Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 3rd April 2018

AS a young, wet behind the ears reporter, I remember being immensely impressed when despatched to Penrith’s Gloucester Arms to cover a visit by Border TV’s popular 60s frontman Alick Cleaver.

I can’t recall the reason why Border were filming that day, but I retain the vision of Alick being handed a yard of ale and, without hesitation, downing the lot in one go before licking the froth off his whiskery chops and ordering a pint of best.

It was the news that the BBC is returning Fanny Cradock to our television screens this Easter as it opens up its archives to revive cookery shows from as early as 1970 that got me musing about the early days of our own local channel, Border TV, which was then based at Harraby, Carlisle.

Viewers will be treated, if that’s the right word, to the first episode that Mrs Cradock filmed in her kitchen, alongside her long suffering husband, Johnnie, in which she makes deep fat-fried cheese and breaks two eggs at the same time, all the while staring scarily into the camera.

Fanny Cradock died in 1994 at the age of 85. She was known for her over-the-top wardrobe and bossy presenting style. She had a fondness for food colouring and once produced green mashed potato and green cheese ice cream.

But it’s the early days of Border that sparked my memory, when the likes of Mary Marquis, Derek “be nice to each other” Batey and gardening guru Henry Noblett, plus Alick, of course, were more like friends popping into our living rooms every evening than slick TV presenters.

Alick Cleaver, who I seem to recall ran a pub in West Cumberland, was the channel’s first news editor and the man responsible for setting up newsroom operations for the start of broadcasting on 1st September, 1960. He presented Focus, the forerunner of Lookaround, and reported local news events while taking a keen interest in rural affairs like hound trailing and Cumberland and Westmorland-style wrestling.

Border had its own chef, Toni Stoppani. You can still find some of his books from the 1960s on Amazon. At a time when the station had a remarkable 60 per cent audience penetration, the presenters and reporters were very much local celebrities.

Toni did a series for ITV in 1974 about cooking on a budget. There was something of an economic crisis in the land and he demonstrated cheap, nutritious meals for young couples, OAPs, large families and even school leavers. Not a bad idea for now if someone was to take it on.

My only appearance on Border in those early years was as part of the Keswick team in Top Town, a program which went out live hosted by Derek Batey. I answered the sport questions and other members of the team handled music and general knowledge.

We did quite well, winning a couple of rounds, but our classical music expert, an elderly retired doctor, did not have a TV at home so had little understanding of what “live” meant. Half way through the quiz he got up to go to the toilet. Batey turned a whiter shade of pale and the producer — he may have been the same Harry King who still broadcasts on Radio Cumbria — almost fainted as our man stood up in front of the camera. He was gently ushered back to his place while Batey, the consummate pro, carried on as if nothing had happened.

Ah yes, those were the days. The days when a TV reporter could sink four pints of beer in a minute and still stand rock steady while speaking to camera. Alick Cleaver died in 2002, at the age of 88, legend of a time when local telly really meant local and when a small company like Border enjoyed a warm and personal relationship with its audience.

CARDBOARD COPPERS

CAN we have our “fake” copper back, please? Sadly our best chance of sighting a police officer these days is of the reinforced cardboard variety, like the model that was stolen from Shap at the weekend, producing an appeal from Cumbria police for its safe return.

The residents of Orton recently subscribed to provide their own “fake” bobby, and that seems to be how it is nowadays if you call the cops.

Cumbria’s police and crime commissioner, Peter McCall, speaking recently at a meeting in Penrith, called on the public to report antisocial behaviour to the police rather than simply “moaning” about it.

Official figures suggest antisocial behaviour in Cumbria is down, although it remains a regular topic at public events Mr McCall attends. He is rightly not complacent and says the fact the public are not reporting incidents to the police is a worry.

We have to accept that policing budgets are tight these days and the role of the police is changing with threats of terrorism and cyber crime that were not on the agenda a decade ago when you still saw bobbies on the beat. Maybe antisocial behaviour and low level crimes aren’t being reported because the public has lost faith that the police will turn up and investigate. Police stations have been closed and with such little visibility of “real” bobbies rather than cardboard cut-out fakes, public confidence is low.

Our police commissioner wants to “get under the bonnet” and discover why there’s a reticence to report. I think one answer is fairly clear.

MOUNTAIN BID WAS “CRACKERS”

YOU can’t beat a dose of local wit and wisdom and that’s precisely what Threlkeld resident Donald Angus provided by way of summary of the ill-starred bid to buy Blencathra.

The Daily Mail last week ran a two-page spread about the shambles and discontent that appears to have followed the four-year battle to “save” the mountain from the potential grip of some unknown oligarch with an ego as big as Blencathra itself.

The project, well-meant as it was, has ended in tears. Donald, who is 80 and still gives talks to local groups, worked as a national park ranger for 30 years before his retirement. He said: “I thought it was ridiculous that they were even trying to buy it. What are you going to do with it? It’s absolutely crackers.”

Blencathra’s owner, Hugh Lowther, the 8th Earl of Lonsdale, announced he was selling Blencathra four years ago in order to pay off an inheritance tax bill. A Friends Facebook group raised £250,000, nowhere near the £1.75 million asking price.

Subsequently the mountain was withdrawn from sale, but with allegations of bullying, online threats and arguments about the money, such was the state of war between rival factions that even the police were called in, although no-one was ever arrested.

A sorry saga. A reminder of how social media can make enemies of people and how money creates acrimony. And all for nothing as it turned out. Simply crackers, as Donald Angus attests.

SERVICE CHARGES

GOING to church this Easter Sunday? I wonder if any of our local churches have got their card readers ready for when the collection is taken?

I still feel a bit uneasy about waving my bank card in front of one of those little machines that take payment, but I don’t blame the CofE for jumping on a modern bandwagon and allowing people to donate by contactless cards rather than cash.

A lot of folk, especially the younger end, don’t walk around jingling small change in their pockets like we oldies. Contactless is the new way to pay and solve the embarrassment of not having any spare cash for tipping or charity donations,

The Church enters the digital age believing it will solve the problem of collections at funerals and weddings. I don’t know what older congregations will make of it, but I think it’s rather cool that, for once, the CofE is moving with the times. It certainly brings a new meaning to the words service charge.

EGGS-STRA CHOCOLATE MISSING

INEVITABLY there are complaints that the shops are selling Easter eggs that make no mention of Easter. It’s like airbrushing the whole meaning in some politically correct way, flogging as many products as possible while not offending non-Christian religions.

It’s not just the absence of Easter from Easter eggs that annoys me. It’s the absence of any meaningful amount of chocolate. They’re all colourful packaging that ends up thrown away, adding to our rubbish problem, and disappointingly little choccy. Talk about a rip off. It’s about as subtle as an Aussie ball tamperer and yet we still fall for it every year.