Big L '97, The Walton Time-warp

A knee-jerking account by Mary Payne

Part 3 - Keith Skues Lurks Locally in the County of Essex

Sunday August 10th was the day when Keith Skues was to present the morning show. Cardboard Shoes was then being brought ashore in a lifeboat rescue simulation of the painfully memorable occasion when he had hastily been taken ashore from the mv Galaxy through illness. Something to do with his patellas suffering from appenKNEEcitis, I believe.

Ray had suggested to me that my best daily plan for spending the longest time possible aboard the Yeoman Rose was for me to catch the tender with him at around 8.00am. I would then have a few hours on board before having to stand down to make way for paying visitors. All notions of partaking of any of the paid-for breakfasts at my digs at Wix went out of the window - sorry - porthole.

Dave Williams, an ex-Caroline North news presenter, was Lil's on-board newsman for two days. One of today's early-morning bulletins failed to materialise thanks to Dave's laptop computer. Just as he was about to read the stories from its screen, the machine decided to conserve its batteries by 'timing-out'. At the moment the news jingle ended and Dave drew breath to speak, the computer screen went blank, phasing him completely. Predictably, poor Dave took flack for this incident for the rest of the day.

I arrived at the watery end of the pier at the appointed time, ready to rendezvous with the first boarding party, only to encounter a fan of Cardboard Shoes's who was standing listening to Chris's Breakfast Show on her trannie.

"Are you another Anorak?" the lady asked. I sensed a hint of jealousy tingeing the question. Then she explained that she had already been awaiting Keith's arrival since 6.00am! This was my first insight into the phenomenon of Skuesmania, which later in the day drew crowds to Walton pier and whose numbers must have tested the strength of those rickety planks to the limit. At first, I thought I was talking to a friend of Keith's, whom he had personally invited to meet him there. A few moments later, we heard Chris play a track from the Payne CD, saying something to the effect of:

"This is a track from a CD compiled by Mary Payne called Anorax Trax. Good morning, Mary, if you're listening."
"Morning, Chris," I replied.
"Oh, is that you?" asked the lady. If she turned a little greener at that point, it was nothing compared to the emerald hue that came over her shortly afterwards, when I disappeared down the steps to the tender with Keith and the rest of the boarding party.

(Picture: "Good Morning, Mary!")

I'd actually waited thirty-one years to meet Knees Club member 235. Cardboard Shoes and I had corresponded in 1966, both by letter and phone, regarding classified information concerning patellas. My Knees Club Officials and I ended up chatting to Keith's then flat-mate, Roger Aspinall, so regularly that Roger became a club member too. One day, I had returned from a holiday with my parents to be devastated to find a photo of Keith on the doormat, and a note on the back saying:

"Dear Mary,
Called on the way to Oxford - Friday Bank Holiday-type thing! No-one at home.
Wivv luvv, Keith xxx "

A superstar had descended upon the Wingerts' humble abode, and the Knees Club founder hadn't been there!

When Ray, Maxine, and the Cardboard Shoes himself arrived to board the tender, they were accompanied by Diana Lambing and Hugo Miller, who were sponsoring Keith's show in the name of Hugo's coach hire firm, Arun Coaches - otherwise known as Fawlty Tours. Diana quickly earned herself the nickname of 'Doughnut Di', thanks to her generous habit of bringing boxes of cakes and other goodies with her every time she visited the ship.

I had been hoping to get on board the Yeoman Rose before Fluff was due to leave for work. It being Sunday, I'd intended utilising the studio cart machine to play him the 'Go to the church of your choice' jingle - always a good source of amusement in our non-religious household - over the phone. Unfortunately, time ran out, and I had to resort to singing my own version of it from the tender instead, but I'm pleased to say he survived the ordeal.

(Picture: Cardboard Shoes and Big L Engineer Allan Trainer lurking locally aboard the Yeoman Rose)

Despite this being Maxine's birthday, once on the ship, she set about the delightful task of cleaning the loo - sorry 'head' - while I got on with making the cup of coffee that our guest presenter had been waiting for since 1966. If Cardboard Shoes was disappointed by the sight of my knees after all these years, he was kind enough not to mention it. He was probably too preoccupied by the fact that the studio faders on Big Lil's mixer desk had to be operated in the opposite direction to the ones he was used to at BBC Eastern Counties. Instead of increasing the volume by pulling the faders down towards himself, he had to do it by sliding them up, up and away. For my part I was disappointed. I had a signed offer (admittedly made in 1966) of the chance to peruse the patellas of Skues, but the promise was never fulfilled. Even after making the Mr. Man there a cup of coffee, the invitation to view them was not repeated. Was he hiding some dark secret up his trouser legs, I wondered? Had he undergone some shameful silicone knee-enhancement operation, or was he afflicted with a case of cardboard knees?

Mr Shoes will not be receiving any gratitude from me for including in his Big L '97 show Lance Percival's Beetroot Song , this being one of those immensely irritating novelty ditties that everyone fervently hopes they will never hear again. If by any chance the song is given an airing, it has the knack of immediately claiming squatter's rights to your brain, cheerfully popping itself into your consciousness at every opportunity. To your horror, you will suddenly catch yourself serenading the celery with it as you steer your trolley around the supermarket. Even more scary, you then discover you can recall every single word of the stupid lyrics. Thanks a bunch, Mr Man there! I am doomed to be haunted forever by such captivatingly memorable lines as 'My sister Jean's always eating beans, my little brother, leeks.'

A pile of mail awaited Keith on the ship, including a letter from his prolific Sixties correspondent, Barbara Hadler from Sittingbourne in the county of Kent. Chris Elliot had tracked down Barbara and invited her to participate in the RSL as a Coffee Break guest, but she had declined, saying she was too shy. A great pity, as Barbara was an integral part of Big Lil's family, her name familiar to every avid Radio London listener, and every reader of both Keith's and Chris's books.

(Picture: "How about the Beetroot Song after I've posed for this picture?")

Ray's mobile phone number was given out on the air for listeners to ring in with dedications and within minutes he found himself swamped with calls.

Keith was not about to let Dave Williams forget about his blank-computer-screen mishap, and teased him mercilessly over the benefits of using antiquated, but reliable, ordinary pieces of paper. Of course, Mr. Skues was not used to having the responsibility of inserting the inter-story 'bleeps' between news items. Within our tiny studio, it was not possible for the news reader to reach the cart machine in order to play his own 'bleeps', so the guy in the DJ seat was required to press the button to play them at the appropriate moments. If you have a recording of Dave's newscast on Keith's show, visualise this scenario as you listen to it. With imagination, you can treat yourself to a hilarious picture of exactly what was happening in the studio at the time.

Meanwhile, in the middle of her special celebratory head-cleaning chore, Maxine was asked to stand down, which meant she missed out on finishing this delightful birthday treat. (On radio stations the term 'head-cleaning' normally applies to a malfunctioning piece of broadcasting equipment requiring attention with a cotton bud and a can of the ubiquitous RS spray.) It wasn't long before I had to follow suit, so Keith missed out on a second cup of coffee. Back at the pier, paying visitors were starting to queue up, so it was time to catch the tender and return with Hugo and Diana. Making myself breakfast on the ship was meant to have entered the scheme of things, but in the end, all I had time for was to down a few fresh blueberries, kindly supplied by Doughnut Di.

When we found ourselves back on the planks, we discovered Skuesmania was building to fever pitch, with crowds of people everywhere. My new pals, Diana and Hugo, decided to set up their own Camp Anorak behind a fisherman's shelter at the end of the pier and they invited me to join them. They had come remarkably well equipped for the occasion, with a trannie, a picnic and a selection of towels for protection against splinters in the knees. The reason behind their decision to sponsor the Keith Skues Show was that they had read the news about the RSL in a Sunday Telegraph article, and immediately decided it sounded great fun and that they should get involved. Diana's mother is Swiss, and having gone to live in Switzerland in the Sixties, Diana had missed-out on hearing Big L. Fortunately, former schoolfriends in England had kept her well-informed on what was happening on the Swingin' Scene in the UK, and she had been told all about the exciting new radio station, Radio London.

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