Margaret Rutherford

English actress, Margaret Rutherford
A stalwart of the post-war British film industry, Margaret Taylor Rutherford was a memorable character actress. Adored by her fans, she exemplified much that was lovable about the English eccentric. Her comic skill, essential 'Englishness' and general oddball character translated well from stage to screen and during her career she enjoyed some plum film roles, notably as the credulous psychic, Madame Arcati in David Lean's film adaption of the Noel Coward play, Blythe Spirit but perhaps her most famous, ongoing role was as Agatha Christie's sharp spinster detective, Miss Marple in a series of films in the 1960s.

Sunnyboys, Smarties, White Knights, Choo-Choo Bars and Twisties

Ok, there's no real rhyme or reason for this frivolous commercial treatise, except that I happened to be reminiscing about the favoured junk food of my childhood (clearly I don't have enough to occupy my mind) and felt moved to jot my juvenile preferences down for posterity, though owing to my tragically sweet tooth, this is by no means an exhaustive list..

Robot Cushions

Those wide-eyed 50s style toy robots have developed some trendy cachet recently - to the point where they're appeal is now considered mainstream. Fans can acquire anything from designer retro robot wallpaper to cushions. Ah, our consumer society is so quick to capitalise on the shifting sands of retro fads. But I digress...check these beauties out from Ferm living. ...

Ferm Living toy robots

Short Perms

The Retro Perm
After the mass 1980s overdose on permed hair, there was a distinct backlash against perming and processed curls went seriously out of vogue for a decade or two. The anti-perm vibe was so strong that ultra-straight, smooth hair emerged as the fashionable style. It seems we went from one extreme to the other.

That was fine - we needed time to recover from those scary big hair perms that swamped the 80s scene. However, could it finally be time for perms to come out of the woodwork and be fashionable again? Enough permless time has gone by and super straight hair is looking a little stale.

French Berets

The beret is a classic style that never dates, perhaps because it is so simple a design - basically just a circle. It's also very old, dating way back to the Bronze Age and although we associate berets with the French, they were worn in some form or other by the ancient Minoans, Romans and Etruscans and in various military organizations the world over.
Classic wool beret.

The reason for the French association is down to a particularly style of "Basque" beret, which was originally worn by Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees mountain region between southern France and Northern Spain. This style of beret was produced commercially by local craft people as early as the 17th century in Southern  France and when industrialization hit in the 19th century, they were mass produced in factories.

Aeroplane Jelly

Aeroplane Jelly
In the annals of Australian commercial history, there are some brands that stand out as iconically Australian, although many of these are now defunct or have been commandeered by non-Australian multi-Nationals - Arnotts biscuits (now owned by Campbell's Soup), Golden Circle (now owned by Heinz), Peter's Ice-cream (now owned by Nestle) just to name a few.

The Harpsichord

A guide to all things harpsichord
Although it may conjure images of Lurch and elderly ladies in musty chintz-curtained parlours, the harpsichord was at one time the instrument of choice for hip young ladies in fashionable parlours. A woman who could display her musical accomplishments on an elaborately decorated harpsichord was socially ahead of the game.

The harpsichord appeared sometime in the Middle Ages and continued to be widely played for a few hundred years, however its popularity waned with the emergence of the piano in the eighteenth century.

The Baroque Period
 The distinctive notes of the harpsichord featured prominently in Baroque and Renaissance music and notably, in the the concertos of immensely popular composers such as Bach and Vivaldi.  It was Bach who arranged some of Vivaldi's concertos, many of which he (Vivaldi) had written for the young girls at a convent school in Italy, so that they may be played on the harpsichord.The Baroque period was a particularly vibrant period for music, breaking away as it did from traditional European religious and choral based music.

Lace Gloves

Lacy and Racy
White lace gloves.
Ultra-feminine and best seen on slender, delicate hands, lace gloves evoke an era of ruffles, fluttering eyelashes,  swishing skirts and wide-brimmed sun hats or even parasols. They have a kind of Blanche Dubois fragility about them that seems strikingly out of place in the rough and tumble post-feminist world.

I can't imagine ever having occasion to wear them or feeling comfortable in them even if I did but then, I'm not the parasol type. Yet they sell them on Amazon so someone must be wearing them. Perhaps some people wear them ironically, with a leather jacket and bullet belt. More likely it's a kind of retro Madonna thing, to be worn with  pseudo Victorian underwear -eg; white bodice and thigh garter. Very 80s. They could also be worn with a wedding dress, cocktail outfit (in black) or dressing up as a Southern belle. For a variation on a theme, there are also fingerless fishnet gloves, which create a slightly different mood and in black especially, lace and net gloves seem just a bit wicked.

Cleopatra Hair

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Think Cleopatra, think vamp. Powerful, passionate, crusher of hearts, destroyer of men - the infamous Queen of the Nile, elevated by the force of legend and the mystique of Ancient Egypt,  is the ultimate femme fatale. At least that is the image that is firmly embedded in our cultural text, as passed through the transmutations and perversions of Hollywood mixed with history.

So strong is this image that even her hairstyle, or rather our conception of it,  has become a symbol of dangerous female seduction. Play with those lush dark locks and you play with feminine fire. The Cleopatra hairstyle is contrived, heavy and dramatic...always dark, with a thick fringe and cut along emphatic, geometric lines. Provided you have the physical assets to carry it off, it's a ring a ding ding, iconic style that turns heads.

Red Matte Lipstick

Matte 40s lips
Luscious 1940s Lips
In old black and white films from the 1940s, women's lips often appear dark and smouldering, rather than dewy and glistening. This is because the Hollywood lip fashion for that era was for deep reds in a matte lipstick. The look was soft and sensuous, making the lips look like kissable red cushions.

Among the general population lipstick wearing had an ambiguous status. It was regarded as  adult and reflective of female sexuality and some regarded it with suspicion. Although the roaring 20s, Hollywood and Elizabeth Arden had done much to make coloured lips seem desirable, lipstick was still regarded as way too racy in some quarters, particularly among the older crowd who decried lipstick use on teenage girls. Nonetheless, despite the dire warnings that lipstick was a 'provocation to men', or perhaps because of it, there were still plenty of young women who rebelled and took the decadent plunge and painted their mouths in thick, matte, smudgy red hues.

Setting Lotion

Old fashioned rubber hair rollers have gone seriously out of vogue but years ago they were a standard items in most women's box of tricks. Many women would get their hair permed periodically and do a 'wash and set' once a week at home. The set involved dipping a comb into a gluggy pot of goo called setting lotion, which helped to hold the curls in place until the next wash.

Vintage wave curlers. Still available from Accessories of Old

1950s Cat Eye Glasses

Amazon cat eyes
Few things screech middle century as loudly as those out there cat eye glasses that were so evocative of the 1950s in particular. Subtle they weren't. Rather, they were an eccentric style, designed for women, to lift the face and create interest - perhaps even the illusion of feline grace and slinkiness. In the 40s, glasses had had a more rounded shape but it seems the 50s penchant for extreme, fin-like accents extended to more than just cars.

Adventure Island

Some of the gang from Adventure Island
Australian children's TV in the 60s and 70s seemed to have more local content, as opposed the imported variety, usually from the US, that is so ubiquitous today. Some of these old home-grown shows were quite imaginative and one in particular that springs to mind was the popular ABC series Adventure Island which ran on Australian TV from 1967 to 1972 - a healthy run of five years.

The series was the creative co-conception of script-writer John-Micheal Howson (who also played Clown) and director Godfrey Phillip, who had both created the successful  kids show  The Magic Circle Club, which ran from 65 to 67 and aired  on ATV 10. At that time television had only been up and running in Australia for a mere ten years and in terms of home-grown TV production, everything was indeed, an adventure. When Magic Circle club was cancelled over at channel 10, the ABC (public broadcaster) wanted to take over its production but studio head Reg Ansett refused to relinquish the rights - thus Adventure Island was created to fill the void.

Messenger Bags

Fossil Combat Men's Messenger bag

If you were a student in the 1970s, male or female, it was almost obligatory to wear a messenger bag, preferably with the strap draped diagonally across your shoulder. Only then we didn't call them 'messenger bags...we just called them 'shoulder bags'. Army surplus thick canvas bags were very popular and could be picked up for a few bucks at an army disposal store. Those who had a deeper reserve of funds to tap had nice leather ones with stylish stitching or maybe a pseudo school satchel with buckles. No-one had a handbag as such...that would have been considered very bourgeois.

Red Telephone Boxes

Gather 'round 21st century children and I'll tell you a story, about an old but now vanished piece of redundant technology...

The lonely red telephone box..icon of the 20th century. Source
Way back in time,  when mobile phones were only a futuristic novelty, when a text message was known simply as 'a letter' and the web was still just a spider's hangout, there used to be a thing called a 'telephone booth'...a strange, enclosed box with pane glass windows that people would occasionally slip into when they were away from home and wanted to make a phone call.

Vintage-Style Christmas Ornaments

Retro-futurist robot reindeer
Some of my very earliest memories are of Christmas decorations, which may seem a tad odd but it's probably because Christmas is such an exciting time of the year for young children. Certainly it was for me.

I can, for example, remember being held on my father's shoulders to see the deep red and green concertina paper decorations in the corner of the ceiling in our living room, although I must have only been about two at the time. For some reason that one really sticks out in my mind - that and a set of felt-covered, rotund Father Christmas figures, each one holding a musical instrument. I wonder what happened to those?

A Hat and Gloves

1930s . Ladies trying to keep their hats on at the Brisbane races.

1940s. Hats and gloves were still essential items.
Hard to believe but there was a time when few women would be seen in public without a hat and gloves. Up until the 1960s when fashion relaxed, along with traditional social mores, these accessories  were a marker of good dressing- even respectability. Men too, were socially required to wear hats...not only that, but to 'tip' them as a woman approached, as a signal of respect

Dressing was much more occasion-orientated - if a woman went into town or out to lunch, it was considered worth dressing up for. Of course, it also made the whole clothes thing much more rigid - there wasn't the same oh wear what you like freedom. Attitudes demanded a certain conformity to set standards. The 60s revolution must have broken the hearts of the glove manufacturers, not to mention the milliners (hat-makers).


An Old-fashioned Game for Kids
Queenie is a very old, simple but fun ball game my Aunt taught me when I was a young child and it has proven to be a great favourite with every kid I've played it with as an adult, causing much laughter and excitement. Essentially, Queenie is a  a game of bluff and  good acting skills are a distinct advantage. It requies three or more players.

Torchy the Battery Boy

One of the more unusual kids shows to appear on Australian TV in the very early 60s was the British made puppet series, Torchy the Battery Boy, which was an interesting variation on the Pinocchio theme. The series was actually made in the late 1950s by the independent film company AP and was co produced and directed by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame. Two series and 52 episodes were made in all, however the 26 episodes of the second series were made without Gerry Anderson and AP films.

Torchy the Battery Boy
The series has a peculiar, quirky charm and although it is very '50s' and thus dated, it has a simple, black and white morality and many fantasy elements that would probably still be appealing to very young children - talking toys, an adorable dog,  a planet that grows treats on the trees etc. It's also very English.

The Premise
An old man lives in a cosy cottage with a pretty poodle called Pom Pom and deals with loneliness issues by encouraging the local children play in his garden. Uh oh..already we're getting into dodgy territory, as these days an old man luring children to his back yard would be regarded with deep suspicion, if not outright hostility. Of course back then there was less moral panic about such things and the bearded  man is, after all kindly and harmless.  Anyhow, back to the storyline...

Drive-in Movies

One of the few remaining (and rundown) drive-ins in Victoria, Australia
Dream Screen in the Dark
At the peak of their popularity, in the 1950s/60s and even 70s, drive-in movie theatres could be found dotted all over the place - come nightfall, thousands of people would slip into a parking space in front of the giant open air screen, roll down their windows and hook up to the theatre sound system - each car a personal viewing capsule.

Alphabet Blocks

Old-fashioned alphabet blocks from Lindenwood
Although I must have been knee high to a grasshopper as an infant on the living-room floor, I can still faintly remember playing with wooden alphabet blocks as a very young child - particularly the texture and feel, which returns to me more as a sensation than a visual recall. Did this early positive experience foster a life-long love of letters and words? Oh probably not but I do think alphabet blocks are a good, constructive toy for toddlers.

The 28 piece set above is modelled after a turn-of-the-century design and features some very charming vintage pictures of animals, as well as embossed lettering and  maths/number symbols. Educational and beautiful. Such blocks are often the first hands-on educational toy a child receives and have been a mainstay for generations. So much so that in 2003, ABC blocks were inducted into US National Toy Hall of Fame. 

The Young Mad Scientist's set below is impressively detailed with some fascinating engraved images depicting 'mad science' concepts- this is art and just the thing for the budding Dr. Frankenstein. I'd like these myself but yes, they are for kids too.

Young Mad Scientist's Alphabet Blocks Available at xylocopa

Huey, Dewey and Louie

Donald and his nephews in a corny scene.
Poor Donald Duck. Huey, Louie and Dewey, his wise-racking identical triplet nephews, trumped him at every turn. They were smarter, cuter and great favourites of their uber-rich uncle, Scrooge Mc Duck. The triplets acted in unison, almost acting as one entity and often finished each other's sentences.

However, despite the rivalry between Donald and his nephews, theirs was a close relationship. In the early comic strips, the nephews were a tad mischievous and uncontrollabe but they matured as the characters developed; taking on a more supportive, responsible role in the Duckburg lexicon.

Robert Baden-Powell

Founder of the Scout Movement
Robert Baden-Powell
The Englishman whose upright, good deed philosophy spawned a global legion of boy scouts and girl guides was a born organizer. Lord Baden-Powell had been a soldier in the 13th Hussars, serving in India, Afghanistan and during the Boer war, in South Africa.

During the famous Battle of Mafeking, when a large Boer army had taken siege of the town for seven months, Baden-Powell distinguished himself by organizing the boys of Mafeking as guides, messengers and first aid corp, thus freeing up more soldiers for fighting. In May, 1900 when the town was released, there was much rejoicing back home in England and Baden-Powell was publicly honoured.

Retro Microwave

How retro...vintage-style microwave from Nostalgia Electrics.
The slick, streamlined designs of 1950s products still have appeal for retro fans,  who, like me,  are suckers for a nostalgia burst. For that reason the Nostalgia Electrics vintage style microwave caught my eye. Of course, microwaves didn't exist in the 1950s but if they did they could well have looked like this - lots of chrome accents, a curved handle and a twirlable dial control. 

Needless to say, behind the charmingly old-fashioned facade, the microwave has all the whizz bang features of a modern piece of technology - 800 watts, 12 pre-programmed features, 0.9 cubic foot interior..blah de blah. I'd never heard of this US based company before but, glancing at their website, they seem to be specialising in nostalgic small appliances and products that are "developed to excite consumers and retailers alike". Well, I'm not sure how exciting a small electrical appliance can get but I love the oval window.

Rag Curls

Years ago, way back when I was a pig-tailed precocious brat in Primary School, there was a girl in my class called Dorothy. Everything about Dorothy was nice - from her perfectly packed, healthy lunchbox to her beautiful manners and impeccable clothes....and most of all her hair.

Retro Knitting Patterns

The Knitting Revival
Retro Knits by Voyageur Press

Old knitting patterns have become very popular of late - mainly because there are some great retro styles to be found among them that just aren't available today.

Once upon a time, knitting was a standard activity for many women, however as more women entered the workforce in the latter part of the 20th century and were  pressed by time constraints and other distractions, the popularity of knitting receded. In addition cheap, mass produced knits made the labour intensive art of knitting even less appealing. bought machine knits just don't have the feel and look of a hand-knitted item. It's the blood, sweat and tears of working those needles over and over again that weaves a kind of history and individualism into the knit. In the 21st century the age old art of knitting has made a resurgence.


It Makes Cents!
1966 was a big year for Australia - for one thing, it was the year our currency changed from pounds, shillings and pence to the decimal system. The changeover at the Royal Mint in London was given the title "operation fastbuck"  - everything had to be ready by the 14th of February and new coins dispatched Australia-wide to the banks. At first there was public resistance to the change and a transitional period of dual currency but the government kindly provided the population with a catchy little jingle to help us along...

Raggedy Ann

Modern Raggedy Anne doll by Russ Berrie
Before Bratz dolls and  before Barbie and friends, there was Raggedy Ann-an old-fashioned gal who wore bloomers, button boots and a pinafore. A little behind the times fashion-wise, yes...yet the doll has a kind of timeless appeal and for very young children, she still presents as a simple, friendly face with a cosy, huggable body.

Bubble Pipes

Bubbles are still fun for kids. Source
Bubble pipes have been around for gosh knows how long and they're still good for some inexpensive, old-fashioned fun. I say pipe but most bubble blowers these days have dispensed with the pipe shape due to the smoking connotations - no-one wants to encourage children to emulate a smoker, so they've gone the way of chocolate cigarettes and candied cigars. The original  idea for the pipes could well have been inspired by the exotic hookah - a traditional pipe where the smoke is cooled by water, making a characteristic bubbling sound when sucked on.

Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden
There's big money in beauty. For proof, one need look no further than the compelling story of cosmetics giant Elizabeth Arden (born Florence Nightingale Graham), who, at the peak of her career, was considered the wealthiest woman in the world. Quite an achievement for a Canadian nursing school drop-out, at a time when few women could climb to the top in the male-dominated sphere of big business.

Arden's venture into cosmetics began in New York in the early part of the last century, when she worked as a book keeper for a pharmaceutical firm, picking up some valuable information about skincare along the way. This was followed by a brief stint working for Eleanor Adair, a beauty consultant, or as it was known then, a 'beauty culturalist'. In turn, this lead to a partnership with another culturalist, Elizabeth Hubbard. The partnership was dissolved soon after but in its place, Elizabeth Arden was born, run solely by its proprietor, Florence Graham. The name was a fusion, formed from Hubbard's Christian name and a narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson - Enoch Arden.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

Tis Love and Love alone
If any couple can be blamed for unrealistic Hollywood notions of true love and eternal happiness, it's Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. The two popular singers embodied an irrepressible optimism about life, love and the happy ending. Utilising their warmth, natural charm and  sweet voices, they sang and acted their way through a series of  films that played heavily upon the emotional strings of viewers.

In the 1930s, when the world was less cynical about such things, these two were a huge box office draw. Via beautifully contrived and poignant plot lines, they had audiences dabbing their eyes and leaving the theatre with an uplifting view that there might be hope for the human race after all. Even today, it's hard to resist them -at least for anyone with the remotest flicker of romantic yearning.