Family Index page

MYSELF - Brian John Fellows

On this page are a few biographical details about myself, my childhood, schools, jobs, university, kids and how I got into birdwatching and natural history which have dominated my later years.

I took this selfie using my new Lumix TZ70 camera on the Westbourne Open Space at the top of Westbourne Avenue on 7th April 2017 - aged 80. This is now one of the 'offical' Emsworth Waysides. But in the old days me this is where me and the kids used to come up the 'muddy lane' for the fish and chip shop in Westbourne. Happy days. But I am still happy studying wildlife!


I was born in the mid 1930s in Smethwick, Staffordshire (now called West Midlands). For the first 23 years of my life I lived in Wattis Road, Bearwood, in a small terrace house with a backyard and an outside loo, though we later had a toilet inside. I recall very vividly having to go out to the toilet in the freezing cold weather, sometimes having to break the ice. Bearwood is a suburb of Smethwick, a Black Country town north of Birmingham.

Wattis Road is a cul-de-sac and, as a kid, I spent many hours kicking a ball around the street, playing imaginary games against myself. Being virtually an only child (my sister was 12 years older than me) I spent a good deal of my life making up games to play by myself. I was a typical latch-key kid, having to let myself after school as mother worked full time. Sadly, the last time I ventured up Wattis Road it was no more than a glorified car-park, with no room for kids to kick a ball about.

Here is an early photo of some of the neighbours gathered in Wattis Road for a street party celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1953. Phil and Joan Darley are dressed up, Phil is the devil and Joan with the tall hat. My mother (Beatrice) with the white hair is on the right beneath the photo of the Queen in the house window. My Auntie Ede is on the left in the check coat. You can see me (aged 15), with the shock of hair, standing in the doorway of Billy Hudson's house beneath the flags with Brian Allen on my right.

Smethwick became nationally famous (or infamous) for a general election victory, based on racial prejudice, by Peter Griffiths (Cons) over Patrick Gordon Walker (Lab) in the early 1960s. I shall not repeat the catch-phrase used by the Tories, but it was not pleasant. Bearwood itself was a rather nice area in comparison with the rest of Smethwick. It had Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods close by where I spent many hours with my mates, playing football and cricket and chasing after girls. Natural history did not interest me in the slightest in those days.

My parents were pretty ordinary working class people, of the white collar type. My father, Frank Fellows, served in the First World War with the East Lancs Regiment at the age of 17. He was injured in France and lost a leg in Battle of the Somme at Serre on July 1st 1916. His father (Samuel Fellows) was also in the war in the medical corps. I have their medals. The results of some family history research are on this web site at . . . Frank Fellows

Unfortunately, I knew my father hardly at all since he died of a heart attack in 1942 aged of 43 when I was 6 years old. I recall the time my father died vividly. I was mystified as where he had gone and when he would be back. My questions must have been very difficult for all the family. Here is a photo of my father in 1934 a couple of years before I was born.

I am not sure what effect my father's death had on my development, but I was always acutely aware by the fact that I did not have a father, whereas most other kids did. In fact, I got acutely embarrassed by it. My father worked for much of his life at Guest Keen and Nettlefolds, the screw-makers, in Cape Hill, as did my mother, Beatrice Fellows (Beatie) who lived to the ripe old age of 91. My mother moved in with my sister Joan to Quinton. When Joan died mother lived with Joan's husband Phil Darley for 5 years before moving down to Emsworth when she was 82 to live with us in Westbourne Avenue for 5 years which was a very difficult time. She then moved to Merok Nursing Home, which was just round the corner in New Brighton Road, for the final 5 years of her life.

I was brought up by my mother and sister, Joan, who was 12 years older than me, and was more of a mother to me than a sister. I was a terribly sickly child, being in and out of hospital in my early years. I had double pneumonia and mastoids in my first few years. I was a classic "chesty" kid, being a victim of the polluted air from the thousands of coal fires at that time. I am sure the clean air legislation, which came in during the 1950s saved my life. The result of this early experience was that I was left with chronic asthma with fixed airflow obstruction - now called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I have also inherited my father's coronary heart disease (arterio scerlosis) resulting in angina pains. However, thanks mainly to modern drugs and fairly healthy living style, I am still alive! Much of the credit for my long life must go to my wife Jean who forced me into a healthy lifestyle - plain food and fresh air. It was also Jean who introduced me to the quaint pastime of walking, which I had always regarded simply as a way of getting from one place to another! I now love it.

School was a disaster for me. I attended Bearwood Road Infants and Junior School which was just round the corner from Wattis Road, but I missed an awful lot of school due to illness. Nor I did not enjoy it when I was there. I was constantly embarrassed at not having a father like the rest of the kids and I was a very difficult kid to handle. I am afraid I got rather aggressive at times which was not nice to look back on.

I duly failed the 11+ exam and was allocated to James Watt Technical School, which was an all boy's school in Crocketts Lane, Smethwick - not that I was the slightest bit "technical". The school is now demolished. I made a few contacts with old pupils of the school through Friends Reunited, but I am generally not keen on re-creating the past. What has gone has gone and that's that. Thank goodness! In secondary school I was a bad pupil, disruptive and rebellious in class. I recall driving the poor geography teacher to tears, poor chap. The only subjects I was faintly interested in at school were Maths (teacher was Codger Collins) and English, which I was fairly good at, but I was always a dim kid, always in the B stream. I hated Shakespeare, which I have subsequently come to appreciate and rather enjoy. I had some good pals, such as, Brian Duckworth. As I was a typical fat kid, my friends always called me 'tubby' which I did not really mind at all. They would not allow that now!

I left James Watt Technical School at 16 with no qualifications and not much future. My first job was in the bottling department of Mitchells and Butler's Brewery in Cape Hill in Birmingham, which I really enjoyed, mainly because of the sporting facilities that were available. I was "on the book" in the bottling office, the most menial of tasks. It was here that I got interested in playing tennis and I recall with great pleasure spending hours bashing balls around the beautiful grass courts with my work mates. There was really nothing like playing tennis on a grass court.

From M&B I got tempted into a job in a wine shop called Pickmere's in Moseley by Clive, a persuasive member of the Forward Operatic Society which I had joined. It was a dead-end job, though I did learn a bit about wines and how to bottle them. I got the sack from that job, but can't recall why. Next, I got a job in a secondhand furniture shop called Galena's in Bearwood, just down the road from where I lived. I learned how to French polish chairs but again got the sack, this time for being constantly late for work, strange when I lived so close.

From there I got a very nice job in the touring department of the RAC on Hagley Road, Birmingham. I used to assemble routes and maps for members who wanted to travel to places like Bournemouth on holiday. Crazy when you think of it, but that was before road maps or even sat navs were common. I was there for about 2 years, during which I met Eileen and started going to night school. That was when I started to realise that I had to do something with my life.

In my late teens I wanted to be an opera singer and threw myself into music. I went to singing lessons, took part in singing competitions and joined the Forward Operatic Society. I'm not sure where this interest came from since no one in the family was the slightest bit musical or interested in music. However, I really enjoyed this period of my life, for the first time I had a goal. And I acquired a love of music and grand opera, in particular, which has stayed with me to this day. My big problem was that I was not terribly musical and although I had a good bass singing voice, my poor health meant I was always at a big disadvantage.

The realisation that I had a brain inside my head did not come until I was about 21 and here I owe a big debt to my cousin Ken Evans (deceased). Ken worked as a librarian in Birmingham Public Library and was the family "intellectual". I used to visit him at his home in 204, Selsey Avenue, Edgbaston, on a Sunday afternoon when he talked to (or more correctly at) me about politics and philosophy. I lapped it up and came home and wrote it all up in my diary before I went to bed. I have always been a devoted diarist . My diaries date back to 1952 when I left school. During my period of intellectual renaissance my diary was voluminous, with pages and pages full of philosophical ramblings. Very strange to look back on. Was that really me? I still write a daily diary, but for the last 10 years I have been unable to write properly due to some mystery condition with my right hand. So now I type the diary onto my computer from where I print it into the diaries.

The spur to do something positive with my life mainly came from my librarian girlfriend - Eileen. Poor Eileen, she was a lovely girl, but I treated her terribly badly. We were friends for 2 years and could have got married, but I had no time for that. I was not ready to settle down. I attended night-school and sailed through O and A levels. I loved studying and found I was very good at it. I found it incredibly easy to study and learn. I was a classic late developer!

I got a place at the University of Bristol to do a BA in Philosophy and Psychology from 1959 to 1962, which was a fantastic experience for me and I made some good friends. One undergraduate student friend from University, Ron Clarke, I kept up with since we were both interested in birds. I only got a 2.2 final degree which really narked me. I was so close to a 2.1 and needed one to carry on to do post graduate work. I had a viva, which I totally mucked up, mainly due to having a few drinks beforehand.

However, it all turned out alright thanks to my supervisor Frank George. I got a grant to stay on at Bristol University where I completed a great rambling PhD on children's learning - not that I really knew anything about children! I loved my time at Bristol, intellectually it was just what I needed, I had some great experiences and made some good friends. And, I met Jean who was to become my wife! It was during a rather boozy student dance at the old Vic Rooms in 1960 that I fell (maybe literally) for Jean, a local primary school teacher. It was love at first sight (for me at least). We got married in Keynsham (of Horace Bachelor fame), her home town, in 1962. We honeymooned in Ireland where I was poorly with asthma. Jean must have wondered what she had married.

After getting my PhD in 1966 I had a thoroughly miserable few weeks at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I was dreadfully homesick for Jean and for my little lad, William who was just one year old. Jean was also pregnant with Daniel. I have never ever been so dreadfully unhappy as I was in Canada. This was utter homesickness. So, I literally walked out of the job, came back to England and got a cushy research job in teaching machines with my old PhD supervisor, Frank George, in Bristol.

My first proper job, which became a job for life, was as a Lecturer in Psychology at what was then called Portsmouth College of Technology in 1966. I always wanted to live by the sea and I fell for Portsmouth as soon as I saw the beach near South Parade Pier when I went for an interview. I recall well sitting on the beach with the waves crashing on the shore and know there and then that this is where I wanted to be. I have loved it ever since. There were just three of us in the Department of Psychology at time, John Dennis, Gerry Neanon and me teaching a handful of students. That was lovely, but with the growing popularity of Psychology as a subject (mainly among girls) the department grew and grew. Dave London, Mike Fluck and Doug Brandon came in, followed by a host of others.

The job suited me fine, in fact, I could not really see myself doing anything else. Teaching was fun and I had a passion for research. I went through various research interests, such as, visual illusions, but my chief interest for most of my academic career was hypnosis. I recall going to a hynotic stage show when I was a kid on holiday at Butlins in Skegness and being fascinated. I quickly got into it when I joined Portsmouth and the students gave me lots of reinforcement. Some of them were very susceptible subjects and I was in demand for talks and demonstrations. I was never really happy in front of an audience, but I survived.

I helped to set up the British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis to promote the serious study of hypnosis in the UK . It is still going under a new title. I am now an honorary member, though I do not take any active part in it. I also started the journal of the Society, which we later renamed 'Contemporary Hypnosis'. I edited this journal for 17 years and it became established as a reputable professional journal. I was quite proud of my achievement though it was very demanding. It is still going now. I made lots of good friends through the hypnosis research, both here and abroad and attended many conferences in different countries which got me around the world.

Jean and I lived in Southsea for a couple of years before moving to Emsworth (about 10 miles to the east of Portsmouth) in 1968, where we have lived ever since. We loved Emsworth as soon as we saw it. It has grown on me and I would not wish to live anywhere else. We had four children, William, Daniel, Mary and Peter, who I am proud to say, all went through local schools, Emsworth Primary School and Warblington School and all went to University. They also all got better degress than me - degrees must surely be getting easier! Now are all now making their various ways in this world of ours. We have 8 grandchildren and their photos adorn the pages of this web site. I love them all.

I took early retirement from the University in 1997 and, but for my increasing health problems (asthma, coronary heart disease and prostate cancer), it has been brilliant! Not that I didn't like the job at the University, for I can't really imagine having done anything else (or being able to). I decided to make a clean break with academic life; I got rid of all my books and files accumulated over 30 odd years of teaching and researching. What a catharsis that was. And I started afresh with a new life which became birdwatching, conservation and all other things natural. It's great fun, challenging, but can be frustrating. The new interest also allows me to indulge in my passion for listing and numbers. And I also have my lovely PC to put it all into!

I was also a late developer in birdwatching. My interest in our feathered friends, as a serious hobby, dates back to a specific day - August 20 1989 - when Jean persuaded me to go on a walk she had seen advertised in the local newspaper, led by Chris Tyas, a local RSPB warden, from Prinsted to Thorney Great Deeps. The photo below shows me at this place. I recall the walk well. I had no binoculars and no knowledge, but was fascinated by what I saw and heard. Previously, I had no conception of the range and beauty of bird life. I saw lots of birds that day of which I only have hazy memories, but I do recall Chris saying "There goes a Greenshank" as this grey bird with a long beak flew swiftly overhead. I thought "Now that was a skill I'd like to have".

 Here I am aged 75 at Thornham Point on Thorney Island
where my birdwatching interest began in 1989

My interest in birdwatching grew steadily. I bought my first binoculars on the Hayle Estuary in Cornwall for £30 and holidays became more and more organised around birdwatching opportunities. I quickly got interested in my local patch, which I quickly realised offered most of what a birdwatcher like myself could wish for, farmland, woodland, ponds, and most of all the tidal Chichester and Langstone Harbours.

I sometimes envy others who began birdwatching during childhood. I don't have that basic know-how for birds and other wildlife which many take for granted. Certainly I wish I had encouraged my own kids to get interested. However, I think I would have missed some of the excitement I now get from new sightings and aquiring new knowledge. I love all birds - totally undiscriminating. House Sparrows, Magpies, Canada Geese, even Coot, I love 'em all. The much-maligned song of the Collared Dove is just magic. My British list has topped 200 and I am satisfied with that. I am not keen to get it any higher. If they come that's fine, but twitching is definitely not for me.

More than any other person I have to acknowledge the contribution to my ornithological and general natural history development of Ralph Hollins. Ralph is a local naturalist, from whose intimate knowledge and enthusiasm for recording local wildlife I have learned a great deal. Many many thanks, Ralph.

I have also benefitted greatly from the companionship and enthusiasm of Gwynne and Nigel Johnson and other members of the Havant Wildlife Study Group which was originally started by Ralph. Thanks to them I got into flora, insects and many other things which is a real challenge, but fascinating. I greatly miss Gwynne who died in December 2004. Thank you for everything.

Since I retired fron University, most of my effort and attention has been deveoted to the conservation of our local wetland meadow - Brook Meadow. Along with a small group of locals, I started a conservation group in year 2000 to help protect it from development and to enhance its ecological value. The group has grown rapidly and is now run by an enthusiastic band of volunteers. I stepped down as Chairman of the group after 6 years at the helm, but continued to work for the project, including maintaining the web site, distributing a fortnightly news bulletin to members and maintaining four signcases on Brook Meadow with up to date news and photos about group activities and local wildlife observations. It is a lot of work, but very good fun and worthwhile. Interest in Brook Meadow has given a great boost to my interest in wildflowers, grasses and sedges. I have been able to produce a fairly complete list of all the plant life on the meadow, with the help of several local naturalists and botanists.

This is me on Brook Meadow in June 2014 aged 77

I was deeply honoured to to awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in September 2014 for my services to nature conservation. I was awarded the medal at a ceremony in Winchester by Mary Fagan.

Jean and I were subsequently invited to Buckingham Palace for the garden party.

Another life changing experience to hit me was digital photography. Now, not only can I simply watch and observe wildlife, but I can also take images of my observations home with me and enjoy them again on my PC, and share them with others though my web sites, etc. There is something "Wordsworthian" about this. The digital camera has certainly boosted my interest in and enjoyment of the natural world. I feel rather like the 19th Century collector of specimens, except that instead of killing the birds and picking the flowers, digital photography enables me to to take images home for further study and in some cases identification.

I certainly do not rate myself a proper photographer in that I am generally not interested in getting fine or artistic pictures. I am basically an opportunistic snapper. I can't be bothered with all the adustments on the cameras, nor with the endless manipulation provided by sophisticated computer programmes, I just use the automatic setting and let the camera do the work. I love snapping what I see and coming home to download the images onto my PC to see what I have got. I chuck most of the images away and store the rest on my hard drive. I use the camera merely as a way of recording experiences both in the field and at home. If I get a good picture then that's fine, but I am not over bothered by fuzzy photos, as long as you can see what it is.

My main contribution now is the Emsworth Wildlife web site where I write a daily blog and generally keep records of local wildlife.
See . . .
http://familyfellows.com/0-0-0-wildlife-index.htm

I also manage to Brook Meadow web site with regular conservation and wildlife news
See . . .
http://www.brookmeadow.org.uk/


Age 73 at Thornham Point (9 September 2009)
 

Aged 71 on Hayling Beach with the Green-winged Orchids
 

 

On Haying Oysterbeds watching the first arrivals of Little Terns - 7 May 2008
 

Here am during a wardening session on Haying Oysterbeds - 20 May 2008

A favourite place between the twins Oaks in Stansted Forest - Feb 2014