JUST like Punch and Judy – Brian and Marilyn were a double-act that fitted like a hand in glove.

Often bickering, but always the best of friends, the Llewellyns have entertained children across the North-East for more than 40 years.

While Brian became one of the country’s most enduring Punch and Judy men, Marilyn was always by his side, adding value to the business as a face-painter and balloon modeller.

How sad that the partnership should be broken prematurely with Marilyn’s passing after a short illness at the age of 65.

“We just clicked,” says Brian, speaking from his Darlington home, the day before Marilyn’s funeral. “We worked together for such a long time – we didn’t really know anything else. She was my life.”

Brian first met Marilyn Williamson when he was nine. Her family had moved into Burdon Close, Newton Aycliffe, and she’d made friends with his mate, David Brown. They were walking past one day while Brian – in short trousers – was fixing his bogey. An introduction was made, and a lifelong connection began.

“When she was doing the washing up in her house, I’d stand at the bus stop so I could wave at her through the window,” recalls Brian.

The became boyfriend and girlfriend at Stephenson Way Primary School but Marilyn, who was in the year above, dumped him when she went to big school. Her friends had told her she shouldn’t be going out with a primary school kid.

There was no rekindling of the romance during their time at Marlowe Hall Secondary School but smiles and waves were frequently exchanged when Brian, then aged 16, was cutting grass for the council and Marilyn passed by on her way to work for the Underground Mining Machinery (UMM) company.

Brian joined the RAF but didn’t like it and came out at 17. He went to a disco at the youth club in Newton Aycliffe, met Marilyn again, and they were married two years later in 1973 at the local Methodist Church. The reception was at the Royal British Legion Club, where Marilyn’s dad, Reg, was concert secretary.

With four children arriving, the couple made a living in the furniture trade, opening their own shop – the grandly titled Llewellyn’s Furniture Emporium – in North Road, Darlington, in 1981.

Brian’s dad, William, alias, Uncle Billy, had plied his trade as a Punch and Judy man on Redcar seafront and, when the shows became too much for the old fella, his son stepped into the breech.

Brian did his first professional solo show at Middridge Village Hall in June 1977 and children’s entertainment gradually became more appealing than selling tables and chairs. More than 40 years later, he and Marilyn were still taking the show to all corners of the North-East.

Despite being heartbroken, Brian still chuckles at the memory of Marilyn using him as a guinea pig for her latest face-painting designs.

“I’d be sitting watching the telly and she’d turn me into whatever the latest craze happened to be – everything from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to Batman and Superman. I was even Braveheart once.”

After last Thursday’s funeral, a celebration of Marilyn’s life was held at the Railway Tavern, where they regularly enjoyed a drink or two.

They’d been looking forward to semi-retirement: travelling the country in their beloved, vintage caravan, doing fewer shows and cherry-picking the once they fancied. Instead, Brian has cancelled bookings until further notice.

He acknowledges that Marilyn would want the show to go on: “She was kind-hearted but, at the same time, she was really strong, no-nonsense woman. She’d have been telling me to get off my backside and stop feeling sorry for myself, but I just can’t envisage doing a show without her.”

On the sideboard are rows of cards from well-wishers – many of them strangers – who’ve been entertained over the years. He picks out one from a woman who’d had her face-painted by Marilyn when she was five and now has children of her own.

“Maybe I’ll go back to it one day,” says Brian. “But it’s never going to be the same, is it?”

IT was a pleasure to compere the Darlington 10k last week and especially nice to meet a little star called Harrison Foers.

Five-year-old Harrison, who lives in Middleton St George, took part in the junior fun run, and is a credit to mum and dad Amy and Anthony.

Through various fundraising events, he raised £2,000 last year to help the Jsoeph’s Dream and Emil Go charities, supporting two disabled little boys in his village – Joseph Teasdale and Emil Mason. Families and Conductive Education was another great cause to benefit from his kindness.

It was announced at the Darlington 10K that Harrison has raised another £650 this year and that led to Craig Saunders, general manager of main event sponsor SG Petch, immediately topping it up to £1,000.

“I just think Harrison’s awesome. He’s just an amazing little boy, so we’ll do as much as we can to help,” said Craig.

Harrison’s next big fundraising event is the Mini Great Tees Run on September 7, followed by a fun day at the Oak Tree in Middleton St George.

Anyone who wants to add to his total should go to: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/harrison-foers1

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