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Skipper at Large: The ‘Bard of Bodham’

PUBLISHED: 10:19 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:09 07 September 2018

Mik Godfrey (second right) and Barry Toyn do their best to keep the Killmagrannie Pipe Band in step and in tune at a Bodham Night of Squit  Picture: Submitted

Mik Godfrey (second right) and Barry Toyn do their best to keep the Killmagrannie Pipe Band in step and in tune at a Bodham Night of Squit Picture: Submitted

Archant

Skipper shares memories of Mik Godfrey, and working for the Dereham and Fakenham Times in the 60s.

His greeting proved the perfect signpost to a master of Norfolk squit: “Hello, I travel in ladies’ underwear and have a wife called Fred”.

All soon became relatively clear as Mik Godfrey revealed he sold women’s stockings for a living and his missus was really named Mary. She had earned her nickname long before he arrived on the scene with seamless chat-up lines from rustic to romantic.

As a toddler she loved jumping into a big cardboard box, pulling down the lid – and then popping up with shrieks of laughter. Her Uncle Cyril urged her to rise with cries of “Come on, Fred!”. That name and antics behind it slid easily into family folklore.

I dubbed Mik the Bard of Bodham in honour of his trademark flair for embellishing the most prosaic of subjects with a lyrical ring. As long-serving comedian with my Press Gang travelling troubadours of entertainment he won countless admirers with what may best be described as a 3D delivery … Deadpan, Droll and Dry.

Mik died recently of cancer at 71. Tributes and yarns will flow when his funeral is held at Cromer Crematorium next Friday, September 14 (2pm). He was a popular driver for over 20 years with family-run Sanders Coaches of Holt, taking in local rounds, touring adventures and transporting Norwich City fans to matches home and away.

His gently amiable banter and shrewd character judgement lit up many a journey. I admit to at least once describing his steady progress behind the wheel as “an essential part of the Norfolk traffic-calming operation on fast-congesting roads”.

I first encountered Mik’s down-to-earth but sharply-honed comic talents in the early 1980s when he fitted snugly into the role of village correspondent on my BBC Radio Norfolk Dinnertime Show. Raised in Gorleston, he became a fondly-adopted son of Bodham, a community near Holt with a legendary reputation for home-made indulgence.

The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 sparked the idea of a variety concert in the old village hall as part of celebrations. So the notorious Bodham Night of Squit was born as locals were press-ganged into doing a turn. This off-the-cuff rural eisteddfod blossomed into an annual event with everything from dancing girls to outrageous sketches and handsome helpings of earthy Norfolk humour.

Mik Godfrey and Barry Toyn were unflinching sparring partners in the spotlight, introducing acts if they were ready, filling holes if they weren’t and spreading sheer joy generated by a growing realisation that total lack of shame was a prime parish commodity.

On the first night – yes, they had the cheek to it twice – the running order was pinned up backstage and amended three or four times to cater for last-minute additions or cancellations. The Red Hart pub next door could have had something to do with that. On completing a hat-trick in the Night of Squit attendance book, I noted: “Happily, no signs of getting any better”.

Little things kept on going wrong. Taped music refused to start. Someone tripped over a wire and pulled the plug out. Betty Earnshaw forgot to close the curtains. Ruddy Sparks went missing again. All part of the Bodham masterplan for predictable chaos.

When the Killmagrannie Pipe Band were in full cry in 1979, Robert Wright made his mark in spectacular fashion during a display of slick counter-marching. He took just one pace too many in a reverse direction and fell straight off back of the stage. He clambered back, bloody but unbowed, and gamely finished the performance.

I occasionally joined after-show rehearsals in the pub as Mik insisted: “It’s not the greatest show on earth. We don’t want it to be. As long as we enjoy making fools of ourselves, and audiences enjoy watching us do it, we’ve achieved our objective of keeping alive that old community spirit in one small Norfolk village”.

Homespun impressarios Mik and Barry also played leading roles in a bit of serious fun I hatched on the wireless in the name of Norfolk’s first village twinning. Bodham linked up with little Ovington, near Watton, to try new schemes and share a fresh brand of teamwork.

The Bard of Bodham was an essential part of a golden era in local entertainment. He gladly took precious talents further afield with solo stints steeped in earthy but engaging Norfolk humour.

I wonder if a certain pig in a wheelbarrow will turn up at his farewell...

Skipper’s Aside

The last Bob Carter Cup Final at county cricket headquarters turned into a vibrant lap of honour for many at the heart of this competition during 50 years at the crease.

Players, umpires, organisers, supporters and sponsors wallowed in nostalgia while Vauxhall Mallards scored a comprehensive victory over Great Witchingham at Manor Park in Horsford. Planes taking off from nearby Norwich Airport offered impromptu flypast salutes to a memorable slice of local sporting history.

I was on reporting duty for this newspaper in August, 1969, when Dereham beat Hunstanton by 70 runs in the first final at dear old Lakenham. Living next door to that precious green lung in a city, I had no excuse for being late in arriving for any fixture. Getting home on time was a different matter.

The Carter Cup finale lured me into a gentle reverie around Manor Park as countless characters from my sports reporting past lined up for a chat. A marquee of memories provided more chances to roll back the seasons with favourite matches and escapades.

A cheerful reception hosted by the Carter family found me delightfully sandwiched between Barry and Martin Battelley, two of four talented brothers playing for Dereham in that first final. Chris died tragically young, but Ian continues to shine on the over-70s circuit in Wales.

His belated move from mid-Norfolk surprised many – but it seems he may have felt the need for fresh challenges after so many years of shining in several sports on his home patch. The Battelley boys’ brigade certainly claimed plenty of headlines during my news-gleaning stint on the Dereham and Fakenham Times in the early 1960s.

I am one of five brothers weaned on village cricket. While Maurice, Malcolm, Colin and Mick made their distinctive marks, I had to spend too long in the deep worrying about being the odd one out, a sort of well-intentioned joker in the pack, a harmless aberration on an otherwise impressive scorecard.

Still, I can talk a good game, I’ve written about many and I love sharing memories.

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