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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Made in Luton by Paul Rance (Extract)

Made in Luton by Paul Rance is available at and Amazon sites worldwide in paperback, hardback and Kindle format

Made in Luton Page on; Extracts from Paul Rance's book, Made in Luton

Chapter One - In the Beginning (Extract)

It's always irritated me when people criticise Luton - I suspect most of the critics never travelled past the train station. So, their loss. As they never got the chance to see Galley and Warden Hills, Dallow Downs and Winsdon Hill, Bradgers Hill, Wardown Park and Stockwood Park. Even when I was in the womb the critics were, no doubt, turning on something synonymous with the town - Luton Town FC.

In May of 1959 the Hatters, when favourites, lost 2-1 to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup final. It was a final notable for quite a few things. Elton John's cousin, Roy Dwight, scored one of Forest's goals and broke his leg. While Forest fans sang the theme tune of the popular Robin Hood television series; and consequently started a trend for the diverse variety of songs and chants that exploded onto British football terraces in the 1960s and 1970s.

Oblivious of events at Wembley I was still 6 months away from making my grand entrance into the world in Luton & Dunstable Hospital on November 16th. I was a Caesarean. As in keeping with my difficult nature, I wasn't going to make things easy for my dear Mother.

My first family home was Laburnum Grove, Warden Hill and the first few years of my life were certainly happy. Lovely parents Thelma and Peter, lovely pets. Our male tabby cat Whisky was already in the family, having pre-dated me by being brought to the Grove in the second half of 1958 as a kitten. My male white rabbit Candy would be joining us in the second half of 1964.

Dad was a hands-on father, changing nappies, for instance, along with my Mother. I was baptised at Luton Parish Church on February 28th, 1960. A few years later I would attend Warden Hill Infant School in Grasmere Road, and would walk the few hundred yards to the school and back again after the lessons had finished for the day. Small children seemed to have more freedom then. Cars were also not quite so prevalent, and my parents never had one. The first part of the M1 was opened in 1959 and had been inaugurated at Slip End the previous year.

We lived in a nice semi-detached bungalow, so having a nice home seemed more important than having a nice car. Both of my parents came from working class backgrounds, so they weren't going to spend too much unnecessarily. Bus services were also good in those days, though the town centre was barely three miles away, so it wasn't far to walk to.

Mum started work at 13 - just before her 14th birthday. She had been a seamstress for a Mr. Sugar in the centre of town, and the females on Mum's maternal side had worked in the hat trade going way back. Mr. Sugar was enlightened for the times. He was an employer who, from the 1940s, employed disabled people and had an ethnically diverse group of workers. But sexual assaults, including one on my Mother, were common and would be ignored. A typical comment would be: "He's like that with all the new girls."

Dad saw a lot of the world while he was in the Navy - Australia, South Africa, Japan, Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore (a place so hot apparently that you'd sweat sitting down, though the one time Dad ever suffered from sunstroke was in the UK), New Zealand, and cities such as Naples, Cape Town and Barcelona. He did say that the abuse hurled at the British sailors could be heard some way off before they entered Sydney - he was possibly joking... Dad saw Australia play the West Indies in a Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and remembered a young woman in a bikini on, I presume, Bondi Beach getting into trouble with the police on grounds of indecency - the bikini was still a new thing (invented in the summer of 1946 by French designer Louis RĂ©ard) and some countries took a while not to freak out about it.

Dad would say that Cape Town was a beautiful place, Naples was interesting and that he and his pals cheered on the bull at a bullfight in Barcelona. I did inherit some photos of that grisly event but threw ‘em out in disgust.

But it was Japan that made the biggest impression on Dad and not just because of the gentleness of the pretty geisha girls. He saw the cherry blossom out in the spring and visited Hiroshima in 1951. This was just six years after it had been annihilated by the Americans in the first-ever nuclear attack on a city. The solitary building standing, named the A-Bomb Dome, and the memorial for the well over 100,000 killed - not including all the non-human life that was also incinerated - must have made a big impression on my Father who was in his early 20s at the time. Then the Americans did the same to Nagasaki shortly afterwards. Those of us born after the War, right up until when Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the then USSR, had lived in the shadow of possible nuclear war, but, in truth, it didn't dominate our lives. Lots of other bad things could happen, of course.

After leaving the Navy in the mid-1950s and serving in the Korean War, Dad, who had become a qualified electrician in the Navy, worked at Vauxhall for many years and at the engineering firm, George Kent, in Biscot Road where my maternal Grandad had also worked. In the late 1950s Dad had worked with some of the first computers to appear in the UK at Vauxhall. My Father could have gone to university and delayed his National Service, but, after his Dad Alfred had died when he was 14, Dad felt compelled to earn some money to send back home.

As a child Dad had lived in Midland Road in High Town and near the train station. Not a great location to live during the War, as the train station was targeted by German bombers. Dad once made a grim discovery nearby (he also witnessed fatal accidents more than once in his life) which I'll spare you from, but there was some dark humour when he was once about to eat a sausage when the power of a nearby (bomb) explosion blasted the sausage off his plate. Further south, of course, things were very bad. Dad would recall, when living at Midland Road (which was built on a hill), that he'd look into the distance and see a red glow - when the Blitz in London was at its worst.

I'm doubtful if there were wild celebrations at the end of the War by the Rance family. There would have been relief that my Uncle George got back safely from the campaign in Africa, but Dad had lost his Father. He died in January 1945 following a heart attack.

Dad seemed to enjoy his time at Hitchin Road School and would say that he was best pals with future Luton Town footballer Terry Kelly. Terry was Syd Owen's understudy.

My Dad would say a lot of things to me when I was young that I didn't believe at the time, like the guy called Frankie Soo who played for Luton. Frankie indeed did play for Luton and represent England in wartime internationals. Frankie is still the only oriental to play for England I believe. My Dad also said he knew Sean Connery in the Navy, and that Sean just wanted to get home. Again, I didn't really believe my Father, but I later learnt that Sean had been in the Navy...

Though, I did believe my Dad when he said that he saw Gracie Fields in Capri, met Princess Margaret and the future queen, but then merely Princess Elizabeth. Dad liked to think that Princess Margaret took a shine to him. The attractive actress Barbara Murray did (she of the Fairy Liquid ads), Dad reckoned, when he worked as a teenager behind the scenes at a theatre in Luton.

Then there was Dad's story of playing hockey against the Wrens. The ladies didn't go easy on the poor lads, and a few injuries ensued apparently from busy hockey sticks.

Dad was a tough guy, but then one day he crumbled and the tears flowed. I loved him for that, because that would have been very difficult for him, as it is for anyone who gets called the rock of the family. They're not meant to crumble, are they? Dad was never quite the same again, and he would not be so reticent about showing this side of himself again.

Not too far from Midland Road, and after the War, Diana Dors was a barmaid at the Rabbit (which later became the English Rose), Old Bedford Road, Luton, as Diana's father-in-law, Stanley Gittins, was the landlord of the pub. His son was Dennis Hamilton, who was Diana's first husband. My parents would mention the wild parties actress Diana would host - not that they were present, I'm sure.

Around this time, the Luton Sack Murder of the 1940s shocked Lutonians, and my parents remembered seeing grim images of the murder victim, Caroline Manton.

Made in Luton by Paul Rance; Kindle cover
Made in Luton Kindle cover