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Look back: Jane Russell; the Beeching axe; and an unusual between the wars bus stop

Aunt Agatha looks at Hollywood in Cheddar, the dark days of 1963 and an accident in the 1930s Hollywood star in Cheddar: when Jane met Norman

She was an actress known for her curves, her charisma and her films. But perhaps Jane Russell (1921-2011) a superstar of 1950s Hollywood isn’t remembered so much for her role in encouraging couples to adopt children. Married three times she also adopted three children and helped to found the charity World Adoption International. She was unable to have children following a botched abortion when she was a teenager. Ms Russell visited the Strawberry Line District in the late 1950s or early 1960s when she stayed at Cheddar Gorge’s Cliff Hotel – then seen as the hotel to stay at. This photograph was

loaned by Terry King of Cheddar whose brother Norman was a professional photographer with studios in the village. He was the snapper of choice in the area shooting the great, the good and the everyday – from family pets to famous faces – including a young Cliff Richard, and on this occasion the actress Jane Russell. By then her star was fading – although she still had a little of the Hollywood stardust following her most recent movie The Pink Nightgown. She had previously shot to fame in The Outlaw (1943), and had starred opposite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in Road to Bali (1952) and with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the following year. Norman Heal had been tipped off by the Cheddar Hotel she was in town and so popped up to take a photo of the former screen goddess. While he took her photo in the hotel’s breakfast room someone asked if he would like his photo taken with the actress. He handed over his camera – and Jane suggested she pour him a cup of tea “to be the perfect English hostess”. Those old enough will recall Norman was very good looking and had great charm – especially as Terry said “with the ladies.”

The Beeching axe: half a century since the end of the line


He’s possibly the most despised Government servant in history. Dr Ruchard Beeching helped the Conservative Government in the early 1960s close over 13,000 miles of rail lines and sacked thousands of workers in the process. Branch lines up and down the country were closed with little regard to the economic consequences. Beeching was vilified then as he is now. But in fairness he was simply doing the dirty work of the Government’s Minister of Transport Ernest Marples.

With the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Strawberry Line approaching in September it’s interesting to see how attitudes towards railways in Government have changed. Despite opposition from those living along the route of the proposed HS2 route from London to Birmingham Prime Minister David Cameron is determined the project will go ahead - a massive investment in the nation’s future rail infrastructure. Why? If you’ve ever tried to drive from London to Birmingham you’ll quickly discover how overcrowded the roads are - which wasn’t the case in 1963. Today trains are more popular than they’ve been in generations - although the ticket prices are eye-wateringly high.

Ditch the bus: let’s take a hike instead

The photo of the bus in a ditch was supplied by Hugh Alsop of Cocklake who has collected a number of fascinating photos from years ago and gives occasional talks about our lost local past. He’s been unable to identify the lady standing next to the road accident but has given a few hints as to the circumstances. The likely place of the incident is a road near Wedmore - possibly the rural bus service to Burnham-on-Sea from Wells. The well-dressed woman is dressed for a day out in the early 1930s with her cloche hat and fox fur wrap.

It appears to be the summer judging by the leaves on the apple trees in the orchard. Presumably the photographer was either a fellow passenger and asked his or her travelling companion to pose - or it was a passing traveller - who did what many of us do when we see something unusual - take a snap.

There is more nostalgia at www.

Strawberry Line Times August 2013

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