LIKE many people across this newspaper’s distribution area I was sad to hear about the death of Tony Beard — the ‘Wag from Widecombe’ over the weekend.
I would like to take this opportunity to reflect and share with readers some personal memories and information about this very knowledgeable, positive, inspirational and passionate gentleman who I have had the privilege of knowing all my life.
My mother and Tony went to Widecombe Primary School together and they had a close friendship throughout their respective lives and careers in the local community.
Tony was a dairy farmer and local milkman who delivered 400 pints over a 17-mile daily trip. My mother, after a few years’ teaching came home to run the village shop in Poundsgate. Apart from running a farm Tony had already diversified into being an accomplished entertainer who loved to make people laugh. When he got to the shop which was about half way round (and quite often over a coffee) he would test out some new jokes bringing locals and visitors alike roaring with laughter.
Now the unpasteurised milk was delivered in robust seethrough plastic bags which always took some explaining to visitors. I can recall one visitor asking Tony ‘Is this milk fresh?’ His quick retort was ‘Of course it is this milk was grass only a couple of hours ago.’
His life in the entertainment world started at Widecombe when he (and a couple of other local people) set up an amateur dramatic society in 1965 called the Moorland Merrymakers which is still successfully going today. His sharp humour and wit and the ability to make people laugh is now well documented through his work on BBC Radio Devon, particularly the Sunday request show and Dartmoor diary.
I recall my first live radio broadcast was on the Dartmoor diary show and he put me at ease by saying just ‘tell us as it is on the ground.’
Tony was well known across Devon for undertaking cabaret acts, music halls, folk festivals, after dinner speeches, opening shows and fetes, commentating at rural shows, quiz master, writing articles and books. . .the list is endless.
From Dartmoor National Park’s perspective he has helped us on many occasions particularly on things involving nature and archaeology and as an after dinner speaker at conferences.
He was closely involved with our 50th anniversary celebrations and at our 60th he kindly offered to oversee a Dartmoor quiz we hosted with parish council members. He was a staunch supporter of the Local History Day – chairing the annual meeting of all of the local history groups that the DNPA convened.
To me he was a mentor and showed the importance of community and he was the voice of common sense on all countryside and rural matters.
He was instrumental in starting the Widecombe History Club in 1997, was an excellent secretary and enjoyed receiving email information requests from across the world.
I will end with one of his jokes. When a visitor asked: ‘Have you lived here all your life?’ Tony’s quick answer was ‘No not yet!’
Widecombe, Dartmoor and Devon have lost a great ambassador and friend. My (as I am sure are readers’) condolences are with his family.