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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer Chapter 12. Mrs. Miniver, H&E Mag., Zoot Suits...

Jan Struther (Mrs. Miniver)

I begin Chapter 12 Stranglers on a Train with a description of the weather – yes, breaking a cardinal rule of writing. Yes, and please forgive me, but perhaps it is because I have been an expat for so long, missing warm beer, chalk streams, water meadows and gently rolling hills, but I am wont to throw in a pastoral Hubert Parry-type scene from time to time. A view of an England that may never have existed – certainly no longer exists.

On hands and knees, I took a moment to congratulate myself as I enjoyed the fresh morning air and grabbed an eyeful of the south of England. It was young and green and fresh, as England should be, with a bright morning sun casting long, hard-edged shadows. It was going to be one of Jan Struther’s Wedgewood days and the air was already delicious: wonderful, despite the chilly, dewy tempest around my ankles. So, on with the mission.

By 1939, Jan Struther was an author of repute – recognized by British readers. Greater fame came in the guise of her heroine Mrs. Miniver and the film version of her family drama, in 1942 when the USA was no longer so anti-British and Hollywood was starting to push the allies-against-tyranny line.

Jan Struther was the pen name of Joyce Anstruther, later Joyce Maxtone Graham and finally Joyce Placzek (June 6, 1901 – July 20, 1953), an English writer remembered for her character Mrs. Miniver and a number of hymns spent her childhood in Whitchurch in Buckinghamshire, England.

In 1923 she married Anthony Maxtone Graham, a broker at Lloyd's of London, with whom she had three children. This marriage eventually failed, and she started an affair with Adolf Placzek, a Viennese art historian 12 years her junior. She married him as her second husband, 5 years before her death. Her final years were marked by severe depression, leading to a five-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. Following a mastectomy for breast cancer, she died of cancer in New York in 1953 at the age of 52. Her ashes are buried beside her father in the family grave at St. John The Evangelist Church, in Whitchurch.

In the 1930s she wrote for Punch magazine, bringing her to the attention of The Times newspaper, where Peter Fleming asked her to write a series of columns for the paper, about "an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life – rather like yourself". The character she created: Mrs Miniver. The columns were published in book form in 1939. On the outbreak of war, this book became the basis for a patriotic American film, Mrs. Miniver, released in 1942, winning six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The 1942 American romantic war drama film starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon enjoyed critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1942 and winning six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actress (Greer Garson), and Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright). It was the first film with a plot line centered on World War II to win an Oscar for Best Picture, and the first film to receive five acting nominations at the Academy Awards.

It is a tale of family sacrifices, the lives of ordinary townsfolk and village folk at the height of the war. It was one of those ‘we’re-all-in-it-together’ films, up there with ‘Went the Day Well?

As the villagers assemble at the damaged church, their vicar affirms their determination in a powerful sermon:

We in this quiet corner of England have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us, some close to this church. George West, choirboy. James Ballard, stationmaster and bellringer, and the proud winner only an hour before his death of the Beldon Cup for his beautiful Miniver Rose. And our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There's scarcely a household that hasn't been struck to the heart. And why? Surely, you must have asked yourselves this question? Why, in all conscience, should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?

I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead, they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People's War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it, then! Fight it with all that is in us! And may God defend the right.

On a personal note: I was never a great one for the horses (I worry about being susceptible to addiction) but I did on the odd occasion – maybe once a month – loose a pound coin from my sweaty palm and place it on a horse – on the nose – at the local betting shop. One of my rare wins was a pound on a 50:1 winner – Mrs. Miniver. Bless her.

"Style C" theatrical release poster for the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver.

Cinder Dicks

As our hero Pelham Hardimann fights with two American hoodlums, we hear their back-and-forth as they try to take over the train and steal the suitcase. Pelham finds the language amusing – and a little confusing.

Dicks – private detectives. Cinder – a reference to the smoke and cinders being forced along in company with the steam, condensed and extinguished, and deposited between the rails, instead of being discharged into the atmosphere.

Allan Pinkerton began the first railroad police in the U.S. at the urging of Abraham Lincoln when the future president was a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad.

As the American Civil War came to an end, the railroads were used to lead the fast-paced economic growth throughout the country. They turned small towns into business hubs, some workers into wealthy entrepreneurs, and others into bandits. As the railroads continued to grow westward the American Outlaw began to rob and steal from passengers, freight cars, and express cars. In their daring robberies, these American Outlaws were well manned and well-armed. They overpowered crews, dynamited bridges, tunnels, stations, tracks, and rail cars making away with thousands of dollars, jewelry and other freight. One of the most successful and easiest ways to stop a train was simply to wave a red lantern in front of the train flagging it to a stop. During many of these robberies, there were shootouts where passengers and employees of the railroads were killed. This began the era of the outlaw, Jesse and Frank James, the Youngers, Reno and Dalton Brothers, Sam Bass, Belle Star, and others. (Yes, and for you fans of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

On October 6, 1866, the first known train robbery took place. Three masked bandits boarded an Ohio & Mississippi train after it departed Seymour, Indiana. John and Simeon Reno and Franklin Sparks knocked the guard unconscious before pushing two safes containing a total $45,000 out of the moving train and making their escape. As the railroads continued their westward movement, they preceded many territories decades before they became states. They entered no one’s law enforcement jurisdictional responsibility. Often the railroad secret services (railroad police) were the only law enforcement in the region to defend the railroads against outlaws, Indians, and other criminal element that preyed on the railroads. The Union Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads all had railroad special agents working in the plains territories and far west by the 1870’s.

It is during this period that two titles for the railroad police were established. The title, “Detective” was commonly used for railroad police in the east and the title “Special Agent” was used for railroad police in the west. These terms are still used today in modern railroad policing. Eastern railroads used mostly uniformed officers to prevent crime and disorder. Their rank structure was similar to that of municipal police departments. Western railroads were more likely to work with Sheriff’s and U.S. Marshall’s, so they developed organizations that rarely relied on uniform patrol. Their work was more likely to be investigative type of work and primarily used plainclothes police.

Many local police forces tried to simply kick out the hobos, leaving the more permanent problem for private railroad police. When hobos were common, most believed the private police were a bigger threat than civil police forces. That may be because the railroads had more reason to dislike hobos. In addition to riding the rails, hobos occasionally broke into boxcars and stores, which spoiled goods both on the train and in communities near train routes, endangering a railroad's operation through the town. That meant civil police — the hobo-labeled "town clowns" — were usually more focused on kicking hobos out of town than on jailing them. Railroad police couldn't avoid the hobo problem. Called "bo chasers" and "car-seal hawks," they adopted extremely aggressive tactics. They took it as their job to terrorize those who rode the rails, often by any means necessary. In addition to bouncing out hobos on trains, they often threw stones at hobos or shot them. "He is a hunter," Anderson wrote of the railroad officer, "and the tramp is his prey." All that led to a staggering death toll. In 1920, 2,166 trespassers were killed and 2,363 were injured on trains or in railroad yards. That led hobos to do whatever they could to avoid being spotted.


Abyssinia – I'll be seeing you. A valediction that started during the Italo-Abyssinian war. Obsolete, but hard to resist.


A list of gangster/mobster slang for you. Guns:

Wilfred Hyde White

As a kid in the 60s and early 70s, many a rainy Sunday afternoon was spent watching black-and-white films from the 40s and 50s – and you could bet your bottom dollar (or five bob) that Wilfred Hyde White would be playing a vicar waiter, gentleman in a gentleman’s club, local dignitary, or roguish sort. One of my favourites – Two-Way Stretch – has Mr. Hyde White playing a mobster and a vicar. For me, he was always the quintessential vicar – man of the cloth – with a bit of a twinkle in the eye – I could not resist having him sitting in First-Class reading his copy of H&E magazine as all hell breaks loose around him. 12 May 1903 – 6 May 1991) was an English character actor of stage, film and television, who achieved international recognition in his later years for his role as Colonel Pickering in the film version of the musical My Fair Lady (1964).

He was born in Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, England in 1903 to the Rev. William Edward White, canon of Gloucester Cathedral, and his wife, Ethel Adelaide (née Drought). He was the nephew of the actor J. Fisher White. He attended Marlborough College and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, of which he said "I learned two things at RADA - I can't act and it doesn't matter."

He made his stage debut in the farcical play Tons of Money on the Isle of Wight in 1922 and appeared in the West End for the first time three years later in the play Beggar on Horseback. He then gained steady work on the stage in a series of comedies produced at the Aldwych Theatre in London.

Following a supporting role in The Third Man (1949), he became a fixture in British films of the 1950s. His other films of this period include Carry on Nurse and the Danny Kaye film On the Double. Two-Way Stretch displays the more roguish side to some of the characters he played in this period. He continued to act on the stage and played opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in the repertory performance of Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra in 1951. He also appeared on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1956 for his role in The Reluctant Debutante. His first Hollywood appearance came alongside Marilyn Monroe in the film Let's Make Love (1960), followed by other higher profile films, including My Fair Lady (1964).

Between 1962 and 1965, Hyde-White starred in the BBC radio comedy The Men from the Ministry. In the 1970s and 1980s, he featured on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the Battlestar Galactica pilot episode "Saga of a Star World" and The Associates. He continued to appear on Broadway and earned a second Tony nomination for his performance in The Jockey Club Stakes.

He appeared in two episodes of the mystery series Columbo, starring Peter Falk as the rumpled detective. Although the first, "Dagger of the Mind" (1972), was set in Britain and concerned Columbo paying a visit to Scotland Yard, Hyde-White's ongoing UK tax problems meant that, unlike American actors Falk and Richard Basehart, and British actors appearing in the episode, Honor Blackman, Bernard Fox, John Fraser and Arthur Malet, he was unable to take part in location filming in the UK. His scenes as a butler were therefore filmed in California. His second appearance on Columbo was in the episode "Last Salute to the Commodore" in 1976.

Hyde-White had a reputation as a bon viveur, and in 1979 he was declared bankrupt by the Inland Revenue. He died from heart failure on 6 May 1991, six days before his 88th birthday, at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, having lived in the United States for 25 years as a tax exile. His body was returned to the United Kingdom and buried in the family grave at Water Cemetery, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire.

To give a complete list of all films and TV shows in which he made an appearance would need a complete blog, so here a few – from dozens.

Josser on the Farm (1934) as Brooks, Elephant Boy (1937) as Commissioner, Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937) as Conrad (uncredited), The Lion Has Wings (1939) as Waiter (uncredited), The Demi-Paradise (1943) as Nightclub Waiter (uncredited), Night Boat to Dublin (1946) as Taxi Driver, The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947) as Staff Captain, The Winslow Boy (1948) as Wilkinson (uncredited), That Dangerous Age (1949) as Mr. Potts, The Third Man (1949) as Crabbin, The Mudlark (1950) as Tucker (uncredited), The Browning Version (1951) as Dr. Frobisher, The Million Pound Note (1954) as Roderick Montpelier, The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955) as Master Oliver, The Truth About Women (1957) as Sir George Tavistock, Two-Way Stretch (1960) as Soapy Stevens, On the Fiddle (1961) as Trowbridge, The Liquidator (1965) as Chief, The Cat and the Canary (1979) as Cyrus West, King Solomon's Treasure (1979) as Oldest Club Member, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) as Club Member (voice), The Toy (1982) as Barkley, Fanny Hill (1983) as Mr. John Barville.

TV: Laburnum Grove (BBC, 1947) as Bernard Baxley, The Reluctant Debutante (BBC, 1955) as Jimmy Broadbent, The Twilight Zone: "Passage on the Lady Anne" (1963, Run a Crooked Mile (TV movie, 1969) as Dr. Ralph Sawyer, It Takes a Thief: "To Lure a Man" (1969), Ritual of Evil (TV movie, 1970) as Harry Snowden, Columbo: "Dagger of the Mind" (1972), Battlestar Galactica (TV, 1978) as Sire Anton, Battlestar Galactica (1978), Laverne and Shirley (TV episode, 1980) as Colonel Kalaback, Scout's Honor (TV movie, 1980) as Uncle Toby "Nuncle" Bartlett, Dick Turpin (1981) as Governor Sir Basil Appleyard, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1981), Father Damien: The Leper Priest (TV movie, 1980) as Bishop Maigret.

And that ain’t the ‘alf of it!

H&E Magazine

Pelham Hardiman, fighting villains on the train, emerges through a window into the compartment of our Mr. Wilfred Hyde-White fellow – as a vicar – who is happily reading his H&E magazine. A little naughty.

Young readers, and welcome to you, will never know the struggle. Since the advent of the internet, human flesh abounds – is in your face non-stop. The mystery has gone. You do not need to peer up to the top shelves in your local newsagent or do a dirty-mag swap at school.

For a young boy in the 60s and early 70s, the female form was something secret, of the adult world. Yes, sex was a mystery. The only way to get a glimpse of bare, naked ladies was through girlie magazines such as Playboy – but these were expensive and almost impossible to get your mitts on. I remember, as an eleven-year-old, copies of H&E magazine being passed around. Miles from pornography, but the chance to get a glimpse of bum and boob. H&E magazines, along with cigarettes, were a form of currency. Harmless, really. It was simply nudity, not what is now classed as ‘sexual nudity’.

H&E (originally Health and Efficiency) is a monthly magazine focusing on the naturist and nudist lifestyle, through articles on travel, health and culture, as well as various features on arts and books with a naked theme.

First published in 1900, the magazine covered health topics such as diet, exercise, herbalism and general advice on living a healthy and efficient life.

In the 1920s when nudists began publicizing their activities and sun clubs began to form, Health & Efficiency became an early champion of their cause through publishing their letters, articles and photos. Later, this material occupied a greater proportion of the magazine, particularly as it absorbed other naturist and health periodicals, including Health and Vim and Sunbathing and Health Magazine.

After the Second World War, nudism became more popular and the monthly H&E - as it became known - promoted the lifestyle option, and throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s the magazine's reputation as the "nudist bible" grew. H&E's audience was made up of nudists who were members of British clubs and those who used British beaches. By the 1970s, cheaper foreign travel allowed many more British naturists to visit the south of France, Spain, Greece, and Yugoslavia. H&E reflected this change and soon became an international naturist magazine providing news, travel reports, features and photography from around the naturist world.

The magazine makes several appearances on Tv. It was used in the British television show Allo Allo, (certainly worth a watch if you’ve never seen it) season 7, episode 5, titled The Gestapo Ruins a Picnic.

In the "Are You Being Served?" episode, "Hoorah for the Holidays," Mr. Humphries, upon hearing of Captain Peacock's nudist lifestyle, asks him if that was him "chopping down that tree in last month’s "Health and Efficiency."" In the episode "The Club", while helping to clear out the room allocated to the department, Mr. Lucas finds a copy of the magazine printed in 1938, and briefly looks through it with Mr. Humphries.

H&E, never dirty, was about health, fresh air, clean living, and perhaps beauty, but for my generation, and for those not of the naturist fraternity, it was always a little bit naughty, and for an 11-year-old boy in 1971 (your author) it was a glimpse into a hidden world.

Carefree’s Change Partners


Must you dance every dance with the same fortunate man? You have danced with him since the music began. Won't you change partners and dance with me? Must you dance quite so close with your lips touching his face? Can't you see I'm longing to be in his place? Won't you change partners and dance with me?

Ask him to sit this one out. While you're alone, I'll tell the waiter to tell Him he's wanted on the telephone.

You've been locked in his arms ever since heaven-knows-when. Won't you change partners and then, You may never want to change partners again.

"Change Partners" is a popular song written by Irving Berlin for the 1938 film Carefree, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1938 but lost out to "Thanks for the Memory."

Hit records in 1938 included Astaire, Ozzie Nelson, Jimmy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk. The song reached No. 1 on Billboard's Record Buying Guide.

Pelham hears the song as he makes his way along the railway carriage.

Zoot suits

A zoot suit (occasionally spelled zuit suit) is a men's suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing became popular in African-American, Latino, Italian American, and Filipino American communities during the 1940s.

The zoot suit originated in an African American comedy show in the 1930s and was popularized by jazz singers. Cab Calloway called them "totally and truly American", and a young Malcolm X wore them. During the shortages and rationing of World War II, they were criticized as a wasteful use of cloth, wool being rationed then. After zoot suit wearers were victims of repeated mob violence, the suits were prohibited for the duration of the war. Just a point here: Cab Calloway was moonwalking long before Michael Jackson.

The zoot suit was created by Ernest "Skillet" Mayhand during his shows as a part of the comedy act "Pots, Pans & Skillet" an act that ran on the "Chitlin' Circuit". The suits were first associated in African-American communities such as Harlem, Chicago, and Detroit in the 1930s, but were made popular nationwide by jazz musicians in the 1940s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "zoot" probably comes from a reduplication of suit.

Jazz bandleader Cab Calloway frequently wore zoot suits on stage, including some with exaggerated details, such as extremely wide shoulders or overly draped jackets. He wore one in the 1943 film Stormy Weather. In his dictionary, Cab Calloway's Cat-ologue: A "Hepster's" Dictionary (1938), he called the zoot suit "the ultimate in clothes. The only totally and truly American civilian suit."

The Tom & Jerry cartoon short The Zoot Cat (1944) spoofs the trend with Tom trying to impress a girl (Toots) by wearing a zoot suit. Pachuco was a style of Mexican-American dress and culture which was associated with the zoot suit. Tin-Tan, a famous Mexican actor from the 1940s, wore zoot suits in his films. Labor leader Cesar Chavez sported zoot suit attire in his younger years. The 38th Street gang was a Los Angeles street gang known for wearing the zoot suit in the 1940s.

Zoot suits played a historical role in the subculture in the United States in the 1940s, and shaped a new generation of men in Trinidad. These Trinidadian men who adopted this American fashion became referred to as the "saga boys"; they wore these suits and embraced the glamorous lifestyle that they represented. Although the "saga boys" had the appearance of adapting to the urban American way of life, they were in fact using this clothing and lifestyle as a way to improve their lives in Trinidad, rise above the restrictions that imperialism brought and create through this oppositional dress, a culture of their own. British Teds (Teddy Boys) wearing locally tailored imitations of the zoot suit.

Traditionally, zoot suits have been worn with a fedora or pork pie hat color-coordinated with the suit, occasionally with a long feather as decoration, and pointy, French-style shoes.

A young Malcolm X, who wore zoot suits in his youth, described the zoot suit as: "a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats, and shoulders padded like a lunatic's cell". Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket. A woman accompanying a man wearing a zoot suit would commonly wear a flared skirt and a long coat.

The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort. When Life published photographs of zoot suiters in 1942, the magazine joked that they were "solid arguments for lowering the Army draft age to include 18-year-olds". This extravagance, which many considered unpatriotic in wartime, was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots. To some, wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.

Cab Calloway is worth a watch and a listen just for his Minnie the Moocher. Try The Blues Brothers to see and hear him at his best, along with other greats such as B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Isaac Hayes, Joe Morton, Lou Rawls, Bo Diddley…and many more. And if you watch this film without jiggling your hips – go see a doctor.

Minnie The Moocher-Cab Calloway.

Minnie The Moocher-Cab Calloway.Words & Music:Cab Calloway (ca. 1930)


Folk's here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher.

Am F7 E7 Am

She was a red hot hootchie-cootcher.


She was the roughest, toughest, frail.

Dm Am E7 Am

But Minnie had a heart a big as a whale

CHORUS: [call & response]


Hi-di-hiiiiii-de-hi! [Hi-di-hiiiiii-de-hi!]


Ho-de-ho-de-ho-de-ho! [Ho-de-ho-de-ho-de-ho!]


Hi-di-hiiiiii-de-hi! [Hi-di-hiiiiii-de-hi!]

Dm Am E7 Am

But, Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.

She messed around with a bloke named Smokey.

She loved him, though he was coke-y.

He took her down to Chinatown

And he showed her how to kick the gong around.

They went to the dope house the other night,

knew that the lights would be burning bright

Called the man and ordered a toy of hop,

started to smoke and thought they'd never stop


She had a dream about the King of Sweden.

He gave her things that she was needin'.

Gave her a home built of gold and steel,

A diamond car, with the platinum wheels.


He gave her a townhouse and his racing horses.

Each meal she ate was a dozen courses.

She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes.

She sat around and counted them a million times.

CHORUS: [double-time]

Poor Minnie met old Deacon Lowdown.

He preached to her she ought to slow down.

But Minnie wiggled her jellyroll

Deacon Lowdown hollered, "Oh, save my soul!"


She stabbed herself with an inchee gow,

Laid with her head on a suee pow.

She started to scream and started to shout

When "Bang! Bang!" and the dope gave out.


They took her where they put the crazies.

Now, poor old Minnie is picking up daisies.

You've heard my story, this ends the song.

She was just a good gal, but they done her wrong.


Dm E7 Am

Poor Min, poor Min, poor Ain!

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