Tony McNally is known by families across Leamington for selling ice creams from his two vans. But it was a chat about football 40 years ago that started his career. Here, in his own words, Tony looks back on his four decades in the business - and how he landed his dream job at the age of just 10.
In 1967 I was 10 years old. England had just won the world cup and Coventry City had been promoted to the first division. I was football mad.
I also liked ice creams and Mister D. Di was the van that I chose to buy my ice creams from. The driver of the van noticed one day that I was wearing a Coventry City scarf and told me that he also supported Coventry. We would talk about the team every time I bought an ice cream from him
One day I told him that on Saturday I was going to see them play Sheffield United. He said he could not go because he was working but could I get him a programme, which I did.
On the way home from the match. I saw the D. Di van in Buckley Road and gave the driver his programme. He thanked me very much for it and asked me if I wanted a lift home. What 10 year old boy has ever had a better offer than that! I got in the van and off we set. We did a couple of stops along the road and I was in heaven. I thought to myself I need to ask him if he needs any help in his van so as we were going down Clare Close with the chimes ringing away I said “Mick, do you need any help selling your ice creams” He said “how do you know my name is Mick” I said that I had seen it in the front of his Coventry City season ticket book which he had shown me. I think he was quite impressed with my detective work so he gave me the job.
The next day, Sunday August 27, 1967, as arranged at 12noon I waited on the corner of Mason Avenue and Buckley Road for him. I still get excited at the thought of seeing his D.Di Van coming up Mason Avenue to pick me up. He stopped for what seemed like a nano second and I jumped in through the serving counter open window and off we went.
The first stop we did was Charlotte Street, I remember Mick putting the chimes on and I could hear the hum of the road noise of the van through the chimes amplifier. Mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong, Ding dong Ding dong mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong, Ding dong, Ding dong mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong.
There I was at the start of my ice cream career, only slight problem. I already had a job. When I was nine years old, every Saturday morning I would cycle from Lillington to Golf Lane in Whitnash to earn 6/6 (33p) for carrying somebody's golf clubs around the 18 holes. I must have impressed one chap because he asked me if I would caddy for him every week. I said yes I would. He asked me where I lived and when I told him he said he lived in Church Lane and if I walked to his house on a Saturday morning he would give me a lift to and from the golf club.
On the way home I would ask him to drop me off at The Bulldog where I would meet up with Mick in his D.Di van. Although I quite liked my job as a caddy I knew that it would be too much for me on a Saturday to have two jobs.
I can’t remember exactly when I quit the caddying but I do remember on Saturday September 30, 1967 being in Mr Taylor's maroon Humber Hawk from his house in Church Lane going to the golf course and listening on the radio to Tony Blackburn’s first day on Radio One, so I think it must have been shortly after that.
Being a van boy in an ice cream van is a great job for a 10 year old and it came with perks. I was allowed to eat all the broken lollies. D.Di used to make bunny rabbit shaped lollies and the ears were always breaking off on them so I had quite a few.
Mick was great to me. He used to make me laugh by impersonating cartoon characters like Yogi Bear or Bugs Bunny. We never had a radio in the van so Mick would sing songs. His favourite singer was Slim Whitman so I know every word of China Doll and Rose Marie. He liked country music and that is probably why I do too. My favourite singer at the time was Johnny Cash.
We used to make up funny derogatory songs about the other ice cream vans. There was one about D. Di’s which we did not sing but was very good. “Oh D. Di Mascio. He sells ice creamio. And when you lickio, You are so sickio”.
We used to play games like 20 questions and the Yes No game from the TV show Take your Pick. Not being able to say yes or no was quite a challenge when speaking to customers. People would ask “do you have a choc ice” (D.Di never had any choc ices) I could not say no because Mick would Gong me so I had to say “unfortunately we don’t have any choc ices but we do have an ice cream with a chocolate flake in it, would you like one of those?”.
As a van boy, my job was to take the orders, take the money, serve the ice lollies and give the change. Mick would do the ice creams. Having to add up the cost of everyones' orders in my head all day made me very good at maths and this reflected in my school work where some years I would come top of the class in the maths exam.
In 1972 when chess was all the rage, we got a small magnetic chess board and would play when we were not serving customers. I became quite good at it.
In 1973 Mick decided to do a round in Coventry rather than Leamington so at the weekends I would catch the 517 bus to and from Coventry to do my job. Sometimes I would cycle over.
In 1974 and my seven year apprenticeship was coming to an end. Lucky for me there was not a D.Di van doing Leamington so in August when I passed my driving test I got a job as a driver for D.Di’s in Coventry and off I came over to Leamington in it.
In 1975 Mick left D.Di’s and got a job working for an ice cream man in Solihull who had two ice cream vans. He then got me a job driving his other van which I did Leamington in.
In 1976 I bought a nine year old second hand ice cream van for £1,200. Having my own van meant that I needed somewhere to plug the fridge into overnight. Lucky for me I was friends with the landlord of the Jack and Jill pub in Lillington. I used to work as a barman there in the winter months. He let me park my van there, which was perfect because there was an enclosed yard at the back of the pub where I could plug the van in.
Crewe in Cheshire is where they make ice cream vans. They were offering a deal whereby if you had an old van with an ice cream machine in it, they would take the machine out and recondition it and then put it in a brand new van. This would save you a lot of money by not having to buy a new ice cream machine. In March 1979 I bought on higher purchase my first new ice cream van for £10,000
That year I was asked if I would come to Park Hall School in Leamington at dinner times in my new ice cream van, and park on their playground and sell ice creams to the pupils.
In 1981 I bought my second new ice cream van on HP for £12,000. Mick drove that one for me.
In 1982 I sold my 1979 van and bought another new van on HP for £13,000.
And I have had the two vans for the last 40 years. Mick retired years ago and now lives in Southport with his wife. We usually meet up once a year and reminisce about the old days. I had various other people drive my second van but nobody for the last 20 years.
Now I just take the vans out myself and when one of them needs some repair work doing, I take it off the road and jump in the other one. Not many people realise I have two vans because they are identical.
I am lucky because I have got a lot of loyal customers who buy their ice creams from me year after year. I am seeing three or four generations of the same families coming to my van. A lot of the kids wave to me when they see me going by so I do a lot of waving back, I have developed a bit of a royal wave.
Many of the kids are excited to see me. When they come out they tell me all sorts of nice things. When a 10 year old tells me they want to be an ice cream man when they grow up so they can eat all the ice creams, I know exactly how they feel because I got that dream job when I was 10.