A 101-year-old man who was born during a Zeppelin raid and lived through two World Wars has been awarded one of the City of London’s highest honours.
Manny Blankett celebrated his birthday last week with fish and chips at a local pub and, as an added treat, received the rare honour of a Freedom of the City.
As part of his ceremony, the oldest living man in the Square Mile on Wednesday (24 October) signed a book at the historic Guildhall that world famous composer Stephen Sondheim had signed just weeks earlier.
World figures including Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela are among those who have received honorary freedoms, the City’s highest honour.
The Corporation’s members can also choose to make special nominations for people like Mr Blankett in recognition of a contribution to London life.
Mr Blankett was born in the East End on 17 October 1917, when Londoners were still travelling around in horse and cart.
“There was one right opposite where we lived, I saw it every day,” he recalled. “Everything was transported – people, deliveries, there were no motorcars in those days.”
He lived through the First World War and then the Blitz, and led an adventurous lifestyle – travelling over land to India before serving in the Second World War.
“It took a month to get there. It was quite a thing.”
Mr Blankett worked as a hairdresser, then in the family fur business, and later as a lifeguard at the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park. He is a keen sportsman, and active in the peace movement demonstrations of the 1960s.
He said the middle of last century was probably his favourite time in London.
“Oh dear, I can’t remember – it was a long time ago, what can I say? London was different: There were lots of dance halls – strictly dancing. There’s nothing like that today.”
Many friends and family were with him as he received the honour from the Corporation, which governs the Square Mile financial district.
Common Councilmen Jason Pritchard and Munsur Ali of the Portsoken Ward, where Mr Blankett lives in the Middlesex Street Estate, had nominated him.
Mr Pritchard, who has known Mr Blankett for more than 10 years, said he was astonishingly active.
“I am really chuffed we could do this for Manny and give him his special day. He really deserves to be spoilt. He is a such a special individual who is defying his age.
“Even at 101 years old he is still so nimble on his feet and mentally he is as bright as a button.”
Delighted to have nominated Manny for the freedom on his 101st birthday. Seeing Manny surrounded by his close family and special friends at the Guildhall being honoured with the Freedom of the City was a proud moment for all of us. Congratulations Manny! @MunsurAli https://t.co/BAWL09xIws
— Jason Pritchard (@jasonppritchard) October 24, 2018
Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, Laura Miller, presented Mr Blankett with a gilt-edged red book containing the Rules of the City.
Written in the 18th century, it includes such edicts as keeping good company, and avoiding spending too much time in London’s taverns.
Those rules may have come too late for Mr Blankett, who has already lived by them for the last century – which, along with his vegetarianism, he thought could go some way to explaining his longevity.
“I was never a drinker,” he said. “[Only] a small drop of wine or a shandy.”