Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tears for Sarah Jane

Elisabeth Sladen has sadly passed away. As a wee boy, I was fascinated by the TV series Doctor Who, so much so that it actually led me into a career in television. Every week I would read Doctor Who Monthly and the interviews with actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers, costume designers and more. What I thought was a magazine about a science fiction series in fact turned out to be my first manual in television production! The day I received my first BBC contract was one of the proudest days of my life - and the fact that Valerie, the production assistant in my first office had just worked on the series was as close to the magic of the series as I ever got, with my interest then veering into documentary rather than drama.

But what lured me to the series in the first place? It was three things - Tom Baker, the TARDIS, and Elisabeth Sladen. A Time Lord, a time machine that could take me to any time and place, and my first ever crush! As Sarah Jane Smith, Lis Sladen brought a real spark to what had previously been the role of the screaming assistant, with real attitude. She was a journalist - forget bow ties, journalists were cool! Now many years later I sit and watch the new version of the series with my own sons, but also had the pleasure to see Lis Sladen's acting career resurrected when they created a special series for her, The Sarah Jane Adventures, allowing my boys to equally find a hero in Sarah Jane Smith also.

I left the Beeb a few years back. Now as a family historian I travel to all sorts of times and places, and as a writer get to record my exploits through various avenues. Journalism and time travel, a wonderful mix - but I never got to travel with the Doctor!

To quote Jon Pertwee from his last ever story in Doctor Who in 1973 - "A tear Sarah Jane?" Many tears Lis Sladen - thank you for being as much a part of my childhood as you were of my children's.


Monday, 4 April 2011

Recording Sandy on the 1911 census

The following wee gem of a story was published in the Glasgow Herald on April 3rd 1911 (p.9), the day after the recording of the decennial census. I have no idea who the author was, other than the initials R. K. R. at the bottom, but thought it worth sharing! You can find the original online at


The Child studied the census paper attentively for a moment, wrinkling her brows over it.
"What an awful lot of writing there is on it. And on all the back of it too, " she added, turning the sheet over.
"Yes, isn't there?"
"Have you read all the writing on the back?"
"Well, perhaps not every word."
"Why have you not read every word?"
"Well, you see, it's Sunday, and it's not right to work too hard on Sunday."
"Who makes you do it on Sunday?"
"Who makes you do it on Sunday? I suppose it must be Mr J. Patten Macdougall, Registrar-General. You'll see his name on the back."
The Child checked this statement carefully.
"Wasn't it kind of Mr Macdougall to send you all this writing?"
"It was indeed. He is goodness itself."
"Does he send them to many people?"
"Yes. A good many."
"Will Amy Douglas's father get one?"
"Ad Mrs McClintock the washerwoman?"
"I think so."
"And will she have to write down all her children?" (Breathlessly) "She has ten-living-and-two-dead."
"Yes. Every one. What did you say cook's name was?"
"Just cook or Margaret. What a lot of numbers all down the side. 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5-10-17, 18, 19, 20. Are these for putting children in?"
"Yes, children and people."
"What would you do if you had more than twenty children?"
"I would whip them all soundly and put them to bed."
"No, but really and truly?"
"I would have to get another paper from Mr. J. Patten McDougall."
The Child studied some entries on the paper. Then she laughed.
"You're a silly to put mother 32. Mother has always been 21, ever since she was married."
"Of course. I must correct that."
"And you've missed Sandy out altogether."
"Tut-tut. We mustn't miss out Sandy. You'll help me to write him down."
"Of course I'll help you. Write Sandy Rutherford."
"No middle name?"
"Sandy Woggins Rutherford."
"Right. Alexander W. Rutherford. What next?"
"I'm afraid that wouldn't do. It must be Head, or Wife, or Son, or Daughter, Relative, Visitor, Boarder, or Servant. He's more than a visitor."
"Of course he is. He's my own always doggie."
"Well, we'll call him a Boarder. So that's all right. Age - three last birthday." Gaelic and English - "Both I should think. Particulars as to Marriage - Single."
"Yes, he's my own single dog." (Looking closely at the paper.) "Per-son-al Occ-u-p-a-t-i-o-n. What does that mean?"
"It means what does he do for a living?"
"He barks a good deal!" the Child said, doubtfully. And he eats a lot of bones - and watches the house."
"Good. We'll put him down as night watchman."
"Of course," said the Child impartially, "he's really and truly asleep at night."
"We needn't tell anybody that. Then he's a Worker, isn't he? Worker at Home will be right. Birthplace?"
"Island of Skye," said the Child promptly. "What is this last thing, Infir-mitty?"
"That means any weakness he has."
"Mother says he has a weakness for butter."
"That'll do then. Infirmity. Steals the butter. That finishes Sandy."
"Couldn't we put my own dear Dicky-Bird in?"
"I'm afraid not. Mr J. Patten Macdougall mightn't like it. He may not care about canaries."
"I am sure he would love my canary, if he knew it. But it won't mind if you don't put its name in as much as Sandy would."
"No, and you don't need to tell it. Are you going to tell Sandy?"
"Tell Sandy! Sandy knows already. He's been watching us all the time."

R. K. R.

The moral of the story - is everyone that you find on the census quite who you think they are?!!!