Scotch missed

THATCHER THWARTED: Mrs T’s request for a whisky was turned down by Black & Decker boss David Fanthorpe, above

SWEET THINGS: Alan and Margaret Parker of the Carlbury Arms, at Piercebridge

First published in Features

The time the Iron Lady came to Spennymoor on Wobbly Thursday and Winston Churchill dropped in on Barnard Castle are both recalled in premier league publications.

THE day that the Iron Lady failed to get her way, or her whisky, is recalled in a thoroughly diverting autobiography landed lightly on the desk.

Winston Churchill makes today’s column, too, as does Sir Alec Douglas- Home, and all of them on visits to the North-East. Premier passions, it might almost be supposed.

The book’s by David Fanthorpe, a raggy-trousered Yorkshire lad who became European vice-president of Black & Decker, based at the company’s power tool plant in Spennymoor.

It was during the 1987 general election campaign that Mrs Thatcher made it known that she’d like to meet the workforce – Socialists, recalls Fanthorpe, almost to the last man.

The visit was intended as a surprise, attended by top security and maximum discretion. The SAS, Special Branch and several kennels of sniffer dogs turned up several days in advance.

“It was about as discreet as a pig in a synagogue,” observes the boss of bosses, with scant regard for political correctness.

On the eve of the visit, SAS again in action, a passing assembly shop girl observed that they were doing it all for the Prime Minister.

“You may say that, I couldn’t possibly comment,” said Fanthorpe. He was getting the hang of civil servicespeak, he supposes.

On the great day, everyone to attention, a call came from the embattled Battle Bus. Could they ensure that whisky awaited the party’s arrival?

Fanthorpe refused. It was an alcohol- free plant, breaches punished by instant dismissal. “My Presbyterian upbringing,” he tells the column.

Twice more the Prime Minister’s entourage rang. Twice more – “in no uncertain terms” – they were refused.

He’d also been warned that the attendant media would act more like rat pack than press pack, and so it proved. “Oh dear, oh dear,” he says, euphemistically. That’s his Presbyterian upbringing, too.

The factory tour went otherwise OK, Iron Lady unbending, Scotch missed.

It was only later that David Fanthorpe learned not only that the day had been tagged Wobbly Thursday because of a sudden dive in the opinion polls, but that Mrs Thatcher had been suffering from a raging toothache.

He is duly repentant. “I regretted that I hadn’t foregone my principles.

Sorry about the whisky, Lady Thatcher.”

SELF-styled cantankerous old bugger – “I’ve always been opinionated, loud and argumentative”

– David took early retirement in 1995, moving with his wife, Annie, to a large house and larger garden at Castle Eden in east Durham.

He’s now a parish councillor and school governor, travels, enjoys life, spends an awful lot of time getting his hands dirty. “It’s almost a cliché, but I’m one of those people who never realised how much time he didn’t have,” he says.

Irreverent, engaging and full of industrial insights, his autobiography – Little Tyke – is published by The Memoir Club, based at Langley Park, near Durham, at £14.95. There’ll be a proper review sometime soon.

WINNIE came to Barnard Castle on December 4, 1942, his visit to the military encamped all around the Teesdale town meant to be every bit as hugger- mugger as Margaret Thatcher’s to the power tool proletariat.

Barney railway station was growing accustomed to a veritable panoply of VIPs. Station master Percy Wright’s diaries have just come to light, published in the everexcellent newsletter of the Stainmore Railway Company.

Accompanied by his wife and daughter Mary, Churchill wore a lounge suit and a “radiant” smile, cigar inevitably clamped in his right hand.

The good folk of Barney proved like the shop floor girls at Spennymoor.

Somehow, the late station master supposes, word had got around.

“There were a few persons present to greet the Prime Minister, including county councillor CT Singer and councillor EW Boxall. The Prime Minister seemed quite pleased by it all.”

The newspapers were thin, the authorities censorious. No mention of Churchill’s visit, or much else that might remotely be considered good news, appeared in the following day’s Echo.

His return journey delayed by an hour for military reasons, Winnie bought himself a paper at the station refreshment rooms and settled back to catch up with the news.

Though it was he who famously observed that he had taken far more out of alcohol than alcohol ever took out of him, whisky wasn’t mentioned at all.

THE most private publishing of all, It Was Raining and It Was Friday – a short biography of our old friend George Romaine – has been published by his three sons to mark George’s 80th birthday next February.

George was a Shildon lad and still is, best remembered for more than 1,000 live appearances on The One O’Clock Show in the pioneering days of Tyne Tees Television, but now just singing in the bath.

The book, written by former TTT colleague David Dawson, recalls that even before independent television went on air in 1959, George could earn £12 a night singing between races at Spennymoor dogs. “It was wealth beyond his wildest dreams and made his electrician’s wages at Shildon wagon works look like pocket money.”

It was on the One O’Clock Show, however, that he really struck a chord. “George was probably the most popular man in the North- East,” legendary presenter Mike Neville recalls.

The most affable and agreeable of men, he worked the One O’clock shift for five years. “Every programme was different. It gobbled up material at a frightening rate,” David Dawson recalls.

When it ended, George turned down the chance to join the Ted Heath Band – not to be confused with the Conservative Party back benches – in order to stay with Tyne Tees as public relations executive, a capacity in which he hosted both Edward Heath and Sir Alec Douglas- Home when they appeared on the programme Turning Point.

Back home at The Hirsel, in the Scottish borders, Sir Alec discovered that some of his employees hadn’t been able to see the show and asked George if he could help.

“Certainly, we’ll hire the village hall and show them a recording,” he said at once – but Tyne Tees Television, like most of us, was very different back then.”

Come up and see my stretchings, sometime

BETWEEN platforms at Chester-le-Street station, I am abridged by Alex Nelson, nominal station master and railway entrepreneur. Alex offers an invitation to come up and see his stretchings.

The stretching – the point may be similarly elastic – is the first-ever poster-size map detailing each of Britain’s 2,517 stations, right down to that one in North Wales with the breathlessly long name.

It’s produced by Railroute, a consortium of which Alex’s company is part, so far in a limited edition of 500. “We resisted the temptation to put Chester-le-Street in bigger type,” he says.

Reading the small print reveals places like Golf Street and Sugar Loaf Halt, both said to have but a handful of passengers each year, though few may be quieter than Teesside Airport, served by one train a week in each direction.

On October 24, however – and October 24 simply has to be a Saturday – Alex hopes really to put the airport station on the map. They plan a “mass visitation” – 10.20 out of Darlington, 13.41 back, not too much option – which in one morning could double annual passenger figures. “We’ll probably have a tour of the industrial estate and a light lunch at the flying club,” he says, invited to suggest how more than three hours might fruitfully be spent at Teesside Airport.

Ready for take-off ? “You have to try,” adds Alex.

HER passing recorded in last week’s column, Alice Donaghy’s funeral overflowed Tow Law parish church on Monday, the primary school where she was chair of governors closed for the afternoon as a mark of the esteem in which she was held. To both pupils and teachers she was known as Mrs Alice, a nod to Deborah Kerr – or, at least, to Mrs Anna – in The King and I.

Alice had been born in Sunniside, a couple of miles along Windy Ridge, in January 1947. It was the start of the century’s worst winter, recalled by the Reverend Geoff Lawes. “Even in South Shields, where I lived, the snow was over the telegraph wires. It must have been worse in Tow Law; it’s always worse in Tow Law.”

The young Alice Fox was in at the very deep end. She didn’t get out of the house for three months. ALICE’S funeral was one of five church services this week – what I need is a curate – not including one at Durham Cathedral last Sunday at which the Bishop of Durham addressed a congregation of judges, lawyers and sundry other legal eagles.

The “overwhelming” temptation, said Dr Tom Wright, was to indulge in the regular pastime of lawyer jokes. The danger – “since lawyers are schooled in the art of appropriate redress” – was that there were an awful lot of vicar jokes, and bishop jokes, too.

Not quite able to resist temptation, he essayed the one about the difference between a consultant, a lawyer and a theologian. A consultant borrows your watch and tells you the time. A lawyer borrows your watch, tells you the time and keeps the watch as part-payment of the fee.

A theologian tells you the time and suggests you adjust your watch. It was time, said Bishop Tom, to adjust their watches.

Proof of the puddings

ON Tuesday evening, expectantly, we attended the inaugural meeting of the Pudding Club at the Carlbury Arms in Piercebridge, west of Darlington. Our old friend Dr Bob McManners was, sadly, unavailable.

Bob, recently retired Bishop Auckland GP, formed the Campaign for Real Authentic Puddings, and may indeed have been its only member. The bitter-sweet acronym may not need explaining.

If the haggis is the great chieftain of the pudding race, as the Scottish bard supposed, then some of these would have run it a pretty close second.

Piercebridge is a village of about 200 people with two pubs, Anglican and Methodist churches and a Roman fort at which the Time Team recently dug in.

The Carlbury has been run for the past year by Alan and Margaret Parker, who took over after the previous incumbents upped and left.

The Pudding Club, as the good doctor would have wished, seeks to promote carefully home-made desserts and not the proprietary pap which so often represents afters thoughts.

At the Carlbury, each of ten was carried triumphantly round the room, then presented to the company rather in the manner of a midwife handing over a new baby. There would have been 11, but the jam roly-poly had imploded, or whatever is the technical term on such occasions. The diversely learned Dr McManners would have known. As previously we have observed, he is a polymath.

The array included a glorious rhubarb and strawberry crumble, summer fruit pudding, sticky toffee pudding, raspberry torte and good old English trifle. Diners are encouraged to try the lot and then vote for their favourites, the top four of which will again be on offer at the following month’s meeting. The lady of this house supposed it a bit like Strictly Come Dancing.

The problem, if problem it be, is that first, and inclusively, there are main courses. Defaulters, backsliders and those with eyes/belly syndrome are cheerfully chided by Margaret Parker. “Lightweights,” she said, though the term may not have been appropriate.

The proof of the pudding would be getting out of bed the next morning.

■ The Carlbury Arms pudding club next meets on August 11. It costs £13.95 inclusive, bookings on 01325-374286.

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