George Hutchinson—Mass Observer

Barrel organ and grinder London 1920sRescued from the archive of his son are some typed copies of short articles and reports by George Hutchinson ( 1921 – 1980), one time active member of that valuable organisation Mass Observation. Founded in 1937 by poet Charles Madge, journalist Tom Harrisson and film-maker Humphrey Jennings, Mass Observation was set up to record the opinions and observations of ordinary people on national as well as day-to-day events through the UK. It continued throughout the Second World War and folded in the fifties, though it was revived in the eighties.


A journalist by training, Hutchinson ( as a previous Jot noted ) began as a volunteer observer and later became a ‘ whole-time investigator’ while conscripted into the Navy during 1941. The Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex contains some of his wartime interviews and reports as well as evidence of his long association with Tom Harrisson. His time in the Navy gave him an opportunity to collect examples of naval language which he put to good use in two of the articles we found at Jot HQ—‘The Andrew’s the Navy’, which he submitted to Lilliputmagazine, and ‘Naval Language’, which he wrote in Bradford and which may have been submitted to The Yorkshire Post. Another piece, entitled ‘The Barrel Organ: will it survive a growing indifference ?’ was also written in Bradford and may also have been meant for the same newspaper. It has been said that Hutchinson worked for The Yorkshire Post,but his article entitled ‘ Stevenage: a new design for living’, which must date from c1946, is inscribed ‘ originally written for John Bull: not used ‘, which suggests that he wasn’t a staff member of the Postat this time.


The two articles on Naval Language will be considered in a later Jot. This particular Jot will look at his piece on the Barrel Organ. In it he attributes the decline in popularity of that distinctly old-fashioned street instrument partly to the ‘ increasingly popularity ‘of the radio, but mostly to the depredations of the Aliens Act of 1912, which discouraged mainly Italian immigrants from setting up as organ grinders in the UK. Interestingly, Hutchinson observes that the Act ‘accounts for a recent estimate that, of all the hundred barrel-organs remaining in London, all are pre-war models.’ Continue reading

Harold Murray—-the life of a jobbing journalist in the early twentieth century

Kaleiposcope cover 001Found in a pile of books here at Jot HQ a battered, library copy ( ‘ with all the stamps ‘, as the abebook dealers say ) from Exeter City Library  of Kaleidoscope , an old journalist’s snapshots (Exeter, nd but c 1947) by Harold Murray. Printed in Exeter by W. Chudley & Son, it would seem to be self-published, but unlike most books of this type, it is actually worth reading.


Wikipedia, alas, has no information on Murray. He claimed to be of ‘ Scottish origin’, and was born in an ‘ old parsonage in the Fen country ‘ (possibly near Peterborough).   As for his year of birth, recollections of having seen in 1884 a zoetrope at a bazaar and of being a cub reporter at the time of the Boer War, suggests that he first saw the light of day sometime in the eighteen-seventies. As for his published works, abebooks does feature Kaleidoscopealongside the author’s biographies of two nonconformist preachers, Dinsdale T.Young and Campbell Morgan, along with a collection of Murray’s stories for Boys’ Own Paperand a life of the famous evangelist preacher Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith (1860 – 1947). The ‘ by the same author ‘ panel in Kaleidoscope suggests that Murray ‘s main interest was religious evangelism, though this doesn’t come across strongly in Kaleidoscope, which is essentially a hotchpotch of anecdotes about all the many famous, and not so famous, people and places  he had encountered in his rather hectic career as a jobbing journalist.


It isn’t easy to establish if Murray was attached to particular newspapers for any length of time, if he was a freelance for much of his life, or if he did other things when he wasn’t writing. He seems to have been enchanted by the idea of writing for a living from his earliest days. FromKaleidoscope it seems obvious that he wished to be seen as  someone who was, in the words of Wyndham Lewis,  ‘ not for sale ‘ and it doesn’t appear that he was ever troubled by the insecurity of the freelancer’s life. At one point he remarks that he liked writing about hotels because, until twenty years ago, he had spent so much of his life living in them. This might suggest that for a while he was married, with a house and perhaps a family, and that a divorce or separation obliged him to return to living in hotels and boarding houses. But it might equally suggest that Murray, like Gipsy Smith, preferred the life of a wanderer from place to place. He certainly got around.


All journalists need to have good memories, but Murray’s was more powerful than most. Kaleidoscopeis a wealth of wonderful anecdotes going back to the 1890s. In fact there are so many that one must be selective. The more interesting recollections from the point of view of the history of popular entertainment relate to music hall and early cinema: Continue reading

L. R. Reeve – a Village Hampden, a Zelig

We have posted many portraits of the famous people that L.R. Reeve (1895? – 1980?) had met or seen. Sadly there are no more. He appears to have been a Zelig-like figure, a witness to many important events, an attender of meetings and addresses by the movers and shakers of his day. He was a great connoisseur of oratory and an excellent eyewitness. His writings proclaim his decency and lack of self importance; he was probably a good committee man, certainly a great observer, recorder, and witness. One of Thomas Gray’s Village Hampden

His book Among those Present appeared in 1974 published by Stockwell (a vanity publisher- L.R. Reeve probably had to pay for its publication- he had tried earlier to find an agent.) The preliminary notices in the book read:


Educated at Goldsmiths’ College, London, L.R, Reeve very ably recounts his appreciation of, and interesting and revealing anecdotes about, some of the tutors, lecturers and exceptional people
he came to know both during his student days and in the course of his teaching career, many of whose names are now known in almost every household and whose influence him been felt far beyond the boundaries of the U.K.


More than anything else the Second World War made us realize that there are thousands of men and women in our country whose ability is never appreciated until there is a national crisis. Then the real leaders and organizers emerge, and if any example is needed I can give evidence that County Hall, London, was more than a little surprised to find that many teachers, generally unknown, were able to adapt themselves to unforeseen crises; and this applied to members of every profession and occupation.
We know many people in high places are not natural leaders. They need the promptings, research, and the frequent advice of wise people, many of whom proceed through life unknown to anybody apart from relatives, acquaintances and friends. Few have reminded us of unsung heroes better than that remarkably intelligent poet Thomas Gray.
I should like to read more about men and women who are natural leaders. Their acquaintanceship would be a privilege, since their lives have done much to raise the standards of human dignity and happiness, and have left a rich heritage for mankind. Lady Violet Markham has written such an appreciation in Friendship’s Harvest, in which she refers to Dr Thomas Jones, CH., the Haldanes, Mary McArthur, John Buchan, and Robert Morant. Naomi Jacob has written a book in praise of some of her women friends.
My aim is somewhat different. I have tried to present men and women from all classes of society who possess some subtlety of personality which we call leadership, and who can inspire other people to actions unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted. I have known many who had not known me, but most of them I have seen, or heard, and some have sought information, and even advice from me.
With few exceptions my impressions are not intended to be comprehensive. They are simply • fleeting glances of some exceptionally interesting, influential, and inspiring men and women, whose lives will never be forgotten by those who knew them.
I am not suggesting my gallery of outstanding people is unusual as I am sure a multitude of adults have lived in a similar environment to mine. I must also emphasize that I have seen and known many fine people whom I have not mentioned, since their distinctive personal qualities have not been sufficiently strong, impressive, or compulsive enough to be publicly included in this type of appreciation.

‘Come on, Daddy O.’

It was the first visit of Jazz legend Lionel Hampton to England and one of his gigs was seemingly at Hanley Town Hall in north Staffordshire, according to G. A. Roberts, who captured the occasion in an article that appeared in the December 1956 issue cum grado, the student magazine of what was soon to become Keele University.

Photo by William Gottlieb

According to Roberts, the band played one number without Hampton and when the great man was introduced to the audience there was a:

Deafening  roar from the audience, deafening noise from the band. A lean light grey suited  negro ran onto the stage acknowledging his reception. With a wealth of gesticulation, he stopped the band and then led them into another hectic number—loud, driving, swinging. We were away---from the beginning, Hampton’s tactics were clear ---he was going to produce such a dynamic, hypnotic, driving, compelling, metronomic beat that the audience would be goaded  into a frenzy of excitement and enthusiasm…but twice on the evening Hampton sacrificed sheer beat for artistry.
He used the vibroharp to produce sounds of real beauty which even the band could not drown ; caressing the instrument so that its strange tones filled the echoing hall. But then, as though ashamed of his lapse of taste, he returned to the repetition of fast mechanical tunes. The audience loved it…

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