Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Celebrity 'love-bombing' campaign gets serious as Better Together unveils its latest recruit : a boom microphone operator who worked on 1980s soap Howards' Way

Many thanks to occasional commenter Cordon Blah for sending me this utterly jaw-dropping article from the Southampton-based Southern Daily Echo. From the outset of reading it I was already giggling at the thought of a minor actor from a 1980s soap "intervening" in the referendum, but I well and truly lost my composure when I got to the bit about the boom microphone operator.

Even back in the eighties, as a star of hit BBC soap Howards' Way, Henry Gradwell wasn't accustomed to the limelight. His character Trevor Beaston was foreman of the fictional Mermaid Boatyard, and tended only to pop up a few times in each episode to report hitches in boat repairs.

But a quarter of a century after the show sailed off into the sunset for the last time, Gradwell has decided to take centre-stage - to join the fight against Scottish separation.

"I was horrified when I heard about what was going on up there," the veteran actor explains. "At first I thought it couldn't possibly be serious, and then I realised, you know what, this could be serious, and all of us who have some kind of following up in those parts have a duty to do something, however uncomfortable it may be to stick our heads above the parapet, so to speak."

So just how much of a following does Henry actually have in Scotland? He smiles as he recalls a game he used to play in his eighties heyday. "Because I maybe wasn't quite as well known as some of the other actors, I liked to prove to my family that people did recognise me, even though they thought they didn't, so to speak. So if I ever caught someone looking at me with even the slightest flicker of recognition, I would put on my best Trevor Beaston voice and say something like, 'I don't like these new-fangled plastic boats any more than you do, Jack, but that's the way of the world, I suppose.' And 90% of the time they would instantly know who I was and shout back, 'but it's not the way of the Mermaid Yard!' That was one of the catchphrases from the show. It was always such a hoot! I never got the chance to try that in Scotland, but I'm sure it would have worked there as well. The show was phenomenally popular everywhere."

In order to harness the cult of Howards' Way for the campaign to save the union, Gradwell has helped set up "Tarrant Says No", named after the soap's fictional setting. He attended the group's launch on Sunday in the iconic Jolly Sailor pub, where he was joined by Portsmouth couple Pam and Jeff Wheatley, who appeared as background extras in several episodes of Series 3, and Peter Sootham, who operated a boom microphone during the filming of almost every episode of the show.

"Obviously we'd have liked to have some of the bigger stars here with us today," Gradwell admits. "But this is a fantastic start, and I'm hopeful that others will join us soon. I can understand why people are wary of making their views known, though. Look at what happened to Simon Cowell - he begs Scotland to remain part of a big happy family, and ten seconds later he gets called orange on Twitter. It's disgraceful."

Intrigued as to whether this relatively C-list grouping should be considered an official part of the anti-independence campaign, the Southern Daily Echo contacted the headquarters of "Better Together" in Edinburgh. A spokeswoman was non-committal about the exact status of Tarrant Says No, but claimed that the group's emergence was a classic example of the spontaneous desire of celebrities from throughout the British Isles to declare their love for a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom. When asked what the most unusual offer of support had been so far, she laughed, and admitted that it would be hard to beat the psychic 'horse medium' who offered the services of Shergar. "But we turned him down," she hastily added. Was that because it would have turned the campaign into a laughing-stock? "Well, only partly. I mean, we've used Jimmy Krankie and Kermit the Frog, so obviously we're open to all offers. But Shergar was under the influence of the IRA for a very, very long time, and there was just no way of being sure what would happen if we put him in front of a camera."

So in the absence of long-lost racehorses, it's left to the foreman of the Mermaid Yard to speak up for the country he loves. What does Henry think Trevor Beaston would say to Scottish separatist chief Alex Salmond, given half a chance?

"I think he'd say, you know what, this divorce malarkey may well be the way of the world. But it's sure as hell not the way of the Mermaid Yard."


  1. This is an April 1 spoof. Isn't it?

  2. I remember him well! I met him on the beach at Twechar when I was about 12. I shouted "Are you Howard Sway?" and he yelled back, "Absolutely. Do you want to see my willy?"

  3. "But Shergar was under the influence of the IRA for a very, very long time, and there was just no way of being sure what would happen if we put him in front of a camera."

    Credit where it's due, they've clearly learnt the lesson of the John Barrowman catastrophe.

  4. You had me until about 40% of the way through, there. Best one so far.

  5. If that is the Southern Echo rather than yourself James, I take my hat off to them :)