Could you join the army of hospice volunteers?

Yours truly in the kitchen at the Dougie Mac Hospice.

Yours truly in the kitchen at the Dougie Mac Hospice.

If you are of an age, like me, and you’re born and bred in North Staffordshire, the chances are you will know someone who has received care at the Douglas Macmillan Hospice in Blurton during the last 40 years.

That’s how long Dougie Mac, as we call it, has been caring for local people.

Hopefully, no longer to does anyone view the place as ‘somewhere people with cancer go to die’ – as a member of my family once referred to it.

Dougie Mac is, and always was, far more than a hospice which provides end-of-life care.

If you ever have cause to visit you’ll find a bright, airy place which has more of a community feel than somewhere caring for sick patients.

I suppose that’s part of the magic. The first-class facilities, the modern decor, the beautifully-maintained gardens and the wonderful meals.

It’s actually a lovely place to be.

But what makes Dougie Mac truly special is the people who work there and the hundreds of people who give up their time as volunteers.

It costs more than £10 million each year to keep the hospice running – or £22,000 a day, if you prefer – much of this raised through donations, shop purchases and legacies from the people of North Staffordshire.

The fact is that sum would be a hell of a lot higher were it not for the army of volunteers who supplement the hospice’s paid-for staff.

Either that or the hospice’s income would be lower and it would simply be unable to offer the huge range of services it currently provides.

Some volunteers are students, many are retired people, others simply have a few hours a week to spare and want to give something back to their community.

Roles are many and varied – depending on whether someone wants to be based at the hospice, working with patients or out in the community helping with events or fund-raising.

Wherever you go in the hospice you’ll find volunteers.They answer the phones, they look after the gardens, they help maintain the buildings and they interact with the most important people – the patients and their relatives.

When the Prime Minister talks about the ‘Big Society’, people scoff. The truth is it’s been in action at Dougie Mac for decades.

Earlier this week I, along with BBC Radio Stoke’s John Acres, Stuart George and Charlotte Foster, and the Hanley Economic Building Society’s chief executive David Webster, spent some time at the hospice as volunteers.

I found myself wearing a green throwaway apron (much to the amusement of colleagues back at The Sentinel newsroom) and working in the busy kitchen which, I discovered, operates a rolling 10-week menu which makes your mouth water.

Once I’d proved I could polish 40-off glasses for a do the following day, chef Stephen Pickerin (CORR), from Hanley, let me loose preparing two huge trays of braised steak for patients and staff.

Mum would have been proud of me.

I have to say it was quite a therapeutic experience and a lovely atmosphere within which to work – helped no end by the banter with Steve, a long-suffering Vale fan like myself.

I chatted to another volunteer, Keith, (a Stoke fan) who told me how he’d begun working at the hospice after retiring when he found himself wondering ‘what he was supposed to do now’.

Keith began as a volunteer in the hospice garden before neck and back pain had forced him inside where he now works as a kitchen assistant.

It’s quite clear that the volunteers are extremely well thought of by staff and are viewed as a vital part of the team.

As chef Steve said: “We really couldn’t cope without them.”

But it was something he said later that stuck with me as I drove away from the hospice.

Steve commented: “We get lovely compliments from the patients and relatives about the meals. The best thing is when you hear someone who is ill say: ‘I couldn’t face my food until I came here’. That’s really special.”

It’s volunteers like Keith, of course, who help Steve and the team in the kitchen achieve such incredible results and genuinely improve the quality of life for patients and their relatives.
Right now, Dougie Mac is desperate for more volunteers for all kinds of jobs 24/7.

If you think you could help out for a few hours a week, or more, in a patient-facing role, a fund-raising or income generation position or a hospice-based role, then call the Douglas Macmillan Hospice voluntary services team on 344332 or email workforce services@dmhospice.org.uk

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Put our differences aside is the only thing that makes any sense

Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite.

Just get it sorted. That seems to be the opinion of many level-headed Port Vale supporters as Norman Smurthwaite’s ban on The Sentinel continues.

Forget that respected football writers with a national profile have backed this newspaper.

Forget that the legend that is Robbie Earle thinks a football club banning its local paper is tantamount to self-harm.

I think a lot of Vale fans have taken the view that, whatever the rights and wrongs of this dispute, ultimately it is in the interests of both parties that we seek a speedy resolution.

They are absolutely correct which is why, behind the scenes, that is exactly what The Sentinel has been trying to do since last Friday.

We hoped this row would be resolved days ago and drafted a joint statement – as requested – in an attempt to overcome the impasse.

It seems that statement isn’t acceptable but, rather than having another go at it, we now have to wait until next Tuesday for a meeting – at which presumably we’ll go over the same old ground we did during this Tuesday’s negotiations.

Personally, I can live without it.

After everything that’s gone on during the last three or four years it breaks my heart to see Vale and the newspaper I work for falling out.

Or rather, the Vale owner and this newspaper falling out.

I guess you have to have lived through it – like all Vale supporters did – to appreciate the upheaval, uncertainty, anger and embarrassment at the time.

I certainly never want to go through anything like that again.

For the Vale owner to now fall out with the media organisation which best supported the fans and club during those troubled times seems utterly nonsensical to me.

It’s about 12 months ago to the day since I was on the car park at Vale Park in the pouring rain giving an interview to BBC Radio Stoke’s Stuart George on the breakfast programme.

I was still on the Port Vale Supporters’ Club committee at the time.

Vale was about to come out of administration and I got into an argument with a council taxpayer called Peter, from Trentham, who told me the club wasn’t worth saving and would be bust again with a year.

I told him Vale was worth saving, that the club was an essential part of the city’s heritage and that the new owners wouldn’t let it go bust.

Consequently, Peter – if you’re reading this – you owe me breakfast.

On that morning it occurred to me that the new owners had an opportunity perhaps unlike any previous chairman or chief executive to take over at Vale Park.

The club had no debts, the fans were united, Micky Adams’s team was performing terrifically well on the pitch, and the relationship between Port Vale and this newspaper was stronger than it had been at anytime during the 15 years I have worked here.

Since then our sports team has worked hard to promote the club – providing season ticket publicity and telling our readers about events and the new club shops.

I was given a personal guided tour around Vale Park by the chairman in July and wrote a very positive article for our pre-season supplement which talked up the changes taking place at Vale Park and emphasising Norman Smurthwaite’s hard work and investment.

We’ve also talked several times about problems and potential problems facing the club and I’ve done my best to help him make the club stronger. Furthermore, I’ve personally invited Norman to all of The Sentinel’s flagship community events – the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards, The Sentinel Business Awards and the recent Our Heroes Awards.

Why? Because he is an important figure in the local community and we want Port Vale to be represented at these dos which provide excellent networking opportunities.

All of this is true and the chairman knows it.

Yet here we are with the team sitting pretty in League One and in a decent run of form and the chairman and this newspaper are at loggerheads.

Over what? A perfectly legitimate story about a delay in the arrival of 1,000 shirts. (Friday’s phone message to me said the ban related to us running ‘negative stories about his club’).

Or possibly because, as the Editor was told, The Sentinel doesn’t make a direct financial contribution to the club in order to be able to cover matches (no newspaper in the UK does).

Or possibly because of the way we handled a story back in May. (The Vale chairman approved the contents of this story before it went to print and it hasn’t been brought up for five months or more).

Having devoted so much time, effort and resources to helping supporters win their battle to save Port Vale why would The Sentinel or I publish anything which we knew would harm the club and damage our relationship with the owner and the fans?

The answer is: We wouldn’t and we haven’t.

Whether you believe me or not, it is an indisputable fact that both Port Vale and The Sentinel working together is good for both the club and the newspaper and for the benefit of the city, local communities and, of course, the club’s commercial partners.

I don’t want our end of season special (hopefully a promotion special) to be canned because we have no photographs taken at home games. I’d like that Vale souvenir to put with all the others we do.

Neither do I want blank spaces or filler images in our match reports. I’d rather see a picture of a fellow Sneyd Greener celebrating his goals, thank you very much.

Neither do I want a nice bloke and a terrific sports writer like Michael Baggaley prevented from doing what he does best.

I can’t say it any clearer than this: We are ready to resolve this dispute for the good of all concerned but it really does take two to tango.

Let’s talk, put differences aside, and get back to the mutually beneficial relationship Vale and The Sentinel have been enjoying since Norman Smurthwaite took over the club.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Let’s give a warm welcome back to a rare local voice

BBC Radio Stoke's Paula White.

BBC Radio Stoke’s Paula White.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine made a mistake. It was the kind of error of judgement we’re all quite capable of making.

She turned up for work a bit the worse for wear. She was rather emotional, to be fair. A little ‘below par’.

The problem was that this friend of mine just happens to be a presenter on a BBC local radio station and so her mistake was shared with thousands of people.

It also happened to be genuinely hilarious. For half an hour she slurred her way through her final week-day show before being rescued by colleagues.

She didn’t say anything derogatory. She didn’t swear. She didn’t libel a listener.

She had, however, had a drink or two and so the audio train wreck made headlines in most of the national newspapers (and the local one).

The unusual 30 minute broadcast became an internet sensation – with hundreds of thousands of people listening to it.

For a brief moment only she had the kind of listener figures BBC local radio station controllers would kill for.

I’m not sure if she trended on Twitter but the clip of her faux pas has the distinction of making it on to comedy show Have I Got News For You and even overseas news channels.

A bad day at the office doesn’t cover it.

The lady in question is, of course, Paula White who has been the voice of afternoons on BBC Radio Stoke for as long as most of us can remember.

After taking some time off and issuing a public apology for her behaviour, I am delighted that Paula will soon be back on the station.

It is absolutely the right decision. After all, let’s not forget the Beeb chose to inflict the talent vacuum that is Richard Bacon back on the British public again via the medium of radio after sacking him as a telly presenter on Blue Peter when his drug use was exposed by the tabloids.

By comparison, Paula’s misdemeanour pales into insignificance and I think it’s only fair that she be welcomed back.

OK, so she appeared on radio sounding a bit squiffy and the odd Puritanical listener took umbrage.

But Paula’s not a brain surgeon or a policewoman. Nobody died as a result of her saying ‘P-A-R-T-Y… because I said so!’.

Come on, admit it, that’s still funny.

The problem is that because Paula works in the media and has a profile she’s there to be shot at.

But when considering her fate I am sure the powers-that-be at BBC Radio Stoke must have taken into consideration a number of things.

Firstly, for the last six and a half years Paula White has done a terrific job brightening up people’s afternoons and done a great deal of good for local communities and charities.

Secondly, she is one of the precious few local voices on BBC Radio Stoke and that is important.

Listeners feel comfortable with her because she knows her Biddulph from her Bentilee and can pronounce Potteries place names.

They like the fact that she grew up in this neck of the woods, remembers the SPACE Scheme, danced the night away at The Place and calls everyone ‘duck’.

Finally, Paula’s style is chatty and irreverent. She has always worn her heart on her sleeve and that is what has endeared her to so many guests and listeners over the years – listeners who have shown their support for her through social media and have written in to BBC Radio Stoke too.

Paula probably still feels mortified at what happened – not least because she thinks she let her family, friends and colleagues down.

But the truth is that ‘squiffy-gate’ is a storm in a teacup.

It should be viewed as a half-hour aberration in a broadcasting career that has spanned thousands of hours and brought a smile to many faces.

Welcome back, duck.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

The Signal for a new era in broadcasting locally

Signal Radio DJ, the late Mel Scholes.

Signal Radio DJ, the late Mel Scholes.

As someone who grew up with the BBC Radio Stoke on in the background, September 5, 1983 was quite a momentous day.

That’s the date that a new commercial radio station took to the air and, for the first time, gave the people of North Staffordshire and South Cheshire a choice.

DJ John Evington uttered the first words around 6am and chose Neil Diamond’s Beautiful Noise as the station’s first track.

Signal Radio was named after newspaper The Signal in the novels of Potteries author Arnold Bennett which, of course, was based on the then Evening Sentinel.

I well recall the early days of Signal, 30 years old this year, because – as an 11-year-old it provided a more ‘trendy’ alternative to the BBC station I had listened to every morning before school for years.

Radio Stoke was where I always hoped to find out at 8am that my school was closed because the boiler wasn’t working and there had been a couple of inches of snow.

Signal Radio, however, was different. In fact, I remember listening one Saturday morning and entering a trivia quiz against a bloke from Alsager.

I managed to win and the DJ promised to send me a single!

I waited for several days, the excitement building, until at last the parcel arrived.

I ripped it open to discover I’d been sent a copy of We’ve Got A Good Fire Goin’ by Don Williams.

I could have cried. I didn’t even know who he was.

Despite the crushing disappointment for me personally, Signal Radio’s appeal continued to grow.

The station, based in Stoke Road, Shelton, was one of the last in the country to split its frequencies.

It initially broadcast on 104.3 and 1170 – changing to 102.6 FM later.

Like any commercial station, in the early days it didn’t have the greatest budget but the dedication and enthusiasm of its staff and a bit of creative thinking more than made up for that.

In 1986, for example, it secured the UK’s first Restrictive Service Licence to cover the National Garden Festival in Etruria.

The station – now broadcasting as Signal 1 and Signal 2 – has been instrumental in staging many shows including the Battle of the Bands, a Young DJ contest and the annual Live in the City pop concert – as well as raising tens of thousands of pounds for various charities.

Over the years a number of stars who have gone on to make household names for themselves gained invaluable experience presenting shows or working for Signal.

They include comedienne Caroline Aherne, DJ Chris Moyles (formerly of Radio One), BBC NorthWest Tonight’s Annabel Tiffin, the late Potteries entertainment legend Mel Scholes, of Jollees nightclub fame, and even a certain Robbie Williams.

Showbiz sisters Anthea Turner and Wendy Turner-Webster also cut their teeth at the station.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

Journalism isn’t broken so be careful what you wish for

Bankers must be going to work with a spring in their step these days. Those who still have a job, that is.

No longer are they the sole pariahs of British society.

It seems journalists are the new hate figures as the BBC staggers like a punch-drunk boxer from one crisis to the next.

As newspapers await the verdict of the Leveson Inquiry, the scandals enveloping the Beeb suddenly look just as big – if not bigger.

A few weeks ago it was the corporation’s management and practices during the Jimmy Savile era that were making the headlines.

Today it is the catastrophic investigation (I use that word advisedly) which smeared an innocent politician as a paedophile that is dominating the news agenda.

It has already caused the BBC’s Director General George Entwistle to fall on his sword and left the BBC Trust’s chairman Lord Patten considering his position.

To make matters worse, we have the unedifying spectacle of national newspapers lining up to put the boot in to Auntie.

Indeed that boot is on the other foot to such an extent that none-other than the whiter-than-white, small screen star that is Gary Lineker OBE is showing his displeasure at the press treatment of his employer.

He Tweeted: “Whilst television has made some appalling errors of late (and apologised for them), the hypocrisy of some newspapers is truly staggering.”

Of course, our Gary overlooks the fact that, at times, the BBC – or rather some of its presenters – have been undeniably smug and self-righteous as the Leveson panel has been giving print media hacks a good kicking.

Talk about dog-eat-dog.

How sad it is that amid the indignation and the resignations the real stories are being lost.

A hysteria akin to that surrounding the Salem Witch Trials seems to have set in and the genuine issues of note are being lost in the hunt for scapegoats and fall guys.

What began with an eminently-justifiable probe into the reprehensible actions of a minority of national newspaper journalists and executives has morphed into a sort of collective paranoia about the media.

Politicians licking their wounds in the wake of the expenses scandal undoubtedly viewed the Leveson Inquiry as the perfect excuse to bring the out-of-control press to heel.

It was pay-back time and the likes of Labour MP Tom Watson set about the task with relish.

However, as a result of this vindictive witch hunt we seem to have lost all perspective.

We can no longer see who has the moral high ground because there are so many people clamouring to be up there.

No-one can justify illegal phone-hacking and those newspaper employees and executives who used it or who sanctioned its use should, of course, be held to account.

By the same token I’m sure every right-thinking person wants a thorough investigation into the way in which former BBC star Jimmy Savile was able to get away with what, on the face of it, appears to have been the systematic abuse of children during his time with the corporation.

And, following the shambolic Newsnight programme which wrongly accused a senior Tory peer of abuse, it is only right that the Beeb’s editorial practices are rigorously reviewed.

However, none of this means that we should allow a few bad apples to spoil the barrels.

Journalism isn’t broken and neither, for that matter, is the BBC.

For the most part, the national newspapers in this country do a fine job of keeping us informed – precisely because they are irreverent and they have a heart unlike their counterparts in, say, the U.S.

Yes, they make mistakes – as any large organisation does – and perhaps Leveson will clean up the murkier side of the national press, but they are certainly not beyond redemption. Neither is the Beeb whose journalists must now feel somewhat besieged as their print cousins have been for the last 12 months.

Granted, I’m only 40, but for as long as I can remember, the BBC has been a reliable, trusted medium and remains so – irrespective of the current furore.

The work of its journalists and presenters is required listening for me – whether it be Radio Five Live stalwarts Peter Allen and Nicky Campbell or my friends and colleagues at BBC Radio Stoke.

Let’s not forget that the important issues here are phone-hacking, alleged child abuse and an horrific mistake made by senior editorial executives on one programme.

What worries me is that, as we await the results of the Leveson Inquiry, and as the BBC becomes a rudderless ship there is a very real danger of lasting damage to journalism in the UK.

The profession, at its best, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Journalism holds our leaders and institutions to account and, crucially, it gives the majority a voice and a form of redress.

In my opinion a neutered press and a BBC afraid of its own shadow cannot be good.

We must be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as the many and varied investigations into the media come to a conclusion.

Those enjoying the trial of the national press and the BBC ought to be careful what they wish for.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Veteran newsman Chris recalls his role in a slice of Potteries history

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I first met Chris Ellis when he was working as a reporter for BBC Radio Stoke in 1989. A proper, old-fashioned hack, Chris broke, among many exclusives, the ‘Pindown’ story which uncovered widespread abuse of children in care across Staffordshire.

Always keen to listen, always sniffing for his next big story, Chris was a pleasure to work with back then and later when he joined me as a sub-editor here at The Sentinel.

Little did I know it at the time but there was more to BBC Radio Stoke’s veteran newsman than met the eyes.

Born in Leek, Chris was a member of local rock bands Hunter and Demon.

He was also one of the key players in arguably the most important piece of regeneration work to take place in the Potteries to date.

Now retired and living in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, he’s returned to his first love – playing rock, blues and jazz music.

Chris is currently on tour with singer/song-writer Leanne Tennant and says has no intention of returning to the UK because it’s ‘far too cold’.
However, he was happy to reminisce about his role in making the 1986 National Garden Festival here in Stoke-on-Trent a roaring success…

Chris wrote:

‘May 8, 1986. A date I’ll never forget, and the culmination of months of planning, dramas, nerves, and, for me at least, sailing an unknown ship into unchartered waters. It was the day the Queen opened the National Garden Festival at Etruria, billed as “The Greatest Event In Europe”.

If there was ever a team effort, this was it. An unlikely mix of people had come together to transform the old Shelton steelworks into 180 acres of gardens, shops, events and other attractions, to breathe new life into a site that had been left derelict and an eyesore after 2,000 workers were made redundant when the factory closed.

Various cities had competed for funding to hold garden festivals. Liverpool held the first, the International Garden Festival in 1984, and Stoke successfully bid for the second, in a campaign spearheaded by the former trade union leader Ted Smith, and Ron Southern, who was leader of the city council at the time.

On the day the steelworks had closed, I remember Ted vowing to see those lost jobs replaced before he died. He succeeded, and lived to see the results of his efforts after the festival closed, and new businesses moved on to what’s now known as Festival Park.

I was brought into the team as the events manager. I’m not sure what qualified me for the role, apart from my previous experience of organising various musical events, my reputation as a musician and broadcaster, and perhaps friends in the right places.

I joined a team of designers, architects, marketing and business experts faced with the daunting task of making Ted’s vision a reality.

Many were leaders in their field, others, like me, were going to have to play it by ear.

In late 1984 I reported for work at Etruria Hall. I certainly recall a great sense of pride as I sat in my new office in what had been Josiah Wedgwood’s home. Through one window I could see what had been the old rolling mill of the steelworks, where the marina was under construction, along with a number of “show homes” and the China Garden pub.

Through the other I could see piles of rubble from the old works being piled into a huge mound, eventually to be covered in topsoil and saplings. This would become the “Woodland Ridge”.

On my office wall was pinned the “Master Plan”; a designer’s vision of what the site would look like – which changed on an almost weekly basis, depending on which consultants thought what was appropriate, and what ever-changing budgets would allow).

To tell the full story of the festival would take a book, but for the purpose of this article I only have space for what I feel the festival achieved.

Despite the constant battle with the weather, especially the ever-present wind which swept across the site, construction somehow continued on schedule, sponsored gardens were constructed, and compromises were reached.

There were many compromises, among them the choice between spending money on horticultural and design aspirations, and the real aim of the festival, which was to rejuvenate the land for commercial and community use.

If I have a personal regret, it was losing the argument to build a bridge at Cobridge lights, to relieve the constant traffic congestion; a problem which remains to this day.

We had the money to build it; maybe those of us who were “locals” didn’t have the fortitude to hold out for it.

It’s the old story though, we had the money to build it then but didn’t; today the cost of such an endeavour would be unthinkable.

Now back to the things we did achieve: We created a place of beauty out of industrial waste. We brought thousands of people to Stoke-on-Trent who would never have come for any other reason.

We created hundreds of temporary jobs, on the old Community Programme scheme, even convincing the powers-that-be to allow us to employ musicians to provide entertainment.

This wasn’t easy, especially when the local Musicians’ Union got involved. The musicians we employed were from various backgrounds, but did a fantastic job entertaining the crowds, and many are still playing today, probably most noticeably members of “Boneshaker”, who were formed especially for the event.

Many visitors will remember the sight of “Rob the Bones”, always with his “bones” clicking away and a smile on his face, despite the days of wind and rain. While we didn’t create permanent jobs at the festival, what we did do is get people back into the workforce, albeit temporarily, and I think we gave some people self-respect that had been lost either when the steelworks closed, or during the decline of the many other manufacturing industries in the city.

We employed some pretty interesting people; former factory managers, supervisors and labourers, all with their own ideas about how the festival should be operated, how the festival should look, and how our anticipated visitors should enjoy the festival “experience”.

To cut a very long story very short, there’s no doubt that the festival succeeded on many fronts.

The majority of visitors enjoyed their time on the site, and we certainly gave many people a great day out.

Apart from the Queen’s visit, a highlight was the parade of the Royal Tournament, which had never been held outside London before.

The logistics of bringing hundreds of soldiers, their uniforms and even cannons to the festival were challenging to say the least, and the flypast by a Hercules plane at low level will live with me forever.

Every day there was a crisis of some sort, but we got through it.

As the Queen’s limousine was leaving the railway station for the festival site we were still making last-minute changes. Only 15 minutes before her arrival a road sweeper was cleaning the entrance. It demolished a lamppost.

Faced with the prospect of the Queen’s initial impression of the festival being a heap of rubble, our unflappable operations manager, Mark Michelmore, ordered that the offending lamp be hastily removed, and a team of volunteers covered over the stump and created an improvised floral display which was, quite literally, fit for a Queen.

Looking back now, 26 years later, from the other side of the world, I still have mixed emotions about the festival. I don’t think we got it right; I don’t think we got it wrong either.

I think we just did what we thought was best at the time, and did what was needed to restore some pride into a city which still had things to be proud of, but had suffered at the hands of people who didn’t understand the need for recognition of a city’s heritage or proud past.

We did what we could to restore that pride. Whether we succeeded is not for me to judge but I know many people of the city go there every day today, either to work, shop or be entertained.
I don’t think we did too badly in the end.’

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel for 12 pages of nostalgia

Celebrities, saucy lost property and a riot over Rocky II…

When Peter Kelly first arrived in Hanley he was 29 years old. The year was 1972 (coincidentally, the year yours truly was born) and, although he didn’t know it at the time, Peter was to spend the rest of his working life in the Potteries.

When he took early retirement in 1999 at the age of 56, Peter had managed both the Odeon cinema in the city centre and its new incarnation at Festival Park, Etruria.

He oversaw numerous celebrity film premieres and, during the late Eighties, presided over the most successful Odeon business in the UK in terms of admissions.

Now aged 69, Peter looks back on his cinema years with fondness.

He said: “I was very lucky. It was a wonderful job and I got to meet and work with some wonderful people over the years – some of whom remain my friends to this day.”

Originally from Scarborough, Peter had been to theatrical school and was destined for a career on the stage before deciding to switch career and head into management with Rank.

When he first arrived in Stoke-on-Trent, Peter ran the Odeon at the former Gaumont on Piccadilly (now The Regent Theatre) which, at the time, was a dual-purpose cinema and theatre.

If you’re my age you’ll remember the free trips to see old movies there as part of the Staffordshire Police Activities and Community Enterprise (SPACE) scheme.

Peter said: “In those days, of course, there were no computers. It was very much a case of people turning up and paying to see the film they wanted.

“If the showing was full then they had to either get in the queue for the next one or come back at another time.

“There was no paying in advance or credit cards.”

In fact, on one occasion, there was no paying at all… as Peter explains.

“I remember turning up for work one morning at the Odeon in Hanley at 9am and finding a queue of 300 people outside.

“They were waiting to watch Rocky II (1979). Rocky had been released on video at the same time that Rocky II came out and there was great anticipation for the movie.

“I recall thinking that I was going to need some extra pairs of hands and so I rang my assistant managers who came in to help.

“By the time we opened the doors at 1pm the queue was enormous and snaked all the way around the building to where Radio Stoke was on Cheapside.

“There was an almighty rush and it was chaos. Windows were broken and people started helping themselves to sweets and merchandise.

“I called the emergency number at our head office and was basically told: ‘you handle it’.

“So I let the first showing in to see the film for free. I didn’t know what else to do. Then the next lot paid.”

If you think that was bad, then don’t ask Peter about the things he and his staff used to find in the cinema after showings. Let’s just say it wasn’t just bras and knickers that turned up around the so-called ‘love seats’ at the back of the auditorium.

Back in the 1980s cinema chains had deals with certain film companies which meant that, for example, Peter’s Odeon never showed some of the biggest blockbusters such as ET.

He said: “I remember standing outside at the Gaumont (Hanley Odeon) and looking down at the old ABC to see how big their queues were.”

Some of Peter’s fondest memories of running cinemas in the days before IMax, CGI and 3D that works, involved his benefit events – such as midnight screenings where the proceeds went to causes such as the Lord Mayor’s charities.

In 1987 the Odeon relocated to Festival Park and over the following two years ticket sales soared – making it the number one Odeon cinema in the country. Thus the decision to increase the number of screens from eight to 10.

Peter fondly recalls some of the quirky ideas he had to get bums on seats – such as a ‘Weepy week’ of films.

He said: “I remember this included the Lana Turner film Madame X and all of the audience weeping.”

Peter was also responsible for showing horror classic The Exorcist very late every Saturday night. It ran very successfully for more than a year at the Festival Park Odeon.

But it is the celebrity film premieres featuring the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Dudley Moore that brought him the most pleasure.

He even persuaded Sir Richard Attenborough to attend the Festival Park premiere of his 1993 film Shadowlands.

He said: “I met him in London and asked him if he would attend the Stoke premiere. He asked me why he should and I said ‘because Stoke-on-Trent’s Odeon sells more tickets than any other in the UK – including the one in Leicester Square’.

“So he came up to Festival Park and I got him on stage and he was thrilled because Sir Stanley Matthews was in the audience. They were both lovely people. Real. gentlemen.”

Peter’s favourite film is actually the musical Funny Girl which launched the career of Barbra Streisand.

But it’s a little known secret that he’s also partial to a bit of Dirty Dancing and Ghost – which left him ‘in tears’.

After all this, you may be surprised to learn that Peter, enjoying his retirement and living in Lower Tean, hasn’t seen a film at the cinema since he retired.

He said: “When you have spent so long around people you value the peace and quiet to be honest.”

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