Sunday 12 December 2010

A Tale of Two Police Cars

Mention of Nicky Wright's passion for Americana on yesterday's blog posting reminds me of a story his brother Patrick told me concerning the TV that father David acquired during the 1950's.

Now TV in the 1950's at least in post war and bankrupt Blighty was a rare thing indeed. In fact if you knew someone with a TV that was a status symbol in itself. The first programmes to be televised were on the BBC and they would appear in fitful spurts, with "Watch With Mother" at around midday and then children's TV at around 5.00 pm as a lead into the evening's programmes. It came in blurry resolution on 405 lines, a system which had been introduced in 1936.

And like everything else about life in 1950's Britain it was all black and white with shades of grey.

But it was better than nothing and there were even police dramas on the BBC:

This might have been OK for a while but there was the nagging feeling that there must be something better out there and there was in terms of the kind of TV programmes produced in the U.S.A.

Things started to improve when commercial television was introduced in the UK with the first TV commercial for Colgate Toothpaste - Cool As A  Mountain Stream appearing on the nations very few screens in 1955. Here dear readers is a commercial that followed in it's wake and borrowed a lot of the ideas from the Young and Rubicam original:

ITV was a lot less snobby about televising U.S. TV shows such as Rawhide, Wagon Train and Casey Jones than the dear old Beeb who in those days really did believe in their Reithian remit to "inform and entertain". In the Wright household father David was having none of it, as with typically Brit Sang Froid he dismissed ITV as being rather too commercially bumptious to be worthy of serious consideration.

Thing reached crisis point when Highway Patrol starring  Broderick Crawford reached the ITV schedules and a long but eventually successful campaign was launched by the boys to grind their dear old dad down to the point where he would acquiesce to their pleadings.

You can see why this stuff was just so exciting in 1950's Britain when you look at these toy cars and bear in mind that as regards PC George Dixon he didn't even have a car - all he had was Shank's Pony or a bicycle. No this miserable looking car was only for the guvnors such as Detective Inspector Lockhart from No Hiding Place (another ITV production).

Whereas this splendid thing was not just for the likes of Patrol Supremo Dan Mathews but also the regular Police NonComs.

Plus the cars looked like sex on wheels.

Plus the patrolmen had in-car radios.

And guns rather than truncheons.

And those sirens were just so much edgier than George Dixon's whistle.

Looking back on it, U.S. TV shows like Highway Patrol along with Rock N Roll and comics were about the only glimmers of light in 1950's Britain, which made them twice the fun - even if they look horribly clunky nowadays.

To round off there's a truly brilliant Mad magazine spoof of Highway Patrol, drawn by the phenomenally talented Mort Drucker. His drawing skills were apparently so prodigious that he could draw stuff like this with little or no under-penciling.


  1. So funny you should do a post on toy cars, as I was just telling a friend about Nicky Wright's collection of same. Not only did he have a substantial number of plastic model cars, but they were all prototypes given to him by the manufacturers he worked with. Nicky photographed automobiles for a good three decades as I'm sure you may know, and he received these items as their way of saying thanks for services rendered (along with some cash I'm sure). He also had in his study a child's pedal car, a Ford Mustang pedal car. Unfortunately he was forced to sell these things toward the end of his life, he was struggling with his finances toward the end. In January it will have been ten years since he passed. He is missed.

  2. I was thinking much the same Guy, he was over in the UK when he contracted the pneumonia and I'd met up with Nicky in London only a few days previously. He was as convivial as ever, and showing no signs of being at all under the weather.

    We spent part of the day rooting around in the basement of the Vintage Comic and Magazine Shop in Old Compton Street. The kind of place where you can smell the damp as you go down the stairs into the kind of den of geekery which is every sane woman's worst nightmare. We were on the trail of old copies of Fabulous 208 where a lot of Nicky's photos of the Stones and the Animals and all the other bands he was shooting were published.

    I just couldn't believe it when he was in Intensive Care just a few days later.

    Lovely guy and a great friend. As you say sadly missed.

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