An American Abroad, Part 3
Time now for the final instalment of my distant American relative John D Lewis’s account of his extended business and personal visit to the UK in May and June 1952 – in which he goes into tourist mode in London, finds West End theatre unbearably exciting (or not), and witnesses those far distant days when this country actually still had some half-way competent politicians.
I travelled by underground to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. There I found an intriguing display of approximately 350 wax figures. They represented men and women of note, from all nations. In the basement was the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ – an extra shilling, please. The gruesome scenes of brutality [in] the early centuries…it was almost unbelievable what took place in the early part of this nation. I was told that the ladies sometimes fainted when viewing the terrible deeds.
Other places of interest that I visited were Buckingham Palace, with the colourful garbed guards…Through the kindness of Count Holleg, manager of the London office of the Neill Malcolm company, I secured a pass to attend Parliament, and saw Churchill, Attlee and Eden in the House of Commons. Their actions are much like our own Congress. I was amused when either member of the Liberal or Conservative government (sic) made a speech, each member of the particular party would shout ‘hey! hey!’ (sic again – he means ‘hear, hear’, of course).
The next day, I took a sight-seeing tour, visiting Marlborough House, the home of Queen Mary; Number 10 Downing Street, Churchill’s headquarters; Scotland Yard; London Bridge; Petticoat Lane, open on Sunday only, and is operated by the Jews. (No comment – D) What a congestion! Clarence House, the home of former Queen Elizabeth (suspect he means Alexandra – D), Saint James’s palace for ambassadors, the Mint and the Tower of London. Spent some time here, viewing this ancient landmark, with colourful guards on parade and the famed Beefeaters. Such pageantry! This is where the Crown Jewels are kept – diamonds, rubies, sapphires and garnets, valued at eleven million pounds, or nearly 33 million dollars. Next, to Tower Bridge, the Bank of England situated on Threadneedle Street, Saint Paul’s cathedral, Westminster Abbey…within a distance of two miles from the abbey is where most of the bombing took place in the last war. One thousand children were killed in one night. When one views this terrible devastation, we forcibly realise that the peoples of England were a brave and courageous nation. They fought back Hitler’s forces, while we supplied them arms, thus granting us time to mobilise our fighting men.*
I also visited ‘Millionaire’s Row’, but there are no more millionaires, as the government levies a tax of 97%, and this in turn has forced them to give up their estates. The street (Bishops’ Avenue, Hampstead – D) is one mile in length, and is blocked off, with police at both ends of the street. No cars are allowed to travel there. The houses are occupied by ambassadors of various nations. Two policemen were stationed in front of the Russian embassy…
I should mention here that, the second day after my first arrival in London, I decided to attend the theatre, to see an English play. The theatre booking agent recommended the hilarious comedy titled ‘Under the Sycamore Tree’. It was so funny that I slept during the first act. ‘My, what dry English comedy.’ I did manage to awake at intermission, in time for tea and sweets. I remained conscious through the second act, but it was not because of the hilarity of the play. However, on my second trip to London I saw the ‘Follies Bergere’ in ‘From Paris to Piccadilly’, and I should say that this really made up for the other, the scenery and costumes were gorgeous, the players were well cast, and [there was] a comedian who was really on the ball.
(‘Under the Sycamore Tree’ premiered in April of that year, with the young Alec Guinness in the cast. The irony of John’s assessment of ‘English humour’ is that the playwright was actually Sam Spewack, an American most famous for Kiss Me Kate. The comedian ‘who was really on the ball’ in the Follies Bergere revue was Norman Wisdom. – D)
I did neglect to mention ‘Dirty Dick’s pub’. Years ago the owner of this famed pub was about to be married. He planned a huge wedding breakfast, but during the night the near-bride passed away. Dirty Dick never returned to the pub. Years have passed and the owner has crossed the great divide. However, the famous pub carries on, nothing has changed. If you were to visit there today, you would find cobwebs, spiderwebs, rats and mice all over the place. In the US, the Board of Health would close it up. But not so in England, for they covet and live by their traditions…
(The pub still exists, although I haven’t been there for many years. Inevitably, though, ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ has caught up with it, and its website proclaims that ‘the cobwebs, dead cats, and other unusual features of Dirty Dicks…have now been tidied a to a glass display case’. – D)
The time of departure has arrived. It’s always sad to say farewell, but it was with a feeling of satisfaction that I hastened to the Heathrow airport to board the TWA plane for the good old USA, making four stops – Shannon, Gander, Boston and New York.
And so we’ll bid farewell to ‘John D’. I’ve omitted his long account of his visit to his (and my) hometown of Llanelli, where he met many family members including my grandmother and, indeed, my mother, then in her mid-twenties, whom he considered to be ‘a nice, sensible girl’. She corresponded with him for some years thereafter. John D Lewis died on 7 May 1961, aged 73.
(* John might have had in mind his own son Myron, my second cousin once removed, who served as a forward artillery observer in Europe during World War II and rose to the rank of captain.)