In Praise Of One Man With Fifteen Unpaid Jobs (13 July 1973)
Once or twice when I walked into Bletchley’s first full-time library at Holne Chase a man sidled up to me with a look of mild surprise on his face and slyly whispered “I see you can read as well as write.” The he moved off before I could reply.
“Next time” I thought, “I’ll be ready for you.” There was something attractive about his implied suggestion that a newsman might not be able to read. But even more quaint and Gilbertian was the notion that the chairman of the local libraries sub-committee himself could be labouring secretly under a similar handicap.
However, he never gave me a next time. Maybe he was disappointed that I hadn’t made that obvious riposte at once. But lest there should be any doubt about it, I am here happy to announce that Mr. Ernest Fryer, of Bletchley, can read; that he need not sign his name with a cross; and that he can also do his pounds, dots and new pence – which is more than I can do sometimes in these days of mystification, with its leeters, meters and wat not.
More seriously, I would like to congratulate the other 39 members of the new Milton Keynes District Council on unanimously making him their chairman. I do not know them all but I doubt any one of them can show a better record of public service or is better fitted for the post than this mild-mannered man with a pawky sense of humour.
Bletchley is now more of (sic) less replete with folks who formerly either lived or worked or did both in London. Mr. Fryer is one of them. As he came here from North London in 1930 he may now perhaps be regarded as naturalised. At any rate, that makes him 16 years more local than myself, who for about 20 years engineered a weekly column as “Bucksman.”
Mr. Fryer had been employed in the offices of the railway motive power depot at Camden Town when he came here. He remained in that line of employment until he retired in about 1966 after nearly 47 years of railway service – some 37 years with the London Midland Region and then about ten years with the Eastern region at King’s Cross.
What surprises me is that for the last 15 to 20 years of those working years he managed to put in so much public and semi-public work, especially in the time of his daily travelling to King’s Cross.
I first knew him as a leading light – perhaps the leading light – of the new Bletchley Community Centre in George Street. About two years later, in 1948, I saw him take his seat on the old 12-man Bletchley Council for the first time. For his first few speeches he was known to reporters as a man who often repeated himself in different words, but the tendency passed. I also remembered him as a most conscientious attender. In at least one early year on the council he attended every meeting to which he was called – total of 14 council meetings and 48 committee meetings.
Since then I have known him as: The first councillor for 47 years to serve more than one separate period as chairman.
A Finance chairman for several years who was very helpful to me in afterwards explaining various points in his annual budget speeches I had not been clear about. The county council’s “chancellor” always got a vote of congratulation and thanks for his speech, but this rarely if ever happened to Bletchley’s one, although I always regarded his job as being the more difficult.
For some years chairman of the town development committee. (All these were top jobs, you will notice). Sometimes simultaneously with them I have known him as:
Chairman of the North Bucks Education Executive and a governor or manager of various schools.
President of the Community Centre.
Chairman of the Bletchley Old People’s Welfare Committee.
Chairman of the Bletchley committee of the National Savings movement – a holder of the movement’s long-service badge.
Chairman of the Bletchley Trades Council.
Member of the local committee of the East Midlands Electricity Consultative Council.
President of the Bletchley Co-operative Society.
President of the Bletchco Players…
and of course, chairman of the local libraries’ sub-committee.
With a dossier like that – which I don’t suppose is comprehensive – I guess he should have been arrested now and then for his own protection, but he has also been a JP since about 1960.
I have often wondered what makes such men tick, though I am glad they do. I think they must revel in it, because when at election times someone else by implication offers to let them out they fight him or her like blazes to get back in.
I guess it’s the fault of the party system. Officially they should all be Independent at this level. Instead of that, we find elected councils of one political colour doing their best or worst to frustrate elected central governments of another. We also find experienced men like Ron Staniford, Labour, and Luing Cowley, Conservative, rejected for the new district council when, in my opinion, it could do with both. Of course, differences of political opinion would still exist, but I do not think members would be so strongly polarised. I welcome the idea of the payment of district councillors mainly as a means of their achieving a greater measure of party independence.
Or am I off my head?