Self-Portrait at Hornets

The Man From The Hornet amid the symphonic chaos of Hornets…

Self Portrait

Of a wintry afternoon, when it’s scarce grey light at 2pm, there are only two places in London to hide from the dying of the day. One is the V&A, surrounded by beauty… the other is Hornets. Both are delicious places. But of the two, Hornets is best… it’s the aroma… leather, tweed, shoe polish… and the sepia warmth of the russets and bays draped all around you like a movie set.

Remembrance Sunday

Bill Hornets brings us his final rumination for this year on Remembrance…



Tommy is in a strange place. He is covered in mud and blood.


He is surrounded by shadowy figures. Other soldiers. He knows them to be as he is: dead.


Fritz finds him,


Hallo Tommy, I’m sorry I had to kill you and your friends.


Fritz I too am sorry.


They clasp hands. Their handshake becomes an embrace. Then they laugh. What else can they do?


All the soldiers laugh and through the laughter comes the tears.


They are waiting in this place for they know not what. Every nationality is represented there, every religion; there are no Lords and labourers; everybody is the same. There is only truth.


They begin to talk of what may have been; of sweethearts, betrothed, of lovers, young wives, children they’d never see and their work and careers. What dreams they’d had, now all gone.


Yes remember then today, but more important, promise them it will never happen again, please promise them that.


This is the last day to put money in those poppy boxes. I’m sure you have been very generous, but let’s dig a bit deeper in our pockets and say a big thank you. There are widows, orphans, the maimed the damaged and the loved ones, they all need our help.


Our little soldier won’t be in Hornets window (see yesterday’s post, The Unknown Soldier), we are waiting for him to come home, but there will be other soldiers, flags and poppies out of respect.


At the eleventh hour I’ll be at the memorial outside St Mary Abotts, in my shooting jacket and bowler hat, simply so I can take my hat off out of respect

Oh also my dark classes, when that last post goes I break up. I know I’ve got a big mouth, but underneath I’m just a big softie, honest.





The Unknown Soldier

This picture of a WWI soldier was with Hornets for over twenty years…

the hornets unknown soldier

Every Remembrance Sunday he was in Hornets window with our poppies.

Then two years ago he was stolen from the shop in Church Street.

If anybody knows where he is, bring him back and we’ll give you a Hornets voucher for £100 and ask no questions.



Continuing Bill Hornets‘ series on Remembrance…


Genesis. A beginning. We have so many beginnings: a new relationship, a new business enterprise. A new area of your profession, and even a new look at your parents when you’re adults. That’s a beginning. The times when we have to pick ourselves up and begin, from relationships, a failed business, we begin. That’s what makes man supreme. Beginnings. One day we will go beyond the stars to the universe, it will be a marvelous beginning. Unfortunately, I won’t be there. But maybe I will be on my final beginning, in eternity…


It was cold. So cold you could not imagine unless you had experienced it. Well below zero. He was eleven years old and dressed in rags. He hadn’t eaten for three days. The last thing he’d eaten was a frozen turnip, and it had made him sick. He was so hungry, so cold.


His family had been destroyed; his home and all the people he knew had been destroyed. A great war raged around him, that he didn’t really understand. He moved through the snow.


He came across the body of a soldier in an overcoat, he wanted that overcoat. He needed that overcoat. It was very difficult taking an overcoat off a frozen corpse. He did it.


In the blinding snow, he dug a pit and in his overcoat lay there and pulled the snow over him. He prayed to his Christian god that that night he may die and go to heaven as he slipped into a fitful sleep.



Miraculously, amazingly he survived the night. Digging himself out of his snow pit he was confronted by a high sun, a bright brilliant day, a beautiful shining white winter wonderland, with the snow covering the scars of war.


He stood there in his too big overcoat, cold , hungry, oh so hungry, and he stank. But he knew the day was his. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know why. You see, he was beginning. He was beginning the rest of his life.


He was discovered by a forward patrol of eight American soldiers, only ten or twelve years older than he was. He was terrified; all he saw was uniforms and guns. One of the soldiers unwrapped a small bar of chocolate and carefully offered it to him. Tentatively he took it . He ate ravenously.


With all of that American generosity and warmth, it was, “Come on kid, you come with us,” they took him to their base, fed him on meat and potatoes which he devoured like the hungriest wolf in the world. They put him on a mattress and covered him with blankets. He slept and slept and slept.


He became their mascot. Where they went, he went. Slowly he began to speak their strange language. Slowly he was becoming an American.


Five of them smuggled him into America, the other three were left dead on the killing fields of Europe. He quickly became legal, and grew up in Los Angeles, growing into a beautiful man who many of you have seen many times. He’s an old man now, his grandchildren have children.


No, I’m not going to tell you who he is, he wouldn’t want you to know. He’d simply want you to know the story of his beginning.


Percy’s Story


Bill Hornets continues on his remembrance theme…


I was doing a television series for ATV. We had a floor manager – that means studio manager – by the name of Percy. He had a heavy German accent and a wicked tongue. He ran that floor beautifully. We all loved him, he made us feel safe.


One day he wasn’t there. I enquired after him and was shocked to find he was in hospital dying of cancer.


I went to see him.


He told me his story.



“Bill, you live in luxury, in civilization. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

Every thing happened to Percy. He was Jewish, all his family had been killed, he was in a concentration camp. He got out. He always asked his Jewish God that he may die, but God kept him alive.


He somehow finished up in Berlin just as the city was falling. He was in what had been a doorway, dressed in rags, starving and praying for death. He looked up, two soldiers were coming down the ruined street. Russian? German? He didn’t care.


He put his head down and waited for death, at last death.


A boot gently prodded him. He looked up. A voice. English…


“‘Allo cocker. You alright?”


It was two Tommys, English cockney soldiers.



“Civilization Bill! Civilization!” he shouted. Everyone in the ward jumped. “You don’t know what luxury you live in.”


I was only twenty-three years old, a little telly star living with a sexy beautiful telly star. On a Saturday night I could get a table at the most fashionable restaurant in London on a telephone call.


Percy’s story made me stop and think. The little boy started to become a man. As all you men know, it’s a long hard process becoming a man. I made it, I am a man. Thank you Percy. I thank you for helping me on my way.


I also thank those two Tommys who had been through and seen hell, for their caring, concern and gentleness,


I’m not too big on poetry, but I love Shakespeare’s sonnets, they are like me, down and dirty, they really pull you in, then belt you.


But of all the poetry in our great English language, my favourite lines remain:


“Allo cocker. You alright?”


My mate Bill would have made a sonnet out of that,





Widow’s Weeds


Remembrance Sunday.


That day is so important to this United Kingdom.


We stand still and silent for two minutes all wearing a little red flower, a poppy.


We wear it with pride and some sadness. We have so much to thank our fallen for: our liberties, our freedom; our right to be us.


The warriors that survived also paid a price, as did their ladies. We must remember them too.


Up to the turn of the century many house calls were made by widows whose men had fought in the war. Widows looking to sell their man’s clothes. But not only that, they needed to talk about their husbands. They wanted someone to listen. (I learned from the great Peter O’Toole the art of acting is listening. I’m a good listener.)


Most of them said the same thing in different ways.


“When he came home he’d changed.”


“I didn’t know him.”


“He was never the same after the war.”


“He was a different man.”


And more variations on the same theme.


Many of those girls were in bed with a stranger who had done and seen terrible things that he would not, could not talk about. They had to get to know him again and deal with his silent pain.


As the Aussies would say “Good on you girls”. And as this Englishman will say, I thank you ladies, you played your part too, I thank you.