Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Eccles’

Britain’s Post-War Demolition Madness

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st July, 2019

The Rovers ReturnGrowing up in Eccles, on the western outreaches of Salford, a few years after the Second World War, I was very conscious how drab and grey much of Greater Manchester was. Whereas the 19th century had seen an extraordinary industrial boom, propelling the city from a certain obscurity to global importance, the 20th century had witnessed gradual decline. Many of the magnificent city centre buildings had become soot-black, and stately warehouses and commercial premises were empty or abandoned. Even as a schoolkid, busing across both Salford and Manchester every weekday to get to Manchester Grammar School, I was aware that a lot of demolition was going on. Coronation Street — which really existed — and many other back-to-back housing districts were being “cleared” in the 1960s, just when the Granada TV series (launched in 1960) that had expropriated the name was becoming a national ITV favourite. The fictional street had a pub called the Rovers Return, and that name was also a steal: the real Rovers Return had been the self-proclaimed oldest “beerhouse” in Britain, in Shudehill, supposedly established in the early 14th century, but demolished in 1958. It may seem incredible to us now that such a piece of heritage could be casually disposed of, as the city’s socialist administration aimed to “modernise” and “regenerate” the urban environment. But that was the leitmotif of the era. Even as a callow youth I decried the demolition of some of the fabulous mansions on “Millionaires Row” near Hope that my bus passed daily.

Poplar 1950When I came to London in 1982 (after eight years in Brussels) I discovered similar things had been going on here, as housing estates and high-rise blocks of flats replaced more traditional forms of low-rise housing. When I moved to Bow, in 1986, I assumed that the blocks of flats on the other side of the road had replaced bomb-sites, but not a bit of it. There had been rows of late Victorian terraced houses, just like mine, that had been bulldozed after the War in the name of progress. These days, our side of the road is a conservation area, thankfully, but the neighbourhood opposite cannot be conserved because it has gone. Of course, German bombing did destroy a lot of Britain’s urban landscape, but was it really necessary to just continue obliterating the physical memories of the past? I believe not. At least trees are being planted everywhere in Tower Hamlets these days. But even their beautiful greenness cannot hide the architectural ghosts of the past.

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How I’ve Come to Love Manchester

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd November, 2017

8619AE8C-F0AC-4C09-990D-BE3BBA7078DBI spent the first 18 years of my life in Manchester, the last eight of which involved a one-hour term-time daily commute from the (adopted family’s) house in which I grew up in Eccles right across the city to school. Hating both “home” and the school (as described in my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes), I endured a very dark period in my life, so seized the opportunity of leaving school early and heading off to Asia to find a different world. Some years later, after I had emptied the house in Eccles and driven the last van load of furniture down to London, I bid Manchester farewell for the last time — or so I thought. Quite apart from the bad personal memories I had of the place, the city at that time was suffering from serious post-industrial depression, the buildings were black and whole districts of back-to-back houses, Coronation Street style, were physically decaying or being knocked down. I vowed never to return. But fate had other plans. The school, with which I had had absolutely no contact since I walked out of the door in March 1969, suddenly wrote to me asking if I would speak to the sixth form about Politics and this coincided with the extraordinary reunion with my birth family, as recounted in an episode of BBc2’s Family Finders. So I started coming back to the city from time to time and found what has become a favourite hotel, where I am now staying. Manchester has changed to an extraordinary degree over the last 50 years, fundamentally for the better. Not only is it cleaner and blessed with an excellent public transport system these days but it is also vibrant. The huge student population has ensured that there is a lively club scene and without a doubt people are friendlier than down south. Of course it still rains a lot — though today there is a brilliant blue sky, as I prepare for the AGM of the Authors Licensing and ollecting Society (ALCS) that will be taking place in the Midland Hotel this afternoon — but whereas I used to wander the streets in gloom now I savour the vistas of grand 19th century buildings as I walk with a spring in my step. I don’t regret the fact that I now live in cosmopolitan London, but it is a wonderful feeling to have come to love my home town.

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th July, 2016

Eccles Cakes cover 1This week, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survivalwas published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.



paperback from Lulu books:

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Communist China’s 60th Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st October, 2009

Mao ZedongOn 1 October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was declared. I wasn’t yet born, but I remember vividly at my primary school in Eccles in the late 1950s the headmaster standing in front of a world map (the British Empire still reassuring coloured pink) explaining how ‘we’ (the Western world) were going to liberate China from the murderous Reds, by backing Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalists on the island of Taiwan. Thank God the man was only in charge of a school, not the country. But something about that lesson stuck in my mind, so that by the time I was in secondary school, I was doodling Chinese characters (some real, most imagined); for some strange reason, ideograms fascinated me. The fact that ‘Red China’ had by then cut itself off from the world and was entering what would turn into the long nightmare of the Cultural Revolution only made it more mysterious, more alluring.

Great Wall of ChinaTo cut a long story short, I ended up reading Chinese at university and was in Taiwan, doing my year abroad, when Richard Nixon went to China. The family I was lodging with near Taipei were frozen on the spot with fear as we listened to the broadcasts on the radio. They couldn’t believe that their great ally, the United States, had defected to the other side. Nixon was a class act. He was taken to the Great Wall and declared, ‘Gee, this is a great wall!’ Little did I realise that only two years later I would be asked to write a book about it (the Wall, that is). At last I got to go to the People’s Republic, to see things for myself. Beijing was all bicycles, seemingly millions of them, and most people still wandered round in Mao suits.

Zhou EnlaiSixty years on from the day that the Great Helmsman stood before the cheering masses in Tiananmen Square, China is one of the most materialist societies on earth. Skyscrapers shoot up in every city, while the streets are clogged with cars. People’s life expectancy has doubled since 1949 and for most people — not all — the quality of life has improved exponentially. China is now poised to make the 21st century its own. Should this be something we in the West celebrate or fear? As the late Prime Minister Zhou Enlai said when asked what he thought about the French Revolution, ‘it’s too soon to tell.’

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Salford, Give Aung San Suu Kyi Her Freedom!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th September, 2008

  I spent the first 17 years of my life in Salford (though I was born in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, on the Protestant side of the River Irwell). I remember the council knocking down the magnificent Victorian mansions of ‘Millionaires Row’ and the tram lines being ripped up. The city’s only claim to fame at the time was ‘Coronation Street’; as a schoolboy in short trousers, I got a hair-netted Violet Carson’s autograph when I visited the Granada filming lot. These days, of course, it has all gone terribly up-market, what with the Lowry Museum and the BBC.

Now, thanks to Unison, the trade union, a new spotlight has fallen on Salford, as the debate rages as to whether the Freedom of the City should be given to the Burmese democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi — who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for yonks — or the Manchester United left-winger and occasional forward, Ryan Giggs. Well, I was almost brought up with a red scraf round my neck, but I hope Ryan Giggs is enough of a gentleman to recognise that Suu Kyi deserves it more than he does. Some people will complain that she has no real link to Salford, but then neither did Nelson Mandela, who was previously made a Freeman.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received numerous awards for her brave and dignifed struggle in opposition to Burma’s hideous junta. These include the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov prize and Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom (which I was pleased to see acknowledged in today’s ‘Guardian’). But as a Salford lad, albeit now a London immigrant, I would be thrilled if the city gave her its plaudits as well. I’ll even be writing to the MP for my own home seat (Eccles) about it, none other than Labour’s Red Squirrel, Hazel Blears.

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