By popular demand…!
THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW
During the 26 years of my Isle of Wight Radio chat show, two people created the biggest impact – Cliff Richard and the late Military Road farmer Sylvia Jones. Sir Cliff was perhaps expected, but Sylvia, making her radio debut at the age of 74, brought in phone calls from all along the south coast, and she came back several times by popular demand. I still think of her every time I drive past Sutton Farm. She was always full of fun and once told me: “What I’ve got left is either wrinkled, shrivelled up or dropping off.
When Sylvia was growing up on the Military Road it was narrow, with gates to unlock and her cows munched the grass verges. School meant a three mile walk each way to Shorwell. No trendy 4x4s in those days. After leaving school she worked on her parents’ Chine Farm for five shillings a week (25p today) and her keep.
She smiled: ”We hardly went to the next village. For a special night out I would cycle to Shorwell, catch the Shotters’ bus to Newport, have the best seat in the cinema, buy sweets and an ice cream and end up with a bag of chips – and still have a penny or two left over to buy clothes.
” A tweed coat cost £1 and a dress was 2/6d (just over 12p). They were happy times and we just kept working and had little time to think about anything else.” During the Second World War they traded with the American troops in the holiday camp opposite. They also had to milk by hurricane lamp. Sylvia vividly remembered seeing German planes fly under the electric wire lines on the Military Road and throwing herself on the ground as the planes shot at anything that moved.
She also revealed the local home guard were armed with just sticks and prongs. By necessity, and against her father’s wishes, the family was forced to have German prisoners of war on their farm, due to a shortage of male labour.
“They came in a lorry and we’d never seen a foreigner before and didn’t know what to expect. We gave them a meal and thought ‘they look like us and eat like us’. They couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak German and we had to do everything by sign language. In the end they stayed for two years,” she said.
In the late 1930s James Mason starred in a movie called ‘I Met A Murderer’, which was filmed on the Island. They didn’t have a huge budget and borrowed her father’s Ford V8 for their police car and his farm horses for the on-screen chases. The exciting final scene was filmed at Whale Chine. James Mason, who stayed at their farmhouse, did invite them to a special late night screening at the Regent Cinema, Freshwater.
When Sylvia and her husband, Mike ran Sutton Farm they had to carry the 10-gallon milk churns up the lane. Then it suddenly became heaven. He bought an old lorry for £75, with no sides nor a windscreen. On one occasion she spent 10 nights in a loose box with a sick cow. At that time, they could never have imagined dinosaur bones would be discovered on their land.
Amazingly, later in life Sylvia actually left the Island for three holidays abroad. She didn’t take many clothes but still filled a case, explaining: “I took my own grub. I didn’t fancy all that oily stuff over there.”
I do miss Sylvia Jones, who died in 2000, but perhaps not her hard on-the-lips kisses wherever we met!
*Listen out for her soon on a worldwide John Hannam Meets archive podcast.