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In the summer of 1952 I was working at the Dudley Hippodrome as a unicyclist, and Billy was the celebrity compere for a week. He was a magnificent all-round sportsman, excellent at football, cricket and golf. But he could not conquer my unicycle! We posed for publicity photographs with Billy on the bike, and I had to hold him up! I used to sit in his dressing-room with him between performances, and I found out just what a lovely man he was. He had no conceit or vanity in him whatsoever.

DOUG SMOUT Redditch


I never had the opportunity to meet the man, but I feel honoured and privileged to have this story to tell. It will I hope go some way to show just what a thoughtful, generous person Billy was and similarly his wife Joy.

Firstly, let me explain the background. I am a 37 year old Police Officer with the West Midlands Police with 17 years service. I am in particular a lifelong Aston Villa supporter, a lover of all sports in general and to some degree a bit of a sporting romantic and traditionalist.

In the summer of 1993 my wife and I made a failed attempt to set up and run a restaurant business based on a sporting theme. In doing so I was on the lookout for various items of sporting memorabilia. I decided to approach the sports stars of both past and present in order to swell my collection for use as display items in the restaurant. I subsequently wrote to 40 sports personalities. I chose them based on their perceived greatness in their chosen sport, together with those who were favourites of mine. Billy was one of those I chose to approach.

Of the forty letters sent, surprisingly to me, I had a near 100% response. Unsurprisingly in many respects, the majority refused to offer any items, citing various reasons, with some making offers to supply, conditional to us getting our venture off the ground. Of course this was probably what I expected as they did not know me at all, other than what I wrote in the letter. The exception was Billy. I am still flabbergasted as to his response.

A few weeks later in the post I received a parcel with 85 pence worth of postage paid. On opening the despatch I was astonished to find a Mexican football jersey, the old style, very thick cotton, unwashed, with the number 6 on the reverse. Together with the shirt was a letter, beautifully hand written on "Beverley Sisters" headed note paper. It read:

'Dear Mark R, On the road, Oct 14, '93

'I have a funny feeling that Billy will not be getting around to answering your very interesting letter for a while. So I want to thank you for your interest, wish you luck with your venture - sounds promising, keep at it, YOU WILL MAKE IT!

'I have my eye on a Mexican football shirt (you know they exchange shirts). I will try to get my husband to fill you in with the date etc. You may have to wait a week or two.

'Meantime, we are in the middle of a 54 week concert tour.

'Send you best wishes ... Joy Beverley.'

Together with the letter were two photographs of Billy, one signed by the man himself, a signed photograph of the Beverley Sisters and pinned to the shirt itself was a small piece of square plain paper, on which was written in his own hand:

"May 24th 1959 - What a small jersey! No wonder I could not mark him!" It was signed, Billy Wright.

Now to the majority of people this small offering might not seem out of the ordinary, but what makes it so special to me is the context in which it was sent. Neither Billy or Joy had the slightest idea who I was or indeed who I am today nearly 10 years on. Lets face it, he didn't even have to reply to my original letter. The time they took over the matter, the trust they put in me and the sincerity of the response I found and still do find very touching indeed.

Billy and Joy's response was a perfect example of a couple from a bygone age and generation, when trust, loyalty and sincerity were the foundations on which heroes were made. .I feel this is also backed up by an associated point, in that the other sports stars who subsequently offered me items were, Roger Bannister, Virginia Wade and Tony Jacklin - get my drift !!

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not talking about some half baked centre half for Scunthorpe! This was a legend who played 105 times for England !! I never met Billy in person and I never saw him play live, but he will always be a hero of mine.

MARK RAFFERTY Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

29 TRIBUTES

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