuth, Chez Nous, Henry 1V, A Streetcar Named Desire, Habeas Corpus – I saw them all over the course of a year or two.
On the same page in the newspaper is the Teleguide as it styles itself.
And if the West End theatre spoilt us for choice back then, the same cannot be said for the television!
But at least hours would not have been wasted choosing between endless channels – not to mention NetFlix et al.
It was a case of BBC1 and 2 and ITV. That’s it. Although there are some regional variations with Harlech and Anglia, Midland, Southern and Western getting a mention for their schedules. February 1974 was leading up to a General Election so some time is given over to political broadcasts early and late evening, but otherwise the fare offers a choice between Z Cars, Colditz, Horizon and World in Action. And all channels host that word that is entirely elusive in today’s 24/7 programming: CLOSEDOWN. How refreshing is that – a time when a screen simply became empty!
A newspaper of over 45 years ago is always interesting for its job advertisements too. And to see Bank Messenger Staff – applications from men of good character and Senior Engineer – the selected man would expected to …etc etc. is a clear sign of the times.
But the one that most intrigues me runs as follows:
Governess – under 40 – wanted in USA to care for 2 motherless children ages 5 and 10. Duties include that of a substitute mother. Apply with recent photos and full resume to 1077 San Jacinto Building, Houston, Texas.
There’s a veritable plot for a short story in that one – possibly even a novel!
One day in one newspaper – a small slice of life in 1974 – I’m very glad that for some inexplicable reason this fragment survived.