Froglets is the name of a white weatherboarded cottage high on the Greensand Ridge near Toys Hill in Kent. It is surrounded by woodland still showing the scars of the greatest storm ever to hit the south-east. This unlikely setting is also the headquarters of Froglets Publications which made a massive and almost legendary impact on the book business through its enormously successful title In The Wake of The Hurricane which was written by Bob Ogley and published by him and his partner Fern Flynn after being rejected by Hodder and Stoughton.
Like the great storm of October 1987, the company is over 28 years old but in that time Froglets has published 32 titles. Six were regional books about the storm, of which two found their way into the British top-ten paperback list — the national edition enjoying a run there for 28 successive weeks.
During that time there were warm tributes from people all over England including Margaret and Dennis Thatcher. The Observer described Froglets as a publishing phenomenon, The Times voted the company as one of their "winners of 1988" and the Independent, Guardian, Mail and Express all enjoyed Froglets' "sensational victory over a condescending publisher."
This real cottage company has continued to publish "best-sellers" — most of them written by Bob. For Froglets, the Great Storm is now one hundred and eight thousand pounds away. That's how much this "publishing phenomenon" has raised for charity!
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It is more than 30 years ago that I began to write a regular weekly feature for the Sevenoaks Chronicle under the pseudonym, Chronicler. At the time I was editor of the newspaper and our two long-serving reporters Vic Froud and Gordon Anckorn had both retired so I took over the responsibility for the "nostalgic stuff".
This involved looking back in the files to find a topical story with a link to the present, recalling anniversary events and bringing to life personalities from the past. Photographs were essential — black and white pictures of the days when the High Street was a road of packed dirt, horses and rigs were churning up clouds of dust and tradesmen used carts of various kinds.
I loved to discover pictures of men and women in the headgear of the age. At the beginning of the 20th century men of the lower classes wore cloth caps, the middle class wore trilbies and the rich folk were crowned by top hats and stove pipes. The hat indicated class distinction.
Chronicler ceased when I left the newspaper in 1989 but only for few years. In the mid 90s I made a "comeback" and was given access to many of the photographs taken by the staff photographers Alex Watson and Roger Tutt whose contribution to the more recent history (post war onwards) of Sevenoaks and district is legion. Their work complemented the older glass plate pictures which I still like to use from time to time.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle has changed over the years. It is now of tabloid format, no longer owned by Courier Newspapers or Northcliffe (the Daily Mail group) which took over in the 1980s. The long established office at 54 High Street is closed and the few reporters and a photographer are based at Tunbridge Wells with a small office at Lime Tree House, Sevenoaks. Production is at Chelmsford, Essex and the newspaper is printed in Leicestershire.
However, I am still a (freelance) member of the team and Chronicler appears across two pages every week. The new owners Local World appreciate the many letters from readers who regularly comment on the content of Chronicler. Previously unpublished photographs of events and people from the past are frequently contributed.
Today the Sevenoaks Chronicle is available online and, of course, that includes the two-page Chronicler section. Readers can comment on an article, make suggestions, ask questions. Sometimes these questions are about a world they didn't know such as the memory of the anvil on the farrier's hammer and how children made whistles from the stems of fool's parsley and catapults from spindlewood forks.
I am delighted to report that Chronicler has missed only one week in the past 17 years — and that was not the occasion when I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia.
The newspaper is published on a Thursday. It is more than 130 years old and therefore the oldest business in town. Those who like to do it online are urged to go to www.sevenoakschronicle.co.uk
I am now also writing a fortnightly column for the popular, highly regarded South London/North Kent newspaper, The News Shopper. My page is simply entitled "Nostalgia" and re-lives events, and the characters who have contributed so colourfully to life in places like Bromley, Beckenham, Orpington, Sidcup and Chislehurst.
The News Shopper has an interesting history. It began in January 1965 when five people gathered in West London with a view to launching a revolutionary newspaper in Orpington — revolutionary in the fact that it was to be free
The five included Sir David English, later el supremo of the Daily Mail and South African millionaire lawyers Rayne Kruger and Anthony Aaronson.The paper was helped greatly in its early days by contributions from the McQuirter twins of the Guinness Book of Records fame, and Lord Ted Willis of Chislehurst.
The newspaper had experienced its "ups and downs". It was once owned by Rupert Murdoch of News International and then taken over by Berrows Newspaper in Worcester, the world's oldest weekly paper. In 1980 it was sold to Reed International and then in 1998 acquired by Gannett — the owners of USA Today. This has given News Shopper the backing of the largest newspaper publisher in the United States.
Today, the News Shopper has one of the biggest circulations of all newspapers in London and the south-east and is a much-loved and important part of the local community. I know that everyone looks forward to receiving their Shopper and it is a privilege to be a member of the team.
The News Shopper also has an award-winning website www.newsshopper.co.uk, launched in the late 1990s, which has grown rapidly over the past few years.
From the past: This is the Crofton Oak which survived for many years on the busy road between Orpington and Farnborough. It is no longer there and nor are the Routemaster buses. The photograph was taken in 1950.
Some months ago Derek Allen, an enthusiastic film maker, asked if he could produce a DVD based on my talk about RAF Biggin Hill. I readily agreed and invited his colleague Barbara to come to the URC Church in Orpington where I was addressing the local branch of the National Trust. There were more than 100 people present.
The DVD has now been made, having been edited and prepared very skilfully by Derek. He has added evocative wartime photographs of the aviation heroes including the pilots, Waafs, ground crews and machines. They appear, almost magically, alongside my stories as if they had been in the church hall on the evening of the filming.
Like the book itself — Biggin on The Bump — I hope the DVD will revive memories of the vital contribution Biggin Hill made to the defence of our country, particularly through that long, hot summer of 1940, and beyond.
More than 52 Squadrons and hundreds of airmen were billeted on "the Bump" during the war. Those who worked behind the scenes included fitters, mechanics, controllers, drivers, administrators, caterers, civilian personnel and lovely cheerful Waafs. They all played their part.
The DVD, entitled RAF Biggin Hill, is now available for £10 plus postage. A telephone call to my office on 01959 562972, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org will be sufficient.
The history of Biggin Hill is so fascinating, colourful, dramatic and romantic that it is often difficult to believe it all really happened. The DVD helps to bring the story alive.
Here are the pilots of 32 Squadron who were stationed at Biggin Hill for eight years and easily the longest serving. The 32 Squadron diary survives in the Biggin Hill archives.
Many readers are asking me about the availability of my four-volume box set on the history of Kent in the 20th century. The answer is that it is still for sale in paperback and can be ordered from the bookshops. They retail at £14.99 each or £59.56 for the full set.
However, as a special offer for readers of this website I can offer a signed set for £45 plus postage but, for those who live within a few miles of my house at Brasted Chart, it can be delivered personally to your front door.
The four books consist of 800 pages with more than 650 photographs. In writing them my quest was to help take readers back in time, to re-live history as it happened from the scorn that greeted the early motoring pioneers to the controversy of the Millennium Dome at Greenwich.
I wanted to look at the sporting victories, the archaeological and engineering achievements, the scandals, the disasters, the triumphs. And I wanted to present it with the immediacy of reportage rather than retrospective analysis.
The box set has now been available for a few years and is being constantly reprinted.
Special offer: Here is Bob signing his box set of books which tells the remarkable history of Kent in the 20th century. This is available to website customers for £45 in paperback. You can telephone Bob at 01959 562972, or email him at the address below.
Last updated 24 December 2015