These Men Were The Town's Real Characters (22 February 1974)
Nowadays I feel that the heart is being torn out of the Bletchley I first knew, not so much by the disappearance of old familiar places as by the disappearance of old familiar faces.
Mostly they have been those of men who did not at any time occupy any particularly exalted position yet gave a good deal to the life of the town, each in his own way.
Numbering them is almost like checking-off a list of former calls and it grieves me that I shall know them no more.
At this time of writing, the latest in the recent sad spate is Mr. Bernard Brown who, both through his job and his pastime was probably the widest-known of all.
I first knew him as a ticket inspector on the railway, a job which I should think brings its holder in touch with more people than most.
Almost at the same time I discovered that he was also a conjuror and a very good one. I was standing beside him at the counter of a confectionery shop while the young woman assistant was trying to give him his change.
The trouble there was with those few coppers was wonderful and neither the assistant nor I could count for laughing before it was half over. I thought I would not like to be the one to try any dodgery with tickets or passes on a train with him around.
A generation of people around this district remember him for the joy he gave them – and continued to give after his railway retirement – at their school and Sunday school parties. And his pleasure was no less that their own.
Mr. Jack Parriss was another. He kept a shop in Victoria Road and had a quiet sense of humour – which has probably been necessary from time to time for anybody keeping a shop there.
I believe he was an official of the old Bletchley Chamber of Commerce which before the war performed the same kind of function as the present Chamber of Trade.
I best remember him, however, in his role as a co-organiser with late Mr. Bob Storey and possibly others of a bus service to the Aylesbury hospitals on Sunday afternoons.
After official applications had been turned down owing to a doubt about demand, these local men decided to prove there really was a need.
They hired a bus, formed a kind of visitors’ organisation of which you could be a member for a day, and took you to and from your required hospital. Quickly the loads were impressive. We published the figures in the Gazette and before long the bus company introduced a regular service.
It was an example of the self-help you had to have in Bletchley in the post-war pioneering days.
A third was Mr. Jack Beech, the most successful boxer the district has yet known. His career was sketched in the Gazette at the time of his death, so I shall not repeat it here. Instead I shall add a more personal note.
I don’t think I am a bloodthirsty sort of chap but before the war I had to cover a number of boxing promotions during which I witnessed one or two of the greatest examples of sportsmanship I have ever seen.
The last time I met Jack he was doing a part-time post-retirement job on a garage forecourt. In a scrap of conversation he regretted the disappearance of the post-war Panther Club and other interest in boxing in Bletchley and the fact that up to then there had been no sign of a revival. He also indicated that he too did not have much time for the so-called wrestling that seemed to be taking its place.
I arranged to see him shortly, but the opportunity did not arise. Within a fortnight his burly frame conceded the last defeat.
Yet another was Mr. Ron Tofield, a lively personality who had all sorts of jobs before finally he became the uniformed caretaker at Wilton Hall.
It was as organiser of the athletics and cycling section of the Bletchley Town Sports Club, however, that I came to know him best.
For some years after the war the club made big efforts to restore to its former splendour the Bletchley August Show, hitherto run by the Bletchley Horticultural Society – and also introduced a Whitsun sports meeting.
In these efforts Ron was in his element as organiser, Press contact and compere alike and I felt that if a few others had shown the same enthusiasm the efforts might have met with more success.
When Ron died I was touched by some verses brought to me by his lifelong friend, Mr. Jack Betts. He would be the last to claim that they had any great literary merit but I was struck by the fact that possibly for the first time in his life he had been moved to that extent to express his feelings.
In them he recalls Bletchley Road School days when headmaster Mr. E.C. Cook, and teachers Mr. Mold and dear old “Winkle” Wootton, had a trying time coping with the playground fights of “the inseparable terrors of ‘Napper Street’,” In which “The strange thing is, with all our hates, we always finished the best of mates.”
The concluding lines are:
Sometimes a laugh, sometime a frown,
We’ve lost a character from our town.
Most of us our hats will doff,
At this the passing of the Toff.
I could not put it better. Others who have passed on in these last few months also come to mind, but I think I have now said enough to show what I mean about the heart being taken from the old town.