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Tuesday, 31 July 2018


I swear to you that this is a true story, albeit embellished for entertainment value.  It happened in my presence and it illustrates that even after three decades of dealing with customers, there is always one to surprise you.  Here goes.

One day, in the phase of my career when I was a hypermarket general manager in the Midlands, I took a call from a Mrs. Parker (name changed to protect the insane).
“I’m really upset,” she began, positioning herself on the front foot and me on the defensive back foot.
“Oh, I’m sorry.  Please tell me about it and I’ll do everything I can to put things right.”
“I don’t know where to begin”, she replied with a slight choke in her voice and, I envisioned, a tremble on the lower lip.

“Why not start at the beginning?  It’s a very good place to start”, I suggested without the slightest hint of sarcasm, even though Julie Andrews was singing the do-re-mi song in the back of my head.

“Well, I do all the catering at home for my husband’s business clients.  We have dinners and he discusses things with them while I play host, do all the cooking and ensure everyone has a great time, and, of course, hopefully help my husband to agree some deals.”

“I see,” I said, silently slurping up the milk skin from the top of my coffee.

“Last week,” she continued, “I spent a lot of time working out the menu and I decided to start the meal with avocado pears, prawns and a light vinaigrette dressing.  So, as usual for my supplies I came to your store to do my shopping.  I picked up two avocado pears, did the rest of my shopping and went home.  The next day, the day of the business dinner, I prepared the avocadoes and on cutting the two of them open I noticed they were not pure green. They were mottled brown.  I was horrified, with two hours to go until my husband arrived with his clients.  What was I to do?  The whole evening was about to be ruined.  My husband always insisted on three courses, starter, main and dessert and then on to coffee, brandy and cigars.  But I had no starter.  It was catastrophic.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  I could feel my nerves begin to jangle.  I was in pieces.”

“I’m so sorry to hear this,” I breezed in, thinking quietly that Mrs. Parker could have opened a tin of soup.  “So how did the evening go”, I ventured, realising that as soon as I asked, I risked the wrath of an answer similar to that experienced by a dark humourist who enquired of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln: “Apart from that, First Lady, did you enjoy the play?”

“How did you think it went?” blasted sparky Mrs. Parker, “it was a bloody disaster.  My confidence in the kitchen and as a dinner party host is shattered.  What are you going to do about it?”

“Well,” I began, not really knowing how to proceed and looking around the office for any object that would inspire me to resolve this tricky complaint.  I saw the stapler but, instead of screaming out a message of hope and reconciliation, all it did was encourage a thought my mental airspace to consider ramming my hand down the telephone to clamp Mrs. Parker’s lips together.  It seemed a great idea, but like most great ideas, impossible without much more time, money, research and determination.

“Well, first of all I am very sorry to hear about your troubled evening.  It is certainly never our intention here to upset customers.  I know from what you told me that the avocado pears looked perfectly fine from the outside, although I appreciate your disappointment when you opened them up.  Perhaps you can help me.  What would you like me to do for you?”

I would like to take a moment to give you a short history lesson, in the interests of context, about the avocado and attempt to illustrate how this inanimate object can ruin a supermarket manager’s day.  For the record, the avocado pear, also known as the alligator pear, was introduced to the USA in the 19thcentury in Fallbrook, California.  It is a town of approximately 29,000 citizens and calls itself the avocado capital of the world.  It hosts an annual avocado festival every spring when the good folks of the planet Avocado presumably descend for a feast fit for a Martian.  The pears come from trees that grow to about 65 feet and each tree yields 120 pears per year.  Each pear can be anything from 7cm to 20cm long and weigh between 100g and 1000g.  The pears are relatively cheap to produce and to buy, which is why I shudder at the thought of how I resolved Mrs. Parker’s complaint.

“I have calculated that each dinner party costs £75 and I will be happy if you compensate me that amount for the disaster.”  Mrs. Parker sounded aggressive and committed to her tactics.  I wondered, fleetingly, if she ever considered running a political party or a training school for nightclub bouncers.

“Oh,” I reacted, sounding faintly like an Alan Carr impersonator, “that’s a lot of money for a couple of pears.”

“It’s not about a couple of pears,” she erupted, with backing vocals and harmonies from her band mates Etna and Vesuvius, “ it’s about my confidence, my blood pressure, my husband’s business, my marriage, my, my, my trust in humanity.”

To cut this long story short, Mrs. Parker and I agreed on the £75 and I filed away a lesson for life, that a couple of insignificant, crinkly green fruits can have so much impact on a life.  It worked out at £37.50 per pear and pro rata. On the plus side, I had saved two loving souls from destroying each other and their livelihood, I had won back the trust of a disgruntled customer and I had developed an aversion to avocado pears for the rest of my life.

Monday, 30 July 2018


(A few more pics at the end.....)

Television comedy is a funny old game, except that sometimes it isn’t. The most successful shows are the ones that leave you with memorable moments and no matter how many times you see or hear something, it is as fresh as the day you first saw and heard it. Terry and June was one of the most popular comedy shows starring Terry Scott and June Whitfield. In all of their sixty or so episodes, I cannot remember anything funny, no catchphrase, no stunt, nothing. It was a popular show, so it must have amused a sizeable audience. On The Buses was a clumsy, er, vehicle for Reg Varney and apart from Inspector Blake saying ‘I ‘ate you Butler’, it has not left a lasting impression. But, again, at over seventy episodes, TV bosses had faith in it. These are only two examples of forgettable shows but they are part of a long list of efforts now consigned to television comedy history’s dustbin.

But, thankfully, there is still much fondness around for moments that we relive or see again in repeats, that make us laugh, even though we know what’s coming. We mimic, we mouth and occasionally, if you are like me, we say the words out loud in tandem with the characters. Victor Meldrew’s seething ‘I don’t believe it’, still raises a laugh, as does Harold Steptoe’s ‘You dirty old man’. Further back, when Oliver Hardy berates Stan Laurel with a withering ‘Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into’, it hits the funny bone every time. Tony Hancock saying ‘dear, oh dear, oh dear’ is just plain funny. Del Boy falling through the counter in a wine bar never fails and we wait for him to chastise Rodney with his greatest put down: ‘What a 42-carat plonker you really are.’ It is always a treat see see Morecambe and Wise annoying maestro Andre Previn. ‘I’m playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.’ Basil Fawlty beating up his Mini is comedy gold. There are many more fine examples.

But, the all-time champion of television comedy, the one that occupies the highest pedestal, is the one that has given us gems like ‘we’re doomed’, ‘don’t panic’, stupid boy’, ‘do you think that’s wise, sir?’, ‘put that light out’ and ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’. It is the one where a German officer takes offence at a remark from a young British upstart. ‘Vot is your name?’ Quick as a flash the upstart’s captain responds: ‘Don’t tell him, Pike.’ Sheer brilliance.

Fifty years ago, at 8.20 pm on 31 July 1968, after an episode of the popular western series The Virginian, a pilot episode of a new situation comedy was shown on BBC1. It was an unusual set-up, not a cosy family farce of excitable children and exasperated parents as was much of the usual comedy output at the time, or a light rom-com about relationships. This was very different in that a bunch of characters combined to form a wartime Local Defence Volunteer (Home Guard) unit, nicknamed Dad’s Army, shakily drawn together to defend the coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea. The job of the ‘army’ was to be on the alert for a possible German invasion across the English Channel, a real threat at the time of Dunkirk. The comedy twist was that most of the individual characters were inept and had little idea of what actual war was really like.

Dad’s Army was created and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft and was loosely based on Perry’s wartime experiences. The first script was sent to the BBC and after improvements and name changes, a series was commissioned. No one had ever seen a television comedy quite like it. The Man and the Hour introduced us to the motley crew comprising the pompous Captain George Mainwaring, the fey and wispy but not altogether daft Sergeant Arthur Wilson, the excitable, panicky Corporal Jack Jones, the dour and gloomy Private James Frazer, the wily, fast-talking spiv Private Joe Walker, the bumbling, weak-bladdered Private Charles Godfrey and the young, naïve Private Frank Pike. 

Characterisation and script were vitally important but even more challenging was the selection of actors who could bring it all to life and laughs. I have included the actors’ ages at the time because it highlights that not all were actually that old at the beginning of Dad’s Army. But, over time, we grew to view most of them as old codgers, such was their performance talent.

Arthur Lowe, 53, a veteran of theatre and television, including nearly two-hundred episodes as Leonard Swindley, the boss of a clothing business in Coronation Street, landed the role of Mainwaring. No one knew at the time but we all know now that he and his co-stars were perfect casting. The equally experienced John Le Mesurier, 56, played Wilson. He had played dramatic as well as comedy roles and had made many guest appearances in television shows. Clive Dunn, 48, was Jones. During his Dad’s Army years, he had a number one chart single with Grandad. John Laurie, 71, was Frazer. In 1935, he had played a spooky crofter in The 39 Steps. James Beck, 39, was Walker. He had a CV of small screen bit parts. Arnold Ridley, 72, was Godfrey. He was also a playwright with around a dozen plays to his name. His most famous one, The Ghost Train, is still a regular favourite in UK theatres. Ian Lavender, 22, was Pike. He was a young actor cutting his teeth in small television roles. Later in life, he joined the cast of Eastenders.There was excellent support from Bill Pertwee as Chief Warden Hodges. It was unmissable television. It still is. Dad’s Army’s original eighty episodes ran from 1968 to 1977. All of the main players featured in every episode, except James Beck as Private Walker who died at 44 in 1973.

Dad’s Army, the feature film,arrived in 1971, and it held onto all the charm and buffoonery of the small screen version, all the characters we had now grown to love were on fine form. Mainwaring to Wilson: ‘Just a minute Wilson. I intend to mould those men out there into an aggressive fighting force and I'm not going to get very far if you keep inviting them to "step this way" in that nancy voice.’ Mainwaring to Hodges: ‘We’re the Local Defence Volunteers and I’m their appointed commander and I must ask you you keep your hands off my privates.’ Tee-hee. The script, the timing, the facial expressions, the ridiculous situations, all combined beautifully. Unlike the dire remake in 2016. 

Someone should have twigged that it was a dreadful idea to take perfection and mess with it. The casting (and this is a man of the older generation speaking) was at best haphazard. The original actors are etched into my memory. So cinemagoers like me had to endure Toby Jones as Mainwaring, Bill Nighy playing Bill Nighy (for that is his forte) playing Sergeant Wilson, Michael Gambon just wrong as Godfrey, with Tom Courtenay as Jones and Bill Paterson as Frazer, both awkward and ill-cast. Catherine Zeta-Jones’s glamorous German spy and the storyline were okay up to a point but the biggest failing of all was the absence of the thing that made the original series so good – the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard was hopeless and couldn’t defend a rice pudding. The comedy was in their collective ineptness. The introduction of a Mum’s Army in the remake was an unnecessary nod to modern times. The beach gun and grenade battle at the end was not in keeping with the show's original premise. In spite of the immensely talented cast, the film was a dud.

But, forget about that movie and rejoice that the BBC continues to show Dad’s Army from time to time. Fifty years on, the looks of contempt on Arthur Lowe’s face, the quirks of the other characters, the daft exploits, the sight of Jones’s chugging butcher’s van, his slipping of an extra sausage to a lady friend, the sound of Bud Flanagan’s opening song, all the aforementioned catchphrases, the marching troop during the end credits: ‘You have been watching…..’  it all adds up to television’s best comedy show bar none.

The exterior scenes for the show were shot in and around the market town of Thetford in Norfolk. A few years ago I visited the Dad’s Army Museum there. It is run by volunteers. Part of the museum’s charm is a reconstruction of Captain Mainwaring’s church hall office and I had a chance to sit there, don a military cap and pretend to be the old curmudgeon, not a great leap according to some of my family members.

In Thetford, as a great and deserving tribute, there is a wonderful statue of Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring.

So, in the spirit of John Le Mesurier’s Wilson, I ask you if you would mind awfully stepping this way to salute the timeless, the wondrous, the hilarious Dad’s Army.


I have a great sense of humour. I have moody moments too but, when on form, I can whip out a witty one-liner and slay the room, as they say in Las Vegas. I have no precise idea where it came from but I would hazard a guess that the humour seeds were sewn by reading comics when I was young. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven that I read my first grown-up novel which happened to be the western Shane by Jack Schaefer. Comics are responsible for igniting my young imagination and making me laugh out loud.

We were a household of seven children, four boys and three girls. We had comics delivered every week, usually the Bunty for the girls, the Valiant or Hotspur for the boys and the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and Beano for all of us. Of the last three titles, my favourite was the Beano. It seemed to have better characters and be more colourful than the others. But I loved all of them including the Bunty, launched in 1958, which featured The Four Marys, tales of life at St Elmo’s boarding school. I don’t know why. It just caught my interest.

Valiant was a bit more macho for boys and it boasted heroes like Captain “ragin’ fury” Hurricane and Kelly’s Eye in which the eponymous character became invincible by wearing a Mayan jewel around his neck. It was rugged, action stuff and it certainly did stir my  imagination. The Hotspur, eventually incorporated into another comic called the Victor, was okay. The most memorable character was The Wolf of Kabul, a British intelligence caper. The hero was Bill Sampson who carried just two knives on his person, no firearms, and his Oriental sidekick, Chung, who favoured a cricket bat (“clicky ba”) as his weapon.

But away from the rough and tumble of derring-do, much lighter entertainment was provided by the the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and Beano. The Dandy was almost as good as the Beano. It was launched in 1937. It starred Desperate Dan, a big fella with a bristled chin, who gained his strength and considerable bulk from consuming vast quantities of “cow pie”, a strange looking dish that had two horns sticking out of the crust. The other star of the Dandy was Korky the Cat who had human characteristics and, bizarrely, was accepted by human beings as perfectly normal.

The Topper first appeared in 1953 and it featured Beryl the Peril, Mickey the Monkey and Sir Laughalot. There was also a strip called Dopey Joe! The Topper eventually merged with The Beezer. The Beezer’s first issue appeared in 1956. It featured Pop, Dick and Harry, Mick on the Moon, Nosey Parker and Hornet Wilson and His Educated Insects. But my favourite was “the short-sighted gink”, Colonel Blink, a walking disaster with no idea where he was going or his whereabouts at any given moment.

By the way, all but one of the comics mentioned came from Dundee-based D. C. Thompson.  Valiant was an IPC product.

But, it’s hats off in 2018, to celebrate the best of the bunch, The Beano, first published on 30 July, 1938, is 80-years-old. I have a copy of the first issue in front of me. (Thanks to my sister, Mary. X) Sadly, it is not an original but it is a good enough illustration of the kind of printed children’s entertainment of the time. No. 1 contained a free gift – a whoopee mask which was basically a strip of cardboard with two eye holes, a nose arch and two loops of elastic to attach to the ears. The cover price was 2d. No. 2 promised “a packet of sugar button sweets FREE”. 

Now, in this modern era of increasing political correctness, ultra-sensitivity to almost everything and retrospective apoplexy, there are some images, text and story plots that would make some people recoil in horror, but this is the way it was in 1938. The cover features a drawing of a young black boy in dungarees eating a slice of melon. Why? I have no idea. Someone seemed to think of this image as a mascot. It might have had some connection to the British Empire but it’s hard to think that through to a sensible conclusion. The cover strip featured Big Eggo, a daft ostrich who sits on what he thinks is his egg only to find out with a mighty nip that he had helped hatch a baby crocodile.

Inside, we find Here Comes Ping, a boasting “Elastic Man”, with the storyline: “The crowd tied poor Ping in a knot, to prove he wasn’t talking rot”. Next up was Brave Captain Kipper and an encounter with a whale. But on page three, there was the very first appearance of Lord (Marmaduke) Snooty and His Pals – Rosie, Hairpin Huggins, Skinny Lizzie, Scrapper Smith, Happy Hutton and Gertie the Goat. The premise was that aristocratic Snooty preferred the company of, for want of a better phrase, ordinary people. He had little time for snobby Algernon, Percival and Vernon. The first story was all about a birthday party that went wrong. Even now, I found it quite amusing. Lord Snooty and his Pals lasted longer than any other strip in the Beano.

Then it was a more serious Morgyn the Mighty, The Strongest Man in the World, fighting a giant eagle and wrestling with a shark. “The strong man had won battles in the air and in the sea.” Readers were told that he could make good of the skin and the flesh of the shark. It is assumed the eagle got away with a punch to the beak. 

There was a pause in the illustrated strips for The Adventures of Tom Thumb, a two-page story of a mischievous tiny person. “Except for his size, Tom was just like an ordinary little boy. His tiny body was perfectly shaped. He had sturdy little arms and legs, and he looked a proper little dandy in his bright-coloured doublet.” The story was of a wood-cutter, Tom’s normal-sized father, having a spot of bother with boar hunter Jasper, the son of the Black Baron. Tom Thumb saves the day. The trailer for the next story: “Next Tuesday, Tom Thumb in a fight with a great big rat.” They omitted to add: ”But don’t have nightmares, kids.”

Wee Peem, :”He’s a Proper Scream”, played practical jokes on people; Little Dead-Eye Dick – “He’s a fun-man with a gun-man” – walked around dressed as a cowboy and toting a loaded pistol; Hairy Dan competed in a boat race and used his extra-long beard as a sail to give him an advantage; Whoopee Hank, The Slap-Dash Sheriff – “Star on his Shirt, slugs in his gun, laugh at the Sheriff, he’s chock-full of fun” – foiled some bank robbers; Cracker Jack, The Wonder Whip Man sorted out a bunch of gun-blasting gangsters with his “30-foot lash”; Hooky’s Magic Bowler Hat was a take on genie and lamp stories. This was about Hooky Higgs who is given a bowler hat and suddenly out pops wispy Mikki, “the slave of the magic bowler hat. I will do anything you ask”. The story was about a charging bull and an instant suit of Hookey-sized armour. 

Other characters included Contrary Mary, a clever donkey; Smiler the Sweeper, a canny labourer in dungarees; Helpful Henry who actually is unhelpful; Rip Van Wink coming to terms with the modern (1938) world after a long seven-hundred-year sleep; Uncle Windbag, a tall-tale teller who gets his comeuppance; and Tin-Can Tommy, The Clockwork Boy about an inventor father who mourns his dead son and decides to build himself a metal replacement. Yes, really. Finally, a strip called Big Fat Joe – “He hasn’t been weighed since the age of three, the weighing machine always broke you see.” In the story, Big Fat Joe plunged into a swimming pool and soaked a bullying busy-body.

The first issue of The Beano was a curious mixture indeed. It contained some quite funny slapstick comedy with reasonably good fiction and it is easy to appreciate its appeal eighty years ago. Some of the jokes are corny and some just fall flat but no one can deny the variety of material on offer. There is enough between the covers to make young readers laugh as well as think. The illustrations ranged from the basic to the quite stylish. The stories, written by adults for young readers, make up a menu of oddities. Cheeky characters, scammers, criminals, gunslingers, adventure heroes all featured.

Over the years, the comic found its feet and most of the original characters faded away to allow room to introduce the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher his dog, Minnie the Minx, Pansy Potter, Roger the Dodger, Billy Whizz and many more. It was always a treat to get the weekly comics but Christmas was never Christmas without annuals. They looked brilliant and the smelt gorgeous with that freshly printed ink aroma. The family rule was that no one could read anyone’s annual until the recipient had had first dibs. And woe betide anyone who broke the spine of another person’s annual.

If only my copy of the first Beano was the genuine article. In 2015, an original copy was sold at auction for £17,000. From two old pennies to seventeen grand in just under eighty years is some going. But, putting my financial disappointment to one side, the entertainment and education provided by the comic, and the imagination it stirred make it priceless and a significant player in my early life. Thank you, Beano, from Joe, not quite as big and fat as your guy.

Thursday, 26 July 2018



Here are ideas for July/August features. Some of them may be in your diary already. Some of them may be added to your diary after reading this. Some features may be written by in-house journalists. But maybe, just maybe, I can write something for you.

Let me know what you want, word count, deadline and fee and I will get to work. 

Here are some ideas and, if I can help, I look forward to hearing from you.


30 July - 80 years ago, The Beano comic was launched. In our house, we had the Bunty for the girls (although I was quite partial to it too), the Hotspur for the boys and the Beano, Dandy and Beezer for all of us. The extra treat was getting the annuals at Christmas. Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger and Billy Whizz. Brilliant stuff.

31 July - 50 years ago, the BBC aired the first episode of Dad's Army, as fresh and funny today as it was back then. The chemistry and comedy is so good that it could not be replicated, evidenced by the awful 2016 film version. Why has it kept its freshness and hilarity for half a century?


4 August – (Largely forgotten but interesting) Derry actor/director Noel Willman born 100 years ago

6 August – Andy Warhol would have been 90.

16 August – Madonna will be 60.

25 August – Richard Greene (the only Robin Hood) born 100 years ago. TV gold.

29 August – Michael Jackson would have been 60.

31 August – The first Carry On film, Carry on Sergeant, was released 60 years ago. It starred William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse and Kenneth Connor. In this age of thin-skinnery, what do we make of this series of films nowadays?

Friday, 20 July 2018


"Sometimes words can serve me well 
and sometimes words can go to hell......."

Harry Chapin - Story of a Life.

Monday, 16 July 2018

HARRY CHAPIN (7 DEC 1942 - 16 JULY 1981)

The great singer/songwriter Harry Chapin died at 38 on 16 July 1981. Not long after his death, I wrote this song.


You took me to some places
and not once did I say no
from the deck of a sinking ship
to some local radio
you took me higher than an eagle
and you never let me down
you taught me simple lessons
of a world a-spinning round

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
it's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

You made my dreams a little sweeter
and my smile a little wide
you made me laugh a little louder
and cry deep down inside
you took me by the hand
and you told your stories well
when the world stopped turning
there was still much more to tell 

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
it's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

Sunday, 15 July 2018


Here are 10 books that have entertained and/or enlightened and/or educated me in the first half of 2018. (They are not all 2018 publications.)

How To Be A Poet
by Jo Bell and Jane Commane
Nine Arches Press

A Bientôt
by Roger Moore
Michael O'Mara Books

Two Plays
The Kings of the Kilburn High Road;
Brothers of the Brush
by Jimmy Murphy
Oberon Books

English Street
by Damian Smyth
Templar Poetry

Midwinter Break
by Bernard McLaverty

And When Did You Last See Your Father?
by Blake Morrison

Bringing In The Sheaves
by The Reverend Richard Coles
Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Going On The Turn
by Danny Baker
Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Logical Family
by Armistead Maupin

Unreasonable Behaviour
by Don McCullin
Jonathan Cape


Just like Richard Kimble, a name change,
the Belfast family unaware
until July nineteen-eighty-two,
thirty-six years ago, mystery
almost solved, but always one more thing,
lingering like Columbo's smoke ring,
one more scratch to the head, one more rub
of the chin, figuring it all out,
twenty-two years 'on the run', Kelly,
the fugitive, last address, Clapham.

Thursday, 12 July 2018


Forty-four years ago, 17 July 1974, Don Rich, guitarist, fiddler and Buck Owens's sidekick, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was 32.

Owens and Rich struck up a friendship in the late 1950s, and in 1960 Rich joined the band and became a Buckaroo. They toured, built up a solid fan base, enjoyed hit records including a host of number one country singles and made many television appearances throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.

Here's a taste of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos:

YouTube link to Buck's Polka 

YouTube link to Tiger By The Tail 

YouTube link to Act Naturally 

YouTube link to Don's instrumental 

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos had a very distinctive look with their colourful rhinestone suits and a very distinctive Bakersfield sound. There was no country band quite like them.

On 17 July 1974, after a day at the Bakersfield studio, Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident as he was riding to join his family for a holiday. He was 32.

Buck Owens was devastated and it took many years before he said much in public about the accident and the loss of Don Rich: "He was like a brother, a son and a best friend. Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the lightning and thunder is gone forever."

Donald Eugene Rich 15 August 1941 - 17 July 1974

Saturday, 7 July 2018


By pure coincidence, I landed at George Best City Airport, Belfast on Tuesday morning. As I headed towards the exit, my phone rang. It was a BBC contact asking if I knew about the Stephen Boyd commemorative plaque planned to be unveiled the next day. I said I wasn't aware of it. I was invited onto Radio Ulster's Talkback with presenter William Crawley, film expert Brian Henry Martin and Ulster History Circle's Maud Hamill to talk about the Ulster-born star of The Man Who Never Was, Ben Hur, The Fall of the Roman Empire and many more, a big movie star in the 1950s/1960s. It was a fun show to do but, sadly, I was unable to attend the unveiling. But, next best thing, my brother drove me out to the spot later on Wednesday afternoon. It is a splendid tribute to a largely forgotten man. The plaque will go some way to remind people that this wee lad from Glengormley/Whitehouse made it big in Hollywood.

I have had an interest in Stephen Boyd for many years because we both came from the same part of the world and I even attempted a biography a few years ago, allowing me to gather quite a lot of correspondence from his film associates.

But the most precious piece in my Stephen Boyd file is a letter from his wife, Elizabeth. I wrote to let her know that I was planning to write his life story. This was her reply:

“I do not feel any reason why you should not continue with your research for a proposed biography of my most beloved and talented husband Stephen Boyd.  I would, however, ask for your assurance that it will be done truthfully, in good taste and with the dignity he deserved.  I do not go along with the too often “dirty laundry sensationalism” literature that the bookshelves seem to be filled with these days.  

We were two very private people, devoted to each other and lived our lives very quietly away from the Hollywood scene.  I am still devastated and unreconciled that he was taken so suddenly, and it is very difficult not to keep asking “Why?”  He was so very special, and had so much talent left to give this troubled world.”

Stephen Boyd died on 2 June, 1977, following a heart attack while playing golf at the Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge, California. He was 45. He is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California. His wife outlived him for another thirty years and they are now buried together, the devoted couple resting in peace.

We should remember him for his achievements and, in a crazy industry, for being, as producer Euan Lloyd called him, “one of the nicest, kindest people I have met in my lifetime, rare in this profession.”

Hats off to the Ulster History Circle!

Friday, 6 July 2018


Happy birthday to Dame Mary Peters, 79 today.

Once in a now defunct department store – Anderson & McAuley - in Belfast, I was down on my hunkers, as they say, browsing through some bric-a-brac on the bottom shelf of a display stand.  Gradually, the light around me began to fade and an enveloping darkness cast a giant shadow over and around me.  “An eclipse in a department store?” I pondered for a moment. “They’ll believe in leprechauns before they believe this.” 

Slowly, I looked up from my crouching position only to see a formidable lady towering over me.  It was a David and Goliath moment only this Goliath was female and no less a sporting legend than Mary Peters, the Commonwealth and Olympic Games gold medal winner.  

Oblivious to this innocent shopper, she inched her way along the aisle, looking at stuff on the higher shelves and eventually ploughed into me, knocking me over with all the power of, erm, an Olympic athlete.  She looked down at me and said: “Are you alright?”  I looked back at this goddess of the games and said: “I’m so sorry.”  She smiled and said: “Don’t worry.”  With that she walked on and I was left in a confused state, knocked over by Mary Peters and wondering why apologised.  

The incident happened in the late 1970s and I still applaud her sporting achievements but if it had happened nowadays, think of the claim I could have made.  I could have sued her for at least one of those medals. Talk about Belfast and furious!

Happy birthday to a true champion.