Dalesman’s Diary: July 2024

A Dalesman’s Diary

July 2024

They are quite different, Maureen Prest and Elaine Laycock, but much more unites than divides these daughters of Yorkshire.

Both are possessed of that steely northern grit and determination to get things done and right what they see as wrongs, both are indomitably focussed, and both are blessed with rare good humour.

Furthermore, both have featured in your magazine over the past year. Not for reasons of self-aggrandisement – no, for women like these don’t seek glory, they are in fact both as quietly humble as they are fiercely dogged.

We featured them because both wanted to honour others.

Elaine Laycock with husband Richard when she was awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace

In Elaine’s case, she wanted a memorial to humanitarian aid workers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their efforts to help others.

For Maureen, she wanted a blue plaque to mark the legacy of John L Corrigan – the visionary behind the famed Batley Variety Club.

Well, thanks to their shared attributes of never knowing when they are beaten, these two women have overcome very many odds to achieve their goals.

Recently, Maureen was there when the plaque was unveiled at the former venue.

Sir Cliff Richard sent his best wishes and said: “The Batley Variety Club was the place to play in those early years, and when the offer to play was there I jumped at it!

“The northern audience was terrific, the staff were friendly and James was a gentleman – so very welcoming. Did I like being there? Yes, I absolutely did.”

Maureen Prest with her biography of James Corrigan

Neil Sedaka, added: “I have wonderful memories of Batley Variety Club and the Corrigans, they were very kind to me and supportive of my music during my Hunger Years period.

“The audiences were some of the greatest I’ve ever played for. This plaque is well deserved and overdue.

“I honour a great man, James and his wife Betty.”

And Declan Clusky of The Bachelors, the first band to play the club, said: “To Maureen and all British music hall folk, The Bachelors adored the idea of Batley Variety Club.

“The day we laid the foundation stone was magical, James and Betty paraded the three of us through the town of Batley in a convertible American car.

“I am very proud to say we were the first top of the bill artists to open what became a legend in the world of showbusiness, Batley Variety Club.

“This club was the trailblazer. James showed the world of showbusiness how to do it, how to have the biggest stars and yes, how to give them the best dressing rooms.”

James Corrigan, with his Rolls-Royce outside the club

And Shirley Bassey added: “James, always the joker, asked me if I’d like to go for dinner one evening. I accepted and we arranged for the Friday after the show.

“I got all dressed up in a mink jacket and a cocktail gown. He took me to a fish and chip takeaway! When the opposition approached me to play other venues, I refused.”

It was a proud day for Maureen, of Birstall, as the plaque was unveilled by Billy Pearce and Bernie Clifton.

Billy Pearce and Bernie Clifton at the unveiling of the plaque

Meanwhile Elaine, a doctor, originally from Idle in Bradford, who is now based in north London, looks set to have her memorial to humanitarian aid workers unveiled in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London next to Florence Nighingale’s memorial.

The design has finally been agreed by the cathedral leadership team and it is being created by the celebrated sculptor Charlotte Howarth.

The inscription is expected to read: ‘In celebration of humanitarian aid workers helping those in need whoever and wherever they are and in remembrance of those who have died in pursuit of their calling.’

Elaine hopes that it will be installed in the next few months.

The achievement to honour her fellow aid workers follows on from the years she spent in war zones around the world, helping those caught up in conflict.

Both women are far too modest to boast of their achievements – but we at The Dalesman think they should be very proud.

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