It is a sad moment - John Phillpott has written his final Looking Back column. Here it is:
It all started by sheer chance, actually. Casually flicking through the Advertiser website, I noticed a short piece in the paper’s Memory Lane column about a postcard that emerged back in 1969 which - at the time – had mystified quite a few people across the Rugby area.
This trawl through the news of my home town was in the late summer of 2019, and the item caught my notice for a very good reason because, exactly half a century before, I had been the young reporter who wrote that story.
Obviously, after the passing of 50 years, my memory was understandably rather shaky. Nevertheless, I wrote to the paper, explaining how the tale had come about, and in due course received a reply from Advertiser journalist Zoe Ashton.
We started corresponding, and she soon realised that, despite a long absence, I could still recall quite a lot which had happened during my four years as an Advertiser reporter.
So being unable to resist a challenge, I wrote my first piece for Looking Back, a story about the Rugby Rag three-day folk, blues and rock festival staged at Rainsbrook in early September, 1969.
I was the press officer for the festival, and also wrote an entire broadsheet page for the Advertiser reporting on the event, which was unfortunately plagued by heavy rainfall, a meteorological reality that was destined to become very much the norm for British music festivals as the 1970s wore on.
Not long after that, I contributed a column about the day I covered pop star Billy J Kramer’s wedding to local girl Ann Ginn, which took place at St Mark’s Church, Bilton, on July 20, 1968.
This was followed up with a recollection of the day I met former Rank gong man and circus strongman Carl Dane at the London House in Chapel Street, where – before my very eyes – he hammered a six-inch nail into a block of wood with his bare hands, then followed this up by crushing a cooking apple, a feat also achieved with one hand.
Carl lived in a caravan located somewhere off the A5 and was a regular at the London House, where he could – and often did – down 20 pints of beer in one sitting without showing any signs whatsoever of intoxication.
There then came successive pieces about cinema manager Charlie Field, the Rolling Stones’ concerts at the Granada, and an account of my misspent youth, much of it spent chatting to the girls in the Il Cadore coffee bar, also in Chapel Street, and now long gone.
Well, by now, I imagine you will have guessed the reason for this retrospective. And yes, you would be right – I’m calling it a day. This is the last Memory Lane I will be writing for my old paper, and it is with no small degree of a heavy heart that I take my leave of you.
Everything has a shelf life and a newspaper column is no exception to the rule. Indeed, I’ve even astonished myself with the powers of recall that have never been far away as each week, for the last two-and-a-half years, I have sat down to write about a town that will always have a special place in my heart.
Sometimes, when people have left the area of their birth, they tend to dismiss their origins, haughtily secure in a new environment that, in their eyes, somehow confirms a new-found importance.
Not me, though. I have always been proud of coming from Rugby, have often been its unpaid ambassador, and lost count of the times I have had to explain to the shockingly ignorant that yes, the game IS named after the town.
I rejoice that I have trodden the same streets as First World War poet Rupert Brooke, wish I had bottled the smell of the last steam train to leave Rugby Midland, and in my daydreams still walk the corridors of Lawrence Sheriff School, the eternal cheeky lad with his cap at a jaunty angle, ever alert to a run-in with one of the prefects.
But perhaps most of all, I think about my boyhood in Churchover, of how the green fields that once stretched past neighbouring Brownsover and up to Newbold are now swallowed up by developments that sadly go even beyond the natural barrier of the motorway.
Then there were all the characters I once knew… ‘Uncle’ George, Auntie Go-Go, Snuffy Jack and Gracie Smeeton, many of whom are now neighbours in death, as once they were in life, resting for eternity in Holy Trinity churchyard.
Readers who bought my books Beef Cubes and Burdock and Go and Make the Tea, Boy! may possibly feel they know some of these characters already, as they assumed a degree of immortality, courtesy of my various writings.
Perhaps that’s how you will feel about me too, after reading my weekly ramblings. And the same applies on my part as well, because it’s been an absolute pleasure to inform, entertain you all – and most certainly jog a few memories – along the way.
So. I will sign off by drawing your attention to the picture above. It’s not exactly the Rugby Advertiser that greeted the eyes of a callow 16-year-old back in 1965, but – as always – it’s the thought that counts.