Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 26th September 2017

“IT’S a high-tech world, so why use a a low-tech cheque?” A little homily on the inside cover of my new cheque book, which arrived earlier this week.

Call me jurassic if you want, but when it comes to paying my bills I vastly prefer writing a cheque to sending money across some mysterious system called the Internet.

I could not help noticing a newspaper headline a few days before my new cheque book plopped through the letterbox with reassuring certainty. It spoke of 44 per cent. of Britons who might have had their data stolen in a massive cyber attack.

I’m old enough to remember when the Cybermen made their first appearance in Dr Who. It was William Hartnell’s final story as the Doctor and these strange-looking creatures came from a parallel Earth to become his new enemies following the Daleks.

Apparently the idea for these walking dustbins came from a medical researcher at London University, Dr. Kit Pedler, who became Dr Who’s unofficial scientific adviser. Quite when they diversified into cyber criminals, intent on securing our bank pin numbers, I’m not sure.

However, as the major banks gradually withdraw from our high streets, failing utterly to convince customers it’s for their benefit, they also want us to abandon our cheque books and carry out all our financial business electronically. This way the customers, do the work for them. Nice work if you can get it.

The banks appear to have forgotten that we, the taxpayers, stepped in to bail them out, not because we love them dearly, but to save the UK’s economy. They are systematically dismantling their branch networks with scant regard for customers who live in rural communities. How soon those banks have papered over their debt to these communities.

It’s my intention to carry on using my cheque book while the banks still allow it, which, given the rate of branch closures round our way, can’t be all that long. I guess we’ve now got a whole new generation who have never met a real life bank manager.

Meanwhile, as I hitch up my loin cloth, put on my woad and grab my wooden club to go dinosaur hunting on Blencathra in finest Neanderthal tradition, I shall ignore cheeky messages telling me I’m low-tech and continue chequing out.


AS a former light heavyweight boxing champion of the world, “Fearless” Freddie Mills was a great British post-war sporting hero.

Mills, who won the title in 1948, was very much a hero of another man with the same name, who moved from Keswick to London to work, enjoyed going to big sporting occasions and sought out his more famous namesake.

I remember Freddie Mills, the Cumbrian version, telling me the story of how, in the quest for an autograph, he discovered the ex-boxer’s home address and simply went round in the hope of meeting him.

Freddie said that Mills and his wife, Chrissie, were indeed at home, and welcomed him into the house and chatted about the fact they shared their name. Not the sort of thing one of today’s sporting legends would do, that’s for sure.

At the time Freddie the fighter had established a new career in acting — he figured in two Carry On films — television and radio broadcasting and wrote a weekly column for a national newspaper. He was a friend of many of the big entertainers of the day, the likes of Bob Monkhouse and a rising talent called Bruce Forsyth. In fact, Forsyth spoke at his funeral.

However, the story had an unhappy and unresolved conclusion when Mills, aged 49, was found dead, victim of a single gunshot, in the back of his car on 25th June, 1965. Claims of suicide were disputed by friends and family and there were rumours of a gangland execution involving the Krays or Chinese triads.

MP Christopher Evans has written a new book about Fearless Freddie’s meteoric rise and mysterious fall, which deals with anonymous and entirely unproven claims that the fighter was a serial killer or gay, leading a secret double life as a bisexual.

However, it seems more likely that Mills was depressed. He was having problems at home, financial difficulties with his business, and suffering from speech problems — no doubt the result of taking too many punches in his boxing career — which had put an end to his broadcasting.

I knew Keswick’s Freddie Mills well after he retired. We often met when he was radio operator at Keswick mountain rescue team’s base, and he filmed me in fell running action in the Skiddaw Race as part of a record of Lakeland life he was compiling with his ever-present cine camera. I’ve no idea what happened to all of Freddie’s films — I suspect they were lost or destroyed after he died.

He also figured in one of my most unusual stories. Out walking on Carl Side one day, Freddie suffered a serious stroke. No mobile phones to summon help then, and with no other walkers on the fell he had to crawl painfully back to his car, parked at Applethwaite, and lean on the horn until someone heard the distress call and came to his aid.

A couple of days later my phone rang. It was the ward sister in the intensive care unit at the Cumberland Infirmary. “One of our patients wants to speak to you,” she said. It was Freddie Mills, still hooked up to emergency treatment, but insistent that I got his dramatic tale first hand. Even while in the ICU and seriously ill, Fred never shied away from publicity and he knew I would be able to make good use of such a fantastic story of his survival against the odds.

Both Freddies are long gone. I’m no believer in an afterlife, but if there is I’m sure Keswick’s Freddie Mills will have tracked down the other Freddie and be trying to contact me to give me the “real” story about his namesake, the man who was one of Britain’s most famous and popular personalities at the time, yet who still invited his casual caller in for tea.


WHERE do crashed and stolen cars go to die? It’s something that’s been puzzling me after seeing apparently abandoned vehicles left by the roadside, seemingly unclaimed and unloved, sometimes surrounded by “police aware” tape, other times just left unattended for weeks on end on grass verges.

I can think of a couple of recent examples seen along the A66. One, which was head first in a ditch, has since gone. Another, apparently intact, was, maybe still is, abandoned next to a lay-by.

I confess it’s got me baffled. Do the owners never come back to claim these vehicles? What about insurance? Presumably in many instances they have been taken without consent by uninsured drivers. So what’s the position if you are an owner whose car has been stolen and smashed up?

In the country as a whole there must, at any given time, be dozens, maybe hundreds, of such abandoned vehicles. It’s one of those strange things that get me thinking. Where indeed do these vehicular victims end up, who cares about them, who is responsible, and where do they go to die?


THERE can be no greater tribute to a broadcaster than when an entire town rises up and tells his bosses “we want him back”.

Some years ago the BBC took the ill-judged decision to transfer its regional news program, as screened in the North Lakes, from the North East to Manchester.

When Keswick councillor Eric Impey heard about it he was up in arms — and so was the local council, which wrote demanding not just to have Look North restored, but stressing “we want Mike Neville back”.

A few months later the BBC reversed its move and indeed we did get Mike back on our tellies. What the powers-that-be had not considered was that the Lake District was becoming a favourite retirement haven and holiday and weekend venue for Geordies and there was something of a spiritual link. Plus, he was a jolly good presenter with easy charm and wit.

While Neville was, said one fellow broadcaster, “part of the fabric of the North East”, he had thousands of fans on this side of Look North’s patch. His death last month marked the passing of a regional broadcasting legend.


THE tendency for people on the TV and radio to begin sentences with the word “so” is spreading. New arts minister John Glen made his first significant appearance in role last week in the Commons when he prefaced two of his answers with “so”.

Heaven preserve the arts if this is a sign of things to come. So, William Shakespeare, what do you think to the new arts bloke?