Richard Whiteley (28th December 1943 to 26th June 2005)

 

I remember reading that Richard Whitley was staying in The Grand Hotel in Brighton in the eighties when it was bombed by the IRA (he was the first journalist to interview Margaret Thatcher.) Up until that time I thought he was just the television presenter of Countdown for twenty-three years. I didnt know hed been a polished, respected journalist for many years. While driving through the spectacular countryside near Wensleydale I just had to visit the rural church where hes buried. Hes near Leyburn, a small village amid rolling countryside. The main square was heaving with Easter visitors that Friday evening. I was going to pull over and people-watch with a frothy coffee and some peanut butter on toast but the sun was setting already. I thought better drive out to the church first, about two miles from the hub of things. I knew he'd be easy to find as churchyards in the middle of nowhere are smaller than the municipal cemeteries for the masses. I found it quickly, almost instantly. A wreath usually declares someone a note lies beneath it.

 

Richard spent his childhood in Baildon on the outskirts of Bradford in Yorkshire (his family owned a textile mill). He was a bright lad, winning a scholarship to fee-charging Giggleswick School (his English teacher was soon-to-be-tv-presenter Russell Harty) before heading for Cambridge university. He joined the just-formed Yorkshire Television and became the regular face of Calendar, an early evening regional news programme. Though a respected reported with an eye for a swoop he probably famous for being savaged by a ferret live on local news. It clamped to his finger for half a minute before its owner dislodged it - you can see it here...

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9xHEj3Gk4Q

 

He was in his late thirties when he endeared himself to millions of television viewers as the avuncular anchor of the cult word game Countdown (still going). It wasnt meant to last for long but audiences - mainly pensioners and university students - warmed to this friendly, pruning, bumbling favourite-uncle-type of host and hed go on to make over 10,000 appearances over twenty-three years. He appeared on British television more than any other person apart from Carole Hersee who is the young girl who appeared on the BBC's Test Card. The resplendent 200+ vivid jackets and 500+ natty ties helped. To combat his sexless relaxed nature Carol Vorderman joined the show with a brill brain and brill bum. The Queen was a regular viewer of the programme and gave him an OBE.

 

Outside television hed been married in the 1960s but it only lasted two years. His long-term girlfriend was Kathryn Apanowicz, a the radio presenter and actress. The newspapers nicknamed him Twice Nightly Whiteley as he often appeared on both Countdown and Calendar in the same day. However this could sometimes apply to his trouser mamba as the red-top newspapers reported hed had many girlfriends and fathered a son in the 1980s. Aged 64 he was taken into hospital in Leeds with pneumonia. He wasn't recovering very quickly and doctors found he was suffering from endocarditis (inflammation of the heart). Surgeons performed an operation to fix it but it failed and Richard died two days later.

 

I found the grave in the back corner of the church, facing a hedge. There's little room for future burials. I bet Richard booked this plot in a splendid rural Yorkshire setting many years ago though I bet he didn't think he'd go so soon. "Broadcaster and Yorkshireman" are carved into the headstone. I ran my fingers over the indentations, stepped back and did a salute. I'm not sure I'll come this way again - I never have before. I wondered if the stonemason charged extra for the "OBE". I was glad I'd parked the motorhome away from a gate as when I returned to it a farmer atop a tractor was just about the enter the abutting field. He looked like he's have bitten my head off had I obstructed access. I stroked some friendly cows in the field across the road and said "nice one" when one emitted a long rumbling trump worthy of an elephant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from Richard's headstone...

 

 

Cows across the road...

 

I'm sure this was the one that delivered a trump that lasted for over ten seconds...

 

I spent the night by the road after visiting Richard. It was almost silent at night...