Be there or be square!

Events coming up:

Talking about my GenerationLayer de la Haye 18 November 2021 19.45 pm

Talking about Milk Bars and Coffee shopsBBC Essex Radio 20 November 2021 10.00 am  – 103.5 & 95.3FM; 729, 765 & 1530MW and on-line

The books: A Sense of Occasion, The Saturday Girls, The Girls from Greenway

Christmas at Schmidt’s

It’s Christmas. It’s been a hard year. What could be better than a short story to read on a cold frosty morning, to bring a smile to your lips?

It’s 1962. Marie is going to London for some last minute Christmas shopping. At the railway station she bumps into her old flame, Johnny. They are going the same way. On the train ride Marie starts remembering the good times with Johnny and she agrees to meet him for lunch at Schmidt’s, the German restaurant in Charlotte Street. But things have changed since she last saw him. Now Marie has a fiancé. But she also has a Christmas wish. Will it come true?

Follow Marie as she weaves her way along Oxford Street, through C&A, Littlewoods, and Marshall and Snelgrove, battling her emotions.

Christmas at Schmidt's by [Elizabeth  Woodcraft]

If you have a Kindle, and 99p, buy it here

You dance like Zizi Jeanmaire

At 96, Zizi Jeanmaire retires on tiptoe - France 24 - Teller Report

In 1969 I was at Birmingham University living in a Hall of Residence. Most of us used the place just to eat and sleep, but we had a very energetic Entertainment Committee and many rising stars came to play. We went to all the concerts. There was Michael Chapman who I liked a lot because he played a mean guitar;  Al Stewart, who I wasn’t keen on because he sounded so clean. And there was Peter Sarstedt. He was about to become a big star but I didn’t like his style – that clipped, posh voice, and then there was his moustache, not to mention his hair.

Having said that, I knew all the words to his hit song, Where Do You Go To My Lovely, and could, if asked, sing them.

‘You talk like Marlene Dietrich, you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire.’

However, I couldn’t believe there really was a person called Zizi Jeanmaire, it sounded such an impossible name. I thought maybe I was mis-hearing, like people who think Abba sing ‘Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tangerine’, or the Eurythmics, ‘Sweet dreams are made of cheese.’ Perhaps he’d said something about the Folies Bergere.

Folies Bergere poster

So imagine my surprise when I read in the paper today that there was indeed someone called Zizi Jeanmaire, a Parisian who was a wonderful classical dancer as well as an actor and singer. And sadly, she has died. It was her obituary that I was reading.

In retrospect it was my mistake not to investigate her further at that time, when there was even a chance to see her perform. Here she is, dancing in the film Hans Christian Andersen.




Rock and Roll Island

The wonderful ‘Story of Ready Steady Go!’ on BBC4, was followed a week later by Rock and Roll Island: Where Legends Were Born. This was Eel Pie Island, ‘off the coast of Twickenham’, in West London.

The programme began with trad jazz and a well known trumpeter and band leader of the late 50s, early 60s, Ken Colyer.

I have to say in the crowd I hung out with, it wasn’t cool to like trad jazz, but who knew what Ken Colyer did? He joined the merchant navy so he could get to the home of trad jazz – New Orleans – arrived, met a lot of the black blues musicians, played with them and invited them to the UK.

Here they became very popular –


and then, ironically, their music went back to the States and became popular there.

In the second wave playing on Eel Pie Island were the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds,

the Who, the Kinks (Mick Avory said, ‘It was better to be a drummer than delivering pink paraffin’),

Rod Stuart and Long John Baldry,

even Elton John was there, as Reg Dwight, a member of Bluesology.


Knitting them together was Alexis Korner, who played piano and guitar, and who is often seen as the godfather of the blues in this country.

He had started playing in Chris Barber’s jazz band in 1949, and then played with Ken Colyer. The list of those who went on to play with him is long and luminous and includes Long John Baldry, Ginger Baker, and Graham Bond. He was also generous with support and advice. It is said he suggested to the Stones that they should play more blues and this was the reason for their version of the classic Little Red Rooster.

Apart from Cleo Sylvestre, who sang with the Stones, not a lot of women performers were included in the programme. Perhaps the lack of women was a sign of the times, perhaps it was because not a lot of women were playing blues or rock, or those that were didn’t head over to Eel Pie Island. Or maybe they did, but no-one took their photo. Whatever the reason, for me the story of Eel Pie Island starts to take off with a picture of the little-known (to me, anyway) girl group from South Africa who played there. The Velvettes came over to England in 1961 as members of the all black cast of the hugely successful jazz musical King Kong – in itself a fascinating story about the life of the heavyweight boxer Ezekiel Dlamini, which played all over South Africa with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.


The Velvettes then became backing singers in the Cyril Davies All Stars.  Cyril Davies was an English vocalist and harmonica player who looked like a bank manager, and who played with Alexis Korner, before setting up the All Stars.

Another view of the way that Eel Pie Island worked was shown in a Look at Life film made in 1967, when the promoter Arthur Chisnall, who ran the club, as a private members’ establishment so that he could sell alcohol, acted as a kind of social worker with the people who came to hear the music. As well as art school and college students, other people came. People who’d left school at 15, had possibly failed the 11+, or who had drifted through jobs, were encouraged to study (several went on to Cambridge) and then began to do challenging and satisfying jobs, in the way that was possible in the 60s, including running Adventure Playgrounds. A different world.

Take a look at life again soon.


The weekend starts here!

IN this new strange world we are living in, there are some shards of light. Tonight there is an Ready Steady Go! extravaganza on BBC4, starting at 8.30. How important RSG! was in those early days. It was on at 6.30 on Friday, and when it first started I was still going to Girl Guides on Friday evenings.

Although I enjoyed, to a greater or lesser extent, being a Guide, I was so envious of my best friend Chris who could sit at home and watch it. Something had to give. I left Guides.

And then life really began. Ready Steady Go! was a programme which was just for us – it had everything, style, music, dancing and exclusivity. This was a programme which had nothing to do with our parents. Keith Fordyce was a shame – he was so old (he was 35 in 1963), his jackets were so square and his hair so, so old-fashioned – but apart from that, everything was just what we wanted. Including, of course, the lovely Cathy McGowan, whose hair we all yearned to copy.


It was in black and white and our TVs were all very small in those days but it was ours.

So let’s hope tonight’s programmes reflect how very special it was.

On a completely different note, given it’s mother’s day on Sunday, I thought an image would be appropriate. I just ask the question: even in the Sixties could they seriously believe that this was a gift that your mother, any mother, would appreciate for the rest of the year? You should live that long.

But let’s finish on a great note – the song that in the very beginning announced the start of the weekend. Wipe Out by the Safaris. Happy days. Great days.

It’s Friday – it must be RSG!

The Story of Ready Steady Go went out on BBC4 on Friday 20 March 2020 (available to view until 20 April). What a joy it was. It had the same excitement, the same exuberance it always had. I was taken back to those Friday evenings when the very act of watching the programme told me that I really was part of a special group.

The Story of Ready Steady Go was fronted by Vicki Wickham, who produced it throughout its three year run, 1963-66 and there were stories from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, of working with Mick Jagger, and finding new ways to use cameras in the studio.


There was great commentary from Chris Farlowe, Georgie Fame, and Eric Burdon from the Animals.



There were clips of everyone who made the Sixties great.




The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Tamla Motown Tour, Dusty Springfield, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, the Supremes, Them, the Animals, the Who and Georgie Fame. It was like Saturday night at the Corn Exchange in Chelmsford, or listening to the juke box in the Orpheus coffee bar in London Road.


Theresa Confrey talked about her time on the programme. Every week she and Patrick Kerr  demonstrated a different dance, some of which came and went – I mean who ever actually danced the Mashed Potato? There was Annie (Anne as she then was) Nightingale with extraordinary hair and Donovan just looking extraordinary, with grey wavy hair down to his shoulders.



There were clips of Michael Aldred, one of the groovy and yet short-lived presenters. Apparently he didn’t have audience appeal. Unlike Cathy McGowan, who sadly didn’t take part in the BBC programme.

The mime competition was included and Melanie Coe (far right of the picture), who won miming to Jump the Broomstick by Brenda Lee. Paul McCartney judged the competition and when Melanie went back to school the next Monday (she was 14) she was asked for her autograph.

It was interesting for its description of those days in the 60s when anything seemed possible. Using the cameras in a way that they became part of the programme itself, as they moved round the tiny studio. It brought it all back. I wanted to dig out my suede and head off to the Orpheus for a frothy coffee and hang out with people with Vespas and Lambrettas.

And there was the famous clip of Otis Redding, Eric Burdon and Chris Farlow singing Shake.

It was a very good programme. Watch it again.

They call it stormy Monday

… but this week they’re calling it Cyber Monday.

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday – bag yourself a bargain.

Look, just LOOK!  at this offer.

The Saturday Girls has been selected for a Kobo ebook promotion. It runs from 29th November until 2nd December and and you can buy the book for 99p !!

So if you’re wondering what to do on a cold rainy afternoon, why not curl up in a comfy armchair, with a cup of tea and a custard cream, or a Bourbon, and read about Sandra and Linda and their friend Sylvie, as they look for love and Lambrettas in Sixties Chelmsford.

Start here…

”The Corn Exchange was never full at half past eight on a Saturday night. It wouldn’t fill up till the group started playing. Tonight the group was Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. But now it was still just records. We paid our money and then the men at the door stamped our hands and, as always, the ultraviolet light made the mark blue and our skin eerily white.        As we stepped into the empty, cavernous hall, the vinyl hissed and the first notes of ‘Green Onions’ rolled round the room. The single chords of the electric organ, low and smooth, touched the pit of my stomach. It was an anthem to mod superiority. Mods had all the good music, the latest music, the cool music….”

Now read on for more Mods, Motown and Minis.

They call it Stormy Monday …

Also available on Kindle for 99p here

Talking About My Generation

A great website – Female First – asked me to talk about my new book The Girls from Greenway. The book covers the early Sixties – when people were enjoying the security of the National Health Service and other social welfare reforms put in place after WWII. Everything seemed possible.  But people were also dreaming of an even brighter future – going to Australia as a ten-pound pom, or winning the pools – filling in their coupons every week and watching Grandstand to see if their life was going to change for ever.

Angie and Doreen are sisters, living on the Greenway Estate in Essex. They have hopes and dreams but unfortunately fall in love with the same man  in the meantime they listen to some cool music. like Dave Brubeck playing Take 5.

And I’ve been talking about my generation to Sadie Nine on BBC Essex. We talked about The Girls from Greenway but also a bit about my later life! You can listen to it here. I come on about 2 hours 20 minutes in. It was a great morning.

A couple of years ago when Sadie Nine did the Breakfast Show I used to go and do newspaper reviews – stumbling in to the studio at 6.15 in the morning. Sometimes the papers didn’t come in till the very last minute – but hey! If you come from Essex, nothing phases you!



The Girls from Greenway

Today is paperback publication day for my new novel The Girls from Greenway! Cover high res

Life in the Sixties – Motown, jazz, frothy coffee, ten pound poms, the pools, love and betrayal. The book is set in Essex. Two sisters, Angie and Doreen have a difficult home life on their council estate in Chelmsford. And then things get worse – unknowingly they fall in love with the same man.

But they still have the music. Here’s an example of how cool it all was:

It’s been a great day, cards, flowers and champagne. Sometimes, it’s not bad being a writer.

The Girls from Greenway

Great news! The Girls from Greenway is out as an ebook from Thursday 22 August.  Chelmsford in the Sixties, mods, rockers, scooters, fashion, frothy coffee and music.

Two sister, Doreen and Angie, live on the Greenway council estate. It’s not an easy life, but things get even more difficult when they both fall in love with the same man.

But how can anything go wrong when there’s Dave Brubeck around? Let’s all Take 5.

Get a taster of the book here