The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

This is the voice of the Mysterons

Long, long ago... but not as long ago as Fireball XL5 or Stingray or Thunderbirds... there was a brilliant television series called Captain Scarlet.
Of all the Gerry Anderson-produced science fiction puppet series that were so much a part of the 1960s, Captain Scarlet was my favourite.
I think it just came out at the right time for me.
I had already been thrilled and delighted by the three aforementioned puppet-populated shows, each with their very own heroes - Steve Zodiac (with his sidekick, the glamorous Venus) in Fireball XL5, Troy Tempest and Phones (and Marina) in Stingray, and the Tracy brothers and Lady Penelope and Parker in Thunderbirds.
But then came the fearless agents of Spectrum - and I was ten-years-old when this came out in 1967. The colours of the uniforms, the beautiful Spectrum Angels, the majestic Cloudbase, the exciting vehicles (SPVs and SPCs) were intoxicating to me.
I don't think I have seen a TV series since which has knocked me between the eyes in quite the same way.
Little wonder I had to get hold of the DVD boxed set. It's just a shame I don't really know any other Captain Scarlet fans to watch it with me. Oh well....

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Curved Air - Backstreet Luv

My job with Shropshire Seniors

My job with the Shropshire Seniors is an absolute joy.
I work in a gorgeous Georgian building in a beautiful part of town, and my colleagues are lovely.
There’s something about this job that makes me truly happy.
I’m laughing a heck of a lot more. I feel friendlier towards the world and the world seems friendlier towards me.
I’m calm. 
I actually enjoy the idea of going in to work – and I haven’t felt that way for a while!
This might sound silly, but there’s something about it that prompts warm, comforting memories of being 12 or 13 or 14 years of age, and walking home from Belvidere School with my dear friend Russ Greenshaw and discussing with him the next edition of our own little magazine - The Entertainer (created with scissors-and-Sellotape, crayons and felt-tips).
Sometimes the memories are not that specific. Sometimes it’s just that feeling of being a child. Just a pleasant feeling that makes me smile to myself.
I think about Robinson Crusoe on television, Blue Peter, The Monkees, and Bewitched, and jam sandwiches for tea.
There’s a beautiful giant tree outside my office window – a Cedar of Lebanon, I am told – with the sunshine beaming through its branches. It’s beautiful. And I have the time to appreciate it.
I haven’t experienced this feeling – certainly not in such a sustained, consistent way, for quite some time. It’s rather wonderful.
I get little flashbacks of Mum and Dad and happy long-ago days in Castlefields.
I’m also getting great memories of being an adolescent, being a student at Tech, and what happy days they were!
Don’t get me wrong. Being a big soft sentimental romantic, I have always carried these feelings with me to some extent, but nowadays they’re not just Sunday afternoon feelings, but constant companions, and I love it.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Castlefields man rescues war memorial from demolition site

Castlefields man George Paget was walking past a demolition site just across the road from the Canal Tavern when he spotted something precious amongst the rubble.
Well, it seemed precious to him anyway.
The item in question clearly meant nothing to the workmen who were throwing everything onto the back of a lorry to be taken away.
This was, we think, about 1965, and the building being demolished was the Methodist Chapel at the junction of Beacalls Lane and New Park Road.
The site is today occupied by the Dulux paint decorator centre.
What had caught the attention of George Paget that day was a memorial stone, honouring Castlefields men who had been killed during the First World War.
George thought it was outrageous that a memorial stone displaying the names of the fallen could be thrown away as scrap. And he decided to intervene.
His daughters are today proud to tell of how their dad rescued the stone.
"I remember quite clearly that one day, amongst all the rubble, there were these men in suits and I asked Mum what they were doing," recalls Janice Oliver, one of George's daughters.
She and her sister, Christina Marshall-Clarke, are telling me the story.
"And Mum told me that these men in suits were de-consecrating the ground. They had to do that, apparently, so that the church could be demolished."
Janice, 70, and Christina, 65, told me that when their dad spotted the memorial stone, he asked the workmen if he could have it. He told them the stone shouldn't go. It should be preserved.
No-one had any objection to George taking the stone so he set about taking it home to his house in New Park Street.
"It was placed against the front wall of our house," said Janice.
"No-one would take it at the time. Even All Saints Church wouldn't take it at the time. There's a lot of protocol about what goes into a church, apparently."
Several years later, explains Christina, Father Maddox agreed to take it into the porch of All Saints Church in North Street.
Janice says: "It took about four men to carry it. It was ever so heavy."
Fast-forward to the present day and the memorial stone rescued by George Paget from that demolition site in the sixties now has a special place within All Saints Church.
"Father Michael Fish decided that they ought to get the stone cleaned up, especially now with all the commemorations going on to mark the First World War. So now it's all cleaned up and mounted on a small plinth. What's more there was a special service on August 4. At All Saints there was already a memorial board with about 90 names on it. And then they were able to add the memorial stone from the old Methodist church, and a speaker came to the service from the Methodist Church and read out the names from the stone."
So salutes all round, then, for George Paget who single-handedly rescued this memorial stone from obscurity.
By all accounts George was a real character and, clearly, Christina and Janice are very proud of what their dad did.
"He was a prison officer at the Dana, but he also kept pigs at the allotment in Castlefields," said Christina. "His favourite pigs were Spotty, Winnie and Patch and they were like pets to us.
"Dad was also a big friend of another Castlefields character, George Jones, the rag and bone man, who had a horse and cart."
Ah, yes. The old days in Castlefields. I was able to tell Christina and Janice that I well remember George Jones with his horse and cart, and I also remember walking home from the Lancasterian School and seeing the demolition of the Methodist church taking place.
Does anyone else out there remember the demolition? If so, I would love to hear from you - or indeed if you just want to share your memories of the old days.

Pictured below: Janice Oliver and Christina Marshall-Clarke, daughters of George Paget.

Phil Gillam's gentle novel of family life, Shrewsbury Station Just After Six, is now available from Pengwern Books in Shrewsbury, Waterstones, and from amazon.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A highly eventful few weeks

Yes. It's been a highly eventful few weeks.
Luckily, I'm one of those people who scribbles everything down, makes loads of lists, keeps a diary, keeps a logbook, takes photographs, messes about on Facebook and twitter and, er, occasionally writes something on this blog.
So it's relatively easy to review what has been a busy and fascinating period. (Well, fascinating to me at least).
But, in a nutshell, since leaving the Shropshire Star on June 27, I've:
1. Researched thoroughly the prospect of writing and producing a Home Handbook guide to trades, shops and services in a specific area of Shrewsbury. (Watch this space).
2. Taken soundings (regarding the Home Handbook) from local businesses in Coleham and Belle Vue (very positive).
3. Completely revamped the study.
4. Continued to write my weekly column (Shrewsbury Matters) for the Shrewsbury Chronicle.
5. Attended an excellent one-day business course at Birmingham Library.
6. Took part in this year's Severn Valley Railway Pub Crawl, organised once again by little brother Tony.
7. Enjoyed a fantastic holiday with my darling wife in Somerset and Bristol.
8. Met and interviewed the charming 92-year-old Mr Charlie Furnival (an old pal of Dad's).
9. Delivered fresh copies of my novel, Shrewsbury Station Just After Six, to Waterstones. Within days I would have the joy of seeing, in Waterstones, my book on the very same shelf as Mary Webb's masterpieces.
10. Secured a wonderful part-time job as Media Officer for the charity, Shropshire Seniors.
11. Enjoyed a fantastic family picnic on a blazing hot day at beautiful Attingham Park.
12. Enjoyed a friendly barbecue at Shropshire Seniors.
13. Attended official opening of the excellent Terence Spencer photographic exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery.
14. Took Jan, Betty, Alex and Vanessa to the garden centre (nice).
15. Re-established contact with splendid fellow Henry Carpenter.
16. Pushed on with writing of my new novel.
17. Spoke to Laura about artwork for the cover of my new novel.
18. Really useful meeting with small businesses expert at Santander.
19. Carluccio's with darling wife and six excellent friends.
20. The Peach Tree for family brunch.
21. Emailed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (what's unusual about that?)
22. Second meeting with Charlie Furnival (this time with old friend Steve who fancies the two of us producing a coffee table book on old characters of Shrewsbury).
23. Acquired beautiful new desk.
24. Acquired beautiful new computer to put on the desk.
25. Fantabulous journey to Birmingham for birthday treat with Tom (including magical night at the Electric Cinema).
26. Following day, darling wife joins us in Birmingham for super day.
27. Lovely birthday meal at the Shalimar thanks to mother-in-law.
28. Treated myself to a Beatles mousemat!
29. Excellent trip to Cardiff to take Alex back to university. Nice meal. Good trip.
30. Continued looking into setting up my own business.
31. Booked a week's holiday in Pembrokeshire.
32. Jim Gillam Memorial Pub Crawl 2014. A classic!
33. First week working at Shropshire Seniors. Just wonderful!
34. Not forgetting some lovely days in town with darling wife.
35. Loads of lovely birthday presents too!
Not a bad few weeks.

Friday, 4 July 2014

They were there in 1963 ... And now The Beatles return to Shrewsbury Music Hall (well, photos of them anyway)

The amazing legacy of one of the most important photographers of the 20th century is to be featured in an exhibition at Shrewsbury's new museum and art gallery.
And I can't wait to see it!
Some people nowadays believe anybody can now take great pictures because camera technology is so much better than it was. Some think it's possible to take great pictures just using your mobile phone.
And of course there are elements of truth in all of this.
It's certainly easier now than it's ever been to take good quality photographs because decent cameras do so much of the work for you.
But there's a difference between good quality photographs and great photographs.
For evidence of this look no further than the work of the extraordinary Terence Spencer whose work will be the subject of an exhibition in our county town in mid-July.
My own interest in this exhibition, with me being such a massive Beatles fan (have I mentioned this before at all?), is the wealth of marvellous pictures of the Fab Four taken by Spencer. He followed the band around in 1963 and his pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo will form the heart of this exhibition.
Yes, of course, these pictures often have much to do with being in the right place at the right time, but that's surely part of the genius of a great photographer - making sure you are in the right place at the right time.
Then there's having the 'eye' to make sure you get the best angle, the best mood, the best composition, and not settling for second best.
Technical skill plus opportunity plus style plus knowing the difference between an okay picture and a great picture.
Spencer was an outstanding Life magazine photographer who covered showbusiness and world events from the 1960s onwards.
An odd mix - showbusiness and world events.
The world events would take in the unrest and violence that came with the coming of apartheid in South Africa, including the Sharpville massacre. Spencer was there to graphically illustrate what was going on during those dark times. He went on to report and photograph the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya.
The Congo conflict, explained Spencer, was "far and away the worst war" he had to cover, with a total breakdown in law and order, with power-crazed, drunken soldiers and a nation reverting to near-tribal savagery.
Terence Spencer went on to provide extensive cover of the Vietnam War.
All of this brutality and bloodshed on the one hand, and then, on the other, the breath-taking beauty of Elizabeth Taylor in her prime, or James Bond actor Roger Moore captured, cigar in hand, sifting through his paperwork, and of course The Beatles – conquering the world with their scouse wit and infectious pop.
For Spencer, what kind of a crazy career was that?
But to know Terence Spencer the photographer is to know only part of the man.
Spencer had also been a Second World War fighter pilot specialising in very low-level strafing raids across occupied Europe.
He had been posted to a squadron flying American P51 Mustangs, the fastest fighters in the world at that time.
Flying in pairs, low over the water to avoid German radar, the Mustangs flew deep into France and other occupied countries, attacking trains, boats and army convoys.
Suffice to say, Terence Spencer lived a most incredible life.
And I'm greatly looking forward to seeing this exhibition.
Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery is open from 10am to 5pm, seven days a week. Entry is £4 for adults, £3.50 for senior citizens, and £2 for children over four. Season tickets and group rates are available, and entry to the Roman Gallery is free. For further information,

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Please allow me to introduce myself

Phil Gillam has interviewed major politicians, glamorous showbiz icons and legendary pop stars during a journalistic career spanning more than 30 years.
Feature writing assignments have also seen him fly in an RAF jet fighter and go to sea with the lifesaving crews of the RNLI.
More recently, as a newspaper editor, he has been responsible for overseeing the content, layout and production of several publications, generated to strict deadlines. 
Married to Wonder Woman, with three fantastic sons, Phil is also a popular columnist and has written several books about his beloved home town of Shrewsbury.
Since beginning his newspaper career in 1977, Phil has worked as a news reporter, feature writer, page designer and team manager.
He has worked on newspapers in Devon, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and the West Midlands, as well as, for a while, labouring under the unforgiving desert sun on a kibbutz in southern Israel.
And he has been a guest on various radio programmes where he has been invited to talk about one of his great loves - pop music.
His interviewees have included film star Joan Collins, comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, singer-songwriters Ralph McTell and Gilbert O'Sullivan, the great Ray Davies of The Kinks, Neil Finn of Crowded House, and political heavyweights Michael Hesletine, Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair. 
Phil's passions include The Beatles, the cinema, local history, the company of good friends, long walks in the country, and cosy pubs on winter nights.

Newspaper background:   

Shrewsbury Chronicle (1977-1979)
Sunday Independent (1979-1980)
Hull Daily Mail (1980-1982)
Staffordshire Newsletter (1982-1985)
Stafford Chronicle (1985-1988)
Shropshire Star (1988-2005)
Express & Star (2005-2011)
Telford Journal (2012-2014)


Shrewsbury: A Celebration
Shrewsbury: Pictures from the Past
Telford: Pictures from the Past
Shropshire: Pictures from the Past
Here Comes The Sun (a novel)
Shrewsbury Station Just After Six (a novel)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Letter to Abbey Lines magazine

A letter to Abbey Lines, the magazine of the Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust.
Spring 2014.

I always thoroughly enjoy the Abbey Lines magazine which, I feel sure, will come to be highly valued (when viewed as a complete body of work) as a magnificent archive of railway memories and of projects and endeavours not chronicled elsewhere.
However, I especially wanted to say how much I enjoyed Dave Giddins' article in the Spring 2014 edition.
He neatly sums up how much times have changed when he writes about his trainspotting days at places like Shrewsbury locomotive sheds. Youngsters wandering around such 'a dangerous environment' is not something which would be tolerated these days, that's for sure.
Dave writes: "We had no mobile phone or even a phone at home. My mum and dad knew where I was going and I did have a little lecture to tell me what to do in an emergency. I would have my rucksack with some corn beef sandwiches and a bottle of Tizer, and sometimes my little portable radio would accompany me to listen to the favourite pop hits of the mid-60s, like The Troggs' Wild Thing, Helen Shapiro and the latest Beatle hits. These were great times."
Evocative stuff, Dave.
My own trainspotting days came about half a decade later at the dawn of the seventies. Myself and my mate would hang around the sheds in Coleham, but they were clearly, by then, in serious decline; rat-infested, the roof and walls battered and half-falling-down.
And the place by that time had long since seen the end of steam. Instead, diesel locomotives which we knew as Brushes and Bo-Bos and Warships populated the place. The magic was fading fast.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Okay. It's been a while. Quite a while.

Yes indeed.
Other commitments.......... you know, family, full-time job, life in general............... have kinda got in the way of blogging for a while.
And, as I was just explaining to my younger brother earlier today, I have ended up using UNDERNEATH THE SIDEBOARD IN THE FRONT ROOM as a sort of archive for my weekly Shrewsbury Chronicle column, SHREWSBURY MATTERS, rather than as an outlet for other writing projects.

But, there again, the fact that Shrewsbury Matters is readily available on the Shropshire Star website in some ways makes it pretty pointless sticking them on UNDERNEATH THE SIDEBOARD IN THE FRONT ROOM as well.

Nevertheless, just for my own amusement (if nothing else), I will try to post a few of my more recent columns on here in the near future.


I hope that clears things up a bit.
Cheers for now,