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Jonathan Woolf
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The Sounds of “All Our Yesterdays”
Presented by Brian Inglis

Listener beware, there are no track divisions despite the booklet’s listing of 37 of them, so neither selective listening nor skipping back or forth is possible.

Those of us of a certain age will remember Granada Television’s programme All our Yesterdays, which began life as a fifteen-minute feature in 1960, initially presented by that fine journalist James Cameron. After a year Brian Inglis (1916-1993) took over the presentation of the programme, which had grown so popular, it was doubled in length and placed in a peak-hour slot. Inglis presented it for the next twelve years until the series ended in 1973. From 1964-1970 it tracked the history of the past quarter of a century, in other words the war years.

This hour-long CD has 37 segments, averaging a minute or two each, under Inglis’s continued presence and guidance recalling that period from Chamberlain’s ‘We are at war with Germany’ speech to Vera Lynn signing off with ‘We’ll meet again’. Inglis, whose vocal ebb and flow as well as mannerisms remind this reviewer of Alan Whicker, threads it all together very efficiently. There are the instructions to the civilian population on how to use gas masks and sandbags, patronisingly delivered by Bob Danvers Walker in that clipped received pronunciation of pre- and immediate post-war newsreels. The bits and pieces of music, as opposed to the sound clips which predominate, vary from George Formby cleaning windows to a fine one of Myra Hess playing a Mozart piano concerto at one of the National Gallery lunchtime concerts she organised. Flotsam and Jetsam are allowed a complete (3:53) rendition of ‘The Londoner and the Hun’, which contains phrases making very uncomfortable listening today. Robert Ashley’s fine baritone gives a powerfully emotional rendition of ‘The London I love’ (3:55), taken from the soundtrack of a British Pathé film clip of him in full cry, sitting at a desk, with telephone and all, in full evening dress and immaculately Brylcreem-ed. Immediately after, he joined the RAF and was killed on active service.

The voices of royalty naturally feature - though not the as-yet unborn Princess Anne who the front cover lists – a ‘goodbye children everywhere’ from Margaret is surely meant. We hear King George’s tussle with the letter w, while Princess Elizabeth’s voice is an octave higher than she speaks today but otherwise no different (‘My sister end I’ will surely become ‘My husband end I’). Snippets of Churchill’s speeches are heard, including ‘their finest hour’ and more idiosyncratically, ‘Hitler and his “Narzy” gang’, which he sneers at a gathering of America’s Congress to much appreciative thumping of desk tops. Montgomery rants at factory workers (true to his Christian name and sounding like Graham Chapman in the ‘too silly’ interventions by the army general in a Python sketch), although, to be fair, after having been redeemed earlier by his El Alamein exhortation ‘Here we will stand and fight’. Mavis Tate MP briefly describes her impressions of Buchenwald, her Thatcher-like delivery not a patch on the eloquence of Richard Dimbleby’s report from Belsen (not included). British troops meet Russian counterparts and cannot understand each other, and there’s more from Monty as he stage-manages the signing of the German surrender like a public school sports master. Land of Hope and Glory is given a lusty performance at the Proms and the Royal Family appears on the balcony at Buckingham Palace seven times by public demand. As part of a series of pre-election manifestos, Beveridge gave his social welfare plans of the Liberal party, followed by its leader Archibald Sinclair. Churchill took bad advice and rested on his war record in his speeches to get national prosperity but Atlee won the day with his promises of socialism. It all ends with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a triumphant speech about freedom and justice by General McArthur as the stony-faced Japanese military chiefs surrender. After six years ‘we [did] meet again’.

This CD underscores the futility of war as something we human beings will seemingly never acknowledge, let alone learn.

Christopher Fifield

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf