Pansy parade

Pansy parade

Pansy parade

First published in Features The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

Frequent use of the word ‘bugger’ has led to its emancipation in the press and the column has made a huge contribution.

IF ever I’m awarded a doctorate, an eventuality the learned may consider improbable, it will be for a thesis on the emancipation of the word “bugger” – particularly in the popular press.

A familiar theme, we return to it following last week’s revelation of the Lord Chancellor’s correspondence exactly 50 years ago on what might and might not be considered acceptable on stage.

Admittedly they were talking about homosexuality. “We will allow the word ‘pansy’,” the Lord Chancellor decreed, “but not the word ‘bugger’.”

Over the past two decades, The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times, which share a database, have used “pansy” 168 times – mostly written by Ms Brigid Press, our esteemed gardening correspondent, who’s a very canny cricketer, too.

Pansy, in addition, has been the name of a twin lamb – the other was Daffodil – of a Limousin bull and of a Persian cat in Darlington which won, we said, the feline equivalent of Cruft’s.

Only once in those 20 years has the paper erred towards the effeminate – and that, of all things, in the report of a match between Hartlepool United and MK Dons in which Pool’s Antony Sweeney had been sent off for an alleged assault on Izail McLeod.

McLeod, said our somewhat partisan reporter, had “acted like a pansy”

– and not just, presumably, because he’d wilted in the heat of battle.

These columns have used the word but twice, on each occasion a reference to a post-war Beano character called Pansy Potter – but subtitled “The Strongman’s Daughter” and so probably not that way at all.

THERE are limits, even so – like when a promotions girl outside Fenwick’s in Newcastle on Saturday shoved into my hand a bag carrying several examples of what might best be described as male toiletries.

Shildon lads have no need of such stuff. Within 50 yards it was joining a great many more in the bin.

IN the same 20-year period the Echo’s database records the b-word 308 times in print – mostly, unsurprisingly, by me.

Its rehabilitation is ongoing. As recently as last Tuesday, England cricketer Paul Collingwood offered the opinion “Bugger it” on the sports pages without so much as a raised eyebrow. A few months earlier we’d reported the on-line reaction to the death of a teenager in a road accident.

“You’ve made me cry every day, you bugger,” said one message, utterly affectionately.

Except among strict puritans, the emancipation appears complete. As for dissenters, blow them.

LAST week’s column took the road through Cabin Gate, outside Bishop Auckland, wondered how the area came by its name and supposed it to have been a toll point.

Quite right, says Cliff Howe in Billingham. Cabin Gate was one of a series of tolls on the Bowes to Sunderland Bridge (Croxdale) turnpike – a horse cost a penny ha’penny, a coach-and-six 1/4d.

To the west there were tolls at Dunhouse, near Staindrop, Keverstone, Sun Gate and Evenwood. To the east at Coundon Gate, Westerton and Sunderland Bridge, where the road met the Darlington to Durham turnpike, the Great North Road. The tolls were effectively put out to franchise, many held by Bishop Auckland solicitor John Proud, a familiar name for generations.

Cliff’s picture shows Cabin Gate – the cabin, if not the gate – in the mid- 19th Century.

ALL this began, and runs still, with bus stops – like Shildon Hippodrome or Grove Hill Palladium – which still keep the name of commercial premises long disappeared.

Cliff Howe recalls that in his Coundon youth they simply asked for Walter Willson’s – then a familiar North-East grocery store chain – though they may not any more.

Perhaps the best example to date comes from Ken Orton in Ferryhill Station who recalls that in his childhood in Thornley, east Durham, they’d take the bus – “though not very often, we usually walked” – to Vincent’s Corner in nearby Wheatley Hill. Vincent’s Corner was named after a shop. Way back in 1931, G&B Motor Services were running regular services from there – twopence to Halfway House, threepence to Cassop, fourpence to Quarrington Hill and a shilling (1/10d return) to Bishop Auckland.

The Arriva website, like the parent company from time to time, has been playing silly beggars. Memory suggests, however, that Vincent’s Corner remains in the timetable, though these days the fare may be a bit more than twopence.

WHAT of Walter Willson’s, once on every North-East high street, known simply as Walter’s, run by men in long white pinnies, aromatic with the smell of yeast and of dried fruit but now seemingly swept beneath the counter of history?

What, too, of Thompson’s Red Stamp Stores? What of Gallons, however relatively pint-sized?

Not even the internet, its trolley overflowing, appears to offer much on Walter himself, though clearly he was an entrepreneur. A notice outside the Shildon shop, memory further insists, claimed that it was the first branch to open after the founding store in Newcastle.

A website recalling Walter Willson’s shop in South Moor, near Stanley, claims that in the 1920s the company had more than 1,000 employees, a turnover of £20m and lots of little conical bags in which almost everything was sold.

We’d welcome more information. If no one’s ever written it, there must be a book on Walter Willson’s.

EVEN the kids got in on the act, a whole generation able to recall the question about the number of w’s in “Walter Willson’s windows want washing with warm water.” Not all, of course, might be able to recall the answer.

AMOS Hinton’s may have had a similar pedigree, and no relation.

Old Amos had served his time both on Teesside and in London, took over his first shop in South Street, Middlesbrough, in 1871.

By the time of his death in 1919 the company had seven stores on Teesside – all open until 9pm on Fridays, midnight on Saturdays and without, says one of the websites, “gimmicks or humbuggery”. No gimmicks, anyway.

Other family members spread the reach, opening in Bondgate, Darlington, in 1922 – premises which in 1954 became Hinton’s first self-service supermarket.

The company’s 55 stores, plus its 30 Winterschladen off-licences, were sold to the Argyll Group in 1984. Hinton’s stores were rebranded as Presto two years later. Famous Amos was no more.

FULL circle, John Briggs in Darlington reports that Tesco is to change the “Ten items or less” notice at its fast-track checkouts after complaints from the Plain English Campaign.

As anyone in Geoff Hill’s class at Bishop Grammar could have told them, “less” relates to size and “fewer” to quantity.

Perhaps unable fully to appreciate the point, Tesco will change to “Up to ten items” instead.


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