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Remembering the recently departed

PUBLISHED: 15:09 07 May 2009 | UPDATED: 13:52 03 July 2010

SEVERAL people who have made their mark on east Norfolk and the borough of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston - albeit fleetingly, even obliquely, in some cases - have died recently.

SEVERAL people who have made their mark on east Norfolk and the borough of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston - albeit fleetingly, even obliquely, in some cases - have died recently. Three were involved in the world of professional entertainment, helping to give us a much-needed lift in our daily routine.

First, a man to whom many folk hereabouts owe a debt of gratitude, for his professional expertise helped them to recover from illness, extend their life-span and improve the quality of their lives. I refer, of course, to that well-loved local surgeon Hugh McDonald, aged 94.

Popularly dubbed “Mac the Knife”, he operated on hundreds of patients - including both my parents - during long service at the old Yarmouth General Hospital. I never had cause to be one of his patients, my only contact with him being when I was a reporter covering inquests at which, in his role as the borough pathologist, he gave post-mortem evidence.

We journalists could all parrot his identification - “Hugh Alexander McDonald, 6 Cliff Lane, Hopton”, spoken in that Scottish brogue. After his evidence, the coroner always allowed him to leave without the formality of waiting for the rest of the proceedings and verdict, saying he was sure he had a busy schedule ahead. Everyone who regularly attended these inquests, including the coroner, was well aware that in fact the dapper doctor was not heading for the operating theatre...but to the first tee at Gorleston Golf Club near his home, weather permitting.

Bert Hazell, a former Member of Parliament whose North Norfolk constituency included part of the Yarmouth Mercury catchment area, reached his centenary before he died in January, aged 101. I knew him well when he won the seat for Labour and held it from 1964-70. A down-side for me was that his constituency Labour Party annual meeting was always held on FA Cup Final Saturday afternoon, and it was my job to cover it!

My everlasting memory of Mr Hazell goes back to 1965 when we were in a small group that trudged along the shore at Sidestrand one wintry afternoon, conducted by army senior bomb disposal experts anxious to assure us and the public that all the mines laid there during the war had now been cleared, the beach could reopen, villagers who had campaigned for two decades could now use it safely, and the holiday trade could resume.

Two days later the MP was to ask a Question in Parliament about Sidestrand, giving the Government the chance to reply with the good news. I managed to contact him in the House just before he was called to speak...to tell him that a routine patrol had just discovered another mine only 50 yards from where we had walked. It was quickly detonated!

To write that Lord Nelson has died invites the riposte: “Yes, we knew about the admiral, and HMS Victory. 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, wasn't it?” But no: I mean his descendant, who inherited the ninth earldom in 1961 when he was a detective-sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad.

That Lord Nelson, who died in March, aged 67, was an honoured guest in Yarmouth to see in the new year of 1982 marked by his lighting of a huge beacon on the central beach, the first of 80 to form a ring of fire round the national coastline to launch Maritime England Year. Operation Seafire was masterminded by our own Bruno Peek.

The Yarmouth ceremony, attended by Mrs Peggotty and me, was the climax to a Maritime Ball at the Marina Centre, Lord Nelson's visit acknowledging his illustrious predecessor's hero status and strong links to the town.

The ninth Lord Nelson, a lifelong Norwich City supporter, is succeeded by his eldest son, Viscount Merton, who is also a policeman.

Canadian baritone Edmund Hockridge, who has died aged 89, specialised in musicals, becoming a top West End star in productions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favourites, for example, although his biggest recording hit that was to become his signature tune was by another composer - Hey There, from The Pyjama Game.

He also broadcast and toured regularly, and spent the summer of 1963 here at the Wellington Pier Pavilion, topping the bill with comedian Harry Worth.

Hit productions here through the summers of 1976 and 1978 were separately titled versions of The Black and White Minstrel Show, later to become a victim of political correctness resulting in its abolition, a blow to its millions of fans. In the Sixties it had been a television phenomenon, and later stage versions were devised; impresario and producer Robert Luff was the driving force behind this change of medium. He has died, aged 94.

Another entertainment personality to leave us was comedian and TV game show presenter Lennie Bennett, once part of a double act with Jerry Stevens. His seaside summer in 1983 was spent in Yarmouth at our Windmill Theatre, supporting unpredictable zany comic Freddie Starr and songstress Lisa Stansfield.

So, those people have now disappeared from the scene forever. Also missing from the scene hereabouts is an inanimate object that has been very familiar for decades to both residents and visitors: the large cartoon-like bloater that hung above the door of The Bloater King's fish-and-chip restaurant and takeaway at the junction of Regent Road and Albion, Crown and Alexandra Roads in central Yarmouth.

The premises - once called The Bloater Depot and Taylor's fish restaurant, I believe - changed hands this year and is now Fish 'n' Chick'n, a restaurant and takeaway. When Mrs Peggotty and I enjoyed a meal there recently, I inquired about the decorative bloater. The man at the pan told me it was at present sharing his bedroom above the premises!

The big bloater was a reminder of the era when the famed Yarmouth bloater was a popular food, ordered by holidaymakers at outlets like The Bloater King to be sent home, neatly packed in small wooden boxes. Time was when the head post office in Regent Street handled 5000 of these boxes daily in peak holiday season.

Also, there used to be a painted declaration outside The Bloater King: “Be it known that all our fish are despatched smoked and vacuum packed for your health and enjoyment. By order of the King Bloater.”

I wonder where that is...


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