Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Farewell to the Colonel

COLONEL Geoffrey Brierley is completing the last few weeks of a 12-year stint as county councillor for the Lyme Regis area.

So now would seem as good a time as any to pay tribute to his service to the Marshwood Vale (the name of his county council seat) and for all he has done for Lyme Regis during his time as our county councillor.

With a military background (he served in the Army for 35 years), Colonel Brierley became known for his no-nonsense, tell-it-as-it-is style of local government.

If you asked him a question and he didn’t know the answer, he wouldn’t skirt around the subject and prevaricate, as is the style of virtually every national politician these days. He would simply say: “I don’t know but I will find out.”

And he always gave it to you straight, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear.
Geoff will be remembered for ever more for being the county councillor who delivered a public footpath in Charmouth Road.  

The town council had been pushing for one for 50 years but in the end it was the pragmatic approach that Colonel Brierley adopted and his sheer refusal to take no for an answer that delivered the long-awaited path. 

The job of the county councillor is to put in regular appearances at all the parish and town council meetings in their patch and Colonel Brierley was a regular attender at Lyme council meetings, giving an update on county matters before the meetings proper got underway.

Invariably, these have been occasions to savour, especially on the press bench, as his reports were also filled with punchy retorts often tinged with humour.

He had many a battle with Derek Hallett, the town’s former dog warden, who was a regular attender at council meetings to raise matters in the public forum session.

They had a long battle over the yellow lines in Lyme Regis, or rather the lack of them.  

Rarely did a meeting pass without Mr Hallett raising the subject and throwing down the challenge to Colonel Brierley to get something done.

The Colonel never lost his temper, though it must have been a close thing at times. And although Mr Hallett might not have always been happy with the answer he got, he never lost respect for his adversary.

Well, let’s be honest, Colonel Brierley commanded 1 Para during the 1970s. Lyme council was never really going to trouble him.

There were many other issues that Colonel Brierley involved himself with in Lyme over the years. He fought tenaciously for the retention of our local library and is still working hard to find a solution to the traffic problems outside the Woodroffe School together with a host of matters that never make the local papers.  

Lyme goes to the polls on May 2nd to choose a successor to Colonel Brierley. 

Whoever wins that election has some big former Army-sized boots to fill.

The day I met Maggie Thatcher 

AS far as I know, Margaret Thatcher never visited Lyme Regis. As a true blue Tory stronghold, I suppose she would have been greeted with enthusiasm for back in those days, as one of the town’s few Labour supporters George Curtis would say: “Put a blue ribbon on a pig and they will vote for it around here.”

But Maggie did come to West Dorset after ousting Ted Heath as Leader of the Conservative Party and before she became Prime Minister.

Sir Jim Spicer (yet to be knighted) was the MP for West Dorset at the time and arranged a visit from the Iron Lady to Beaminster in February 1975 to make a key speech.

At the time I was working as chief reporter for the Bridport News, not hugely interested in politics, and sports editor Roger Bailey (an out and out Tory) and I were assigned to cover the visit.

Roger bought a new matching blue shirt and tie especially for the occasion. Maggie travelled down from London on the train and was greeted by Jim Spicer at Crewkerne station. 

We were introduced to Maggie on the platform and Roger was so overcome that he actually bowed when she shook his hand! I wasn’t so enamoured although she was far more glamorous than her television image.

If I remember correctly, a reception for party workers was held at Beaminster School  before she returned to London. I can’t remember what she spoke about so I Googled it and there it was in its entirety.

Even at such an early stage in her leadership, there were clear signs of “Thatcherism” to come. She promised to make “some dreams come true”.

She did that. But she also ruined a few and we should leave it to history to judge her.


WHEN I first started out as a reporter, many moons ago, dinner dances were all the rage. 

Virtually every organisation in town held one every year and I soon realised that a dinner jacket was an essential item for a reporter’s wardrobe. Ballroom dancing lessons were also on the agenda.

Most of these events in Lyme were held at the Royal Lion Hotel, run in those days by Bob Dunne and his wife before it was taken over by brewers Bass Charrington.

Virtually every Saturday night would see a dinner dance at the Lion and those I remember include functions such as Rotary President’s Night, Masonic Ladies Night, Sailing Club, Operatic Society, Skittles League, Football Club and Chamber of Trade dinners. 

A number of outside organisations also travelled into Lyme for their annual bash, such was the reputation at the Lion. Reporters were usually given two complimentary tickets but it would be necessary to take notes of all the speeches and write a lengthy report. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch - and never was.

Few organisations today hold such events and when they do the press is rarely, if ever, invited. And we certainly don't get free tickets.

I was reminded of such occasions on Saturday night when Jackie and I attended the first Royal British Legion dinner for more than 50 years. It was a low-key affair at the Golf Club, efficiently organised by David Humphrey, one of the younger Legion members, and I hope it becomes an annual event once again. 

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