Examining a UK Military Police Land Rover at Wimbledon Common

A recent stay in Wimbledon and visit to Wimbledon Common along with a visit to Gap Road cemetery made me think about what the area was like during the Second World War. One description emerges from the contents of a BBC website.

Military Land Rover

WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’

John Ingham WW2 People’s War 6th November 2003.

The Canadian soldier in uniform paused from pushing his bike as we left Ann’s Pantry with our meagre ration of boiled sweets. “I’m on holiday. Do you know where I can stay?” he asked, cheerfully enough.

It was a sunny day in September 1940 and we were in West Place the row of old-world cottages on Wimbledon Common. Besides the sweet shop, the boss of the Roman Well Laundry lived there, and there was the yard of Hill’s, the builders, where I sometimes used to play. I accepted the soldier’s gum, “You could live in the bush house we’ve built on the Common” I answered.
He agreed without hesitation and for several mornings I would walk from my home at 4 Northview with a bowl of porridge and some apples. In return the soldier would show our gang how to make a sling tough enough to bring down wildlife for food, like he said he did in open country in Canada. He’d make whistles from a fresh sapling branch by first slipping off the bark, cutting the nicks and then sliding the bark back in place. And he’d tell us wondrous stories.

It was an idyllic time for an eight-year old boy. As yet there were no bombs. But it couldn’t last, though not because of Hitler. One morning as I carried out breakfast a policeman with two Canadian soldiers, who turned out to be armed Military Police men, asked me the question I can hear to this day. “Certainly, I’ve seen a soldier. We are looking after him in our bush house.”

They took him away and as he left escorted by the three in uniform, he gave me a glance. Only later, overhearing my parents whisper the word Deserter, did I realise what I had done. And I remember crying.

Not long afterwards my parents decided we should be evacuated and my mother hired an open lorry driven by a man named Slim. We children sat on a settee among beds and clothes. Thankfully it did not rain and the German bombers steered clear too!

We returned before the war ended, in time to shelter from incendiary bombs on the Common. The ack-ack gun by the windmill brought down a Heinkel which burned to pieces on the Royal Wimbledon Golf Course and our front window was blown in.

When the war ended our Northview gang built the biggest-ever bonfire. I still live half a mile from the actual place of this tale, and I might even find the actual bush!


All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon: Photo Credit: AELTC / Professional Sport / Jon Buckle

All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club: Photo Credit: AELTC / Professional Sport / Jon Buckle

Wimbledon: it’s that time of year again! Wimbledon is everywhere in the media, including news bulletins on television and radio and of course in the newspapers. It’s not the football club (now AFC Wimbledon, based at Kingsmeadow near Kingston-on-Thames) but rather the tennis that carries the name of this famous London suburb worldwide.

Already on day one of the Championships there has been a major shock, with Rafael Nadal of Spain, the number five seed, being put out 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 in the first round of the mens’ singles by a Belgian, Steve Darcis, ranked number 135. The defeat of  Nadal potentially gives Britain’s Andy Murray an easier route to the final as they were in the same side of the draw. Murray, seeded second, saw off Germany’s Benjamin Becker 6-4 6-3 6-2 on the Centre Court.

The Club was founded on 23rd July 1868 as The All England Croquet Club. Its first location was at a field alongside the railway line at Worple Road in Wimbledon, close to where I used to live. In my days there as a schoolboy I could cycle or walk to the new location at Church Road and in the late afternoon, under-16s could gain admission for half a crown (2s 6d). After 6pm or so, some fans would be leaving the centre court or number one court and you could get their seats for the rest of the evening, thanks to some friendly commissionaires.

The name was changed in 1877 to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and in 1899 to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In 1922 it moved to hurch Road. As the vintage London Transport Museum posters show, this site is closer to Southfields station rather than the terminus of Wimbledon on the District Line of the Underground, which in this part of South London is actually overground!. On 1st August 2011 the Club was converted into a company limited by guarantee under the name The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club Limited. The activities of the Club, as a private members’ club, are conducted separately from The Championships.

Plaque unveiled at Worple Road June 2012: Photo Wimbledon Guardian

Plaque unveiled at Worple Road June 2012: Photo Wimbledon Guardian

Last year a plaque was unveiled to celebrate the holding of the first Wimbledon Championships in 1877, as well as the 1908 Olympic Tennis event, at the former home of the Club in Worple Road. The site is now used as playing fields for Wimbledon High School.

Philip Brook, Chairman of the All England Club, said: “As our former home, Worple Road occupies a special place of affection in the All England Club’s history. The return of the Olympic tennis for the first time since 1908 offered us the perfect opportunity to celebrate our heritage at Worple Road and we are delighted to have commissioned this new plaque to tell that story”. Heather Hanbury, Headmistress of Wimbledon High School, said: “We are immensely proud of our connection with the history of tennis in Wimbledon and with the Olympics in this special year (2012). Watching our girls play on the site, 104 years on, reminds us how lucky we are”.

The inscription for the plaque reads:



The Wimbledon Guardian compared the championships then and now:-


ENTRANCE FEE TO MEN’S FINAL   = 1 shilling (1887) =£3,200 (2012)

PRIZE FUND FOR MEN’S  =12 guineas (1887) =£1,600,000 (2013)

ATTENDANCE AT CHAMPIONSHIPS  =60,000 (estimated, 1913-1921) =484,805 (2012)

LENGTH OF MEN’S FINAL =48 minutes (1887) =2 hours and 29 minutes (2011)

ATTENDANCE AT FINAL =200 (1887) =15,000 (2012)

WHO COULD PLAY? =Men singles only (1887) =Everybody including younger players (2013)

DRESS CODE =White long sleeves for men and corsets for women (19th century) =Short skirts and sleeves all allowed. A lot of leg always on show (2013)

One other interesting statistic: Wimbledon is the largest single annual sporting catering operation carried out in Europe, employing 1800 staff. Strawberries and cream are not the only delicacy on the menu. A few years ago when she was a student at Newcastle-on-Tyne my daughter worked on a stand selling gourmet hot dogs. Two of my neighbours from Belfast were attending the Championships and bumped into her there among the crowds. On another occasion I walked with her up Wimbledon Hill and down to Church Road on the route I used to go as a schoolboy and accompanied her to the gates near the Centre Court as she began her shift. It certainly brought back memories of those days fifty years ago when I could watch some of the great players in action and when Britain’s star player was Ann Haydon-Jones, closely followed by Virginia Wade. Haydon-Jones won the French Open in 1966. Margaret Court from Australia won the women’s singles title in 1963.

Average quantities supplied by Championships’ caterers FMC.

  • 300,000 cups of tea and coffee
  • 250,000 bottles of water
  • 207,000 meals served
  • 200,000 glasses of Pimm’s
  • 190,000 sandwiches
  • 150,000 bath buns, scones, pasties and doughnuts
  • 135,000 ice creams
  • 130,000 lunches are served
  • 100,000 pints of draught beer and lager
  • 60,000 Dutchees
  • 40,000 char-grilled meals served
  • 32,000 portions of fish and chips
  • 30,000 litres of milk
  • 28,000 kg (112,000 punnets) of English strawberries
  • 25,000 bottles of champagne
  • 23,000 bananas
  • 20,000 portions of frozen yoghurt
  • 12,000 kg of poached salmon and smoked salmon
  • 7,000 litres of dairy cream
  • 6,000 stone baked pizzas


BBC TV Centre London

BBC TV Centre London

So farewell to the loyal and trusted servant Esther Rantzen called a”media cathedral”. BBC television has made its last live broadcast from the London HQ opened 53 years ago. It will vacate the 14 acre site on Sunday March 31st.  TV Centre was sold last year for £200m to a property developer and is to be redeveloped into a hotel, flats, a cinema and offices.

Stage Six TV Centra

Stage Six TV Centre

The three main television studios will be refitted and leased out to production companies, including the BBC, from 2014/15. The commercial arm BBC Worldwide will move into what is known as “Stage 6”, an area used by BBC News up until its transfer to Broadcasting House in a new multimedia newsroom near Oxford Circus. Many other BBC staff have now moved to the new Media City at Salford Quays beside Manchester.

Having started my news reporting training in the basement of the old section of Broadcasting House in April 1974 on my 22nd birthday, it was slightly daunting to move on to the television side of the operation. This meant a period of familiarisation at the television centre at White City, a very different location from the bustling atmosphere of central London.

My first day there (and I have just found the paperwork for the course) was on October 21st 1974. There were eight trainees including myself on the course. One of the particpants on the same scheme the previous year was Tony Hall, who after moving to the private sector in 2001 is the incoming Director General of the BBC. The month-long course was organised by Ivor Yorke, who went on to become head of journalist training and wrote a manual on television news reporting. The first day consisted of a tour of the Spur, followed by a visit to the news studio N1 and a seat in the observation gallery for the rehearsal and transmission of the early evening bulletin at 5:45pm. It was fascinating to see all the elements coming together and then watch as the news went live.

TV Centre 1977

TV Centre 1977

I remember amongst others Philip Hayton who had just started as a TV home news reporter. His colleagues at the time included Michael Buerk and Michael Cole. The late Brian Hanrahan who had joined the Corporation as a junior clerk in the photo library in 1971 was a sub-editor or script writer, before moving on to become duty editor and then Northern Ireland Correspondent, based in Belfast.

Brian Hanrahan

Brian Hanrahan

Brian was among the people I found very welcoming when I began a three months attachment in television newsroom immediately after the short course. I met him again on one or two occasions when he was sent back to cover events in the North. Only now am I discovering that he was a supporter of the Integrated Education Fund here and had attended an IEF dinner at the House of Lords a month before his death.

Among my memories of working at the television centre are the visits to the canteen for lunch and tea breaks (the duration of which was laid down in agreements with the unions). There was also the possibility of visiting the fourth floor BBC Club, particularly after a shift had finished.

BBC Club at TV Centre

BBC Club at TV Centre

On Thursday nights when Top of the Pops was recorded in one of the large studios  the bar was usually crowded. Among the acts who appeared with their Christmas single in 1974 were The Wombles from Wimbledon, where I was living in a bedsit at the time. I was also able to follow once again the fortunes of the local football club, then top of the Southern League and enjoying a great FA Cup run.

Other big programmes to be recorded there or broadcast live included Blue Peter, Morecambe and Wise and I, Claudius along with sports programmes such as Grandstand, to name but a few. A record of many of the programmes and an informal history of Television Centre can be found here.

News Extra Caption

News Extra Caption

David Holmes

David Holmes

My main memory of may days at White City will be my role as a sub editor on the innovative late-night news programme on BBC2 called News Extra, when the late Derrick Amoore who had created Nationwide was Editor of Television News. The regular presenter was David Holmes. However the starting time for the bulletin was a bit of a moveable feast, being any time after 11pm usually. There was one consolation however of having to work after midnight. The BBC in those days provided taxis home for its staff late at night and I would usually share with a colleague heading in the same direction.

Although the bulletin was a change from the regular evening ones on BBC1 and allowed time for reporters to explain the background to a story in four or five minute film packages with longer interviews, instead of the standard ninety seconds or two minutes, it managed only to attract around half a million viewers nightly, mainly insomniacs, I suspect! In his book “Putting Reality Together: BBC News” (1987), Professor Philip Schlesinger (Glasgow) says that the great self-confidence in the Television News department in the early 1970s following the move from Alexandra Palace and the assured place of News in the Corporation’s output had disappeared by 1975. He goes on:-

The main symptom of the News Department’s loss of prestige was the axing of the BBC-2 late-night news programme News Extra. According to informants this came about because the programme, the most sophisticated news output of the department, was extremely vulnerable at a time when the BBC was looking for cuts. News Extra was axed for several reasons. The most fundamental would seem to be its failure to attract high audience ratings, at a time when outputs had increasingly to be justified in those terms — even those on the ‘minority’ channel, BBC-2. In the world of commercially competitive broadcasting, not even a public service Corporation can escape the ultima ratio. While News Extra’s defenders argued that it was being transmitted on a channel where audiences were anyway not high, this proved to be no defence“.

If I get time, I will add pictures of some old scripts from News Extra here. For a glimpse inside the vacated offices of TV centre, there are some in this article (Daily Mail) “End of an era: Sad pictures of inside of what’s left of BBC TV Centre as doors  close for the last time and staff move across London”.


I’m an eBay rookie and now the proud possessor of a gold star. That sounds impressive. But regular buyers and sellers will know the rating means little at this stage, just an indicator of reliance as far as payment is concerned after more than ten transactions. You really have to be in the red star category reserved for over 1,000 positive transactions before it becomes significant. Even then you are less than half way up the ladder! For those of you who wonder how the company awards the stars, the details can be found (new window) here.
I joined the world’s online marketplace to purchase some rare books and am very pleased with my purchases so far. Three have been acquired from sellers in the USA. So far the American postal service has been very reliable, although the airmail cost is sometimes more than the book itself. I have also used eBay to add to my collection of Wimbledon football club programmes and memorabilia. Among the items I purchased were two lapel badges, one from the time the Dons were in the Premier league. One programme was from the first important match I remember namely Wimbledon v Sutton United in the 1963 Amateur Cup final at Wembley.

There’s also a communal song sheet from the same occasion, sponsored by the Daily Express. During the match, postman Eddie Reynolds from Derry scored four goals with his head to help despatch the opposition 4-2. Eamonn McCann included Eddie’s story in a recent article in (new window) HotPress magazine. He also gave me a mention for introducing him to (new window)  AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow. I also bought on eBay a book of carols which my daughter required for her choir. Sometimes a buyer has to bid for an item in an auction and the item will be up for grabs for a limited time, after which the highest bidder wins. I have lost one bid but all others have thankfully been successful. Eventually I may decide to test the water as a seller and if my better half gets her way, that will be sooner rather than later!  An important footnote in view of the state of the Irish economy: eBay, together with its online payment company PayPal, employs over 1,700 people at its European headquarters in Dublin, making it one of the country’s largest employers.


UPDATE on the tennis: Serena Williams won the womens’ final in very convincing style, 6-3 6-2. It was her fourth Wimbledon title. This AP photo was accessed through CBS News (new window)

In a BBC interview live on court Serena thanked her family, including her sister Venus, her father, and the crowd. Serena has now moved ahead of Billie Jean King into sixth place on the list of women’s Grand Slam champions with 13, the most of any active woman player. She turned to King, who was sitting in the Royal Box, and said: “Hey, Billie — I got you. This is No. 13 for me now. It’s just amazing to able to be among such great people.” King grinned and applauded. “That’s actually my lucky number,” Williams said of number 13.

The new champion graciously congratulated her opponent, Vera Zvonareva from Russia, who played in her first Grand Slam final and was the second-lowest ranked women’s finalist ever at Wimbledon. “Everyone should give her a big round of applause,” Williams said. “She defines what being a champion and never giving up means.”