Man Alive - 1967 (New 05/02/23 - The Church Tower)
Man Alive was a weekly BBC programme which focussed on people and the situations which shape their lives. The reporters included Jim Douglas Henry, Angela Huth, Jeremy James, John Percival, Trevor Philpott and Desmond Wilcox. Most episodes were serious and often tackled controversial subjects. However, on Wednesday 20th September 1967, at 8.35 in the evening, BBC Two England gave its viewers a taste of life in rural Somerset, in the programme "All on a Summer's Day". Here is the BBC synopsis:
"They are as much a part of the English summer as rain, traffic jams, and school holidays-fetes. And in the village of Stoke St. Gregory, Somerset, the fete that they have planned, discussed, and argued about for months finally takes place. The organisers organise: their opponents criticise. Feelings flare into the open over the beauty queen competition, and the sandwiches run out half-way through the afternoon. Ponies and gymkhana events; sideshows and opening speeches. Behind the scenes the quarrels and panics. Who gets the credit if it's a success? Who gets the blame if it's a failure?"
One of the people interviewed was the vicar, Reverend De Brett. He is pictured above in his RAF days and being interviewed by Jim Douglas Henry. Rodney John De Brett was vicar of Stoke St Gregory until the 1980s. He gave a woeful story of how the village had not been able to ring the church bells for some time as the tower was unsafe.
Jim Douglas Henry: Is your church, in Stoke St Gregory, like so many in Britain, in need of repair, in need of money?
Reverend De Brett: Yes, it is. It is. It’s a very old church - well, parts of it are very old. The tower and parts of the south transept are 12th century, and there is no part of it which is of more recent date than 15th century. We’re not allowed to ring our bells at the moment, and I discovered on arrival here that they haven’t been rung for some years - because the tower is weak. So we are now involved in a great operation to get the tower repaired, and get the bells ringing again. And that is going to cost us something in the order of £4,000.
Jim Douglas Henry then talked to the sexton, Bert Chedzoy, who claimed it was "not necessary".
JDH: Though the clock still strikes the hour, the village agrees that a church without bells is only half a church. But is the tower as weak as people say. Bert Chedzoy, the village grave digger, knows the [fete] money this year is not for the church tower, but he still has his own view of the situation.
BC: It’s not so bad as they make out.
JDH: Why do they think it’s so bad?
BC: Because the church was damp, through bad soakaways - in my opinion.
JDH: How much money do you think they’ll need to raise to put this church in order again?
BC: I think they are thinking of about £2,000.
JDH: But you reckon that’s expensive?
BC: Not necessary.
JDH: Why isn’t it necessary?
BC: The tower is as sound now as he was,
ever since I can remember.
JDH: Well, it’s a 12th century tower, isn’t it?
BC: Part of it.
JDH: Isn’t it time it was repaired? It should be falling down by now.
BC: The tower itself, the tower is not 12th century.
JDH: How much do you think ought to be spent on it to put it right?
BC: Well I offered to do it for £50. Do the drainage, and I think that would complete the job. My opinion. But the architect said that the tower needs repair. There’s a crack in the tower which was there when I went in the tower more than 60 years ago. And he’s still there. And he’s no worse now than he was then.
The vicar had allowed the young people of the village to meet in the room above the vicarage coach house, accessed by a ladder, through what is now the kitchen. There was a lively discussion recorded, which would be an interesting archive if anyone was willing to do the transcription (get in touch with Dave Evans firstname.lastname@example.org). Amongst the company wereSally Foster, Steve De Brett, Brenda Loveridge, Ken Gamblin, Linda Miller and Janet Williams.
The Fete & Gymkhana
Above is Mrs Rylands of Curload? Who had organised the fete and the Willow Queen competition for many years. Here she is trying on the winner's crown while being interviewed by the Man Alive reporter. Also a rather fuzzy frame of some of the contestants. We have some clearer photos for a later, more detailed, look at the competition, but if you have any that we haven't seen . . .
Below are three of Mrs Ryland's helpers - Sue Keirle, Trevor Boon and Geff David - along with some very serious looking judges, including the visiting Pearly King.
The Television Showing
There was great excitement in the village as the day of the broadcast drew near. The only problem was that BBC 2 could only be received on TV sets that had 625 lines on the old cathode ray tube. Trevor Boon, who was a young lad at the time takes up the story:
"We had the BBC cameras come to our village in 1967 to film the village life occurring during our annual gymkhana and fete, which featured the Willow Queen competition and the dance with a live group in the Marquee during the evening. It was called Man Alive. It was going to be shown on the new BBC 2 channel.
Now this was fine, except that very few people in the village had these ‘new fangled’ televisions that received the 625 line transmission. Most were watching everything on their 405 line TVs.
My dad (Don) had gone into the TV business in 1960 and set up Don’s Teleservice. He was on the parish council during the 1960s and 1970s so was asked if he could do anything to help the village to see this programme, when it was transmitted.
He decided that he would get two of these very expensive TVs and fix them up for anyone to go to see the programme, in the old Williams Memorial Hall. He had to install a new type of aerial, which was a flat one, not the big H or X contraptions that were used to receive the 405 signal. This new 625 signal came from the Welsh, Wenvoe transmitter (also, our local ITV station was Harlech TV, later shortened to HTV). I helped him, as a very enthusiastic 11 year old boy, to run the cables around the hall. We had on television at each end.
That evening, the hall was packed, and everyone enjoyed the screening. Not many of the officials featured in the film, are still with us. Gone are Clifford House, Cecil ( CB ) Hector, Fred Mead, Metford ( Met ) Morris and Mrs Morris who was in charge of the catering facilities inside the Marquee."
There is some wonderful material in this film, both visual and verbal. Some of what the young people were saying is probably mirrored in the views of today's youngsters. If we could get permission from the BBC it would be certainly worth a public screening
Young People Interviews (New 18/12/2022)
Below is a transcript of the interviews recorded in the loft of the Coach House, conducted by Reporter/Interviewer Jim Douglas Henry of the Man Alive team.
[The previous interview with the Sexton, Bert Chedzoy, had uncovered a cynicism from the local gravedigger about the work that was deemed to be necessary on the church tower. The architects had estimated £2,000, but Bert reckoned he could put things right for fifty pounds.]
Jim Douglas Henry makes the introduction: There are other cynics in the village as the day of the féte approaches. Two months ago, the youngsters of Stoke St Gregory formed themselves into a club and found in a loft, led by the vicar’s son, where the ‘Chelsea Set’ have found the cash to buy a stack of discs and a record player, and the courage to air their opinions of village life. Their chief complaint is that the last of the infrequent buses nearby Taunton leaves for Stoke St Gregory at 10.30 pm. Few of them have ever seen the end of a film in their lives.
Some of the girls are very pretty. Why didn’t they enter for the Willow Queen competition? Sally Foster answers for the group:
SF: “I don’t know. Just didn’t want to. You stand on two pieces of board. You walk round once and step back in again ready for two other people to come out. It’s not right.”
Brenda Loveridge adds: “My father said it was just like cattle in the market. The only difference was that you’re not allowed to poke the girls.”
SF: “It’s quite funny the remarks they shout out sometimes. It’s really embarrassing for the people who walk around.”
JDH: “Most of the old generation in this village seem to think that they do everything that is needed for you by having a féte and gymkhana once a year. Do you think that’s true?”
SF: “Yes, I think they feel rather obligated about the gymkhana, and, well, nothing ever changes. It’s all the same, the raffles and everything. You can guarantee what raffles we have every year. Even the tent goes up in the same place. They can’t help it, I don’t suppose. There could be a lot of alterations if you had the money and the people to do it.”
JDH: “Do you think that the old people in a sense resent the youngsters and resent the idea that they might have some fun, or is it that they just ignore them?”
Ken Gamblin answers: “I would say they ignore them. If a youngster makes a noise in the village, out comes Mother - or Father. Bang! And that’s your lot. You don’t go out again.”
Steven De Brett, the Vicar’s son, takes up the explanation: “There’s a lot of misunderstanding on both sides because the youngsters of today are educated in a completely different way. They’re brought up in a different way, and naturally their interests are different. They do things differently. And the older generation complain that we do things differently and don’t do them as we used to do it. And that’s the big drawback, you see.”
Steven De Brett
Brenda Loveridge added: “If you’re walking up the road with your boyfriend, holding hands, they’re looking out the window with a disapproving look. I went up to a farm the other day to get some milk. I’ve been going round with Steve for about six months now and this woman said to me ‘Oh, I suppose there’ll be an engagement soon.’ I felt awful, because, I mean, it’s nothing like that. They just jump to conclusions because they did that sort of thing when they were young. They went out with a boy for six months, and they were passionately in love with them and wanted to get married at the first chance.”
JDH: And what about the féte itself. Is there anything that interests you apart from the dance?