You'll Never be 16 Again

Paul Bryant pbryant98@...
Sun Dec 9 21:06:05 CET 2007

Dear all

there was a BBC radio series in 1986 called "You'll
Never be 16 Again" subtitled "an illustrated history
of the British teenager" written by Peter Everett.
Peel wrote the introduction and so for those who have
not got this delightful book, here's Peel's intro.


I was sixteen in 1955. The fledgling Peel, then a
rather solitary, vacant youth with more hair than was
considered entirely derigueur, was serving time at
Shrewsbury School. Last year my mother found and gave
me my school reports from the period. They do not, I
fear, make pretty reading. 'His pose of idleness
amuses me but aggravates others,' wrote my
form-master. One of the others was more forthright.
'As beastly as ever.' he began, 'the unpunctuality,
inefficiency, inaccuracy, untidiness and idleness are
still there. He is no fun to teach.' R.H.J, Brooke, my
house-master and a man for whose tolerance and wisdom
my admiration grows with every passing year, wrote,
'If he gets a study next term, we want less of Donnie
Lonegan and more of the constructive effort.'
The 'Donnie Lonegan' was deliberate. Brooke knew the
extent to which my attempts to forge some sort of
character for myself, at a school where University
still meant Oxford or Cambridge and failure to achieve
one or the other led shamed pupils to join the Kenya
Rifles or take holy orders, depended on kicking, as it
were, against the pricks. My father, perhaps similarly
acute, always referred to the King of Skiffle as
'Lollie Dolligan', thereby confirming me in my
admiration for Donegan's nasal  Americanisms  and 
apparently anarchic approach to his work.
Trying to explain to listeners less than half my age
what life was like for me at sixteen-an explanation, I
should hurriedly add, that they rarely seek or welcome
- quickly becomes rather like trying to explain
cricket to a Frenchman. There were for example,
virtually no gigs to go to at all - and they certainly
weren't called gigs. The first concert I attended
(with my mother) was a performance at the Liverpool
Stadium by the Oberkirchen Children's Choir, recorders
of one of the most successful versions of 'The Happy
Wanderer', an oafish hiking song which had been in the
charts for a whole year. The charts of the period were
based on sheet music sales and a successful song -
'Poppa Piccolino' or 'Three Coins
in the Fountain', for example - might be available on
record in twenty versions or more.
The second live concert I went to - again with my
mother - was given by Johnny Ray at the Liverpool
Empire. Ray topped a bill which may well. in the
of the age, have included comedians, magicians and dog
acts. I was rather disappointed with him, as I was a
few weeks later with Frankie Laine at the same venue.
Laine, whose records I had been buying since hearing a
curious work called 'Chow Willy' in the early 1 950s.
turned out to be a markedly unhandsome man in a sus-
piciously voluminous suit who could, I noted with
horror, have been in his thirties.
This was a time when - or so I believed -women,
regardless of age. were attracted only to men in their
mid-forties. Nowadays the situation has deteriorated
to the point where women, if attracted to men at all,
yearn only for those in their late teens and early
twenties. This has always struck me as especially
unfair. On the other hand, as a sixteen-year- old my
understanding of women, their behaviour and, as it
were, geography was virtually nil. I was fourteen
before I realised that girls are constructed
differently to us chaps. The revelation came whilst
playing hide-and-seek ('At fourteen?' I hear you cry)
at my godmother's home near Ludlow. I had hidden in
the gardener's toilet where I was joined, after some
moments, by a clearly unself-conscious girl of my own
age who, to my distress threw herself onto the Shanks
for a pee. I don't believe I can sensibly convey to
you my horror at what I saw. Mind you, even by the
standards of the age, I was fairly backward. At school
was so frustrated at my inability to find no soulmate
with whom I could discuss the work of Little Richard.
Fats Domino and Gene Vincent that in desperation I
joined the jazz club. called, with ponderous
inevitability, the High Society. I and my newly
acquired Earl Bostic record ('Sleep� backed with
'Flamingo' and still worth a listen) were greeted with
such condescension by the languid sixth-formers
who ran the High Society that I made my excuses and
Come to think of it, I have never really found anyone
of my own age to share my musical appetites, with the
result that when I am dragged protesting to parties
in the village where I live, I find myself embroiled
in conversations on such lively topics as lagging
boilers and stripping pine. I live in hope that one
day I will encounter a vet, estate agent or bank
manager who is profoundly affected by the Fall
or Bogshed.
The impact on my teenage years on hearing Elvis
Presley for the first time (on 'Family Favourites') is
paralleled by the reactions of those quoted within.
importance of the cheap drain-pipe trousers and
hellish green socks I bought on Scotland Road and hid,
along with a selection of Health and Efficiencies, in
my bedroom cupboard, will become apparent. You'll
Never Be Sixteen Again helps me to put my own past in
order and to realise that I was not. as I thought at
the time stumbling through these experiences alone.
For a man who will never be fortysix again, this is
somehow obscurely important

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