He worked for ICI for 37 years and has been on an indexed pension for the past 38 years even though the actuaries said he would die in 1968. Crikey loves ICI and you’ll love Philip Mayne, 100, who is the world’s oldest columnist. In the first of many occasional columns for Crikey over the next few years, Philip Mayne, Stephen Mayne’s English grandfather, reflects on what it was like seeing the entire 20th century.

Grandpa spent two weeks penning this column which was typed into the system by his daughter Tricia. Like all good columnists, he will not tolerate a word being changed without his permission. This is entirely original and quite remarkable for a 100-year-old who lives on his own in northern England.

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It was certainly a good time to have lived as there were more scientific and technical developments than at any other time in history. At the beginning things looked entirely different and transport depended on horses. The use of the bicycle had only just started, but it was a wonderful way of getting about and seeing the countryside, also for holiday tours. Inside the house we had to make our own entertainment which was not too difficult if one had a piano and someone who could play it. There was no electric light – we used gas and of course no electric bell or telephone.

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Having gained a scholarship from school to Cambridge, I was offered a cadetship in the Royal Engineers when I had to join the army in 1918. It was still horse transport. I had to pass a riding test on a horse and also a test on driving a two-horse tool cart – in formation!

After the war I took a degree at Cambridge first in mathematics and then in mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. This was a most interesting time because of the developments going on in methods of power generation, building and transport.

After Cambridge I had for three years a post at the National Physical Laboratory in the electrical department. While I was there, broadcasting from London first started. I recall how some of us made our own crystal set receivers. It was amazing that there was enough power coming through the air to operate the headphones without any battery aid.

It was about this time that I was doing a lot swimming and I recall the arrival of the crawl stroke, which I learnt to use. As I managed to use it effectively, I was chosen to play center-forward at water polo as being the fastest in the team.


It was after getting married and having moved to the North of England that I bought a car, but I never owned more than one car. If my wife wanted to use it, I would use a bicycle. I have seen the traffic increase from almost zero to dangerous congestion. I have tried to do my bit to avoid this and have used my bicycle for shopping up to the age of 93.


Meanwhile, all sorts of interesting developments have been going on. One which interested me was the method of doing calculations. At school we used tables of logarithms to do complicated calculations. At the university it was the slide rule, based on logarithms. Later came the press button calculators. I still have one operated by daylight entering through a glass window. It must have been made cheaply somewhere in the East as it was given away with a can of motor oil!


A more important change during the century has been the mode of warfare. Whereas it used to be infantry battles, it has now changed almost entirely to aerial bombardments. The result seems to be greater material destruction but lesser loss of life. There is more inducement to governments to settle differences without a war.

Air travel has largely taken the place of sea travel, but having tried both between America and England and also Australia and England, I must say I prefer going by sea!


In the field of entertainment the advance in this century has been spectacular. Early in the century the first cinematography cameras and projectors were invented. The idea of taking a series of brief pictures and projecting them so that the eye would interpret them as continuous was certainly pretty marvelous. ‘Moving pictures’ – the cinema – were shown in numerous halls over the country. The early films were silent but usually there was an organ with an organist playing suitable music to go with the picture story.

It was only about 15 years or so later that the ‘talking pictures’ came in. It was even more complicated to have a film with ‘sound track’ as well but they managed it. So, very soon there were a number of very fine organs going for sale. The next development was to broadcast pictures as well as sound. It had of course to be simultaneous so the limitation was providing the numbers of radio frequencies required. A further development was to do this not just in black and white but in colour.

This called for even more frequencies and complex design. It is quite staggering the way the series of inventions in the century has surpassed everything ever done before.

Some of the programs shown on television have great news value and some great educational value, but it is sad to find that there are others which are quite degrading and have a bad influence. This is the way of the world – some good, some bad.


Another very interesting change in this century has been the greater influence of women. They have shown that in commerce, law, religion and science, they can do as well as men. It is amazing to think that early in the century they had no parliamentary vote. Now they have. But why is it that so many marriages are breaking down? The number of divorces goes up and up. I can’t help feeling that the men should do better. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the sad news we read in the press or see on television, I think it is that throughout our lives we should try and set a good example.


The last great invention of the century which I should mention is the advent of computers. This has no doubt saved a lot of tedious clerical work. But it has to be remembered that it is not free from error when looking after things like accounts. The person who presses buttons has to press the right ones. Also, the computer user has to use his memory to follow systems and carry out instructions. I can tell you that at the age of 100, the memory is only good for doing exactly the same thing daily and not just at infrequent intervals. The use of the computer I must leave to others!


People ask me how I managed to live to be 100. My answer is: good parents and a good school with an emphasis on games. Regular exercise – I was cycling, swimming and gardening up to the age of 93. Healthy diet, avoiding too much sugar and fat. Follow published advice about what not to do!

I look forward to learning more of life in the new century.

Philip Mayne – February 2000


As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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