Top Picture: Billy Bunter
Second Picture: The old IOW car ferry.
Gerald Campion, this name probably does not mean much to you but if I say Billy Bunter in the BBC's early television series about the Fat Owl of the Remove and his antics at Greyfriars and that Gerald Campion played the part for 10 years was itself something of a tour de force, since he was a 29-year-old father of two when he began to play the part and aged nearly 40 when he finished.
The producer of the series, Joy Harrington, had almost despaired of finding a suitable candidate for the part when a friend suggested she took a look at Gerald Campion, who was lunching at the Under 30 Club. She decided at once that his button nose and general appearance were perfect, and immediately went shopping for a pair of pince-nez spectacles.
As she saw it, his only drawback was that he was not fat enough in fact he who stood 5 ft 5in tall and weighed 11st 12 lb, having recently been on a diet. "He simply isn't fat enough in the tummy," Joy Harrington declared. Gerald Campion later claimed that, to regain weight, he had gorged himself on home-made jam tarts; judicious padding did the rest, as well as protecting him during Bunter's regular kickings and beatings.
When the series began, in February 1952, each episode was screened twice - at 5.40 pm for children, and at 8 pm for adults - and each was performed live. At the same time he was running his own theatrical club at night, and it was said that, in order to cope with so demanding a schedule, he had to resort to taking amphetamines. On the day following transmission of the first episode, the Daily Sketch declared it "dull, dated, boring" - only to be submerged by an avalanche of complaints from readers whose children had loved it.
Until the series ended in 1961, he continued to endure the attentions of the gimlet-eyed Mr Quelch ("Bend over, you wretched boy") and Bunter's sadistic school chums; and the nation's sitting rooms echoed to his cries of "Geroogh", "Yarooh", "Crikey", "Ouch", and "Leggo, you beasts". Meanwhile, during the 120 episodes, Quelches came and went (the first was played by Kynaston Reeves), as did Bunter's schoolmates, among them Michael Crawford and Anthony Valentine.
As Gerald Campion outlived them all, he found himself, to his horror, one of television's earliest celebrities, recognised everywhere he went. "Sweet shops were the worst," he complained later. "I'd be in them and blokes would manhandle their kids round to face me, and point at me and shout: 'Look there - that's Billy Bunter!' "
After the series was axed following the death of Bunter's creator Frank Richards, Gerald nonetheless sent in some scripts of his own in an attempt to revive it. One had Bunter captured by cannibals, who put him in a cooking pot and invited him to eat a large clove of garlic; he received no reply.
The son of the scriptwriter Cyril Campion, Gerald Theron Campion was born at Bloomsbury, London, on April 23 1921; one of his godparents was Sir Gerald du Maurier. After attending University College School, Hampstead, Gerald went to RADA aged 15. After the Second World War, in which he served as a wireless operator with the RAF in Kenya, he resumed his career as an actor - by the time he was chosen to play Billy Bunter, he had made 12 television appearances.
At the same time he embarked on a parallel life, in 1950 opening The Buckstone, a theatrical club opposite the stage door of the Haymarket theatre. On one occasion he was irritated to find that a visiting artist had doodled on one of the tablecloths; he threw it out, only to discover later that the culprit had been Annigoni.
In 1956 he started The Key Club - to which each member had his own key - close to the Palladium; and this was followed by Gerry's, in Shaftesbury Avenue, whose members included Michael Caine, Keith Waterhouse, Tony Hancock and Graham Hill.
After the demise of Bunter, he continued to work as an actor, although without the same success. Among his film roles were parts in Carry On, Sergeant; Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; and Half A Sixpence. He also appeared in television series such as Minder, Dr Who, and Sherlock Holmes.
He was a lover of French cuisine, and in later life he developed a new and successful career as a restaurateur, running a series of establishments in London and the Home Counties. Among them were Froops, in north London; Bassetts, in Tunbridge Wells; and The Woodman's Arms Auberge, a hotel/restaurant at Hastingleigh in Kent which he ran with his second wife Suzie. In 1989, when he was involved with The Woodman's Arms, he reflected: "I suppose it is fitting that the man who played Billy Bunter should end up in the Good Food Guide." In 1991 he and his wife retired to France, where he died on 9th July 2002.
Gerald Campion married, first, in 1947, Jean Symond. After their divorce he married, in 1972, Suzie Marks, who had worked as a dancer at Gerry's; she, and three children from his first marriage, survived him.
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Your story on the Tracks & Paths did bring back lots of great memories, Before moving to the Highbury Estate we used to live up in Paulsgrove so spent my childhood exploring Portsdown Hill the chalkpits and beyond.
One place that was a magnet for the kids was to walk over the hill to what used to be HMS Dryad the Royal Naval base and Southwick House home to the D Day maps, we often climbed over the old wall that went around the site to scrump for apples and any other goodies we could get our young hands on, one of the best games we would play was to bait the Royal Naval Police who patrol the area by getting them to chase us over the wall, we where far to young and agile for them to catch us, but if they did a clip around the ear was always forth coming.
As I mentioned I used to live on the Highbury estate which was a long walk or bus ride to Manor Court, we often used to go down into Drayton Park after school and risk are lives climbing over the fence and running over the railway tracks by the triangle, then use the bus fare we saved to buy sweets.
Another great place with hidden paths was along the Hilsea fortifications and Portscreek, if you knew were to look you could find old buried military bits & bobs or just watch the courting couples doing their thing. All in all a great place to grow up with Hills the Sea and the countryside not to far away and it was safe for kids to play and learn, its a shame that kids today cannot enjoy what we experienced.
Its been over 35 years since I lived in Pompey, but when I go back to visit my family I find places I knew have change out of all proportion,
I would love to explore around Hilsea again, so next time I’m back home I just might have a mooch around for good old time sake.
Your Blog of the 50's and 60's was as ever evocative of memories. I so well remember cutting across the farms in Farlington to get to the marshes. There was a level crossing at the railway where we used to place pennies on the rail lines to get the trains to flatten them.
The marshes themselves were a great place to explore.........they still are. Recently when I was over in England I went for a run around the sea wall and on the way back found a little untouched enclave just close to the motorway and north of it accessed by an unused dirt road underpass. There was a pond there with a bench next to it and a sad little sign stating that a young boy had drowned there some years previous.
The marshes were a great place to fill out the I Spy book about the country side. You did a recent blog on I Spy books if I remember aright and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As boys we used to wade out in the mud up to our knees, probably unwise but what the heck, we were boys.
I used to be allowed to ride from Rectory Avenue in Farlington along the Havant Road to Bosham to visit my Aunt and cousins who lived close to the water's edge in a lovely bijou cottage.
The chalk pits were great weren't they. Do you remember the cave that was about 15 foot up one of the vertical faces. I never dared crawl in lest I got stuck and couldn't reverse out.
We used to go sledging in winter if it snowed at "The Devil's Footprint" just a bit east of the chalk pits.
The water works always had a malodorous smell from the filter beds.
We used to play cricket until it was too dark to see the ball up at the Recreation Ground between the end of Solent Road and Woodfield Avenue. I once split my younger brother's eyebrow open when a ball bowled by me at about 10 p.m. collected his specs.
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On this day 2nd September 1960-1965.
02/09/1960the number one single was Apache - The Shadows and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was No Hiding Place (AR) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
02/09/1961the number one single was Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Blackpool Tower Circus (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
02/09/1962the number one single was I Remember You - Frank Ifield and the number one album was West Side Story Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.The big news story of the day was 20000 killed in Iran earthquake.
02/09/1963the number one single was Bad to Me - Billy J Kramer and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
02/09/1964the number one single was Have I the Right? - Honeycombs and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was No Hiding Place (AR) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
02/09/1965the number one single was I Got You Babe - Sonny and Cher and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.