This is a purely personal history of the life of John Gillatt for anyone who might have known him in the past and in the unlikely event that anyone might want to know him in the future. If you've hit upon this page because we might have shared something in the past, I'd encourage you to pass me by. If, however, you're as stupid as I am you can always drop me an E-Mail to the address at the bottom of the page.
If you can't bear the thought of reading through all this drivel you can see a one page version here!
Like everyone else I was born, or maybe in my case, created! Nope, I was born. At Meadow View, Green Lane, White Waltham, Maidenhead, Berks (UK, that is) on the 20th June 1949 I was the first born of May and Bill Gillatt. A couple of years later came Robert, then Helen and, finally, on my seventh birthday, Janet.
Mum and Dad had met during the War. In the twenties and thirties Dad had worked in the printing industry as a proofreader on the Sheffield Telegraph. He got rather too enthusiastic about the General Strike in 1926 and was blacklisted by all the Sheffield employers. He moved to Manchester and worked at the Daily Express's wonderful Art Deco building on Swan Street. When war with the Nazis was declared he told us that he volunteered straight away because then he could choose which service he'd enter - the RAF. But, as a committed Socialist, Dad must have been incensed at what was happening in Europe, especially as so many of his friends had come back from the Spanish Civil War missing arms, legs, eyes or just missing! He joined up and went off to the Far East, mainly in India and Burma. He hardly ever talked about the War. We believed that he was a hero but he'd never say anything about it.
Dad had a younger brother, Jack. We went to see him in Sheffield and took the steam express from London. It was during the winter in the '50s and I remember opening the carriage window and smelling the wonderful smell of steam railway engine smoke as we raced north. We walked across fields of snow to Uncle Jack's house and went to see Aunt Lillian, Dad's older, Tory Sister who lived in Fulwood. She's still alive and well into her nineties. Sadly Dad and Jack are long gone. Actually Jack had a daughter and, although she's my cousin I've never seen her since that visit to Sheffield and can't even remember her name.
During the War, in the UK between postings, Dad was stationed at RAF White Waltham and, serving in the NAAFI Canteen was, yes you guessed, a certain May Golding. Looking at their wedding photos my Mum was a gorgeous woman. She had and still has a natural country charm and friendliness. Well, I guess that when she served Dad, he was first in line for seconds!. I think they were married in 1947 or 48. Dad returned to his job in Manchester for a while. coming home to see Mum as often as he could. He worked in London for a bit but then became proofreader at the Electrical Press in Maidenhead. There he met one of his best friends of all, Bill Newall. Dad eventually worked for the printers of the Slough Windsor and Eton Express who also printed such magazines as "Honey", "Disc" and the "VW Today" (or something like that!). It pains me to think of my poor Dad proof reading "Honey"!
Mum had two brothers. Ken, the younger, was in "Dad's Army" during the War, probably playing the Private Pike role. Uncle Cyril's War was rather more serious. Captured by the Japanese he was forced to work on the Burma Railway. He survived that, but not the American torpedo that sank the prisoner of war ship taking him back to Japan. Yes, it was flying the Red Cross, but probably also transporting weapons. I never knew Uncle Cyril. Uncle Ken (Ken Golding) is still around and living near Reading.
We actually had a rather idyllic childhood. Mum and Dad were never well off but they loved us a lot and took us on holidays to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight where we played cricket on the sand, made sand castles and walked over the downs to Ventnor. Every other year we'd have a cultural holiday, often mooching around the museums of nearby London. My favourite was always the Science Museum - lots of buttons to press and things to make work! We'd go on day trips to the zoo (Regent's Park and Chessington) and to the south coast resorts of Littlehampton, Southsea, Hayling Island, etc.
With a huge garden Mum and Dad grew all our own fruits and vegetables. The chickens in the backyard, which my own daughters (more about them later) still remember with great joy, supplied the eggs (and the occasional roast fowl). Dad never had the heart to kill the birds that he fed and whose eggs he collected each day. So the gruesome task was left to Mum. She seemed to approach it with relish!
When I was born the house had no running water or electricity, no inside toilet, bathroom or, apart from open fires, heating. I can well remember the tin bath, in front of the fire in the winter and outside in the summer. And who needed a bath more than once a week all those years ago. The air was clean and the dirt just didn't make you dirty! In the winter we could scrape at the frost, on the inside of the bedroom windowpanes! In those days the winter was always frosty and snowy and the summers always idyllically hot and sunny.
Granny, Mum's Mum, lived with us and next door, in the adjoining cottage, lived "Auntie (Lizzie) Appleby", a wonderful god-fearing woman who lived on cocoa and Marmite sandwiches, made from Hovis bread. Before long, the two cottages were knocked into one and Granny and Auntie were consigned to a caravan in the garden. I loved to go over there, cadge Marmite Hovis sandwiches and listen to "The Archers" on the BBC's Home Service.
We got a bathroom and an indoor toilet. Granny thought that it was disgusting to have such a thing in the house and would only ever use the outside one, even when ice formed in the pan in winter!
It had to start somewhere, my education, that is. Woodlands Park Infant's School and then White Waltham Church of England Primary School were the beginnings of a completely undistinguished academic career. At primary school we had a pretty young teacher who was (for I don't know how long) the girlfriend of England cricketer, Peter May. The headmaster was a wonderful man, Mr. Wright. I never knew his first name but I know that he was mad keen on cricket and that his wife, also a teacher at the school, was a very correct and strict woman or so it seemed to us eight year olds.
Whether it was an indictment of the school or maybe that's just how things were then, but I was only one of two children in my class of 35 to pass the dreaded Eleven Plus to qualify me for the Grammar School. The others were destined for the Secondary Modern and, usually, apprenticeships, farming or factory fodder. I don't know whether it was that Dad inspired us or that we really wanted to "make it", but all four of us passed the entrance exam for Grammar School, the girls and us boys going to their separate institutes, Maidenhead Grammar School (boys) and Maidenhead County Girls School.
My brother and I joined the church choir, firstly under Mr. Burningham (I never knew his first name either) and then under the dangerously young Peter Begent. The vicar was a nice old guy, the Rev. Jackson. he retired to the South Coast after I had grown up and left the choir. I think that his place was taken by someone who was eventually convicted for molesting another generation of choirboys! But I could be wrong.
The choir was great and, until my voice broke Dad reckoned that I sang like an angel. I was nowhere near as good as Stephen Cowell. But the Cowell boys were in a league of their own.
We had great time, arriving early for choir practice to play "hide and seek" amongst the gravestones in the dark, hiding in the ancient yew trees in the Summer or huddling by the coke boiler in the cellar in the Winter. We never, ever found the secret passage that surely must have existed from the boiler house of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, White Waltham to the big farm house, nearby.
Strangely, one of the church's benefactors was a Jewish guy who lived in the village, Raymond Oppenheimer of South African diamonds fame. We didn't know anything of South Africa then and the terrible human price that was paid for him to be a wonderful benefactor of the village. He just seemed such a nice guy as he rode around in his Rolls Royce.
Our choirmaster would take us for outings, one or twice to the seaside, but quite often to see real music - The D'Oyle Carte Opera Company and the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas that they perform so well ("I am the very model of a modern Major-General").
We were the village gang. There weren't many of us and our numbers fluctuated from about five to six. It was mainly us Gillatts and the Blays. Tom and John Blay, the sons of the village builder, Bill Blay, one of Dad's best friends were our friends throughout our childhood years. But now we only hear from them sporadically.
Just at the bottom of the field was a stream "The Cut" which was reputedly built by German prisoners during the First World War. It was one of our favourite places but getting there meant going over the land of the dreaded farmer Echivarri of Touchen End. I guess that he was of Italian extraction. But when he was around we didn't care to ask him where he came from. The Cut became our home and mystical place, summer or winter. We fished in it and, polluted as it was, we swam, splashed, waded and generally had the best of times in and by it.
John Blay had been very ill as a young child and always had "a weak chest". One winter's day we decided to skate on the partially frozen Cut at the weir close to The Bridge pub at Paley Street. John fell through the ice and was clinging onto the crumbling edge for grim death, in fear of being swept under the ice by the current. We thought it was hilarious and stood laughing at him in complete ignorance of the danger. Eventually he struggled and we helped him ashore. His mother kept him in bed for a week after, fearful that his "weak chest" would see him off!
On another occasion we thought we would investigate the explosive powers of petrol. We made a fire by the banks of The Cut and when it was well alight we put a full 5l sealed can of petrol on it - just to see what would happen. Brother Robert was much smaller than we were and, as we clambered up the banks of the stream, he couldn't make it. The can exploded in an amazing sheet of flame and, somehow, the young lad escaped unscathed. Sugar and weedkiller inside metal tubes was pretty spectacular too. But it's a wonder we didn't kill ourselves.
There were moneymaking opportunities too. John Blay put together a buggy of wood and pram wheels and equipped it with a Primus stove and chip pan. We pinched potatoes from Mum's larder, made chips, fried them and attempted to sell them to our parent's neighbours. We asked one lady if she'd like some chips and she said that she would. She was most amazed to be presented with fried potato chips since she thought that we meant wood chips to go on the winter fire!
Things come to mind. Watching the last few overs of the village cricket match after Sunday Evensong as Dad had his once a week pint and we our Orangina and packet of Smith's crisps with the blue waxed paper twirl of salt. Getting 5/- (five shillings = 25p) choir pay every few months. The extra bonus of weddings and funerals. The local farmer, red faced, drunk and swaying at the altar as he married the most gorgeous dark haired girl. Weddings were great because we got a bonus. Mind you, we enjoyed funerals just as much for the same reason. Except for the time when two of our schoolmates' fathers were killed in a flying accident over RAF White Waltham airfield.
After my voice broke I joined the men's section of the choir. But it was never the same. I really just couldn't sing. I was too high for bass and too low for tenor. So, at the age of 18 I gave up.
The Grammar School was something else. In the 1960s everything was geared towards University entrance and the school had a proud academic record. Sadly, it wasn't for me. I was the class fool who, when told that he had to "pull his socks up" did literally that and got a whack on the backside as a result. Detention followed detention but when you got to about five you could voluntarily go to the Headmaster, L.C. Reynolds, and be caned instead. Thirty seconds of pain were always better than hour after hour of writing lines or washing up for the first 11 cricket team. Or so I thought.
There were teachers who inspired us, some who disgusted us and others who filled us with dread. I don't really remember as much about my school days as I should. Perhaps because, although it was an essential period of growing up, it never seemed terribly relevant. As a result I left with three GCE 'O' levels and went off to Windsor College of Further Education to have a second go!
Actually, there were some good things about the school. I loved English language and Literature and still do. In the fourth year our form teacher was a Mr. Francis who was a great inspiration to me. He was also an excellent cricketer player and became something of a role model.
I loved sport too. The school only offered rugby and cross-country running as winter sport options. Dai Griffiths was the sadistic games master who made us have cold showers in the Winter and I guess that, being Welsh, it was he that decided that football was much too working class for Grammar School boys. Being one of the smallest in the class and getting fed up with being bitten, sat on, molested and otherwise mistreated in the scrum I gave up rugby as a bad joke and took up cross country. I still don't like rugby (union) as a result of my school experiences. Cross-country was great though. I found that I could run rather well. When you're the smallest in the class you learn to run away from the big bullies. Perhaps that's why I took to it.
I became captain of the under 15 cross country team and the school champion in my age group. It was wonderful to be able to excel in at least one thing. Cross-country lead to athletics, along with cricket my favoured option in the summer and, again, I became quite good as long as I could run at least 880 yards. The mile was my favourite and at 15 I did it in five and a half minutes. Later I wished that, after leaving school, I hadn't waited 15 years before running again.
Music became part of everyday life. It was the time of the early Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, the Mersey sound, R & B, Radio Caroline, Radio Luxembourg on a tranny under the bed clothes at night. There was no "pop" music on the BBC. You were either a Beatles or a Stones fan. It wasn't permitted to be both. You had to be a "mod" or a "rocker". You couldn't be neither. It just wasn't allowed.
Dad hated our music. "Turn that row off" was the all too frequent cry as we cranked up the Dansette record player and gave "Telstar" by the Tornadoes another belt. He and school also hated our attempts to grow long hair, wear fluorescent yellow or green sock with our school uniform and generally conform with the spirit of the time but not with the wishes of the over 30s. Thank god I'm more tolerant with my kids. At least I like to think I am!
I bought the Rolling Stones first album and was asked if I wanted it in mono or stereo. I chose the former because I really didn't think that I'd ever be able to afford a stereo record player! There was "Down the Tracks" by the Animals and "Who Are You?" by The Who - also in mono. I've still got them but they're in dreadful condition having been used rather too many times as candle holders and beer mats at parties before I realised their value.
I actually did quite like football at that time too. We "weeds", as we became called, would kick a tennis ball about in the school playground and sometimes catch the late afternoon train from Maidenhead to London to watch Spurs (in the days of Greaves and Gilzean), Chelsea, West Ham, in fact any team that was playing well at the time. I was a fanatical Maidenhead United (the Magpies) when they were in the Corinthian League. I even went to watch Reserve matches. I don't think that the Magpies had ever had before or after me a fanatical fan!
All this cost, of course. So, it was the traditional paper round. But I rather more enjoyed working as the milkman's helper at weekends and during school holidays. One milkman in particular stands out. Alexander Robertson Milne or Alex was a roguish Scot in more ways than one. He worked all sorts of scams, visited all sorts of ladies for "cups of tea" while I carried on delivering up the road! We started at 5 o'clock so I had to get up at 4 to cycle the three miles to the dairy. It was great in the summer but not so good on an icy, wet winter's morning. Alex came and went, as did other milkmen. I was always there, at least until I was 16. My last milkman boss was Bernard who used to pick me up on his BSA Bantam motorbike and drive like crazy (no crash helmets and me gritting my teeth in terror) from Holyport to Windsor where the round began.
At one stage I had four jobs. There were morning and evening paper rounds, I worked at a car accessory company (Bradex0 on the White Waltham Airfield Estate during the holidays and did gardening and odd jobs for Mr. Bevis, a retired architect, at the week ends. I had the money but I was too knackered to spend it. No, that's not right at all. There was the Youth Clubs - wonderful institutions for village kids with nothing else to do. I went to two, at Holyport and Knowl Hill.
At Holyport there were Linda and Caroline, the earliest loves of my life. Unfortunately I wasn't the love of theirs (story of my early life). All I really remember was that Caroline's parents were well off, so that put paid to my chances! Linda had the most beautiful big brown eyes. Being a real romantic I once told her that she had eyes like a cow. I think that cows have really beautiful eyes. She didn't and that was the end of that romance before it even got started!
In the village other friends were Patsy and Gordon Darby. Their parents, Chris and Queenie were wonderful people and we made their home our clubhouse. There was also Cathy. Burton. She was rather more, no a lot more, middle class than us oiks and didn't mix with us much. But I adored her. She had a voice, or so I believe now, just like Joanna Lumley and I'm in love with her too. But aren't all approaching 50 men? I actually nearly had a date with Cathy.
I had my first taste of representing people at the Holyport Youth Club being elected to the Committee for a year, I think in about 1965.
At Knowl Hill I met Sally and Jenny Goodchild. Eventually, in 1969 and the day before the first moon landing, after many trials and tribulations, Sally became my first wife. We had (still have) two daughters Dawn, born in 1974 and Claire in '76.
College was where I first started to become interested in politics. At School the establishment was very conservative (with a capital "C"). I remember David Widgery, in the 6th when I was in the 5th being expelled for publishing a satirical left wing pamphlet "Rupture". All copies were rounded up and destroyed, David was out on his ear. Later he became a doctor, working in London's East End, a committed, dedicated International Socialist. He was really quite well known and, I guess, one of the very people from school that I had any real regard for. Sadly, he died a very early death from, I believe, a congenital illness that gave him his characteristic limping gait.
The students at Windsor College of Further Education, possibly because or in spite of the nearby presence of the Queen's residence were quite a revolting lot. They eschewed the moderate NUS and joined the Radical Students' Alliance. I became the college spokesman for the Labour Party and made my first political speech at the college during the 1966 general election. Labour won and the next year was 1967, the "Summer of Love". It seemed that we had it made. The "white hot technological revolution" was upon us, as Harold Wilson said.
Now overloaded with 'O' levels I joined a one year course at Reading College of Technology to try to cram three 'A' levels into me. Since I was a mod I just had to have a Lambretta TV175 with chrome mirrors, front and rear chrome carriers and rests, a huge (not connected to anything) fibreglass whiplash aerial and all sorts of other useless bits and pieces. But I was the lad! It's a shame that the thing kept breaking down though. It was the fourth vehicle that I had the others were a BSA Dandy (moped/scooter) a BSA Sunbeam scooter and a Lambretta LD150. None of them were especially good but they usually got me to where I wanted to go.
Reading College was a disaster. They expected us to work. The lecturers for Botany, Zoology and Chemistry, my chosen options, were completely "unrememberable" and if I ever get cancer then I shall blame it on working week by week on dissecting a dogfish pickled in formaldehyde. I must have smelt like an undertaker when I got home. Anyway I failed all three 'A' levels.
The best thing about Reading Tech. was that it was attached to Reading University and they had some serious music. I remember hearing Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band and for the first time ever Pink Floyd. Sid was there as The Floyd played "See Emily Play", "Arnold Layne" and so much of their really early stuff. Many of those there thought they were rubbish. I thought they were incredible. Even more incredibly, the Floyd are still with us and still, by far, my favourite performers.
Work loomed. Having failed all my 'A' levels I had to forget about the academic career that never was and go out and earn a living. It was 1967, the best summer there ever was or ever will be and I wrote around for jobs. ICI's Jealott's Hill Research Station near Bracknell offered me a choice of five (yes, five) jobs and I worked for a couple of years under Alan Davidson as a Chemical Lab Technician. In the Syn. Chem. B (Synthetic Chemistry Section B) Lab I met Foo Wing Chan (the China Man), Chris Denman, Harry Glithro, Steve Glue, Ray Burrell, Molly someoneor other (but I fancied her like crazy!) and a host of others. I would have liked to have met Phillip Schofield during this time, but that was not to be. I think that those earliest working days were some of the best of my life.
ICI sent me to Slough College of Technology (now Thames Valley University, I think) and I did ONC and HNC in Applied Biology, specialising in Microbiology. In the meantime I transferred to the Botany Section at the same ICI site, working under Edwin George on Plant Growth Regulators. Because field trials were involved and I couldn't drive a car ICI sent me for driving lessons. Grateful as ever, I along with Chris Denman (whose 1957 Morris Minor was my first proper car - for £30!) and a few others organised one of the first staff trade union branches in ICI when we formed an ASTMS (Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff) group and tried to start a strike at every opportunity. Roger Lyons, now MSF General Secretary came to speak to us. Whatever I think of the guy now, and I'm still an MSF member, he really did the job for us then back in the early '70s.
In Botany I met two of my most enduring friends, even if they are "Christmas cards and letters once a year" friends. Steve Salter, now with Anne in Dorset and Colin Rowe who's still at Jealott's Hill were inseparable twins and great mates to have. Steve was, like me, a committed Socialist. Colin didn't seem to care too much but went along with us. We had terrific arguments, castigating the class enemies, such as Brian Johnson, who were our colleagues.
By this time I was a politically loose cannon. I read Marx, Mao, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. Che was my hero (Roger Page gave me his Che oil painting and I still have it) and romantically still is my heroic guerrilla. My brother Rob had met Sid Rawle in London and we visited Barry Norcott, his lady Gina and their two beautiful young kids, Mandy and Genevieve at their home in Lower Cippenham Lane, Slough. Barry and Sid were well into alternative politics. Rob and I joined them and we joined and tried to subvert the ILP (Independent Labour Party). Bazza actually met a guy who'd known Kier Hardy but the infiltration act failed and we decided to go it alone.
We formed the Digger Action Movement and published a few copies of a magazine called DAM. We were the "Tooting Popular Front" of the late '60s. We spent hours writing our Socialist utopian manifesto and even put Bazza up as a local election candidate. Our platform was that the council under our control would nationalise the Slough trading Estate, make the companies there co-operatives in control of the workers, make squatting legal and basically establish a socialist nirvana (in Slough!?). We learnt a lot, had a good time, got pissed, stoned and everything else. Who could want more? Socialism would have to wait. We saw the Stones together live in Hyde Park just after Brian Jones had died. Mick Jagger was dressed like a fairy and read a sentimental poem as Brian's epitaph that now, when I watch the video, makes me cringe. At the time it was great and fitting.
There were music fetivals, Jimi Hendrix and zillions more at the Isle of Wight, the "great plastic exploding inevitable" at Earl's Court with The Floyd once again. We saw The Doors at The Roundhouse, The Stones on Eel Pie Island in the Thames at Twickenham, Arthur Brown, complete with blazing crown ("I am the God of Hellfire") and his Crazy World at the National Jazz and Blues Festival, The Who at The Adelphi, Slough, Blind Faith in Hyde Park once The Cream had split, the loudest band of the era - Blue Cheer, The Soft Machine. David Bowie was a mime artist before he really became famous and we saw him and Tyrannosaurus Rex together at the Festival Hall. when he was the support.
Tyrannosaurus Rex were Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrine Took. I think that John Peel first played them on his Radio London "Perfumed Garden" programme. Radio London was, like Radio Caroline, one of the offshore pirate radio stations. But that's another story altogether. Tyrannosaurus Rex played very eclectric folk music and their album names suggest the style. One was "My People Were Fair Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows" (I come from atime when the burning of trees was a crime, I lived by the sea where to be was a thing of pure joy, My people........). Well, Steve Peregrine Took disappeared, probably in a haze of something pharmaceutical, and Marc Bolan eventually drove his Mini up a tree.
The Royal Albert Hall used to rock too. Cream were there, the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Osibisa and a host of others that time and a rapidly decreasing memory have made me forget.
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