‘I have shepherd relatives...’

Michele Brown Brandreth, Ellen Campbell, Gyles Brandreth with Ron Ellis

Michele Brown Brandreth, Ellen Campbell, Gyles Brandreth with Ron Ellis

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Ron Ellis meets Gyles Brandreth

“In an extraordinarily varied career, Gyles Brandreth has been a Conservative MP and government whip; written 43 books (at the last count) including a series of crime novels featuring Oscar Wilde; he has played Lady Bracknell in a stage version of The Importance of Being Earnest; set up the Teddy Bear Museum.

He holds the record for the longest after-dinner speech (12 and a half hours at a charity event).

I first met Gyles in the late 1990s when I was writing my Johnny Ace series of crime novels and I was invited on to his radio show.

We repaired to the Merchants 1688 for lunch. Gyles was enthusing about the previous night’s gig in Millom.

“The place used to be called the Cumbria Club,” said Gyles.

I remembered it. “I played there as a DJ several times in the 1970s when a man called Jack Usher ran it,” I said: “Bingo till 12 and disco till two.”

“Well, it’s changed now,’ said Gyles.. A lady called Jakki Moore has turned it into a smart new theatre with a range of cultural activities. A wonderful achievement. And it was packed out.”

He was equally impressed with our lunch venue, a remarkable pub housed in a series of underground stone tunnels beside the Castle that were once used as wine cellars. There was a wide choice of food, Ellen decided on the Pheasant Kiev but Gyles settled for plain fish and chips: “A good old Lancashire dish.”

I asked him about his connections with the county:

“You may be surprised to learn,” he said, “that I am descended from a family of Lancashire shepherds. My grandfather on my mother’s side was one of ten children. He was born in Accrington in Harcourt Road and my Great Aunt , Edith Addison, was headmistress of the local primary school.

“Furthermore, oddly enough, Michelle’s ancestors came from the North too, over the Pernnines in Yorkshire. Her Great-Grandfather was the keeper of the Poorhouse in Bradford.”

He smiled: “I always say that our marriage ended the War of the Roses.”

So how did Gyles come to be born in Germany?

“My father was in the Allied Control Commission and we were in Germany until I was three. He was a magistrate and lawyer. They needed a nanny for me but ended up with a German circus clown who couldn’t get a job after the War.”

“I remember, too, walking down Blackpool Promenade on one occasion with John Inman and people passing by, when they saw John, would shout out, ‘Are you free?’ and John would shout back, ‘I’m free’.

“My first job was a reporter for the Manchester Evening News in 1970 but I was fired. I started writing odd odes for the comedian Cyril Fletcher and things moved on from there.

“I have just edited the Oxford Book of Humorous Quotations which has over 5,000 quotes in it. Oscar Wilde has the most entries.

“I went to Nicholas Parson’s birthday party last week. It was absolutely packed. Everybody was there. The most unlikely people. I saw Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones. Nicholas is 90 but he still keeps working. Never wants to give up and why should he? Why retire?”

He’s not alone...