Thursday, March 08, 2018


There are so many free journals popping through our letterboxes these days. Most of them can be described as local business guides or advertising journals. Some have useful  community information but  on the whole, most are just chocker block full of useless ads which seem to be repeated in similar journals. There is usually no local history, interesting images or content that is of consequence to the local community - not what we are looking for. Some editors use inappropriate national type covers which are mostly disappointing, giving no indication of the places within. Most are quickly binned - what a waste of paper, time and effort. But now and again something different comes along and here it is = THE VILLAGE EMPORIUM, an A5 fully coloured, 50-page magazine which  is circulated around 32 villages in Essex. Janet, Julie and Sarah, the editors, provide an excellent read, outlining the best upcoming events happening in this lovely part of our county. Lots of readers enjoy the competitions, advice columns, crossword puzzles, garden visits, events (including my pet topic - the 2018 Essex Book Festival with 100+ events taking place across the county in libraries, theatres, lecture halls and hotels), so this March-April issue will not be disposed of. Of course, we don't escape the ads, but now and again, we will find some new, interesting advertisers, which is what it is all about. Find out a little more via


As this is rather a special day for women, and particularly those interested in writing, some of my new colleagues in the Society of Women Writers and Journalists suggested, as I am their archivist, that I reprise some of those wonderful pioneers from our history book.

Our Society is truly international.  Over its 124 years, it has attracted some of the most famous writers in literary history.  I proudly wrote about them in one of my books  THE WOMAN WRITER which has been helpful to many academics studying women writers' lives over the past century, but I also included numerous journalists, authors, playwrights, poets, film-makers and entertainers from every genre.  

Over the decades, we have attracted many of the most celebrated authors, among them have been  Lady Sarah Wilson (Sir Winston Churchill's aunt), Lady Violet Astor, Elise Sprott pioneer at the |BBC, Ursula Bloom, Theodora Roscoe, Margery Allingham, Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, Rebecca West, Alice Meynall, Phyllis Bentley, Joyce Grenfell, Vera Brittain, Shirley Williams (Lady Williams), Elizabeth Longford (Lady Longford), Nina Bawden, and the lovely Jean Bowden, to name just a few. 

In recent years we have welcomed P D James, Elizabeth Bowen, Jacqueline Wilson, Sandra Howard, Victoria Wood, Martina Cole, Jennifer Worth, Ann Widdecombe and our new president, Baroness Floella Benjamin, along with many more wonderful  personalities who mingled with us at special weekend events and lunches at the National Liberal Club as members, patrons and guests. Do keep any eye on our Society website which keeps us all up to date on what is happening. Social media also plays its important part in highlighting upcoming activities.


Since 1975, members of the SWWJ have been celebrating International Women's Day - which is why many of our current members are thinking about his special time. While the first observance of a Women's Day occurred on 28 February 1909 in New York, 8 March was suggested as a more appropriate day by the 1910 International Women's Conference. After females gained suffrage in Russia in 1917, 8 March became a national holiday there - the day was then celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations. 

So today, hundreds of social media posts generally linked to this special day, are flooding the networks, but we, in London, have a special relationship with so many of our former famous members - household names and pioneers of writing, drama, film, poetry and general entertainment. In my next posting today, you will find out a little more about our famous pioneering spirits and some of the exciting plans for this year and our 125th celebrations in 2019. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Very sad today to hear of the passing of Trevor Baylis OBE, one of the most interesting men I have interviewed. I met Trevor many years ago at the Lords Cricket Ground when I was covering a completely different topic, but became fascinated when meeting this inventor, creator of the clockwork radio.  He sent me a copy of his book CLOCK THIS which outlines his life working all over the world and creating numerous ingenious patents.  He built his own house on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham and I had an open invitation to visit.

He was a world famous personality, a sought after speaker and a great inspiration to young people helping them to set up their own businesses. But few know about his connection with our home town, Billericay and Trevor's connection with the famous Rosaire Circus family. He gave me a copy of autobiography and from it I see that he was born in Kilburn, London and spent his boyhood in Southall.

Trevor was a champion  swimmer and, by the age of 15, he was swimming competitively for Britain. At 16 he joined the Soil Mechanics Laboratory in Southall and began studying mechanical and structural engineering at the local technical college. During his National Service years serving as a physical training instructor, he swam competitively for the army, later becoming a stuntman on TV shows, performing escape feats under water.

But before fame and fortune, Trevor arrived in Billericay with his friend Johnny Pugh and his father, Digger, a circus entrepreneur. "In those days I wanted to be a circus tumbler and Digger taught me the tricks of the trade. We met up with Wally Texan, a knife thrower with the world-famous Circus Rosaire whose winter quarters were in the Billericay countryside. When we arrived, the Rosaires met us. Digger had come to audition an act he wanted for the Sunderland Empire variety bill. It was an Ali Baba routine in which a girl writhed with a snake while dancing to languorous music. As she coiled herself around the serpent, a ‘Caliph’ swiped the air close to her permanent wave with a scimitar. The girl got into a basket with the python and the Caliph pierced the weave with about twenty swords. After a few passes around the basket, he withdrew the swords making a great play of how sharp they were. Then - hey presto - the girl and her pet emerged unharmed and everyone took a bow. Digger liked the act. ‘Forty quid for the week, Ralph,’ he said to the Caliph. And make sure the snake doesn’t misbehave - they’ve just redecorated the dressing rooms."

"In the woods nearby, we found the cages for the menagerie where a collection of animals housed for the winter. Here we met the beautiful Joan Rosaire who had a sharp-shooting act. I fell in love with Joan and included her in my book. I have some wonderful memories of Billericay and often wonder how things would have worked out if I had gone on to become a circus performer."

Joan Rosaire still lives in the Billericay area and is currently writing her own memoir of a life in the circus.   Watch this space! 

Monday, February 26, 2018


Phoenix 98fm presenter Michelle Ward welcomed Seona Ford and me into the studio last week to celebrate the start of the Essex Book Festival which opened a few days ago at Essex University with Billy Bragg fighting the snowdrifts to welcome the doughty readers of the county.  Billy charted the history, impact and legacy of Britain's original pop movement, exploring Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Tuesday, 20 February and meeting up with Seona Ford, Chair of the Essex Book Festival and the supersonic team at Phoenix 98fm headed by Michelle Ward. Listen in at midway.
Henry Blofeld, one of our stars of the Essex Book Festival

Monday, February 19, 2018


As many amateur winemakers know, the craft of fermenting goes on throughout the year. Nothing could be more delightful than gathering your own grapes in October -  grown organically - frozen for a few months, and then enjoyed after the business of creating a wine of your choice. For the March edition of the fabulous magazine HOME FARMER (W H Smith and most good newsagents), I wrote about a superb English winemaker, Bert Mower, who lives in my home town and whose wines have won dozens of international awards. Bert kindly gave me some of his vine cuttings (Rondo and Seyval Blanc) and these have been growing in our back garden for a couple of years now.

Friday, February 16, 2018


A cold, stormy afternoon yesterday, but one of indulgence and déjà vu for me when I, at last, used my birthday gift voucher at Ruth Scally's Spa Cottage in Billericay. Ruth's beauty salon created in 2004, is, I reckon, the very best in this area. It was great to meet my masseuse specialist, Sarah, again, who gave a fabulous treatment.

The déjà vu moment came when I realised Sarah’s treatment room was the very one that I had written about in my weekly column when Ruth invited the lovely Jeanne Argent (nee Gentry) to visit. Jeanne had lived at the cottage as a child and had actually been born in that very room in the 1920s. Although it’s twelve years since we and local media had gathered with champagne and lovely food, together with Derek, Jeanne’s late husband, and Billericay Town Crier, Jim Shrubb, Jeanne was delighted when I phoned her yesterday, bringing her up to date. 

So, lots of love from Jeanne to Ruth, Roger  and Coral, her new business partner and the team for keeping that beautiful 200-year-old  Spa Cottage in superb condition as well as the very best in beauty treatment and care.  As I mentioned at the time, this is a venture that will go from strength to strength. 

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Emmeline Pankhurst
What a day this has been on radio, TV, internet and film celebrating the centenary of the introduction of the Representation of the People Act 1918. ago in the UK, certain women became eligible to vote. and stand for Parliament. Amidst the celebrations, let's not forget those women who were excluded from voting for another ten years, and the women still denied a political voice, even today.  While it is important to recognise that the Act at this time gave only certain privileged women the right to vote - those who were 30-years of age and property-owning - it was a small step in the right direction

The topic of suffragists and suffragettes - and the distinction between the two, makes interesting reading, but our Society of Women Writers and Journalists, founded in 1894 (by a wonderful man) has an interesting archive full of information about some of the brave women who took part in the struggle for emancipation.

As someone who, from 1979-2005  worked at the Palace of Westminster and passed daily through St Stephen's Hall where the doughty women had chained themselves to the statues, I've long had strong feelings linked to that Hall. A few memorable images will shortly be posted on this blog. 

Some of my Russian students wanted to learn when other countries eventually granted women's suffrage. This was in the closing years of the Great War.   Russia, Germany, Canada and Poland also recognised women's right to vote. Propertied British women as described, who were over 30-years-of-age had the vote in 1918, Dutch women in 1919, and American women won the vote on 26 August 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.