Bush tucker

IN THEIR PRIME: Elizabeth Alington and former Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home

IN THEIR PRIME: Elizabeth Alington and former Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home

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

A rendezvous among the rhododendrons and shenanigans in the shrubbery, this week the column retells a doomed love story

THE late Cyril Argentine Alington, headmaster of Eton and subsequently Dean of Durham, was also an accomplished hymn writer and a cricket lover, said seldom to process down the centre aisle of his great cathedral without wondering if it would take spin.

We mentioned as much in last week’s John North column and it’s from there – usual fee – that the remarkable story of the Dean’s daughter, the celebrated broadcaster and the incident in the rhododendron bushes is transferred.

It comes from Pat Woodward, also in Durham, and most remarkably of all, it appears to be true.

The young lady was Elizabeth Hester Alington, the gentleman Brian Alexander Johnston, an Eton student set to become the enduring voice of Test Match Special – a national treasure called Johnners.

Elizabeth and young Johnston were engaged to be married – or at least, says Pat Woodward, Johnston believed them to be.

It was during the engagement party, at any rate, that a school sneak – as Pat describes the wretch – scuttled off to the head’s study with tales of shenanigans in the shrubbery.

Alington was unamused. “Come out of there, Elizabeth, you can do better than that,” he is reported – somewhat ambiguously – to have observed.

Elizabeth duly emerged and, though it is a matter of opinion, may even have done better. In 1936 at Durham Cathedral she married Alec Douglas Home, another old Etonian, who not only became Prime Minister but the only one to have played firstclass cricket.

THERE is no doubt that Miss Alington and Master Johnston were betrothed. It says as much on the Number 10 website. The tryst in the rhododendron bushes, says Pat, was included in one of Johnners’ many books. It’s also been mentioned in at least one of the heavier newspapers.

Elizabeth Douglas Home proved a tireless hostess and of “invaluable assistance and support to her husband while he was Prime Minister,”

says the Number 10 website.

“It is alleged,” adds the website, “that on one occasion she had to remind her husband of the country he was visiting during a foreign tour.”

After her death in 1990, the then Lord Home is reckoned to have been lost without her.

Johnston married Pauline Tozer in 1948, when he was 35, and fathered five children. He died in January 1994. Summers, said Sir John Major – another Conservative party Prime Minister – would never be the same without him.

Like the problem of whether the Durham Cathedral aisle takes spin, how the turn of history might itself have changed but for the school sneak and the shrubbery must remain entirely a matter of conjecture.

AMONG much else for which Brian Johnston became famous was his fondness for what are known as corespondent shoes, a rare example of black and white humour and an apparent reference to the divorce courts.

Sole practitioner, we’d examined the etymology a couple of years back after a day in the company of Mr Vince Johnson, a Shildon lad who – on his feet – wears little else.

Vince had been unperturbed by an on-line definition of co-respondent shoes as “those worn by philanderers”, sidestepping it with – it might be said – Johnson’s polish.

“Philandery?” he said. “I’ve never collected stamps in my life.”

LAST week’s John North column also said that Alington wrote detective stories. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” writes Bill McInnes from Bishop Auckland, “but wasn’t that his wife?”

According to his Wikipedia entry, Alington wrote more than 50 books.

Works of fiction included both Archdeacons Afloat and Archdeacons Ashore, The Nabob’s Jewel and Crime on the Kennet.

He also wrote Can We Believe in God? – but that’s another story.

ALL this had begun with a Church Times story two weeks ago about hymns and their writers with a Durham connection. It was headlined “Durham’s glories”.

Beneath the headline “Medieval, magnificent”, this week’s edition is again in the city.

A column by Ms Natalie Watson recommends, as well she might, the “unforgettable first impression”

from Durham railway station.

“Another breathtaking view is from the exercise yard of HM Prison Durham,” she adds, “though no photography is allowed there.”

Bang to rights? How on earth does she know?

HOW many times has dear old Johnners suggested on Test Match Special that it was looking black over Bill’s mother’s?

How many times over the years have these columns wondered who Bill might have been, and why things seemed so gloomy over towards his mum’s?

Though the phrase appears etymologically impenetrable, the local favourite has always been the Kingsway football and cricket ground in Bishop Auckland, overlooked by a Victorian villa called Dellwood and former home of respected solicitor, coroner and sportsman Bill Proud.

It was from over that way, as they say in those parts, that the weather used to come.

Many other locations demanded equal Billing. Celebrated etymologist Nigel Rees once reported “a goodly number of claims” from those not just on first name terms with old Bill but with his mother, too.

It’s by fair-weather coincidence – and with thanks to the observant Stan Johnson in Darlington – that the gloomy forecast is again aired in this week’s Radio Times.

Susie Dent, described as the Countdown lexicographer, supposes it to be a Midlands expression, dating back to at least the 1920s.

The most plausible theory, she says, is that the Bill in question is William Shakespeare, Stratfordupon- Avon lad made good.

“If black clouds are seen over that area – his birthplace and his mother’s home – then its likely that the prevailing south-westerly winds will push rain towards the east Midlands,”

she concludes.

Maternal if not meteorological instinct, the lady could well be right.

HIS email headed “Defence all at sea”, Roger Dent draws attention to our report last Wednesday of Manchester United’s Champions league defeat – “United left to do a spot of naval gazing over the winter months”.

Perhaps the players weren’t as fleet footed as they should have been, says Roger.

Still, there are others in the same boat. Maurice Heslop in Billingham passes on a Hartlepool Mail report about a nasty attack by a recovering drug addict who, it was said, had been bearing his teeth.

“Unfortunately,” adds Maurice, “it didn’t say in which hand.”

...and finally, last week’s pun-andgames column included the one about Mahatma Gandhi, playing the “Supercally-fragilistic” line.

Jon Smith from Barningham, near Barnard Castle, reckons he prefers the version – one of Dennis Norden’s, he thinks – about the husband sent to the supermarket for supplies.

He needs a can of mulligatawny, some veg, a spare bulb for the fridge, some elastic bands, eggs, ingredients for a Spanish meal, cash from the bank and a pair of gardening scissors. The list reads:

A cauli

It went down well, says Jon, on My Word 30 years ago.


Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree