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24 September 2014

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Move over, Charlie Dimmock
Percy Thrower in the Blue Peter garden, 1986
Percy Thrower teaches Peter Duncan a thing or two about hanging baskets in the Blue Peter garden

Imagine a world with no Alan Tichmarsh, no Charlie Dimmock, no Monty Don and no Diarmuid Gavin.

Okay. We know that sounds appealing. But the point is, without Percy Thrower, it's likely that none of them would be on the telly.

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Percy Thrower was born in January 1913, the son of a head gardener at Hornwood House in Buckinghamshire.

He started work for the Royal Gardens at Windsor at the age of 14, where he met Connie, his future wife.

After his wedding, Percy decided to leave private estates and work for council parks departments, living in Leeds and Derby before settling in Shrewsbury.

Percy Thrower is the unwitting father of the whole TV gardening genre - and like most of his modern day successors, he was a gardener first and being a TV personality was a rather distant second.

Percy was 32 years old when he first set foot in Shrewsbury to take up the job of Park Superintendent.

His first job was controversial - to fell the lime trees lining the avenue of The Quarry park - and didn't win him many friends in the town.

But the issue could not be fudged and Percy made sure the job was done.

During the war years the Dingle in the Quarry had fallen into a sad state, and one of Percy's next tasks was to bring it back to life. Little did he know that this small piece of ground would also launch his 30 year broadcasting career, too.

Percy Thrower with his beloved fuschias
Percy with his beloved fuchsias

One day in 1947 a visitor walked into Quarry Lodge, at the entrance to the park, and asked who was in charge of the Dingle, which by now had become a floral paradise.

When Percy replied that he was, the visitor introduced himself as Godfrey Baseley, presenter of a radio programme called 'Beyond the Back Door'. He asked Percy if he'd like to join him on the programme. Percy, of course, accepted and the rest is history.

For the next three decades Percy became a celebrity who was genuinely loved by his audience. In 1962 he made the transition from radio to television, eventually making Gardeners' World his own.

And when he left the BBC (he wanted to do adverts for a gardening product) he was still able to pass on his knowledge to children in the Blue Peter programme.

Percy Thrower statue unveiled at the 2005 Shrewsbury Flower Show
Percy Thrower statue unveiled at the 2005 Shrewsbury Flower Show

But Percy never let his broacasting commitments get in the way of his work locally. He played a huge role in making the Shrewsbury Flower Show the consistent success it has become - he was the show's horticultural adviser for more than 40 years, as well as a former chairman.

He also won a few show medals, most notably for his fuschias, which drew big crowds at the show.

Meanwhile, Percy was a media darling, being ambushed by Eamonn Andrews for an edition of This is Your Life, and even appearing as a guest on the Morecambe & Wise Show. He was awarded the MBE in 1984, and had numerous awards from the Royal Horticultural Society.

He also wrote numerous books, as well as starting his own garden centre(now managed by his three daughters). Percy's name is also carried by dozens of plant varieties, too.

But despite all this fame and fortune, Percy remained down to earth and, above all, approachable.

He was always happy to dish out advice to any gardener who asked, and could often be seen puffing away at his pipe behind the counter at his garden centre, giving advice to anyone who had a few questions.

In an interview with Radio Shropshire before his death in 1988, Percy acknowledged that his success came from being down to earth, straightforward and sincere, as well as keeping his feet on the ground.

Percy was a rarity among famous Salopians, most of whom had moved away from the area before winning fame.

Even at the height of his success he continued to throw himself into his commitments in Shropshire, and he would go to great pains to point out that all his various awards were for Shrewsbury people, too.

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