1. At the start of Autumn Term, 1964, a new face appeared at Fleetwood Grammar School: that of Brian Collinge. I had never come across the surname Collinge before, and initially misheard it as “Collins”. Collinge was perhaps approximately of my height and build, though I have the impression that he was more well-muscled than I was. What struck me most forcibly, initially, though, about his appearance, was his hairstyle: his sandy-coloured hair (perhaps somewhat darker than “sandy”) was arranged in an impossibly tall quiff: he had two partings and the hair in between, from crown to forehead, was raised, straight up, about three inches, then curved inwards and forwards. Either side of the quiff, where one might expect, in a Teddy boy, the hair to be combed back into a “d.a.”, it hung downwards. Most boys with such an elaborate hairstyle would have fixed it with Brylcreem, but Collinge didn’t; he used hairspray. “Hairspray? Hairspray’s for girls, surely!” No, this was Cossack, a brand of hairspray for men.
(Not long afterwards, Collinge changed to a Beatle-like style: the side-hair still hung down, but the top-hair was combed forward.)
Collinge had a domed forehead, a smallish nose with a slight bump at the bridge—previously broken in a fight, perhaps?—and pursed, cupid-bow lips. He had a confident stance and self-assured manner, and attracted girls as effortlessly as a magnet attracts iron filings.
Collinge’s accent sounded strange to me, for he came from Burnley; and although Fleetwood had its own brand of strong Lancashire accent, there were differences between it and the way Collinge spoke. He had come to live in Fleetwood, I learned, because his Dad had taken over a corner shop in one of the streets of terraced houses. (The shop was a grocer’s, in Milton Street.)
It was through Peter Gooding that I first got acquainted with Collinge, for he was in Gooding’s form at Fleetwood Grammar School.
2. Leaving school at 3.45 p.m. through the gate in the boys’ playground, Gooding and I would usually turn right to catch the bus at the nearby bus-stop outside a sweetshop [candy store], still known as “Bob’s”, even though it had changed hands more than once since the eponymous Bob had it.
Now, however, the three of us turned right and walked on past Bob’s and down as far as the Victoria cinema. Across the road from there, there were some shops. One was a tobacconist’s, perhaps a tobacconist and sweetshop combined, perhaps even a newsagent’s too. Collinge told us that they sold “Seniors in singles” there. He meant that they would open packs of Senior Service cigarettes, and sell them singly to customers. They were not choosy to whom they sold them, either—we were fourteen, and the minimum age for buying tobacco-products was sixteen—and the shop was sufficiently far from the school, hopefully, to avoid our being observed by staff or prefects.
To buy cigarettes with our parent-provided pocket-money tended to stretch our meagre resources too far.
We might manage a packet of cheap, though rather rough, Woodbines; one could get these in packs of five.
I think Park Drive, also available in fives, were slightly cheaper, though slightly rougher. Certainly, they were not the fags of ideal choice; though, failing to be able to afford Woodbines, if one had to choose between not smoking at all and smoking a Park Drive, one chose the latter.
So, to be able to buy “Seniors”, better quality cigarettes, singly, was welcome.
3. Around the back of the Victoria was a wide alley which provided residents’ access to the rear of the terraced houses in Oak Street and Birch Street. So, leaning against a garage-door at the back of an Oak Street house, we smoked our cigarettes—Gooding, too, though he gave up smoking before I did.
On the garage door, Collinge drew a figure, in which all that could be seen was a mop of hair, apart from two spindly legs beneath, and a smoking fag where one supposed the mouth to be. He called it “Tik”, but his local pronunciation of the “t” was more dental than the usual alveolar “t” of Standard English, almost “Thik”. At his school in Burnley, Tik had been a sign that it was “safe” to smoke in areas where it appeared. If anyone got caught smoking there, the Tik would be scratched out.
4. Brian Collinge gave the impression that he was “hard”, with his arrogant stance and attitude of self-importance. It was a brave young man who dared to mock his outlandish hairstyle: brave, or foolish—or standing sufficiently far off to run away.
Indeed, Collinge was hard, though he was perhaps prone to exaggeration and elaboration when he told us of his exploits when he lived in Burnley: the “feights” that occurred there. In Burnley, he told us, you had to be hard, because youths in gangs wore “pit boots” for “feight’n’”: miners’ safety boots reinforced with steel toecaps. His nickname in Burnley had been “Kicksy”; and I wonder, on reflection, whether that was a reference to “putting the boot in”.
5. I felt almost privileged to be associated with someone so much the centre of male admiration and female adoration, even though I found his domineeringness a bit daunting. He was dissatisfied, though, with my lack of apparent hardness, and took steps to correct the meekness of my demeanour.
First of all, there was the walk. I was slightly pigeon-toed: when I stepped forward I would turn my feet slightly inwards. Collinge insisted that I should strut with my feet turned outwards. I found this quite difficult to accomplish. It also made me feel self-conscious—and if you think consciously about your walking you tend to stumble.
And then, to be hard, one had to:
6. Collinge bragged about his amorous exploits with birds, as well as about his “feight’n’”, and his stories were quite credible, for he had no shortage of lasses trying to ingratiate themselves with him. “Gerroff me, I’m married!” he would say. So that was another reason to hang around with him: to see if one could acquire some of his charm and confidence, and success, with the fairer sex.
Hanging around with Brian Collinge
7. Chris Woodhead and I went to Poulton with Collinge, to seek out some bird that was supposed to be after him, or that he was after. This, Chris recalls, was his first meeting with Collinge. And Chris was nominated to go to the door to ask for her. Strange, that our rôle-model in hardness should demur in this way, right at the outset! It was he, after all, who wanted to see this girl. Anyhow, after much discussion, Chris was sent to the door, and he challenged the girl who opened it; he said, “Are you Alison (whatever her surname was)?” And she wasn’t; it was her sister.
8. On another occasion—or perhaps more than one—the three of us were in Fleetwood.
We shared a bottle of beer from an off-licence. This was illegal for fourteen-year-olds, and I didn’t like the taste of beer anyway, but doing it was part of being “hard”. I think, on this occasion, it was Collinge who dared to go into the shop to attempt the purchase, because Chris and I didn’t think we looked old enough. You had to be eighteen to buy alcoholic drink. Privately, the reason I didn’t volunteer to do it was that I was scared, but the age-excuse saved me from exposure as not hard. When Collinge emerged triumphant, clutching his prize, the problem then was: how to remove the crown cork from the brown-glass bottle. I seem to remember him trying it in various positions in his mouth, to prise it off with his teeth; but whether he succeeded, or whether in the end he dashed it off on the corner of a garden-wall, I don’t recall.
10. We went down the seafront promenade with Collinge. It was getting towards Bonfire Night, an annual celebration held in the UK on 5th November. And Collinge decided that we would climb to the top of one of the flat-roofed concrete shelters there. And we trying to show ourselves to be very hard, so couldn’t refuse. It was the first time that I’d shinned up a drainpipe. We were both “shitting bricks”, but we made it. Why do I recall that this was towards Bonfire Night? Were we equipped with bangers [firecrackers], to light, and drop over the edge to scare passers-by, then duck back and hide from them? Getting down again was at least as scary as climbing up: we didn’t jump off; we lowered ourselves so that we were hanging from the ledge by our fingertips, then let ourselves drop.
11. After Chris and I visited his old home town Grimsby, and we got off with Jennifer Ballard and Ann Nurse (see Ann Nurse), we felt quite proud of ourselves; and on our return, at the beginning of November 1964, we were eager to report our success to our “mentor”. But Collinge seemed rather unimpressed, as though we couldn’t possibly have done it properly without him.
12. Collinge had a made-to-measure suit, with slanting pocket-flaps, and no breast pocket. He didn’t see the point of having the latter, so told the tailor not to include it. When I was best man at the wedding of Ken Wood, as late as September 1969, the suit, which I had made to measure, had—guess what?—slanting pocket-flaps and no breast-pocket.
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