A very full life for Frederick

'The Andes ship's company production of Hello Dolly
'The Andes ship's company production of Hello Dolly
Signal box - The bleak and isolated siting of the Idsworth signal box illustrates the loneliness of the signalman's lot

THIS WEEK IN 1970: Time runs out on the lonely reign of a signal box man

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How many of you have patronised these Southsea hotels and pubs in the past 30 years?

They include the Clarendon Hotel with Lord Larry’s Restaurant beneath; the Tumble Inn at Clarendon Road; the Pineapple Hill Mexican restaurant in Osborne Road, and The White Apartments, then a hotel, in South Parade.

If you were a regular at any of them then I’m sure you’d know Frederick Belchamber, who used to own all these dining places and hotels.

Some of the stars that booked rooms in the Clarendon were Leo Sayer, David Nixon and the Black & White Minstrels.

But before this period Frederick led an interesting life, knowing and meeting many household names.

Born near Haslemere in 1923, he joined the Fleet Air Arm aged 17 and was sent to HMS Unicorn, an aircraft repair ship and light carrier, as an armourer. They were the boys who loaded the guns on fighter aircraft.

In September 1943 Frederick was in HMS Unicorn at the invasion of Salerno. After the invasion an airfield was captured and Frederick, along with other armourers, was taken by Swordfish (the ‘stringbag’ airplane) to the airfield to reload aircraft as they came in from attacking Italian forces.

Unfortunately Italian snipers were in the area and one of the number was shot and killed, so Frederick and his mates were taken back to Unicorn.

It was while on board that Frederick witnessed a scene that has remained with him since. A Seafire, the sea-going Spitfire, came in to land but the hook missed all three of the arrester wires and the plane went over the side.

The plane was floating and the pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Randall, was struggling to get out of his harness. Unfortunately his aircraft went down with him still struggling to get out of the cockpit.

Later in the war Frederick was at HMS Daedalus with 897 Squadron and one of the aircraft in the squadron attacked and damaged a submarine.

Another time, when based at Worthy Down, near Winchester, he was late on parade and was called before the duty officer for a dressing down. That officer turned out to be none other than Laurence Olivier, who gave Frederick seven days ‘jankers’.

On leaving the navy at the end of the war, Frederick thought he would try acting and managed to get an audition at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford in front of Sir Robert Atkins.

He had to read from Twelfth Night, was accepted and shared lodgings with Eric Porter and Moira Lister.

It was while acting the part of a centurion in Antony and Cleopatra along with Porter that an incident brought the house down.

Along with two other extras, they had to lift a bier up to a cave entrance to enable Cleopatra to kill herself.

One night the extras failed to arrive and with Frederick having the heavy end of the bier and Porter lifting her feet higher and higher the actress, Clair Luce, nearly slid off.

With much foul language being shouted, two stage hands in civvies entered stage right and assisted lifting Cleo into the cave where she could die in peace!

Later Frederick was introduced to Laurence Olivier and the great man said: ‘You look familiar.’ ‘I should do. You once gave me seven days jankers,’ Frederick replied.

Later he ended up in London and while ‘resting‘ became a service waiter for a posh block of apartments.

There he met John Boulting, one of the Boulting brothers, and he asked Frederick to help Richard Attenborough with his lines for the forthcoming film of Brighton Rock.

Frederick then heard that waiters were needed in the merchant navy and he managed to join Cunard as a waiter. His first ship was the last four-funnel liner Aquitania, which took emigrants from Spain to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He later served on freighters and cargo ships but then managed to be taken on by the Royal Mail Lines ship Andes. He remained with her for 19 years.

The Andes was the first cruise liner to go into Russian waters after the Cold War started. Anchored in a harbour, Frederick and a pal managed to get aboard the liberty boat taking passengers ashore. All completely illegal of course.

They went to the cinema and when they came out it was blowing a gale and the ship had left harbour and anchored a mile or so out to sea.

Frederick and his mate started to panic, when all of a sudden Jack Cohen, the founder of the Tesco supermarket business, arrived.

He had a lifeboat brought from the ship to get back on board and Frederick and his pal managed to get a lift. Cohen told them how he started the business by buying damaged tins of peaches and selling them on a street market.

While on the Andes he served with John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott. Frederick says: ‘He was a lovely man who later joined the National Union of Seamen and got our working week down from 70 hours to 48.’

While on the Andes there was little entertainment compared to today. The ships’ company formed a concert party and put on shows and one day Bernard Delfonte, the impresario, took a cruise.

He took Frederick to London and was given redundant stage clothes. They later put on Hello, Dolly! with Frederick playing the dame.

Frederick left the merchant navy in 1969 and went into business in Southsea and became a familiar face in the restaurant and hotel business. He still lives in retirement in Southsea.