Another Chipperfield Memory
I’m disappointed frankly, nobody alive from the forties era? Hmmm! Well, I think I shall write another Chipperfield memory now because to be honest, it’s Sunday, I’ve got nothing better to do, and besides, I quite enjoy thinking about it.
So, I was living on Wayside, which I see still exists. (It’s amazing what you can find using Mapquest, just plug in the name Chipperfield, and zero in on your street and there it is. Almost any civilized country, it works.) A cul-de-sac, I went back there in 1990 and knocked on our door and the nice people who lived there let me in to look around. It seemed tiny, like a doll’s house. Surrounded by tall piney trees, only I knew that they were the result of our annual Christmas tree plantings years ago, which felt very reassuring; continuity, that’s what I like. And at the bottom of our garden, still there, the brick playhouse my father built with the aid of a neighbour Mr. McLachlan, and where I used to build my model airplanes. And the dank air-raid shelter too, behind the house, now a place to store plants.
As for the inhabitants of next door, I already mentioned the beautiful Mrs. Webster, there were some very interesting people. The house was a guest house, the people “PG’s”, and I remember a rather large and jolly gentleman by the name of Fiske. Years later, I read that he’d become Lord Fiske (elevated, I think they call it), and introduced the decimal currency to England in 1971. (The Google search engine is marvellous too, I found the report, and even his picture, that’s him!)
Another man who lived there with his wife Zillah came to have a great influence on the rest of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but he worked at the BBC, and his name was Alick Hayes. He was putting together a radio series for Will Hay, and one day on the bus home from school, he nabbed me and asked if I was good at reading. I told him that yes, I was always a pretty good reader, why? So he had me come in that evening and read to him bits from the Evening Standard. He seemed satisfied, and then disclosed to me that he would like me to play a part in the first programme of his new series, The Will Hay Programme. He explained that a young actor he’d already cast had got sick, and as he had no time to look for another trained professional, would I perhaps consider filling in, just one time, like, tomorrow. Of course I was thrilled, my parents didn’t object, and it paid me four guineas.
So off I went next day to rehearse, did the show at the underground Paris Cinema off Regent Street (it’s still there), and got Glen Miller’s autograph to boot as he came in with his uniformed band to take over the studio when we finished. Our orchestra leader was Stanley Black, and he taught me to play by ear “In the Mood”, which I still play to this day. The show was live in those days, and mistakes were certainly tolerated; not so today, with everything taped. I played the part of D’arcy Minor, who rattled off long multi-syllabic sentences, and I really didn’t always know what I was saying. At one point in the script, I had to say to Mr. Hay, who played the headmaster, “I believe you’ve been misled, sir”. But I said “I believe you’ve been mizzled, sir.” The audience howled, the cast howled, and I didn’t have the slightest idea why.
It happened they kept me on the show, we performed (“see your radio favourites in the flesh!”) at the Victoria Palace, and then got to repeat the act privately for the Royal Family just 4 days before VE day, and the rest became my history.
Chipperfield housed some quite famous stars back then. Among a few, I was aware that in nearby Sarratt, James Mason made his home, and Peter Sellers was around too, Flora Robson not far away. and on Farmer Jones’s land hung out Roger Livesey and his wife Ursula Jeans.
I often wonder what became of the real native people I got to know in Chipperfield, such as young cheerful Daphne, who came to clean up what mother couldn’t handle. She had a habit of breaking the china when washing up (“Ooohhh, came apart it me ‘and, it did”.) And my piano teacher up near the butcher shop on the corner, who I think forever ruined my ambition to become a serious player. She’d sit next to me, an ash twig poised to rap my fingers when not pointing to each individual note on the music sheet. I got to practice my left hand spin delivery at the cricket nets maintained by the local hardware/lumber store, a kind of little Home Depot back then, but I can’t remember its name.
Is Chipperfield as lovely now as it was then? Are there still a few farms, the old-fashioned kind, with fields of wheat and cows and sheep and pigs and chickens wandering freely, and cherry trees for the picking and blackberry bushes and wild flowers by the road?
Please say yes
My father, Archibald Lee, was born & brought up in Chipperfield but moved to Isleworth, West London in about 1937. During part of 1944 we stayed with my father’s sister & her family, Albert & Alice Orchard in Alexandra Road, Chipperfield. I was five years old but have distinct but disjointed memories of that time. I don’t remember you John, but I do remember the “Doodlebug” falling at Whippendell. I also remember other “Doodlebugs” flying over Chipperfield, one being chased by a Lockheed Lightning fighter. I remember attending the village school where we used slates to write on & various other memories that were a revelation for a small city boy such as stacking the stooks of corn in the fields & the outside loo!
My cousin, Roy Lee, who was also born & brought up in Chipperfield told me about this site. He remembers you John & I am sure he has firmer memories of Chipperfield than I have. He would like to make contact but has had difficulties replying, I will tell him of my success & I am sure he will get in touch.
Don’t know what Chipperfield was like in the forties but it is still a great place to live.
Yes, there are still farms with wheat and cows and there are also a few sheep locally. But no pigs and, just recently no chickens as new regulations have made the sale of eggs uneconomic at the one farm concerned. And they never ran around loose.
The cherry trees still exist but are large and the birds seem to get the cherries before the humans! Mind you I don’t think the humans want them! But there is a large crab apple tree at the edge of the woods and it is known for people to pick the apples and make crab apple jelly.
Blackberry bushes are rampant on the common and are being picked about now although the crop isn’t all that good in quality terms but the quantities are there.
Unfortunately wild flowers by the roadside are very rare.
So you see some things that you remember are still here.August 24, 2004