Ian Clayton column: Part of the job description

23 August 2012......     Playwrite John Godber working on Bouncers in rehearsals in York.
23 August 2012...... Playwrite John Godber working on Bouncers in rehearsals in York.

I’ve often heard it said that people from Liverpool are the funniest, quick-witted folk in Britain and that might be true, but I think the title for driest sense of humour belongs to people from round here.

Many years ago I was having a conversation with the local playwright John Godber. He told me he once took a job as a dustbin man during a summer break from his studies.

In those days, dustbin men were still allowed to ride on a step at the beck of the lorry. John told me he was standing next to an old flat-capped bin man from South Elmsall, holding on to a grab rail.

The bin man said: “Is thy a student?” and John said he was. The bin man said: “What does tha do then when tha’s not on the bins?” John told him he was studying drama. The old lad thought for a bit and then turned to John and said: “Reeight then, do some acting.”

John was flabbergasted and said: “What, now?” and the bin man said: “Aye, let’s see some of thi acting.” John said: “Well I can’t really act on the back of a bin lorry.”

The old lad thought a bit more and then turned to John and said: “Well tha can’t be very good at it flower, that’s all I can say.”

I hadn’t thought about that story for ages, until recently when something similar happened to me. I was coming back on the train from Leeds, when a middle aged man came down the aisle and said: “Will you come and say hello to my wife, it’s her birthday today and she’s a big fan of yours.”

I didn’t want to be impolite, so I looked round to see how many people were watching and went to say happy birthday.

I told the lady I hoped she was having a lovely day and turned to go back to my seat and finish my crossword. The man said: “Will you say a poem for her, she’s called June.” I must have been as red as a beetroot by now, I said: “I’m sorry I can’t just make a poem up like that.”

The man said: “Well I wouldn’t have thought you were backwards at coming forwards. I thought you were supposed to be a writer. I’ve read one of your books and you weren’t shy in that.”

I was saved by the announcement that the train was about to arrive in Castleford, so I made my apologies and made my way back down the aisle.

As I pressed the lit up button to get off, the man shouted: “Hey up author, what rhymes with September? I’ll write one for her.” I thought about the lady called June who was born in September all the way home and I wondered what rhyme the man came up with, I bet there’s a limerick in there somewhere.

When I got home the penny dropped. I realised that the man on the train had probably mistaken me for my friend, the bard of Barnsley, Ian McMillan. The train I was on was on its way to Barnsley.

It happens quite a lot to both Ian and me.

Once, we were on the same bill at a charity event and we both joked that for some in the audience it was the first time that they had realised we were in fact two different people.

When I was on the telly a lot, I had to get used to people I didn’t know coming up to me and saying: “What the heck’s that over there?” I did a few series of programmes about unusual Yorkshire landmarks and saddled myself with a catchphrase.

I didn’t mind it at first, but like all catchphrases, it becomes tedious, unless of course you’re Bruce Forsyth or somebody who has built a career around them.

One day, a lady in Scarborough came up to me and though she didn’t say what the heck’s that to me, she said: “I know you...telly man.”

I said: “Yes, that’s me.” She said: “Eeeh, it’s lovely to see you again. How long is it now, since you came to mend my television?”

I was standing next to my cameraman and sound recordist, you can imagine what stick I had to put up with for the rest of the day.