1972. London Calling

London, England

Bell bottoms, platform shoes and a denim jacket with a Union Jack patch sewn on. Fab!

“Turn down that ‘yah-yah’music!” my Mum called out to me as she came into my bedroom. I was lying on my bed listening to the nightly ‘Beatles Show’ on radio 4BC in Brisbane on my transistor radio. Love Me Do had been and gone and Please Please Me and She Loves You were currently topping the record charts. It was 1963, my first year at grammar school, and the Beatles invasion of the world has well and truly begun.

From that time on I was a Beatles fan. It wasn’t just their music it was everything about them and their influence on my world. Suddenly, four-piece rock and roll bands were everywhere as Saturday night music and dance venues became the place to be. In my home town of Brisbane, one of the most influential bands of the 60’s was the Purple Hearts playing at a venue called the Primitif. Their lead singer was an ex-Brit named Mick Hadley and their music was pure British R&B. Throughout the 1960s, at School and following school at art college, I remained a devotee of British music.

The 60’s rolled into the 70’s. The first time I heard London calling was in 1971. It was one year after Dinah and I were married, and I was working at radio station 4BK in Brisbane in their Promotions Department. Beatlemania of the 1960’s had passed, and London was moving to a new beat driven largely by Ziggy Stardust, aka a young David Bowie. The Union Jack flag adorned clothing’s new hip denim brand, South Sea Bubble and dedicated followers of fashion (women and men) strutted around on outrageous platform sole shoes.

From ‘Love Me Do’ to London Town

A number of our friends had embarked on what was then the great Aussie pilgrimage to London. Dinah and I had talked about joining out friends there. On an impulse, one lunch hour I strolled into the down-town Brisbane office of Qantas Airlines and booked a one-way ticket to London for the following March – just 5 months away. I was 22 and Dinah was just 21. Returning to work that afternoon, I mentioned our impending trip to London to friend and 4BK Traffic Manager, Kim Varney. The following day, Kim walked into Qantas and bought tickets to London for she and her husband John. They were due to arrive in London two weeks after Dinah and me. And so started an amazing friendship for the four of us that endured long after we all arrived back home in Australia.

Final farewells to our parents and friends and off we flew, arriving in London on 29 March 1972, Dinah’s 22 birthday. And thus began our first real travel adventure and our first trip overseas.

I’ll always remember that flight to London. It wasn’t our first aeroplane flight, but it was our first international flight – passports and all! While the Jumbo jet was the new way to fly, departing from Brisbane in 1972 meant that we had to depart in a Boeing 707, as Brisbane’s runway at that time was not long enough to accommodate the Jumbo. First stop Darwin to refuel then on to Singapore. In Singapore we changed to the Jumbo for the remainder of our journey via Bahrain and Amsterdam to London. Stepping on-board a Jumbo for the first time, I couldn’t believe the size of the aircraft. How wide it was – all those seats, and how high the ceiling was. And what about that spiral staircase winding up to First Class and on Qantas, the Captain Cook Lounge. One day we’ll climb those stairs!

It was a long flight and we were so excited. We were organised and had sufficient funds (just) to support us until we found jobs in London. Kim and John were due to arrive two weeks later so our first challenge was to find accommodation for the four of us. We found a nice ground floor two-bedroom apartment in Dartmouth Road, Kilburn in North West London. This was a very convenient location, being just a short walk to the Kilburn Tube Station and about 15 minutes by tube to the West End; Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. What we didn’t realise was that Kilburn was pro-Irish territory at a time when the IRA were active in London. As it turned out this was a good thing, as there was no fear of IRA activity in Kilburn!

We had friends already working in London who had promised to help us find employment on our arrival. Through John Churven, a friend from my days at Myer Advertising in Australia, I landed a job as a copywriter in the Advertising Department of Selfridges Store in Oxford Street. Selfridges is a famous department store in London and is right up there with Harrods. I worked primarily on the Miss Selfridge fashion brand. It was a lot of fun and, as it turned out, we won some pretty impressive British retail advertising awards for our work. Following a short stint as a telex operator for Myer’s Buying Office in London through her Myer Australia connection, Dinah worked for the Hendon Town Hall and specifically, for activities relating to Kensington Palace. Kim and John Varney arrived two weeks after us, John accepting the role of Manager of the Piccadilly Circus Bowling Alley and Kim, working for Smiths Electronics. So, we all had landed on our feet with good jobs on OK pay.

A pint and a plan

A favourite watering-hole for we Australians working in London was the Henry Holland Hotel in Duke Street in London’s West End. The fact that it was directly opposite the Duke Street entrance to Selfridges made it even more attractive for John and me. One evening in late June, the conversation turned to summer holidays and what our plans might be. Someone suggested Spain. Then Portugal. I suggested Greece. Greece? No one went to Greece. I explained that my mother and father had just returned from a year travelling around Greece and the Greek Islands and raved about it. After some to-ing and fro-ing and numerous pints of best bitter, it was agreed; Greece for the summer of 1972.

London to Athens. What a trip!

Dinah and I decided to make our trip to Greece a holiday adventure in itself, visiting and spending some time in Paris on the way. We caught the ferry from Dover to Calais on the French coast and then a coach to Paris. An expensive city, but an amazing city. We booked into a small 3-star hotel, the Hotel Abbatial Saint Germain on the Boulevard Saint Germain, accepting that the cost of an inner-city hotel would be offset by the fact that we could walk to most places. It was a nice hotel, clean and comfortable and most importantly, it was less than one kilometre from the city centre.

We spent four days in Paris seeing the sights. As home of the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvre was top of the list. With a fantastic collection of art and artefacts from all ages and from around the world, the Louvre is considered by many to be the world’s greatest art museum. Next on the list, Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture located in the symbolic heart of Paris. The Eiffel Tower, like the Statue of Liberty in New York, is about as ‘Paris’ as you can get. We had the opportunity to take the elevator to the viewing platform on top of the tower. This is a spectacular way to see the city. We loved walking along the banks of the Seine River, promenading along the Champs-Elysees and meandering through the magnificent parks. We did get a rude awaking however when we stopped to rest on one particular park bench. A part ranger wanted to charge us 10 Francs for the privilege. We quickly moved on. Time to board the train for Athens.

What a train ride! From Paris through France into Italy and to Rome, where we stopped briefly. Then into Yugoslavia, a communist country bordering northern Greece. By the time we reached Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, the train was absolutely filthy. We had been onboard for almost three days and there had been no attempt to clean the train at any stops. Nor was there a food carriage. We had relied on snacks we were able to buy on station platforms on-route. To add to our woes, Yugoslav military came on board, demanding to see our passports and checking for permits to enter the country. We had been told in London that we wouldn’t need permits as we were simply transiting Yugoslavia on our way to Athens. Unfortunately, no one had told the Yugoslav guards this. They promptly hauled Dinah and I and other tourist travellers off the train and kept us waiting for two hours before finally letting us continue our train journey. Very frightening as they had machine pistols and they had our passports.

Eventually, we crossed into northern Greece where the train stopped to refuel. Cleaners went through and cleaned the carriages from top to bottom and a dining carriage was connected to the train. The remainder of our journey south through Greece to Athens was fantastic. What a pleasure and relief to finally arrive in Athens.

“Yassou.” Hello and welcome to Greece

In all, we spent three months in Greece. The first few days we went sightseeing around Athens. This is an amazing city when one considers it is often regarded as the birthplace of modern civilisation. There is just so much ancient history to see. We found Greeks to be an incredibly welcoming and friendly people, both on the mainland and subsequently, on the islands. One reason for this is the close association Australia has with Greece, borne out of our support in defence of Greece during the Second World War and more recently, our welcoming of Greeks migrating to Australia to live. Melbourne has the second largest Greek population outside Athens.

We had agreed to meet our friends from London on the Island of Hydra. A three-and one-half hour ferry trip and we arrived at one of the most idyllic of all Greek islands, with the most beautiful natural harbour. We spent 2 months on Hydra. Each morning early, we boys unloaded the small freighter ships that plied to and from the mainland and received a few drachmas for our work – enough to support our stay on this beautiful island. Days turned into weeks until finally after two months, we decided to move to Mykonos to experience a much larger Greek island. After three months in the Aegean, summer ended, the Meltemi winds started to blow. We called it a day and headed back to London and to an English winter.

Back to London. Back to work.

Selfridges had been a great place to work and had provided the perfect start to my working career in London. But now I was looking forward to working once again in an advertising agency. An advertisement in the industry publication Campaign gave me that opportunity. Brunnings Advertising and Marketing in Whitechapel was looking for an experienced art director with strong retail experience to head up the creative team on the giant TESCO Retail Stores account. Me, to a tee. I applied, got the job and started the following Monday. Dinah immediately returned to the Hendon Town Hall and to the job she really enjoyed, which was just as well as we had limited funds remaining after 3 months in Greece. Kim and John had holidayed in North Africa while we were in Greece and had returned to London before us. It was their turn to find our lodgings. They found a beautiful 2-bedroom apartment in Shoot Up Hill in Cricklewood, literally a kilometre from our first apartment in Kilburn. An old London home turned into two spacious apartments, ours was on the ground floor with the owner upstairs, so we had our own rear garden. We spent another year living here with Kim and John, working, partying with old friends, making new friends and focusing our travel on seeing as much of England, Scotland and Wales as we could. An unforgettable 12 months.

Home to Australia

For family reasons and with mixed emotions, in mid-1974 Dinah and I decided to return to Australia and to Brisbane. We’d been away two years. Two fantastic years that would shape our futures in so many ways. It was great to be home and to catch up with family and friends, but we missed the activity and pace of London. We both knew that this journey had been but the start of our fascination with travel and that in the not too distant future, we’d hear London calling…again.

Photo Gallery

Main picture: The Union Jack on denim – the uniform of 70s London

  • With great friend Allan Hartley (right) at 4BK, 1971
  • Arriving at a cold and wet Heathrow Airport in March 1972
  • Kilburn, our first home in London
  • London buses outside Selfridges on Oxford Street
  • A favourite watering hole in Duke Street, adjacent to Selfridges
  • One of my first advertisements for Selfridges, May 1972
  • International recognition
  • View from our villa on Hydra
  • How we spent our days
  • Eating out on Mykonos
  • The sweeping Focus Beach near Mykonos Town
  • The iconic Mykonos windmills
  • I always loved the name of our road in Cricklewood
  • Whitechapel – near where the Ripper did his thing
  • The hight street where it all started for TESCO