Born William Henry Pratt at 10 Hern Villas, Forest Hill Road (now 36 Forest Hill Road) on the edge of East Dulwich and almost facing the end of Peckham Park, Karloff can be said to have created the role of the screen horror character. Karloff, the youngest of nine children was only a baby when his father, a diplomat died. Probably Pratt senior was already in poor health when the family moved to Hern Villas, a new and attractive terrace occupied by lower-middle class residents and the reason for the move might have been to be near other family members; there were several residents named Pratt in nearby Friern Road.
Karloff's mother was no longer living in the house in 1902, by which time Hern Villas had been converted into shops, and she may have moved to the Enfield area. William, who went to Uppingham School and later studied at London University, was expected to follow his father into the diplomatic service but instead eloped to Canada in 1909 with Olive Wilton the first of his five wives. Taking work on farms to support himself and his wife he was later attracted to join a theatrical touring company with which he travelled over North America.
He had a dark skin tone probably inherited from his mother who had an East Indian heritage and to give his persona even greater mystery he adopted the Russian and romantic sounding stage name of Boris Karloff. In 1916, penniless and divorced he arrived in California seeking work and took a job with a cement company. Carrying the heavy sacks of cement apparently was the start of his back trouble which was to give him great discomfort throughout his life and which was later aggravated by the heavy brace he had to wear as part of his Frankenstein costume.
He made his screen debut in Hollywood in 1916 as screen extra in The Dumb Girl of Portici but his first break came three years later in the Douglas Fairbanks' movie His Majesty, The American . His appearance in this film led to a seven year contract with Universal and he had appeared in 80 films as a character actor before he got his first notice. Karloff was resigned to playing minor parts when in 1931, at the age of 44, he got the role which offered him stardom. The part of The Monster in the movie Frankenstein was initially offered to Bela Lugosi, the star of Dracula. Lugosi was unhappy with having a part in which his face would be unrecognisable through the heavy makeup and he had no lines to deliver. For Karloff, it was a physically demanding assignment but one which made him a star. However, in the first release of Frankenstein the screen credit for the role of the Monster was merely a question mark. It was in no small way because of Karloff's good natured and even personality that he continued to get on well with Lugosi after the film's release and they appeared in three movies including The Raven.
As the horror genre waned in the 1930's, Karloff was increasingly cast as a heavy in various gangster films like Howard Hughes' Scarface. By the 1940's Karloff was typecast as movie menace almost exclusively appearing in B movies. Frustrated by the roles he was being offered, Karloff turned his attention to helping to establish the Screen Actors Guild and returned to the Stage. He appeared on Broadway as the villainous Joseph Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace and went on to appear in Priestley's The Linden Tree and The Lark for which he received a Tony award nomination.
Although he returned to Hollywood he was still cast in dreary low-budget films. He did better in this period on television with several series and numerous other appearances. A role for which he is fondly remembered is as the Narrator in Dr Seuss, The Grinch who stole Christmas. However his swan song in 1968 in Targets directed by Peter Bogdanovitch allowed Karloff to reprise his earlier stardom by playing an ageing horror-film actor. In this film Karloff gave his best performance in years. Since the early 1960's back pain and emphysema had increasingly taken their toll and he was obliged to use a wheelchair between 'takes'. He retired after Targets and lived in Midhurst, Sussex. He died in 1969.
Your editor reminded me that it was thirty-five years ago that I wrote a book (Nation of Shopkeepers). In those thirty-five years the face of retailing has changed considerably. Look close to home; Dulwich Village is almost unrecognisable. In those days there were two butchers, a fishmonger, two greengrocers, a hardware stores, an electrical shop, two drapers/haberdashers (one doubling as the post office), two sweet shops, a sports shop, the Village Dairy and a Cullens grocers and a baker's. The Village Cake Shop doubled as small restaurant, which did not open in the evenings. Even the Village Toy Shop and the Art Stationers were at opposite ends of the village, with Mr. Green senior very much in charge. There were no dress shops, no shops comparable with Tomlinsons or Aqua, and Estate Agents were a rarity. Similarly Lordship Lane - there was hardly an eating place or antique shop. But then there was no large Sainsbury's in Dog Kennnel Hill, no Whitgift Centre in Croydon, and no Glades in Bromley and no rash of Ocado vans on the streets of Dulwich.
In a wider context how many remember Allied Suppliers, the company that had more than two thousand high street grocers, some also trading under the names of Lipton and Maypole. Similar chains were David Greig and International Stores. They are no longer with us. The decline of the small independent and chains of small high street shops was brought about mainly by the dominance of the big supermarket chains - firstly Tesco and Sainsbury, later to be joined by Asda and Safeway - and more recently Morrisons. Shopping habits changed. Many more women work and the weekly shop by car to a large supermarket has become the norm. In the 1950s more than 40% of the average household budget was spent on food, by the early seventies this was declining, until today it is less than 15%, although the amount spent in restaurants and fast food outlets has increased enormously.
In the late 1960s half of Sainsbury's 228 shops were still counter service and most of the others were self-service rather than full-scale supermarkets. Their turnover in 1968-9 was about £165 million. This compares with a turnover of £18,300 million today from nearly 600 shops. Interestingly, both Sainsbury and Tesco, having for two decades concentrated on large supermarkets are now going back into smaller convenience stores to compete with the re-emergent small independent sector.
The starting point for my book was the difference I had perceived between Jack Cohen, founder of Tesco and a small shopkeeper in South London. In the 1920's one had started with a market stall, the other as a newsagent. By 1969, Cohen could shrug off "leakage" of, then, hundreds of thousands of pounds, while the other was desperate because a few thousand cigarettes had been stolen from his shop and he was having cash-flow problems while waiting for an insurance settlement. Why was one man a multi-millionaire and the other struggling? Both were essentially shopkeepers. One can never satisfactorily answer such a question. Factors include ambition, determination, luck, the ability to take risks and straightforward skill in being a shopkeeper. Cohen had all these in abundance and he built a company that then 800 stores and supermarkets, turning over £191 million. Now there are 440 large stores, about 500 smaller ones, a large overseas business and sales of around £33,560 million. About 18% 0f all the groceries bought in the UK come from Tesco.
At that time, and for a while after, Tesco had strong family connections on the board - Cohen himself and his sons-in-law Hyman Kreitman and Leslie Porter. It was still not unusual for large companies to be family dominated. The two most successful at the time were Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer. Marks and Spencer had been founded by Michael Marks, a Polish Jewish immigrant who started "Marks' Penny Bazaar" in Kirkgate Market ,Leeds in 1884. Tom Spencer, who was to become his partner, died in 1905, leaving no heir and it became Marks' own company. As the business grew so it became even more a family concern. The Marks moved to Manchester and Michael's son Simon went to Manchester Grammar School where he met Israel Sieff. They became friends and eventually married each other's sister. The two families were to control the company for decades. At the time of my book two thirds of the board were members of, or connected to, the Marks and Sieff families. The directors' dining room was like a family party. WH Smith was another large company that then had a number of family members on the board, and was very successful. There is now no direct family control in any of these four companies although there are still large family shareholdings. There is an irony; three of them have suffered a decline in the years since the families were no longer managing. The fourth is Tesco.
In the late sixties the department stores were in decline. Their share of the overall market had never been large, but they were an important part of the retailing scene; very often the focal point of a shopping area. Many were not well managed, and the increasing tendency for the supermarkets and chains like Marks and Spencer and BHS to diversify into household goods and even furniture was hitting them hard. In the intervening years the downward trend continued. Locally Jones and Higgins in Peckham, Bon Marché at Brixton, Pratts at Streatham and Grants of Croydon have all gone. Nevertheless they have not all disappeared. Shops like Debenhams, John Lewis, and Selfridges have flourished, partly because they have gone into the big, new shopping centres like Bluewater, Meadowhall and the Trafford centre while modernising both their management and their merchandising. In the area of clothing both the department stores and M and S and their like have suffered at the hands of the more aggressive price cutting firms like Matalan, and the emerging fashion chains. Surprisingly the small independent fashion shop is making an impact in the more affluent suburbs like Dulwich.
Change, then, there has been in abundance. Did I see it coming? Well, I looked hard at the future and it is interesting to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Big out of town shopping centres were only gleams in eyes in this country then, although they were common in North America and Scandinavia. I said: "In Britain one-stop shopping must be an occasion, and in a tight urban area, one stop is enough for a whole High Street, and the sense of occasion, of an outing, is far more than on a visit to a concrete and glass palace miles out of town." Oh dear! How wrong can one get? What I did get right was forecasting computerised checkouts linked to a company's stock control which could directly debit one's bank account. It was before the time of home computers and the internet but I was rash enough to forecast. "It could be that the housewife will be able to dial the [store's] computer, place her order - perhaps selected by using closed circuit television - and later drive to the store where here goods will have been automatically packed, sorted and accounted." Not quite right but going in the right direction, given the technology of the day. Internet shopping, both with specialised firms and with supermarkets, wine merchants, department stores but more particularly with the supermarkets, is perhaps the latest phase in what was once called a retail revolution, but which is probably more accurately described as "radical evolution."
Many of the main changes in conventional retailing in the previous three-quarters of a century had been the work of Jewish immigrants or their sons. Not only did their methods change retailing, they changed the way we lived. Inexpensive goods of high quality for the masses, new foods, new fashions, all affected our lives. Looking to the future I concluded "If today's shopkeepers, at all levels, do not attract the right successors, inefficient distribution will hold up social and economic progress. It could be that this will allow some new immigrant market trader with energy and idealism to found another Marks and Spencer and show that society can be changed over the counter." This may be so, but the influx of immigrants from East Africa and the sub-continent have, in fact, created a counter-revolution (no pun intended) by rescuing and restoring the corner shop, the newsagent and the independent pharmacy and allowing us to maintain some sense of community in an increasingly corporate world.
Commercial dog-walkers are making increasing use of Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods, to the detriment of the woods - and, sometimes, other dog walkers - and in breach of bye-laws.
The Dulwich Estate has asked society members to contact the estate office with any details of professional dog-walkers using the woods, so that they can be contacted and asked to stop. In response to a request from the society, it has also re-erected its notice at the Grange Lane entrance, which had disappeared, and is considering a suggestion that a separate, special notice should be put up, directed specifically at commercial dog-walking. The main notice states that this is against the bye-laws but is in small print and easily overlooked by a determined bye-law-breaker.
Two notices directed at commercial dog-walkers have also been erected in Sydenham Hill Wood, which is managed by the London Wildlife Trust and is a local nature reserve. One immediately went missing but is being replaced.
The problem is partly that for economic reasons many commercial dog-walkers take too many dogs out - sometimes eight or nine. Since many are not on a lead, they form impromptu "packs", cause trampling and disturbance and sometimes attack other dogs - at least one instance of a (non-professional) dog walker's pet being attacked by such a pack has been reported to the estate. Dog excreta, rarely picked up, is another increasing problem. Many people also feel it is wrong for a public space such as the woods, at least part of which is an important conservation site, to be used for commercial purposes.
The estate office can be contacted on 0208 299 5666. Members who employ dog walkers could also help by relaying these concerns and asking them not to use the woods. The estate says it hopes persuasion will work since court injunctions are costly and time-consuming.
Trees & Wildlife Committees
Both sets of public lavatories in Dulwich Park remained closed for seven of the ten days from 25 December to 3 January. This was a holiday period when more people than usual were in the park, including children using the playground and the sports field. To keep all the park lavatories firmly shut like this seemed to show a lack of imagination on the part of Southwark Council's Department of Environment and Leisure, which no doubt has its own staff and budget constraints but also a public service function. This does not auger well for the undertakings which the Council has evidentially given to raise the quality of park maintenance provision to match Heritage Lottery Fund capital expenditure.
Notices on all the lavatory doors were a model of local authority non-communication. They read:
"Visitor Information Notice
Toilet Opening Hours"
And then listed each individual day on which they would not be open. These began with Saturday 25 December, mysteriously followed by Sunday 27 December, omitting 26 December altogether, perhaps because the two customary Christmas and Boxing Day public holidays were carried forward to Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 December, when the public conveniences would in any case remain shut. This saga continued into the New Year week-end, when closures extended to the additional public holiday on Monday 3 January and for good measure swept in Sunday 2 January on the way. Surprisingly, both sets of lavatories re-opened on 4 January but of course closed again for the following week-end.
If they had the patience to read carefully visitors might have deduced that the lavatories would be open for the three days Wednesday 29 to Friday 31 December, but they should not have relied on this and might not in any case feel able to wait that long. Their hope might have been frustrated by another notice on the door around the corner of the central block which announced with greater finality, that in any case; These toilets will remain shut until further notice because of a burst water main. An indication that this warning might actually be true came from the steady flow of water down the gutter of the main driveway towards the College Road gate, which by mid-January had continued for several weeks. During this emergency the public were invited to use alternative facilities provided in the toilet block now occupied by the London Recumberants near the car park by the College Road gate. Hopes of relief here were not to be raised too high, however, because these lavatory doors were similarly closed throughout the holiday period and bore the same notice about opening hours. Local authority notice- writing language sometimes lacks a sense of irony as was evident because this spate of 'Visitor Information' ended with the helpful formula "We regret any inconvenience caused".
Melon Road in Peckham reminds us that it was named after the Melon Ground that existed there in the eighteenth century and from whence the fruit found its way to the London markets. A 'melon ground' is also noted on the ground plan of Hill House which in the eighteenth century stood near what is now Red Post Hill and the plot was located near the site of the tennis courts in the grounds of James Allen's Girls' School.
So how easy was it to grow melons in Dulwich two hundred years ago? Not at all difficult if you used cold frames and cultivated the melons in much the same way as cucumbers. Melons are propagated from seed sown in a cold frame in May. The seeds should be planted in a compost of three parts bulk of medium loam and one part well-rotted stable manure with a liberal sprinkling of bone meal and wood ashes. This should be spread to a depth of 4"-6" over a porous base such as a layer of clean straw. Germination is rapid and as soon as the seedlings appear some ventilation should be given. By the time the plants have their fourth leaf they may be spaced out on previously prepared mounds using only enough soil to cover the ball. Water twice a week. Remove the male flowers (recognisable by the thin stalk) and all the female flowers should also be picked off each plant leaving only four flowers on each. Dust these with the pollen from the male flower (not necessarily from the same plant). The crop will be ripe in June, the main crop in July. It is also possible to get a late crop. Pull up the old plants, clear off any mould and earth again, give them a little water. Do not water after mid-September. Expect the melons to be ripe at the end of September with the main crop in October or even November.
From 'A Treatise on cultivating melons' by William Allen 1834
Byways of wine - a personal view from Greville Havenhand
Greville Havenhand came from a teetotal family but was introduced to good(and bad) wine by Oxford dons in the 1950s. Later, travelling the world as a BBC documentary maker and editor he grew to appreciate the versatility of wine and wine makers. Many holidays - and work trips - to France expanded his knowledge. On taking early retirement he decided to formalise his knowledge and took wine courses leading to Wine and Spirit Education Trust qualifications. He is an active member of the Dulwich Wine Society, for which he jointly organises wine tours to France. He gives tutored wine tastings and lectures to wine societies throughout London and the South East and is a contributing editor to one of the leading wine websites.
Greville will conduct a Tutored Wine Tasting following the Dulwich Society's Annual General Meeting on Thursday 17 March.