Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane

CALL me old fashioned. Accuse me of not keeping up with the times. Say I’m yesterday’s man. Tell me it’s not my day any more.

And if you do I’ll be more than gratified to tell you: “Well, you’re absolutely right.”

There’s lots of talk about the shops’ Sunday hours being extended. Seems it’s what folks want.

Let me tell you right here right now – I don’t think shops of any kind should open on Sunday.

Do I hear roars of laughter with quips of: “The man’s mad?”

And I hear you asking me – pleading with me – to explain why I think the shop and supermarket shutters should come down on the Sabbath day.

Well it’s nothing at all to do with religion.

It’s just that I truly believe there used to be one special day in the week. The day of rest. Sunday.

Not any more – go into Wigan town centre on a Sunday and it could well be any other day of the week.

When I was but a lad back in the 1950s, Sunday had a pace and atmosphere all of its own.

Old men put on their Sunday best suits, put a flower in their lapel and walked at a gentle pace to the pub. The church bells and the sun always shone. Or so it seemed.

True a lot of people headed for the church, but lots of others took the kiddies for walks, basked in the beauty of their gardens, rested, read the ever-special Sunday papers, and took Rover for a run on the slag heaps.

People living on terraced streets spilled out onto the pavement to chat and gossip, kids chalked on the pavement to play hop-scotch.

Sunday was the greatest day of the week for radio listeners with lots of comedy shows – Ray’s a Laugh (featuring Wigan-born Ted Ray), Meet the Huggets, Two Way Family Favourites, The Billy Cotton Band Show, and, in the evening, Sunday Half Hour.

People relaxed on Sunday – and the shops were all closed, the blinds down.

Sometimes, a small corner shop could be found open but was limited in what it could sell. As I recall you could buy a Bible and a corn plaster but not a can of peas.

Those were the days.

THERE has been but one universally discussed topic in this town over the last couple of weeks.

It doesn’t need me to say that the topic was the nationally broadcast ITV programme Don’t Blame the Council which focussed on the bin collection on one small 
estate.

Some would say that the controversial show which portrayed Wigan in such a bad light was just a seven-day wonder.

But no, just days ago the programme was still on everybody’s lips. “Did you see it? It made me ashamed to be a Wiganer” was the general view.

Like me, you probably thought that our many councillors will be jumping up and down in their seats at the monthly council meeting, raring to have their two penneth of comment.

But the fact is that within the hallowed walls of the Council Chamber, it is more than likely that our councillors won’t get to air their views on the show.

It would be against council regales and regulations.

It seems a downright shame that our elected councillors will not, as things stand now, be able to air their views, good and bad, on such an important issue.

Could it be a case of let sleeping dogs lie?

Well, actually no.

Councillors wishing to speak have to register a certain number of days before the council meeting.

And the topic must have a seconder.

Seems that in this instance, that time had lapsed.

A QUARTER of a century ago I spent weeks uncovering the story of Wigan-born opera singer Margery Booth, who married a German and continued to spy for the British.

It was a terrific story crammed full of exciting elements and death-defying shock-horror moments.

With a wave of my wand of modesty, I can tell you that I won a journalistic award for the series of features, but it would have seemed that having my certificate framed would have been a bridge too far. But I admit I was chuffed, especially as the award was from fellow hacks.

All water under the bridge.

Hodges Street-born Margery became a top opera singer, married a German, hob-nobbed with Hitler, spied for her country, and was eventually flown home by the Government at the end of the second world war.

But there wasn’t to be an award for Margery Booth. She was rejected for marrying a German, went to live in New York and died of cancer at a young age.

Now a writer has completed a screen play of Margery’s amazing story – and a company is looking for a production company to film the amazing story.

Just shows – you can’t keep a good story down.