Lasting memories of heroes

BEING an avid reader of the obituaries page of the Daily Telegraph, I have just been reminded that it was eight years ago when actor John Thaw and comedian Spike Milligan died within a week of each other. I never met Mr Thaw, more the pity, but I always a

BEING an avid reader of the obituaries page of the Daily Telegraph, I have just been reminded that it was eight years ago when actor John Thaw and comedian Spike Milligan died within a week of each other.

I never met Mr Thaw, more the pity, but I always admired his work having grown up with The Sweeney, that gritty, very British cops drama which looks dated now but certainly had the nation glued to the TV in the Seventies.

He grew from that to become an excellent character actor, loved by many viewers for his parts as Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC but perhaps the production I liked him in the most was the one-off Goodnight Mr Tom.

Spike Milligan was someone I did meet more than 30 years ago. He accepted an invitation to receive a conservation award - I think it was from the long-defunct Stevenage Zoological Society, but I may be wrong - and he duly turned up for the ceremony at Stevenage Museum.

He was a comic genius but also suffered from bouts of manic depression and had a reputation for being short with people, especially journalists.

I had long been a fan of The Goons show, that crazy, cripplingly-funny creation which he masterminded, and was pleased that I had the chance to chat with him.

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But there was not much conversation. I introduced myself as being from the local newspaper there to record his golden words, asked him how he felt about getting the award and received the grumpy reply, "How do you think I feel?" before he moved on.

On Sunday it was the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary airman Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader who I spoke with but never met.

He was a remarkable man. The loss of both legs which had to be amputated after a crash in 1931 did not prevent him from joining the Battle of Britain during the Second World War. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he persuaded his captors to provide him with replacement artificial legs which he then used to escape.

His exploits were told in the 1956 film Reach For The Sky which I remember seeing as a young boy in a Nissan hut used as a cinema in Hemsby on the Norfolk coast.

It was not until the 1970s that our paths crossed again. I had been tipped off that Sir Douglas, who by now was a famous campaigner for disabled rights and charities, had been invited to join the board of Stevenage Development Corporation which had the job of building the new town.

No one locally would confirm it so got the great man's phone number in London's Eaton Square from directory inquiries and rang it. The butler answered and asked me to hang on.

Then, suddenly, Sir Douglas was on the other end of the line. I inquired if he knew Stevenage and he said he had passed it many times on the A1 on his way home.

Getting to the point, I asked him if he was about to be appointed to the board and he coolly replied: "It's news to me, old boy."

One week later came the announcement that he was the new board member.

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