Sunday, March 19, 2023


The two images above - click on either one to see a larger view - show the reality and what was promised in relation to the new apartment block which has recently been constructed on the site of the garden of the former White Hart pub, opposite Morrison's car park in Erith. As is quite clear, the quite attractive construction illustrated in the original architect's drawings has been replaced by a far simpler - and I would suspect, far cheaper to build design. I have spoken to a couple of construction professionals over the last week, and I have been told that in their opinion the apartment block is of poor quality construction. I am no building expert, but even I can see places in which the brick courses are mismatched, and the grouting is uneven. I would imagine that the snagging list for items which need to be remediated might well be extensive. What do you think? Email me at

James Leasor was one of the best selling British authors of the second half of the 20th Century. He wrote over 50 books including a rich variety of thrillers, historical novels, histories and biographies. His name may not be that well known, but his books, and the movies that they inspired are. He also has a strong local connection that many may not be aware of. Thomas James Leasor was born in Erith, on 20th December 1923 and educated at the City of London School. On leaving school, whilst waiting to join the army, he had his first foray into journalism, as a cub scout reporter for the Kent Messenger. He volunteered for the Army in World War 2, as soon as he was old enough. He was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment and served in Burma with the Lincolnshire Regiment. In the Far East his troopship, the El Madina, was torpedoed on 16th March 1944 whilst sailing in convoy HC-44 from Calcutta to Chittagong, and he spent 18 hours adrift in the Indian Ocean. Ten crew, six gunners and 364 troops perished in the incident. He also wrote his first book, Not Such a Bad Day, by hand in the jungles of Burma on air graphs, single sheets of light-sensitive paper which could be reduced to the size of microdots and flown to England in their thousands to be blown up to full size again. His mother then typed it up and sent it off to an agent, who found a publisher who sold 28,000 copies, although Leasor received just £50 for all its rights. He was wounded in action (blown up by a shell) on 8th May 1944 (his mother’s birthday), in the Arakan, and treated at 25 Indian Casualty Clearing Station. In November 1944 he left Burma to become a sub-editor of Contact, a bi-weekly newspaper for India Command in Delhi and the SEAC, the forces newspaper of South East Asia Command, under the inspirational editorship of Frank Owen. He returned to Burma as an official Army Observer for the 12th Army, then in Rangoon. In February 1946 he was transferred to become an Army Observer based at HQ Malaya Command in Kuala Lumpur. During his time as an observer he travelled throughout Burma, Malaya, the Shan States and the Andaman Islands by plane and jeep. He reckoned that he had visited practically every town in these regions by the time he returned to the UK in mid-1946. After the war he went up to Oriel College, Oxford, to read English. There he edited the Isis magazine, before joining the Daily Express, then the largest circulation newspaper in the free world. He was soon appointed private secretary to Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor of the newspaper. One of his first tasks in this position was to help Beaverbrook write a book which was published as “The Three Keys to Success”. He later became a foreign correspondent. He became a full-time author in the 1960s. He also ghosted a number of autobiographies for subjects as diverse as the Duke of Windsor, King Zog of Albania, the actors Kenneth More and Jack Hawkins and Rats, a Jack Russell terrier that served with the British Army in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. His works included Passport to Oblivion (one of the best selling books of the 1960s and filmed as Where the Spies Are, starring David Niven), the first of ten novels featuring Dr Jason Love, a Somerset GP called to aid Her Majesty’s Secret Service in foreign countries, and a trilogy about the Far Eastern merchant Robert Gunn set in the 19th century. There were also sagas set in Africa and Asia, written under the pseudonym Andrew MacAllan, and the Aristo Autos tales narrated by an unnamed vintage car dealer in Belgravia. He initially made his name with a number of critically acclaimed history books and he continued to write these in parallel with fiction for the whole of his career. Some of the most notable included The Red Fort, which retold the story of the Indian Mutiny, and the Siege of Delhi in particular, with Cecil Woodham-Smith commenting in the New York Times, “Never has this story of hate, violence, courage and cowardice been better told”; biographies of Lord Nuffield, the Morris motor manufacturer and philanthropist, Wheels to Fortune, RSM Brittain, who was said to have the loudest voice in the Army, The Sergeant-Major; and Rhodes and Barnato, which told the story of very different characters of the two great South African diamond millionaires. Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? was an investigation of the unsolved murder of the Canadian mining entrepreneur, the richest man in the British Empire, in the Bahamas, and the role that the then Governor, the Duke of Windsor, played in the whole affair. He also wrote a number of books about particularly unusual events that happened in the Second World War. Two of them were made into popular films, The One that Got Away (later filmed with Hardy Kruger in the starring role) about fighter pilot, Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to successfully escape from British territory; and Boarding Party (later filmed as The Sea Wolves starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore) concerned veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse who attacked a German spy ship in neutral Goa in 1943. Other notable books on this subject included Singapore – the Battle that Changed the World, on the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942; Green Beach, which revealed an important new aspect of the Dieppe Raid, when a radar expert landed with a patrol of the South Saskatchewan regiment, which was instructed to protect him, but also to kill him if he was in danger of falling into enemy hands; The Unknown Warrior, the story about a member of a clandestine British commando force consisting largely of Jewish exiles from Germany and eastern Europe, who deceived Hitler into thinking that the D-Day invasion was a diversion for the main assault near Calais and was then pursued both by the Germans and the French Resistance as he sought the safety of the Allied Lines; and The Uninvited Envoy, which told the story of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess’ solo mission to Britain in 1941, and features first-hand accounts from many of the people involved. He married barrister Joan Bevan on 1st December 1951 and they had three sons. He lived for his last 40 years at Swallowcliffe Manor, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He died on 10th September 2007 and is buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Swallowcliffe.

The following information was gained from a number of independent sources, including the This is Money website. As regular readers will be aware, I have had concerns about the long - term viability of Morrisons supermarket chain for some considerable time; it appear that the financial world shares my worries. In a report released last week, the future of the store chain was brought into question. Morrisons has been haemorrhaging cash since falling into private equity hands two years ago. The beleaguered Bradford-based grocer racked up £1.5 billion of losses in the year after being bought by US firm Clayton, Dubilier and Rice (CD&R). A Companies House filing from its parent company laid bare the pressure Morrisons has come under in the wake of the buyout, raising fears about the influence of overseas financiers on key British firms. Morrisons was snapped up in October 2021 for £7 billion by the private equity group in a debt-fuelled deal spearheaded by former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy, an adviser to CD&R. The takeover faced fierce opposition from MPs and senior City figures who warned it could be ruinous for the business and lead to higher prices for customers. The deal saw £6.1 billion of debt piled onto the grocer’s balance sheet, leaving it with huge interest payments and high exposure to increases in borrowing rates. The year before being taken over, Morrisons was Britain’s fourth-biggest supermarket and reported a £201 million annual profit. But in the year to last October, Morrisons sank to the dramatic £1.5 billion loss. In a Financial Times interview Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black said that it was a ‘very unfortunate outcome for CD&R’. The loss was partly because of a £400 million interest payment to service its debt pile, which Black said is ‘enormous’. The grocer’s debt also left it less able to keep a lid on costs as the industry grapples with spiralling inflation. After the deal, Morrisons pushed up its prices faster than rivals, leading to an exodus of shoppers. In an embarrassing blow for Leahy, now chairman of the business, it lost its coveted spot in the so-called ‘Big Four’ of British grocers in September when it was overtaken by German discounter Aldi. Budget rival Lidl has also set out plans to overtake the business. Black said that some of Morrisons’ troubles were caused by lengthy competition investigations into the takeover by CD&R and its £190 million rescue deal for collapsed convenience store chain McColl’s. Speaking to the Daily Mail last year, former Morrisons director Paul Manduca said founder Sir Ken Morrison would be ‘rotating in his grave’. Despite Morrisons losing shoppers, seeing sales slump and swinging to a loss, the supermarket’s bosses were still handed bumper pay packets. Chief executive David Potts was among a group of ‘senior managers’ who split a £25 million pot between them. Morrisons declined to clarify how many received the pay. Bankers, lawyers and spin doctors have all also cashed in from the deal, with Morrisons admitting advisers were paid £95 million for working on the transaction.

This month marks the 50th anniversary since the creation of what is almost certainly the most influential computer in the modern age - yet the machine is almost unheard of by most people. The  Xerox Alto was an experimental machine built by engineers in Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the early 1970s to explore new thinking in user interface design, and while never made available commercially – Xerox would sell the Star, a version of the Alto, in 1981 – a couple of thousand were made for use by Xerox staff and some were donated to universities and research facilities. Arguably the first personal computer – though some historians consider it a minicomputer – it was also the first to feature a graphical interface controlled by a mouse and to incorporate networking. Well, bear in mind that the Alto was never actually available for commercial purchase, and only between fifteen hundred and two thousand Alto units were hand constructed by Xerox, mainly for internal use, though a handful made it into academia for study purposes, and one made it into the White House. The Alto was the first computer anywhere that had a GUI – a Graphical User Interface, that used the still common desktop paradigm. It had a mouse, used icons, it was able to talk to other Alto computers over an early form of Ethernet data networking. It had a "what you see is what you get" word processing program, it could send and receive Emails with attachments, it could output page set documents to a laser printer and had the world’s first high resolution bit mapped screen. All of this was available in 1973! You can see a short TV commercial for it here. It was at least fifteen years ahead of anything else in the world, but Xerox did not think there would be a market for such a computer, and eventually wound the project down. This business decision made Decca turning down the Beatles look small change in comparison. Later, the GUI computer project was restarted, and in the very early 1980’s Xerox released the Star – a high end workstation based on the earlier Alto concepts. Bexley Council had a couple of Star units in their typing pool for several years in the early 1980's, but they were never really used for anything other than word processing – with their distinctive portrait oriented display screens. Their powerful networking and graphical features were pretty much overlooked. A few years ago, before Bexley Council moved out of their old offices in Bexleyheath Broadway as they were due to be demolished, I tried to find out if any of the Xerox Star units were still being stored on site. I had heard vague rumours that at least one unit was stored in the basement nuclear fallout shelter. I had hoped to persuade the council to donate it to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Unfortunately my investigation drew a blank – nobody I contacted at the council knew anything about the computers, and they were actually not very interested. Many phone messages and Emails to them went without response, to the point where I got fed up and gave in. Anyone with a Xerox Star, or even more enticingly an Alto stuck in the corner of their basement (it would not have gone in the loft – it was so heavy it would have come through the ceiling) is sitting on not only a very important piece of computer history, but is worth a small fortune. Collectors will pay substantial sums of money for rare and important computers – as was seen when an immaculate and completely original Apple 1 was purchased at auction for $905,0000. Personally I think this was a tad over-valued. The Apple 1 was not the first home computer by some way, it was not revolutionary and it was merely one of a number of kit type computers then available. The later fame of the brand has put quite an image boost over the machine that started it all for the Apple brand, and I will not be at all surprised if the next Apple 1 to go on auction breaks the million dollar mark. What do you think? Do you have a favourite classic computer? Email me at

The following article was published last week by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association:-"The National fire chief’s council have been voicing concerns about the rise in accidental fires occurring in the home. During the last three months of 2021 in England alone, there were 99 fire-related fatalities, with 77 of these happening in homes. This compares to 54 the year before – a 41 per cent rise. This calendar year, since Jan 1st we have attended 75 fires which have occurred in people’s homes, there have been 7 injuries of which 4 were serious (needing hospital treatment) . Over the last year we have seen that the age groups that were injured in a fire were from the younger demographic, in particular people with young families. However, data over the past 5 years demonstrates that elderly people who live alone are the most likely to be seriously injured in a fire. Our firefighters use their time when not attending incidents or training trying to prevent fires occurring in the first place. They do this as part of our community fire safety programme, this involves primarily in carrying out home fire safety visits. They also provide advice , education and support by attending things such as school fetes , Faith group events , support groups for the elderly, and inviting people onto our fire stations for our open days. You can help your friends and families by showing them the LFB home fire safety checker So far approximately 3% of Bexley boroughs population have used the checker, please help us by promoting its use. It will really help reduce the risk of fire occurring in people’s homes. If you know an elderly person living on their own, we are really keen to meet them, especially if they smoke or have mobility issues and provide them with some home fire safety advice. On the visit …. We'll visit their home at the arranged time, and share our expertise. The visit is friendly and informal, and there's no need to tidy up or provide refreshments – we're here to keep you safe, not for the tea! After a chat about fire prevention, we'll ask you to show us around your home so we can provide personalised advice on: Cooking and smoking, Heaters and heating, Candles and fireplaces, Detection systems (smoke and heat alarms), Bedtime checks and what to do if there is a fire. With the winter weather running into spring and the heating bills are dropping on the door mat people are still adjusting how they live due to the cost of living .Using the Home fire safety checker or having a home fire visit go will go some way of reducing the risks in the home . For a Home fire safety visit …. call us free on 0800 028 4428 email".

The end video this week is a short film about the recent Bexleyheath Night Markets - what they are, why they have been happening, and how you can get involved. Comments and feedback as always to my regular email address -

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