Another funeral of another friend, yesterday in Cardiff – not a man I knew well, but one who was always good company, and who helped me at two important moments in my life: Paddy Broughton, former press officer at the local theatre, the Northcott Theatre at Exeter. I’d known him for perhaps 31 or 32 years. As a greenhorn writer on the local community paper, the Exeter Flying Post, which set up shop in 1976, borrowing its name from a much older Exeter paper, I was at first allowed to write about pretty much anything I liked. This meant a series of articles about my record collection. Even the FP’s small readership must have skipped my stuff. The editor told me it was time I reviewed something non-vinyl, so I went to the local theatre (technically my second assignment – my first was Bob Marley and the Wailers, where I got into a fight with a man who objected to my girlfriend objecting to him singing louder in the audience than Bob Marley was managing on stage, and punched her).
Since I was an exceptionally ignorant person, it never occurred to me that there were such things as ‘press tickets’, so I paid and went to see a production of Antony and Cleopatra, a particularly poor one featuring Garfield Morgan, best known as the TV police inspector in ‘The Sweeney’. ‘His face pained, beyond the reach of any Alexandrine Alka-Setzer…’ is the only line I can remember from my piece, in which I duly slated the production. To my surprise (and alarm), I received a phone call from Paddy, who said that Geoffrey Reeves (the director) had enjoyed my review (I didn’t understand this), and please would I stop paying for tickets, and come along for two freebies on press night like everyone else? (It turned out that no local paper had written a serious review in years, and the fact that I had taken it seriously was what appealed.) So I got to know Paddy through regular reviewing stints (I already knew his wife Jenny, since I was in a drama group with her; and I taught his daughter Sarah, as I was later to teach his grandson Lloyd, at the very end of my FE career). He was immensely generous (he effectively got me a reviewing job on the local radio station when it opened in 1980, since, when the local presenters asked, Paddy pointed at me; he also gave me lots of sound advice when I went freelance in 2002). And he was a fund of anecdotes (he had been a newspaper journalist and also a playwright) – with one of which I will close.
His funeral was a particularly well-planned one. There was, as my father would have said, ‘a good gate’. The undertakers entered to the strains of Frank Sinatra singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, which one of them couldn’t help but lip-sync along to as he processed down the aisle. I don’t know if you’re supposed to come away from funerals with a warm, fuzzy glow, but it suited Paddy – he was 72, and weeks away from a golden wedding – who would surely have appreciated it. One thing I didn’t know about Paddy was that he had, in his early days at the Northcott, befriended a young actor, like Paddy from Derbyshire, and like Paddy a follower of Derby’s football team, which inspires the same kind of depressed obsession as Sunderland does, whose name was (is) Robert Lindsay. They had kept up a long correspondence. I saw the name ‘Robert Lindsay’ in the order of service, and actually thought, ‘I bet people are always kidding this guy, whoever he may be, about his name.’ But no, it was the man himself, cleverly letting Paddy speak for himself by quoting a selection of his letters. Having Britain’s finest stage and screen actor pop up at a friend’s funeral service is an unexpected extra – he was modestly expert in his eulogy.
Paddy was a warm-hearted man, with a fund of good stories, and a natural conversationalist. In his younger days, he had met Samuel Beckett, and chatted with him (as I recall, Beckett, who was a recluse, rarely spoke even to his wife, so this was an amazing thing). Paddy wasn’t, I think, a kidologist, although Beckett might have been. Anyway, this is what Beckett told Paddy. Beckett had, he said, been, in the late 1940s, at the end of a cycle race in France, at a time when there was a popular cyclist called Godard. ‘What are you doing?’ Beckett had asked one of the crowd. ‘We’re waiting for Godard,’ came the reply. Aha, thought Beckett, this gives me an idea…