Monday, August 06, 2018

Three encounters with Glyn Worsnip

Finding a book or piece of ephemera you wanted used to take hard work and lots of luck. Now you just go to eBay.

Sure enough, when I got it into my head to get a copy of the programme for the first pantomime I was taken to – Cinderella at the Watford Palace – it took seconds to find a copy for sale online.

It arrived today, so I can tell you that my first trip to the theatre took place between Boxing Day 1966 and 21 January 1967, so I would have been six years old.

Cinderella, it turns out, that Cinderella was directed by Giles Havergal, who later became famous as director of the Glasgow Citizens Theatre.

The star was David Kernan as Buttons, who had already appeared in Zulu on television in That Was the Week That Was. He was later to become even more famous in Ned Sherrin’s Side by Side by Sondheim.

I can remember his last scene, singing a song called “I’m Going Away” because his friend Cinderella was marrying Prince Charming. How we loved him!

The Brokers’ Men turn out to have been pretty remarkable too. There was Peter Cleall, soon to be Eric Duffy in the television sit come Please Sir!, and William Simons. He was a child star through the 1950s and is now best known as Alf Ventriss in Heartbeat.

I can even remember one of their jokes more than half a century on:
There were three budgies in a cage. One on the top perch, one on the middle perch and one on the bottom perch. Which budgie owned the cage. 
I don’t know that. Which budgie owned the cage? 
The one on the bottom perch, because the other two were on higher perches.
I must see if I can get it into Lord Bonkers one day.

There is another name on the programme that was once famous. As I remember from the days before I threw my first copy of this programme away (I must have been going through a phase). One of the Ugly Sisters was played by Glyn Worsnip.

In the 1970s, Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life, an odd but successful combination of consumer journalism and light entertainment, was one of the BBC’s most popular programmes. We all moan about Rantzen now, but I remember rather enjoying That's Life at the time and it sometimes featured a topical song from Jake Thackray or Victoria Wood.

Glyn Wornsip was one of two young men in good suits (Kieran Prendiville was the other) who presented the show alongside her.

Move on to the summer of 1978 when I was about to go to university. My mother and I won BBC East’s quiz Joint Account, a show that is so obscure it is not on the BBC Genome site.

In the part of Market Harborough where I lived in those days, and where my mother still lives, you see, people receive East Anglian television and not Midlands.

We did a sort of audition at the BBC in Northampton and then won a heat and the final at the BBC studios in Norwich. It was a general knowledge quiz and I did a specialist round on cricket.

And the quizmaster? Glyn Worsnip.

Move on another six years to my first Liberal Party Assembly, Bournemouth 1984, and Worsnip was there as part of the BBC team.

I said hello and mentioned that I had met him when filming Joint Account in Norwich, but he did not seem keen to be reminded of his days scrabbling around doing minor TV quiz shows now he was a serious political reporter. It’s known in the literature as David Dimbleby Syndrome.

There is a sad postscript to these reminiscences. As Worsnip's Independent obituary (which finds room to mention Joint Account) recorded:
In 1986, he began to show symptoms of the brain disease cerebellar ataxia. His speech became slurred and walking difficult. He was working for BBC radio, presenting the news review Stop Press, Pick of the Week and schools programmes, as well as becoming host of a new series, The Press Gang. His behaviour led people to think he was drunk and, shortly before Christmas 1987, he was sacked from Stop Press after listeners' complaints. 
When cerebellar ataxia was diagnosed, Worsnip was encouraged by his colleagues to ``come out'' and the result was A Lone Voice, broadcast on Radio 4 in March 1988. The response from listeners was overwhelming. ``I heard from old school, college and university chums I had not seen in 30 years," Worsnip wrote in his autobiography, Up the Down Escalator (1990). ``I heard from a mass of disabled people, offering solidarity.'' 
But there was no cure. In his one of his last programmes, for Horizon, he reported on illnesses such as his affecting the brain.
I heard that 1988 broadcast and it was immensely moving. Glyn Worsnip died in 1996.

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