Michael Walford, "The Boy Wonder"

Michael owns up to putting fish under his Great Aunt's bed! Recorded in 2009.

Michael Walford talking about his billing as "the Boy Wonder". Recorded in 2009.

Michael tells the story of the artificial leg. Recorded in 2006.

1921 - 2013

By Charles Walford

This tribute to Michael Walford was given by his son Charles at a memorial service for Michael which was held in Holy Trinity Church Meldreth on 28th September 2013.

Introduction

Photo:Michael Walford

Michael Walford

I look at you and I think - catering! We have arranged something to eat and drink, so please stay after the service as we would like to have a chat with as many people as possible, We do have alcohol, if you need it; I know I will! And also we have a couple of books … if you could write your names that would be great.

It’s great to see so many people here today – this is the kind of audience he would love - captive!

On behalf of my mother and sisters I want to thank you for coming today. We especially want to thank this community, which was Dad's home for close to 70 years and has, over the decades, provided support to him, his parents and brother, to us as a family and continues to do so for Mum. 

Also I want to say thank you to the NHS team who made it possible for us to keep him at home until the end, which was a great privilege for us. At times it was like a scene from “Casualty” at Marvells Green with doctors, district nurses, hospice at home nurses and Marie Curie nurses coming and going.

We have received many cards and kind messages over the last month. There is a surprising consistency in what people say about him - things like 'there are few men like him, he was reliable, honourable, upright, selfless, full of humour and life, a much loved character, a gentleman'.  It amused me when someone referred to him as “a Grand Old Gentleman of Meldreth”, because we all know what he would say – “steady, less of the grand!”.

A close friend of mine said that, "he touched, improved and cheered more people in his life than many of us can comprehend".  This is why we wanted this occasion to be open to all who knew him, and looking around today we can get some idea of his wide reach.

Andrew [O'Brien, the vicar] asked me if I would present a brief history of his life. However, "brief" and Dad’s life don’t really go together. He was 92.5! So here goes, 33,800 days compressed into a few pages. I hope I can do him proud and more importantly, I hope I can get through it! (Various family members will be taking bets right now..)

Early Years

Photo:John and Michael Walford

John and Michael Walford

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Photo:Michael and John Walford

Michael and John Walford

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Photo:Michael and John with their aunt, Fanny Maria Haswell

Michael and John with their aunt, Fanny Maria Haswell

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Michael Walmesley Walford was born on the 4th January 1921 in Edmonton, North London. The world was quite a different place then. Much of the front page of The Times on that day was devoted to "situations vacant" for parlour maids and chambermaids, bygones of a Victorian era that was rapidly disappearing.

He was the second son born to father Frederick and mother Ethel Alice. Older brother John (five years his senior) quickly became an important figure in his life.  It’s hard to believe, but Dad was a "sickly child" for the first six years of his life, mainly confined to bed, during which John always tried to amuse him to make him feel better.  As many people will know, Dad and John formed a lifelong relationship as brothers, best friends, and business partners - they were simply, The Walford Brothers.

Thanks to penicillin, he quickly went from strength to strength. Most of his new energy appears to have been directed into various exploits with John, stretching their parent’s patience to the limits and often resulting in some strict punishment administered by Fred.

For example the zip wire incident. The boys had found an abandoned steel cable and to get it back home they employed their father’s best suitcase, extracted from the attic.  A cursory piece of newspaper was used to protect the lining, and the cable was carefully coiled up and pressed into the case. But once they had pushed, shoved and dragged the suitcase, with cable inside it, back home, the newspaper was in shreds, and black grease had oozed into the cotton fabric. The boys made a mental note to expect the consequences come the summer holiday. The cable was rigged up, one end attached to a garden tree and the other end, obviously, around the wooden frame of an upstairs window. The zip wire worked a treat, the boys whizzed from the first floor veranda to the end of the garden. Unfortunately for them, the wind picked up and the tree gently flexed.  Being an Ash tree it started to whip furiously. With one violent gust the inevitable happened, the whole of the window plus surrounding masonry was ripped out and landed in a pile of rubble on their Dad’s neat lawn, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the house. On Fred’s return from work, Ethel was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, her hands clasped, praying for Fred to be careful.  As he climbed the stairs to their bedrooms, he uttered, "and this time I shall draw blood".

Much of the rest of their early childhood was spent avoiding having to go to Worthing, to stay with formidable spinster aunt (Fanny Maria Haswell) an ex nurse who ran her house like a military hospital, and would not take any truck from her two young nephews. She caused them endless embarrassment. In Worthing’s finest tea shops as she would bash her stick on the ground and shout loudly, "Am I going to be served?". In church too, she would raise her voice towards the vicar saying, "I can’t hear a word the man’s saying". On the beach, their embarrassment peaked as she insisted on tying washing lines around them as they attempted to swim in knee high water, whilst she rested in a deck chair. In terms of damage limitation, the boys worked out that being dispatched home early with a note from Great Aunt Fanny was infinitely preferable to lasting the full stay, despite the punishment they might receive from their Dad.  So on one intolerable holiday, being desperate to be sent home, they caught some fish, smuggled them into her house, crept in her bedroom and placed the now very dead and smelly offerings under Fanny’s bed.  Sure enough, in the heat of the summer, two one way tickets from Worthing to London were secured on the next available train! (Click on the "play" button at the top of the page to hear Michael recounting this incident.)

When Dad was in his teens, he discovered an interest in magic, spurred on by a cousin who ran a dance school. He soon developed quite a skill and his cousin, as Michael's self- appointed agent, booked him as an entertainer for some charity events.  At the tender age of 15, sick with nerves, this sheltered lad entered the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane to be met by the immortal words on a billboard, "Michael Walford, The Boy Wonder". A legend was born! (Click on the "play" button at the top of the page to hear Michael telling this story.)

War

Photo:Michael Walford in his WW2 uniform

Michael Walford in his WW2 uniform

Photograph supplied by John Gipson

Following school, Dad did not relish the idea of a career in his father’s carpet business and being a slightly hot headed and stubborn 16 year old, got his own job. This was in a draper's store dealing with women’s garments, near St Pauls in the City of London. He hated it. So he struck on a canny idea that was firstly a legitimate reason for not having to go to work, and secondly one where he would be paid not to go to work – a "win, win": he joined the Territorial Army.  The magical skills of the Boy Wonder clearly didn’t extend to crystal ball gazing as this was early 1939, and Europe was being plunged into conflict by Nazi Germany. As England declared war, being in the TA, he was immediately conscripted and sent to Hornchurch Aerodrome, as part of an anti-aircraft battery defending London from enemy aircraft. This was a bit of a "wake-up" call as conditions were fairly stark and brutal.  All of a sudden, handling women’s lingerie back at the draper's store didn’t seem so bad after all. Being a naive 18 year old and the youngest, he suffered ritual humiliation from a sergeant major barking orders in his ears, including the classic, "Have you shaved Walford?". "No sir, I don’t shave!" "Well yer *bleep, bleep* do from now on, son!"

In December 1941 he found himself leaving Gurrock as part of a convoy of 60 ships on board an old tub called the Duchess of Atholl, fondly christened "the Drunken Duchess" on account of her monotonous roll. Dad said men were being either seasick, homesick or both just going down the Clyde.  Conditions were very grim and when they boarded they were given strict instructions not to throw anything overboard as debris might be detected by German U Boats. He didn’t know it, but he was bound for the Middle East, via the mid-Atlantic, calling in at Freetown, Cape Town, Durban and Bombay, finally arriving in Basra, Iraq in early 1942.

For Christmas 1941, in an attempt to cheer up his comrades, he managed to persuade the ship's cooks to part with a turkey that was lurking deep in the freezer. He smuggled the frozen bird out and hid it in their cabin. After a few days in the heat of the ship their Christmas treat began to thaw and then smell.  What plans they had for cooking it, he never said, but the odour became so unbearable that Dad was made responsible for getting rid of it.  Of course, he decided that there was nothing for it but to open the porthole and throw the rotting carcass out into the empty Atlantic. It was his bad luck that spotters on the bridge observed his attempt at a marine burial. He was hauled in front of the ship's command and accused of making them an easy target for enemy submarines. This was the first of many scrapes in his army career, where he employed his natural charm to avoid severe punishment. The Drunken Duchess was torpedoed in 1942; there were no turkeys involved!

After his 21st Birthday, spent in the Indian Ocean enjoying a treat of tinned pears and sweet condensed milk, he spent much of early 1942 on pointless exercises towing guns from Basra to Baghdad and back - three times apparently. Each time they formed a camp for the night, not only did they have to line up the trucks in a quaint pre-First World War military square, but all soldiers had to sit to attention in the rear with guns upright and arms crossed. Dad said it was quite ridiculous, considering there was a war on at the time. During these return trips all soldiers also had to have their rifles chained to them, day and night. Dad was now a sergeant and on one hot day he relented to pressure from his guys and permitted their rifles to be detached, allowing them to relax on the back of the lorry. On return to base one rifle had gone missing. Luckily, Dad was friends with his commanding officer and a local Bedouin tribesman was deployed to "get" a rifle, and a replacement turned up. "Phew", as losing a rifle was potentially a court-marshal offence. Unfortunately for him, British military logistics caught up with him when the quartermaster reported that the serial numbers on the returned rifles did not match. Luckily for him his friendly officer chum made a manuscript amendment to the records and a blind eye was turned.

A period followed "defending" the British Oil reserves in Abadan.  They were living under canvas in one of the hottest places in the world, where the heat was so extreme during the day that they could not get anywhere near the guns, let alone operate them.  To demonstrate to their superiors (who were billeted in houses) they managed to fry an egg on the gun barrel. Dad said one bomb dropped in the endless fields of oil storage tanks would have ended the British war effort there and then.

From here they received orders to rejoin their battery in Suez, some 1,000 miles away; a journey that involved hitching lifts across Iraq, Jordon, Israel and eventually into Eqypt where they joined Monty and the 8th Army.  For the next year they chased Rommel up and down the North African desert, which included the Battle of El Alamein where the 1,000 gun barrage provided Dad with a life long souvenir in the form of tinitus. Eventually they pushed Rommel out of Africa in early 1943.

Photo:John and Michael Walford at one of their meetings in the desert

John and Michael Walford at one of their meetings in the desert

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Somewhere near Suez , John got word that Dad's unit was nearby.  He made an incredible trek to seek his brother out, walking for hours in the heat, and eventually  finding Dad’s group almost naked, wearing only pants and tin helmets.   John recognised a certain pair of pants as similar to a pair he had lost, then he identified their new owner, his brother.  During their reunion, the alarm went up for an approaching enemy plane and John was deserted to shelter in a dugout.  Dad and his mates attempted to shoot at the aircraft, whilst the plane also attempted to fire at them.  It was a few minutes of very loud, high drama. When they returned they found John cowering, covered in sand and temporarily deaf.  Later John would wonder why he had bothered spending four hours trudging through the African desert to be shot at, have his ear drums shattered and to discover that his brother has stolen his underwear!

The invasion of Sicily in June 1943, involved a three-day crossing on a flat bottomed landing craft from Tunisia, cold macaroni soup and no sleep, only to be dive bombed by Stukka’s as they tried to off load their artillery. However, there followed a rest in Catania, where Dad’s radio skills were put to play mending the mayor's wireless set.  Another new set of skills were put into play as he charmed the Mayor's two gorgeous daughters, who were equally interested in kindred company. 

Photo:John and Michael Walford during WW2

John and Michael Walford during WW2

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

At the beginning of the war he had signed up for a radar course, and with British military precision, four years later his place had come up and he was recalled to London,  leaving his chums to carry on and invade Italy. He was ordered to report to the Radar testing establishment at Malvern via a stay at the Woolwich Arsenal, where he was deeply shocked to see the damaged inflicted upon London, as they had been sheltered from news whilst abroad. He was also confronted by a new terror, more frightening than any he had experienced in Africa - buzz bombs.  This brave soldier embarrassed himself as, in full uniform, on a crowed commuter train there was a buzz bomb warning. Naturally he adopted the correct protective position by throwing himself to the floor, much to the amusement of his fellow passengers who looked up with a wry smile, as this was part of their daily lives.  

On arrival in Malvern, being the only service person on site, he was treated like a minor celebrity, with his own staff car and a lady WREN driver; the first sustained close contact with the opposite sex for the now 23 year old. This girl clearly became the subject of a big crush and he eked out his time in Malvern until he was demobbed in August 1946. He was testing radar with a number of boffins, so hush-hush that he was subject to the Official Secrets Act for many years.

Walford Bros

Photo:Second premises, c.1948

Second premises, c.1948

Photo:Third premises

Third premises

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Michael Walford,

Photo:Michael and John Walford with Bill Schlee

Michael and John Walford with Bill Schlee

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Photo:The Walbin, designed by John Walford

The Walbin, designed by John Walford

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

John and Dad met up two or three times in North Africa and decided that if they made it through the war, they would start a business together.  Sure enough, soon after the war John found, by cycling from Finchley to Melbourn, some accommodation owned by Jack Wedd, opposite Sheen Mill. They decided to be agricultural engineers and started modestly repairing tractors, but graduated to repairing building structures and helping farmers with their onsite storage of grain. Initially they had little money and their equipment seemed to mainly comprise of their own physical strength and their accompanying vehicle, a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Often it seems that Dad would be riding pillion clutching some heavy object like a tractor engine block across his thighs, whilst John steered deliberately across bumpy farm tracks, maximising Dad’s discomfort as his thighs took another hammering, as they raced to deliver their repair work to an expectant farm customer. 

Right at the beginning of Walford Brothers, a lady arrived pushing a pram. Sticking out of this pram was an adult leg, complete with trouser, sock and boot.  Whilst the Brothers were new and keen to ingratiate themselves into the community, John politely pointed to the sign that said "Agricultural Engineers" in big letters, and asked how they could help.  She explained this was her husband’s leg, "needs welding" she said and rolled up the trouser and pointed to a broken tin joint. Now they agreed they could assist, and both set about removing the tin leg from the pram. Dad said this awkward and bizarre operation was made more disconcerting as the leg was still warm, especially at the top where it connected to the torso. Job done, she departed and the next day they heard a clanking sound approaching; it was her husband walking past, waving and slapping his repaired leg. (Click on the "play" button at the top of the page to hear Michael telling this story.)

As they got busier, they employed a Mr Brown to look after the books and therefore the money.  Mr Brown looked after the money a bit too well because he disappeared and was never seen or heard of again. Being broke, Dad and John organised a sale to pay off their debts and a certain William Schlee came into their lives. Bill Schlee (Mr Schlee for many years) asked what had gone wrong and invited them into his home for a cup of tea. A few hours later they left with a cheque for £400. They could offer no security, but that was the beginning of a very long friendship between the three of them. Mr Schlee became Company Secretary for Walford Brothers, a shareholder and established a pension scheme for all employees.  With Dad’s longevity, the pension provider clearly lost the bet.

Walford Brothers moved to a cow shed down the Moor in Melbourn.  Here, their neighbour, Mrs Mallett, regularly complained and would storm round at the slightest noise emanating from their workshop to give them an ear-full. For a certain job they used a special hammer, called a hide faced mallet, which literally had soft hide stretched over the hammer head. As you would, John quite innocently shouted out to Dad, "seen that hide faced mallet recently?" only to be confronted by their neighbour, who took great offence. She never believed that a hide faced mallet was a genuine name for a hand tool!

Walford Bros went from strength to strength on the back of the growth in a new industry, the feed milling industry. They had become a nominated supplier to emerging new companies who were developing industrial size storage facilities and the Walford Smooth Sided Steel Storage Silo (the Walbin), invented by John, was much in demand. Their products, combined with the honourable and trustworthy way that John and Michael undertook business, sustained Walford Brothers from the late 1960s until the they retired in the late 1980s.


Mum/Family Life

Mr Schlee introduced the boys to skiing, as his family was from Austria. Dad formed a love of the mountains and this new sport, and a "boys'" skiing trip became an annual event.

Photo:Michael and Helen Walford

Michael and Helen Walford

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

It was on an early skiing trip organised locally that Helen O’keeffe, a  4’11” "live wire" with a wicked sense of humour, attracted his attention. She was working at Luton and Dunstable Hospital at the time and several dates ensued. Dad often borrowed brother John’s fancy cars to make a good impression, including an Aston Martin, which obviously worked as Mum agreed to marry him, following consent secured from her father "the Doctor". They got married in July 1955. They had a cosy and romantic early married life living in a caravan, on a plot of land acquired for the princely sum of £225, where they built a three bedroom house of a very modern design.  Over time this house, like their family, expanded and extensions were bolted on, "bolted" being the operative word as much of this domestic construction employed liberal amounts of Walford Brothers steel. The house is, of course, Marvells Green, down the road from here and it’s comforting to know that Mum is still able to live there, surrounded by his craftsmanship.

Photo:The Coppice in North End, which was built by the Walford brothers for their parents in 1951

The Coppice in North End, which was built by the Walford brothers for their parents in 1951

Photograph supplied by Michael Walford

Photo:The Walford family in 1953

The Walford family in 1953

Photo:Ethel and Fred Walford (centre) in the garden of the Coppice, North End, in 1961

Ethel and Fred Walford (centre) in the garden of the Coppice, North End, in 1961

Photograph supplied by Michael Walford

In 1957 Clare was born, swiftly followed by Louise in 1959 and then there was a gap until I was born in 1963. Family life was dominated by Walford Brothers; they worked Saturday mornings and Dad felt acutely the responsibility of employing 25 or so people in the local community. Walford Brothers had to come first, everyone had to be paid and investment had to be made in new machines and equipment. There were good years and bad years and Mum always supported Dad in Walford Brothers. They were married for 58 years.

Walford Brothers was sold in 1987. Dad, at 66 remained as a consultant, whilst John decided to retire, having recently got married to his long term partner, Alexandra. By mid-1988 the purchaser, Triplex Lloyd made claims that they had been misrepresented in the portrayal of the business and withheld making further payments. As a result of this dispute, Dad was sacked from his own company (after 42 years) and had to walk home because his car was company property. This was a traumatic time as John was diagnosed with lung cancer. The next 18 months were taken up with Dad leading their legal action and managing a team of accountants, solicitors and barristers, and John dealing with his illness.  Eventually, Triplex Lloyd conceded on the steps of the High Court and paid out. The victory was short lived, however, as John died soon after, leaving a massive void in Dad’s life: he had imagined a long retirement with his brother close by. This is where this community came to save him, with old and new friends providing support.[1]

Special times together were family holidays and a notable one was in 1970 when Dad decided we were going to embrace the Romany lifestyle, hire a Volkswagen camper and discover Europe, mainly Germany, for three weeks. The campervan had bits that went up, bits that went out and lots and lots of weird storage compartments. There were five of us and whilst I was only 7, it was sardine like to put it mildly. Anyway, this was the big road movie holiday and we were all excited, especially on our first night, when we happened to be parked by a beautiful lake, not in France, but in Dorking, Surrey. Dad spent about two hours pushing bits up, pushing bits down and pulling beds out from nowhere. Eventually we were all in bed, not asleep, but conscious of Dad’s creeping fear of another twenty nights of this ahead of him.  A few minutes later a vehicle’s headlights skimmed across the fabric ceiling and parked next to our camper. There was a clunk of an opening door, the sound of footsteps and a loud rap on the side of our van as a squeaky voice announced, "You can’t park here, National Trust Property. You can’t park here. No overnight stays." Dad slowly opened the door, got out in his best pants (probably the same ones he had stolen from John) and slowly slid the door shut, but we very clearly heard Dad explaining to the warden where he might stick the National Trust rule book, unrepeatable here. Needless to say, we stayed the night!

I remember once when Dad was really annoyed with me. When I was a teenager I used to wash the cars on our drive for pocket money. Around our house there were moats which had long since become stagnant pools of water, ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. These were not normal mosquitoes, these were massive mosquitoes. Dad always maintained you could hear them taking off, let alone coming in for the kill. Cleaning cars vigorously and being a bit damp attracted these blood sucking pests. Dad thought it would be amusing to flick the hose and get me a bit moist. Whilst amusing at first I got increasingly fed up as I lost another pint of blood. Dad was all smug and dressed up ready to go to a drinks party and his parting gift was to do the hosepipe trick just one more time. But I just happened to be holding a bucket full of very dirty water and was suffering from a temporary sense of humour loss. So, to his utter surprise, I chased after him, once around the circular drive, cornered him and emptied the entire contents of my bucket all over his party outfit. I can see him now ranting and raving in his bedroom window as he marched up and down changing into clean clothes. We laughed about it later … much later!

Summing up

Photo:Members of the Walford family photographed on Michael's 90th birthday

Members of the Walford family photographed on Michael's 90th birthday

Photograph supplied by the Walford family

Dad was always very active and retirement saw lots of travel with mum and fitness, He became Kelsey Kerridge Sports hall’s oldest customer and because of his free entry over the last 27 years, their biggest loss leader! He built up his woodworking skills, accepting commissions to make furniture on one key condition: that there would be no delivery deadlines.

I have mentioned before the fantastic number of letters, messages and telephone calls we have received, and I have tried to work out what made him such a popular character.

My conclusion is that he was simply a well grounded man, content with himself and grateful for what he had; he was not envious of what others had, but genuinely pleased for them. I think in some way this freed him up so he could make time for people, be interested in them and positive about life. He radiated warmth and genuinely seduced people with his sense of fun, infectious laughter and endless jokes. So if we want to keep his memory alive, we can all try to embrace these qualities, which are his legacy.

Whilst he went down quite quickly, we agreed it was probably the right way to go for him. He died peacefully on a beautiful summer's evening in his own bed, in the house he built and surrounded by his family.  If you are going to die, it's not a bad way to go.

One final bit from me, which I like as it sums up his enthusiasm for life and denial of his age.  When he was in his 80s he went to the doctors, something he had rarely done to date. He had a complaint which the doctor diagnosed as a bit of arthritis, to which he pondered and said, "but that’s what old people get", to which the doctors reply was, "but you are old Michael".

Early on today we laid his ashes to rest here in the churchyard, which is where he wanted to be, well 50% of him: the other half is going to Germany to be reunited with John - Walford Brothers reunited.

To us he was more than Michael Walford, The Boy Wonder. He was Michael Walford, the Husband, the Father and the Grandpa Wonder. We will miss him.

I’m sorry to have taken so long, but I am my father’s son and you are a captive audience!


[1] These new friends included John Price, Peter Chilvers, Peter Penfold and Laurence Crow. 

John Price writes:
Michael was devastated by the loss of John and missed the camaraderie of male company. In 1992, three of us [John, Peter Chilvers and Peter Penfold] were building the Church Meeting Room, having taken over the work once the basic structure had been completed.   Michael appeared one day and asked, “can I join in?”. We thought that at 71 Michael was a bit too old but decided to give him a try. That was the beginning of a very close friendship for the four of us and subsequently Laurence Crow as well. Michael revealed his superb woodworking craftsmanship in making many fittings for the Meeting Room and also the Vestry area of the church. Working on the Meeting Room probably helped to partly make up for the loss of his brother John and also to compensate for the lack of male company since selling the engineering company.   There was an enormous amount of leg pulling and humour; often at an unrepeatable schoolboy level. It was then that we first heard the Walford reminiscences. Michael would often say “have I told you about…..” and when we said yes it didn't stop him telling us again! In 2006 and 2009 the Friends of Holy Trinity, with the help of Meldreth Local History Group, were able to capture some of these stories in their Reminiscences evenings.

In about 1997 Peter Chilvers mentioned he was going to Nepal to trek the Annapurna Circuit and Michael, at the age of 76, said he would like to go. After clearance from his GP they set off. It was probably one of the highlights of Michael’s life and he never stopped talking about it.

Apart from all of Michael’s woodworking commissions for the church and his family he leaves a legacy of commissions in and around Meldreth and further afield. Michael will always be remembered as the perfect gentleman who had an enormous sense of humour and lived a rich and varied life. 



Below are transcripts of the audio clips that are included on this page.

Transcript for 'Michael owns up to putting fish under his Great Aunt's bed! Recorded in 2009.':

I forgot one thing after the last lecture you had.  You've probably gathered that we'd stood going down to Worthing to this Great Aunt and we'd reached the stage when we thought we'd had enough.  John thought of the idea that I thought was brilliant.  When the tide went out there were these rock pools and you could gather these little fish that were about two or three inches long and we got a whole bucketful of these, got them home, or got them to where we were staying and we laid a piece of newspaper under my Great Aunt's bed and we put these fish under there and it was summertime and after about the third day she realised what was going on and we were despatched.  A telegram was sent to my parents and we were despatched on the train with a sealed letter and a stamp a proper stamp, what do you call it, a seal. And so my father when he opened that, actually I'm perfectly certain that if the truth be known he thought it was a jolly good idea.  We had a bit of a thrashing but not too bad. [You never went  there again.] I beg your pardon, no, no, we didn't no.  She eventually came and lived with us until she died. It was an awful strain for my mother because she used to bang on the floor with her stick and mother used to go up those stairs like a bat out of hell, you know. She was very fit.

Transcript for 'Michael Walford talking about his billing as "the Boy Wonder". Recorded in 2009.':

Before the war I was very interested in magical things, in fact if the war had not come along I was going to take it up professionally. I did lots of shows at various cinemas and places and I had a cousin who ran a dancing school in London and the PDSA, People's Dispensary for Sick Animals used to use all the big London hotels. Once a year they would loan their ballroom for really a fair and Lady Toothhog or something, the lady and duchess used to send a pot of marmalade for four quid or something. But there was a cabaret she had and I used to do the shows there and I can remember getting down, this is absolutely true, my mother came with me with all my gear, I think I was about seventeen at the time.  We got a taxi from Kings Cross to the Dorchester, got into the foyer and there was a great, great banner across there, "Michael Walford the Boy Wonder". I thought you’d appreciate that.  I nearly got in the taxi and came back again. 

I’ve got one thing I’ll pop in if it’s not too soon.  I had a little dressing room there and you’ve got all the gear on and the first trick was to produce a glass of red wine from a handkerchief and what you do is, if you can imagine borrowing a handkerchief from the audience and shaking it and doing that, you see, to show both sides and you will notice that that is concealed by that arm and it also goes inside your jacket.  Inside your jacket hooked on to your trousers was a wire clip with a glass of wine upside down with a rubber cup on it.  So you could take the wine outside that, cover it with a handkerchief, make it come up, take the handkerchief off and the rubber cup and you’ve got a glass of red wine, which is an excellent starting thing.  You’ve got other things on you as well which I can’t tell you about where they are!  The first trick to open up and I had my hit list as I’d been and bought the handkerchief and everything like that and so I thought right, and on I went, borrowed the handkerchief and no glass of wine!  If you’ve ever perspired through greasepaint it’s like the top of a rice pudding!  I popped that one in – is that alright?

[Is that where one of your attributes came in useful: the ability to talk?]

Well, that was my difficulty you see, being - Janet, don't you say a word - you had a lot of pattois and mostly to put people off, hoping that they were being put off but I did find difficulty in talking as you probably would realise.

Transcript for 'Michael tells the story of the artificial leg. Recorded in 2006.':

This is lovely. This is when we were going in the proper works and we were employing people. We looked out of the window one day and there was this perambulator coming down with a lady pushing it, with an artificial leg sticking out with a shoe and a sock on it. And she came down the drive and my brother went out and said, "Can we help?" and she said, "You do welding don't you?" and he said, "yes", so she said, "Well, I want you to mend this". So John said, he picked it out, it was still warm. Well he repaired it. It wasn't just an ordinary artificial leg it had a little clip on it so it wasn't a case of welding it at all, it was riveting it. Anyway he repaired it and not long after that we were coming down Melbourn High Street and this fellow, I've forgotten what his name was. [Hinkins.] Oh thank you, Hinkins, said - I can't tell you what he said - that the something leg was absolutely fine.

This page was added by Kathryn Betts on 07/10/2013.
Comments about this page

A wonderful man and a great friend. I was so sad not to attend this service but was sadly mourning my father at the time. I think of Mr Walford often, and he is greatly missed!

By Rachael McGuire
On 10/08/2018

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