ERNIE Brooks finally has his blue plaque, formally unveiled last rainy Sunday morning. Had the blue plaque been decked in red tape, it could hardly have been more appropriate.

Ernie, as previously we have noted, was the Spennymoor based aviation pioneer killed in 1969 when his single-seat gyrocopter – powered by a converted Volkswagen engine – crashed to earth at Teesside Airport. Cruising at 80mph, it had been talked of as the motor car of the air.

His nephew Trevor first built a replica of the Brookland Mosquito, then sought permission for a plaque outside the terraced house in Attwood Terrace, Tudhoe Colliery, where Ernie developed his dream in a workshop out the back.

“The council took it to a committee, then another committee,” Trevor recalled. “First they wanted more proof, then they said we needed planning permission then they said we didn’t. The people who now own the house have been brilliant, but it was as if the council was trying to stall us at every move. I’ve been on since March.”

Ernie had run a garage business at Bishop Middleham, near Ferryhill. Les Curtis, his first apprentice, was among Sunday’s guests, recalled that an earlier gyrocopter had also crashed. “It came back to the garage in bits and pieces. I spent 60 hours putting those rotor blades on and Ernie smashed them in five seconds. He’d built a glider, a red sport car, all sorts. Lovely man, whatever he did he always wanted to go faster.”

The plaque was unveiled by family friend Peter Campbell, whose idea it had been.

ALSO among Sunday’s guests was Steve Brooks, Trevor’s brother, who in 2001 won the UK’s strongest man contest and subsequently appeared on Ready Steady Cook – something about putting a chef on top of a Christmas tree.

“I still have the apron, I was the red tomato,” said Steve.

Power to his elbow, the strongman competition involved everything from lifting logs to pulling aeroplanes. “The most difficult was trying to pull a steam engine,” he recalled. “It took me a minute and 30 seconds to move it. I ended up in the ambulance, my heart rate 201. They told me I could have died.”

At his most muscular he stood 6ft tall, weighed 22 stones. “I was competing against men who were 7ft, weighed 30 stones. I was eating pasta and chicken seven or eight times a day and making myself thoroughly miserable.

“I broke my femur, tore cartilages, ripped all sorts of muscles from the bone, had lots of operations. In the end the doctor said it might be a good idea if I packed up.”

He later ran his own gym, at 54 now drives a pharmacy van, but with his wife still works out five times a week at the local leisure centre. They didn’t give up easily in the Brooks family, he said, and cast a glance across the room – “just ask our Trevor”.

TUDHOE featured in last week’s column, too – that splendid number plate TUD110E spotted thereabouts on an Audi. Perchance the lady owner was also at Sunday’s little jollification, Tudhoe Colliery born and bred but bought it from a chap down in Tudhoe Village – “the posh end,” she said. Just one quibble with last week’s report – “You said SH11DON would be worth a lot more. Nowhere’s worth more than Tudhoe.”

THE autumn issue of that splendid railway magazine Gresley Observer carries memories of the day almost exactly 60 years ago that Teesside finally got its direct service, steam hauled, to London.

It was November 2, 1959. The Tees-Thames left Saltburn at 7.05am, calling at Redcar East, Redcar Central, Middlesbrough, Thornaby, Eaglescliffe and York and arriving at Kings Cross at 12 28pm. The return left at 2pm.

“British Railways have at last provided what businessmen and others have long asked for,” wrote the Evening Gazette journalist enjoying a freebie – the Echo appears not to have been invited.

There was just one snag: a strike by dining car attendants meant that the VIPs had to do without their bacon and eggs. The Echo’s front page reported instead that a mass NUR meeting had decided that, instead of that rather fetching marron and cream, all Pullman cars were black.

Daily underused, the service was withdrawn less than two years later.

NOVEMBER 2, 1959? The adopted son of the Mayor and Mayoress of Darlington (“Alderman and Mrs C J Tremewan”) had eloped to Gretna Green with his 19-year-old girlfriend after her father refused her permission to marry, Swaledale folk were blazing after Reeth fire brigade took three days to turn out to a moors fire, the new six-storey Durham County Hall would cost £2m and there were fears for train services from Barnard Castle to the Lake District – and on those you couldn’t even get a cooked breakfast.

IN the days of the Tees-Thames, Thornaby station may best have been known for the railway’s most magnificent coal fire in the waiting room. Now it has a computerised public address system which between the damn lies and the dissembling last Saturday played classical music of an apparently soothing nature. Baroque’s a favourite, apparently – and if it aint baroque, don’t fix it.

IT was simply asking for trouble. “Town’s people are all invited to celebrate the summer together” said the headline on September 24, promoting a weekend of festivities in Bishop Auckland. In the event, we almost got away with it.

The rain had stopped, the temperature mild enough, the Friday evening Full Moon street food market shining as best it could.

Mind, the paper might still have been mistaken in talking of an appearance by Bishop the Boa, the resurgent town’s mascot. No hissy fits, but isn’t it Bishop the Boar?

The stalls offered everything from Mexican – “Smokiedokies,” neat – to Spanish, from the Barista Sisters to crepes. Back in the day at Bishop Grammar School, crepes were what the Teds wore on their white-stockinged feet.

Behind them in the Market Place, hoardings around the former bank promised that the Auckland Project’s new Spanish art gallery would be opening soon.

It’s been opening soon for quite a long time now. Manana, as probably they say elsewhere.

…and finally, efforts to rejuvenate the historic but threatened Railway Institute in Shildon take a happy turn this weekend. The Institute’s staging its first real ale festival – the Chuffed to Bits Festival, described as “small but perfectly engineered” and temporarily multiplying by 20 the number of hand pumps in that beer desert. The other’s at Elm Road Workmen’s. They’re offering a “Ginstitute” range, too. It’s open from 6pm on Friday and from noon-11pm on Saturday, £5 admission including a glass and bands. A Friday night outing’s called for.