‘Lulu’ author talked to Bedfont Library, South West London

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January 14, 2016 by dontbringlulubook

Sarah Onions,co-author of ‘Don’t Bring Lulu; Her Family’s Tale of Trial and Triumph’ told the story of her family to members of the monthly book club at the Bedfont Library in Feltham, South West London.

Sarah’s father was the first news organiser for the BBC in New York and her younger sister Lulu who had special needs went to America too.

The talk had been organised by Jan Burton, Customer Service Assistant at Bedfont Library seen here to the left with Sarah.


Sarah also met Jenifer Willett who had run a workshop for the disabled under the auspices of Hounslow Council.

The workshop enabled the members to earn a wage, making parts for British Airways and Champion Motors.

Jenifer became boss of the workshop and ran it for three years.

Jenifer seen here second left WP_20160114_12_05_45_Pro listened to Sarah’s story which can be read here.

Talk for Bedfont Library on 14th January 2016

As Jan had been so welcoming and encouraging to the notion of me speaking to you, I have brought my favourite pix of my Dad and my sister and my Mum to show you.

The earliest shot of my Dad is the black and white shot – what I believe would be called a study.

I particularly like it because – as a fellow journalist  (and I work for Radio Jackie as a freelance) – I recognise the expression he is wearing.  And I am taking you into my confidence here – to say that when journalists deal with the public, they do mostly hold them at arms’ length, so to speak. Dad’s expression  is a slightly sardonic one, made more pronounced by the fact he was aware that he had to pose for the photographer. The caption refers to a joke about the telephone line being indistinct – which is a problem which persists. In my experience, just when the person being interviewed gives you a good quote, there is a fuzzy outburst obliterating the quote.

To move on, the sort of standard daily journalistic experience first with newspapers and then in broadcasting was what took Dad to one of the best jobs in the business, in the world. My father worked as the first news organiser for the BBC – based in New York City.

He had worked for the BBC since 1960 when he started with South Today and transferred up to London where he worked with Cliff Michelmore on the Tonight programme in 1964. He applied for a job at Granada TV (in May 19 64) and was written to by a producer David Plowright – the brother of the actress of Joan Plowright – married to the famous actor Laurence Oliver.

One of the biggest stories he ever covered was the first manned space mission to the Moon. My father took me and my mother with him first to Cape Kennedy in Florida to watch the launch.

We were taken to a motel near to the space compound. Also with us were Sandi Toksvig , her older brother Nick and their mother Julie. Claus Toksvig, Sandi’s father, was covering the story for Danish TV and the European Broadcasting Union or EBU. The EBU broadcast to European countries.

We were woken at 4 am by Sandi’s mother Julie who gave us salty crackers because she was worried about the effect of the heat. We were taken on a school bus to a stand for the families of VIP’s next to the news stand. By the time we got there, the sun was up and I could hear the steady count down of a male voice over a tannoy.

To quote from the book:

“my overall impression as APOLLO left the earth was the exhilarating power of the flames spreading outwards across the launch pad. The memory of that is still intact and I think of it as a special cupboard you open only now and then.”

My father was watching the event in the press stand and you can see the thousands of journalists in the pictures in the Life Magazines from 1969. Please look at the magazines with care as they are fragile now.

Once the rocket had taken off we – and by we, I mean a large pack of journalists moved to Houston, Texas and the home of Mission Control.

After Dad’s death I found in my parents’ possessions pictures of my father in action at the press centre at Mission Control with Charles Wheeler and Reginald Turnhill.  Charles Wheeler – later knighted – was the longest-serving foreign correspondent for the BBC and had also been part of a secret naval intelligence unit assembled by the James Bond writer Ian Fleming in the second world war.

Reginald Turnhill started his reporting career as a telephonist for Press Association when he was just 15 and has written many books on aviation and was the BBC’s Aviation Correspondent at the time of the moonshot.  Reg  – who in 2014 aged 97 – joined the team slightly later into the story once he’d covered the Moscow space race. There’s more detail about me and RegTurnill in the book. But it’s enough to say it was a pretty formidable team working for the BBC which sent back news of a unique event to Britain and all the countries in the European Broadcasting Union.

You can see pictures of this team in action if you look at the blog at dontbringlulubook.co.uk –  they were taken in the press centre at Mission Control where journalists from all over the world were accommodated. The BBC booth was the first in the line on the eastern side of the auditorium where news briefings were given (and where the astronauts could be seen on a wide screen when they walked on the moon).

We stayed in a nearby motel which had the sound channel between NASA and the spaceship permanently linked up in our room – a detail for the conspiracy theorists and moonshot deniers to deal with.

There was a pool attached to the motel and even on overcast days I would swim – once I got out to see a stroke of lightning hit the water on a sultry afternoon. My mother’s birthday on July the 19th in 1969 saw us gather around a bigger pool for a party to celebrate that event – under a clear sky and a moon beaming down.

While all this news was happening you may have been wondering about the whereabouts of my sister Louise.

Another favourite photo. Here, much later, she’s in her late 30’s with my father. I love this photograph as it shows their deep love for each other. Louise was cared for in East Sussex (for most of her life) and we would go and visit her regularly, often to the beach at places like Pevensey, east of Brighton.

My parents kept a bungalow in Sussex for most of her married life and also a beach hut in Saltdean in the sixties.

My mother loved swimming so the whole family were encouraged to swim whenever we could.

But I am running ahead of myself with my sister’s story.

Louise had been born without a thyroid gland on Lady’s Day in 1962.


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