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!