My Life as a Closet Anglophile

I was a closet Anglophile. I keep my passions secret. Perhaps this is understandable. My adoptive maternal grandparents had emigrated to Canada in 1910/11 from Gateshead, in County Durham. Yet, my grandmother did not reminisce. The tenements of Newcastle and Gateshead were home to tuberculosis, a deadly disease that had already taken the life of one of my aunts in childhood. She had no desire to return to England.

Gateshead 1910
This is the area of Gateshead, across the Tyne River from Newcastle, where my maternal grandparents lived before immigrating to Canada in 1910-11. (photo: A Gibson, 1900)

It was the English children’s author Arthur Ransome, from Leeds, who presented me with a more positive picture of England with his Swallows and Amazons adventures mainly set in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads. My favourite location was in neither of these places, but Hamford Water, Essex, as depicted in Secret Water. My womanly ideal, at least before Emma Peel, was Susan Walker, first mate of the Swallow, or was it Nancy Blackett, captain of the Amazon?

Hamford Essex

The Scottish children’s author James Lennox Kerr, writing as Peter Dawlish, introduced me to Cornwall, in a series of adventure books about an abandoned French crabber, Dauntless, and her crew of English boys. Here, there were real dangers to be faced, both natural and human.

At school, British authors dominated the curriculum. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treaure Island will always be remembered, as will Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, where there are references to St. Fillan’s Spring. St. Fillan is where McLellan takes its name. Those unfamiliar with the work are encouraged to read it in its Classics Illustrated (comic book) version, #75.

While I have read, and enjoyed the works of many other British writers. I will only mention one more, Robert Gibbings. I was particularly fond of his book on the River Wye, Coming Down the Wye (1942), as well as his first river book, Sweet Thames Run Softly (1940). Both of these books are in our personal library. More than the writing, I found Gibbings’ wood engravings especially attractive. At some point after I have finished my apprenticeship as a furniture maker, I will be undertaking a new apprenticeship as a wood engraver. Bibliographical information about Gibbings can be found here:



Throughout the 1950s, my parents would spend a week of their holiday living in fairly primitive conditions in a rented cabin at a fishing camp. They loved it. Most frequently, this was at Dee Lake, not far from Winfield, in the Okanogan. This pattern changed about 1960, when we shared a summer house with the Coombe family for a week, at Blind Bay on Shuswap Lake.

The most important asset of the summer house was its boat, Blitz, an agonizingly slow wooden boat, powered by a 5 hp outboard motor. We would use it to visit Copper Island, in the center of the lake. In addition, I would use it to visit the boat builders, who lived on the other side of Blind Bay. They built Enterprise dinghies from kits, and allowed me to borrow one from time to time.

Tim Sadler and Richard Sault sailing a modern fibreglass E

The first time I sailed was with Robert De Roos and his father on a 12 foot (360 cm) dinghy imported from the Netherlands. This was on Okanogan Lake. At the time they had two sailboats. The other was a Pirat, which was less than 240 cm long. This one event encouraged me to build my own sailing dinghy, a Sabot, that I had made when I was thirteen and fourteen.

The Hillman Minx and other fine cars

I have always liked small, cheap, reliable cars. Even today. Even if cheap and reliable is a contradiction in terms. If I had known just how unreliable the Mazda 5 was going to be, I would have followed my heart and bought a Fiat Panda or a Fiat 500L or a Peugeot 1008 or, most likely, a Citroen Berlingo. Today, I find that an attractive vehicle is one that is practical, but not necessarily the reverse.

One of the first practical vehicles that I appreciated, was a Hillman Husky. A neighbour, Alf Fenton, at 310 Ash Street, New Westminster, owned one and kept it for many years. I cannot recall him owning any other car. My first car, was a Hillman Minx convertible. In contrast to my current opinions, it was definitely not practical. I remember that the canvas roof was not waterproof, and the engine would stop if driven through puddles. One learns from experience.

Hillman Husky Series II
Hillman Husky, one of the first practical vehicles I admired. (photo: redsimon)

While I liked the Hillman, In the 1960s I preferred its more up-market sister brand, Sunbeam. My school mate, Harry Wilson, owned a Rapier coupe (it was also available as a convertible). These cars were part of the Audax range of cars, designed by Raymond Loewy (1893-1986). Loewy also designed some of the most influential Studebaker models, such as the Avanti, and the Greyhouse Scenicruiser bus. I also found the Morris Minor extremely attractive, particularly its Traveller station wagon. My friend, Terry Godfrey, owned one of these.

At times I liked some larger English vehicles, in particular a Landrover 88, a Rover 2000 and a Triumph TR4A. When I look at these cars today, they hold little appeal. A Subaru Forester holds much more appeal than a Landrover. The Rover P5 is much more attractive than a Rover 2000. My preferred British sports car is no longer a Triumph, but a softer lined Sunbeam Alpine, once again designed by Raymond Loewy. I am content not to own any of these vehicles. Any future vehicle will be electric.


Perhaps my favourite television series of alltime is The Avengers. While I have all of the available episodes, I still have not found time to watch them in any quantity. The reason of course, is that television programs that provided entertainment in the 1960s, do not offer the same value in 2017.

How real is the England that I purport to love? Probably as fake as The Avengers. If one examines the episodes carefully, the show is extremely racist. Not a single, non caucasian character appears in any episode. A crime of omission. Yet, in many ways, The Avengers is more Canadian, than English. Sydney Newman (1917-1997), who created both The Avengers and Doctor Who, was born and died in Toronto.Even my womanly ideals have changed. Of the four intelligent, stylish, assertive “Stead” women, Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), Tara King (Linda Thorson), Purdey (Joanna Lumley), I now prefer King-Thorson, born in Toronto, Canada.