My mother (Diane Wyles) took both myself and my younger sister Rachel the 46 mile-distance from our then home in Tiverton to Torquay with my father Peter Wyles driving) to see Rod Hull and Emu perform at the Princess Theatre situated opposite the famous ‘Rock Walk’. Tiverton was (and remains) a bleak post-industrial ‘Conservative’ haven of odd and bizarre clannishness (a local man once stole one hundred micro-ovens thinking they were portable TV sets!). Remarkably, Tiverton blossomed during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (well BEFORE the Industrial Revolution got underway proper), with this feat being achieved primarily through the wool trade as this required two attributes Tiverton already possessed in great measure – namely vast open spaces to feed sheep, and a substantial workforce without any education or political aspirations!
Obviously, the history of Tiverton is teeming with examples of outsiders who came into the area to exploit these natural conditions, extract the subsequent wealth, impoverish the local population further, and then leave never to return. Occasionally, one or two would build a Church, endow a scholarship or provide a scholarship here or there, but these people invariably only reinforced the very conservative status quo that they had benefitted from and which kept the peasants and the workers materially and educationally impoverished!
Although holdings its own during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, Tiverton ultimately lost out to the increased and enhanced competition else in the UK and entered a phase of rapid and terminal economic, social political and cultural compounded by the Napoleonic Wars (which further stunted exports). A permanent decline that fuels the contemporary anti-intellectual tone of the place, dominated as it is by a modern working-class population that is defined through its experience of historical ‘inbreeding’ between close relatives, necessitated by the isolation of the place, and the oppressive politics pursued by the corrupt Local Authorities. Newcomers were not welcome (unless extremely rich and/or well connected) whilst locals were prevented from leaving or rise above their station in anyway.
Peter Blundell (1520–1601) – a rich wool merchant trading between Tiverton and London (possibly a homosexual) – is a case in point. He left £2,400 (together with land) to build a free’ grammar school intended to educate local school children. However, the corrupt Tiverton Council of the day (the fore-runner to an equally corrupt entity today) deliberately used this money to build a ‘Public’ school for the exclusive purpose of educating the children of the rich. The fact that Tiverton Council ‘got away’ with outrageous act of deceit and fraud suggests that the family of Peter Blundell did not live in Tiverton, and indeed we find that Peter Blundell is buried in St Michael Paternoster Royal Church situated in the City of London – which stands some 169.5 miles from the site of Blundell’s School in Tiverton!
But I digress. After talking to my mother, I suspect we saw Rod Hull and Emu on Friday 18th, January, 1980 – as there was no school the next day and would have been a late night for myself (a 12-year-old) and my younger sister (an 8-year-old). with the show finishing around 10pm! I remember being sat near the front and being hit with sweets and Mars Bars every so often, thrown-out into the audience by Rod or his unruly Emu! Occasionally, this cascade of confectionary would be augmented by a jet from a water-pistol! According to my mother, my father did not attend the show, but traversed Torquay meeting-up with old friends he had made in the 1960s. He had met my mother who was on holiday with her parents in Torquay from their home in Oxford around 1964! Anyway, he came to pick us up after the show, but before we left he gained access to the dressing-room of Carl Wayne (formerly of pop-group ‘The Move’) because my Dad had not only known Roy Wood – but been mistaken for him a number of times in Oxford!
Costley, Nigel, West Country Rebels, Breviary Stuff, (2012) – Purchased from the Bookshop of Tolpuddle Village – 2017