1958: The Season of Goodwill

Ahead of Christmas, we reproduce the following historic seasonal Freedom article from nearly 60 years ago, comprised of a selection of small festive vignettes by Philip Sansom. Please note some of the language is dated — the main lesson here however is that the issues raised by Sansom (pictured above) at the time are decidedly not.

If you walk around the West End of London any evening during the two weeks before Christmas you are likely to be somewhat taken aback now and again by suddenly coming upon little chaps in shop doorways or other sheltered, acoustic spots, singing at the tops of their voices.

You can’t hear them until you are upon them, for the din of the traffic and the new cries of London from the stands and the sellers of monster bargains is an effective sound barrier against anything beyond a radius of a few yards. As you draw level with the pitch however, your ears are suddenly assailed with the very different sound of these voices singing Christmas carols.

And very nicely they sang, too, the groups I have heard. Students, they were, and they had clearly practised well for they sung with spot-on timing and in rich harmony. It must have been a cold job, for these young men and girls kept themselves warm, no doubt, with the enthusiasm they felt for the good causes for which they sang—for the blind in one case, for a new home for old people in another.

It seemed a pity that they came out only Christmas time and not all the year round. And then the surprise seemed to be that they came at all, for all around them society was organised for biggest orgy of commercialism ever, with the dazzling windows of the shops, today’s elaborate, corny, tawdry, tasteful or disgusting vied for the attention of the passers-by for the sole purpose of extracting every possible penny from their pockets before 6pm on Christmas eve.

The meaning of Christmas eve, the significance of Christmas for a Christian country, appeared, if at all, in a shoddy little tableau in a shop window as a gimmick to catch the eye and lead it to the article for sale.

Swamped

High on the facades of the large stores hideous figures nodded their monstrous heads and Father Christmas in the plural beckoned, cajoled and solicited as no prostitute would ever dare. Three yards past those earnest young students and the hullabaloo of the crawling buses and the shuffling crowds had obliterated their voices. Symbolically their attempt to remind the public of the goodwill which is said to be the essence of Christianity was swamped under the thunder of the money makers.

Or, after all, was their attempt just one more to cash in — albeit not for themselves but for a ‘good cause’ — on the spending spree which is all that Christmas is today?

Why aren’t they singing on the streets during their Easter and Summer vacations also?

Business as Usual

For the tradesmen and manufacturers, the selling of everything that can be called a ‘seasonal gift’, from clothing and furniture to the stupidest gew-gaw, is at its annual peak. If it was business only as usual they would be bitterly disappointed.

In many spheres, however, for business to go on as usual seems to be a rank contradiction of the festive spirit. But the soldiers who in the Christmas of 1914 left their German and British trenches to fraternise and sing carols in no-man’s land soon found that in all that pertains to government business — like war — things must be as usual at all times.

The High Commands of both sides soon put a stop to that bit of internationalism and, helped by the socialists and communists, have managed to prevent any recurrence of any such recession from the successful prosecution of their business.

In the activity which pre-occupies the governments of the leading powers, business is very much as usual during the festive season. Only twelve days before Their Lord’s birthday, the American scientists at Cape Canaveral shot a Jupiter rocket into space containing a squirrel monkey, nicknamed Gordo, after a Mexican comic strip character.

Waiting for Gordo turned out to be a fruitless endeavour, for this small, bushytailed, tuft-eared monkey — the closest animal physiologically and emotionally for its size (less than 1lb) to man — was still in the nose-cone of Jupiter when it disintegrated 1,500 miles out over the Atlantic.

No Impairment

I will spare you all the details of Gordo’s equipment but we may be sure that his contribution to science has been invaluable. Indeed, we now know that the instruments strapped to Gordo’s tiny chest informed us that:

The acceleration of take-off produced mild physiological change but no impairment … The pulse rate was increased slightly during acceleration … The most significant finding so far is that the prolonged gravity-free state does not produce significant adverse physiological change.

This information, the American Department of Defence states, is an invaluable step in preparing for man’s first venture into space.

This tremendous advance may not be as divorced from Christmas as you may think. With the spread of industrialism into all the underdeveloped countries of the world, Father Christmas has to cover greater distances than ever before and passenger-and-goods-carrying rockets will come in very useful. In any case his supply of reindeer may be running out soon if, as I suspect, reindeer are liable to the same kind of reaction to H-bomb fallout as elks.

For Professor Rolf Sievert, the Swedish expert on radiation hazards, has told the United Nations that after the last Soviet H-bomb tests, radioactivity in the upper atmosphere above Sweden was five times higher than normal, and the particles showing extremely high radioactivity had been measured on the ground.

He said that his research teams had found that elks grazing on land near Stockholm showed an increase of 200 per cent, in the amount of radioactivity in their bones during the past year, most of it due to a mixture of these short-lived fission products picked up from their pastures.

Slaughter Season

For the animal kingdom, of course, Christmas is a particularly sad time fraught with danger. A point made by a letter which appeared in the Observer (14/12/58):

Sir,—I feel sure I am not alone in regretting that Christmas should be the occasion for the slaughter of an exceptionally large number of birds and beasts. The sight of rows of carcasses in the shops always seems to me painfully at variance with the original spirit of the festival—for Christians at least.

Isle of Man
Kenneth R. Hemmings

I wonder if there is something particularly humane about people on the Isle of Man, for one of our favourite comrades comes from there and she won’t eat meat at all.

Apart from the ethics, there would appear to be growing medical—or rather, chemical—reasons for steering clear of meat and bones in our diet. Not many of us eat elk meat, I suppose, but who knows what those turkeys have picked up in their brief span of acquaintance with homo sapiens?

Not that homo sap is any kinder to his own kind. Published just ten days before Christmas, Jane’s Fighting Ships is a fascinating volume about the forces of destruction at sea. It advises us (and the Russians) that by 1967 the US Navy will have 75 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. 380 ft. long, with a
beam of 33 ft., each one will carry 16 Polaris guided missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to a target 1,200 miles away, fired from under water.

Down to Earth

But let’s get away from the massive horrors of potential war and actual radiation. Let’s see how the Christmas spirit invades our everyday life. John Gordon of the Sunday Express told us last week:

A short time ago the staff of 60 which handles business at Rank’s Southampton flour mill were asked to contribute to a birthday present for their multi-millionaire chairman. But as I reported, just after they did so two-thirds of them were informed that they would lose their jobs as redundant.

I have more news. It has been decided on the advice of Lady Rank to expend the money on a pair of pearl dress-studs, a pair of gold cuff-links with the initial “R” in rose diamonds, and two gold studs. The presentation is to be made to Lord Rank at a “quite informal meeting” on December 22. It should be a happy party. (plus ça change – ed)

This of course should not be taken as typical. Although it’s surprising how unaffected by goodwill our authorities are. In Harpenden, Herts, for example, the Christmas gift from the local council to a family of caravan dwellers was to attempt to take one of their children away from them.

Ten days before Christmas the Harpenden Council gave seven days’ notice to Mr. & Mrs. William Ennis that one of their three children would have to go as their living in a caravan constituted overcrowding.

Three years ago the Ennis family was promised a council house within 18 months. Now they are told they must live in the area for five years before qualifying, but overcrowding cannot be tolerated so one child must go and live with an aunt. The council allowed Mr. Ennis the right to choose which child should go.

This story however did not end so grimly. A private individual has lent Ennis another caravan.

Sanctity of Family

A few thousand miles away, two more kids are in trouble and an eviction threatened.

While playing together in Monroe, North Carolina, two little negro boys committed the crime of kissing a little white girl. The boys are ten and nine years old and have been sent to a reformatory for an indefinite period although it is illegal for children under 12 years of age to go there. The governor claims the right, however, to change that in the case of an emergency.

The mother of the older boy, ten-year-old Hanover Thompson, has been given notice to quit her tumbledown shack, with her four other children, by its white owner, whose white rent collector presented Mrs. Thompson with the following note:

We have orders from the boss man for you to vacate the house you now live in.

She has also been threatened with a shotgun by the father of the little white girl—who is alleged to have asked Hanover for a kiss.

All that sentimental stuff about the Holy Family; all those tatty little models of the stable complete with plaster figures of Joseph and Mary around a manger with a celluloid baby Jesus nestling among real hay; all that boloney may sell electric shavers but we gotta be realistic about real things!

Like economy on the railways, for instance …

Last week when Prince Philip visited normally gloomy gaslit Chesterfield Station, a bright new electric light system was installed so that he could make a one-minute walk to his train in comfort.

Passengers, porters, and ticket collectors cheered the innovation for which they have been pressing for years.

But, alas, next day the electric lights were removed and the dim gaslight put back.

Chesterfield Station in 1961

However, it is not only from the Establishment side that a lack of goodwill is apparent. Teddy boys and lunatics have been busy making this a bad Christmas for policemen. This Yulelide has been distinguished for a sudden outburst of violence against the cops.

One police chief in Blackburn was shot for his pains in interfering with a man murdering his wife (i.e. the man’s, not the police chief’s wife), two constables have been killed — one with an axe, one stabbed — and another shot, during a scuffle with rival gangs, who always (even at Notting Hill) join forces against the
police.

Why are our wonderful police so disliked by a certain element in our society? Perhaps a hint is given by a slip of the tongue made by a sergeant in the witness box in Derby last week. The press report said “Nothing Lost” when reporting: “Derby police-sergeant Joseph Shorthouse hurriedly corrected himself after swearing to tell ‘ … anything but the truth …’ as he was taking the oath in court. Later he was commended by the magistrate — for his part in the arrest of two men.”

A ‘Freudian’ slip we may well imagine.

It Will Soon be O.K.

However, do not think that all is black under the surface glitter of Xmas.

Our government after all has our welfare at heart and is always ready to change the law to make things easier for us. It is most appropriate (in view of how most of us feel on Boxing Day) that the following should have just appeared in the News Chronicle:

Action may be taken to remove suicide from the list of criminal offences. The Home Secretary, Mr. R. A. Butter, told the Commons yesterday that the problem was being actively considered by the Government.

There has been strong pressure from many M.P.s on both sides o f the House to change the law.

And a Happy New Year to you, too.

Philip Sansom