Hollywood comes to Clennon Valley

Torbay Weekly

Sadly, I was just not born with the features that attract talent spotters from the film industry, but, just once, back in 1974, I got a phone call that raised my hopes!

“My name is Fortescue, and I’m calling you from a film studio which belongs to the Rank Organisation,” he began.

“Tomorrow afternoon, I will be at the Imperial Hotel, and hope you will join me there for afternoon tea.”

He refused to reveal any more details, but, of course, I brushed my hair, practiced my smile, and promised to be there.

When I met him, he explained that he was an agent working for Visnews, the London-based international news agency, and that his bosses had read about the formation of a retro-Victorian football team called the Torbay Gentlemen.

For the next hour, over tea and petit fours, he asked me details of exactly what happened on a typical match day.

He didn’t seem interested in the concept, nor the club rules... he just wanted to know about the visual stuff.

When the questions ended, he said: “Right! Here’s the deal!”

Visnews would make a film of a Saturday in the life of the Torbay Gentlemen.

They would pay for lunch, and dinner, and undertake the worldwide distribution of the film.

We would get a free copy of it for our own use, and, probably, invitations to visit countries from all around the world! How about it?

In the days that followed, our committee agreed to the deal, and, on Saturday, November 30, 1974, the film crews arrived and parked two buses at Torquay harbour.

We had chosen the nearby 'Hansom Cab' restaurant to be our base, and, at 11am, the team met for a filmed, pre-match tactics talk over a glass of port.

At midday, the ladies joined them for lunch, and the cameras were loving it!

We were due to play a South Devon League match in the afternoon and had arranged to arrive at Clennon Valley in style.

While Lionel Digby helped us to stage a suffragette protest, the rest of our members arrived in costume to support their team.

Lionel had done his bit, and the cameras skipped from policeman, to soldier, to milkmaid. All gathered at Clennon for a local league soccer match!

The cameramen enjoyed it, but what our opponents thought has never been recorded!

Just before kick-off, the team arrived in two horse-drawn carriages, already changed, and ready for the fray.

Our captain, Ray Haydock, called us together, and delivered a prepared pep-talk, aimed to amuse a worldwide audience...

“Compared with you fine gentlemen, sirs, this lot are nought but a bunch of pot-walloping hayseeds... but just you be mindful of their hobnails!”

For the next 90 minutes, 11 old blokes posed after every tackle, and smoothed down their hair after every header.

At half-time, two of our kitchen-maids served the wine on silver trays, and, in the changing room afterwards, we even spotted one of our more talented strikers furtively removing a comb which he had hidden behind a shin pad!

A 2-2 draw was not really what we had planned for, but our worthy opponents, from the South Hams, had enjoyed bringing some rural reality to our day of pageant!

As I changed, after the match, I wondered if it was the first time that the pegs of the Clennon Valley changing huts had ever displayed Dickie bows and waistcoats!

That night we had our usual post-match dinner together, and the film ends with a toast to Lord Kinnaird and his legacy of comradeship, fair play, and honest exercise.

Did I ever get the call from Hollywood?

Not likely! Halfway through the film, I get 'nutmegged' by a teenaged winger, and end up on my backside!

But, there was one nice surprise in store for us.

Just two days after the film’s release, a letter dropped on to my mat.

It was from the Gibraltar Football Association inviting us to visit the territory in the following February... but more of that next week!