The London & Lancashire Insurance Company extended its tentacles well beyond the territories encapsulated in its name …


178 Bridport Street, Albert Park, Melbourne

London & Lancashire is, of course, an example of an alliterative company name, like Bradford & Bingley. But at least Bradford & Bingley makes spatial sense. Bradford and Bingley are neighbouring towns in West Yorkshire.

The typewritten address on this old envelope (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure) is addressed to “The London Manager” …TypefaceLondonInsuranceCropped

The search is now on for an envelope, dated April 15th 1964, addressed to “The Lancashire Manager” at a branch office in, say, Manchester.

You’d be surprised how much history (and trivia) there is in postal history. For example, the cancellation on the addressed envelope above reminds the recipient: Have you taken out your licence for radio?

I’m not quite old enough to remember radio licensing, but I do remember BBC TV detector vans prowling the neighbourhood in search of licence cheats.

In Haruki Murakami’s novel IQ84, the father of one of the novel’s two protagonists, Tengo, is a former collector of subscription fees for NHK,  Japan’s quasi-governmental public broadcasting network. As a single parent, Tengo’s father takes his young son with him on his rounds: a) because he can’t leave a small child on his own, and b) because it makes his job easier:

“With a little person staring up at them, even people usually determined not to pay, would usually end up forking over the money.”

Murakami provides us with an insight into post-war radio in Japan:

“People then were just beginning to recover from the shock of defeat and to look for some entertainment in their destitute lives. Radio was the most accessible and cheapest form of entertainment; and post-war radio, which offered music, comedy and sports, was incomparably more popular than its wartime predecessor with its virtuous exhortations for patriotic self-sacrifice. NHK needed huge numbers of people to go from door to door collecting listeners’ fees.”

The BBC relied heavily on licence revenue too. My father always paid his dues and owned a succession of unreliable second-hand radios and TVs (black-and-white throughout the ’60s and well into the ’70s).


I remember the huge glass valves in the back of my father’s TVs would occasionally implode, whereupon he would call upon the services of a neighbour (they were neighbours in more ways than one, my father a refugee from Ukraine, the TV repairman a refugee from Poland) who’d either fix the set or provide him with another dodgy replacement.

At best, the TV programmes of my childhood were seen through light sleet or – when the reception was especially bad – an arctic blizzard.

Such was the technology available at the time. Crude, yes, but in a way those cathode-ray-tubed wooden boxes powered my imagination more than the flattest, highest-resolution, surround-sound digital TV ever could. The wonder was they worked at all!

No longer may we refer to our television sets as “boxes” (most of us don’t even own “set top boxes” anymore).

I dream in colour, but reminisce in black and white.