Anton Rippon: Did I tell you about the times I have met showbiz folk?
THE topic was who would be the main speaker at this year's Old Bemrosians dinner. The main qualification is that he must be an old boy of the grammar school.
As such, I've spoken at three of the last four dinners – but I've run out of anything remotely interesting to say. Last year I was only halfway through when I noticed that people were focusing on the bar. To be fair, we were perilously near last orders. Maybe we should start earlier.
Anyway, just then Alf went off topic: "I bet you've met some famous people in your line of work?"
Now, as you are probably aware, I'm always ready to name-drop, albeit not on the Olympian scale of some people, but nevertheless…
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"Well," I said, "not as many as if, say, I'd been in the travel business. But there have been showbiz folk – I was on Max Bygraves' Christmas card list, and Simon Dee threatened to sue me – and some great footballers.
"At the unveiling of the Steve Bloomer memorial in the Lock-up Yard, Sir Tom Finney recognised me, although he couldn't think why. Years earlier, I'd interviewed him.
"There was a Nobel Prize winner when I accidentally lunched with Harold Pinter. The playwright was reputedly grumpy but I found him OK once he discovered that I liked cricket."
"What about royalty?" Alf wanted to know.
"Now there's a story," I said. "The Queen Mother caught my eye at a reception. I was standing next to Baroness Heyhoe-Flint – she was just Rachael in those days – and Her Majesty mixed up the former England women's cricket captain with an actress. The Queen Mum looked at me and raised her eyes – sort of, 'Oh dear me'. I smiled, but then a flunkey hurried her along, although a Royal corgi did pause to sniff my trousers. Even he turned his nose up."
Of course, what impresses one person may not do it for another. In the mid-1960s, Redfern Athletic were playing in Belgium. I'd taken myself off alone – I couldn't find anyone else interested in the architectural delights, such as they are, of Ostend – and was sitting outside a hotel, drinking coffee and watching the world go by.
Suddenly, a cavalcade of black limousines with darkened windows drew up and out jumped some heavy-looking characters, all wearing sunglasses. They swept past me into the hotel, in their midst the figure of the ill-fated Moïse Tshombe, prime minister of the strife-riven Congo. Tshombe was always in the news.
"Wait till I tell the lads," I thought.
Back to the Old Bems dinner, to be held at Kedleston Golf Club in May.
I suggested that Stephen Marley is asked to speak – and he has accepted. Reggae fans do not get excited. This is not Stephen "Raggamuffin" Marley, son of the legendary Bob, who did not attend Bemrose. It is Derby-born Stephen Marley, cult science fiction and fantasy writer, who did. And he's good.
Old Bemrosians interested in attending should telephone Ray Webb on 01332 812325.
Now then, did I ever tell you about the time I found myself in the same lift as…