Thinking of today’s so-called ‘celebrity culture’, I began to reflect on how much celebrities and our culture have changed since the mid-Sixties. This led me to remember one Founder’s Day at my pre-prep school in the north of England, when I was eight.
On Founder’s Day, we always had a school trip, and this bright October morning found us on a coach to Southport Pleasure Beach. We arrived at about 11am, were handed our packed lunched and let loose with our savings.
Not that there was much to spend them on at that time of day and year. Most of the rides were switched off and unattended. Here and there were a quoits stall or a shooting range in operation. But the helter-skelter looked open for business and I could see people going in.
There was no one in the ticket booth, but I ran up the wooden steps anyway, eager to grab my coconut mat and make my descent. When I got to the top, who should be there but a film crew and the ‘comedian’ Norman Wisdom, the chirpy chap whose indomitable persona made him an icon of Austerity Britain (and a top cinema draw in communist Albania).
Doubtless, had I not interrupted proceedings, he would shortly have flung himself down the metal chute – upside down and the wrong way, probably – wailing “Mister Grimsha-a-a-w”! But at the time, in my mind’s eye at least, he was sitting in a canvas fold-out chair, wearing shorts and his cap on backwards. (Still, the memory plays tricks.)
By that age, I was dimly aware that celebrities moved among us; that they did not exist only on the screen and wireless or in magazines. According to family lore, I had once run after a retreating Princess Alexandra when she came to press the flesh at my father’s workplace. And in my hometown barber’s shop (yes, they still existed back then) my mother had once embarrassed me by going up to the sports commentator Eddie ‘Up and Under’ Waring, and saying, “Excuse me, but aren’t you ‘Mister Rugby League’?”
This, however, was the first one-on-one meeting with a ‘star’ that I could lay claim to. And I’m afraid it was a disappointment. I’d caught Wisdom unawares and, while he made a half-hearted attempt at larking about – along the lines of “Hello, young shaver! How did you get up here?” – he didn’t exactly invite me to stick around. So down the slide I went, eager to tell my friends of my brush with fame.
I think they were as underwhelmed by my report as I was by the encounter. And my subsequent exposure to the immortals has generally confirmed my belief that they ain’t all they’re cracked up to be. Adam Faith? Small and tetchy. Ronnie Barker? Big and tetchy.
Of course, there have been exceptions. I met Barbara Windsor in a pub once, and she was a delight. And I have a long and amusing story about the late drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd. But that’s another blog…
Gervase S is 54 and an estate agent from Leicestershire.