Thursday, 25 July 2013
THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND
We met at a student party. He was intervening in a cider fuelled dispute over a girl. He was calm. Rational. Possibly brave or just plain foolhardy. I was impressed. he went on to save me life on several occasions. The first time was 24 hours later.
The next night we went to the Aston University Geordie Society night which boasted Ray Stubbs the amazing one man blues band and comedian Mike Elliot and compere.
After watching the turn and also a sweaty man shouting "Gateshead" every few minutes the evening was over. I staggered drunkenly up to the compere to ask where the comic was.
"It's me yer"
Clive intervened. Calmly. Rationally. Or then again he may have just been being brave or more probably foolhardy and we tottered into the night.
So what sort of man was he was back then?
Without a doubt the Funniest most bizarre and possibly scruffiest human being I ever saw.
Old beyond his years and to me very worldly wise.
We discovered mutual love of pub and conversation. Birmingham in the late 1970's boasted dozens of horrible down at heel seamy boozers and we visited them all. One game we'd play was
Pub toilet bingo
Door. Lock. Seat. Paper. Lighting. Full house. Paper was known as Bathroom stationary he explained due to an elderly aunt terming it thus.
He was so inventive. We would spark off one another. With me the junior partner struggling to keep up. Strangers would edge their seats closer to eavesdrop.
He was a storyteller.
He also had the most wonderful sense of the absurd. As well as the ability to laugh at his physical imperfections.
Once after visiting the cinema to see Slade in Flame in Birmingham one cold and rainy winters night. He wandered into what he thought was a chip shop where his glasses promptly steamed up.
"Savaloy and chips please" he said.
"Sorry mate this is a taxi office." Came the reply.
Then there was his family.
He always spoke in glowing terms about his parents Bert and Molly and how they were the perfect team when they ran their business. How they had started with nothing and had done it all on their own and how he could never hope to emulate the success they had made of their lives.
We traded family stories of eccentric aunts who would turn the tv on to "look at the news" and a scary centenarian woman swaddled in blankets who he was left alone with in the front parlour. Just her. Him and a dinky toy. Her only utterance being "woo hoo hoo hoo". I don't think he ever found out her name as she was just known as "Little Auntie".
I tried to trump his tale with mine of a great grandmother who appeared to be made entirely of woollen shawls and talcum powder and the horror of the visit to her at the Fleur de Lys Nursing home which always entailed the kiss at the end of the visit.
He would talk about an idyllic childhood growing up in Rosniegr then Ashford With him tricycling up the street to visit the neighbours so they would make him tea. He once said happiness was a new toy car a new pair of plimsolls and the summer holidays stretching out in front of him.
A year or so after I met him and we were swapping tales as usual and he told me about his brother Mark. Four years older than he. Who he adored although Molly told me they fought a lot as siblings do.
As he was talking about him. He started to weep. He then told me Mark died very young before he had a chance to fulfil his obvious potential.
Clive would often mention him. He was always with him. I think his brother informed many of the decisions he made in his life and he was never forgotten.
If we were together he would often mention it was his brothers birthday or some other anniversary.
In fact last February Kerry my wife tweeted that we were up in Morecombe for the weekend and Clive immediately texted back that one of his favourite memories was of visiting his brother who was doing his teachers training up there and walking round the bay together doing impressions of TV nature programme commentators. Every observation ending with the line "and they make such a magnificent sight" or something similar. Clive had a mind for these observations and would always be 100% accurate. I was always rather less so. I got used to being corrected over the years!
Such was his brain. He was able to recite poetry. Song lyrics. Advertising slogans and tv dialogue at will. This probably explained one of his many strengths. He loved to write parodies.
Work was everything to Clive. He had ambitions to be a writer. He succeeded although not perhaps in the way he perhaps intended. It was glaringly obvious when we were at college doing our Communications Studies Diploma. An early form of the now discredited Media Studies degree that he was the star of the show.
He excelled at every module.
TV. He was a natural. However he knew that looking as he did a tv presenting career was out of the question.
Radio. He was a leading light in hospital radio and during his early freelance career did many voice overs for radio commercials. Using one of his many voices. Being a gifted impersonator.
Advertising. We had to write the copy and design a campaign for a men's underarm deodorant. The best I could manage? Blue collar rather direct campaign for "No Sweat"
Prevents perspiration... No sweat.!
Clive elegantly crafted a campaign around Abatis! The Greek word for an obstacle or a barrier.
Now that was a class act.
It was little wonder that writing beckoned. He was supremely gifted.
He started out writing for the Henley in Arden Digest. He was in his element. It was a tiny village magazine he wrote and produced it. He would ride off from his dingy bed sitter in Birmingham each day on his Honda 70. It was the closest he ever got to learning to drive. All the better for other road users with his eyesight frankly.
Each weekend he would regale me with stories of pompous and very camp members of the cast of the Archers who lived in the village and his favourite. The local copper Sgt Scudder who would ring him with the latest police report.
Occasionally if there had been an accident on the A34 he'd start the conversation with "Hello Clive. Scudder 'ere. I've got a nice fatal for yer"!
He ran the magazine with a bloke called Beamon who so he told me seemed to be made up of a kit of parts. Lifts in his shoes. A bad toupee. False teeth and a selection of nervous twitches. Brought on he reckoned by this blokes suspicion that his wife had tried to kill him by putting ground glass in his food. One day Beamon disappeared. With the money. For years after. The police would call asking if he'd heard from him.
So Clive needed a job and the only one he could find was at Mayfair magazine. Where he honed his writing style. He crafted wonderful articles about steam locomotives. Second World War bombers and the like. Secure in the knowledge that no one would read them as they only bought the magazine for the naked girls.
When he wasn't at Mayfair he sat in his flat writing furiously carving out a freelance career which included the Real water sketch for the Two Ronnie's. He often described himself as a hack. Anyone who has seen that sketch would tell you that wasn't the work of a hack.
One day his life changed. At Mayfair they used to make the letters up as no one wrote in. So he invented one about a slapstick fetish where people would cover themselves in custard.
To his surprise and delight he had a deluge of genuine letters. He needed a name for this and Splosh was created. He also decided he needed another name for his freelance work and Bill Shipton was born.
He started Splosh as a magazine and then moved into films.
So he was able to combine so many of his talents. Writing. Producing and helping.
Clive or Bill if you prefer as a man was always drawn to the underdog. He always wanted to help people. One summer for instance he helped build a kids adventure playground.
With Splosh he not only provided top quality fun and entertainment. He was the first person in the world to do so. How many of us can say we started something that had never been seen before?
He also created a community. Many people from the Sploshing fraternity had felt isolated and alone. He brought them together and showed them that it was alright. It was normal. It was fun. It was life affirming. The world took on a rosier hue after a pie in the face,
Which goes part way to explaining the large numbers of people who have been saddened by his death. Their tributes pouring in to his and other websites.
Off duty he was the life and soul of the Marina Fountain. Writing the newsletter and holding court. It was a place he loved as it was full of fascinating characters. He liked nothing more than to sit there talking about anything and everything with anyone. He held no prejudice.
It was a side of him that many didn't realise existed.
He was in many ways an intensely private man. I knew him 36 years and I didn't know everything about him.
His Crohn's disease hindered him latterly and he found it difficult to travel. So working from home was ideal. He preferred to meet on neutral ground. So the pub it was. Not that I was ever complaining about that.
How do you sum up a life like Clive's?
He wasn't a rich man. That didn't worry him. He would have liked to have done more writing and we are all the poorer for that. I think had he lived we would have seen an hilarious autobiography. He had intended to write about his time at Mayfair. The stories he told were magnificent about a demoralised work force and their petty revenge on the people in charge.
Everyone who met him immediately found him riveting and the best company.
No one who ever met him could ever forget him.
He was the hit of my wedding.
His best man speech was the voted the best ever by experienced wedding goers.
When Kerry my wife and I retired to bed for our wedding night hoping for our very own Mayfair moments. All we could hear were great gusts of laughter from the bar downstairs as Clive held court and recounted tale after tale to a rapt audience of new friends who had only met him a few hours before.
I could go on all day about this man. But he's probably fretting to get to the pub.
So now this is going to be the hard bit: To sum up.
He is irreplaceable. There was only one. There will never be another. The world is a darker sadder certainly less funny place for his passing.
All this has made him out to be a bit of a saint hasn't it?
Well he wasn't perfect.....
Twenty years ago when he was first hospitalised with Crohns he asked me to go get him a couple of pairs of pyjamas.
"I'll pay you when I get out" he said.
I'm still waiting!!
Frankly I think this is a rather extreme way of getting out of paying a debt. Don't you?