By Harry Nuttall
David Baird’s amusing recollection of Bill Anderson getting a second bite at the wonderfully staged tale of trench vets sinking their pints in a hole in the road, reminded me of a pal of mine who got a dozen consecutive stories out of a pile of old clothes found on the moors above his patch of East Lancashire.
It was the start of Wakes fortnight and news was always going to be slow. Most of the lads and lasses from the mills and the factories and the shops were in Blackpool. The nobs were in Southport and St Annes.
In Darwen that Monday morning, nowt was moving as Norman Bentley, the Blackburn Telegraph’s local man, sauntered glumly into the police station. It hadn’t been a good weekend for Norman. His three-year-old son John, walking past the White Lion with his mum Nellie, had pointed excitedly to the pub and told her: ‘Look, mummy. That’s where daddy works.’
Norman’s arrival at the cop shop woke the snoozing desk sergeant. ‘Sorry, Norman. Nowt. Not a sniff.’ And then the old boy remembered … some old clothes had been found in the shadow of Darwen Tower: a shirt, trousers, a jumper and a pair of socks. Best he could come up with, he said apologetically.
Manna from heaven for a man of Norman’s calibre. He quickly fired over: ‘Police have discovered several items of clothing …’ The Tuesday follow-up was: ‘Mystery surround the discovery of …’
On Wednesday:: ‘Police are carefully examining clothing found high on the moors for any traces of blood …’
By the weekend various explanations were being put forward by our intrepid sleuth: ‘Police, puzzling over abandoned clothing on the moors, believe…’ and ‘Police are working on the theory that clothing …’
Norman chalked up the second Monday with an intriguing bit of analyses: ‘Could the clothing found on the moors belong to two people? …’
By the second Tuesday, warming to his theme, he introduced the possibility of a phantom nudist, but after eight consecutive days even Norman was struggling to keep it going: ‘Police last night appealed to…’ and by the second Thursday it was: ‘After two week, police are no nearer …’
On the second Friday, as bags were being re-packed all along the coast, he recovered his nerve a little and squeezed out: ‘Have YOU lost any items of clothing…?’ and followed with a more detailed description of the troublesome togs.
By this time the whole town, well, the few dozen who hadn’t been swanning around stylish Southport and St Annes or getting blathered in breezy Blackpool, was wondering what Our Man would come up with next as the Wakes holiday came to an end.
Norman Bentley, my boyhood hero, was up to the task. On Saturday he presented his final dispatch on the moors mystery: his piece de résistance: ‘The pile of clothing found two weeks ago on Darwen moors is now believed to have been a hoax.’
A master craftsman at work. And to his dying day, he denied scurrilous suggestions from younger, less imaginative hacks that the clothes were actually his own…