Cliff Bastin, Frank Broome and a day in Ottery St Mary

ANTON RIPPON looks back almost 30 years to a paid assignment for local radio, and an unexpected encounter with an all-time great

It was 1984 and I’d gone down to Ottery St Mary, to record an interview for the BBC Radio Derby series I was putting together to mark Derby County’s centenary.

All Our Yesterdays: Frank Broome, centre, Cliff Bastin, right, with Anton Rippon in 1984
All Our Yesterdays: Frank Broome, centre, Cliff Bastin, right, with Anton Rippon in 1984

Imagine that: BBC local radio commissioning a 13-part series. I’d previously put together a similar length series on the Second World War. And both times I was paid a decent fee and expenses.

Nowadays, they want you to work for nothing. At least the last time they asked me to help with a sports project and I asked “How much?” I was told that they thought I’d do it “for the warm glow of hearing your voice on the radio”.

I repeated something that a grizzled old reporter once told me when I was very young: “Remember, son, a man who works for nothing and a woman who makes love for nothing are never out of a job.” Or something like that. I cleaned it up a bit.

Anyway, back to 1984. I’d gone to tape an interview with Frank Broome who’d played for the Rams after the war. We’d had lunch, cooked by Frank’s lovely wife, Elsa, and completed the taping. And then Frank asked if I’d like to meet Cliff Bastin.

Well, what football fan with an interest in the past wouldn’t have wanted to meet “Boy” Bastin, one-time star of Arsenal and England? In 1932-33, Bastin had scored 33 goals in 41 matches for the Gunners, still a record for a winger in British football.

Now he was back living in Exeter, the city of his birth, which lies about 10 miles to the east of Ottery St Mary. So off we set in Frank’s car.

Without doubt it was the most hair-raising road journey that I’ve ever undertaken. I could only assume that Frank had secured his licence before compulsory driving tests were introduced in 1934.

We bounced and jerked along, often to the accompaniment of tooting car horns pressed by angry drivers forced to take evasive action, before arriving at the Bastins’ front door 15 hair-raising minutes later.

Now there was another problem: the tearful Bastins had just arrived back from the vet’s after taking their much-loved family dog to be put down. It was hardly the time or the place, but Frank somehow talked his way in, when all I wanted to do was make the return journey – by public transport, if at all possible.

But it turned out all right. Mrs Bastin popped the kettle on, two old England teammates soon began yarning, and for the next hour I sat transfixed. We even made it back to Ottery St Mary without further incident.

I was thinking about all this when clearing out some old notebooks this week. And chuckling at some of the stories that Frank had to tell.

In May 1938, he had the unusual experience, for an Englishman at any rate, of being ordered to give the Nazi salute twice in as many days in Berlin. On the first occasion, the England players complied and the photograph hangs still in football’s Hall of Shame; 24 hours later, Frank and his Aston Villa teammates refused. “We told ’em to get stuffed,” he said.

When he signed for the Rams in 1946, Frank was 31 and, like all the players of his generation, had lost six years of his career to the Second World War. But he soon showed that he’d lost none of his speed and that, allied to wonderful ball control, made him a great asset to Derby County. Before the war, he’d played for England in all five forward positions (can someone explain what that means to those who don’t remember any football before the Premier League) and for the Rams he switched between the wing and centre-forward.

He wasn’t a bad emergency goalkeeper either, once denying none other than the great Tommy Lawton for 85 minutes in an FA Cup tie against Chelsea at the Baseball Ground.

Frank was also a star of the Rams cricket team, although he annoyed its skipper, Tim Ward, by taking catches in the deep behind his back, “just to show off” according to Tim.

In October 1949 Frank joined Notts County and then had a career in coaching and management far too varied to catalogue here.

After our interview, he’d often telephone, out of the blue, for a chat, but on the final occasion that I saw him, at the golden wedding party of 1946 FA Cup Final winner Jack Stamps and his wife, Norah, he was in the early stages of dementia. Frank Broome died in Bournemouth in September 1994. He was a lovely man. But I still have bad dreams about that car journey.

That radio series certainly threw up some challenges. After I saw the former Derby and Wales forward, Dai Astley, at his home near Margate – imagine, BBC local radio paying your exes to do that today – my main recollection of the interview was conducting it while trying to keep apart the Astleys’ two dogs.

As the Uher tape machine recorded our conversation, the smaller dog took a dislike to the larger one. It took skilful editing on the part of BBC producer Ashley Franklin to remove much canine growling and snapping. Come to think of it, I’d had a similar problem with goalkeeper Ken Oxford’s parrot.

The Beeb eventually issued a two-tape cassette containing an edited version of the series. I wasn’t on royalties, though. Just a one-off fee. Happy days.

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