Was King’s Lynn robbed when It’s a Knockout came to Norfolk..?
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Four decades later, Tom Nuccoll still believes they were robbed.
As millions of TV viewers watched the pride of Norfolk take on Manchester in It's a Knockout, in King's Lynn's Tuesday Market Place, hopes the Lynners would win through and represent their country in a final abroad were cruelly dashed.
The show, where towns got teams together to do battle in a series of wacky games, was one of the sensations of the 70s.
Think Gladiators, starring sparkies and secretaries – the lad down your street or the girl next door competing for international glory. Think families glued to the box.
Think 21 hopefuls, queuing for their hallowed tracksuits, after making it through from hundreds of hopefuls.
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After they got to meet legendary broadcaster Eddie Waring, of 'it's an oop an' under' fame, they took to the Tuesday Market Place hoping they wouldn't be the ones who ended up going for the proverbial early bath.
Mr Nuccoll said the Lynn team had trained hard. He and his team mates had been practising the needle – where three men tied together had to thread themselves through a series of tyres using a giant needle – until it was second nature.
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Things started well in front of the crowd, which strained forward on the tiered seats which had turned the familiar market square into an arena.
Among them was Mr Nuccoll's wife, Barbara, who worked for the council in those days and was among the stewards.
'We were in the lead to start with,' said Mr Nuccoll, 70, now retired from the building trade, and living in Elmhurst Drive, in South Wootton.
'But they cheated on the flour game – that was an absolute fiddle, that was. I counted the things. I still don't know how they did it.
'We were good on the wheelbarrow.
'The chap and girl we had were brilliant. They mucked up the marathon too.'
Manchester were the winners by 12 points to seven, thanks to judicious use of their joker.
They went on to take part in Jeux Sans Frontières at Bellinzona, in Switzerland.
King's Lynn were left wondering what might have been. Weeks later, Ely clinched their place in Europe with a 19-1 defeat of Hertford, the largest margin ever recorded in a domestic heat.
Manchester were beaten by Dutch team Hoogerven in their international play-off, coming second out of seven teams. Ely went on to win their heat in Arnhem. Back in Lynn, TV viewers were treated to some added drama when Percy the pelican, who had been adopted as the Lynn team's mascot, made a bid for freedom.
Percy, chosen as mascot, because of the pelican in Lynn's coat of arms, was on loan from the Marquess of Longleat's lion reserve at Longleat, in Wiltshire. He escaped and did a lap of honour around the arena before be could be coaxed back into his pen.
Almost as vivid as the memories of that Sunday night 40 years ago, is the red track suit Lynn's finest were issued with – which still has pride of place in Mr Nuccoll's collection of memorabilia.
'I don't know how long I wore it for, but I wore it until it wore out,' he said.
There was one consolation afterwards, in the shape of a slap-up supper at Lynn Town Hall.
'They spent more on the banquet than anything,' said Mr Nuccoll.
'All the players and their wives were taken there. I was sat next to the bloke I beat.
He said 'I don't know how you beat me'. I said: 'I do, my name's Tom Nuccoll'.'
Mr Nuccoll's love of sport continues to this day.
'If we'd won, we'd have gone to Switzerland,' he shrugs.
'I'd have had to go on a plane. I'd never been on a plane. I still haven't.'