Friday, 28 March 2008
Somebody recently turned to Stan Richards with a quizzical look and asked: "Why is it you talk right posh when you're on the telly?"
Stan, who is as much a part of Barnsley as Arthur Scargill's ceremonial pit lamp, couldn't come up with an answer.
Apart from the now legendary woolly hat and a change of spectacles, the real Stan Richards isn't very far removed from the fictitious Seth Armstrong of "Emmerdale Farm".
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two down-to-earth characters is all that Woolpack ale Seth pours down his neck. Stan can't stand the stuff.
He has to grin and bear it as he swigs his way through scene after scene in anguish with Amos.
But as soon as the cameras have stopped rolling he screws up his face in disgust and swills his gums with a glass of scotch.
Those gums have become his stock-in-trade, not only as a highly-popular Seth, but over more than 30 years they have made him a sought-after toothless grin around the working men's clubs of the North.
"It isn't a gimmick," he says. "I just don't like wearing false teeth. And now I don't have to."
The role of Seth has come like a pools win for the lad from the mining town who still calls corrugated iron "wriggly tin".
He was originally signed up for a mere five episodes. "They must have liked me because they kept asking me back," he says. He is now one of the series well-loved fixtures and fittings.
That unmistakable face, set off by a magnificent handlebar moustache, means a lot of writer's cramp signing autograph after autograph.
But Stan never grumbles. At 54 he remembers the days as a struggling stand-up comic.
Going even farther back, he recalls his start in showbusiness. At the age of 15, as a pupil of Barnsley Grammar School, he used to enjoy a pint and a Woodbine while playing the piano around local pubs.
One of his first jobs was as a Ministry of Labour clerk. But he was transferred to London, which didn't do for a pure-bred Northerner.
"I couldn't stand the place," he says. "I packed up my job and came home."
After that he went to work in the accounts department of the local disinfectant factory and that's where he remained until 1965, when he decided to go full-time professional as a solo comic.
Television bit parts bolstered his earnings and he now boasts of acting alongside Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman.
That was a 10 -second appearance as an hotel porter in the film "Agatha".
He still keeps his hand in with working men's club dates, although it means strenuously long hours after doing a stint in the studios or on location.
Stan is a realist whose lifestyle has hardly altered since he found "Emmerdale" stardom.
"I was born and bred in Barnsley," he says with that pride which seems to accompany everyone who was born and bred there.
"To me it is the greatest place in the world. That is where I intend to stay.
"As far as the neighbours and my mates down the local are concerned, I'm still Stan Richards, an ordinary chap with a wife and six kids.
"I think they're all happy to see me successful. But nothing's changed."
He knows that one day Seth Armstrong or the series might cease to exist. As he tells his club audiences: "I used to be a clairvoyant, but I had to give it up due to unforeseen circumstances."
"You're a very, very nasty man," an elderly lady once told actor Richard Thorp as he sat in a genteel tea-room...
Richard, of course, is the "JR"-type manager of NY Estates in "Emmerdale Farm", but in reality he is a quietly-spoken, gentle man with a ready smile and a deep-throated chuckle.
Seth Armstrong's boss, and the bane of the gamekeeper's life, escapes to his beautiful old Tudor home in Sussex each weekend to join his wife, Noola, a TV floor manager.
The couple love animals and have two dogs, eight ducks, 14 chickens and numerous "wild" pets.
Richard tells an amusing "Emmerdale" story about a horse...
"I admit I'm a bit on the stout side and I had to get on a horse in one scene. The director said 'Action,' I hoisted myself into the saddle - and the entire production crew crew fell about laughing.
"I sat bemused until they explained that the horse, which was facing directly into the camera, had pulled a face when I climbed aboard."
Sunday, 23 March 2008
Saturday, 22 March 2008
In 1984, the ad pictured above appeared in the TV Times Emmerdale Farm - Family And Friends magazine.
Friday, 21 March 2008
In 1972, the show began with the funeral of Jacob Sugden, and the following year his daughter, Peggy, died suddenly - as actress Jo Kendall had decided to leave the show. Recasting would have been perfectly acceptable in this fledgling serial, but it was not something English TV soaps were very "into" at that time - Coronation Street appeared to have set the standard there! The Skilbeck twins, Sam and Sally, were killed off in 1976 in a most appalling manner - killed in an accident at a level crossing, which was obviously a way of doing away with a loose thread from the Peggy/Matt marriage, and winning viewers.
In the 1980s, both Pat Sugden and Jackie Merrick died tragically when the actors playing the roles left the show.
And so the Sugdens built up a grim saga of tragedy - for purely off-screen reasons.
Sometimes, central characters were recast - although very rarely were they residents of Emmerdale Farm itself. But in 1980, the improbable happened twice...
From the Yorkshire Evening Post supplement Emmerdale Farm 1,000! - 1985.
"Emmerdale" has had four "doubles" in the cast, but the mos startling lookalikes have been Jean Rogers, the present Dolly, and Katharine Barker, the original one.
Dolly Skilbeck is expecting her second youngster - much to the delight of Jean Rogers, who plays Matt's pretty wife.
Jean just loves kids. She's a proud off-screen mum to Jeremy, 17, and Justin, 14.
And on screen, it's difficult to believe that she's not the real mother of Benjamin Whitehead, the little boy who takes the part of Dolly's son, Sam.
It's a relationship which Jean has worked hard at ever since three-year-old Ben joined the series as a baby.
One of her secrets was getting to know Ben's parents, Richard and Susan Whitehead, who own a butcher's shop in Otley.
And the Whiteheads took to Jean so much they asked her to become Ben's godmother.
Jean, who is divorced, goes to playgroup with Ben and his real mum and has become deeply involved in promoting the Pre-school Playgroups Association.
"Ben and I know each other well so now he acts perfectly naturally when he's in a scene with me," says Jean.
"The rest of the cast, too, make an effort to know him and win his confidence, which makes filming a lot easier."
Ben is so relaxed, that unlike some children, he doesn't mind if his mum isn't around on the set.
She goes off into another room and watches her son in action on a monitor.
Viewers can look forward to some authentic scenes when the new addition to the Skilbeck family comes along.
Sam's arrival was heralded as a great acting achievement for Jean, who said she just relied on her unforgettable experiences while giving birth to her own children.
"I think I gave the acting performance of my life that day," says Jean. "I let my mind go back to my own children's births and practically lived through them again.
"At the end I was quite exhausted. The nurse said I'd been so convincing she felt she should be handing me a new-born baby.
"And one cameraman was so overcome by my gasps, straining and cries, he felt ill and had to rush off for a glass of water!"
[Andy's note: Actress Helen Weir, Pat Sugden in Emmerdale Farm, became pregnant in real life at the time of the Dolly pregnancy storyline. Helen's pregnancy was written into the plot, and, sadly, there was room for only one baby on set, so Dolly's screen pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.]
A PAIR OF JACKS
The original Jack Sugden was played by Andrew Burt. The call of literature led to Jack cutting his ties with Emmerdale Farm and floating off to Rome to write a book of poetry.
However, Annie Sugden's elder son returned to the fold in the shape of Clive Hornby and revived his interest in the land... only to land the family with a few problems born of Jack's single-mindedness.
Andrew Burt, after leaving the series, went on to play many other TV roles.
So, two of the central characters up at the farm were boldly recast in 1980! Around and about the village, the Yorkshire Evening Post Emmerdale Farm 1,000th episode supplement noted a couple of other face changes...
The two actors who played the roguish Tom Merrick have also portrayed characters on the right side of the law. Edward Peel, the first Tom, is now to be seen as Chief Inspector Perrin in "Juliet Bravo", and Jack Carr, the second Tom Merrick who did a stretch in jail, played a police sergeant in "Coronation Street".
Merrick, who has disappeared again, probably to the oil rigs, is the father of Sandie and for a long time thought he was Jackie's Dad until it was revealed Jack Sugden had sired him in a long-ago affair with Pat.
[Andy's note: Tom was also played by actor David Hill in the show's early days. ]
Another "double", of course, was the two Walters....
Geoffrey Hooper was the original silent*, bar-propping regular at the Woolpack, but sadly, he died some time ago, and he was replaced by the present Walter, former music hall entertainer Al Dixon.
*In actual fact, Geoffrey Hooper's Walter often spoke.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
During the 1,000th episode celebration programme in 1985, Al Dixon, who attended the celebration despite being in very poor health, was interviewed by Richard Whiteley who made reference to Mr Dixon never having spoken in 13 years in the show! This may have been an error, or a slightly confusing reference to Al's two silent Emmerdale incarnations - as Jacob Sugden in the photograph on the mantelpiece at the farm in the early days, and as Walter from 1980 onwards.
Sheila Mercier states in her autobiography, Annie's Song (1994), that she was unhappy with the choice of Al for her photographic husband. She wrote: "I thought that Annie should have a great lion of a man for a husband".
"Sunday Mirror", June 1983 - "I'd be out of 'Emmerdale' if I ever spoke any lines."
A clipping from the 1985 "Yorkshire Evening Post" "Emmerdale Farm 1,000!" supplement. Geoffrey Hooper's Walter was known to break his silence!
As Mr Dixon had such a distinctive face and was usually so absolutely silent, it is hard to know if he was supposed to be a continuation of Geoffrey Hooper's Walter character or simply another Woolpack regular with the same name. And the delightful thing was, as the two Walters were not fully-fledged characters whose lives were detailed in the show, you could believe what you liked!
"Daily Mirror", 23 May, 1985.
A TV TIMES tribute to Mr Dixon, published after his death in 1986. He had been in showbusiness for 74 years.
By Jim GreenfieldIt will be a case of Hello Dolly and Goodbye Dolly for fans of TV's "Emmerdale Farm" when one of its leading characters returns "from convalescence" next month.
For Katharine Barker, known to millions for the last three years as Dolly Skilbeck, will be replaced by amazing lookalike actress Jean Rogers.
The "twin" substitute is a remarkable piece of casting by Yorkshire TV which exploits an uncanny similarity between the actresses.
"Katharine's contract came to an end and she let us know well in advance that she did not want to continue in 'Emmerdale'," said a spokesman.
"We have been extraordinarily fortunate in finding an actress who can take over the role of Dolly so advantageously."
Katharine is leaving to spend more time with her husband and teenage son. The serial imposes considerable demands on Southern-based actors and they spend at least four days a week in Leeds during the production season.
The plot had Dolly expecting a baby, developing complications and going into hospital. Viewers feared the worst, but her life was not in peril.
Her TV husband, Matt, has already lost one wife, Peggy, and had his twin children killed in an accident.
Alan swept into Beckindale in 1982. He blustered and bullied, and was thoroughly grotty to his staff - which included Joe Sugden. Women like Barbara Peters, the vicar's glamorous daughter, who worked for a time as Alan's secretary, could see through him and, despite his romantic overtures, kept their distance.
Interviewed in 1993, Richard Thorp recalled the turning point in Alan's life...
"Oh, Alan was an absolute stinker in the beginning, he rubbed everyone up the wrong way. The major influence on him was Mrs Bates who was played by Diana Davies. In the very first scene we did together I was losing my temper, ranting and raving, so she sent me up and it came across when we did the scene."
And so Alan became a lovable, comic character...Remember the time in 1986 when he went on a diet, bought an exercise bike, talking scales, and took up jogging? By the time he reached the Woolpack after his first jogging session, he was close to collapse - and in fact he did so as soon as he entered the pub, flopping inelegantly onto the floor before the startled regulars.
"My gaffer!" said Seth Armstrong.
"My floor!" said Amos Brearly, who'd just cleaned it.
Not all the Beckindale '80s baddies turned out to be good fun in the end. Harry Mowlam (Godfrey James) was a thoroughly nasty piece of work who brought much unhappiness to Matt and Dolly Skilbeck when they intervened over Harry's mistreatment of his dog.
Mr Mowlam then left the scene for a time, returned in 1985, and was soon involved in a security van robbery, netting £6000. Harry had a huge inferiority complex - he thought that the village, and the folk at Emmerdale Farm in particular, looked down on him. He plagued the vicar, the Rev Donald Hinton, with questions and statements about religion, was a generous buyer of drinks in the Woolpack, and had a sadistic streak a mile wide.
When Dolly miscarried the baby she was carrying in 1985, Harry was very much on the scene and Matt later confessed that he thought Harry was the cause of the miscarriage. In 1986, Matt treated several of Harry's ailing sheep - taking them up to Emmerdale to do so. Three of the sheep died, through no fault of Matt's, but Harry, who had not given permission for the sheeps' removal to Emmerdale in the first place, was furious.
He frightened Dolly further by accosting her in Beckindale, then stole several Emmerdale sheep to "make good" his loss. Unfortunately Matt caught him in the act.
A terrible fight took place, entirely initiated by Harry - at one point he seemed set to squeeze the life out of Matt with a fierce bear hug. Matt fought back, Harry tripped and fell backwards into the beck and Matt left him with Mowlam's comforting assurance "I'll 'ave you, Skilbeck!" ringing in his ears.
The next day, out on a walk, Henry Wilks found Harry dead.
Matt was accused of the crime and endured several months of hell until the true culprit, Harry Mowlam's accomplice Derek Warner (Dennis Blanche), confessed to the crime, holding the Rev Donald Hinton hostage at St Mary's Vicarage before finally giving himself up to the police.
Richard Franklin (formerly Mike Yates of "Dr Who") with Frazer Hines (formerly Jamie McCrimmon of "Dr Who"). Photograph courtesy of Bill Sands.
Next on the list of '80s baddies is businessman Denis Rigg - played by Richard Franklin.
Turning up in 1988, Denis wasted absolutely no time in making enemies. He was too old to be a yuppie, but he was, however, a ruthless old school businessman - not ashamed to use underhand methods to get his way.
His desire to turn part of the area, including Emmerdale Farm, into a quarry not surprisingly met with resistance from the Sugdens in 1989. Rigg used various devious and underhand tactics to "persuade" them, including trying to get their long-term friend Henry Wilks on his side. After years in business himself, Henry knew Rigg's type, told him so, and showed him the door.
Rigg went to the farm to continue his campaign, cornered Joe in an outbuilding, tried the sweet approach, then turned nasty. Unfortunately, Rigg's tone and animated manner upset Emmerdale's prize bull, which Joe was tending at the time. Rigg was crushed against the wall by the bull and died.
So, judging by Alan, Harry, Derek and Denis one can assume that Beckindale's '80s baddies either turned nice, disappeared to prison never to return or got bumped off. But that's not absolutely true...
This man arrived to work as auctioneer at Hotten Market in 1986, and judging from his manner to his assistant, Sandie Merrick, right from the first, would not be qualifying for any Charmer of the Year awards.
Smiling in triumph in 1989, Eric Pollard's reign of rottenness was only just beginning as the show leapt into the increasingly far fetched '90s...
And no, he's never turned nice, never disappeared into prison forever, and never got "bumped off". Eric Pollard is one '80s Beckindale bad guy who still runs rampant - over twenty years after his debut.
Said Christopher Chittell of the role:
"There are certain destructive elements in all of us which we try to keep subdued, but they raise their ugly heads from time to time..."
Monday, 17 March 2008
An e-mail from Moggy:
Were Amos and Henry suffering from dementia in the 1980s? There were repeated mentions of the current Woolpack building's long history as a public house, but the original Woolpack was closed due to subsidence in the 1970s and Amos and Henry moved the pub to a converted corn chandler's house.
Er, not true, Moggy - although this information DOES appear in at least one book I've read on Emmerdale Farm history, in reality the corn chandler's dwelling was rejected by Amos due to rumours about it being haunted. Mr Wilks and a businessman friend found another building that had been a pub in Victorian times. When Amos referred to the building's long history as a public house during the 1980s, he was not referring to its long history as the Woolpack!
Saturday, 15 March 2008
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Sandra Gough was barmaid Doreen in Emmerdale Farm from 1984 to 1985. Here's Mr Wilks apparently about to sup from the barmaid's slipper...
Of course, any hopes of romance faded. With a couple of sourpusses like Amos Brearly and Ernie Shuttleworth on the scene it was hardly surprising! Peter Schofield stepped into the role of Mr Shuttleworth in the early 1980s. Here we get a rare glimpse of the exterior of the Malt Shovel.
Ernie was very keen to entertain his patrons with various special nights - including a disco night with the "latest hot sounds of the '80s". Can you imagine?! Sadly, these nights were never shown in the programme, but we did learn that Ernie's non-attendance at the village bowls match in 1986 was because he'd put his back out at one of these dance-fests.Joe met and fell for divorcee Kate Hughes in 1988 and they married in 1989. Kate had two teenage offspring and an ex-husband who hadn't totally given up on his relationship with her. Oh dear...
From 1984-1988 Mrs Bates and Alan Turner provided some of Emmerdale Farm's best comedy scenes at the NY Estates Home Farm office. Add to this Seth Armstrong buzzing in and out ("GET OUT, SETH!") and the whole scenario became absolutely delicious.
Asked about the possibility of Mrs Bates' relationship with Alan developing in 1985, actress Diana Davies said: "Well, we don't know, we just think it's probably not a very good idea because it's good fun the way it is now."
She was quite right of course. When things did develop in 1989 the "will she? won't she?" magic evaporated and a lot of the fun left the relationship. Mrs Bates and Alan Turner might have developed as a likeable married couple, and marriage was certainly planned, but Diana Davies left the show instead (although she would revisit it) and Mrs Bates went to look after her sick mother in Scarborough.
As in all good soaps, romance in Emmerdale Farm was never smooth running...
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
In a nutshell, to a degree and no.
Emmerdale Farm did become raunchier in the mid-1980s. Jack Sugden's adulturous relationship with Karen Moore was something of a departure for the show and, in August 1985, Emmerdale Farm's creator, Kevin Laffan, stopped writing for the show after a series of disagreements about its content.
The show also became a little grittier as the decade wore on.
But looked upon from the viewpoint of the modern day saga, episodes from the '80s look positively quaint!
Here's a rundown of some controversial Emmerdale Farm events from the 1980s:
1983 - Sandie Merrick becomes pregnant at eighteen. She is unmarried.
1984 - Jack Sugden has an affair with Hotten Market auctioneer Karen Moore.
1985 - Jackie Merrick is run over by Alan Turner in his car. Roadside scenes featuring the character liberally sprinkled with "blood" are sometimes cited as being a shocking moment in the show's history.
1986 - Harry Mowlam is murdered.
1986 - Sandie Merrick begins a relationship with married Phil Pearce, who leaves his wife and family to set up home with her.
1987 - Eric Pollard, a new found enemy of Sandie's, breaks into her home and brandishes a poker at her. He ends up confiding in her and breaking down. Sympathetic Sandie drives him home.
1987 - the villagers unite to prevent a nuclear waste dump being built near Beckindale.
1988 - Dolly Skilbeck has an affair.
1989 - teenager Rachel Hughes has an affair with married Pete Whiteley.
In the 1980s, Emmmerdale Farm/Emmerdale certainly became pacier, raunchier, sexier, but did it adopt the style of modern day Emmerdale? "Nay, nay, nay, Mr Wilks!"
"I cannot understand why I've never noticed before, 'e's got more irritating habits than anyone I've ever known - including you, Seth Armstrong!"
Sunday, 9 March 2008
Grandad's Motto was written by Geoff Ashford and released on the Spy 80 label. It contained some very Seth-like lyrics ("See All, hear all, say nowt. Eat all, sup all, pay nowt"!).
Sorry I can't provide a little audio taster of this - but 1981 was pre-CD, this is vinyl, and I haven't had a record player in the house since the late 1990s!
Stan Richards was, of course, an experienced entertainer. Read more about Stan/Seth by clicking on one of the appropriate labels below! Click on the image above for a look at the song lyrics.
Saturday, 8 March 2008
Al Dixon became the Woolpack's second Walter in September 1980 - rather quirkier than the first, and also rather more silent! Mr Dixon, from his debut onwards, stood out as a memorable face in The Woolpack crowd.
The second Walter became a much loved feature of the series. Then, in the autumn of 1985, Al Dixon suffered a stroke. It was hoped, initially, that he would recover and be able to return to the Woolpack bar in the near future. In the meantime, advance location filming kept Walter on screen (outside the Woolpack and at the village hall) until Christmas.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
Later in the year, Jack's ex-lover, Pat Merrick (Helen Weir), returned to the village with her teenage offspring, Jackie (Ian Sharrock) and Sandie (Jane Hutcheson). Retreating from her awful husband, Tom, Pat struggled to keep her kids on the right track, living in a grotty caravan and doing whatever work she could find.
But, of course, young Jackie was Jack Sugden's son - unknown to Jackie himself, and the romantic flame between Pat and Jack was soon re-ignited...
For me, this storyline marked something of a departure for the show, with an attempt at realistically portraying late 20th Century teenagers and establishing two of them as major characters.
The days of Pat struggling to get by in the caravan, with truculent Jackie and wise-beyond-her-years Sandie (or so it seemed at first!), are fond memories of mine. Realistic story telling, great acting.
If you have any favourite Emmerdale '80s stories you'd like to recall and share with us here please feel free to use the "Comments" facility, or drop an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 3 March 2008
“Don’t trust him?” Henry never usually had a pipe before bed, they laid heavy on the chest, but now he was contemplating one. This Cube business was really getting to him. Amos’ happy mood of earlier that day had been evaporating since the start of the evening session. And now the reason: he didn’t trust Seth. So, what was new?
“I can’t say why…” said Amos. “I mean, I saw ’im do the Cube more n’ once this afternoon, Walter did an’ all… but I can’t help thinkin’ he’s somethin’ up his sleeve to make Woolpack a laughin’ stock. Either that or he’ll use it against me and be forever tryin’ to cadge free ale…”
There was a sudden tapping at the front door.
“Who can that be, this time of night?” Henry raised his eyebrows and looked at the clock, which showed 11.45pm.
Frowning, Amos went to answer. “Who is it?” he called, on reaching the door.
“It’s Mrs Armstrong - Meg!” came the reply.
Amos unbolted and unchained the door and opened it to admit Meg. “I’ve been to bed and got up again,” she said. “Mr Brearly, Seth’s not still here, is he?”
Amos was outraged. “Of course he isn’t! We close at closing time on the dot, you should know that, Mrs Armstrong!”
“Nay, I wasn’t implying owt,” Meg looked distracted with anxiety. “It’s just that Seth hasn’t come home… he’s not usually this late… I thought he might be practisin’ that Cube thingy ’ere or summat…”
Henry had appeared behind Amos: “John Tuplin was in earlier, wettin’ the baby’s head,. You know Maureen’s just had a little girl,” he said. “Seth were drinkin’ with him. Mary’s still in hospital, so perhaps Seth’s gone back to John’s for a couple?”
Meg seized on that. “Aye, that’ll be it! I’ll nip over to John’s.”
“Hold on a minute, I’ll come with you,” said Henry. “I’ll just fetch my jacket.”
For his part, Amos was silent, staring into space. He had this terrible feeling, a feeling he couldn’t possibly justify or give voice to, that Seth had disappeared on purpose and that he wouldn’t turn up until after the day of the Cube Contest, with some daft excuse. Nay, it didn’t make sense… but any concern Amos felt for Seth’s safety was far outweighed by the feeling that Seth was doing whatever he was doing to get at him!
Henry emerged from the living quarters, shrugging on his jacket. Meg was gripped by a momentary fear: “What if he’s not there?!”
“Now, Meg, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it - and I don’t believe we will,” said Henry, reassuringly.
But he didn’t feel as sure as he sounded. He’d seen John Tuplin with a couple of the NY lads, and they’d bought a few cans to take to John's with them to continue wetting the baby’s head before they left. But he was sure Seth had still been in the bar after they’d gone.
Where on earth was he?
“Shaddupa your face!” and then blackness. A blackness that smelt of soil and damp, and was rough against Seth’s face. It felt as though somebody had just jammed an old potato sack over his head… but surely that wasn’t possible?
Why would anybody do that?
“Struggle an’ I’ll clock yer one!” hissed a voice very close at hand. Seth decided it was probably wise to take heed. He felt himself being lifted off his feet and then put down on something hard. And then something that felt slightly chill against his hands being placed over him.
Seth felt a moment of panic - with the sack on his head and this all enveloping second covering was he going to suffocate? He moved to struggle free, but suddenly the whole world seemed to lurch, tilt and vibrate and a loud trundling sound began…
“Keep still!” hissed the voice. “Or it’ll be the worst for you. You’ll not be under there long!”
The trundling sensation, linked to several prominent bumps and the alcohol swirling around in Seth’s stomach, made him pray that his tormentor spoke the truth.
Bump! Trundle, trundle. Bump! Trundle… would the nightmare never end? Seth gripped his stomach, swallowed hard and groaned.
The world tilted, and then Seth’s all-enveloping covering was being removed and strong hands and arms were hauling him upright.
Glad to have his feet on solid ground again, Seth felt the waves of nausea that had threatened to engulf him subside.
The strong hands were gripping his shoulders, propelling him along. “This way!”
Suddenly Seth heard a second voice, a whispered voice, a voice that sounded vaguely familiar: “What the ’ell do you think you’re doin’?”
“Well, you didn’t think he’d ’ave come of his own accord, did yer? I kidnapped ’im, stuck a sack on ’is ’ead, stuck ’im in me ’and cart and covered him wi’t tarpaulin. Best way to get ’im ’ere! ’E’s come to no ’arm!”
“I should ’ope not - kidnappin’s a criminal offence!”
Something clicked and Seth recognised the voice. “Aye, it is, Ernie Shuttleworth! An Englishman’s entitled to walk round his own neighbourhood wi’out ’avin’ sacks stuck on ’is ’ead! There’ll be trouble over this - I shall see Sergeant MacArthur!”
There was an uneasy silence. Then Seth felt hands pulling at the sacking which covered his head. He blinked and lurched slightly as Ernie Shuttleworth suddenly appeared before him. Bernie Slater lurked in the background. They were in a whitewashed brick room, lit by a single, naked electric light bulb, with some old beer crates in the corner and a picnic table and a couple of chairs in the middle. It was one of the outbuildings at the back of the Malt Shovel, Seth guessed.
Ernie held his head high. “You’ll ’ave to prove it first, Seth Armstrong! I’m a respected local figure. If you think Sergeant MacArthur’ll take your word over mine… I’m admittin’ nowt.”
“Respected local figure, you?” Seth sneered. “We’ll see about this first thing in’t morning’, Ernie Shuttleworth. Now, I’m off ’ome!”
“Not so fast!” said Ernie and Bernie loomed threateningly. “Don’t you want to know why we brought you ’ere?“
“I couldn’t care less. It’s time all respectable folk were in bed, asleep. Meg’ll be wonderin’… Seth started for the door, but Bernie got in front of him.
“There’s just a little something we want you to do before you leave us, Seth. Just a little something!” said Ernie.
“Oh aye, wass that?” Seth was suspicious.
“This!” Ernie drew a scrambled Rubik’s Cube from his pocket. “Just solve this Cube for us, Seth - like you’re goin’ to do at the Contest day after tomorrow. Just do that for us and you can be on your way. We’ll sit by nice and close and observe…”
Seth gulped. “But I’m too tired, Ernie, far too tired. It’s been a long day.”
“But we’ve got all night,” said Ernie.
Meg and Henry made their way back up Main Street from John Tuplin’s cottage. The flush-faced, happy young father had had nothing to tell them He’d last seen Seth in the Woolpack earlier that evening.
“He’s not likely to have slipped off somewhere else, is he?” asked Henry.
Meg frowned. “It’s most unlike him, Mr Wilks. If he is late back it’s usually because somebody’s taken some cans of ale ’ome and invited ’im along.”
“Well, we’ll see if there’s any news when we get back to the Woolpack,” said Henry.
Meg looked more anxious than ever. “Don’t worry, Meg,” said Henry kindly. “I’m sure he’ll turn up. You know Seth!”
And sure enough he did turn up. As Meg and Henry neared the Woolpack, Seth appeared, rounding the corner from Station Road.
“Seth Armstrong! Where on earth have you been?!” Meg didn’t know whether to embrace him or hit him.
Seth was looking a little pale and uneasy. “Up Bickle Spinney, woman, checkin’ me traps! It’s a busy time of year tha knows!”
“Well, as long as I don’t find any more crows hanging in my kitchen!” said Meg. “It’s not like you to be off up there this late!”
“We’ve got a fox ’angin’ about!” said Seth. “Now, let’s be gettin’ ’ome!”
“You’re lookin’ a bit pale, poppet,” said Meg. “Come on then, I’ll make you some Horlicks.” She turned to Henry. “All’s well that end’s well, Mr Wilks. Thank you for your assistance!”
“Any time, Meg!” Henry smiled to himself as the pair crossed the road and made off in the direction of Demdyke Row, Meg chattering away ten-to-the-dozen, suddenly as happy as could be. What was that she’d said - crows hanging in the kitchen?!
Henry shook his head and let himself into the Woolpack, to find Amos anxiously awaiting him. “Well, Mr Wilks?”
“Panic over, Amos,” soothed Henry. “He’s turned up safe and sound, just been doin’ his rounds up Bickle Spinney. Now, I suggest we turn in for the night - it’s well after midnight!”
“Aye, right, Mr Wilks,” Amos heaved a sigh of relief. But he still felt more than a twinge of unease. This was what came of having dealings with Seth Armstrong. The sooner the Contest was over, the better!
Seth made his way slowly to the Woolpack at lunchtime. He was not a happy man. His Cube plan had been simple: a simple sleight of hand to convince Amos and other watchers that he could “do” the Cube. He’d practised and practised.
His method worked something like this: a solved Cube was concealed up his left jacket sleeve, securely wedged under the sleeve of the cardigan he wore beneath it. On display in his hands was a scrambled Cube.
Seth, always known for his deftness and turn of speed, had perfected the method of twisting a Cube so fast it appeared to blur. His plan for the Woolpack/Maltshovel Contest involved twisting the Cube like a man possessed for a minute or so, then turning slightly to one side momentarily, as though the Cube was a little stiff and he was having to strain at it. During that brief moment, he would stick his right hand up his left sleeve and pluck out the solved Cube, whilst jamming the scrambled Cube up his right sleeve.
Then, he would half twist the solved Cube one way, twist it back, and present it to his audience - voila!
Seth looked forward to lots of free ale as the congratulations poured in, and to having Amos beholden to him for the foreseeable future.
Seth didn’t envisage failure, but if by any chance some eagle eyed watcher at the Contest spotted his trickery, it wouldn’t really matter. Amos would be ridiculed for being taken in by Seth, and Seth could always transfer his custom to the Malt Shovel for a while. Ernie Shuttleworth would be right chuffed with him for making Amos look a fool.
Whatever way things turned out, Seth hoped to get some free ale.
Sadly, in giving a test demonstration to Jock McDonald a few days before up at Stony Wood, Seth had got into a bit of a tangle, and the completed Cube had fallen out of his sleeve and onto the ground.
“I’m doin’ it for Amos, yer see and for’t honour o’t Woolpack,” Seth had said, thinking quickly. “You know ’ow ’ard ’e’s tekkin’ not ’avin’ a Cubist for’t contest wi’t Malt Shovel…”
Jock was not convinced that Seth was acting solely out of concern for Amos. But he didn’t care. So long as Seth sent a few free pints his way when the Contest was over, he wouldn't say anything.
Amos, of course, had been quite taken in by Seth’s Cube solving demonstrations the day before.
And now the plan was ruined.
Jock McDonald was well known for having a mouth like a window’s cleaner bucket. He’d loudly and drunkenly told the tale of Seth’s duplicity to John Tuplin and a few of the other NY lads as they’d walked round to John’s house to continue their boozy revels off licenced premises last night.
And, at the same time, Bernie Slater had been out walking Branston, his mongrel bitch.
He’d heard everything and taken the tali straight to Ernie Shuttleworth, who had urged him to fetch Seth and bring him to the Malt Shovel immediately.
Still, it could have been worse. Ernie Shuttleworth had been quite generous: if Seth didn’t go around spreading stories about the “kidnapping”, Ernie wouldn’t reveal Seth’s sleight of hand antics with the Cube. All Seth had to do was to tell Amos that he’d hurt his hand and couldn’t take part in the Contest.
Seth walked into the bar to find Amos polishing a glass and chatting to Joe Sugden. Dolly Skilbeck and Pat Merrick were also at the bar, deep in conversation. Pat looked more careworn than ever. Her hands restlessly fiddled with one of Amos’ many Rubik’s Cubes which were cluttering up the bar top.
Seth wondered how things were going between her and Jack Sugden. There was much talk in the village.
“What can I get you?” said Amos, spying Seth and attempting a warm smile which, try as it might, looked more like a grimace.
Seth cleared his throat and held his hand up to reveal that his wrist was swathed in an old, grey bandage: “Amos, I’m sorry to let you down but I can’t be in’t Cube Contest. I ’ad a bit of a fall up at Bickle Spinney last night and I’ve sprained me wrist.”
“That’s it then, Mr Wilks,” Amos sighed a little later. “There’s nowt for it but for me to tell Ernie Shuttleworth Contest’s off.”
“Perhaps you can just postpone it?” Henry suggested.
“I did suggest that to Seth Armstrong, but he reckoned his wrist’ll be a long time mendin’,” said Amos.
“It’s funny he didn’t say anything about it last night when Meg and I met him,” Henry puzzled. “Still, he did look a little pale…”
“I’ll have to phone Ernie Shuttleworth…” Amos’ eyes bulged with horror. “And call it all off…”
“Do it now, Amos - get it out o’t way,” Henry suggested.
“I’ll do it at end o’t session,” said Amos.
“Well, I’m off up to Emmerdale,” Henry headed for the living quarters. “Phone me there when you’ve done it! The sooner you put this business to bed the better. And Amos - clear all those Cubes from’t bar - there’s no point remindin’ yourself of what’s ’appened.”
And Henry left, heading for a nice spot of dinner and a welcome dollop of sanity up at Emmerdale.
After the lunchtime session, Amos walked sadly into the deserted bar and gazed around him. Mr Wilks was right: his latest obsession had left its mark. The bar was littered with Rubik’s Cubes and Cube solving books and magazines. He’d scattered them around to encourage customers to experiment with the Cube. He’d hoped they’d read the accompanying material and that an unsuspected champion Cubist, fit to see off the Malt Shovel competition, would emerge.
But, of course, that hadn’t happened.
He sighed and began to gather together the Cubes, each one hopelessly scrambled, each one a colourful testament to the Woolpack’s impending shame.
If only Amos himself had been able to master the Cube, if only…
Suddenly, Amos stopped. He’d been moving methodically round the bar collecting the puzzles, and had now come to the corner near the dartboard. And sitting there, large as life, were three solved Cubes, Three beautifully completed Cubes.
Amos was startled. He put the other Cubes he’d collected down on the bar and cautiously picked one of the completed Cubes up. Had somebody been peeling off the stickers? he wondered. But no, the stickers were not loose or wonky and showed no signs of having been tampered with. Were the solved Cubes his Cubes, or had Mr Wilks or somebody else brought in some new, unscrambled Cubes, he wondered? But no, the Cubes were his all right: each one bore traces of, and smelt strongly of, Zam-Buk. Amos had smeared a number of the Cubes he’d bought with this wonder cure in his search for the perfect lubricant.
Yes, it certainly looked as though somebody had solved three of the Cubes, all fair and square. And recently too. Amos was sure they’d been as scrambled as all the others before the morning session.
He’d been in and out a bit so hadn’t been his usual vigilant self that session: the draymen had been late and he’d had a long telephone call from his Aunt Emily, who was holidaying in Norfolk and was having difficulty understanding the language.
Perhaps Bernie Slater had been in, practising on Amos’ Cubes for the Contest tomorrow?
Nay, that was daft.
Perhaps it was just passing trade?
But Amos was sure that he’d served no strangers in the bar that session.
Perplexed, Amos began to tick off on his fingers a list of all those he’d seen in the bar that day…
But then something else struck him and he gaped at the Cubes.
Surely it couldn’t be….?!
More 1981 Beckindale Cubist Conumdrums soon...