The ghosts of Daniel Lambert

I was very saddened to learn of Sue Townsend's death. Leicester and literature don't often come together, but in her books they did, and with such warmth and wit. For those of us from Leicester, Sue's characters are friends of ours.

Do you remember Nigel Mole?

What made me saddest was the thought that my dear old Dad won't get to enjoy another of Sue's books, as she was unquestionably one of his favourite authors. Whenever Sue Townsend is mentioned, I think of Dad sitting in his armchair immersed in her latest hardback, trying to control his mirth, trying not to snigger, trying not to annoy Mum, and then failing, and exploding with laughter, and getting a funny look, and trying to explain everything by reading out the passage in question, and failing, and going back to his book. And laughing again almost immediately. When a writer provides someone you love with such pleasure, you can't help but love that writer.

I've not really asked Dad what it is about Sue's books he enjoys so much, but it might be something to do with shared experience. Both were Leicestrians born in the mid-1940s and raised in ordinary working-class families in ordinary parts of town. Both were encouraged (directly or otherwise) to go and make careers in the arts, both succeeded, and both stayed in Leicester.

When Sue wrote about Leicester and its people, she wrote about it with honesty. Ambivalence is the home town - the place you hate and love - and she captured this so beautifully in her books. Railing against the destruction of its history, revelling in the lives of its residents, Sue knew that Leicester was nowhere, yet that its nowhere people were just as interesting as anywhere else's. Adrian Mole was a nobody, and everybody loved him.

Nowhere.

As a nowhere boy in the mid-80s, I used to accompany Dad when he went to photograph Sunday League cricket matches, mostly in the Midlands. I wrote about it for Cricinfo here.

One of our favourite tapes we played on the car journeys was Lost Boys by the Flying Pickets, and our favourite song on that album was this one:



One of Sue Townsend's earliest published works was The Ghost of Daniel Lambert, performed at the Phoenix and then the Haymarket theatres in Leicester in 1981. It starred Perry Cree, and on his website there is a clipping of Sue Townsend talking about Daniel Lambert.

Not being aware of the play, I was interested to find out more. When I came to the following passage though, I couldn't help but take a sharp intake of breath, and then smile:

He [Cree] was to work with Sue Townsend again on a new musical production entitled ‘The Ghost of Daniel Lambert’, which was written by the Adrian Mole author. The musical production for the show was by Rick Lloyd, who later went on to have massive success with the acappella group The Flying Pickets. A single featuring songs from the show was recorded and released. One of Perry‘s solo numbers from the show entitled ’Wide Boy’ (and later released on a single by The Flying Pickets) was the stand-out track on the single and received regular airplay on local radio stations.

So it turns out that not only do we have Sue Townsend to thank for many of Dad's favourite books, but we also have her to thank - indirectly - for our favourite cricketing road song. It's so strange the way seemingly random things suddenly turn out to be connected.

And, of course, thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, we can visit YouTube and actually listen to Mr Cree singing 'Wide Boy' in The Ghost of Daniel Lambert. I think I still prefer the Flying Pickets version, but it's great to hear a different take, and one which now has an added poignancy:

(The song also appeared in the Ray Winstone TV film, Scum.)


Beloved is an over-used word, but that is what Sue Townsend and her works were. Beloved by people over the world, beloved by Leicestrians, and beloved by my Dad.

Thank you, Sue. We loved you for what you wrote, for making us smile, and making other people smile. We won't forget you, but we'll certainly miss you.

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