A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Hooptedoodle #262 - Owls of Derision - plus one more from the Small World Dept

Topic 1: Lately we've been puzzled to hear owls hooting during the day in the wood behind our house - even experienced countrymen like Dod the Gardener are puzzled by such behaviour. Well, we've now seen one in the garden - a couple of visits. The Contesse is still working to get a better photo - this is what she's managed to date.

Online experts suggest that it is a Little Owl, though we had thought it might be a Short-Eared Owl, more renowned for their daylight hunting. In the upper picture, you will notice that the blackbird sitting close by does not appear to feel at all threatened.

Topic 2: I only relate this story because it involves a couple of surprising coincidences - the subject matter may be of little interest, so I shall deal with it as quickly as might be decent.

My view on coincidences is boringly downbeat - they interest me, but I believe that the proportion of truly unlikely events in our lives is about as small as you would expect; when something unusual happens, however, we remember it clearly, so that our perception is distorted - we think remarkable things happen more often than they do. Get to the story, Foy...

Well, I've recently been trying to sort out my mp3 collection of the old BBC radio Goon Shows from the 1950s - many of the official published compilations of these shows were edited to drop the musical interludes, but most of mine are intact - sometimes a bit frayed, admittedly, but all the shows are complete. The Goon Shows had music of a good standard - apart from Wally Stott and the BBC's own orchestra, they also featured Ray Ellington's Quartet, and then there was Max Geldray, the virtuoso jazz harmonica player. All a bit dated now, maybe, but good stuff - and, anyway, nothing could be more dated than the Goons, dear boy.

Ray Ellington had a hot little band - on hearing them again, I was interested to note that his electric guitarist was exceptionally good - in fact he sounded most un-British, to be unkind about it. A little research revealed that he was Lauderic Caton, a Trinidadian, one of the leading pioneers of electric guitar on the English jazz scene in the years after WW2. He was friendly with, and a major influence on, a couple of the other lads of note of the day - especially Dave Goldberg and Pete Chilver. He was also noted for being a skilled luthier, and produced good-quality converted electric guitars in the days when it was impossible to obtain modern American instruments in the UK.

Pete Chilver circa 1948 - with electric guitar produced by Lauderic Caton
Goldberg I knew of - a Liverpudlian - but Chilver was a new name, so I read on. He shared a flat in London with Goldberg for a while, was very highly regarded - even by visiting American players - and played with (amongst others) the Ted Heath band and, for a while, Ray Ellington. Then, it seems, he married the sister of the girl singer in Heath's band (are you taking careful notes here? - there will be a test at the end), moved to North Berwick (which is where I live!) in 1950, retired from playing professionally, and thereafter managed his wife's family's hotel, the Westerdunes (now long gone). He also opened the West End Jazz Club, in Shandwick Place, Edinburgh - a place which I vaguely remember, though it was no longer a jazz club by the time I went there. Pete died in 2008, in Edinburgh.

Remarkable - so here's an important English jazz guitarist from the 1940s that I had never heard of, and he even became a prominent resident in my own neck of the woods! Only thing to do was email my old chum and former associate Hamish, for many years a hero and stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene, who has now also retired to the North Berwick area. Sorry to bother him, but did he know anything about Pete Chilver? - and I included some background details.

Hamish mailed back to say yes, he did know Pete a little - latterly Pete and his wife Norma retired and moved to Barnton Avenue, in Edinburgh. Hamish had been to his house there.

It seems that the handyman who now helps Hamish's wife around the house and garden used to work for Mrs Chilver - who is now in a care home, I understand - and only recently he had to dump a load of old acetate 78rpm masters of recordings from Pete's professional days [ah - drat]. Furthermore, the very night before he replied to my mail, Hamish had been a dinner guest at Westerdunes House - for many years converted into apartments, but now restored to its original state. Prior to this he had never heard of the place, never been there, and until my note was unaware of the connection with Chilver.

Westerdunes House
Now that is a bit of a long shot, I think. It looks a nice place - must have been a swanky hotel - healthier than the London clubs - a smart move by Old Pete? In passing, his friend Goldberg died of a drug overdose in the 1960s, when he was only 43. The Devil's music, your Honour.


  1. A great story, and I wouldn't mind a stay at Westerdunes House myself.

    Best Regards,


    1. It does look splendid - ironically, the reason it ceased to be a hotel was because the potential cost to convert all the old rooms to modern en suite etc standard was prohibitive - cheaper and easier to construct a modern building - but then they didn't do that either!

      Further to the tale so far - Norma's sister (the singer with the Ted Heath band - check your notes) used the professional name Lydia McDonald, though the family name was De Domenico. Just out of curiosity, I poked around a little on YouTube and elsewhere, and I have to say that Lydia was a superb singer - considering I never heard of her, I would regard her as far superior to Anne Shelton or any of the contemporary British big band singers - nearest thing to Julie London I've heard from that period. I'm not going any further down that particular dark tunnel, but it's interesting what you can come up with when you're supposed to be doing your tax return...

      Regards - Tony

  2. My informants here at the Wildlife Trust think your visitor is a tawny owl, though what it's doing about in daylight is anyone's guess. An insomniac owl?
    Little and short-eared owls have yellow eyes, evidently, while your tawny's are black.

    1. Thanks for that Chris - that's muddied the waters nicely!