Big Cheese

Big Cheese

In those faraway dim and distant days before wall-to-wall Alan Davies and Rob Brydon, there was a groundbreaking TV show called The Comedians which brought to a national audience the likes of Stan Boardman, Frank Carson, Charlie Williams and Bernard Manning. For that we should be thankful to a man called Wally Butler, the brains behind the show, who in the 80s was doing a bit of tutoring at Manchester Poly. For three memorable weeks he took us under his wing for a ‘Film and TV’ module halfway through our second year. Silver of hair and silver of tongue, he was a bundle of energy. His rasping Scots voice, expensive jackets and dark-tinted spectacles leant him an edginess but his generous big-hearted nature soon crushed any notion of menace. In the sixties he’d produced Coronation Street and dabbled in pop videos for Barclay James Harvest. He gave us a tour of Granada Studios, pints all round in The Rovers Return and a big bear-hug for Pat Phoenix when we bumped into her in reception. With his silver locks, silk hanky and shiny shoes Wally certainly had more than a touch of Mister Showbiz about him. He was on friendly terms with everyone, waving his slimline cigar as he radiated charisma. He got us going on making a programme for students new to Manchester and we roped in a Piccadilly DJ from Salford called Mike Sweeney to do the presenting. I wasn’t too bothered about the technical side of things and foolishly turned up my nose at a visit to the Brookside set and missed Karen the blonde bombshell on my course fighting off the dual attentions of Barry Grant and Sweeney. I could happily have followed Wally around all day just watching him in action, a slap on the back, a press of the hand, a warm word and a bit of banter to brighten everyone’s day. Next stop was Didsbury Studios where the plan was to make a video of Geoff Waring’s band. To warm us up, Wally took us into The Royal Oak and treated everyone to a cheese ploughman’s and two pints of Marston’s Pedigree. The cheese was of an incredibly generous portion – possibly half the size of a house-brick and quite delicious. I’ve had a hundred miserly-sized ploughman’s lunches since and none has ever come close to matching this. The pickled onion was as big as a golf-ball, crisp and perfectly piquant. The apple, sweetly-perfumed and fresh from a Cheshire bough. I recall very little about the video but the cheese and Wally’s generosity is with me forever.

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