FOR six years, Chris Smith strived to achieve his gold Duke of Edinburgh Award – perhaps becoming the first in the Bishop Auckland area to win it.

It involved gruelling expeditions in the Pennines and trying experiences in the east end of London, but despite all that, what he most remembers is the duke’s quip at Buckingham Palace.

The duke, as he noted in his Tyne Tees TV interview, was very proud of his awards scheme.

Chris was attending Vinovium School in Bishop Auckland when he started, with 40 others, on the bronze award in 1966. With his friend Edwin Joslin, he was the only one to reach the gold standard.

A few months before they were presented with their certificates at Buckingham Palace, Supt Archive Campbell of Bishop Auckland police had complained that the awards were not known “in the backwoods” and he knew of no silver or gold winners, so the pair were certainly among Bishop’s earliest achievers.

To win his award, Chris worked at a fire station, underwent police training, did rifle shooting, rock climbing, passed his driving test and completed a 50 mile expedition in upper Wensleydale.

He also volunteered to spend a week working in a Salvation Army hostel in London. As his assessor writing in his logbook noted: “To live with and work among 400 homeless men in the east end of London needs courage – this with much understanding and sympathy was shown.”

By 1972, when they collected their awards at the palace, Chris was a trainee gardener at Aycliffe Corporation and Edwin was a lab technician at Glaxo, in Barnard Castle.

“We were told not to speak unless the duke spoke to us,” remembers Chris. “We shook hands with him, and he asked what I did, and I said ‘gardener’ and he said ‘very good, well done’.

“Then he asked the boy next to me, who I’d never met, what he did and he said he worked for Newcastle brewery, and the duke said: ‘What a beautiful pint of beer’, and walked off laughing.”

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