Thursday, 18 February 2016

No ‘Strictly’ Stardom for me, boo hoo!

A scene from the 60s: Kids help the fishermen on Budleigh beach   
Image credit: Fairlynch Museum 

The first thing I need to say is that Fairlynch Museum may be featured on BBC1 tomorrow, Friday 19 February, 2016 at 3.45pm.

I shall of course, be watching, though with some regret.

Many months ago the Museum was approached by TV company Raise the Roof Productions for permission to film the building.

The company was intending to make a programme in the ‘Holiday of My Lifetime’ series, in which a celebrity recalls his or her first memorable holiday in a conversation with Len Goodman. Yes, the Len Goodman who judges all those Amazing Contestants on Strictly Come Dancing. 

The celebrity in question was going to be Valerie Singleton. Is going to be Valerie Singleton. You know!  The one in the middle in that Blue Peter Annual Number 5.  Blue Peter from many moons ago on the BBC. (Which is why the episode is being broadcast in the afternoon).

Yet another Blue Peter Annual from my collection

Naturally enough I imagined that I would be interviewed by Len Goodman and or Valerie Singleton before being invited to star on Strictly Come Dancing with those  Amazing Contestants. Nothing of the sort happened of course. The cameraman turned up and filmed some of the rooms at Fairlynch - being particularly impressed by the Joyce Dennys paintings - and then went away and I heard nothing more. 

So sad!

Never one to be put off I asked Google for help and came across this charming recollection by the former Blue Peter presenter. She’d actually recorded it not for television but for a travel company called Wendy Wu Tours.  

‘When I was growing up, people didn’t go abroad then so we tended to go on
caravanning holidays,’ recalled Ms Singleton. ‘One particularly happy  holiday I remember was in Ladram Bay in Devon between Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton. I used to get up very early and sneak out of the caravan without my parents knowing and go out with the fishermen to help lay their nets. I then ran up to the local farm to buy fresh eggs and warm milk straight from the cows. It was idyllic and very different to holidays children enjoy nowadays.’

It’s such a trip into nostalgia that I’d like to credit the source at

Yes indeed. I thought of my own childhood holidays, camping in the family tent in farmers’ fields and trying to avoid the cowpats.

There were, apparently, photos of Valerie Singleton helping local fishermen which the TV company would be using. I’d hoped to be able to copy the images, but no luck – I suppose they were too busy.

More helpful kids, as seen in another photo from the Fairlynch Museum collection

Never mind. Ms Singleton’s memories had got me thinking of an episode in a book I’d read. It’s a detective story by V.C. Clinton-Baddeley called No Case for the Police, featuring the fictional detective Dr Davie and set in the village of Tidwell St Peter’s. Keen readers of my scribblings will recognize this place as Budleigh Salterton, and of course the detective is Clinton-Baddeley himself. Check it out here  if you have time.

A Cambridge graduate and lifelong friend of Joyce Dennys, the author was brought up in the area and is buried in East Budleigh following his death in 1970.  

‘There doesn’t seem to be any mackerel fishing nowadays,’ observes Davie to an old fisherman he meets on the beach.
‘All over,’ said the old cove.
‘When I was a boy the fishermen used to sit up here and watch the sea for the shoals, and suddenly one of them would cry out and point at a glittering in the water, and they’s all rush down to the beach and jump into a boat and row out in a circle, paying out a net. It would be quite close to shore.’
‘So it were.’
‘And then they’d land and draw in the net and the children would help pull.’
‘So they did,’ said the old cove.
‘I used to pull,’ said Davie.
‘Did you, then?’
‘And when the haul was landed we used to be given a fish for our services. I fear it must have been a gross over-payment.’
‘It’s all finished now,’ said the old cove. ‘The mackerel boats is all over to Exmouth.’

Mackerel fishing… camping holidays among the cowpats… warm milk from the cows… I even remember a butter churn from my Gloucestershire childhood. All memories.  All gone.

But we have the photos of how it used to be. Some of them may be used in the re-organised Local History Room at Fairlynch, where I hope we will be able to give greater prominence to what used to be such an important local industry.

So don’t forget! BBC1 on Friday, TOMORROW, at 3.45pm. Enjoy the trip!

And if you have your own memories of such local things do get in touch so that the Museum can record them.   

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