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Backwords: Bowled Over By Memories Of Chaplin

Mike Shaw recalls a Charlie Chaplin look-alike, a splendid chap who raised lots of cash for charities.

The sale of Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat and cane in the 1980s reminded me of the days when Colne Valley had its own Chaplin look-alike.

For more than 40 years Jack Richards cashed in on his resemblance to the world famous comedian by dressing up in baggy trousers and black jacket, complete with dish mop buttonhole.

But of all the money that he collected for his Chaplin impersonation, Jack never kept a single penny. It all went to charity.

Jack started dressing up as Chaplin -- not forgetting the famous bowler and cane -- in the 1920s while he was a miner in his native Castleford.

Not long afterwards he left the pit to work on the railway in Colne Valley. And it was in his cottage at Tunnel End which is now part of a canal and countryside centre that I chatted to him 40 years or so back about his Chaplin guise.

It all came about, he said, when he was washing the coal dust off his face after a hard day down the pit. As he peered in the mirror he noticed that he seemed to have acquired a little black moustache where he had missed rubbing with the sponge.

A Chaplin fan, he spotted the likeness with the famous screen comic. So he started work in earnest on perfecting the impersonation which was to make him known all over the country.

He won prizes galore at galas and carnivals, and during four decades raised many thousands of pounds for worthwhile causes.

But he gained much wider fame as the official mascot of Huddersfield Town. Before the war he rarely missed a Town match, at home or away, and twice travelled with them to Wembley for an FA Cup final, wearing a blue and white striped shirt under his Chaplin jacket.

Jack loved children and they loved him. None more so than the little girl who persuaded him to do his Chaplin act at her birthday party.

Her letter of thanks touched Jack so deeply that he could scarcely hold back the tears as he showed it to me in the living room of his tiny home at Marsden.

“Dear Charlie,” she wrote, “Just a line to thank you very much for your kindness and generosity. I appreciate very much the happiness you gave us at my party, and I hope we will all see you again soon. God bless you and keep you safe so that you can keep on giving happiness to little children wherever you go.”

Although he departed this life many years ago, there must be a host of people inside and outside Colne Valley who remember with affection and gratitude the man who brought so much laughter and fun into their lives when they were young.

Marsden had another celebrity at about the same time that Jack was spreading his special brand of happiness.

Ted Thompson was his name…and he was known far and wide as the man who made sure that Marsden was put well and truly on the map.

The secret of his fame lay in his sergeant-major-like voice, which he used to ear-splitting effect as porter at the village station.

Whenever a train drew in at Marsden -- and there were a lot of them in those days -- Ted drew himself up to his full 6 ft, took a deep breath and then let rip.

It was only one word. But it was enough to waken the dead as the hills echoed to Ted’s stentorian “M-a-a-a-a-a-r-s-d-e-n.”

Passengers on the trains weren’t the only ones to be shaken from their slumbers. Ted could literally be heard a mile away, as people on the other side of the valley knew only too well.

Some people were grateful. Like the youth from Marsden who went courting over the top in Saddleworth every weekend. He never worried about falling asleep on the train and missing his stop because he realised Ted was sure to wake him up.

Others were most disgruntled. The residents of two houses overlooking the station complained bitterly that Ted regularly interrupted their slumbers.

But they hadn’t much of a case really. After all, he was only doing his job. And he did it so well that his bosses in British Rail reckoned he was the best in the business.

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