In 1972 my late uncle Alf was snoozing in front of the television when he heard his mother’s voice. She had passed away three years earlier.
The voice was coming from the television and his mother was giving a short vox pop on the 1947 meat-workers strike.
The interview was filmed for British Pathé news in the Angel, Islington, London – just around the corner from where my grandparents and their four children were then living.
The programme was All Our Yesterdays and some older readers may remember its presenter, Brian Inglis, who looked back a quarter of a century using newsreel of the day.
My uncle tried to get a copy from the BBC but to no avail. When British Pathé went online I hunted without success for many months trying to find the clip.
Two days ago my brother sent me a link asking me – ‘is this Booba?’ It most certainly is.
In 1947 Britain had been gripped by the coldest winter for fifty years to be followed by one of its hottest summers. Austerity – real austerity, was the post-war order of the day in Britain. The, now-lauded, Attlee government was in mid-term. Britain was a bleak place of rationing and food-shortages and London smogs.
My grandmother, Yetta Phillips, or Booba as we called her, had always been a staunch Socialist and supporter of ‘working people’. In the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 she had availed herself of a chair leg and set off to confront Mosely and his Blackshirts, only to find herself in Leman Street nick, presumably for her own protection.
Born in Poland in 1893, in my remembrance, she always had a pronounced East European accent. In this newsreel we hear her speaking fluently and with little trace of an accent. She actually sounds quite ‘posh’. According to my brother, this was what we might now call her ‘telephone voice’. I never heard it.
It was, and remains, an emotional experience, seeing her and hearing her forty-six years after she died, in her prime aged about 54, as I never saw her. Life had prepared several hammer blows for her and her family in the years ahead, but watching her in this clip I feel an unexpected pride that someone, who, at the time, was still an ‘Alien’ and not a naturalised citizen, spoke ‘posher’ than the other interviewees. A hint of her whimsical sense of humour which passed to her daughter and then, I like to think, to me, is also detectable.
She begins to speak about 59 seconds into the clip.
Well, I think it’s very disgusting about the strike because I have a family of six and I have nothing to feed them on and we’re all getting run down and probably end up in a hospital! Well, this is not fair and the strikers, if they do want a little more pay, they should really get it, because we’re paying enough for our food, Dear enough!
Well said, Booba!!