In the winter of 1960 after my father died we fled to Scotland. My mother, who suffered from an acute psychiatric condition, couldn't cope on her own and we went to live with her sister in a small farm cottage deep in rural East Lothian where my uncle worked as a farm labourer. I was twelve years old. I left behind all my friends in Tilbury in Essex, the kids in the gang, roller skating on the broad pavements, toyshops, football in the streets at night, going to the pictures on a Saturday matinee, the endless possibilities of life.
In my new home my mum and her sister fought all the time. Literally day and night. For some reason that I couldn't understand I was a cause of much of the friction. As a result I tiptoed round the house on eggshells, never knowing when I would do something wrong. My world had turned cold and grey. I was lost in a barren landscape of ploughed fields and abandoned coal pits.
Fortunately, as well as a few books, we had a black and white television. In autumn of 1960 the BBC started showing the first of twenty-three episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, a comedy imported from the US that NBC had aired several years earlier. Apparently the programme was based on a novel by Paul Gallico but I suspect the adaptation strayed a long way from the original.
The show starred Wally Cox as a weedy, mild-mannered, nerdy-looking proofreader who through years of secret practice had developed James Bond-like skills in activities as diverse as shooting, rock-climbing and scuba-diving. He was also incredibly well read and an expert on all sorts of arcane arts from horse-whispering to memorising Shelley's poetry. Travelling the world at the behest of his employers he pitted his wits against a diverse collection of evil geniuses. He possessed supreme self-confidence that allowed him to face every danger with equanimity and yet he remained touchingly modest. Against overwhelming odds he resolved every crisis. How I longed to be like him!
Hiram was unremittingly cheerful. He loved the world and all its faults. He found joy in everything. His attitude to life gave me hope even though I knew that at the end of each half hour episode the real world would remain as drab and forbidding as ever.
After all this time I thought Hiram had vanished into the ether but I reckoned without Google. Google has obliterated time, brought the past back to life. I met Hiram again the other day, even watched an episode of his adventures on You Tube in grainy black and white as if I was that twelve years old kid again.
All the old memories and emotions came flooding back as if it was yesterday. The pain, the despair, the bitterness and above all the hopelessness that enveloped me as I tried to cope with my mother's illness. She's dead now of course, finally at rest. Wally Cox too is dead, his ashes scattered, rather bizarrely, along with those of his best friend Marlon Brando, in Death Valley.
Thanks to the internet though, Hiram Holliday lives on. A true hero of our time. Or my time at least. Thanks, Hiram, for coming to my rescue too.
If you're interested you can check Hiram out here.