Tales of Yorkshire grit, wit and feckless folk.
Phoenix Short Stories
I must confess that my initial inspiration for setting down this selection came from recently re-reading J.B.Priestley’s wonderful ‘Delight’, a collection of short stories from his past and present. Along with my wife, I once had the exciting honour of being invited to his Warwickshire home for dinner. It was an interesting evening with, as you may well suppose, a great deal of intelligent conversation. During supper ‘Jack’, as we were invited to call him, explained to us his working methods. Each time he thought of a storyline, a tale or an anecdote he would type the idea upon a small scrap of paper before piercing it onto a spike on his desk. Much later he would sort the pieces of paper with a view to expanding the best into a novel, a play or an article.
Similarly, I have always admired the work of the late Henry Livings whose humorous northern yarns ‘Pennine Tales’ have never ceased to amuse me. With these strong influences in mind, in order to amuse I have bundled together a series of semi-fictional nonsensical confabulations. Although set in a mythical corner of Yorkshire, buried deep into the text are caricatures of real people and places all of whom I have known. Consequently, I sincerely hope to be forgiven for any indiscretions within the narrative should anyone chance to recognise themselves or their locality.
There follows, in two parts, a selection short tales woven around two Yorkshire cities, both set in the old Wapentake of Barkston Abbas and located somewhere between the ‘Licorice fields’ and the `Rhubarb triangle’. Reader, before you reach for a road atlas, you will be hard pressed to find Grimford or Melcaster on any map, plan or website. In fact, one Sunday afternoon, Arthur Boothroyd tried to locate the area by road using his new satellite navigation unit, recently acquired on eBay. After many miles and even more detours, he and his classic Reliant Robin, finally ended up precariously perched on the edge of Chevin End with the front wheel still spinning. For Arthur, that was not a particularly happy experience.
Grimford is a wool city, black, and grimy, rather like its buildings. The hard working inhabitants are, on the whole, poorly off and in rags – shoddy – the main industry there apart from engineering and spindle polishing. In sharp contrast Melcaster, although only twenty-eight miles cross-country from Grimford, heading east towards the coast and Kingston-next-the-Sea, is a city of culture and dreaming spires. Boasting both an ancient cathedral and a university, Melcaster is undoubtedly an architectural gem and certainly the most sophisticated place in the whole of the Middle Riding of Yorkshire.
Together, let us follow the individual reports of a group of young Grimfordians detailing their humble beginnings in the city’s suburb of Exelby Hill. The most ambitious amongst them will leave behind their formative backgrounds and, fired by their innate Yorkshire grit, talent and determination, will subsequently be transported to the culturally stimulating environs of medieval Melcaster where our narrative continues.
Sammy King lived half way down Falsgrave Road on the Ravens Crag council estate in Exelby Hill. He was from the outset a naughty boy and his hard working parents were constantly struggling to keep him on the rails. Rev Lewis, the local vicar, had called on the King household on a number of occasions whilst conducting one of his regular parish visits and, knowing that Sammy was a bit of a burden to his parents, suggested in a weak moment that joining the choir at St Luke’s might give the lad a bit of much needed direction. The rest of the church choir welcomed him and he was admitted, but before long Sammy’s antics were making everyone wish he’d stayed away; he was to be trouble with capital ‘T’.
Falsgrave Road petered out into a sandy track leading to a railway crossing over the Exelby Hill to Grimford branch-line. It was possible to cross the track and walk to Exelby Hill church ‘through the fields’, as the rough path was known. Sam would walk this way to choir practice and Sunday services and at the same time plotting some prank or other on the fifteen-minute walk. He was close to expulsion from the choir many times. Sam’s behaviour would make small and dapper choirmaster Rowland Johns irate on more that one occasion, but the Rev Lewis was convinced that the lad could, in time, be successfully moulded and for that reason alone, his mischievous antics had to be patiently tolerated. Even though he had recently been reprimanded when caught red-handed filling jam jars with grease he’d taken from the axle boxes of railway trucks parked in the sidings, it was quite a struggle keeping up with his antics.
One Monday evening Sam arrived at the choir vestry with a jam jar, fortunately on this occasion not filled with axle grease but this time containing what at first appeared to be dark-coloured worms. Rowland Johns spoke,
‘Where on earth did you get these Sammy?’ he questioned.
‘From the old sandpit on my way up the fields, they were in the water sir,’ was Sam’s response.
‘Well you’d better put them back when you go home,’ said Mr Johns, ‘you know what these things are don’t you, they’re leeches, the things that suck your blood.’
As it was time to begin choir practice, Sam was made to leave them outside on the vestry steps adjacent to the graveyard; they might have known it wouldn’t end there. After the rehearsal you’d have thought Sammy had a secret weapon. The choirboys crowded round to look at the leeches, and having cornered the diminutive Malcolm Bowers, he stuck a leech on his leg. Bowers couldn’t pull it off, he was screaming in blue murder agony when Rowland Johns made a sudden appearance. The leech was beginning to swell up and by this time Bowers was laying out out over a gravestone, looking pale from the shock and sobbing. ‘Smith, run round to the vicarage and ask Mrs Lewis for some salt, and be quick about it,’ shouted an agitated Johns, as the choirboy took off around the graveyard.
But the concerned choirmaster wasn’t keen to waste time, after all he was responsible for the choirboys in his care. He picked up the diminutive Bowers in his arms and rushed the poor lad to the vicarage where Mrs Lewis stood waiting. Inside, in the old Victorian kitchen, she quickly dosed the leech with salt and pulled the bloated worm off. Malcolm screamed again because the salt in the wound, now bleeding, was so painful that he began to cry. After some consoling words ex-nurse Mrs Lewis carefully washed the wound and bandaged his leg whilst breathing comforting words over poor Bowers. Fortunately, Mr Harris the verger was still at the church and the vicar commandeered both him and his Austin Seven, rushing the boy up to Dr Stringer’s surgery in Manley Road for further treatment. Meanwhile Sammy King was less than repentant and only after the briefest of rebukes the Rev Lewis, once again, put his behaviour down to high spirits.
Fellow chorister Peter ‘Cheater’ Smith secretly admired Sam who was quick to manipulate his latest protege. They joined together as partners in crime, Clyde and Clyde without the Bonnie. As the years progressed they both managed to remain in the choir even though they fooled about, generally misbehaved whilst often bullying the smaller boys. On one occasion they had both been found in the vicar’s vestry drinking communion wine straight from the bottle. Sammy had added to his sacristy sacrilege by having both pockets full of host wafers which he was obviously intending to eat like crisps on his way home through ‘the fields.’
On yet another occasion Sammy was getting decidedly bored whilst sitting through a long dreary sermon and was idly scratching the head of a match he’d found in his cassock pocket. To the horror of the nearest treble it suddenly ignited and set fire to his surplice. Fortunately, the event was spotted by St Luke’s curate Rev Wadebridge who, using a water carafe close to hand, pretty swiftly dampened down the blaze leaving Sam looking like a drowned rat with a huge charred hole in front of his white choir robes. Vicar Lewis came to a sudden abrupt stop in his sermon until the laughing and the smoke haze had died down. In truth Sammy’s un-holy behaviour knew no bounds. When poked from behind by tenor Mawson and told to stop chewing in service, he simply tore a page from the hymn book lying in front of him and wrapped his ‘Wrigley’s Spearmint’ in Hymn 122 ‘It is finished, blessed Jesus’ before pocketing it. There are too many stories to tell about ‘Cheats’ Smith and Sammy King; however, their eventual joint departure from the choir at sixteen was a little more serious.
Living close to each other on the council estate the two boys would take the route up through the fields together to get to the church. Along the way in Gainley Lane there was a row of old terrace cottages and in the centre was Mr Lowin’s sweet shop which was set up in his front room. Entering through the front door customers were faced with a counter cluttered with small sweet displays and beside them a primitive set of brass scales. To each side of the counter rose tiered shelving supporting a large selection of confectionery in large glass jars standing neatly in rows. From behind the counter there would appear a white haired old man in a brown smock; this was Mr Lowin. Immediately behind him, in full view, lay his front room, fully furnished, with a fire blazing in the hearth, beside which Mrs Lowin invariably would sit reading. It was a strange little set up. However Smith and King were known from time to time to distract Mr Lowin by asking for more obscure toffee brands from his back storeroom. He would leave his counter to check while his wife, engrossed in her book, would fail to notice the two rebels helping themselves by pocketing handfuls of his stock.
But one day they were caught in the act, red-handed. Standing behind them, unnoticed, was one of the churchwardens, a Mr Barnett, who happened to be a part-time special constable. They were nicked! Their crime spree was at an end along with their choral careers. Drummed out of the choir and in total disgrace they both had to appear before the magistrate at Grimford Town Hall. Peter Smith was let off with a caution but Sammy apparently, unknown to all at church, had been in trouble before and consequently he was sent to a Borstal wing at Armley prison in Leeds for eighteen months. The vicar never gave up on him and visited him throughout the whole period of his sentence. This was typical of Rev Lewis, for here was a man who spent two weeks each year as a volunteer helper at the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Switzerland and despite Sammy’s malevolence he still believed he could turn him around.
On his release, now jobless, Sam unfortunately pestered the Rev Lewis by calling regularly at the vicarage to ask for money, generally becoming a nuisance by biting the hand that had fed him. Again help was at hand. A member of St Luke’s congregation worked at Bramwell’s mill near Greenfield Bridge and eventually, despite his prison record, he was taken on at the mill as a trainee blender. The job gave him a sense of responsibility and by the time he was eighteen his conscription came through and he was called up for his National Service joining the army. Rev Lewis kept us in touch with Sam’s movements during the next couple of years and one Sunday at Matins he announced to the whole church that Sammy, who was currently serving in Cyprus, had received a medal for gallantry; single-handed in an act of sheer bravery he had rounded up a group of EOKA terrorists. On hearing the news, witty curate Mr Wadebridge commented to a chuckling congregation:
‘Conquering Kings their titles take,
from the foes they captive make…’
Sammy King was back on track thanks to the selfless dedication and sterling efforts of Rev Lewis who, in true Christian spirit, had faith enough to believe in him all along. Sam, it seems, made a career out of being a soldier signing on for a further three years after being promoted to sergeant.
The curate at Exelby Hill church in the late 40’s was Rev Dennis Wadebridge. A funnier cleric never drew breath, a worthy successor to Rev Sydney Smith the eighteenth century wit. In an earlier ministry in Barnoldswick his vicar was a man called Rev Bernard Ball who had a keen eye on preferment. The then Bishop of Grimford, Bishop Birdsall offered Bernard the living of St Cuthbert’s church, Thornhill, in the Grimford diocese. This was a particularly rough parish that the bishop hoped he could tame. In order to tempt him, Birdsall promoted Bernard to Canon status much to the amusement of Dennis Wadebridge. Dennis congratulated Bernard on his appointment saying that he hoped his work in his new living would prove to be a success, as he didn’t want to pick up the Grimford Argus to read the following headline:
BISHOP FIRES CANON BALL
Curiously reminiscent of the famous wartime headline which went as follows:
ALLIES PUSH BOTTLES UP GERMANS
Rev Dennis Wadebridge’s comic puns, and there were many, were almost anticipated every time he spoke. One Saturday evening an amusing comedy ’Abaht to be Wed’ was presented in the church rooms by the Mothers’ Union. The author was a local man, a journalist on the Exelby Hill Courier and it was clear that his dramatic style was influenced by the work of J.B.Priestley. At the end of the performance, delegated by the vicar to his curate, Dennis was allocated the small task of thanking both the cast and also the loyal catering contingent who had been active during the interval. He summed up the evening by saying, ‘Not only had the actors ‘a talent to amuse,’ our tea ladies clearly had ‘a talent to infuse.’
Choirmaster Rowland Johns reported that one evening he had attended a parish meeting at which curate Dennis Wadebridge was in the chair. During a heated discussion one councillor rounded on another by calling his words ‘immaterial.’ Bringing the group to order Dennis said, ‘He’s quite right you know, they are immaterial, we’re discussing new curtains for the ladies toilet.’
Each Autumn, the annual ‘choir supper’ at St Luke’s remained a long-standing tradition stretching back to the early part of the nineteenth century when the church was consecrated. In appreciation of their sterling work the choir were treated by the clergy to high supper followed by a series of short musical interludes, stories and monologues. As a member of Exelby Hill Cricket Club curate Dennis usually had a comical sporting tale to tell and on this particular occasion this one caused quite a laugh. Once again he was on form delivering this humorous cricketing anecdote.
‘Last week at Exelby Hill Cricket Club the first eleven were playing Pudsey St Lawrence at their ground. The opening batsman was a bloke called Garside, who was well known at the club as a bit of a big head and a cocky beggar from the start. He went into bat and asked for fine leg, then after a lot of pitch-patting and posing, the bowler ran up and delivered the ball, which glanced off Garside’s bat, only to be caught behind in the slips.’ Dennis’s listeners were now beginning to take an interest in the cricketing story. ‘Howzat!’ the shout went up. Garside was clearly fuming and after stamping around in disgust and shaking his head he set off back to the pavilion. On his way there he turned to the white-coated umpire in attacking mode and said, ‘that wasn’t blinking out – you need to get glasses.’ ‘So do you, mate,’ was the reply. ‘I’m an ice-cream man!’
One particular occasion at Harvest Festival there was a serious over egging of the fruit and vegetable decorations. The produce that year from an urban mill suburb like Exelby Hill outshone any rural village show. The choir-stalls were festooned with produce, neatly inter-twined with leaves and supporting apples further over-wired with flowers and fruits of every description. A young boy in the choir was unable to resist the temptation to reach out during the lesson to pick a grape neatly suspended immediately in front of him. However, the curate had spotted him and stopping his reading in mid-sentence he turned to the choir and said in a loud voice, ‘hey, Pickersgill, please don’t pick us grapes.’
Added to this, in artistic overload, the chancel was resplendent with rows of cabbages, marrows and carrots. But what seemed to many a useless piece of additional decoration created by members of the Mothers’ Union was a row of oranges around the perimeter of the pulpit just waiting to be knocked off during the sermon. Well that is exactly what happened. On this Harvest Sunday morning Rev Wadebridge took his place in the pulpit and began to preach. No articulate John Wesley, Dennis was noted more for his ready wit than for powerful gesticulating sermons. All was well until he suddenly made a rapid arm movement in the direction of the choir and as a consequence projected a firm round orange at speed towards the seated singers. Quick as a flash, instinctively, up jumped alto Norman Wallis a popular member of Exelby Hill seconds cricket team and caught the flying orange firmly in the palm of his hand. Turning to watch it’s flight ‘how’s that,’ shouted the Reverend Wadebridge from the pulpit; his listening congregation standing up to applaud. The vicar, who was sitting opposite, looked on the scene with humourless disdain.
Mick Pendlebury’s father and curate Dennis were great friends, united in humour. When Mick was quite young one day after service Walt Pendlebury told Dennis a joke, which Mick remembered, but at the time didn’t understand. It involved a vicar who, somewhere on his parish rounds, had lost his bicycle. He asked his flock and even put a small advertisement in the Post Office, but to no avail. It appeared his trusted steed was lost forever. Until one Sunday morning after Matins the vicar was seen by his curate putting on his cycle clips. ‘Oh vicar,’ cried his colleague, ‘I see you have found your bicycle, where in Heaven’s name was it?’ Looking a bit sheepish, the vicar responded. ‘Well, I was taking communion yesterday and on reading the commandments out loud I reached, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ and I suddenly remembered where I’d left it.’
During one disastrous night, a serious fire completely destroyed Exelby Hill Cricket Club’s clubhouse and by the following morning the whole building had become a burnt-out shell. Being inquisitive young boys as soon as the ashes had cooled Mick Pendlebury and Gavin Thornton went raking around to see if they could salvage anything worthwhile. The boys were just about to call off the search when Mick noticed a badly charred box lying on the charcoal-strewn floor. Being observant cubs and with school woodworking skills they thought to themselves that it was probably made of slow-burning oak, hence its survival. Together they duly managed to prise open the lid to reveal a full set of snooker balls still in pristine condition. ‘I’m definitely having these,’ said Gavin, ‘me too,’ Mick responded as the boys stuffed a red, black and blue ball into one short-trouser pocket and on the other side a red, a brown and a white ball.
Staggering away they resembled a couple of bandy-legged cowboys now weighed down and almost unable to walk. Having managed to get as far as the cricket ground entrance and into the asphalt snicket leading to the main road, Mick walked in front of Gavin when suddenly from behind him he heard a yelp. Turning round, he saw his friend lying flat on his face with his pants around his knees. Unable to put a foot forward, the weight of their booty had apparently brought his trousers down. Gavin had fallen and, unable to get up, he was completely stuck. Going to his assistance, Mick attempted to empty his pockets so that he could get his trousers back up. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘grab mi’ balls.’ Pondering for a moment, Mick suspected that being a couple of young boys there would be a certain deficiency down there, nevertheless he was naturally shocked and hesitated. Gavin realised what he was thinking. ‘No, not mi’ balls, twit, I mean mi’ snooker balls, they’re rolling down the snicket,’ he replied. But as Mick was also suffering from a similar lack of traction he was unable to help him out. Eventually Gavin did managed to pull up his trousers and get at least his snooker balls under control. As the two of them waddled up the street Mick could see that Gavin was in tears. ‘Don’t worry Gav’, he said reassuringly, ‘nobody’s going to know that we’ve taken the balls.’ ‘Oh it’s not that,’ he sobbed, ‘when I fell I broke my new snake belt.’
Sammy King and Peter Smith were Exelby Hill’s most infamous bad-boys with many an account in their disfavour. The cherished hope of Rev Lewis to somehow reform them was a slow and difficult process and persuading the boys to be choristers at St Luke’s would only go halfway towards their redemption.
One early evening, after choir practice and instead of heading off home like the others boys, the two miscreants hung around in the lych-gate anxiously looking for a spot of mischief. Walking past them, up the path to the church, a young couple said ‘hello’ as they hurried in to meet Rev Lewis in order to take part in a pre-nuptial rehearsal for their forthcoming marriage. On an overcast evening the lights in the church were low and dimly lit up the stained-glass windows from within as the tower bell pealed out eight o’clock. ‘Got any money ‘Cheater’, said Sammy, using Smith’s nickname. ‘Naw,’ he retorted nasally, ‘But I think I know where to get some.’ Moving towards the partly open church door, the two sneaked silently into the baptistry sited just within the entrance. With nimble fingers they swiftly helped themselves to the retiring collection which was conveniently sitting on the top of the covered font in a shallow wooden plate. Two pounds fifteen and sixpence was surreptitious loaded into their pockets as the two boys hurried out heading straight for the Dunquerque Fisheries, situated next to the church, eager for a fish and chip supper funded from their ill-gotten gains.
Surprisingly for mid-Yorkshire, the fish-frier (hence the name of the establishment) was a Frenchman called Jean-Pierre Le Poêler who was well known in the neighbourhood as an Yves Montand look-a-like. After catering experience in France, a few years earlier he had left his channel port home to become a waiter at the Midland Hotel in Grimford. He had moved out to the Exelby suburb after marrying ex-Midland waitress Brenda Rushworth, daughter of the previous shop owner, and after the retirement of Brenda’s parents the couple decided to take over the fish and chip shop, completely refurbishing and rebranding the establishment.
‘Plenty of salt and vinegar ‘Monsewer’ and wrap ‘em up well,’ said Sammy, cheekily. The boys waited eagerly as the two large portions were neatly wrapped in layers of the Grimford Argus, and handed over the sickly yellow melamine counter to them. From the back of the shop, Brenda cast a suspicious eye in their direction. She knew, only too well, what the duo were capable of for she’d often seen both of them eyeing up the till when her back was turned. ‘Night, night, FROGGY,’ shouted Smith as the two boys scuttled out of range after having seen Brenda move towards them wielding a rather large stainless-steel spatular.
Back in the lych-gate the two sat scoffing. ‘Got an idea,’ said Sam, ‘Keep your wrappers.’ Together they screwed up the greasy sheets and wiping his fingers on his trousers Sam continued. ‘Got any fags on you Pete?’ ‘No, but I’ve got matches, what’s the plan?’ he questioned. Sammy indicated for Smith to follow and armed with fish and chip wrappers they approached the church. He explained that the thirty-foot high cast iron drainpipes flanking the nave could be used for some serious ‘bull-roaring’ especially now that they had plenty paper and a light. He began to explain the technique. ‘Go round the other side and stuff the papers up the shoe end of the drainpipe nearest the east window and wait ‘til I shout ‘now’. Then, strike a match on the stonework, light the wad, run for cover, watch and listen. I’ll do the same at this side,’ was his instructions to an eager listener. ‘Meet you later in the school yard.’
Meanwhile, inside St Luke’s church the vicar stood at the chancel steps with his back to the altar. Facing him were the engaged couple, nervously listening to a preview of the wedding service. The church interior was eerily quiet with a minimum light casting broad shadows under the arched nave and across the tiled floor. Suddenly outside, Sam King gave the instruction by shouting ‘NOW’ across the graveyard. On his command, both boys lit the their respective fishy papers. The suction up the tall fall-pipes was instant and as strong as a boiler flue when suddenly a long loud roar filled the Exelby Hill air. It seemed to go on forever while, at roof level, clouds of white wispy smoke formed framed against the darkening sky only to be dispersed by an evening breeze. But inside the church the sound was at its loudest, it was weird and ghostly, echoing around the ancient stone interior like a wailing ‘Banshee’.
Seeing before him the nuptial couple blanch visibly, Rev Lewis stopped the talk in its tracks. Clearly terrified he saw them suddenly grasp each other closely in horror as the long moaning sound continued unabated. Fearing the worst the three hurried out of the church expecting, at least, to see the results of perhaps an explosion or a pile of fallen masonry outside in the churchyard. By the time the vicar had left his party and had conducted a cursory investigation, our juvenile incendiaries had fled down the fields, and, flushed with a sense of misguided adventure they headed back to their Ravens Crag homes.
Back in the church and now feeling more composed, the vicar switched out the church lights in the Baptistry and, having noticed an all but empty collection plate, he curiously scratched his bald head, pondering for a moment before locking the oak doors. Outside, rejoining the young couple, he invited them into the vicarage for a cup of strong tea. In an attempt to calm then down Rev Lewis offered a guarantee that he would begin an immediate investigation into the incident further reassuring them that the night’s events would have no possible bearing on their special day.
Percy Stansfield was a churchwarden at St Luke’s church in Exelby Hill. He was a talented electrical engineer with a local company ‘Airways’, who were manufacturers of high quality public address systems, audio equipment and speakers. Sometime earlier, as a gesture, Percy had hand-built a ‘panatrope’ as he called it for playing records at the ‘Youth Fellowship’ dances in the church hall and the youngsters had been impressed with his recent technical creation.
About the same time, Rev Lewis was alarmed to discover that the hundred-year-old church spire was on the move. One afternoon he had climbed up into the belfry where he noticed that large cracks had suddenly appeared in the fabric. He immediately contacted the Church Commissioners who sent a structural surveyor to give him a full report which he duly presented to the parish council. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the spire was in quite a perilous condition and a couple of years later would have to be demolished. But in the first instance the surveyor suggested that for safety reasons the peal of four large bells would have to be removed. His decision was to shock members of the church who were used to being summoned by bells to Matins and Evensong with a tuneful hand-rung peal. The bell ringers were naturally distraught, some of them had been in the team since they were young men and women. Therefore it was a sad day when the bells were eventually removed and across the road from the church the Ring of Bells public house organised a day of mourning in recognition of the sad demise of its neighbouring namesakes.
Meanwhile, Percy Stansfield put on his thinking cap, and, as an intuitive electrical engineer, he came up with a wonderful scheme. He would install in the verger’s vestry a cabinet containing a large auto-play record deck capable of holding six identical twelve-inch 78rpm recordings of the bells of Westminster Abbey, currently commercially available on ‘His Master’s Voice HLP 3094.’ This prototype piece of equipment was to be connected to a powerful top-of-the range ‘Airways’ amplifier, whilst located in the belfry, currently now stripped of bells, would reside four very large speakers angled at north, south, east and west so designed to give maximum coverage. Given that Percy would obtain the installation at cost the scheme was soon approved by the parish council and within a month the new verger Willy Appleton had been trained in his newly created duties. He would load up the record deck at 6.10pm each Sunday before dutifully switching on the amplifier and tuning in the controls to the prescribed level as the first shellac disc dropped neatly into place. At this point the whole village would be treated to the beautiful sound of a prize bob-major streaming out melodiously through the Exelby Hill skies. The whole exercise was meticulously scheduled until record six fell indicating four minutes playing time before the start of Evensong. It was a personal triumph for Percy Stansfield.
It would have been around six-twenty on that fateful Sunday evening. The bells were pealing appealingly in beautiful falling cadences. Outside the church a small group of youngsters had congregated at the lych-gate and above their chatter they unconsciously heard one side of the record end. There was a short break until the next disc dropped into place, with a slight click which normally was nothing out of the ordinary. But this time it was out of the ordinary. At full volume across the Exelby Hill skies, over the roof of the Ring of Bells public house, up Colton Avenue and Moor End Road, down Ilkley Road and over the fields to Ravens Crag, the sound was not of bells but the ‘Hobeaux’s Skiffle Group’ belting out their current chart topper ‘Toll the Bell Easy’, (on the Parlophone label),
‘….Well, well, well, well, toll the bell easy,
Well, well, well, well, toll the bell easy,
Well, well, well, well, toll the bell easy,
Jesus gonna make my dyin’ day…’
On and on it went at full volume. In a state of complete disbelief everyone looked up at the steeple, their jaws dropping in unison, scarcely believing their ears. It took a while to sink in by which time the shock had turned almost to laughter as a measure of how hilarious the prank had been. Not so the vicar. He came running out of the church shouting for his verger Willy Appleton who, at this critical stage and clearly hard of hearing, was oblivious to the problem as he casually handed out prayer books in the baptistry. By now, alerted to the heathen music emanating from the steeple vents, like a flash the verger shot into his technical vestry. Almost immediately from up above the bystanders heard the sound of the record arm being clumsily scraped across the spinning skiffle disc. Then there was silence.
The church’s embarrassment was of course immense and subsequently there would have to be an immediate investigation. But in order to successfully apprehend the miscreant it almost certainly would have required the services of a modern day Sherlock Holmes and despite a parish council post mortem nobody, it seems, was ever brought to task. Any serious suspicion would suggest that the mischief-maker must have been a record-collecting lover of skiffle who had slyly ‘slipped a disc’ into the vestry deck. From that fateful day onwards the bell-ringing record-player suite was strictly out of bounds and placed firmly under lock and key.
Having met as young children at school, John Gosney and Mick Pendlebury grew up together remaining close friends. John was always keen to have a party at Dalton Terrace, but invariably the two teenagers had to wait until his parents were out thus leaving the coast clear. Suspicious of John ‘home alone’ and in order to ensure that his guitar playing or loud music would be kept to a reasonable level, Mr and Mrs Gosney would delegate regular ‘house orderly’ responsibilities to their next-door neighbour whose name was Stanley. John hated the man, so much so that he re-named Paddy, the family dog, Stanley so that he could give it a swipe and generally bully the poor little terrier in varying acts of rather cruel revenge.
One evening, knowing that John’s parents Len and Lorna were going out to a chapel meeting, a small group of teenagers arrived at the house a little early and consequently were ushered up into John’s attic bedroom. ‘No noise, and certainly no alcohol you boys,’ said John’s Mum in Baptist temperance mode ‘and above all, don’t make too much noise, I don’t want you disturbing the neighbours.’ John promised not to make a noise and assured his mother that they were only going to drink orange pop. Then, in a whispered aside to his attic friends, he qualified, ‘but little does she know I’m putting vodka with it!’
John’s parents went out and soon afterwards the young party-goers were, at last, able to come downstairs into the Gosney’s living kitchen. Pushing the table back to the wall and rolling up the rug, on went the rock and roll records as the youngsters formed into dancing couples. Before long the volume was up full thrust and now, stimulated by vodka and orange, they were all warming up their jive technique. Suddenly the outside door burst opened and in walked next-door neighbour Stanley with his face set. Displaying the coolest of demeanours, without saying a word he strode across the room and brutally ripped the arm off the spinning 45rpm record before turning off the deck and marching out of the house. The teenagers standing around the room were completely astonished. ‘The rat,’ said John menacingly, giving the dog a big smack as if it had been poor Paddy’s fault!
At that time, John was learning to play guitar. He had a pleasant singing voice and was therefore keen to be able to accompany himself, managing to master a song learned at school; ‘Boney was a Warrior,’ whilst strumming a credible three chord guitar accompaniment. This little number wasn’t destined to be a best seller by any stretch of the imagination and what gave him confidence during his repetitive rehearsing, gave the rest of his friends ear-ache. In addition, he had learnt from Alec Seaton, our school French master, a number of other similar songs in the Franglais mode namely ‘La Normandie,’ ‘Alouette’ and ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon,’ soon to be added to his rapidly expanding repertoire.
Gosney and Pendlebury were still members of the Downtown Skiffle Group but after playing most of the local church dances recently engagements had become a bit thin on the ground. That particular week the band were fortunate in getting a pre-Christmas ‘gig’ at at Exelby Hill Congregational Church hall just across the road from St Luke’s. The boys were all familiar with this venue because the skiffle group had played there a few times before. However, this would prove to be their final appearance, they were about to be barred.
On that particular occasion at first things were going well. Playing to a packed hall, they cracked off with ‘Raisin’ a Ruckus’ and were just moving into the first verse of ‘Boodlam Shake’ with Gosney on vocals, when some youngsters near the stage began to blow raspberries and slow hand-clap. Mick Pendlebury knew John well enough to anticipate his response to this degree of criticism. Yes, he was riled and consequently went berserk. Inside the hall, immediately above the dance floor, was a curved upper circle which was hardly ever used. Across from one side of it to the other the church-goers had made a spider’s web of Christmas decorations and bunting. Meanwhile, still in a rage, John had left the stage and, having reappeared in the balcony, he threw himself off bringing down the whole of the Christmas bunting with him. He crashed to the floor, picked himself up and disentangled himself from the paperwork before storming out of the building. Sunday School teacher Norman Duxbury was in charge of the event and, having stopped the show, he took the embarrassed musicians to one side for a sound ticking off, refusing to pay the fee, and promptly barring the band from ever appearing there again.
But that wasn’t the end of it, for our skifflers were eventually destined to be banned from their own church hall at St Luke’s thanks to John. The following year, during the big annual dance, John was in high spirits after having a few too many beers. The band were on stage before an audience of dancing youths and in the interval John was bursting for a wee. He made his way to the schoolroom’s outside lavatory to find it was locked so came back into the dressing room located side stage where there was a sink. He grabbed an empty milk bottle from the draining board and proceeded to relieve himself into it. Unfortunately for him the Vicar and Mr Arkwright, the Youth Fellowship leader appeared at the most inappropriate moment. Gosney was caught ‘[_in flagrante delicto.’ _] He was given the soundest of reprimands and sadly, from that point on, the group were not encouraged to play at St Luke’s especially if the band included John. Mick Pendlebury and the others really had no option but to drop him vowing to seek a replacement, all much to John’s chagrin.
With no venues to play anymore, and the personnel gradually dispersing, it seemed to be almost the end of the skiffle group. Eventually John and Mick, like true friends, were soon back together; this time they would form a folk duo…..
In the end, it was National Service, University commitments and the advent of ‘Rock and Roll’ that eventually deplete the personnel of Exelby Hill’s famous Downtown Skiffle Group a demise which would ultimately lead them to disband. Friends and ex-members John Gosney and Mick Pendlebury had originally been young choirboys together and despite John’s reputation for being occasionally rude and tiresome whilst in the band, most incidents had all been forgotten long ago. Musically, they fancied a change of direction.
One particular day they were sitting together reminiscing about their skiffle group days in John’s Dalton Terrace attic bed-sit representing the remaining duo, the last remnants of the depleted combo. Suddenly, quite out of the blue, John asked Mick if he would be interested in joining him on stage at an open-air folk festival gig at Little Heaton Green where he was keen to sing his newly rehearsed ‘French’ repertoire. Mulling it over in his mind Mick wondered if the world was quite ready for such a fledgling performance. His first thought was to reach for the sick-bag but in the end he pretended to be enthused agreeing to join him. Getting straight into character Mick nodded and said ‘Oui.’
Having decided, they began to play, tentatively rehearsing a few new numbers which seemed to go surprisingly well. John sounded remarkably good, his soft baritone voice pleasant and much improved. Once again united in song, the two young men decided to go it alone. Mick could see immediately that John was on a roll and instinctively he knew he just had to support him in the venture or face being labelled, ‘a rat’. He knew his friend well enough to know that he was not magnanimous in rejection and had been known at times to resort to physical threats against those who would not share his current passions. ‘We’ll have to give our new duo a name’, John said and straight away the two began to mull around a few suggestions. Unlike the current chart-toppers of the day, ‘Peter and Gordon’, ‘John and Mick’ sounded particularly unattractive especially as their new repertoire would have a strong continental flavour. Encouraged with sips of vodka and orange produced from under a loose attic floorboard the brainstorm began. John grabbed a large bottle of sweet German wine, which was lying there under the floor beside a small pile of his ‘mature literature.’ Jokingly, looking at the magazines he jumped to his feet. ‘Spick and Span,’ what about that? Mick shook his head. ‘Well’ said John, ‘at first I was going to suggest ‘Tit and Bum,’ He looked at his astonished friend with humour in his eyes whilst Mick shook his head at the suggestion rather negatively assuring him that they simply couldn’t use either of those. He quickly pointed out that as far as he was concerned neither sounded remotely like a vocal duo, more like a striptease act. They both laughed. Next, John held the wine bottle and whilst reading the label he poured out a small glassful. ‘I’ve finally got it, he blurting out ‘like the wine, Hock and Mick’, that’s it, ‘Hock and Mick.’
Mick thought at last this seemed a more sensible result from their brainstorm. ‘I really like that one,’ he said, ‘but why don’t you spell ‘Hock’ in the French manner?’ John nodded in the affirmative as ‘Hoque’ was immediately agreed upon. It was now all down to Mick for a name. ‘What was the name of the French bloke on those guitar records you gave me once John,’ he pondered. Thinking for a moment, ‘Dupre, yes that was it ‘Esmonde Dupre,’ he said. ‘I like that Mick, replied John, ‘but you can’t use his forename.’ Very soon they both had their thinking caps on once again.
Mick confessed that he had always envied his brother’s middle name ‘Elston’ which was their paternal grandmother’s maiden name. In earlier moments of contemplation he had thought Elston-Pendlebury would have been much more sophisticated surname than just Pendlebury. As an aspiring young singer he thought ‘Michael Elston-Pendlebury, baritone,’ clearly had a ring to it that would have matched the sophistication of the concert platform. He could almost hear the announcer on Radio Three crediting him after a broadcast of Handel arias.
In the end, the new duo would be presented to the eager world of music as ‘Elston Dupre and Hoque’ and what is more they had their very first gig lined up for the following Saturday. But where in the world was Little Heaton Green? John went to ask his Dad for directions because Len had been everywhere on political rallies. The boys learned from him that although it was at the other side of Grimford, they could quite easily get there by bus from Exelby Hill. Conscious of the time factor, they checked Len’s timetable, working out that they could get there and back all right by bus for fortunately their particular slot at the festival was scheduled for the afternoon; to all intents and purposes they were down as a warm up band.
The following Saturday John and Mick arranged to meet at the bus stop in Ilkley Road just by Charlie Ramsden’s paper shop. Having failed to discuss what they would wear, Mick waited for John sporting his old skiffle group striped trousers, white shirt and waistcoat, which in his opinion were eminently suitable for a folk festival performer. Soon after, crossing the road by Moorhouse’s corner café, a sprightly John appeared attired in a black and red striped jersey, a large Breton style beret and black drainpipe trousers. In addition he was carrying a guitar case on which was written ‘HOQUE’ in rather large fluorescent letters and very hard to miss. As he approached Mick could see he’d also pencilled in a thin black moustache now looking for all the world like Django Reinhardt on tour. Jokingly Mick couldn’t resist saying ‘Nice get up John, but you’ve forgotten the string of onions.’
The banter didn’t stop there. When the conductor came to take their fares he burst out laughing; ‘we’re going into Grimford not bloody Bordeaux,’ he said and with that John became rattled claiming that everyone was taking the piss, consequently Mick tried to calm him down. Changing buses in town, the troubadours eventually reached Little Heaton Green and once on site – a large open field – they were ushered into a marquee to prepare. Their slot, they were informed, was 2.30pm which meant they had a hour to tune up, have a gargle and ponder, during which time John pasted a complete set of words to his songs on the side of his guitar.
Things suddenly began to get busy. On the field adjacent to the changing area was a large stage. In front of it an impressively sized audience were beginning to gather albeit mostly weird-looking ‘folkies.’ Decked in the strangest clothes the majority of those assembled would have made the audience on the Muppet Show look surprisingly normal. Soon our artistes were called on stage. Guitar-ed up John took the mike whilst Mick stood beside him ready to harmonise whenever it was called for. John introduced their act first in a terrible mock French accent and when they exchanged words on the stage they both tried their best to live up to the illusion. As the duo lead into the first number it soon became apparent that they were failing to capture the attention of the audience. The truth is that most of them had already turned away, shouting and talking loudly. It was like doing a spot at a Working Men’s club. Undeterred the two lads kept going throughout the full routine, heaven only knows how they did it; John being John kept on unabashed. Looking down at a rowdy front row Mick genuinely hoped nobody would pull a face of blow a raspberry at him for that was usually what red rags are to bulls.
They eventually finished the set and went back to the dressing room. Later the two of them went over to the beer tent for a pint and sat in a corner close to a group of long haired, beatnik-attired young girls who for some reason hadn’t noticed them each hiding behind a large glass of Tetley bitter. They overheard one rather loud voice mention their act in conversation, which prompted the two boys to listen carefully. One girl addressed the group. ‘Hey, you know those two French blokes that have just been on, yeah, well weren’t they bloody crap.’ She went on, ‘I heard them talking just now near the dressing rooms, and guess what, they’re not bloody French at all; they sound to me as if they’re from bloody Halifax or somewhere.’
On the bus back John and Mick decided to re-think ‘Elston Dupre and Hoque’ and at that moment they both firmly vowed to get out of show business once and for all.
John Gosney’s father Leonard was a most eccentric man. In essence a gentle, honest and peace-loving person, but also quite a character the like of which you may only see once in a lifetime. Len was a man of strong convictions. Enthusiasm for causes close to his heart often alienated him from his wife, his immediate family and many of his friends, who were often reluctant to share his passions. Stories about Len are legion and inevitably his actions, though serious to him, were to others unintentionally funny. Jacques Tati’s immortal Monsieur Hulot and Rowan Atkinson’s dateless Mr Bean would come close, that’s probably why Len idolised Laurel and Hardy whose bumbling attempts at being serious were, in fact, hilarious.
Len and John’s Mum Lorna had been brought together by their faith. They were both staunch members of the Exelby Hill Baptist Church where the couple were also Sunday school teachers. Lenny, small and dapper in appearance, was a conveyancing clerk in the Grimford offices of Mawson and Rowbottom the solicitors. He would travel everywhere by public transport, never owned a car, and could often be seen in his smart Homburg hat, overcoat and umbrella waiting for the bus in Ilkley Road on his way to the office.
Len and his wife had five children, four boys and a girl each named after a Biblical saint. With a two-year gap between them the eldest was Matthew; then came Mark, a daughter Mary, then David, and the youngest was John. Their children’s names alone would reflect the couple’s deep religious commitment even though they weren’t all destined to emulate their saintly namesakes! At the age of seven, both John and his friend Mick Pendlebury were attending the nearby Dalton School. On the occasions when he didn’t take the special bus home Mick would call at the Gosney house to see John where Lorna would make them tea. On his return from a day at the office, Len would be busily engaged in his attic hideaway at the top of the house, a domain out of bounds to his children.
In Grimford city centre along Broadwalk Way there was an area of flat undeveloped land. At the weekend it would become the Grimford equivalent of ‘Speakers’ Corner’ in London and seen and heard regularly on the hustings was a man called Templeton who was a committed Communist. Len somehow became involved primarily because of his skill at producing large banners. These were an essential part of the Templeton campaign machine and could usually be seen draped around the speakers’ podiums at Broadwalk Way or at various meetings around Yorkshire. However, devout Christian and Sunday-School teacher Len suddenly experienced a dramatic ‘Road to Damascus’ moment becoming converted it seemed almost overnight to the Communist ideology, consequently he joined the local party and turned his back on Jesus.
In order to service his graphic artwork skills Len would spend a lot of time and even more money at his shrine, Tootle and Taplow’s stationery shop in Grimford city centre. There he bought felt-tip pens, fluorescent spots for his bow ties, paper, canvas, and glue, along with a host of materials for the placards and banners. He was proud of the fact that recently Mr Taplow had himself applauded Len as perhaps Tootle and Taplow’s most loyal and dedicated customer.
The Gosney house was always cluttered with pens, paintbrushes and numerous gadgets that Len or his artistically talented designer son David would be keen to show you. One winter’s afternoon after they had been persuaded to wear the ubiquitous ‘Stop Smoking’ badges, a political requisite in Len’s presence, son John and Mick Pendlebury were treated to a practical in spray painting. Not the kind of cellulose stuff you spray on cars, or use for graffiti; this was demonstrated to them on the kitchen table using poster colours on cartridge paper. The gadget used consisted of two small tubes joined together with a hinge, which split them. David dipped one end of the tube into the paint and holding the tubes at right angles he blew. A fine stream of paint hit a sheet of paper on which he had laid a cut-out stencil and, moments later, he peeled it off to reveal a lovely silhouette of a tree. John and Mick were singularly impressed by the beautiful design. Len loved this new technique and was on a roll. By the end of the afternoon he had cut out a series of letters, laid them on a long sheet and was spraying away. Mind you it did take a lot of puff; blue in the face he had to sit down and have a cup of tea before taking a cat-nap.
Later that evening Len descended the stairs leading from his attic hide-a-way sporting a newly created black bow tie, which was covered in bright fluorescent spots. Len had a supply of spots from his favourite stationers and would change them randomly on his extensive collection of ties; sometimes he would choose stars instead. On this this particular occasion, under his arm, Len carried a photo-album which he placed on the kitchen table. He told the two boys that the book contained a project he was working on in which, through a series of photographs taken at the ‘Photo-Me’ booth at the station, he was observing his own ageing process. He opened the book to reveal pages and pages of photo-strips of himself. On some of the pictures he had even had the patience to stick tiny, tiny, dots on his bow ties. On one photo session Len had wound up the seat rather too high revealing four pictures of his collar and tie; his head was completely missing. Another set revealed four pictures of him but on the fifth, his face was blurred and side on. ‘What happened there Len?’ Mick said, ‘Oh I didn’t realise that the new machines were now taking five pictures, so after the fourth had flashed, I got up to get out of the booth, and it flashed again,’ he explained, ‘but unfortunately I was out of pose.’ Later Len was keen to tell the bewildered lads what year the ‘Photo-Me’ booths went into colour, a truly revetting piece of information.
It was with great sadness that John informed Mick of his Dad Len’s demise. Having called there only a week before, little did he know that it would be the very last time he’d see the old man. After chatting and catching up on family news on that occasion he had been invited to have a cup of tea with Mr and Mrs Gosney which Len had the job of making. At the time his current passion appeared to be the Grimford Hospital Fund about which, on this occasion, he was unusually enthusiastic. On and on he went extolling the benefits of membership. The teacups were put before them whilst Len urged Mick yet again to join the Hospital Fund, but not quite understanding the scheme all he could do was nod politely. Still looking for recruits he continued his sales pitch as he made the tea and, teapot in hand, approached the tray of cups. Without taking is eyes off his guest, whilst still talking excitedly, Len began to pour randomly in the direction of the tray and as a consequence the hot tea went everywhere except into the cups. ‘Oh Leonard, do be careful, you’ll have us all scalded,’ said Lorna giving him a withering look.
Mick, knowing of Len’s strong political leanings wasn’t at all surprised at his keen admiration of the National Health Service and his current Hospital Fund promotion. He embraced not only the socialist principles that the NHS engendered but in addition the free support that the system had given him since its inception. After his death, his secret attic domain would yield up many memories of his life; papers, books, photographs and letters. In addition the family found some evidence of stock-piling manifested in a cache of medical aids. For included in the treasure trove were drawers containing a selection of deaf-aids, spectacles, false-teeth along with a number of unusual appliances of a spurious surgical nature. Each item was individually labelled with a short revue of its particular performance, such as ‘these teeth hurt at the back,’ ‘this hearing aid whistles,’ ‘these spectacles are a perfect fit,’ and so on. This was the world of Leonard Gosney, lovable eccentric, dedicated political activist and man of mild humour.
Friends and ex-choirboys John Gosney and Barton Wainwright were frequently at the cinema together, their interest focusing on comedy films, particularly the early Peter Sellers pictures. One evening they were at Grimford Gaumont, to see the Boulting Brothers film ‘I’m All Right Jack’, a personal favourite of Johns who would impersonate the Sellers character Fred Kyte for months afterwards in the pub. The principle actors in the film were Peter Sellers as the shop steward along with Dennis Price, Richard Attenborough and Terry-Thomas who were all businessmen and wearing smart suits. Around their necks they wore crisp shiny cut-away collars and silver ties which particularly impressed John who immediately wished to emulate the look. He was at that time keen on looking smart, more your sartorially elegant. Currently employed as a window-dresser at Fifty-Shilling Taylors in Market Street, Grimford, John would sport a smart navy-blue company suit, collar and tie and highly polished winkle-pickers; one would have definitely seen him as managerial material.
The following Saturday the two lads went to Moss Bros in Grimford and bought themselves a couple of starched linen cut-away detachable collars each whilst wincing at the price which set them back a few bob. Barton at the time was working in the offices of the Phoenix Dynamo Co. and was also keen to present a smarter image of himself to his colleagues, even at the expense of enduring constant digs about looking like a bank-clerk. The new collars allowed them to make a shirt last for two to three days and what’s more they didn’t appear to get dirty too quickly either. They were only changed every other day and were a revelation, the future, (not that either of them did any laundry themselves). After test-driving them John and Barton concluded that they were unable to afford yet another set in order to increase the shirt/collar permutations simply because of the cost. They eventually researched a Chinese laundry in Alton Lane owned by Grimford restauranteur and laundry owner Stanley Chung and together they decided to pay him a visit.
The two young men duly went along to see Mr Chung to see if he could launder the collars on a regular basis and he explained that he could do them at a shilling a shot, which they thought very good value. Mr Chung had recently invested in a special machine to starch and polish the collars. ‘I’m doing some now for a barrister,’ he said, in a strong Chinese accent, ‘this is how I do it. After the collars have been laundered I put them around this circular band.’ Demonstrating, he began to spin the machine and to Barton and John’s amazement he put a spoonful of rice in his mouth, took a sip of water, and as the collar spun he squirted the rice out of his mouth and onto it for about a minute. The heated band on which the collar was attached eventually stopped spinning. He took off a perfectly dry shiny detachable collar and together with four or five others belonging to the lawyer he bound them carefully in brown paper ready for collection. ‘That’s how I do it,’ said Stanley, whilst John and Bart stood amazed.
They left their collars for laundering though neither seemed to be keen on his spitting technique. Back at John’s house in Dalton Terrace they told his Dad Len about it. ‘Oh don’t bother with all that,’ he said, ‘I wear detachable collars too but they’re made out of soft cardboard. If you go to Woolworths you can pick up a pack of six for half a crown.’ That seemed to the lads like a great idea; consequently both of them bought a pack and examined the collars. ‘They’re all right,’ said John, ‘but they’re too deep, I wanted a cut-away.’ Soon they had out the scissors and were easily able to sculpt the collars to whatever shape they wished, in fact one day John went to work in a rounded Edwardian one. This was a cheap and flexible system thanks to Len and it ran for weeks, until one day…
John was getting fed up at Fifty-Shilling Tailors working as a window-dresser and had been combing the ‘situations vacant’ for some time. However, he had recently seen an advertisement for a display artist with Greenside & Co., the men’s outfitters and although the vacancy was in Grimford he would have to go to their Melcaster office for the interview. He dressed up impeccably for already being in the business he knew Greensides to be a company that would recognise a smartly dressed young man. Head-to-toe, dressed to perfection in a smart suit, shirt and tie complete with cardboard cut-a-way collar, John took the Melcaster bus.
On his arrival, suddenly the Heaven’s opened; it was raining cats and dogs, stair-rods actually and unfortunately, after a dry and sunny start in Exelby Hill, John hadn’t bothered to take either umbrella or raincoat. Sheltering for a while at the bus station he looked at his watch and realising he was running late set off on foot to Greenside’s office, which was half way down the High Street, almost adjacent to Melcaster Town Hall. Running like mad in the pouring rain and now drenched, John was alarmed to feel the paper collar around his neck becoming wet and soggy. When he finally arrived for the interview it had almost disintegrated. Now becoming a lump of papier-mache it was hanging around his neck and sliding down the front of his shirt and clinging to his best tie. From head to toe he looked like a drowned rat, gone was the elegant follower of fashion that had confidently set out that morning from Exelby Hill village.
However, John being John, he explained to the interviewing panel just what had happened and apparently they thought the whole thing was quite hilarious. ‘Well,’ said Mr Greenside as the laughter finally died down, ‘if you come to work for us, would you mind coming along in an ordinary shirt with a collar attached and, furthermore, do remember to always carry an umbrella.’ John got the job and thereafter he took the man’s advice.
Morton Grammar School in Grimford had unexpectedly burned to the ground late in 1949. Consequently, at the start of term in 1950 the whole school was transferred to the old and derelict Grimford Grammar School building in Manor View. Exelby Hill’s Bill Naylor and Mick Pendlebury were included in the first intake and when the boys arrived the place was rather a mess. Over the summer, workmen had been in to fix the broken floorboards, do some decorating and get the archaic heating system to work, if only after a fashion for most days it didn’t work. It was a large black intimidating building near Brownlow’s department store. The whole site was sizeable and it included a large detached fully equipped gymnasium in the bottom yard. The school had adopted the public school house system. Bill Naylor was allocated a place in Blue House whilst Pendlebury joined Red. All the teachers were ‘masters’ and most of them were Oxbridge graduates who always wore black academic gowns whilst teaching. A number of them were recently de-mobbed army officers resulting in a tough, uncompromising, disciplined regime.
The large main hall was lined with stained glass windows with a raised podium at one end upon which the Headmaster presided over daily assembly. An added luxury was a beautiful chamber organ in one corner, which was in remarkably good condition considering the school had been empty for four years. After some hasty restoration it played well though it was without electricity and had to be hand pumped by boys taking it in turns during the hymns. One ‘pumper’, as they were affectionately called, was John Gosney, who was very good at pumping. He too had also been a pupil at Dalton School and had transferred to Morton the same year as Naylor and Pendlebury.
At the new school, by the end of the first week the Exelby Hill boys were beginning to get the hang of things, or so they thought. Midweek Bill Naylor had his first biology lesson and making his way to the top of the building he seated himself in the raked lecture theatre. At the front a lab technician in a brown overall was setting up apparatus on a long bench and because the class were noisy and fooling around he shouted at them to be quiet. Certain members of the class barracked him back, shouting ‘bollocks’ and, ‘get stuffed,’ along with other choice phrases. The man clapped his hands for silence before telling them that the next person to walk into the room would be Mr Midgley, the science master, and it would be well worth their while not to cross him. ‘He’s very strict’ he said, turned, and walked out. A minute later he walked back in again holding a cane and introduced himself to the astonished class. ‘Let me formally introduce myself,’ he said sternly, his narrowing eyes scanning the room. ‘I am Vernon Midgley, your biology master, and after that outrage, I want the following boys to come to the front.’ The worst culprit was Harry Bagley who had been really cheeky towards the ‘technician’. Midgley immediately addressed him and said, ‘what’s your name boy?’ pointing a finger menacingly at him. Harry responded, ‘Bagley, sir.’
Then ‘Miggy’ as he would later be known shouted, ‘right, come out Bagley,’ as he would do from then on at almost every lesson, in fact it became almost a class catch phrase. After Harry there were about four more boys singled out and after first flexing his cane Midgley lined them all up and wacked the lot of them. ‘I will not tolerate such behaviour,’ he snapped. ‘In future, anyone who crosses me will be taken into my darkroom and given a bit of stick’. From then on the contrite class behaved themselves, except of course for Bagley, a serial miscreant.
Bill Naylor’s first form master was David Barnett, quite a strict disciplinarian who was rather handy with the flying blackboard duster. It was not the furry felt that hurt boys’ heads but the hardwood handle. These were the days of corporal punishment and the teachers had no hesitation in using a tough approach in order to maintain class discipline. Barnett taught English Language and English Literature and although Bill didn’t particularly like him, he was responsible for his first real introduction to his namesake Bill Shakespeare.
The truth is that reading Shakespeare in class appealed to budding thespian Naylor, however, the part of Lady Macbeth caused a giggle to a room full of young boys when he reached:
‘You spirits that attend on mortal thoughts,
Unsex me here,
Come into my women’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall.’
Being a lover of the printed word Bill immediately put his name forward as a librarian. The school was looking for volunteers to help sort out piles of books that had water damage from the fire the previous year, keeping the good and rejecting the bad. The librarian was a history master, Joseph Craven. He had a regular visitor to the top floor library, who used to run up the stairs in gumshoes looking for him. This was George Liddle, an old boy of the school and now a professional actor. Because of Bill’s emerging interest in the theatre he was completely in awe of him and thereby he made a point of being around whenever he came. The two used to chat together in the library about George’s work in the theatre, it seemed an exciting life, like a new world to the other boys that also met him.
George was an inspiration to Billy Naylor who could feel that the stage was beckoning. He auditioned successfully for the first form history teacher, Miss Dewhirst who gave him a small part in a forthcoming production of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Jacobean comedy ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’ which ran for four nights in the school gymnasium. The principal parts were played by masters, along with Miss Dewhirst the only female member of staff at the school. From that point on Bill’s ambition soared.
The euphoria of his new involvement in classical theatre prompted him to try his hand at directing a play in the main hall. It was called ’The Ghost of Jeremy Bungler’ and it was, looking back, an awful piece and tragically for him it was an unmitigated flop. His assistant director was form-mate Sidney Robson, who was frightfully camp and ‘luvvie’. On the night of the first and only performance, Sidney threw a giant wobbler as a cast of totally under-rehearsed actors forget their lines, knocked over the scenery and corpsed in howls of undisciplined laughter. Furthermore, the prompter lost his place, the school audience barracked, shouted and threw paper darts whilst a cowering Bill Naylor buried his head in his hands backstage completely embarrassed. From then on he decided to put acting to one side for a time and to concentrate on his singing; a change of direction was clearly needed.
By 1946 in Exelby Hill, many Italian ex-prisoners of war had taken up with local girls and so remained in Yorkshire. Such a one was Riccardo Verdi who was to marry Elsie Whatmough, settling in the village and taking up his trade as a terrazzo and mosaic artist. A Catholic, he’d accepted his wife’s Anglican faith because Exelby Hill was traditionally a Non-Conformist hotbed. There would never be a Roman Catholic church there. The puritan ferver in the village began when John Wesley built a chapel in the village in 1740. The old building had subsequently been replaced by a large Victorian chapel and was currently in use as Willy Close’s joiner’s workshop. In fact, the Methodist and Congregational factions had already blocked the purchase of land as long ago as 1848 when the Church of England were intent on building a parish church in the centre of the village. Consequently, St Luke’s would have to locate some half a mile away and from that year on known locally as ‘the church in the fields’.
Having settled in Exelby Hill’s Prospect Terrace, it wasn’t long before the Verdi’s had their first child and, delighted, Riccardo and Elsie named the baby boy Montague, a name synonymous with the father’s own Italian birthplace of Verona. By the time Monty (as he would be known) had grown up, he would work in his fathers business and in his spare time become a keen musician. As a boy he joined the choir at St Luke’s because of its reputation under choirmaster Rowland Johns. Unlike his bel-canto father, in his teens Monty became excellent as a lyric tenor, taking solo work and excelling in Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Stainer’s Crucifixion. Later through the encouragement of choirmaster Johns he was persuaded to sing in Grimford Abbey choir to much general acclaim.
In October that year it was Monty’s eighteenth birthday. Working in the family business he hadn’t so far managed to make much money, in fact some weeks Riccardo wasn’t able to pay him a wage when the terrazzo and mosaic work was thin. For transport into Grimford for choir practice at sixteen he’d managed to buy an NSU Quickly moped, if only on a provisional licence. His great hope was to be able to upgrade to a better machine on his eighteenth birthday and take his test. Unbeknown to him, Elsie and Riccardo had managed to get him a second-hand Vespa scooter which would be unveiled on his special day. Sure enough, as he opened his parents card that morning two keys fell out. His Mum and Dad looked wide eyed in anticipation. Glancing out of the window Monty could see in the workshop yard a shiny blue Vespa scooter and his face lit up. ‘Well, you’re a good lad,’ said his Dad, ‘you really deserve it.’ Monty was keen to give it a spin and consequently went straight over to show neighbour and mate, John Gosney and together they stood back to admire the wonderful machine, also sporting an Italian pedigree.
At the end of the week, Saturday in fact, the Verdi’s went out to the cinema in Grimford to allow Monty to have a few friends around for a small birthday party. John Gosney came along with a couple more friends from the choir and soon the talk turned to the new Vespa. Monty could see that Gosney was more than a trifle jealous as he looked the machine up and down further suggesting that as he had a full licence he could show him the ropes. He went on to say that it might be a good idea if they had a run on it together maybe to Bolton Abbey and back. ‘But why a short trip, why not a holiday,’ said John, ‘why not go abroad?’ After some initial hesitation they both warmed to the idea.
The following week, Monty went over to visit John at the Gosney house sitting as usual in the kitchen/living room which by that time had become a kind of repository for his Dad Len and brother David’s artwork. In fact, the whole house was like a miniature art gallery with drawings and pictures lining or propped up against almost every wall. Enthusiastically John spread out a map of northern Europe on the table. ‘Where shall we go?’ Monty shook his head. ’Wherever this pin sticks in we’ll go there,’ he said. Blindfolding himself, John pricked the map and it fell right in the centre of a town called ‘Bergen-op-Zoom’ in Holland near the Zuider-Zee. Neither of them had heard of it, but not wishing to spoil the game Monty decided to go along with the idea. John’s Dad was eavesdropping on the conversation and looked quite envious and although Len knew he couldn’t join them, instead, he would commemorate the trip by taking a posed photograph of the two lads at the end of Dalton Terrace sitting together on the new Vespa.
With their parents permission, the two lads took some time off work and on the Friday night they set off on the scooter, en-route for Dover. John insisted on driving, thus permanently relegating Monty to pillion passenger claiming he had a full licence and consequently more experience of long journeys. After some discussion they attached the statutory ‘L’ plates deciding to take it in turns. This seemed to them a much more sensible arrangement.
It was a long run from Exelby Hill, but once in Dover they looked around for the ferry terminal, not knowing quite what to do or where to go. After they’d eventually managed to clear customs they suddenly saw a white-haired old man standing in a large fishing boat at the quayside. ‘Where ya off lads on your scooter?’ he yelled. ‘France’, the two replied. The fisherman shouted back, ‘We’re just about to set sail for Dunkirk to get some tackle so if you want to throw that machine on here and join us we’ll take you over’. ‘How much?’ John said, and the surprising response was ‘Give us seven and a tanner, that’ll do’. John and Monty couldn’t believe their luck as the old salt helped them on to the boat with the Vespa. Fifteen minutes later the two and the scooter set sail for the French coast.
Arriving safely in Dunkirk after a calm crossing, once through customs they consulted the map before setting off along the French coast heading for Blankenberge in Belgium. Pressing on in sunny weather, the travellers passed sleeping border guards and eventually crossed the Dutch border. After a few more miles they pulled into the cobbled main square of Bergen-op-Zoom which looked particularly quaint and foreign. But where could they stay? Pulling the Vespa onto its stand they saw two young lads walking across towards them. ‘They’ll know where we can stay,’ said John, ‘ I’ll ask them,’ but before he could practise his double Dutch on them one of the boys got in first, ‘Hey aren’t you David Gosney’s brother?’ ‘No I’m not’ shouted John curtly and, looking annoyed, they both wandered off across the cobbles. ‘I thought they were bloody Dutch,’ he said looking cross. Monty thought maybe John was miffed because, having travelled a few hundred miles into Europe on an escapist adventure away from his often overbearing siblings, his first encounter abroad was to remind him of them.
After a bit of scooter cruising in the backstreets John and Monty eventually found a room at the top of a large back street hotel; a garret would describe it better. At the quoted price they could only get the attic with a double bed, and so had to share. The two seemed to live on chips – there were dozens of chip shops there – not fish and chips, just chips. The following day they journeyed to nearby Breda and climbed up the Grote Kerk tower but, unluckily, on the way home they had a puncture. The Vespa had let them down. Miles from anywhere, near a ubiquitous canal with a long line of windmills, they were just despairing when a car came along and stopped. The driver was an oldish man who, fortunately, could speak English quite well. He seemed pleased when the boys spoke to him; he had apparently thought at first they were German. He explained how the British had helped him escape from the Nazi troopers in the war, so as a thank-you he would sort out the puncture immediately. He took off the back wheel, threw it in the boot of his car, ‘a British Hillman,’ he boasted, driving them back to his nearby house. His wife made coffee and once the puncture had been mended he ran the two lads back to the immobilised scooter and replaced the wheel. Thanking him again they said their fond goodbyes and soon were on their way back to the hotel.
Back at Bergen John was keen to get a suntan, even though after a promising start, for the most part the weather had been mostly overcast. ‘We can’t go home unless we look as if we’ve been abroad,’ he said stopping at a chemists shop. A few minutes later, out he came with a rather large yellow tube of ‘quick-tan’ cream suggesting to Monty they slap it on tonight before setting off home in the morning.
That night, at the hotel, there was to be a concert of sorts in the large lounge bar. It had a stage and full PA system in one corner, plus an organist. Intrigued the boys decided to take a look after supper and both sat down at the front with a couple of beers. The show began with two cabaret artists who happened to be covering British and American chart songs in their first set, and hearing that the lads were English, they persuaded the guests to get up and sing. Grabbing a microphone each, John and Monty went straight into the Ricky Nelson current chart topper ‘Hello Mary Lou’, the lyrics of which each thought the other knew. Singing together they managed the choruses all right but when it came to the verse, neither of them had a clue. All they could do was to hum and mutter and make up some daft words. The audience quickly saw through the phoney act and what’s more they were not having it. They suddenly began to slow hand-clap shouting what sounded like ‘get off’, or something in ‘Double Dutch’. The two performers had to get down from the stage; ridiculed and totally embarrassed they went straight up to their bedroom.
Once up there John got out the tube of ‘Quick-tan’ and together they naively rubbed it into their faces and all over their arms and legs before getting into the double bed. In the morning, at first light, Monty looked at John who was just opening his eyes. His face was noticeably dark brown but all round his eyes were white circles. The palms of his hands were tanned too and he had streaky arms. Monty laughed when he saw his mate who must have seen a mirror image, ‘Massa William,’ John exclaimed, a line straight from Disney’s ‘Song of the South’. On getting up and looking in the mirror the Exelby Hill duo resembled a couple of chocolate-coloured cast members from the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show,’ and together they nearly died laughing. After breakfast and now completely ‘browned off’ the pair paid for the room and then jumped on the scooter making their way back to the ferry following the same route.
Back in Dover, going through customs, they were asked if they had anything to declare. John, with a nervous twitch, looked at the officer and said ‘No, just a pin cushion for my Mum.’ Further challenged Monty declared a small red ball of Edam cheese. Turning to his colleague in a serious tone the customs officer said, ‘Bert, think we might have those two international diamond smugglers in our net.’ The lads were more than relieved to see a big grin spread across the two men’s faces, as they quickly jumped on the Vespa heading home at top speed.
Oxford: if only. Had Exelby Hill choir member Hartley Grimshaw known about university choral scholarships and worked harder at school, who knows, the genuine Oxford might have beckoned. But this Oxford was the Oxford Cinema in the Grimford suburb of Undershaft. A chap who knew Hartley had asked if he would be interested in doing a spot of projection work there as he was leaving the following week; nothing too complicated, he said.
A couple of days later the young man went to see the manager, a Mervyn Raybould, who agreed to take him on as a ‘trainee’, a term it turned out meant a lot less money than the previous projectionist. He briefly taught Hartley the ropes and it certainly was the briefest of briefings because according to Raybould everything was self-explanatory. However he did one evening treat Hartley to a ‘torch-tutorial’ demonstrating the essential scanning technique should he be required to be an usher. Taking the young man into the darkened auditorium during the show, together they peered over a partition at the courting couples draped across one another in the dual leopard-skin seats on the back row. Showing a slimy and seedy side manager Mervyn was obviously enjoying this section of the tutorial. Whispering loudly above the sound-track rather too closely into Hartley’s ear he told him that he would occasionally need to shine his torchlight along the row, checking to see if any couple had gone any further than just necking. Grimshaw being young, shy and innocent was a bit taken back. ‘Then what do I do?’ he asked, slightly shocked. ‘You shine your torch on ‘em and say get dressed and get out, that usually works,’ retorted the manager.
In imparting yet another piece of advice which Mervyn deemed to be essential cinematic information he told the boy to always remember at the end of the show to wait a couple of minutes before running the obligatory National Anthem. This was a short end of film complete with a brass-band rendered soundtrack of ‘God Save the Queen’ comprising colour sequences of the Her Majesty perched on horseback at the ‘Trooping of the Colour’ parade. Mervyn had recently told all the previous projectionists not to show the pictures but simply to run the film through as ‘sound only’. Hartley, a little puzzled asked why this had to be. ‘Because it’s a complete waste of money striking the auto-arcs up for just for ‘her’, quipped the manager, suggesting both a Yorkshire frugality along with strong anti-Royalist sentiments. Still curious Hartley responded, ‘But why do we have to wait a few moments before running it?’ ‘That’s to make sure every bugger gets out sharpish,’ came back Merv, ‘play it too soon and you’ve got such a bloody rush to the exits, half of them could get trampled under foot and I don’t want that on my conscience.’
After a while Hartley began to get the hang of things and really quite enjoyed the twice-nightly shows, the world of entertainment had begun to give him a satisfying buzz. He’d get off the bus at Undershaft and be in the projection room in time for the 6.15pm show. Waiting in the projection suite would be the films, which arrived earlier in large metal cans without reels, consequently with a three night showing there was plenty of preparatory work involved in getting the film onto twenty-minute long reels before threading the stock carefully onto the projectors. Each evening the first show was generally poorly attended, so when the twin machines were laced up ready to go Hartley was prepared to start up projector one. The only music available was from one solitary scratched ten-inch Mantovani LP on permanent repeat, playing on an old record deck precariously placed on an old metal box in the corner of the booth.
But at that time, Grimshaw was the only member of staff apart from Mervyn and the box office manageress from Gainley Bottom called Rita Golightley, consequently this meant that a certain degree of doubling up had to be done. With the film ready for off, first Hartley had to get changed into peaked cap and jacket, (complete with epaulets) and tear the tickets that Rita had sold in the box office. Then at 6.15pm sharp, he’d race back to the projection room to run the adverts and trailers, which had been prepared earlier. If an advertisement had been inadvertently spliced in for some company who were in arrears with their account and was accidentally shown, the projectionist would get a bollocking, so in order to avoid this, the daily list had to be carefully consulted to check which adverts could be used. The supporting film would then hit the screen, followed by more trailers and then the main feature, Grimshaw taking care to do a careful changeover from one projector to the other every twenty minutes. A bell rang to warn him when the reel was about to run out, and even with a audible warning it still took a modicum of dexterity to start one machine up and change on cue from one to the other aiming at a smooth syncronisation thus avoiding clumsy jump cuts.
Sometimes Rita wouldn’t show up. On these occasions Hartley had to lace up the projectors, go into the box office, sell a ticket, then shoot out of the box office grabbing his peaked hat, only to reappear miraculously at the entrance to the auditorium to tear the ticket. Then, at the interval, he would crouch in front of the screen until the pre-set lights went up in the auditorium only to pop up with a full tray of Wall’s ice cream and Kia-Ora drinks before slowly walking up the aisles backwards. It was tricky stuff.
Often the box office would only sell about around thirty tickets, but, when the lights came up, the audience had miraculously doubled. Mervyn was determined to get to the bottom of this puzzle and eventually he found that boys going to the toilet through the door stage right into a short corridor, would open the emergency ‘push bar’ doors in there and let a hoard of friends in. They would come back into the darkened auditorium in dribs and drabs, all claiming free seats. Mervyn soon put a stop to that trick and chained up the emergency door in there. But when the licensing officer came for an inspection he exploded. Mervyn went to court and was fined £250 for breaking the law.
Of late attendances had been disappointing. However, by chance, this period coincided with the height of the ‘rock and roll’ craze, and when an opportunity to book Elvis Presley in [‘King Creole’ _]presented itself, Merv firmly grabbed it for a three-day run. Unfortunately for Hartley this coincided with his three solo nights in the projection room. From reading the [‘Argus’] he’d noticed that when the picture had played some of the other twenty-two local cinemas in Grimford there had been riots. Concerned, and as the days drew nearer to [‘King Creole,’ _]he’d begun to get teeny bit worried, for just as a goalkeeper fears the penalty, a cinema projectionist fears a film snap in the middle of a popular showing to a full house.
Sure enough on the first night, after the initial opening, Hartley lost sound and then, to his horror, the film broke and peering through the port he saw the ubiquitous blank white screen. He’d previously noted that when he was spooling up that the print was in pretty poor shape anyway and had certainly done the rounds. When it came to the cinema it was covered in oil with many of the sprockets torn. Realising his predicament Grimshaw turned, flustered, only to hear the projection room door suddenly draw back and shouts of ‘Somebody’s put half a crown in the slot,’ coming from the audience. At this point Mervyn rushed in to ‘assist’ whilst from the auditorium they could hear the noise of stamping louder than a heard of buffalo. It was accompanied by even louder booing which was quite audible even from within their sound-proof booth. ‘They’re baying for your bleedin’ blood out there pal’, said Merv unreassuringly ‘get the ‘facking’ thing up and running.’ It was clear that his cinematic expertise went no further than shining a torch or tweaking Rita’s ‘gainley bottom’. Rather than shouting Hartley would have appreciated a dose of more professional help on this occasion. Fearing a sudden lynching brewing or a [‘Rock and Roll’ _]riot on their hands, with trembling digits he managed to re-thread the old and worn Leeds-built [‘Kalee’] projector fortunately sorting out the problem relatively quickly. As he anxiously peered through the glass port in order to focus up the screen image he was more than relieved to see Elvis spring to life again. – ‘[_Such a night it was, it really was’,] – as the song goes.
After the initial trauma, apart from some spasmodic ‘bopping in the aisles’, as Merv called it, the other screenings went remarkably well. `it was reassuring that during the run there was nothing like the serious rock and roll riots the film had caused in cinemas around the country. After the final screening, as the lights went up and the last of the audience had cleared the auditorium Hartley breathed a sigh of relief as he slowly re-wound ‘King Creole’ putting Elvis back into his tins before snapping on the metal lids. It was hard work, but they did make a lot of money that week.
Eventually, all the tension began to get to Hartley, it was clear that more staff was urgently needed. The picture house was part of the ‘Starlight Cinema’ chain, consequently, as a cost-cutting exercise and like many a local vicar, Mervyn was now in charge of four cinemas which he had to visit each evening in his bubble car. Added to that, as a well-known noted lothario he would spend rather too much time chatting up women in the various cinema snack bars. Consequently ‘Merv the Perv’, as he was always called, was hardly ever on duty at the Oxford. Grimshaw gradually began to resent him on just about every level. The truth is that Merv was totally inefficient, never around in a crisis, and above all else he was a really obnoxious creepy man who firmly believed that every woman adored him: he’d obviously watched far too many Clark Gable films.
As a result Hartley, after all his efforts, felt let down. It was clear that he really did urgently need some extra help, the more professional the better. Eventually Merv listened to him and they took on Leo the school leaver son of one of his Rialto usherettes who bore an uncanny resemblance to our esteemed manager. As it turned out the lad was to be a complete disaster. Hartley tried very hard to train him up, but regrettably he would have made a better butcher than a projectionist. It had to be said, Leo was dateless, dim and fat-fingered. In the space of a week he had split a complete film down the middle by letting it catch on a sharp screw. Soon after that incident, he dropped a roll of film on the floor causing hundreds of feet of unravelled stock to snake around waiting to be painstakingly rewound by hand. Even worse, on one calamitous occasion he accidentally chose the wrong reel in a double feature programme. The audience gasped, for in the middle of ‘Creatures from the Black Lagoon’, Norman Wisdom made a surprising appearance.
One night, having put his head into the auditorium in order to check the sound level, Leo came back into the projection room and turned the knob to full in an attempt to increase the volume. Unknown to him the film had a silent leader section so that when the title sequence appeared the soundtrack blasted out at about 150 decibels. Hartley looked out to see the whole audience jump about thirty-feet into the air. Fortunately he was on hand to correct it just in time. For him, that was perhaps the final straw. It was clear that either Leo or Hartley had to go, consequently Hartley Grimshaw went.
In his late teens, Barton Wainwright worked for a time at Grimford’s Phoenix Dynamo Co., and one of his more amusing periods concerned his assignment to a two-month stint with the maintenance electricians. Clad head to toe in brown boiler-suits, these men were an odd bunch with even odder names. On the wall of the area where they worked was a small sign, which read, ‘Poke and Flash, the Super-Sparks.’ which reminded Bart of his dad’s old joke about a Dutch comedy duo called ‘Cough and Spit, the Flemish Comedians’. The department foreman was Barry Lockett he was ‘Lucy’ and the two other member’s of the ‘poke and flash’ team were Gordon Fretter ‘Fret-not,’ and Joe Hirst, he was ‘Twilight,’ for when Hirst was at his bench the other two would parody the old number ‘Just a Song at Twilight’ by singing:
‘Joe Hirst a song at twilight,
When the lights are low,
And the flickering light-bulbs,
Softly come and go’
Hence his nickname ‘Twilight’. They were to a man serial swearers, a foul-mouthed bunch at best and it was often a competition to see how many obscenities could possibly be loaded into a single sentence. After a while, Bart found himself joining in and consequently he had to attempt to control his profane language, especially when at home.
One particular day, ‘Lucy’ Lockett said to him in his best Oxbridge, ‘Hey Dick, you’re going ter Hilkley with ‘im,’ pointing at Joe ‘Twilight’ Hirst. ‘My name’s not Dick,’ Bart quickly responded, ‘it’s Barton, you must be thinking of Dick Barton.’ Lockett was not a man to be challenged and returned with ‘Well, whatever your fooking names is, you and ‘im are off ter Hilkley to rewire the big bosses ‘ouse.’ Joe turned to his apprentice translating. ‘I think he means Ilkley,’ and knowing that Barton came on the special bus he said ‘I’ll pick you up outside t’top gate lad at half-seven tomorra mornin’, you can come with mi on t’ combi now I’ve passed mi test.’
Early the next morning, Bart waited for around five minutes when suddenly, from out of nowhere, a noisy motorbike and sidecar combination screeched up to him. On it sat Joe wearing a furry-lined flying jacket over his brown boiler suit and on his head was a forage cap temporarily supporting heavy goggles. Bart had already noticed in the workshop how Germanic Joe looked. His face was a cross between Hardy Kruger and Anton Diffring who were both stock German film actors. This day he might also have been a dead ringer for James Mason in ‘Rommel’. But what was worse, his motorbike combination was without the sidecar. Instead, a long wooden box was attached about the size of a domestic bath. ‘Twilight’ Hirst spoke. ‘I couldn’t have my sidecar on until I’d passed mi test. You see you have to go around with a box on instead, and because I’ve been doing so many ‘guvvie’ jobs on a night I haven’t had time to put the ‘chair’ on; you’ll just have to sit in the box,’ he continued. Wainwright gulped at the thought. ‘The wife’s put you some foam down and there’s a pair of goggles for you too.’ It all sounded highly illegal but as the bike was also without a pillion Wainwright had no choice but to climb into the cramped space along with Hirst’s large tool bag and a box marked ‘buggers’, which turned out to be Joe’s favourite name for light switches. Sitting in the box Barton clutched the sides tightly with his clenched fists as if he were in the bath, wondering how he would be able to stand it all the way to Ilkley. With that he set off with a jerk (in more ways than one).
It was horribly uncomfortable as they motored on and what’s more when Hirst speeded up the wind nearly took Barton’s face off. He tried lying flat on his back for a while. Anyone passing by would have been convinced Joe was doing some sort of DIY funeral. They’d just got through Yardley village towards Whitestone Cross when Bart decided he’d had enough. He kept smacking Joe’s leg in order to attract his attention and eventually the combination pulled over into a lay-by. In a shivering state he told Joe that it was awful in the box and he couldn’t take any more, so he was more than relieved when it was suggested he sat on the pillion, in this case simply a wire rack. Joe laid the foam pads onto the rack, ‘Sit on there and don’t move,’ he said, and off they went again with the young apprentice clinging on for dear life around Joe’s middle.
Having arrived in Ilkley, at long last they eventually approached a large house, set in its own grounds, overlooking the River Wharfe. They drove up the gravel drive and, parking outside, Hirst unlocked the door and they both went in. But as soon as they were in the house Joe said, ‘Had a ‘Ruby Murray’ last night, so before we start I’ll have to have a ‘Eartha Kitt.’ Surprised at his knowledge of the current pop scene it took Barton a few moments to realise what he meant. Struggling with his boiler-suit Hirst hastily made for the downstairs cloakroom and as he pulled it down, apart from having on a rather dirty vest, he didn’t appear to have have anything else underneath. On the way in he turned to explain how he was very careful with overalls for on one particular occasion he’d been doing an outside job at a house and when he wanted to use the loo he’d found there was nobody at home. ‘I went down the garden and got behind a large bush,’ he related, ‘but feeling a bit vulnerable with my boiler suit round my ankles I managed to finish fairly quickly. Then I wiped my bum on a handful of leaves before standing up and I was just pulling my boiler suit back on when a turd hit me behind the head. That’s the reason I’m always careful how I do it, take my tip, in such situations remember to keep your boiler suit well clear.’ he concluded, disappearing into the lavatory.
He had no sooner finished, when Bart and Joe heard a car coming up the drive. Out of a bright red Alvis roadster stepped a tall distinguished looking man in a smart pin-stripe suit, cut-away collar and regimental tie. He looked for all the world like the ex-guardsman he was. ‘It’s Parkinson the company manager,’ whispered Joe as Parkinson walked in saying in a cut-glass voice, ‘How are you men doing?’ As he looked around the kitchen peering into cupboards they told him things were moving on with the re-wiring. Suddenly, he opened the door of the toilet/cloakroom and instantly the rankest smell hit them all. Even though Joe and Barton were at the other side of the room it nearly knocked them out too. Parkinson backed out, pulling a face and saying ‘My word, it’s a bit high in there,’ spoken with a perfect Oxford accent and looking at the two electricians as if he were demanding some kind of explanation. Bart stood bodkin, staring into space, whilst Joe pretended to be fitting a light-switch – sorry, a bugger!
Gordon Fretter was another member of the oddball team Bart had to work with that summer. He lived with his mum and dad and was decidedly effeminate and of a delicate nature compared with the other bunch. They would tease him mercilessly. He was mocked for his orientation and, as Hirst would say, his ‘light coloured voice.’ However, on the plus side, in the works annual all-male pantomime, Fretter had successfully played the female lead on more than one occasion and this particular year had made quite an impression as ‘Dandini’ in Cinderella. The character suited Gordon, a man impersonating a woman impersonating a man, however, according to the Grimford Argus review, he didn’t have the legs for it. ‘No thigh-slapping Danny La Rue he’. As an electrician he had been a former employee of Hoover in the vacuum cleaner section. On occasions he would wear his issue overalls bearing the Hoover logo in small letters under which was woven, rather larger, the puzzling monogram I.B.A.I.S.A.I.C. No, not Islamic script but Hoover’s famous motto ‘It Beats as it Sweeps as it Cleans’!
In his favour, one of Fretter’s redeeming features was his love of poetry. Well, not always poetry as per the ‘Poet Laureate’ Gordon was more a master of the comic verse or limerick form of rhyme with which he knew could get him a few laughs. He had an excellent delivery and would come out with some corkers from time to time during the tea break. Because the large part of the department staff were more your ‘worldly’ rather than ‘wordy’ he would select stanzas of the smuttiest nature to recite in order to get a laugh. One particular selection seemed to go over his colleagues heads until the last line; it went as follows:
_ While Titian was mixing rose madder,_
His model posed nude on a ladder,
The position to Titian suggested coition
So he nipped up the ladder and ‘adder!
Some of the other rhymes were quite unprintable but here is one more for the flavour:
[_ There was a young lady called Cager_]
Who, as a result of a wager,
Consented to fart
[_The whole oboe part _]
Of Mozart’s ‘Quartet in F Major’.
Tea on the shop floor usually arrived with Enid, a Nora Batty look-a-like who wore a dirty apron a mop-cap, and crinkly stockings. Euphemistically referred to as ‘the tea-lady’, she pushed a large battered Thermos tea-urn around the shop floor, usually dripping and precariously perched on a four-wheel trolley. Between the benches the stewed and quite disgusting beverage was dished up into chipped enamel mugs. For identification purposes, these bore the names of the electricians badly inscribed on the side of each mug in orange lead-based highlighting paint, probably quite poisonous. On this particular occasion Barton noticed that as Enid filled his cup, a jet of red hot tea poured out from the side in a long stream almost scalding him through his brown overalls. Laughter abounded, for unbeknown to the poor lad some clever sod had drilled a hole in his tin mug. The next day, and not to be outdone, Bart decided to put two washers, one on each side of the hole, through which a screw was inserted and tightly secured by a nut. A smart piece of work for an apprentice engineer he thought to himself. In fact the ad-hoc repair actually lasted him months even though it could have resulted in a nasty case of gingivitis or even worse, a threatening dose of trench-mouth.
Barton and his fellow electricians were allowed to stop work morning and afternoon for a five minute tea break and it was during one of the lulls that foreman Lockett told them this story. It concerned himself and his colleague and life-long friend our man Gordon Fretter. A decade ago they had both been in the British army serving together in the Green Howards. The end of the war found the two of them in Paris during the liberation and Barry Lockett decided to hit the town one night. Unbeknown to the young, naïve and gay Fretter he took him to a brothel. Barry was soon paired up but it was clear that Gordon, sitting patiently in the ‘waiting room,’ hadn’t quite realised where he was. Eventually he was approached by a ‘madame’ who spoke to him in broken English. ‘Hello soldier,’ she said, ‘You want to jiggy-jig’. Perplexed he replied, ‘Oh no love, I don’t dance!’ When the laughing died down, Gordon Fretter took Barry aside, ‘ I wish you wouldn’t keep telling that bloody story,’ he said, ‘ It’s not only embarrassing but it’s also bad for my image.’
Soon after Barton left the ‘sparks’ behind. He was transferred to another department where the final part of his training involved working in the aircraft section as a fitter assembling Canberra bomber parts. Whilst there, he was persuaded to join the trade union by an pro-active shop steward, a Communist with the most unbelievable name of ‘Harry Stockle’. Added to that, the new foreman went under the equally classical name of Greg Eclid, though none of Barts untutored colleagues could see the comical connection. As it happened, Stockle was far from being philosophical and Eclid no mathematician (though the quick addition of a ‘u’ in his surname could have done the trick).
In addition to these two, the new department progress chaser was a rather foppish ladies man who would swan around the shop-floor wearing both his best striped suit with a white handkerchief dangling from his top pocket and the cheesiest of smiles. Knowing the factory wits, for sure it wasn’t long before Harry Backhouse got a nickname, everyone had to have one of those it seemed. Henceforth he would be known as ‘Beau Backhouse’ and it stuck. ‘Beau’ actually did very little except charm both the women (and sometimes the men), whilst at the same time protecting his Burton’s suit from factory grease and grime. As nicknames go, the department had some beauties including one of Barton’s favourites from that time. Bill Garrity was a bespectacled workshop ‘time and motion’ inspector. Hated by all and unknown to him he was always referred to as ‘VUL’.
Being a great jazz enthusiast, brought up on Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly Roll Morton recordings, Barton Wainwright noticed one week in ‘Melody Maker’ that there was to be a jazz festival in the grounds of Beaumont Abbey in Sussex. The line-up was enticing, but how would he get there. Fortunately for him an Exelby Hill friend Gerry Lambert was by now the proud owner of an Austin A40 car, which his parents had bought him for his twenty-first birthday the previous month. Gerald and Bart had been at Morton school together and the two became apprentices at the Phoenix Dynamo Co., ultimately becoming quite close friends. To be fair, seen together they were an odd match, Gerry’s six feet-three tall stature against Barton’s comparatively diminutive five-foot-six. Gerald and Bart formed quite an unusual combo and people laughed as they were often seen together at the factory giving them the name ‘Stretch’ and ‘Titch!’ They spent so much time together that other workers would jokingly ask when they were getting married. In truth, although the two were often seen together, they were simply good friends, nothing more and certainly nothing sexual. Besides their friendship Barton did have an ulterior motive in having transport laid on whenever he liked, though on long journeys he would inevitably be asked to help out with the petrol.
Fortunately for Bart, knowing that Gerry was also interested in jazz Barton managed to persuade him that they might take a short adventure break and head down to Beaumont Abbey. ‘Let’s make it a bit of a holiday,’ he said. So come the next ‘Phoenix holiday week’ that August they planned to head south, first to Kent, before deciding to follow the coast road from Margate into Sussex. From there they proposed to take a previously planned route using Gerry’s new AA gazetteer. Meanwhile, Bart had managed to book the two of them in for bed and breakfast ahead of the journey with a view to ending up close to Beaumont village.
It so happened that the weather was unusually hot that particular August, and as the two hit Margate they headed for their hotel. In those days, remotely choosing accommodation was a hit and miss affair, for there were no web-sites or ‘Trip Advisor’ allowing one to make a decent choice. Unfortunately, it appeared they had pre-booked into a rather seedy establishment. For whilst looking at the place on their arrival, Barton should perhaps have realised when he received a greasy finger-marked letter of confirmation, roughly torn from an ink-stained writing pad, that it indicated a powerful portent.
They were to stay at the unimaginatively named ‘Seagull Hotel’ and very soon realised why it was so named. The whole of the front of the building was covered in sea-gull droppings and what is more, it wasn’t that much better inside. On entering, a middle-aged rather seedy looking landlady introduced herself as Mrs Werner. She looked as if she hadn’t washed for weeks and the whole place smelt of stale fish, dogs and cat-food. But as two young teenagers they didn’t much care for they were planning to spend most of the day on the beach and the evenings in the sea-front pubs.
Next morning, a truly uncomfortable night was followed by a greasy breakfast. After settling the bill Gerry and Barton packed their bags into the Austin and set off along the coast heading for Sandwich. Fortunately, this time the digs proved to be much more inviting; moreover, the town was historically interesting. Their small hotel was a large stone-built house of character. According to a plaque at the entrance, the property was perched on what had, some four hundred years earlier, been the bustling Sandwich quayside which, at that time, formed one of the major Tudor ‘Cinque Ports’. During the afternoon, the affable landlord took the young men outside onto a cobbled terrace at the rear of the house and together they looked across endless acres of green grazing grass dotted with cows beside which were fields of bright ripe corn. ‘From this point,’ he said, ‘Queen Elizabeth the First surveyed her fleet before the Spanish Armada.’ ‘But where’s the sea?’ was the astonished response from Barton. ‘Oh it’s a mile and a half away in that general direction,’ said our host, ‘It silted up over the years.’ The two looked each other with surprise, was almost hard to believe.
The journey next day took the travellers past Beachy Head where they stopped to peer over the cliff edge in order to admire the steep chalk cliff edge and the lighthouse miles below. Pressing further along their route by late afternoon they eventually arrived in Beaumont village and booked in at a caravan park on the outskirts which Barton had fortunately managed to locate. What they had failed to realise was that the popularity of the jazz festival would make it almost impossible for them to find overnight hotel accommodation close to Beaumont Abbey. As it happened, once on site they were allocated a comfortable, though small, caravan and the first thing on the agenda was to locate the camp shop in order to ensure a good supply bacon and eggs for next morning’s breakfast. Inside the van, on the wall, was the ubiquitous notice board covered with instructions. However one small flyer stood out informing the caravaners that a newly refurbished pub ‘The Beaumont Arms’ located in the local village, was to re-open that very evening. What’s more, a free pint of bitter waited all-comers to the opening ceremony at 6pm sharp. The invitation was, of course, totally irresistible to a couple of Yorkshiremen, consequently the agreed plan was for them to be there at 6pm sharp.
After having arrived early it was almost impossible to get into the pub for the crowds. Yorkshire can’t be the only county with the reputation for getting ‘summat for nowt’ they thought. Of course they might have realised that the whole area was infested with a pack of log-haired, hairy-arsed, beer swilling, trad-jazz enthusiasts who would be equally eager to start off the evening with a free chaser. Just as the brewery had intended when launching their broad-based publicity campaign, almost everyone in the area had headed to the pub for a complimentary pint. The lads did eventually get a drink but it was a disappointing beverage, tasting almost as if the landlord had under-ordered and, whilst in a panic, had resorted to watering his brew down. As it turned out it was weak, flat as a fart, tasted like licorice and what was worse for two northerners, had no trace of a bloody head. In addition, the chances of getting a pub meal there were by this time pretty slim unless customers were prepared to wait an hour and a half to be served. So eventually, after literally fighting their way out, Bart and Gerald wandered back to the caravan for a light supper.
Not wishing to use up their eggs or bacon it appeared they hadn’t much in stock. Fortunately earlier, they had bought a couple of Cornish pasties and so the two decided to warm them up in the small Calor-gas oven. Along with two sachets of brown sauce, lifted from the pub earlier, our campers tucked in whilst at the same time knocking back two small cans of the local cider. Tired, by ten o’clock they were in their beds remarking how terribly close the weather had become. ‘Looks as if we’re in for a big thunderstorm tonight Bart,’ said Gerry. It certainly was increasingly hard for them to sleep. At one point, Gerry got up and opened the side window very slightly for fear of being soaked when the rain came. During the night as it became hotter and hotter and quite stifling, the two of them threw off their respective bedclothes. How they managed to sleep at all was a mystery, but eventually it was light; it was morning.
Taking a look outside Barton looked at Gerry, who was rubbing his eyes. ‘Bloody Hell,’ he said ‘that was a warm night. I was in a sweat most of the time. But guess what, I didn’t hear any thunder and it hasn’t rained yet, even though it’s still muggy.’ Getting up and pulling on his shorts Bart decided to start the breakfast and after cracking eggs into the frying pan, he carefully placed the bacon on a tray to put in the oven. Reaching down he noticed that the oven door was half open with heat blasting out. ‘I see you’ve already lit the oven Gerry,’ he remarked, ‘That was smart thinking,’ ‘No’ came the reply, ‘I haven’t.’ The two lads looked at each other shaking their heads. ‘No bloody wonder it’s been so hot,’ they said, almost in unison, ‘the flaming oven’s been on all night!’
Although the jazz festival was crowded, the music lovers did managed to see most of the action, albeit from far off. The show cracked off with the Kenny Ball Jazzmen followed by Chris Barber doing a marvellous skiffle set with Lonnie Donegan. But after an hour or so the show was destined to come to an abrupt halt as the day’s events were to be suddenly brought to a close. Caught in the overspill festival lighting and silhouetted against the clear night sky, a group of drunken fans had appeared on the roof of the stately home. Having climbed up high, almost too far off to see, the revellers were obviously causing damage to the ancient fabric and at one point one of them pulled off a stone pinnacle and threw it down onto the parterre and topiary beds. The owner, Lord Montecute suddenly appeared on stage, closely followed by a police patrol. He proceeded to inform a noisy and disappointed audience that the Chief Inspector had ordered that the festival would have to be cancelled owning to excessive damage on the estate along with a number of serious drug related arrests. Disappointed, Gerry and Barton both decided to head home.
MICHAEL POWELL was born in Yorkshire in 1939. After a short career as a professional singer he spent thirty years as a university arts administrator. Married, with three children and grandchildren, he and his wife live in retirement in rural Cheshire,
Set in a fictitious region of Yorkshire, 'Dateless Articles - tales of Yorkshire wit, grit and feckless folk ' is a series of amusing anecdotes concerning a group of young hopefuls from the working-class city of 'Grimford' who climb out of their deprived backgrounds to life in the pleasant and sophisticated environs of the cathedral city of Melcaster. Book One is entitled 'Grimford Gleanings' with Book Two 'Melcaster Monologues' to follow.