1955 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1955.

In January, the Pentagon announced to the world at large that it intended to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As my mother might have said when confronted with one of my strange schemes, hmm, that'll be nice dear.

On February 12 President Eisenhower sent the first U.S. military advisors to South Vietnam. The US had been funding the French there until they withdrew the year before.

On April 5 1955, Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister. He was 80 years old and a sick man. He was succeeded by his Tory colleague Anthony Eden, who, after first dealing with a rail strike that was paralyzing the country, called an election in May that returned the Tories to office with a sizeable majority.

The polarization of the cold war continued inexorably. West Germany joined NATO, and the Warsaw Pact was formed. Both the USA and the USSR conducted a slew of nuclear weapon tests. The US hydrogen bombs got smaller and more efficient; the Russian ones remained large, but became very powerful. Rocketry advanced, but despite the Pentagon's intentions, was still short of the capability to deliver nuclear weapons over intercontinental distances.

The nuclear submarine USS Nautilus.
In strategic terms the US was still dependant on bombers with a range of around 6000 miles. The USSR had the Bison bomber that could carry nuclear weapons. It did not have the range to go to the US and back, but then neither side expected the bombers to get back if it came to it anyway. Even if they had, it was quite possible that there would have been nowhere for them to land.

It is not clear that it had occurred to anyone at the time, but it would be realized later that if ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads could be fired from submarines, then the missiles need not necessarily have intercontinental range, which was a plus, and as long as the submarines could stay underwater for long periods of time, it would be very difficult for the enemy to find them.

The nuclear powered submarine Nautilus, commissioned by the US Navy the previous year now started to demonstrate capabilities that would make this possible. Nuclear power was the key to long periods underwater, and the Nautilus was a convincing test of the technology. It broke all records for underwater speed and for the duration of underwater voyages, including the first passage under the North Pole in this year.
Following a rigged referendum that he won, in some cases with more votes than there were registered voters, in October, Ngo Dinh Diem proclaimed Vietnam a republic with himself as president.

In December, a black woman - Rosa Parks - was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, and the US national civil rights movement began. A few days later, in response to this arrest, the 'Montgomery Improvement Association' was formed in Montgomery, Alabama by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Black ministers to coordinate a black boycott of city buses.


In the world of science and technology, that year saw the development of the first atomic clock, accurate to a second in 300 years, at the UK's National Physical Laboratory. The Swiss inventor George de Mestral perfected Velcro, which he had first conceived as a result of his observations of the way that burrs stick to your clothing when you go for a walk in the countryside.

The Japanese Sony company produced its first transistor radio in this year. It was not the first commercially available one. That had been produced by Texas Instruments the year before, but it was a herald of the supremacy of Japanese companies in that area of production in the future.

The first computers built using transistors instead of vacuum tubes appeared in this year. In April a computer built using point-contact transistors was completed at Manchester University in the UK. As a consequence of the reliability problems of point-contact transistors, this machine was highly unreliable. Bell Labs in the US commissioned a computer using point-contact transistors the same year.


School life went along pretty uneventfully in the second form. However, out of school at about this time I had my first interaction with girls since the doctors episodes. I was still a regular attendee at Sunday school, not out of religious conviction, but because it was an important element of social life.

By then I had pretty much concluded that if the lay Sunday school teachers were anything to go by, then Christianity was not for me. I'd say I was already some way on the path to atheism. But my friends from the Cottingley 'new estates' still went to the Sunday school too, so it was a social life thing.

Within this group it had become the custom for some of the boys to be 'paired' in an unofficial way with some of the girls. I was 'paired' with Jan Davey. Jan was a slim blond girl who was quiet and quite attractive and who lived in a detached house at the top of Staybrite Avenue. She understood the 'pairing', but it didn't have any practical consequences. Nontheless she was the first girl that I or others might possibly have referred to as my girlfriend.

At school later, I also got to know a girl called Joan Crossland, who lived in Gilstead, a village, or suburb, of Bingley up the valley side and almost due north of where I lived at Ash Grove. As well as seeing her at school, I would sometimes go and see Joan at her house, where her mother tolerated me well enough. From there we'd go for walks on Bingley Moor, an area of rough grassland behind where she lived. Again it didn't have any practical consequences, but it was probably the first time I went anywhere alone with a girl, and I'd guess it taught me a tiny bit about how girls think, and that they are definitely quite different from boys.

In the summer holidays that year I, Howard Grimshaw, who lived on Ash Grove also - still does if I'm not mistaken - and a friend I'd made at my new school, John West, invented an imaginary kingdom. This was located close to where I lived on the north bank of the river beyond the Bingley Rugby Club ground and the older Victorian section of the rubbish tip beyond that. If you skirted round the edge of the tip close to the river bank, you came to a little used triangle of farm land between the old tip and the river, bounded on the east by some cultivated fields and then the railway line. You never saw anyone there, though there were cows grazing there from time to time, so I assume that the farmer, who lived some way to the north, must have brought them there and come later to take them for milking. We never saw him though, and had the place pretty much to ourselves.

We established two centres in our new land - Iodonia - one on a small flat outcrop from the steep bank of the old tip, among sycamore and oak trees, and one down by the river bank among the willows. There we spent the summer, building or extending dens, making hearths and lighting wood fires, shooting our arrows, and taunting boys on the other side of the river. We made swords out of old barrel hoops and spears with iron heads from the same source, and our arrows graduated to having goose feather flights and dangerous iron tips.

Arrow of this period.

I almost killed John West one day when I fired an arrow by accident that embedded itself in the ground about an inch from his backside where he was sitting on the grass. Six inches higher and it would have skewered him in the left kidney. He didn't notice, so I didn't bother telling him; but I got to be more careful as a result.

Some time that year I eventually found an unguarded Yew tree. There were a couple of them at the bottom edge of the private woodland that grew on the southern valley slope above Shipley Golf Club, where the valley widened to accommodate the valley formed by Harden Beck flowing down from the south. So I took myself off with a small saw one day, and selected a reasonably straight branch about 70mm in diameter at the thick end, keeping an eye open for one of the foresters all the time. I dare say if I'd asked they might have given me permission, but it was impossible to say where they would be found, and they did not have a reputation for being friendly to trespassers. The tree had been cut back almost to ground level so that a bunch of branches grew pretty straight from the pollarded stump. I discovered later that this was just how bow wood was grown in Spain back in the days when a lot of it was exported to England.

I shaped and tillered the bow with some trepidation, since I knew I already had the best piece of wood from the tree, and because I was not anxious to return to get another. The bow took to a good curve and had a satisfying feel of power about it. Stringing it was a problem though. No cord that I could buy in the local shops would hold for long. So I had to learn how to make a bowstring the old fashioned way using linen cobbler's thread and beeswax. That did the trick. Toward the end I decided that to get the proper finish I should add some horn tips suitably grooved to take the string.

Horns were a problem too. They were not a thing that you found lying in the street. But after a while I discovered where the local abattoir was - some distance along the main road toward Keighley - and made trip there on my bike to see if I could get a pair.

When I arrived, the place seemed to be pretty deserted, but eventually I found a man who belonged there judging by his somewhat bloodied appearance. I asked him about the horns, and was told that there were none around, as all that stuff had just been taken away to the glue factory. But, he said, if you wait a while I'll find you a pair.

I waited dutifully until after some time a truck bearing cattle arrived. The cattle were herded into a pen, presumably in blissful ignorance of their fate: they seemed quite calm. Then the first one, chosen presumably because it was standing closest to the gate was led through a narrow alley into the main hall of the abattoir.

Before I really knew what was happening, the man reached out, grabbed a compressed air driven device from a nearby hook, and applying it to the cow's forehead, punched a neat hole in its skull. The cow dropped to its knees, already unconscious, and unable to fall to either side because it was penned in by steel railings. Its body twitched in nervous spasm. The man took a bamboo cane about a metre long, and inserting it through the hole in the skull, passed it through the animal's brain and into the channel down through the bones of its spine. The twitching stopped, and the animal was almost meat.

The man looped a chain around its back legs and strung it up using an electric hoist, it was moved along the hoist's overhead track over a tiled working area, at which point the man the man drew his knife and cut its throat. A large amount of very red, hot, and smelly blood flooded out and ran down the drains of the tiled are. I presumed that it would be destined later for the garden shop, or a shop like it, since they sold dried blood there for use as a fertilizer.

I stood riveted to the spot, not really wanting to watch, but unable not to do so. The carcase was moved along the hoist track to another area, and there lost its entrails in an equally spectacular and stomach churning out-rush. Apparently by then, things could wait for a while, as I got my horns. The man sawed them off the cow's head, handed them to me and told me to drop them in a large tank of boiling water somewhere off to the side. I did as I was told.
I wandered back, still curious, and watched the man deftly remove the hide from the carcase. Then he said the horns would be ready, and we went and fished them out from the vat. I waited until they were cool enough to handle, when the insides fell out readily, put them in the bag that I'd brought for the purpose, thanked the man, and rode my bicycle home.

Back at the ranch I cut off the tips that I wanted for the bow with a hacksaw, filed grooves for the string, and carefully smoothed the edges so they would not cut it. Then I shaped the ends of the bow so they were a decent fit, and glued on the tips, probably with horn and hide glue. The remainder of the horns I shaped so that the hole at the narrow and had a slight inward bevel, and again I smoothed the edges, and cleaned up the ends where they had been attached to the cow. Once they'd dried out some and hardened, they produced quite a satisfying sound when you blew them. I kept one, and I think John West got the other.

At about the same time I became fascinated by pottery, pottery making that is. I had got a book from the library by a guy called Bernard Leach, who was into making ceramics in the ways used by the ancient Chinese and Japanese.

Making a coiled pot.
I attempted to build a wood-fired kiln at the bottom of the garden down by the river, using firebricks and fireclay I got from the local builder’s yard. I succeeded in building a kiln of sorts, but I could never get it up to a decent temperature. It was really too small to retain the heat required, and in any case I would always run out of wood. I produced a few terra cotta pieces, but most of the things that went in there either exploded or cracked since the heating was too sudden.

Eventually I succeeded in firing a coiled pot I had made from clay collected from the river bed next to the rugby ground to a decent temperature. I placed it in a large tin can, and in turn placing the tin can in our coke fired kitchen stove. The stove would burn pretty hot if you left the damper open, and the tin can managed to survive until I reckoned it had been hot enough, and let the stove go out. My parents must have been extraordinarily tolerant in those days. A second firing, done in the same way, succeeded in applying a layer of dark-green lead glaze to the pot. I think it was still lying around my mother's house somewhere until she died.

At some point in this my 13th year I discovered sex in its simplest form. One of the lads at in the second form at school, Rodney Marsh, had been teasing me for some time because I did not know about 'tossing off'. At first I had no idea what he was talking about, but after a bit of reading at the library, and conversations with other boys, I grasped the principles of it - pardon the pun. I resolved that I would try out this mysterious practice.

So one day when there was nobody in the house, I went to my bedroom, took off my pants, and sat on the edge of the bed. My understanding was that if you held your dick in your hand, like making a fist, and moved it up and down, then you’d be doing it, though I was still not 100% sure what would happen.

Well, the first thing was that my dick got stiff. This wasn't a big surprise, because it would often be like that in the morning when I got up and needed to pee. But then it started to feel rather strange, a kind of tingling sensation, with a sense that something was about to happen. When it became clear that something was going to happen soon, I grabbed the lead-glazed pot that I'd made earlier in the year, and held it in my other hand, since I knew that in theory there would be some ejection of fluid.

When the ejaculation came, I was quite surprised by the force and nature of it. I had not appreciated that it would come in spurts, or that it would travel so far. Some of it I caught in the pot, but most of it I had to clean up from the bedroom floor afterwards. Needless to say, there are no photos of this event available.

The sensation was most impressive, the most addictive thing I'd come across. I felt a little strange about having done it, but could not really see it as a bad thing as I'd seen it branded in books about morality that probably originated from Victorian times.

I wondered if it was something you could do just any time, and tried it again, discovering that it was not as easy the second time, and that even when you persevered until it happened again, the sensation and the quantity of 'cum' were much diminished.

Nonetheless, it was not long until I revisited the sensation, this time in the bathroom, where the results could be aimed into the sink or the toilet, and be conveniently washed away. My trips to the bathroom might have been noticed in those days, since sometimes my mother would ask me what I was doing in there. The answer of course was, "oh nothing", and the question was never pressed. I also experimented with masturbation - I'd discovered the word in the Victorian books - in the open air round in my private domain of Iodonia. That was quite enjoyable because it felt vaguely naughty to be doing it out in the open.

It was probably about the same time that I was talked into smoking my first cigarette. Initially it made me cough if I tried to inhale, and it certainly did not seem to be the addictive experience that 'tossing off', or 'wanking', had proved to be. How wrong can you be? Both habits proved to be extremely sticky, and the one I eventually gave up only went away after a long struggle.

After the summer holidays it was on to the third form. That autumn, I had another brush with a girl. Her name was Susan Robinson, and she was, shall I say, quite developed for her age. This is a British way of saying she had big tits. Of course, as a result of the vagaries of the eleven plus examination system, she could have been almost a year older than I. With my birthday at the end of April, I fitted in to the schedule when I was just turned eleven. If you were borne a month later, you'd have missed it and would not have gone to secondary school until a year later.

She was a fairly ordinary looking girl, blond, not unattractive, perhaps a little heavy, but not fat, and not particularly academic. It became clear that she liked me, as she would blush violently if I spoke to her, but also encourage it. The other boys ragged me about this.

Nonetheless, we quietly arranged to go for a walk together in Hirst Wood close to where she lived in Nab Wood just a mile or so east from Cottingley Bridge. It was after school, and a pleasant autumn early evening. We sat down in the wood and talked, then I think we kissed, and she let me touch her breasts, which was fun. I don't remember this too well. I was probably on a short time fuse, because I would have had to do my newspaper round shortly afterwards. But the signs were very positive, and I came away with the impression she would readily go further.

However, back at school the next day I could not quite convince myself that she was the right thing for me, and I did not follow up. I knew she would want to be officially my girl friend, thought that she might be rather possesive, and I did not think I could sustain the reaction of the other boys. I think all these were excuses. Basically Susan was physically almost a grown woman, and I suspect that really I felt I could not cope with that at 13 years old - somewhat chicken in retrospect.


The award winning movie in the US was "Marty" a love story starring Ernest Borgnine. This did not feature in the box-office top ten, where you would find, for instance, Disney's "Lady and the Tramp", and "Cinerama Holiday" - another sad promotional feature.

East of Eden poster.

The British film industry gave us one of its classics, the comedy "The Ladykillers". and "The Colditz Story", a prisoner of war story, also quite a famous film.

However there were films that were more significant to a teenager that year. A world of teen culture began to take shape in the US that would soon have ramifications at home. Bill Haley and the Comets' record "Rock Around the Clock", having lain dormant for some time, hit number #1 in one of the numerous US chart categories, and reached number 17 in the British charts.

It had been propelled to fame by its use over the starting titles of the movie "Blackboard Jungle". Teenagers leaped from their movie theatre seats to dance to the song.

James Dean made the movies 'East of Eden', and 'Rebel Without a Cause', and then proceeded to top himself by crashing his Porsche Spyder, thus ensuring that he became an enduring teen cult hero. I did not get to see either of these films at the time they were first shown in the UK, since I believe they both carried an 'X' certificate, and I was thus too young to get in. But Dean's image was everywhere, and I would soon aspire to that harmless but roguish look and the famous hair style.

As noted, "Rock Around the Clock" topped the US charts, which had some other interesting entries:
  • Maybellene - Chuck Berry
  • The Great Pretender - The Platters
  • Only You - The Platters
  • Ain't That A Shame" - Fats Domino
The top end of the British charts was still full of what struck me as rubbish.

In October, Elvis Presley played a concert in Lubbock, Texas. The opening act was local duo "Buddy and Bob" - there'll be more to follow on them. The next month Presley's new manager signed him to RCA Records. This was to ruin a great style, but create quite a future.

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