Netflix – The Crown

the-crown-netflixStreets are being blown up in Winchester today – not far from my city in Hampshire, as part of Netlflix/Sony filming a big-budget historical drama series called The Crown.

College Street and Kingsgate Street have all been cordoned off  except for actors costumed in 40s attire, and rubble has been placed outside The Wykeham Arms pub for the re-enactment of World War II scenes.

The Wykeham Arms

The Wykeham Pub and Cornflowers on College Street, Winchester
The Wykeham Pub and Cornflowers on College Street, Winchester

I expect that Hampshire Council will well-paid for this inconvenience – at £100 million, the filming budget is said to be the most expensive television show ever produced in Britain.

My family and friends have travelled to various parts of Britain to work as extras since filming commenced last October. Despite having signed secrecy contracts, the scenes at weddings, funerals and stately homes are all over the internet. Netflix have also released a trailor on YouTube:  More stills appear on

The first two of an eventual series of six, concentrate on the Queen’s early years, her marriage to Prince Phillip, the death of King George IV, her Coronation and the Blitz. These are expected to be released all in one go this Autumn, after the last series of Downton Abbey has been aired in USA and Canada.

If the Netflix binge-watch is financially successful (and these sort of dramas have world-wide appeal) the next two series will be filmed.

The Crown’s creator is Peter Morgan (of award-winning films The Queen and Frost/Nixon). It stars Claire Foy (Anne Boleyn in the Wolf Hall series) as Princess Elizabeth, Matt Smith (Dr Who) as Prince Phillip and American actor John Lithgow as a very convincing Churchill.

UPDATE 4th NOVEMBER 2016 – The first 10 of the series is being released on Netflix tonight.

Victorian Festival of Christmas 2015

Oliver characters: Mrs Bedwin, Bill Sykes with his dog Bullseye and Nancy.
Oliver characters: Mrs Bedwin, Bill Sykes with his dog Bullseye and Nancy.

I took part in The Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth’s Historical Dockyard this year. If you have ever wandered why so many British actors get the best parts in Hollywood movies, then perhaps take a look at this year’s festival slide show on YouTube (by photographer Steve Spurgin)

Most chimney sweeps were children.
Most chimney sweeps were children.
The prostitutes
The prostitutes
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mr Darcy, Florence Nightingale, Prince George, Lady Pennywhistle.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mr Darcy, Florence Nightingale, Prince George, Lady Pennywhistle.
Queen Victoria with John Brown
Queen Victoria with John Brown

With very little rehearsal, over 400 volunteers dressed in Victorian costume to bring this attraction to life, for thousands of tourists from all over the globe.

In the UK, we live and breath theatre from an early age, starting with making costumes to take part in the school’s nativity play. History is now taught by people dressing up and re-enacting the period they are learning about, be it Romans or WWII. To learn Shakespeare for exams we do not just read the play, we act it. More people belong to amateur drama groups in Britain than sports societies.

Portsmouth is the birthplace of Charles Dickens. The Historical Dockyard is where centuries-old ships, such as Nelson’s Flagship The Victory, HMS Warrior and The Mary Rose etc are moored.



The dry dock is also where parts of Les Miserables was filmed. So all these scenes were brought to life by costumed actors, singers, school groups, historical and Victorian interest societies such as steam-punks or the Victorian Strollers.People from 5 to 80 years-of-age played famous Victorian or Dickensian characters for three full days and with very little breaks. It was in the open air while the tale-end of Hurricane Desmond was blowing a gale and in addition there were a few down-pours.


First visitors are greeted by carollers, then those in Victorian Uniforms, dockyard workers, stilt-walking-police, postal clerks, servicemen, sailors. Then by beggars, prostitutes and suffragettes – undertakers, a ruthless judge in a courtroom setting, prisoners, gliding angels, pearly kings & queens singing cockney musical hall ditties, workhouse children being enticed to steal by Fagin and the Artful Dodger, chimney sweeps, a green-gowned Father Christmas. There were snow machines, carousels, a Downton-Abbey type dinner table set with turkey and trimmings, various stage sets. There were three a pubs – one mock, one real with bands singing sea shanties and even an inflatable one. There was a market selling Christmas crafts and fayre from mulled cider to hog roasts.

Victorian Dinner Party
Victorian Dinner Party

I was part of Groundlings Theatre that organised around 200 of us. I played an aristocratic snob preaching Victorian manners. “It is the height of rudeness to have one’s elbows on the table.”  At the end of each sketch, Charles the Butler pushes a custard pie in my face. I endured around 40 of those!

Police with penny farthing bicycles.
Police with penny farthing bicycles.
Children learn about Victorian history by dressing up
Children learn about Victorian history by dressing up

The finale each year is a parade lead by a full pipe band in kilts and bear-skins and headed by Queen Victoria. We were not allowed to carry phones and cameras, so I could only took a few snap-shots in the Green Room. Most of these photos are from Portsmouth News.

Father Christmas at the helm.
Father Christmas at the helm.

For more info about Portsmouth Historical Dockyard visit:



Watts Park leaves fall softly from tall sycamores

fluttering like wounded birds

perch briefly on broad-shouldered uniform

before landing on sodden ground

conkers and grass compressed in to mud

by platoons of polished black boots

Remembrance poppies

Our Civic Centre clock chimes:

‘O God our help in ages past

Our hope for years to come…’

Bishop of Southampton delivers solomn sermon,

and there’s poppies, poppies, poppies…

But my thoughts slip away to you dear Father


I have recycled your values

composting leaves, endlessly reprocessing

The earth reminds me of your grave.

I think of battle fields

bomb craters and dugouts became giant puddles

and there’s soldiers, soldiers, soldiers

Who would volunteer to become a soldier?

You did dear Father

Lied about your age so you could enlist

to join your regiment of pals

blasting out ‘Reveille’ or ‘The Last Post’ on your bugle

marching bravely in your correct-angled beret

through streets of England and Malta

through deserts of Egypt and Burma

over mountains in India and Italy

for Crown and Country

for your neighbours and family

for us that we may live in hope of peace

Southampton Cenotaph

November 11th,  2013



Good Morrow Old Pompey! 

How the Dickens thee be?

Southampton stops by this fine Summer’s day.

After cash-jab and face-lift, looks young and healthy

I calls on thee ‘Neighbour’,

but ‘Scummer!’ ye names me 

Thee Royal Navy and I Merchant Sea

Yet ye stole my ferry passengers

And should-be-mine bananas fatten your docks

I sings out: “Daylight Come and I Want go home”.

“What Shall We do with a Drunken Sailor?” is your repost


Come jolly Jack Tar

slap my back if I slaps thine

Chants we more o’them shanties

and buy me a bevvy

at Spice Island Tavern

we’ll sup to “fair ladies”

my Queens and Princesses

your grand Ark Royals

and here’s to Lord Admiral Nelson

and his flagged Victory.

Your rum and brandy, my wine and beer

We feast on mackerel – all sprightly silver,

 like 30 pieces, or was that of eight?

Lament our great losses:

My tragic Titanic

Your dear Mary Rose. 

Evoke Dunkirk spirit –

How we did save them

by the thousand

How we did fight them

shoulder to shoulder

against the French, and on D-Day, the Blitz …


Let’s parade to bagpipes along your old battlements

Lungs refresh’d

with Southsea salt-air,

We skiff English pebbles

aim for Spitbank

and against that greasy-grey grave of great sea.


Thee, and thy gulls, have welcomed me 

And now I must bid fare-thee-well and Adieu..

Let’s stay always Mateys

And repay my Southampton a visit

real soon.


Note: I wrote this after visiting friends in Portsmouth, about half an hour’s ride away. Historically Southampton and Portsmouth have always been rival ports. It is only heard in football match chants nowadays. But the two cities have always pulled together hard against common enemies.

WordPress Photo Challenge: CONNECTED

Connected ©Southampton Old Lady
©Southampton Old Lady

I took this at Southampton Boat Show as part of the WordPress Photo Challenge on the theme: CONNECTED.

I don’t know if there is a similar word in your country but here in Britain, as well as being physically attached, ‘Connected’ can also refer to someone who has an unfair power or wealth because of who they know. Examples: part of the Aristocracy or Royalty, having the King’s ear, sleeping with the director or related to your boss.

<a href=””>Connected</a&gt;

Amazing People 2: Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II Screen print by Andy Warhol, 1985
Queen Elizabeth II
Screen print by Andy Warhol, 1985

Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest serving monarch today, overtaking Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years, seven months and two days. So I am placing her in my series of Amazing People.

Queen Elizabeth II at Southampton Docks 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II at Southampton Docks 2014.

When Elizabeth became Queen of United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in 1952, Stalin was still leader of the USSR and Truman President of the USA. She has reigned over 12 British Prime Ministers, starting with Churchill. Most of my life, I didn’t really support having a monarch; I could not understand why my father did and felt very sorry for the British Commonwealth. It was not until I moved abroad in the 1980s that I realised how important she was to the nation’s identity and stability. She has not put a foot wrong ever, and is such a wonderful role model to represent us. She did not opt for her role; like a queen bee, she inherited it and was bred for the part. She is a workaholic, carries out her Duty impeccably and would heroically give up her life to save ours if necessary. I just love her.

I have met Her Majesty twice: once at the 100th Royal Variety show at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, during her diamond jubilee year, and again last year when she came to Southampton, to name P&O’s ship Britannia at her home port.

Psychologists philosophise that, most people will dream about a meeting with their country’s leader at least once during their sleeping lives. I had a vivid dream once, long ago that I was having afternoon tea with the Queen while she sought some confidential female advice from me. Yet I have never dreamt about any of our Prime Ministers. It proves to me who I really looked up to subconsciously.

Princess Elizabeth was car engineer in 1945. She could strip down army vehicles and reassemble them – single handed.
Princess Elizabeth was an engineer and car mechanic in 1945. She could strip down army vehicles and reassemble them – single handed.

Graffiti 4 – Lancaster Castle – (The Queen’s latest rave club)

1865 Graffiti from Her Majesty's Prison at Lancster Castle, England
1865 Graffiti from Her Majesty’s Prison at Lancaster Castle, England
I LOVE GOD graffiti from HMP Lancaster which closed as a prison in 2011
I LOVE GOD graffiti from HMP Lancaster which closed as a jail in 2011

Lancaster is an Ideal Tourist location

If you visit Britain, I would recommend a good central base for visiting all its countries is Lancaster in Lancashire. Located in Northern England, not too far from the seaside town of Blackpool, it is about halfway between Glasgow in Scotland and London, just off the M6 motorway. This is a good road route if you wish to see Stratford on Avon, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool (sail from here to Northern Ireland) or North Wales. Lancaster itself is full of friendly people, old fashioned English pubs, and historic attractions which remain unspoilt from any war. For a wonderful arial view visit the YouTube link:

Lancaster Castle entrance
Lancaster Castle entrance

Graffiti Tours

Lancaster Castle, also known as John O’Gaunt’s Castle, has its origins as far back as the Roman times. The castle was first used as a prison in the 12th Century and right up until its closure in 2011. Hundreds have been hanged after trials here, including the Pendle witches in 1612.  The castle operates regular tours, including a specialised ‘Graffiti tour’.  Historians were able to find out much about the town’s ancient history from what was scratched on its walls by prisoners. To find out more of what you can do the castle visit:

Its all gone Pete Tong at Her Majesty’s Prison Lancaster!

A Wing of Lancaster Prison
A Wing of Lancaster Prison

The Queen who owns Lancaster Castle, has recently found herself to be an accidental Landlady of a popular nightclub. British DJs, who became world-famous after performing in Ibiza, hire the ‘A Wing’ of the ex-prison as a club.

Raves in unusual places, popular in the 1980s, have undergone a huge revival and spread throughout the world – so has its music, from drum & bass or garage to acid house and hard techno. (The most unusual rave I attended, over 30 years ago, was Mutoid Waste’s first event inside London’s Battersea Power-station. The Mutoid Waste company is one of the main attractions now at the Glastonbury festival for steam-punk, mechanical fairground sculptures).

Southampton’s superstar DJ Rob Da Bank (who organises Bestival), Pete Tong, Mark Knight, High Contrast, Kratoa, Bondax, Dimitri from Paris and James Zabelia are just some of those to perform at A Wing:


Young crowd dancing at AWing nightclub. Photo from
Young crowd dancing at AWing nightclub. Photo from