Saturday, 23 May 2009

Getting Past The Footnotes on Page 431

In my early years as a cub reporter on The Stockport Courier, then-editor Wally Green impressed on me a maxim which I have pretty much tried to live my life by. "It's your role to write the news, son - not to make it. Remember that, and you'll go far."

On the whole, I managed to keep my nose clean during my distinguished career in print. Whenever I was tempted to stray, Wally's wise words would always come to mind.

It would be easy to think, therefore, that I have not had much of a role to play in the pages of history. Anyone making such a dangerous assumption would be wide of the mark, however, as I am about to reveal how Bill Blunt, during an idle afternoon in 1983, helped Michael Foot to relax during the rigours of that year's election campaign.

I'd forgotten all about the incident until, earlier today, I was flicking through a copy of Kenneth O. Morgan's Michael Foot: A Life in the Liverpool branch of Waterstones bookshop. That I was standing not more than a couple of yards from popular TV presenter Les Dennis is merely incidental to my tale...

While perusing Mr Morgan's tome, I came across an account of Foot's visit to the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and I was transported instantly back a quarter century to the days when, as a mature student I was studying at Manchester University. My flatmate at the time, an equally mature Henry Smith, was the nearest embodiment of a Michael Foot 'groupie' it would be possible to find. To say he idolised the chap would be a gross understatement. I myself had a sneaking regard for Foot, but it was as nothing to Henry, who had collected every word that Foot had ever consigned to print.

When we learned of the impending visit of the Labour leader to Chorlton, he immediately suggested we should pop along to offer our support to the shaky election campaign. He dug out his pristine, two-volume copy of Foot's acclaimed biography of Nye Bevan which he fully intended he could persuade Mr Foot to autograph. Not wishing to appear churlish, I grabbed a paper-back copy of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, to which Michael Foot had penned an introduction, and off we sped to meet the battle bus.

When we arrived at the carbuncular shopping centre in Chorlton, the place was a throng of folk, and it was with some dismay that Henry realised that our prospect of securing his idol's signature was somewhat remote. After half an hour of jostling, we were no nearer our quarry, and I, anyway, was getting more than a little bored by the proceedings. I told Henry I wished him well, but that I needed to pop into a nearby newsagents to buy a packet of B&H, so would meet him in a quarter of an hour.

When I emerged from the shop, the crowd had moved on, so I made my way back to our meeting point. As I turned a corner, I was confronted by a phalanx of fellow members of the press, walking backwards (as we are trained to do) while scribbling in their notepads. And there - closer to me even than Les Dennis was today - amidst the tumult was no less a person than Michael Foot himself. Rapidly stubbing out my fag, I pulled the dog-eared copy of Gulliver from my duffle-coat pocket, proffered it to the ageing politico with a pen, and asked him if he'd sign it.

I quote from Mr Morgan:

"Sometimes attempted meetings with electors could turn into 'a media scrimmage', although it was certainly not Foot alone to whom that applied. One pleasant touch came when a student in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy offered him a copy of Gulliver's Travels to sign. He did so with much charm, and gave the audience a short discourse on on Swift and how he had prophesied the existence of the bomb. It was one of the rare moments in the campaign when Foot was truly at ease." (p431)
When I finally caught up with Henry, I hadn't the heart to tell him what had happened and (thankfully) I didn't have to. The very next day, The Guardian (of which he was an avid reader) told the story in a front-page sketch of Foot's visit to Chorlton.

And so you have it. Bill Blunt's role as a footnote in history. I only hope Wally Green isn't turning in his grave.


Daddy Papersurfer said...

I always rather liked Mr Foot myself - shambolic idealists are sooo very British.

Did I ever tell you about the time I was responsible for the fall of Monty? .... I can't remember ....

Maddie Grigg said...

Michael Foot. Now there's a blast from the past. What a charming footnote to history. I, too, was taught never to make the news. So I was delighted when my hippy sister announced to the world she was pregnant as she squatted in a mansion that was in the next local paper's patch, not ours. Oh, the relief.

Gail said...

What a great story. I always liked Michael Foot - he was a great supporter of my local team, Plymouth Argyle FC.