Mark Cummings: The magic and mystery of Gloucestershire’s history

'Over the years Ive dressed up as Dick Whittington and walked from his birthplace near Newent at Pau

'Over the years Ive dressed up as Dick Whittington and walked from his birthplace near Newent at Pauntley Court to meet the current Mayor of London to help re tell his incredible story.' - Credit: Archant

I love it when a plan comes together. I’d been tasked with helping the Gloucestershire History Society get their “message” out into the media and was invited to the AGM to imbue them with a little broadcasting savvy into what makes a good story...

The City of Gloucester rose

The City of Gloucester rose - Credit: Archant

I normally look forward to addressing any crowd if the subject matter involves eulogising about our part of the world, although on this occasion I was slightly more pumped than usual. This was because I’ve spent years discovering nuggets of fascinating information about the Cotswolds through my radio shows and taking great delight in spreading them far and wide. One of the most powerful impacts you can have as a broadcaster is to be the one who tells a listener something intriguing/revealing/shocking/new about the place they live. Over the years I’ve dressed up as Dick Whittington and walked from his birthplace near Newent at Pauntley Court to meet the current Mayor of London to help re tell his incredible story. I’ve kidnapped a bunch of tourists in Bourton-on-the-Water and taken them on a historical day trip around the Gates Streets of Gloucester and the Forest of Dean. We’ve had ancient Roman tombs discovered live on air, dribbled with uncontrollable excitement over ancient maps showing our landscape minus the current A- roads, M5, Severn bridges etc and tracked down historical gems many thought were lost forever.

All of this binds us together as a community with a unified thirst for knowledge about the place we’ve decided to call home. When Caroline Mellor from the Gloucester Local History Society asked me for some advice it took about the first two sentences from her before the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and my heart started pumping just a little faster. She has spent 20 years looking for a rose thought to be extinct and wanted my advice on how to promote her story. The ‘City of Gloucester Rose’ was created for the city by John Sanday in 1969 but had not been on sale since 1995 and was thought to have been lost. I put out an appeal on the show the next day and we managed to track one down! We took Caroline around to the garden in Gloucester to meet the couple who had lovingly treasured this special rose and everything ended happily after all. Many other media outlets picked up on the story and a few days later Caroline was sitting in her garden reading all about herself and her rose in the Daily Telegraph.

Another scoop for Cotswold Life

Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream is 90 years old as of 2015!

Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream is 90 years old as of 2015! - Credit: Archant

We’d been cycling for two days and nearly 200 miles thinking we’d included all the iconic symbols of the Cotswolds on our route. The Old Severn Bridge, Gloucester Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey, Cheltenham Racecourse, Fairford airbase etc. We were within a sniff of our finishing line at Berkeley Castle when we spied the missing jewel in our crown. The Winstones ice cream van is an indelible part of the warp and weft of our landscape and what better way to cool down and fuel up before the last push. Winstones are celebrating 90 years of creamy delights this year and we salute them. However dig a little deeper into this knickerbocker glory and you’ll find so many luscious layers of yummy history you might not be aware of.

This area is synonymous with aerospace, tourism and engineering, but also we have a huge heritage with ice cream. Walls of course has such a special place in the heart for many people. I heard from a lovely man called Stan who reminisced about his dad who was the last ice cream seller for Walls who went all over on his trike even as far from Gloucester to Cranham... he hated working indoors!

Many remembered the Tartaglia family who had come from Italy and were famous for their cider lollies and often provided local schools with free goodies on feast days. The De Tomaso dynasty also came from Italy and their “Stop me and Buy one” offer still takes a 70-year-old listener straight back to their childhood! Many people in the area with the name Thomas have a tutti fruiti family secret. They might have lost the full Italian moniker but don’t be fooled, they have raspberry ripple pumping through their veins. So hundred and thousands of cheers to our ice cream heroes, our van drivers, nut-crushers, mint choc chip-designers, cone-stuffers and flake-plungers.

Wilko and out... well not quite yet

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At 8.40 every morning I’m never quite sure what will happen. I call a mobile phone number and anyone could answer it. My ‘Phone with no Home’ has become a must-listen item in the show and the other day even I was left speechless. Most of the time I don’t know who the person will be who picks up the phone, but on this occasion I did. It was Charlie Chan, a very well known and hugely respected cancer surgeon from Cheltenham. I’d interviewed him many times and like many people had grown to like and admire him in equal measure. The whole point of this conversation is that I’m totally in the dark and I need to steer it in all different directions. All I could think about with my mate Charlie was “Tell us something about yourself that even your best friend doesn’t know”. Here is his answer.

“Well Mark, the other day I told Wilko Johnson from the band Dr Feelgood that he wasn’t in fact about to die from terminal cancer!”

Spitting out my lukewarm mouthful of PG Tips I asked him to elucidate. He was great pals with Wilko who many will remember as the guitarist from Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and was given 10 months to live. He had accepted this with grace and embarked on a farewell tour and album with Roger Daltrey. Charlie wasn’t his doctor but it was he who noticed that his mate was looking pretty perky for someone who had weeks to live. They did some tests and discovered they could get rid of the tumour with a complex 11-hour operation.

The irony is when Charlie informed him he was free from cancer and had the rest of his life to enjoy Wilko found it very hard to take. I spoke to them both about this on the show and it was fascinating how Charlie had to break the news gently and with great sensitivity because many find this news strangely traumatic. Wilko told me how he’d easily accepted his imminent death and had got quite a buzz from the thought of a last tour. When he heard he wasn’t quite finished yet it was hard to take and was dreading going down to his local where all his mates had been buying him sympathy beers!


For more from Mark Cummings, listen to him on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s morning show 6am-9am