I don’t really drop names, but only because I have so few to drop. If you only have a couple, you tend to take extra care of them.
Believe me, if I had more, I would drop them all around the county. I would probably collect names just so that I could drop them in front of someone, and then apologise for my carelessness. Hence, acute name poverty turns out to be my friend. That and the fact that routine name droppers are catatonically tedious, and being tedious is not yet one of my life choices.
But I do have a couple in my armoury, thank you, one of whom – June Whitfield- has just gone to the great TV studio in the sky.
For many years, June lived in our parish and was, de facto, its celebrity. If a village fete needed opening, June opened it; if a Christmas bazaar needed someone to wish it well, it was she who wished it; and if the pub restaurant needed a splash of stardust, June did the splashing. She beamed ceaselessly at us all as we went about our business, and had time for everyone. In a world where A-List luvvies tend to helicopter home and put 12 foot security fences around their idyllic bit of privacy before inviting Hello Magazinein to witness how deeply in love they are, June did normal exquisitely. When Tom was born, she just wandered into our drive, dropped off a little soft toy for him, and wandered off again. Whatever they are saying about her tonight in the papers and on social media is all true: she was utterly lovely.
A dozen years ago, I understudied her, which might come as something of a surprise.
Tillington was celebrating an anniversary, the highlight of which was a celebrity cricket match. There were a couple of old test players drafted in, a BBC commentator, and that bloke from the Archers who everyone hates, but there was no A-Lister to keep the turnstiles busy. Cue June. The plan was that June would open the innings with ex-England wicket keeper Paul Downton, and then announce theatrically that her back had gone after one gentle ball had been bowled at her, at which point I would take over as J. Whitfield. She did, and I did and, for once in my life, I played rather well. So well, in fact, that I outscored the England player in our partnership of 65, and was only out because the umpire decided understandably that the crowd really hadn’t come to see me, and adjudged me LBW to one that pitched so far outside leg it was nearly in Petworth Park. Tragic though it might have been to me, a man who rarely troubles double figures, I have to admit it was a popular decision.
‘I say!’ she said, as she met me on my sweaty way back to the pavilion. ‘I think I played rather well, didn’t I?’. And she took the bat from my hand and waved it to the crowd cheerfully, acknowledging the muted applause.
And it is still there in the scorebook for all to see, and will be for ever: J.Whitfield. LBW Westmore. 41
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