The Reporter's Lot Is Not An Easy One - Nor Is It Dull! (18 January 1974)
Generally speaking, our local district councils, now ending their days, have been a well-behaved lot. Never in my time among them did I witness a case of violence by one member on another, nor even a little gentle pushing and shoving.
I have seen members pick up their papers and walk out with snorts of disgust. Later I have seen those same members elevated to the chair.
There was a Bletchley Council meeting shortly after the war at which one member talked about pushing another member’s dentures down his oesophagus but nothing actually happened.
Not that reporters relish slanging matches or incidents at council meetings. They can be jolly tricky to describe in black and white afterwards. Council meetings are only partly privileged.
At one Winslow Rural Council meeting a very angry member jumped to his feet and pointed at another. He raged that if all knew what he knew about that member they wouldn’t do whatever it was. He then stormed from the chamber vowing he would never return while the other member sat there.
The following afternoon he came to my home at Water Eaton. He seemed very much chastened. He dearly wanted to know what I had done or was doing about his outburst. I could have let him stew. But normally he was a helpful sort of chap, so I told him that for the reasons mentioned above I couldn’t touch his remarks with the proverbial barge pole and I didn’t think the other reporters would either.
There are similar misunderstandings about courts of law. More often than is comfortable a defendant who has not actually been at the hearing of his case complains about the newspaper report.
He complains that something or other should have been stated in the report, and he is not mollified on being told that newspapers can report only what is actually said in court and that there was no reference at all to what he has been talking about, much as he thinks there must have been.
But to return to the more congenial topic of antics at council meetings: there was a famous occasion when Bletchley Council literally blotted its wallpaper if not its copy-book. I would like to have been there so that I could give you a first-hand report, but it happened well before my time.
The characters in the act were Councillor Chignell and Councillor Colonel Giles. These two never hit it off. They were like oil and water, though which was which is not clear. Anyway, a climax had to come and it did.
At one meeting the gallant colonel was doodling with a pewter inkpot, which was a habit of his. While doing this he made a certain remark which Cllr. Chignell took to be an innuendo and said so.
“If you say that again I’ll throw this at you,” vowed the colonel, fingering the inkpot in a manner which indicated that his intentions might be neither just nor peaceful.
Cllr. Chignell did say it again.
Whereupon all present were treated to the sight of the inkpot flying through the air. It did not hit Cllr. Chignell, but it did hit the wall beyond and literally bespattered both Cllr Chignell and the wall with its contents.
Legend has it that Cllr. Chignell got a new suit and that the colonel expressed himself satisfied.
The ink stains remained on the wall for many years until the time came for renovations. It was then suggested that the patch should be preserved as a memento of the occasion. “Dignity” prevailed, however, and the inkspots were expunged, though the memory could never be.
I have also heard it said there was a councillor whose only known contribution to any public debate was “Shut the window, there’s a draught.” Others, however, have refuted this. They say the word he used was “door.”
Newport Rural Council seems to come out well on the record, despite an unusually high quota of colonels in its ranks.
Maybe this has been due to also having had much benefit of clergy. I think it more likely, however, to be the result of holding meetings in the morning, though late enough for liverishness to have worn off.
Night meetings do not catch men at their best and possibly this was the reason for the laughable proposal to put a locomotive on a pedestal in the middle of Bletchley. I suppose that a station roof could be built over it and that the pedestal could include the old stone sleepers that first carried the rails and that still exist in Bletchley.
But I had better end now, or I might myself warming to the notion just for the fun of it.