Love notes from some ladies, a letter from ‘a spy’. . . where the hell did I put them?

1990
LETTER FROM A SPY? The note Richard Whitley sent to Julian Cole

IT took a while to find my ‘letter from a spy in the photograph above. First, I misdirected myself towards the old tin box filled with letters and postcards.

A search failed to find the note there, although ten minutes or so were spent reading letters from dead friends. There were also (what it might be a stretch to call) love letters, but, certainly, communications from old girlfriends. Alongside letters from my grandmother in Southampton, sadly long gone (Eunice Cole, that is; Southampton is still around) lay   letters from girls I met on holiday — some remembered, some forgotten.

There was also a newspaper cutting with a picture of a girl lacing up her running shoes. This had been wrapped in clear sticky tape with the name ‘Averil’ written on the back. She ran in the Commonwealth Games once, or perhaps she didn’t; It was a long time ago. Averil obviously meant something to me at the time.

The dead correspondents were two friends from university, also long gone, and there were letters and postcards, too, from a university friend who is thankfully still around.

But of the note I once received from the alleged MI5 ‘spook’ Richard Whiteley there was no sign. Until I remembered that  ‘work letters’ I kept in a different place.

Known for his jovial manner, loud jackets and robust bonhomie, Whiteley was a TV presenter, the first reporter to speak on Yorkshire Television and, in another first, the presenter of the first programme on Channel 4, which was Countdown.

Whitely: colourful and bumbling. . . but hardly James Bond

He was also a ‘spook’, if a recent Daily Mirror tell-all is to be believed: ‘Countdown’s Richard Whiteley was M15 spy’ was the headline splashed all over the front page.

This accusation comes from ‘Royle Family’ actor Ricky Tomlinson, who claim’s the broadcaster was an MI5 spy who helped put him and other striking workers behind bars in the 1970s.

Tomlinson said that if he’d known this when he appeared on Countdown, he would have ‘throttled’ Whiteley. The actor believes that a documentary fronted by the bumbling, loveable Whiteley showed unions in a bad light and was screened as the jury in his trial was out deliberating.

Tomlinson, a former plasterer, was later jailed and has been campaigning to clear his name — and those of the other Shrewsbury pickets — ever since.

Tomlinson: Whiteley got me jailed in the ’70s, he claims

The actor insists he was the victim of a political conspiracy. You can see why he remains bitter, although his recent appearance on Who Do You Think You Are suggested a man much taken with obsessions, as well as a man kept in line by his sensible wife.

Whiteley died in 2005, so he isn’t around to rebuff these claims, but his partner, Kathryn Apanowicz, laughed off Tomlinson’s suggestions as “nonsense”.

The reason for the lether from a man who may have been a spy (although that does seem a stretch as he spent much of his life appearing on live television programmes) was that I’d been along to interview Whiteley and watch a recording of Countdown.

The short note said: “Thank you very much for sending me the piece the other day which I thought was very good and accurate – except for the phrase ‘Whiteley’s feeble quip’. Regards, Richard W.”

Perhaps ‘Richard W’ was his spy handle or something? Anyway, this got me thinking about letters and how in the future there won’t be any such bits of paper to dig back into (and by the future I probably mean now, as the future does tend to sneak up on us). I have neither written nor received a personal letter in years, so another tiin box won’t be needed.

Incidentally, the ‘live’ university friend who sent me postcards has a son who has appeared on Countdown recently. The recording was in Manchester (the Leeds studio lost that gig a long time ago). My friend’s son had a great time on the show, and says that co-presenter Rachel Riley is as lovely in person as she is on screen.

And to think: when I went along I only got to meet a fruity old ‘alleged’ spy and listen to his feeble quips.

But then Rachel was probably only about four or five years old at the time.

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