Keith Skipper; How I got where I am today
- Credit: Archant
Keith Skipper, who is approaching 60 years of contributing to the EDP looks back, on his pun-derful career
I get out of bed earlier than usual, test positive for gentle reflection and saunter into my maze of a study for a “good old daze” special.
With another birthday hurdle safely cleared - I now duck under rather than leap over – it’s time to recall a crusty son of our Norfolk soil, cheerfully tolerated despite an unflinching urge to warn the rest of an ill-prepared world against overblown expectations.
He might have made a useful doctor, banker or politician in our current troubled climate. A pessimistic nature hewn out of too many days and nights on his own led him to remind me regularly: “When one door shut, boy, there’s allus another riddy ter bang in yer fearace”.
I replay his advice every time a significant chapter in my life draws to an end – mainly to alert myself to a remarkable amount of good fortune continuing to head my way. That old boy would write me off as a freakish affront to his sound Norfolk logic.
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First big lucky break, alongside being bred, born, raised and educated in God’s Own County, came with a classroom treat in the summer of 1962. It opened the door to making a living and largely enjoying myself ever since.
Eric Fowler, already one of the most celebrated figures in provincial journalism with EDP articles under his homespun pen-name of Jonathan Mardle, hit the road to Swaffham to enlighten grammar school sixth-formers about joys of working on newspapers.
I fell for it, scoop, deadline and notebook, applied in proper joined-up writing, went to Norwich on my own for an interview and confounded home village critics by starting work in one of the country’s fastest-growing towns. Beeston’s contribution to Thetford expansion surely symbolised the dawning of a new Norfolk era.
Seventeen Pullet Surprise-winning years later, several of them charting the fortunes of Norwich City footballers, a full-time press career reached a final edition at my own behest. I had no firm plans beyond playing and watching more cricket, rediscovering pleasures of strawberry picking and reading some of the books piling up by my bed.
I kept journalistic instincts fresh by inventing and producing the Encore entertainment magazine for Dick Condon at Norwich Theatre Royal – his adventurous spirit was irresistible – and returning to one of my old reporting beats for a stint with the Yarmouth Press Agency.
Then came a surprise telephone call from a former newspaper colleague with a finger on the “modern media” pulse. The BBC were setting up a local wireless station for Norfolk and the Waveney Valley and sorely needed an indigenous remnant with an A level in Squit and a Torkin Proper Sustificat to cover the likes of Happisburgh, Hautbois, Ingoldisthorpe, Postwick and Wymondham.
I fell for it, mardle, music and microphone, applied with enough bravado to camouflage technological dyslexia and confounded my own misgivings as well as those of serious radio followers by keeping myself on air for 15 parochial -wave years.
When my accumulator ran dry I had to retune for Norfolk VHF (Very Handy Friends) programmes featuring furrows cultivated since Jonathan Mardle’s uplifting masterclass. Talented folk encountered on radio, newspaper and village hall rounds readily agreed to help me take local culture to new levels.
My Press Gang entertainers moved on shamelessly for 25 laughter-packed seasons without suffering one successful prosecution for political incorrectness. All Preachers Great and Small, a sort of reverend offshoot designed to fill pews and fundraising columns, ended a 15-year sermon with “make a joyful noise” as the text.
I have leaned heavily on long-established contacts exuding fresh enthusiasms to ignite other creative ventures in print, including the launch of my own Harnser Press publishing company, as well as on stage and in the recording studio.
In short, you really do find out who your friends are when you need them.
The trendy description for my third career is “freelance all-rounder with penchant for local dialect and humour”. One loyal old friend, always ready to place matters on a less formal footing, says it’s more a case of “squit for purpose in these rum ole times”.
It has certainly paid off for me as I look forward to more mardling missions, a step closer to completing my 50th Norfolk book and to 60 successive years of contributing one way or another to this newspaper.
Some doors have stiffer hinges than others. They just need more oiling.
I can’t recall being told to “self-isolate” during a rural childhood littered with cheeky responses, chuckling escapades and sulky interludes.
Even so, I suspect “Get up those stairs!”, “What did I just tell you?”, “Clear off out of my sight!”, “You wait till your father gets home!” and “I will say this just once more …!” hinted strongly at the same sort of message.
As one of a family of 10 children raised in a small country cottage, it was hard work finding a quiet refuge for reading, homework or a useful pastime let alone a hideaway to make yourself scarce in times of domestic tumult.
Blessed with a lively imagination, I tended to collect blame for most giggling fits at the tea table and during morning or evening ablutions simply because “only you could come up with something quite as daft as that!”.
The flipping pancake incident early in my ill-starred impression of a rustic chef with a recipe for chaos may have given me an edge when it came to judgement time.
My tasty creation stuck to the kitchen lightshade after homely gyrations and threatened to fall on Dad’s head during the longest teatime in Norfolk family history.
As that deadly lightshade was about to give up its slithering secret, I blurted out a full confession and took my punishment like a quivering wreck. I blubbered myself to sleep after wondering if it might have been better to try Norfolk dumplings first.
There were happier examples of what is currently in vogue as “self-isolation”. I relished solo bike rides around nearby villages with only birdsong and a packet of sandwiches for company. I could break into imaginary football and cricket commentaries to suit the season.
Straw bales or piles of hay in ramshackle barns made ideal cushions for reading or scribbling exercises to catch up with school work left lingering by lack of room and peace indoors.
I’m ready again to make the best of my own company in far more testing circumstances. Perhaps
there will be time to listen to them old songs from Ronnie Ronalde, Vera Lynn and Donald Peers.
And I can self-oscillate