He was the man who could do anything.
His words are securely recorded at London’s Imperial War Museum, as a record of D-Day plus eight, the day he and his comrades travelled in an amphibious vehicle across the English Channel, up to their ankles in sea water.
My husband learnt to drive in a cheeky mini; Charles, his father, learnt on an army base . As part of the advancing Allied forces after D-Day, anyone who could drive was employed to do so. He drove hefty vans and tanks and Brenn machine gun vehicles. He was an engineer with REME, The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
He learnt self-sufficiency and never un-learnt it. When he arrived back in England with a Belgian wife there was nowhere to live, and they moved into an old Nissen hut, where his daughter was born, and he made the family comfortable. He never really believed that there was much he could not do.
He built his own conservatory; wired an entire Cornish cottage; planned and fitted out a large extension. He maintained all his cars meticulously, laid patios, and learnt elementary plumbing.
In February 1952 he, like everyone else, mourned the passing of the man who had seen the British people through the dark days of the war, King George VI. But as is always the way with the monarchy, preparations bustled ahead for the coronation of a new monarch. The date was set for June 2, 1952.
Technology had moved on since the last king’s coronation in 1937. Now, the crowning could actually be filmed. And the one must-have accessory for June 2 was one of the early televisions.
Early tellies were very different animals to today’s sleek screened beauties.They were a hot mass of valves and wiring, circulated around a cathode ray tube,which had a fluorescent screen to receive images. Valves? you’ve never seen such valves.
So when news of the coronation broke, my father in law chose not to go out, as many families did, and buy a television tidily boxed. No; he decided to make a television.
Why not? He was clearly invincible, and whatever he put his mind to he achieved. He secured all the parts which would create a gogglebox fit to view a queen, and set about making it.
He set up a table in one of the smaller bedrooms and gradually built on top of it. And bit by bit, his electrical monster rose from the table’s surface, a thoroughly modern electrical monster. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on Dr Shrewsday. It grew inexorably until it all but filled the room.
By the beginning of June, most people in Britain knew which neighbour they were going to visit to sit in their living room and watch the queen’s crowning. People who had televisions were prized.
And Charles’s television was assured.
But only for an audience of one.
Like The Wizard Of Oz, the cathode ray monster would only permit one person at a time to visit it. Today, 60 years ago, the smallest bedroom was crammed, wall to wall, with television. There would be no community cinema here, but a rotating audience of one.
His daughter still recounts, giggling, arriving with her little friends from along the street and asking her Daddy if they could watch the Coronation.
Naturally he said yes: but the tiny green glowing screen was so surrounded by tubes and valves and dials, that each little friend must potter in by themselves to watch a little bit of the Coronation, and then pass to another child.
But the television was still the wonder of the modern world. In wonder,on a very small greenish lit screen, each watched a small part of a ceremony hitherto rarely watched by commoners.
It all seems a lifetime ago. And it was: sixty years ago this very morning.