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Mary Gray, a former mayoress of Marlborough

Mary and Tony GrayMary and Tony GrayTown councillors at Marlborough stood in silence on Monday in memory of former mayoress Mary Gray who died on Friday at the age of 73.

Welsh-born Mrs Gray who was one of 15 children died at Hungerford Newtown Nursing Home where she had been looked after since August last year as the dementia she had suffered for seven years worsened.

Previously she was looked after at her High Street home by her husband Tony helped by their daughter  Vicky, son Jerry and his wife Julie.

Her death was the third tragedy this year for former mayor Mr Gray whose daughter Vicky Philpott, 48,  and mother Sylvia Gray, 96, died within 24 hours of each other in March.

Mrs Gray was mayoress twice, in 1972/73 where her husband was last but one mayor of the former Borough Council and again in 1990/91 when he was mayor of the successor town council.

She also supported her husband when he served on the former Kennet District Council for many years from its inception in 1974 and was as its chairman for four years.

Mother of two Mrs Gray had the distinction of being the only person ever to be mayoress of both the borough and town councils and also the wife of a Kennet chairman.

Standing at a diminutive 5ft 1in Mrs Gray was a tower of strength for her husband in his early election campaigns and he said that when he was first elected to the borough council in 1966 it was largely due to her persuasive canvassing.

“She delivered my election leaflets up and down Cherry Orchard and Orchard Road pushing Vicky in a bog coach-built pram and very heavily pregnant with Jerry.

“I think people felt sorry for her and that was probably why they voted for me,” said Mr Gray.

Mrs Gray also played a pivotal role in the family’s former Ducks Toy Shop in High Street, managing it virtually single handed for years while her husband was busy with council activities.

Mr and Mrs Gray were married in 1964 in the village church at Oare where her husband’s family ran a garage and taxi business.

In was due to an accident Mr Gray suffered when driving from Oare to Marlborough that led to their meeting.

Mr Gray said: “I had a car accident at the top of Granham Hill when I was hit head-on by a lorry which put me in Savernake Hospital for a month.

“Mary was nursing at Savernake Hospital in those days although when I arrived she had been sent to work at Princess Margaret’s Hospital in Swindon for a few weeks.

“She returned to Savernake Hospital and I can remember sitting at the end of a long ward with my leg in plaster up to my hip waiting for an x-ray.

“I saw her walking towards me and all I could think was that she looked like an angel.”

However she did not reciprocate his feelings at first and it was after meeting several times at dances in the town at which nurses were in great demand that they started courting.

Mr Gray said: “We still have a cutting from an old Marlborough Times with the headline Nurse Marries Local Man!”

Daughter Vicky was born while the couple were living in Oare, and after they joined the family toy and cycle business in Marlborough they moved to live over the shop where Jerry was born.

One of the few perks Mrs Gray had for her hard work as a mayoress was being invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party where she was thrilled to meet the Queen.

On a second visit to a palace garden party when her husband was chairman of Kennet District Council, Mrs Gray took daughter Vicky with her.

Mrs Gray is survived by her husband Tony, son Jerry and his wife Julie, by son-in-law Ian Philpott and her four grand daughters, Kim, Jo, Mollie and Harriet.

The date for her funeral which will be in St Mary’s Church has not been confirmed.


Marlborough’s new neighbourhood police sergeant returns to the town where he grew up

Sgt Barry ReedSgt Barry ReedA new officer now patrolling the streets  as part of Marlborough’s neighbourhood policing team is no stranger to the town. In fact his new posting is something of a return home for 42-year-old Sergeant Barry Reed (pictured).

For he was brought up in Marlborough, went to St John’s School and after joining the police force at 21 returned to serve at Marlborough police station for almost three years in the 1990s.

“It feels a bit surreal to be back in familiar territory and it’s a bit like coming home too,” he told Marlborough News Online."

“So I expect to see some of the people I went to school with and had some dealings with as a police officer."

“The only difference now, 15 years later, is that I will probably be dealing with some of their children now that I am back.”

However, he points out that local contacts are an important aspect of policing, and declared: “Having that local knowledge of an area and the people you are dealing with is a huge advantage."

“I am very keen to be working alongside the community and empowering them to have the trust and confidence in us – they’re issues that do exist today -- to do our job while making them part of that process."

“Hopefully, we can help to make Marlborough a great place. It is a safe place already but we can always do better working with the community.”

Born in Somerset, the son of a herdsman, Sergeant Reed’s family moved to Wootton Rivers when he was five and he went to school in Pewsey.

Then, aged 12, his family moved to Fosbury, near Oxenwood, and he became a pupil at St John’s, where playing cricket with police officers serving in Marlborough and Pewsey inspired him to entertain a life on the beat.

Fellow students ribbed him and friends declared it would never happen, but after initially working on the land like his father, he joined the Wiltshire force at 21, one of the delights being “that every day is different.”

He added: “There are times in my career when I look back and can say I really made a difference in somebody’s life. That’s what we do in the police. And it is massively important to be working in the community in a place like Marlborough.”

That considerable career has included eight years as a dog handler and, more recently, serving in the hectic Swindon town centre.

“I am really excited about my new posting having grown up in Marlborough,” he said. “I believe that the experience and skills I have gained within the Swindon borough neighbourhood policing teams will serve my new community very well.”

Sergeant Reed, who lives near Burbage with his wife, Karen, and their two sons, aged six and eight, has won acclaim in Swindon, where he was awarded a Chief Constable’s commendation for his work in reducing anti-social behaviour in the town centre.

Under recent changes, the Marlborough neighbourhood policing team is part of the Royal Wootton Basset neighbourhood area, which is led by Inspector Mark Thompson.

“Sergeant Reed is a welcome addition to our neighbourhood team in Marlborough,” Inspector Thompson told Marlborough News Online.

“I am convinced he will put his previous policing experience to good use in serving the community. I have worked with him previously and I am looking forward to working with him again.”


Sir John Sykes pays tribute to Merchant’s House pillar of strength Jeffrey Galvin-Wright

Jeffrey Galvin-Wright at the planting of the Community Orchard on the Common last OctoberJeffrey Galvin-Wright at the planting of the Community Orchard on the Common last OctoberWarm tribute has been paid by Sir John Sykes, chairman of the trustees of Marlborough’s historic Merchant’s House, to its stalwart volunteer Jeffrey Galvin-Wright, who has died at the age of 77.

“Those of us involved in the Merchant’s House project will always remember Jeffrey’s great contribution to its success, carried out with conviction, commitment and constant good sense,” he told Marlborough News Online.

“A pillar of the Merchant’s House for upwards of 10 years he and his wife Alison made a formidable team and by their generosity, endeavour and single minded devotion to the project have done a huge amount to carry it forward.

“Jeffrey’s lasting memorial will be the creation of the 17th century garden to the rear of the House, a task for which his training as a garden designer, enhanced by his achieving a MA in Garden History from the University of Bristol, made him especially fitted.  

“As a volunteer he spent numberless hours planning the garden’s construction, its layout and its planting – his rigorous approach ensured that no plant was admitted which did not exist in this country by 1700.    

“Undeterred by the numerous obstacles to the fulfilment of his objective he kept quietly going and in 2007 the garden was formally opened by Sir Roy Strong.”  

A celebration of Jeffrey’s life is to be held at St Mary’s Church on May 9 at 11am.

Born in Surrey, Jeffrey was educated at Ashtead and Epsom College, where he was a keen cricketer and rugby player representing the College at the highest level, and later becoming a member of the MCC.

After National Service, spent in Khartoum he followed his father, head of publicity for ICI, into advertising and publishing, joining the top London advertising agency, SH Benson, which became Ogilvy and Mather, in 1955.

He joined the Reader's Digest as media director in 1962, playing a major role during its heyday of the sixties and seventies, but left in 1986 after a boardroom disagreement with its American owners.  

But after setting up his own agency he decided on a complete change of career in 1988.  He went to Merrist Wood Agricultural College and studied landscape construction and design and, having qualified, set up his own successful business in Oxshott, Surrey, before retiring to Marlborough in 2001.

He had married Susan Abell in 1965 and had two sons, Duncan and Jonathan.  Following divorce, he Alison Lovibond and acquired two stepsons, Charles and Max, and set up home in Old Lion Court, off the High Street, where their magnificent garden played a significant role in Merchant’s House Trust’s annual Open Gardens event.

He became early on with the newly formed History Association and went on to be chairman of the Marlborough History Society.

At the Merchant’s House, the 17th century home in the High Street of silk merchant Thomas Bayly, he also used his talents as its PR, producing numerous articles for the Merchant’s House Journal and other publications.

He was a leading light in Marlborough’s Apple Day initiatives and last year he designed the Diamond Jubilee Community Orchard for Marlborough.

Sir John added: “Jeffrey had a ready sense of humour and was always good company.  But, above all, we should remember him for the quiet courage with which he faced his last few months. 

“He never complained about his lot despite knowing that his life would be cut short untimely but accepted it with the stoicism which was his trade mark.”


Mayor's final act: to reopen toilets that bear her family name

Mayor Edwina FoggMayor Edwina FoggShe put out the flags for the Olympic torch, waved them about for the jubilee, welcomed a royal visitor and oversaw the planting of a new community orchard. Now, in her final act as mayor, Edwina Fogg has saved the public conveniences that bear her family name.

The toilets beneath Marlborough's historic Town Hall were opened by Edwina's husband, then-mayor Nick Fogg, in 1985, and the nickname Fogg's Bogs stuck.

But the loos were mothballed by Kennet District Council in 2005 to the chagrin of residents, as part of a district-wide programme of closures to save money.

Now the toilets are to be refurbished and reopened, after Marlborough Town Council swung a property deal with Wiltshire Council.

Under the new deal, the Town Council will sell the toilets at Chantry Lane, which were transferred from district council ownership to the town during those cuts in 2005.

Wiltshire Council has agreed to waive the covenant restrictions placed on the Chantry Lane loos, on the proviso that as well as reopening the Town Hall toilets the council refurbishes the facilities at George Lane – saved from Kennet's axe after a vociferous public campaign.

Marlborough Town Council reckons on getting in the region of £150,000 when it sells the under-used and badly-signposted Chantry Lane toilets.

The mayor – who first mooted the idea of reopening the toilets in her inaugural speech last May – outlined her plans to town councillors on Monday (January 28).

The deal was rubber-stamped by the area board on Tuesday, after she told members: “This is a fantastic opportunity that may never happen again.”

Now the town is faced with one final dilemma, over the position of the apostrophe: Fogg's Bogs or Foggs' Bogs?  


Could you lend Olympic medalist Shelley a pooch?

Shelley RudmanShelley RudmanWinter Olympics hero Shelley Rudman is appealing for help to complete her latest challenge – a sponsored walk through Marlborough's Savernake Forest.

The world cup champion and winter 2006 Olympic silver-winning skeleton bobsleigher is hoping someone will lend her a canine companion for the Best Paw Forward walk in aid of Cancer Research UK. 

Shelley’s commitment to her sport makes it impossible for her to own a dog so she’s looking for a temporary canine companion.

“I don’t have a dog of my own at the moment, but would love to take part in such a great fundraising event if someone has a dog I can borrow...I promise I will give it back!” said Shelley. 

“Growing up in Pewsey, we had four beautiful dogs and I would love to have one, but sadly my training schedule and competing in North America doesn’t allow me the time.”

The sponsored dog walk is the first regional event outside of London organised by Cancer Research UK.

Organisers are hoping to attract hundreds of dog walkers to the Savernake Forest on Sunday, September 23 between 11 am and 4pm to raise much needed funds for Cancer Research UK. Entry is £10 per dog and is open to walkers of all ages.

To sign up for the event log on to


The Marlborough connection with the remarkable Mr Speaker Bercow

Gerald Isaaman reviews BERCOW – MR SPEAKER by Bobby Friedman (Gibson Square, £17.99)

My MP, the elegantly tall Tory Claire Perry, confronted John Bercow, the miniature man now Mr Speaker, in the Commons tearoom and offered him a surprising sexual delight, to ensure he might call her when she stood up on the green benches.

When the inevitable scandal hit the headlines, not only was she praised for her effrontery, but she claimed that Bercow thought it all hilarious. And Claire declared: “He’s doing a good job – all that stuff about the anti-Speaker campaign is rubbish!”

Bobby Friedman’s compelling biography, sub-headed Rowdy Living in the Tory Party, was completed before this episode happened last month. Yet, remarkably, his opening chapter presents David Cameron standing in a Commons urinal next to a Labour MP and telling him explicitly: “John Bercow doesn’t count.”

All this lewdness is perhaps unfitting in discussing the youngest ever Speaker in Commons’ history or his 14 years as Tory MP for the safe seat of Buckingham, who, more than anything, has tried to tame extravagant excesses – and silly boy antics -- of his parliamentary colleagues.

But it does indeed indicate the passions he rouses within and without his party, the more so because he is brave and vociferous and, more importantly, has undergone an amazing political conversion from arch right-winger wanting to repatriate immigrants to calling for more black and Asian MPs.

He stands out, if nothing else, as someone unafraid to expose the worst of political prejudices and fight for a better, if not necessarily big, society, a formidable champion indeed.

Moreover, he has an amazing wife, Sally, who experimented smoking cannabis while a pupil at Marlborough College. Cameron’s wife Samantha was there are the same time –no guilt by association of course, the more so since Sally wants to become a Labour MP, even party leader.

All of which is a long way from Bercow’s Romanian grandfather, Jack Bercowitch, who escaped anti-semitism to arrive in London at the turn of the last century and become a furrier in Spitalfields. And a long way too from Bercow’s own father, Charles, once a car salesman in London’s once notorious Warren Street, and his non-Jewish wife, Brenda Bailey, a secretary to a legal firm when they met.

Growing up in the North London suburbs, including Margaret Thatcher’s Finchley, young Bercow proved himself a precocious, acne-suffering tiny tot who accepted the “Jew boy” taunts of his school bullies, fighting back with dazzling wit that left them daunted.

He proved himself a tennis ace before politics ruled his ambitions, announcing to his detractors that he would end up in the Cabinet. His talent – and his determination – were steadfast as he headed for Essex University, the chairmanship of the Federation of Conservative Students and a banking job in the City.

BBC political journalist Bobby Friedman, 26, himself a former president of the Students ‘ Union at Cambridge, insists that his biography is neither a hatchet job nor a hagiography.

“People know that they’re reading a book that aims to be scrupulously fair,” he told me. “The reader also knows that everything that’s in it is there on merit.”

He found it an advantage that Bercow refused to co-operate, though not preventing a total of more than friends and contacts talking to him. “They were able to speak more freely and open up, letting me in on the previously unknown stories they had of John and of politics,” he explained.

That was after he chose Bercow as his subject because he always attracted a media frenzy, especially in the run-up to him becoming Speaker. “John is fascinating – his life is a goldmine of great stories, strong emotions and funny anecdotes,” said Friedman.

“As a biographer, it’s incredibly rewarding to have a subject always invoking strong emotion and making waves. John does that in abundance.”

In a wider context, his biography tells the story of a dramatically changing Tory Party following its 1997 defeat by New Labour, how it struggled to revive itself during a period when Bercow went so far left as to resign from the Shadow Cabinet over a three-line whip, to vote against gay adoption.

“The tipping point for John came when he realised that there needed to be a process of change,” he added. “Like any politician, there was an element of expediency, but there has been an undeniable wholesale shift in his views.”

That alienated him from the Tory front bench and brought about the unsuccessful bid to prevent Bercow becoming Speaker. Yet Bercow  continued undaunted, aided in particular by his dazzling wife Sally.

“John’s political transformation, which is perhaps the most remarkable of a generation, was in train long before he and Sally were married,” Friedman pointed out. “But there’s no doubt, though, of how close they are. There’s no doubt that in more recent times Sally’s advice has been an important factor.

“He is a real political character, one of the few left, more’s the pity – and there is plenty more to be had from him.”

The biography very much reflects today’s parliamentary circus where politicians have demoted themselves because of their own cowardly indiscretions and public confidence is shattered.

The result is that we have a sound-bite system that means nothing, the politicians failing to recognise that the electorate are crying out for a fairer system fit for purpose, one in which they can put their trust, instead of being preached too by people out of touch with their desires.

That’s why Speaker Bercow, despite his diminutive nature, does stand above the crowd.


Jonny hits a high note with his musical prowess on three instruments

Three exams for three different musical instruments – guitar, piano and saxophone -- and three distinctions.

So, at 13, Jonny Budd is undoubtedly top of the class at St John’s School, Marlborough, an admired performer with his own and other bands, and now due to play at next month’s Marlborough International Jazz Festival.

Yet his musical enterprise began almost casually when he picked up the guitar his marketing consultant father, Ben Budd, played occasionally at their home in Ramsbury and strummed it.

“I think I was nine or 10,” he recalls. “My dad used to play it about once a month but he didn’t get stuck into music as I did and took lessons. And I went on from playing rock – people like Jimmi Hendrix, Slash from Guns and Roses – to taking it seriously.”

So seriously that while at Ramsbury Primary School he teamed up with four friends to form The Demented with his sister, Luci, now 16, providing the vocals, and progressed further by learning to play the alto saxophone and the piano.

Two years ago he took part in a summer school run by the International Guitar Foundation in Bath, which resulted in him being presented with a £700 electric guitar as the most improved student of the week, to which he has now added his Grade 8 exam distinction.

That is the instrument he plays with the Marlborough Youth Jazz Orchestra, destined to perform at the Jazz Festival on July 17, and he will be playing twice at the Royal British Legion Party on The Hill on July 23, first with the Youth Jazz Orchestra and then with The Demented.

This too is a major event being headlined by The Wurzels, the chart toppers from the 70s.

Jonny is now more into jazz than rock, though he enjoys listening to classical guitar masters like Segovia and plays classical pieces himself.

“Kids these days don’t seem to be inspired by rock music any more,” he says. “It isn’t as inspiring as it used to be. They prefer electronic music that’s made on computers.”

But that doesn’t attract Jonny. “You’ve always got to put feeling into whatever you’re playing,” he insists. “All the great musicians do that. Otherwise it’s going to sound a bit fake.”

And Jonny, as his fans agree, is no fake.


Tributes are paid to Kennet Valley Arts Trust's John Cornell

Brigadier John CornellBrigadier John CornellJohn Cornell, one of the leading lights of the Kennet Valley Arts Trust, has died following a short illness, at the age of 81.

Brigadier Cornell, who died on May 5, served as chairman of Kennet Valley Arts Trust for many years. He leaves a wife, Caroline, three sons, Mark, David and Tom, and 11 grandchildren.

KVAT colleagues said this week that due to his determination and tenacity the charity is  building up a very strong audience base for popular movies and exciting live performances, such as The National Theatre and The Glyndebourne 

John, who lived at Sharcott, near Pewsey, never wavered in his enthusiasm for promoting the aims of KVAT to bringing arts events to the local community, they said.

At a packed Town Hall on May 23 for the showing of Quartet, Rosie Hill, a fellow board member  of the arts organisation, gave a tribute to the late John Cornell “We owe him a big debt of gratitude and he will be very much missed.”  

Diana Turnbull who worked closely with John said: “It is deeply regrettable that he left us just as our film programme is becoming so successful, and before the final development of a cinema, on which he had spent so much time. 

“It was his vital interest to re-establish the development of a new cinema for Marlborough, and in keeping the idea alive, he enabled us to achieve all that we have accomplished to date.”

Born in London and educated at Winchester College, Brigadier Cornell was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade in 1952, serving in Kenya, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and India.

He was made a CBE in 1981 and retired in 1986. His last posting was as military advisor to the High Commission in New Delhi.

After retiring from the Army, he took over the charity Gap Activity Projects, the body dedicated to international volunteering. 

Jenny Gibbons, GAP Project director from 1989-1995, recalled: "When John became the first salaried Director of GAP in 1988 he inherited a small low-key organisation which had been run mainly by volunteers.

"He was inspirational in his leadership and vision, and his enthusiasm inspired young and old alike. Recruiting both salaried and volunteer staff with specific skills and knowledge of the countries where GAP was operating, he quickly expanded the organisation from around 10 countries to 35, always looking for new and challenging opportunities for gap year placements.

"GAP was unique in establishing a two-way reciprocal scheme enabling young people from overseas to benefit from short placements in the UK.

"Moving from dingy first floor offices in central Reading, sandwiched between a department store and a language school, to new premises in Queen’s Road made this rapid expansion possible.

"He had great charisma and curiosity and a huge network of friends and contacts which he exploited with great charm when he thought they could do something for GAP.

"His fundraising skills were incredible and as a result GAP was supported by many businesses, trusts and individuals. Princess Anne came on board as a patron – I could go on and on.

"His brain never stopped and although it was at times exhausting and difficult to keep up, there was never a dull moment with John at the helm! It was a real privilege to work with him."

A sold-out live screening of The Audience from the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, and starring Helen Mirren as the Queen, will be presented in tribute to Brigadier Cornell on Thursday, June 13.

A second screening will be shown on September 4. A thanksgiving service will be held at Winchester Cathedral on Monday, September 23 at 11am.  


Nikki Rowan Kedge

Nikki Rowan KedgeNikki Rowan KedgeNikki Rowan Kedge was born in Leicester.  She never knew her mother or her father, who was an American G.I. stationed over here during the war.

She was adopted by Mr and Mrs Kedge and the fact that she was adopted gave her a lifelong sense of searching for identity.

Her love of the sea and the coast, which remained with her all her life, saw her join the WRNS as a young adult, serving for 12 years, stationed at HMS Mercury and HMS Victory; she was a Leading Wren and quickly promoted to Petty Officer. 

It was during this time that high standards of service were inculcated as her training was rigorously strict – she had to oversee a group of Stewards, learn to carve, mix drinks and serve at large naval dinners – often into the early hours of the morning, then having to rise a mere few hours later to ‘raise the officers’ for their breakfast.  Skills that were to inform her later life.

Whilst in the navy she met her life partner, Angela Rawson (who followed in the steps of her great-aunt Iris Syrett, who founded the Tante Marie Cordon Bleu School of Cookery) and they left the navy together.  They began a catering service offering dinner parties in peoples’ homes – (an idea ahead of its time!); they couldn’t think of a name but Angela’s mother suggested The Loaves and Fishes hoping it would mean they would never run out of food! The name stuck and Nikki and Angela began the business that would see them move from a small, one-roomed restaurant run from their home, to the Old Chapel at Rockley, nestled in the Marlborough Downs. 

The restaurant and cookery school in the atmospheric converted old chapel, was really ahead of its time.  They specialised in preparing fresh and wholesome food that used free-range, organically grown and non-intensively farmed ingredients (something which now seems to be the expected in great restaurants, but which then, was very novel). 

The reputation of the restaurant spread and was, on one occasion, visited by the Editor of The Sunday Telegraph who acclaimed it as “one of the best places to eat in England” and featured Nikki and Angela on the front cover of the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. 

They were also at this time writing their own cookery pages in various magazines and newspapers, as well as articles about the History of Food, and co-authored five cookery books.  Nikki was a member of the Guild of Food Writers.

Nikki was also a passionate, self-taught musician, and composed, wrote and devised many productions based on the Classics (and especially Shakespeare) which she produced and put on with her partner Angela, to be performed by young people between the ages of 6 and 15; she believed that they were more than capable of understanding the incredible richness of the English Language and never needed talking down to. These performances were formative influences in the lives of many, many young people in Wiltshire and Norfolk where she lived latterly.

Her passion for good food, good wine and good company lasted until the last months of her life when she was suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer.  She had a deep sense of faith and spirit and her response to the registrar who told her of this diagnosis was typical of Nikki’s strength; she looked at him and said simply:  “No.  I’ve just bought a new pair of shoes and I am going to wear them.” Sadly she never did. 

She died on Monday, February 11 in Norfolk and is survived by her partner of 42 years, Angela Rawson, as well as a legacy of wonderful cookery writing, musical compositions and treasured memories.  A Trust is being established in her name to support young musicians.  If you wish to contribute to this, please contact the Rosedale Funeral Home on 01379 640810 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. who will direct you to the right address.


Nigel's retirement marks end of a local press era

Nigel Kerton, who retired todayNigel Kerton, who retired todayThe end of an era was marked today (Wednesday) when Nigel Kerton, the Gazette & Herald's Marlborough reporter since articles were bashed out on typewriters, filed his final story.

Nigel - who reckons he's filled 2,000 front pages for the Gazette & Herald, along with 500 each for the Swindon Advertiser and the Western Daily Press - stumbled into journalism aged 17, when he popped into the offices of the Mercury in Weston-super-Mare to scour the jobs pages.

He was asked if he fancied a job on the paper, doing some administrative work and assisting the journalists, and told to go off and write a 500 word article on a subject of his choosing.

“It was easy,” recalls Nigel. “I came from Lyneham, where my mum and dad ran a village shop, and I was new to Weston-super-Mare with its bright lights and a theatre. They liked the story and offered me a five year indentureship.”

Nigel's first day on the Mercury – a Monday in 1964 – started at 8.30am. “At 8.45 I was given a notebook and a pencil and told to go and interview a woman whose husband had died. It was a baptism of fire.”

And while many young journalists dread the prospect of talking to relatives about the loss of a loved one, Nigel reckons it has become his favourite part of the job, and at the start of his second stint with the Gazette 15 years ago – following a ten-year sojourn at the Western Daily Press in Trowbridge – he insisted on the reinstatement of the obituaries column.

“I love listening to people about their lives, and I think I'm particularly good at empathising with people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, because I've been through it: my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, drowned herself in the sea at Torquay in 1980.”

The journalists at the Weston Mercury taught young Nigel the craft: putting people at ease during interviews, and letting them tell their stories in their own words.

“They were gentleman reporters with copper plated shorthand,” recalls Nigel. “Journalists who would record every word at a council meeting, when reporters had the time, and newspapers had the space, to do that.”

But four years later a career move summoned Nigel back to Wiltshire: he was offered a job in the Swindon Advertiser's Marlborough office.

“I loved Marlborough,” says Nigel. “I used to cycle down from Lyneham as a kid. The Adver's editor, Fred Hazel, heard I had a girlfriend back at Lyneham, and offered me the job.

“I was one of two reporters working at this 15th century building in Kingsbury Street [the office closed by Gazette & Herald owners Newsquest in October last year]. I thought the Adver was the paper I was working for, but I also had to write for the Gazette.”

The following spring – March 1969 – Nigel and Joy were married at St Peter's Church in Clyffe Pypard. Their first home was a flat above a shop in The Parade – now occupied by More Than Pine – before moving to Poulton Hill, and then to The Mead, “Kennet's biggest cul de sac” and the Kerton family home for 19 years.

Nigel and Joy have two children – Paul and Claire – and four grandchildren, aged between 12 and 23. And between them they've acted as Nigel's unofficial news-gathering team throughout his career.

When Nigel first came to Marlborough, the journalist Bob Wise advised him to “never join anything.” The reporter promptly threw himself into community activities.

He formed the Gardening Club 35 years ago, and joined the carnival committee 25 years ago. He's been the chairman of the New Road Centre, which works with 30 special needs adults every week, for eight years. And ten years ago, he and Joy revived the Jubilee Centre Christmas lunch, which is now held in the Town Hall and caters for 60 elderly residents from the town.

In the millennium year the Rotary Club awarded Nigel the Centenary Community Award for Vocational Services to the Town – "I don't suppose anyone else will get that honour for another 100 years," laughs Nigel – and in 2007 Pewsey Parish Council gave him an award for Outstanding Services to the Community.

Recently, Nigel – who has attended local government meetings for nearly half a century, and describes himself as apolitical – has considered leaving the press bench for a seat in the council chamber, by standing as an independent candidate for Marlborough East in the next Wiltshire Council elections.

“I've been described as a socialist, but I'm only a socialist so far as every journalist is a socialist, by fighting for people's rights and championing causes,” insists Nigel.

“I had a brief courtship with the Conservative Party,” he says, “and was interested in joining the majority group on the council.

“But in the light of my colleague Chris Humphries' experience, where he was not supported by his colleagues [Cllr Humphries was suspended from the Conservative group following a reprimand for mistreating a member of the council's staff], I decided that I didn't want to be part of that group.”

“I'd like to join the town council too,” he adds, “but not until somebody provides me with a whip and a chair. At the moment I feel the body has no useful future. Good ideas are thrown out and bad ideas kept in because of the views of those on the majority group.

“Personally, I don't think party politics has a place in local councils.”

Nigel leaves the Gazette just a week before his 65th birthday. He intends to spend more time with his family, exploring southern England in his campervan, and continuing his work with community organisations in Marlborough.

“I've enjoyed my career in journalism; there's no better job in the world,” he says. “But I suspect I'll be busier than ever before. So I guess it's 'goodbye for now', rather than 'farewell for ever'.


Students to share their Gunjur adventure

Volunteers from Marlborough Brandt Group working on a Disability Africa project in GunjurVolunteers from Marlborough Brandt Group working on a Disability Africa project in GunjurTen students from Marlborough College and St John's School will be talking about their experiences in The Gambia at Marlborough Town Hall later this month.

The students, along with leaders Rosie Carter, Harriet Compton and James Moran, have spent four weeks in Marlborough's twin community of Gunjur with Marlborough Brandt Group, helping to build an extension to the central market.

Nick Maurice of Marlborough Brandt Group explained: “This market, in many ways similar to the new Sunday market in Marlborough, is in the centre of the village and is a vital source of income for the women of Gunjur who sell their produce vegetables, meat and locally caught fish. 

“This money is used to support their families and educate their children.”

The youngsters have also been working with the charity Disability Africa, helping to provide an appropriately stimulating, fun and educational environment for disabled children who, too often, are neglected because African traditions expect little or nothing of disabled children.

The group aged between sixteen and eighteen years old are entirely self-funded and have raised £4,000 towards the materials for building the extension to the market.

They are the sixteenth group to make the summer visit and work in Gunjur since the first group went in 1985 led by the then mayor, Nick Fogg.

They will be giving a presentation of their time in Gunjur on Monday, August 20 at 7.30 pm in Marlborough Town Hall.  Admission free, but there will be a retiring collection.

Meanwhile, the AGM of the Brandt Group will be held at the charity's office at Elm Tree Park, Manton SN8 1PS at 6.30pm on Thursday, August 9.  


Children's book illustrator scoops award

The adventures of a hare, a turtle and a duck have won a professional illustrator an accolade from international book publisher PanMacmillan.

Gone Fishing, by Chantal Bourgonje, has been Highly Commended by the judges in the Macmillan Prize for Children's Book Illustrations, one of only 13 books chosen from 300 entries to receive an award.

She was told of her success on the same day that another of her illustrated children's books, Fierce Grey Mouse, went live on Apples iTunes store, and on the day she was told she had been accepted for a Master's degree in drawing.

“It was an incredible twelve hours,” she told Marlborough News Online from her Burbage home this week.

Gone Fishing follows the story a hare, a turtle and a duck from bath time to a fishing expedition, an encounter with the mud monster and back into the bath to get clean again.

Meanwhile, Fierce Grey Mouse is receiving plaudits of its own. This week Apple's adjudicators listed it as 'noteworthy' – a boon to downloads.

The app – which is available to read and play on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch - is animated and interactive. Chantal had to produce hundreds of slightly different illustrations to ensure the animation looked as smooth as possible.

The book has been narrated in Chantal's native Dutch, Spanish and six variations of English, including American, Australian, Kiwi, Irish, English adult and English child.

The narration can be switched off and the newspaper cut-out text can be replaced by an easy-to-read font to encourage children to explore the book for themselves.

The Fierce Grey Mouse follows the fortunes of a little mouse who eats his porridge, drinks his milk, does his exercises and practices his pouncing in a bid to be as fierce wild animals like the leopard and the eagle. It is aimed at children from two to six years.

An exhibition of work by all the Macmillan Prize winners will be held at the prestigious Foyles Gallery in Charing Cross Road, London from May 24 to 27.

Fierce Grey Mouse is currently available on iTunes. A second app book, Finn's Paper Hat, will be published on iTunes in June.

To find out more about Chantal's work log on to


Robert Harris has no need to hedge his bets for the launch of his new financial thriller

Best-selling author Robert Harris  seems set for another stunning success with his new novel, The Fear Index, his first truly contemporary thriller after a string of historical ones taking in Imperial Rome, Hitler, Stalin, code-breaking and Tony Blair.

The Fear Factor, due out from Hutchinson in September, is set in the dizzy world of high finance and competing hedge funds.  Already the film rights have been sold to Fox and Harris is shortly to begin work on the screenplay.

And researching the novel – Harris was a Newsnight and Panorama reporter before becoming a Fleet Street columnist – gave him a totally new insight into the lives of high flying hedge fund managers.

“It was an absolutely eye-opener for me – to go into these hedge funds and find that the people working there were all PhDs,” 54-year-old Harris, who lives in Kintbury, tells The Bookseller.

“I felt I was at the cutting edge and I felt, I may be wrong, that nowhere in fiction – either in films or in novels – has anyone really written about how the financial world is ticking.”

“Of course there have been novels set in hedge funds, but no novel that shows it as it really is – which is so dependent on science, physicists and mathematicians and computer programmers.”

His central character is Geneva-based Dr Alex Hoffman, a former CERN physicist turned spectacularly successful hedge fund manager who develops a secret system of computer algorithms to trade on the world’s financial markets – and attempts made to destroy him.

He describes The Fear Index as a sort of 21st century Frankenstein or “gothic realism”, as he prefers.

“The gothic novel is generally about the hinterland between  human beings and the other, the supernatural,” he explains.  “But our hinterland, in quite a realistic way, is now between being human and being a machine.