This Island Life I never tire of Home Guard anecdotes but, whenever I hear them, two questions immediately spring to mind.
Firstly, how did it take 25 years for such a rich store of material to be plundered and turned into an imperishable television series? And secondly, why did some corporation bureaucrats harbour such strong doubts about its potential that Dad’s Army almost never reached the screens at all?
Paul Fox, controller of BBC 1 at the time, was concerned at an audience backlash if it was felt the show was belittling the efforts of the Home Guard.
Fortunately, the head of comedy, Michael Mills, had more faith in our ability to laugh at ourselves and his view prevailed.
I’m grateful to Grumpy Greening for adding to my anecdotage with this story which comes from his latest book on Island life — but could have been lifted directly from the pages of a Jimmy Perry and David Croft script.
Apparently, it was decided to hold a military exercise on the Island in 1941 to prepare for a German invasion, which at that time was deemed probable rather than merely possible.
Three groups of ‘German paratroopers’ (who were actually regular soldiers) were ‘landed’ at Godshill, Cowes and St Helens, with the strategic objective of moving across the Island to capture Newport.
The defence force, intent upon scuppering their evil plan, comprised Island Home Guard volunteers and each side wore different headgear to ensure there was no confusion.
The battle-hardened German paratroopers wore rather fetching flat caps and the valiant defenders sported steel helmets.
This seemed a rather odd decision, because had the conflict been genuine, it would probably have been the other way round.
However, battle was joined and when it threatened to get out of hand in a cemetery, an officer acting as umpire had to part the warring factions.
At which point a German paratrooper was heard to ask a local defence force volunteer: “Got any fags, mate?”
The invaders eventually took Newport, whereupon they burst into County Hall where Lord Mottistone was chairing a meeting.
His lordship, intent upon playing his role to the full despite the presence of a gun pointed at his forehead, stoutly declared: “The people of the IW will never co-operate with the enemy.
“If this means I am to be shot then I am sorry but I will resist you to the end.”
Grumpy told me: “Believe it or not, this is a true story.
“It could only have been bettered if one of the Germans had asked the old boy for his name and a council clerk had piped up: “Don’t tell him Lord Mottistone!”
This tale is included in the new book Grumpy has written with his old mate, Bill Shepard, entitled We Remember it Well, which will be in the shops within a week or two.
Incidentally, he will be giving an illustrated talk at Newclose County Cricket Ground on Wednesday, April 18, featuring some of the hundreds of Island photographs he has amassed over the years.
He said: “There’s everything from old Island shops and businesses now long gone, post and pre-war carnivals, sports teams, the pop festivals and even the great snows of 1881.”
Food can be ordered from 7pm and the talk begins an hour later. Tickets are £5 each and can be booked through Ken and Jackie Hamblin at kenneth.
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Patient with a familiar ring
It may be a small world but it’s an even smaller Island, as Tessa Baker discovered recently when she visited her mother at St Mary’s Hospital.
The name of the lady in the adjacent bed, Jean Robson, rang a bell (albeit a dim one) and Tessa couldn’t rest until she remembered where she had seen it before.
Then the penny dropped. Almost 34 years ago, Tessa and some friends modelled clothes for Ladies’ Realm with the proceeds going to various charities.
The old Weekly Post was there to record the occasion and a photograph and report duly appeared on page five in the edition of November 10, 1978.
Tessa cut out the report all those years ago and on the reverse was a photograph featuring a woman buying something from a stall at Brading United Reformed Church autumn market.
It was none other than the very same Jean Robson, pictured with her young daughter, Penny.
“It was a remarkable coincidence,” said Tessa, “and Jean was delighted to see the photograph again after all this time.”
The story has a perfect postscript, because Tessa’s mother and Jean have struck up friendship since leaving the hospital.
The cuttings are shown here.