Sunday, 6 April 2008

1985: Frederick Pyne Pays Tribute To The Late Toke Townley

From the Yorkshire Evening Post supplement Emmerdale Farm 1,000! - 1985:

Frederick Pyne, Matt Skilbeck in Emmerdale Farm, paid tribute to Toke Townley, the much-loved Grandad Sam Pearson in the show, who died in 1984.

Unlike some members of the cast I had not known Toke Townley before we started work on "Emmerdale" in June 1972. "Grandad" and "Matt" in the story soon developed a relationship of friendship and mutual understanding with, I believe, only one quarrel which was quickly forgiven and forgotten.

I am happy to say that the same was true of Toke and myself in real life except that we never had even the one quarrel.

We were never extremely close friends because Toke was essentially a loner as, to some extent, I am too. But we shared mutual interests in music, opera and theatre.

I remember taking him to see Beethoven's "Fidelio" at Leeds Grand Theatre and Verdi's "Othello" at the Palace Theatre, in Manchester. He had seen neither before and he was as thrilled and enthusiastic as a young lad with a new train set.

His needs were usually very simple and his praise always most generous. I once gave him tea, bread and butter and boiled eggs at my house and he told everyone at work about it as though I had given him a three-course cordon bleu meal.

This was partly because he was totally impractical at such things, but mainly because of his wonderful generosity of spirit. He rarely criticised fellow actors and he would travel far and wide to see them.

If he saw something he didn't like he would say: "Well, you see, it's not my sort of play."

This generosity showed up in his gifts to charity. I have a reputation for scrounging money for charity but I was never afraid to ask Toke.

Many a time I did not need to ask - he was already opening his wallet and asking me what I was collecting for. Sometimes I was quite astonished at the amounts he would give.

Of course, Toke wasn't all goodness - none of us is. He could have his dislikes and he could have very tetchy moods but I was extremely lucky; I only witnessed those moods; I was never the subject of them.

I always admired his tremendous energy and his terrific sense of fun and the absurd. It was nothing for him to give us notes on our performances in mock Russian and he would, completely seriously, talk the most ridiculous rubbish all morning but always with that mischievous twinkle in his eye that was so uniquely his own.

Or he would pretend that "Emmerdale" was a ballet and give us new steps to perform. "I think it will come to life," he would say, "when we get the full orchestra."

During breaks in the rehearsals in the farm kitchen set I quite often deliberately sit in "grandad's" chair and just quietly think about him.

Is this a form of prayer for him? I don't really know. What I do believe is that he is truly at rest because, although he was restless (because of his boundless energy) in life, he lived his last years in happiness and contentment with his work, his friends and his love of music and the theatre.

There could be no more fitting memory of him than the furnishings for the Green Room at the new Leeds Playhouse bought with the money from his memorial fund.

We loved him, we miss him and we shall never forget him.

Back on this 'ere blog, I have been undertaking a little reseach into Mr Townley's background and have so far come up with the following:

Toke Anthony Townley was born on 6 November, 1912, in the Dunmow, Essex, area of Eastern England. He died in September 1984. Because of advance filming, his Emmerdale Farm character lived on until late November - the character died on the 27th of that month.

If anybody has any further memories of Mr Townley and/or Grandad Pearson to share, I would be delighted to hear them!


  1. Anonymous26.4.08

    Toke Townley was a quality actor. Sam Pearson was like family.

  2. Annabelle22.1.11

    I remember him very well, with a warm feeling.I agree with Anonymus, he was like family. I remember you all from that time.