Derek James: ‘Thanks to my wife for putting up with me for 50 years!’

Derek and Bridgette getting married at Stuston Church on April 25 1970. Photo: Family Collection

Derek and Bridgette getting married at Stuston Church on April 25 1970. Photo: Family Collection - Credit: Family Collection

Derek James looks back to this day 50 years ago when he married the love of his life, Bridgette Wilby.

Bridgette and Derek celebrating Derek’s 70th birthday. Picture: Family Collection

Bridgette and Derek celebrating Derek’s 70th birthday. Picture: Family Collection - Credit: Family Collection

We met at Pony Club dancing classes at Botesdale Bell. Both nine-year-olds and neither of us wanted to be there.

Our fathers were enjoying themselves far more in the bar downstairs. I think my parents had hoped I would be turned into a young gentleman.

I stood sulking in one corner of the room and Bridgette, who was painfully shy, stood shivering in the opposite corner.

All the children had paired off and we were the last two standing, so we were pushed together.

She thought my first name was James because every time we shuffled past anyone I would try to kick them and they would shout “clear off James!” (I was a bit of a handful in those days).

The dance classes for us didn’t last long. Bridgette was more interested in horses and animals and I hated quick-stepping around the place.

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We sent our separate ways. She lived at Stuston while I was just up the road in Diss.

Bridgette passed the 11-Plus and went to Diss Grammar School while I, having failed the exam, was packed off to Earsham Hall School as a weekly border. I hated the place.

Then, when I was 13, my father Harold James of the NFU and captain of Diss Golf Club collapsed and died while playing the game at Norwich. My mother struggled to cope and so did I. I was her only child and times were tough.

Looking back now I still feel guilty over the trouble I caused her as a tearaway teenager.

One day I was riding my racing bike past Diss Golf Club when I saw a girl on a pony heading towards me. Being a friendly sort I asked: “Who do you think you are, the Lone Ranger?”

It was young Bridgette Wilby from the dancing classes and it was to be the start of a love affair which has lasted to this day

The “going steady” business was tough especially with her dad Bert Wilby, who owned a tyre business in Diss, taking an instant dislike to me.

Looking back I can see why. I was a winklepicker wearing rebel and a bit of a “poser.”

I always wanted to be a reporter and when I got a job in the holidays at the Diss Express and stayed…never going back to school.

I learnt the hard way and I loved every minute of it. Even having to pay £4 for a typewriter.

One of my first jobs was to cycle to East Harling for the magistrates court and when a chap fined for poaching asked me to keep his name out of the paper I said of course I would.

I didn’t know any different.

On Friday when the paper came out the editor appeared in front of me waving a brace of pheasants which had been left as a present for me by the poacher..

The editor put me straight about this reporting business…and then took the pheasants home for himself.

While I worked on the paper Bridgette got a job in the drawing office at Hindle and Partners in The Close in Norwich before moving to work for Guy Pether at Roydon Hall as a draughtswoman with her best friend Gillian.

Then her parents moved to Southburgh, she went to work at RAF Swanton Morley in the Maintenance Data Centre which she loved.

I moved on to the East Anglian Daily Times and then to various papers up and down the country – London in the 60s was good, I think!

We were married on April 25 1970 at Stuston and began our married life in an attic flat in Huddersfield. I was the court and crime reporter on the Daily Examiner.

Next stop was Cambridge where I worked for the Evening News and Bridgette for the East Anglian Regional Health Authority in their drawing office.

That’s where our daughter Verity was born before we moved to Thetford where I opened an office for the Bury Free Press. Bridgette worked as the receptionist and I was “editorial.” We loved it and will always have a soft spot for Thetford.

It was there Bridgette painted a picture for Verity’s teacher Mr Monarch and this was the start of an extraordinary career as an artist. Inspired by Suffolk painter and good friend Peter Hayman she found a way of life she loved. Painting flowers and insects.

In the 80s we moved to Norwich when I took up the job of writing the Whiffler page for the Evening News. There were few other jobs in local journalism like it…and I loved it.

Bridgette became a full-time artist and went from strength to strength illustrating greeting cards, magazines and books along with exhibiting her work across this country and abroad.

She has painted no less than 50 large paintings for a Sultan in the Middle East and her work is on display in public and private exhibitions around the world. She has won a number of awards.

Ten years ago it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to serve the people and represent the city as Sheriff of Norwich. A wonderful and memorable year for us both. We met some incredible people.

Today we both work from home, our grandson Gabriel, daughter Verity and son-in-law Zack live nearby.

Like many others celebrating anniversaries our golden wedding plans have been put on hold and goodness knows when life will get back to normal but our thoughts are with those who have suffered from this terrible virus and others working on the front line for us.

I would like to take this opportunity of thanking my wife Bridgette for putting up with me for all these years and tell her that I love her with all my heart.