Been and gone: River Kwai soldier and father of the Cortina
- 2 June 2013
- From the section Magazine
Our regular column covering the deaths of significant - but lesser-reported - people in the past month.
Reg Twigg was reported to be the last British survivor of the 60,000 Allied prisoners of war forced by the Japanese to build the infamous "death railway" between Thailand and Burma. He was serving with the Leicestershire Regiment when Singapore fell in 1942 and forced to march with his comrades through the jungle. He then spent three years of what he described as "a living hell" in a project which saw the deaths of 16,000 PoWs and a further 90,000 Asian civilian workers. In extracts from his memoir, Survivor on the River Kwai, he described how he managed to stay alive by eating lizards and snakes and observed prisoners being beaten to death by Japanese guards for minor transgressions of the rules. He said he was determined to survive against all the odds. "Darwinists call it the survival of the fittest; I'd call it survival of the most selfish bastards imaginable."
British professional wrestling has a history going back to the 19th Century but television brought it to a new audience, making stars of competitors such as Mick McManus. Millions tuned in on a Saturday afternoon to watch men of various sizes (women were banned in the early days) grunt and groan their way through choreographed moves described by the soft tones of commentator Kent Walton. McManus, who was 5ft 6in tall and seemingly almost as broad, cultivated the persona of the man the audience loved to hate. In this guise he often attracted abuse and sometimes blows from the umbrellas of the ladies sat at ringside. The length and success of his career was partly due to the fact he was responsible for running the London office of the sport's promoters. Away from the ring, he was an avid collector of antique porcelain and owned a pub in Surrey.
The appointment of Terry Beckett - later Sir Terence - as head of the Ford Motor Company in the UK in 1974 coincided with the beginning of a period of economic decline and industrial unrest. Strikes were commonplace and a nine-week walkout in 1978 severely hit Ford at a time when foreign manufacturers, especially the Japanese, were making inroads into the British car market. Beckett had some sympathy with his workers who were seeing their income eroded by rampant inflation and often made the case to the Labour government, which was attempting to implement a wage cap, that increasing wages would also increase productivity.
Before taking the top job, Beckett had been a high-flyer at Ford overseeing the development of the hugely successful Cortina and the Transit line of vans. When he left Ford he became director-general of the Confederation of British industry (CBI), where he famously clashed with the Thatcher government's monetarist policies, calling for better tax incentives for business.
Behind David Bowie's androgynous Ziggy Stardust was his backing band, The Spiders from Mars, featuring Trevor Bolder on bass. Like his friend Mick Ronson, Bolder was a down-to-earth bloke from Hull who never really felt comfortable in the make-up and platform heels that went with the Ziggy image. Bowie nicknamed him Weird and, as such, he got a name check in the opening line of the title track of the Ziggy Stardust album. He also played on the albums Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups before Bowie split with the band. Like the other Spiders, he did not share the financial rewards reaped by Bowie and was shocked when the singer abandoned his former band mates to make Diamond Dogs. Bolder later worked with progressive rock outfit Wishbone Ash, in between spells with Uriah Heep, and developed as an accomplished songwriter.
An actor of extraordinary versatility, Aubrey Woods was probably best known for his role as Bill the Candyman in the 1971 musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder in the title role. By this time Woods had been performing for 25 years, making his London stage debut in 1947. Over the next two decades he became a fixture in the West End, as much at home with Shakespeare as he was with musicals. He was a regular on BBC Radio, notably performing in his own adaptations of EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels. He became something of a specialist in the works of Charles Dickens, including BBC TV productions of Bleak House and The Old Curiosity Shop. He appeared as the Controller in Day of the Daleks, a 1972 Doctor Who adventure which marked the re-appearance of the exterminating aliens after a lapse of five years.
When Tom Champagne was appointed as the prize draw manager at the Reader's Digest, his bosses suggested he adopt a pseudonym in case people doubted that was his real name. He refused and took to carrying his birth certificate as proof. For 15 years, he oversaw the despatch of the envelopes containing offers of cash prizes which always included an added incentive for returning the forms within 14 days. Champagne organised the bi-annual prize-giving ceremonies at which TV celebrities - hired to hand out the cheque - were often disappointed to find the winners really wanted to meet Champagne. After his retirement in 2003 he ran a tourist business on Orkney.
Also missed in May:
- Arnold Peters, who played businessman Jack Wooley in The Archers
- Bill Pertwee, author and character actor famous as Warden Hodges in Dad's Army
- The pioneer of stop-motion film animation, Ray Harryhausen
- Actor, writer and film director Bryan Forbes
- Ray Manzarek, keyboard player with The Doors
- The man who put the words into the mouths of Morecambe and Wise, Eddie Braben
- Paul Shane, star of Hi de Hi! and You Rang M'Lord?