Drippin Yarns with David Arnold

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OVER the past 12 months we’ve been celebrating the 125th anniversary year of the founding of Lewes FC. In the process, quite a bit of Dripping Pan memorabilia has surfaced.

I was particularly fascinated to discover a four-page black and white programme for a celebrity football match held at the Lewes ground on Sunday, January 8 1961.

The occasion was a Showbiz XI versus a Television Writers XI, with the proceeds going to the Lewes Flood Relief Fund organised by the Mayor, Reg Yarrow. The previous November the town had been subject to devastating flooding – the worst since 1925 – when the Ouse burst its banks just before Bonfire Night.

So bad was the inundation that the Guy Fawkes celebrations had to be cancelled.

The programme contains photographs of 12 celebrities who were likely to feature in the Showbiz XI.

I was amazed to see that the line-up included comedian Dave King, singers Ronnie Carroll and Des O’Connor, entertainer Tommy Steele and the legendary footballer Billy Wright – the first England player to earn 100 caps for his country.

Another picture shows Sean Connery. Now, Connery’s very first 007 blockbuster wasn’t released until 1962, so evidently he was pretty well known even pre-James Bond. So I did some research and discovered that he had recently played a leading role in the Walt Disney production Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a film I well remember watching in the infamous Cinema De Luxe on School Hill – by coincidence now the site of the Sussex Express offices. The ‘Little People’ in question were leprechauns!

I also learnt that Connery was an excellent footballer and that Matt Busby once offered him a £25 a week contract to join Manchester United.

‘WAKEY WAKEEEY’

But the picture and name that struck me the most was that of the very jolly and rotund Billy Cotton. As a nipper in the Sixties I well remember the Billy Cotton Band Show on the telly at weekends. First up was always his famous cry of ‘Wakey Wakeeey!’

He didn’t look like a footballer. But in fact he played in the early 1920s as an amateur with Brentford. Forty years later he evidently still enjoyed kicking a ball about.

There are some interesting names who played for the TV Writers XI, including Jim Dale, Marty Feldman and the cockney Harry Fowler. All three of them went on to become better known as comedy actors rather than writers.

Though for certain the referee was Lewes resident P J Goble, I haven’t been able to discover who in the end actually turned out to play at the Dripping Pan.

Lewes FC President John Edwards is sure he was in the crowd. But he claims to have been too young at the time to remember names or faces!

So I’m now asking if there are any readers of Dripping Yarns who were there on that Sunday afternoon in 1961 and can remember if Billy Cotton or the soon to be Sean ‘James Bond’ Connery did indeed grace our hallowed turf. If you can help please email me at: david@lewesfc.com or give me a call on 01273 478513.

PS. I do have a clear memory of when Tommy Steele did definitely visit our town. It was when he came here to shoot some scenes for the musical ‘Half A Sixpence’ in 1966. I reckon half of the kids in Lewes must have bunked off school to watch the filming taking place in cobbled Keere Street!

DAVID ARNOLD