Back in London, I went back to work with Movietonews in Soho Square. By now, Soho had seen the opening of many new restaurants. However, I still did not use the expensive ones, but chose to have lunch in a small café in Sutton Row. The food was wholesome and cheap enough to be able to eat there every day.
I still spent some time window shopping outside the delicatessen’s that seemed to be in every other street. Now, I knew what was on offer and often purchased cold meats and sausage of various types to take home. I also started to interest myself in the produce in the wine shops. Between them, they sold wines from every source available at that time. The prices of the bottles varied enormously from seven shillings to seven pounds.
In December 1961, British Movietonews moved to Denham, Buckinghamshire, in the Rank Film Laboratories in North Orbital Road.
We soon found a local pub that did lunches. It was the Ferryboat Inn on the road to Harefield. There we would partake of beer, usually lager, with meals of pies or chops of mixed grill with jacket potatoes. In no time at all, I had put on a stone in weight and I had to abandon the pub for lunch. When I left England in 1956, I usually drank brown ale, the only lager available was Carlsberg Export and few people drank it. On my return, I found that most people seemed to be drinking a variety of lagers and with a dash of lime. By that time, I had become a drinker of the Amber Nectar and I could not get along with the British lager brew and even less the thought of adding lime. So I was able to establish the period when Britain started to drink lager rather than beers. It was some time between 1956 and 1960
I dieted to get the weight off. In the meantime, I started to use the Rank staff canteen. There we could get a three course meal that was satisfying without being spectacular. The staff of the laboratory were the main users and there was one man who took my notice. He was always dressed in an immaculate white coat. He was clean shaven and had a short haircut. He looked well scrubbed. He became noticeable because he would gather his food on a tray and collect the utensils. Then with fresh paper serviettes, he would polish each and every item of cutlery, spending several minutes on each one. I thought he had some kind of fetish.
Eventually, I asked one of his colleagues what this man was and he replied “He operates the Ultrasonic (film) Cleaning Machine”. That explained everything.
When I thought that I had got down to a reasonable weight, I started to rejoin my colleagues for lunch. By now, they had ceased to use the Ferryboat Inn and had changed their allegiance to “The Swan Inn” in Denham Village .
It was then run by an ex-R.A.F. pilot who would provide some famous meals which included steaks, lamb chops, pork chops, Baxter’s sausages and chips or jacket potatoes. I did not go there five days a week, otherwise I would have put the weight back on.
There was an alternative that I would use once or twice a month and that was the Berni Inn at the Swan and Bottle in Uxbridge. As far as I remember, there were only two items on the menu for main course, a twelve ounce steak or Dover Sole. The steak with chips and peas cost us 15/- (75 pence). This was quite expensive, but worth it once in a while.
Berni Inns had been started in Bristol by Frank and Aldo Berni in 1955. They introduced the British public to prawn cocktails, wonderful steaks and Black Forest Gateau.
They did not produce the steaks themselves, but bought them in from specialist butchers. It seems that was the secret of always being able to provide a perfect juicy and tender steak.
Over the years, they have received some bad press and adverse comments from all and sundry, but, in the 60s I had no reason to complain about any of the food they provided and nor did thousands of other people.
Just before Christmas 1962, I received a brochure from Kenneth Wolstenholme Vintners Ltd. Could it be the same who did the football commentaries for the B.B.C ? It was he.
The brochure announced that the order must be for a minimum of twelve bottles, although they could be mixed wines or mixed with spirits. I asked around the office if anyone else was interested in getting some Christmas drinks at a reasonable price.
In a short time, I had more than twenty people wanting to join what had immediately become a Wine Society.
By today’s standards, the prices were extremely low, but, of course, so were our salaries by comparison with today.
A Bottle of Teacher’s Whisky was priced at £2.2s.10d, (£2.12) among thirteen other brands at around the same price. There were three Malt Whiskies on offer at 46/2d. There were nine brandies on offer, the most expensive being Martell Cordon Bleu at £3.19s.4d.
There were sixteen different brands of Port, twenty-one sherries, including my favourite William and Humbert Dry Sherry at 19/9d. The most expensive champagne was Moet & Chandon 1959 at 31/3.
And then the wines; there were Bordeaux, Burgundy, red and whites, Cotes du Rhone, Rose wines, Hocks and Moselles and even a Madeira; Duke of Clarence Malmsey.
The members brought me their orders and I dutifully filled out the order form. I sent it off with a cheque for over one hundred pounds. The week before Christmas, the order arrived. No mistakes, everyone was satisfied.
I had ordered my Whisky, a bottle of Burnett’s White Satin Gin for Janet, my favourite sherry, two bottles of Moet and Chandon champagne (24/8d), 3 Nuits St. George 1961 and six Chablis 1961
I also bought a half bottle of Bon Accord *** brandy, but that was to dowse the Christmas pudding.
I carried on with the Wine Club until 1966. I believe that Kenneth Wolstenholme Vintners Ltd went out of business in 1973. What a pity. They had served us well.
Next chapter: Chapter 44: Eating out on the road