A Knight’s Tale (73: Mine Was Bent)

fair was first held in Soho in 1883, and then intermittently, including a fair and market held in aid of the Soho Hospital for Women in 1939. When we lived in Horse and Dolphin Yard The Soho Festival as it was then, and is now, called had recently been reconstituted as an annual event organised by the Soho Society (currently each July) in the grounds of St Anne’s Garden.

In September 1976, then only 7 years old, Ondekoza the stunning Japanese band of timpanists entertained the Soho Festival.  These images are from my original colour slides. ‘Founded in 1969 by Den Tagayasu, in Sado Island, Japan. Ondekoza was influential in the rise of the kumi-daiko (group taiko) style of taiko.[1] Not a taiko player himself, Tagayasu helped transform taiko from a festival-based music form to a virtuosic performance art performed on stage. Ondekoza’s performances in North America in 1975 was the first exposure for many and helped spread interest in taiko through North America. The now widely recognized style of wearing only a ‘shimekomi’ (‘fundoshi loincloth) was originally started by Ondekoza when Pierre Cardin suggested that the physique of the drummer be exposed. The traditional Japanese drummers do not play only in underwear.'(Wikipedia)

Punch & Judy audience, Soho Festival, 9.76 (1)

A Punch and Judy show in 1976 gave entertainment for all ages. One photograph I took of the audience featured on the cover of the Social Care Association’s monthly magazine.  

Becky, on this occasion, was distracted from the puppets by the sight of my lens.  A little boy nearby, was engaged in that familiar comforting exercise of thumb-sucking combined with ear-twiddling.  Another had lost one of his front incisors.

The first family member to have the courage to enter a spaghetti eating competition was Michael.

As the dry spaghetti was ladled onto his plate, he looked as if he was about to bite off more that he could chew.  The thin coating of tomato sauce, looking no more appetising than ketchup, didn’t seem to do much to improve the digestion.  My son soon got stuck in.  He and one of his rivals seemed to think the nearer the dish they got, the better their chances.

The booted Gypsy Joe was a very good professional photographer who befriended Michael and produced some excellent images of the boy and his dog, Piper.

Old man.001

An elderly gentleman, eating at a leisurely pace, had probably just come along for his dinner.

Derrick cigar smoking competition 1976

The large Romeo y Julieta samples for the cigar smoking contest had coincidentally been provided by a supplier called Knight.  The idea was that you smoked one of these lengthy monsters for as long as you could without losing the ash.  When I entered in 1977, I actually had the longest ash, but mine was bent.  I therefore came second to a woman whose was straight.  You can imagine the ribaldry that provoked. My vanquisher is seated on the right of the newspaper cutting above. I am prone on the floor.


  1. Dear 1976. A smoking contest – Simpler times. A quasi-Christian group appeared that summer in the village. I would have been 12. Their corduroy and cheesecloth style saved my life! They took up residence in the church hall and organised fun and games for the whole of August: picnics and story time and fancy dress and contests. Me and mum won a bag of oranges for peeling apples! x

  2. Good times, Derrick. With all hope, after this pandemic is over, perhaps memories such as these can be made once again.

  3. 1976 was not a good year for South Africa (ref the Soweto riots) and proved to be a turning point in the politics of this country. I would rather remember a spaghetti eating contest!

  4. According to my husband, the cigar expert, the length of the ash depends on the quality of a cigar, rather than the smoker, and each cigar has its own personality.
    Those fairs sound like tons of fun, for adults and children alike!

  5. This is a very interesting chapter. The colour slides of the band are pristine and well preserved. The spectators are an interesting lot. Michael was surely one braveheart to have entered the eating competition. Your cigar ash trophy, even if you were the (bent) runner up, has been hilariously recounted.

  6. What a colorful and interesting accounting of the fair, Derrick. It is wonderful that you have all these photos and memories to share! I enjoyed this post very much.

  7. What amazing photos! People having fun are THE best subjects for a photographer!
    HAHAHA! on your bent-ash (Did it bend to the right or the left?) and your 2nd place win! πŸ˜€
    I’ve been fortunate to go to fairs and festivals since I was a little girl, through-out my life and clear up to 2 years ago, pre-Covid19. Our family loves fairs!
    (((HUGS))) πŸ™‚

  8. What a fun post.
    My first taste of spaghetti was at a neighbours house, no bolognese sauce just ketchup and grated cheese. One of my grandsons will often open a can of tomato soup and pour over spaghetti when stuck for a snack! It used to be his four o’clock staple when arriving home from school.

  9. Before I knew it was you, I thought the guy on the floor was brilliant. That seems like the best way to keep the ash from falling. I guess we were both wrong.

  10. A different world – can imagine a cigar-smoking competition being sanctioned now?

    Anyway, a fascinating glimpse of the 1970s.

  11. Hilarious story about the way you were vanquished by a woman. I can only imagine the ribbing you received. Your photos of the crowd are so great, I am not surprised the magazine wanted to use one. And I simply adore that photo of the older gentleman calmly having dinner during the contest. So perfect.

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