My first introduction to Tony was as long ago as the late sixties, when I was just starting secondary school. Tony had turned pro and traveled schools and colleges “airing his wares." At that time of life music was extremely important and, I recall, we had visits from Military Bands etc, seemingly all the time. I presume that such “entertainment” doesn’t form part of the curriculum these days, but I’m not sure.
My next contact with Tony came about following the death of my father, Harley Mann, without doubt, the greatest man I’ll ever know. Around his retirement he’d been diagnosed with a serious heart problem. In 1985 he underwent heart surgery having a new valve fitted and quadruple bypass. Following his convalescence he came to work with me, at the old office and we “caught” up on lost times (Dad had a fish shop in Hillsborough and his daily routine meant that we hardly saw him), over the years between about 1986 and late 1992.
Dad died in February 1993 and I’m not afraid to admit I literally went to bits. Business suffered and I’m quite sure that I was very close to personal ruin. I’m not proud of that at all, but it’s an experience that’s left me with great empathy with individuals who find themselves in the same position.
In September of ‘93 Julia (my wife) and I went along to our children’s schools annual parents meeting and the head-teacher, David Markham, mentioned that a group of parents were going to run, “just for fun”, the Pennine Way. He asked if anyone wanted to volunteer, either to run or to help in any other way. I volunteered as a driver, or support for the run.
It’s a really long story and is part of a novel that I hope to complete one day. As a shortcut I suggested that we use the Pennine Way run as a fundraiser and publicity would form the key to our success in whatever form it came. Through my contacts at Radio Sheffield (in the really good old days) - Jack Shaw, Dave Holmes —News Editor, we were able to appear with Tony, on a regular basis, in the slot “Capstick in the Community”. Over the next two years Dave Markham and I went onto Tony’s program on four occasions.
It was the first time, since Dad had passed on, that I felt any meaning to life and, for that, I’m so grateful to many individuals who didn’t even know that they’d helped. As I’ve already said, it wasn’t an experience I ever wish to encounter again, but I learnt so much - about me, and how we should treat other people.
When Tony was breathalyzed for the fifth time, in early 1999 you’ll recall he’d recently moved to the Wentworth area and come into contact with our pal Martyn -the great Johnson! Poor Cappo!
Following his court appearance and Smithy’s pleas, on Tony’s behalf, Martyn rang me to say that he’d managed to escape prison with a fine and a lengthy ban. Martyn also mentioned that Tony’s only problem now was his massive debt to the Inland Revenue and his impending bankruptcy. Could I possibly help, came the cry!
Over the next few months I met with Tony, privately, to try to deal with his finances. We were almost successful and, then in July 2000, Tony rang me to say that he’d tried to buy groceries at the supermarket and had his charge card taken from him by the cashier. He’d been made Bankrupt officially!
My initiation into appearing every week with Tony came about through our regular meetings. I called on him, one September ‘99 afternoon and found him in the garden with a spade in his hand! He’d managed to get it the right way round and was actually enjoying his work. As I left that afternoon, Tony, as usual shook hands and said; “is there anything I can do for you”? “Not really, I replied”. “Tell you what, if ever you’re short of a guest and you think I might be useful, give me a ring”. That was a Friday afternoon and, by the following Thursday I was making my debut!
David Markwell came in to the studio, following my slot and said “could you talk crap like that, every week”? The rest, at they say, is history.
Although we’ve all moved on from those very happy times I still have very fond and happy memories of Tony and will never, ever forget him.
I pulled one over him, on only two occasions. The first was during the “petrol crisis” in September 2000, on our way home one Thursday night. Tony thought I was motoring a little too quick, bearing in mind the shortage of fuel! As we got to a junction, I turned and looked at him and said “there’s only one thing worse than a back-seat driver”. “What’s that”, Tony asked. “One that’s f*****g banned”!
The other time is much more complicated. As you know we had a “crossword” club. One afternoon, Tony left a message on the answering machine and said “now then you little twat, you’ll not get this one - EDENTATE — one without f*****g teeth”!
I wrote to Tony, pretending that various dignitaries were in the premises when the message came in and how embarrassed I’d been! Tony printed the letter, in full, in the following weeks “Rotherham Advertiser”. He never knew the truth!