"Have you ever been made a monkey of and hung out to dry? This has happened to me a few times in my life. I don't mind being the butt end of the joke where friends are involved, but as for a family member pulling the old plonker, well, that's not playing ball, is it?
Way back in the 1990s, I was a big fish in a small pond and would as a general rule be in one of the Yorkshire regional newspapers four or five times a week. This was not surprising as over 860 national famous names and celebrities read from my books in Yorkshire schools and libraries between 1990 and 2002 and a number of international famous names had also kindly praised my writing, like the late Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, Norman Wisdom, Dame Catherine Cookson etc. I had attracted such public attention by standing next to the celebrity who'd just read from one of my books as the press or tv cameras were upon them. So one could say that whatever notoriety or local celebrity I obtained during those years, was acquired through hanging on to the shirt tails of famous people who'd been persuaded to publicly read from my books in a Yorkshire school or library assembly.
During those heady years, I was interviewed on local television or more often on local radio stations at pretty regular intervals and it wouldn't be unusual for me to do two radio interviews monthly. At the beginning of this period of local adulation (which I must confess to greatly have enjoyed for the most part), I was quite happy to suppress my natural modesty and ride the crest of the popular wave.
It was during such times that my brother Patrick thought that I was getting too big for my boots and decided to take me down a peg or two in my own estimation. One evening, aided by the connivance of a well-spoken accomplice I didn't know, I ostensibly received a call from one of the local radio stations to do an interview on a forthcoming early-morning spot. It was to be at the unearthly broadcasting-hour of 6.30am in Leeds. Wishing to extend my fame a bit wider and remain in the limelight as long as possible, I naturally accepted.
On the morning of the interview, I was about to enter Broadcasting Centre in Leeds when I received a telephone call to cancel the interview. It was a friend of my brother Patrick who'd been roped in to play his part in the prank at the other end of the line. Patrick wanted me to know that I'd been truly 'had' and that the interview was a setup, but not before he had milked the prank for all it was worth and exacted the maximum embarrassment from me. So, he got his friend to string me along. 'Is that Bill Forde?' I was asked politely by the caller at the other end of the line. After acknowledging it was, the caller said in a somewhat nonchalant voice, 'I'm sorry to have to tell you, Bill, but we won't be requiring your services this morning after all. B.B.C. Radio has managed to catch a bigger fish to do this morning's interview. So sorry if you are disappointed but I'm sure that we will be able to squeeze you in somewhere on one of the all-night programs before the end of the year.' Just as I was about to give the caller a piece of my mind, I heard my brother Patrick laughing in the background before he hung up.
I have never needed to worry about getting above my station in life as far as my family is concerned, as I've always known that if ever my feet were in danger of leaving the ground, my late mother, children, brothers and sisters would always drag me back down to earth!
When I was 17 years old and the annual work's dance came around, I managed to get a date with a particularly good looking girl who worked in the yarn-packing department at Harrison Gardner's Dyeworks. Believing my lucky boat to have harboured in the port, and being eager to impress the young girl in question, I wanted nothing to risk spoiling the romantic evening as I waltzed my darling around the floor. Despite her working in the mill, the young lady in question came from a well-off family from Cleckheaton who lived in their own house on a private road and not a council estate. She was occupying herself for four months before she went to university.
At the time, my mother held an evening job as a waitress serving table three nights a week at the very same dining and dancing establishment in Cleckheaton where the firm's Annual Dinner Dance was to be held. Not wishing to feel embarrassed by having my mum serving tables that night, I asked her to have the night off work and even agreed to pay the wages she would lose by staying at home. 'Are you embarrassed by your old mum being a waitress, Billy Forde?' mum asked when she eventually figured out my reasoning. 'Well, let me tell you, boyo' she added, 'there is no shame in doing your job!'
The night of the Annual Dinner Dance arrived, and despite feeling generally under the weather that evening, mum was determined to go to work and perform her waitressing duties. Not only did she turn up for work with the other six waitresses, but she ensured that the table where I sat with my date for the evening was served by herself. As mum approached the table with a large bowl of potatoes to serve, she smiled broadly, introduced herself as being 'Billy's mother' and smiled towards me and my date. She placed three boiled potatoes on each plate at the ten-seater table, but when she came to mine, she piled my plate sky high, saying to present company, 'Our Billy's always loved his spuds. I usually mash them for him at home and put a big blob of butter on. Would you like them mashing up, Billy?' While the rest of the table laughed, including my date I wanted to impress, I slunk off to the toilet fuming. Never again did I try to forget my roots or try to persuade my mother to do something she didn't want to do.
I have also been at the other side of the line, and have done the hanging out. I recall an elderly spinster friend of mine called Etta who was in her late 80s at the time a new next-door neighbour moved in. Etta was a cultured woman who kept to herself, yet always had a friendly and polite word to say whenever spoken to. Etta's new neighbour was extremely tidy and garden conscious and within the space of the first month, she had paid out thousands of pounds landscaping her garden.
Not content however with keeping her prim and spotless garden, Etta's neighbour quickly wanted next door to have a similar makeover, to keep up the high standard which she had established on the lane. Soon the neighbour revealed her snooty and nosy-parker traits. One autumn afternoon, the class-conscious neighbour complained about the leaves in Etta's garden and how they would blow across into her garden if left unattended in the wind. After making her complaint to Etta, the snooty neighbour suggested that she send her own gardener around to tidy up and added that he'd only charge her £5 an hour. Etta, who was extremely proud, replied, 'I am perfectly capable of asking my own gardener to move the leaves, once they've released their goodness into the soil beneath, thank you very much.'
At the time, not only was I Etta's gardener, but she'd also more or less adopted me as the son she'd never had after my own mother had died. Later, when Etta told me what the snooty neighbour had said, I determined to hang her out to dry alongside her own dirty washing. I could have tidied up Etta's garden myself there and then, but decided upon a different option. I arranged for a very good friend of mine (since deceased) to come and clear up Etta's leaves one autumn afternoon and to do a bit of weeding whilst there. The snooty neighbour spied Etta's new gardener and came out to observe him and to no doubt give him a few tips also. When she looked over the wall, Etta said, 'This is my gardener friend, Geoffrey Smith. You may have seen him on the television; he presents Gardener's World.'
I and Geoffrey had been the closest of friends for five years at the time. He would often read from one of my story books in a Kirklees school and we would dine together half a dozen times a year. At the time, Geoffrey was the nation's favourite television gardener and was probably as famous as Percy Thrower used to be in the 50s. The snooty neighbour was gobsmacked and couldn't believe her eyes when she caught the television celebrity weeding her neighbour's garden, pruning the roses and grafting her four Braeburn apple trees.
One week later, it was Etta's 90th birthday and I decided to put on a special birthday tea for her in her own home. I knew that the only two television programmes Etta ever watched were 'Gardener's World' and 'Countdown'. As luck would have it, my good friend, the late Richard Whitely was reading from one of my books at a school in Ravensthorpe on the afternoon of Etta's birthday. I invited Richard to tea at Etta's and he was more than pleased to make this 90-year-old woman very happy as a surprise birthday visitor. When he arrived, I asked Richard to pip his car horn three times loudly as he pulled up outside the house with a gift-wrapped present for Etta, which he agreed to do. Richard duly got out of the car holding Etta's present and knocked on the door to give Etta the surprise of her life. I opened the door, saw Richard there and said to Etta, 'You have another birthday visitor, Mum'. Naturally, the tooting of the horn had stirred the nosy next door neighbour to peer through her curtains at the celebrity visitor as he disembarked from his flashy car.
Two famous faces visiting Etta's house in the space of one week had her snooty neighbour starting to think she'd come to live on Celebrity Row instead of Old Bank Lane, Mirfield. Ee by gum, you couldn't make it up if you tried and if you didn't laugh you'd have to cry."
Love and peace Bill xxx