Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hemel Hempstead and my childhood on film

When I blogged about the BFI's new Britain on Film project I copied some of the spiel from its own website:
If you are in the United Kingdom you can search and enjoy free access to films and TV that represent the area where you live, grew up or went to school.
I did not realise quite how true that would prove in my own case.

Click on the still above and you will be taken to a film about the new town of Hemel Hempstead that was made in 1957.

It begins with a segment about the building of Dexion's new factory in the town. Six years after the film was made we moved to the town when my father became Dexion's personnel officer.

Later he went to work for a firm of international personnel consultants in London. As he left us when I was 11, I was amused when that firm was mentioned in the Commons by Vince Cable in the context of a debate on alleged overseas corruption.

Fast forward to 8:53 you will find Chaulden Junior School, where my mother worked as secretary for a while. She says she soon learnt not to watch the children in the playground: all of them were always on the point of death.

And me? Back at 8:15 you will find the Fishery Inn. My friends and I had a den in a fallen tree behind it. I went back years later and found that the pub car park had been expanded and it was no longer there.

Hemel Hempstead gets a bad press, but on that trip back I was rather impressed. Nothing will make Marlowes and the centre of the new town a thing of beauty, but I was struck by how green the town was.

What I remember from the Sixties are numerous saplings tied to stakes - and they always seemed to have been vandalised. Yet 40 years on they had gown tall.

Let's hear it too for the Co-op where I used to go and see Father Christmas and the 314A bus. Family legend has it that I learnt to read from the West Hertfordshire bus timetable.

In reality I learnt from the Ladybird Key Words books. And Hemel was a creation of the same sort of humane modernism, so I rather felt I was living in the world of those books.

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