Chicken in a Basket

Chicken in a Basket

When Bowie, Pink Floyd or Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham were in town there was only one hotel. Boxing glitterati in particular loved this place. Nowhere in the north of England had more of a buzz than fight-night at The Midland Hotel, Manchester. Alick Rowe was the son of Herefordshire pub tenants who grew up at The Commercial, an ancient hostelry near the train station. He won a scholarship to Cambridge, wrote television dramas such as Tripods, Two People, Clare and a film called Morgan’s Boy. He also taught me English, a subject I had now graduated in at Manchester Polytechnic. He invited me to dinner at La Française, the Midland’s finest restaurant to discuss his new corporate identity project. Spiffing Images Design was in full creative flow and had designed a superb package for £140. We dined in the grand salon where Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce in 1904 and despatched the Lendrum brothers to Malaya to provide the rubber to make the wheels go round. After pan-fried frogs’ legs in a delicious but challenging Bearnaise sauce served with sautéed potatoes and baby tomatoes, washed down with ice cold Chablis, Mr Rowe handed over the cheque. ‘Remember David Nobbs, Paul? He and I are match sponsors for Hereford’s next home game. Would you care to join us?’ How could I not. The game was against Shrewsbury, a local derby, with the potential for a bit of agro at the Bull Market End, the gate swelling to 4,000 plus fans. I invited Commie Ken who had never been to a professional football match. However his response was curt. ‘No, Mr Paul. These pointless bourgeoise leisure diversions are a curse on the proletariat’. Yet the thought of actually meeting Winston White, Hereford’s dazzling winger was too alluring. So I jumped on a train. Hereford United were perennial, mid-table fourth division plodders. However when Winston was on form the regular 2,000 crowd in this fabulous old market town let out a roar which could be heard half way across the Brecon Beacons. On a bright blue-sky Saturday we strolled into Duggy’s newsagents on the Commercial Road and Alick purchased his customery pack of panatella cigars and a tube of wine gums. We marched towards the ground, past the players cars and into the VIP lounge area. A pre-match lunch of prawn cocktail followed by chicken-in-a-basket was washed down by a glass of Chardonnay. Besuited players, courtesy of C&A, sporting slick perms and shiny leather slip-ons paraded past our table. The air was thick with cigar-smoke and the odour of Aramis aftershave. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the creator of ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ (possibly Britain’s finest ever TV comedy). The avuncular Mr Nobbs had a kindly and modest demeanour. His ‘A Bit of a Do’ TV series was flying high with regular viewing figures of 14 million plus. We shook hands. He remembered my name and as the match kicked off, Alick’s daughter joined us shouting out ‘Oy Dad, where is your scarf?’ Winston White destroyed the left back and shimmered on the wing like a twinkling northern light. The game ended in a high scoring draw and we adjourned to the VIP bar. Winston, freshly-showered and gelled was now in a plush Saturday Night Fever cream suit and flashed me a Hollywood smile. Shyly I approached the great man. ‘You remind me of Manchester City’s Dave Bennett. Well played’. To which he replied ‘Oh, so you’re a Man City fan? I might play for you lot one day’. Alick played the host magnificently, pressing the flesh, buying rounds of drinks and charming the chairman, who I recall was a dodgy property developer. Sadly Spiffing Images offers of full new corporate re-brand concepts for Hereford United and David Nobbs were politely rejected, though as a sop, we were invited to the Perrin mansions for tea. I lit a cigar and soaked up the ambience as the wine flowed. A good move because I’ve never been in a boardroom since and The Bulls are now playing in the semi-professional league. I lost touch with Alick Rowe who later went to prison in Shrewsbury after an incident with a Hereford Cathedral choirboy. Upon hearing the news, memories of a 1980’s road trip through France with Alick and a Hereford musician, the curiously named Ratty came flooding back. So did my recollections of meeting people like Cheryl Campbell, Kenneth Cranham and the producers of Howard’s Way. Mr Rowe ended his days living in Thailand but his favourite song by The Kinks ‘I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things’ lives on, as does his literary legacy.

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