Jim Bell’s final instalment of the life of Cecil Culver tells us about how the Wokingham community organised its leisure and the important friendships which arose.
The Cheerio Concert Party
Despite onerous responsibilities at work Cecil found time to pursue various pastimes, one of which was participating in an entertainment group known as the Cheerio Concert Party. He had joined the group because his friend, David Goddard, who lived nearby in the Co-op cottages near the Salvation Army Hall, was a also member. David was the leading member of the concert party. Cecil felt that he had great talent and if he had had a better opportunity he would have gone a long way. Although David became Mayor of Wokingham, he was employed all of his life as a clerk on the railway.
Endowed with a flair for organisation, David organised the Wokingham Carnivals for several very successful years. He also ran a boys’ club called the The Wokingham Junior Social Club. He was a very gentle and sincere man and also ran The Wokingham Junior Old Boys’ Club and a football club. Even when the boys had grown up and moved away he maintained contact with them by correspondence David was in charge of the group and arranged transport and finance. He also sang and recited monologues. The pianist was Percy Fuller who travelled for a wines and spirits company in Reading. Wiffles Westlake, whom everybody knew, was the comedian. Bert Dicker, a delivery man for the Co-op bakery, was the singer. Curly Thatcher, who played football later in life, was the yokel farmer’s boy. Cecil was the fop and a stooge for Wiffles. The group performed two or three nights a week in the season and they were transported by Tom Herring in his taxi. Tom also carried the bags. The members of the group were always paid at the end of the season.
The Later Years
The following extracts are taken from the excellent eulogy, delivered by Rotarian David Garrod, at Cecil’s funeral service at Corpus Christi Church, Wokingham on the 30th of November 2009.
Mention must be made of Cecil’s sartorial elegance. Always dapper in appearance, he would not leave the house until, in his own words, “he was suitably accoutred”. He was, I believe, fairly extravagant for one of his early suits was made of the best barathea cloth. We remember him for his many and varied bow ties and for his colourful and embroidered waistcoats which he wore with his dinner jacket, and also for his all-enveloping cloak with scarlet lining, a wide brimmed black hat, and completing the ensemble, a silver topped cane.
He had many interests in his life, and as a youth, he was an accomplished and popular ballroom dancer. Contemporary photographs at this time show a slim, upright, good-looking young man. We know that he was well educated, well-spoken, intelligent and had a ready wit. What a package for the ladies!
He was a member of the Wokingham Theatre Company in the days when they were based in Norrey’s Avenue, though I do not know what productions he participated in. He was a popular M.C. at their social functions and dances.
He was a Vice-President of the Wokingham Horticultural Society, and later became a life member. I know that this position was rather a joke, for he was the first to admit that he knew next to nothing about horticulture. This position was perhaps an outward sign of his increasing stature in local society. They required a figurehead to officiate and present prizes at their annual shows. Soon after joining Reeves, he became a member of the Reading branch of the National Association of Warehousemen and Removers, served on the Committee for many years, and was President for a year. This association was very important for the Company and him personally, for it enabled him to develop a wide understanding of the business and of establishing contacts all over the country and thus he gained a wide circle of friends.
And so I come to his life in Rotary lasting 49 years. Ernest Reeves, his old Boss, was a founder member of the Club in 1951. He obviously decided that his efficient Manager would make an excellent addition and he was inducted in 1960. In the interests of brevity it is impossible to chronicle all his activities. At one time or another he held almost every post within the Club—Club Secretary, Bulletin Editor, Youth Exchange officer, Chairman of sub committees, and in 1968-9 he was Club President. Incidentally his wife, Edwina, was President of the Inner Wheel Club in the same year, the first such double in the Club’s history.
He was a passionate believer in the Principles of Rotary, of service above self, and in the promotion of International understanding and goodwill. Most of all, he perhaps enjoyed his contribution to the Foundation movement, where he both found possible candidates for the Youth Exchange programme, and attended rallies all over the district in support of students from overseas who had won a Rotary scholarship to study at Reading or Oxford Universities.
Within the Club, he was renowned for his knowledge of the rulebook, and on occasion did not hesitate to let us know! He was a sort of elderly troubleshooter. Many a soporific business meeting was enlivened by his comments and interjections, and he was almost always right. He also stimulated us to think again about a particular problem perhaps in a new light. His services to the Rotary Club were recognized, when in 1997, the members presented him with the award of a Paul Harris Fellowship. This singular honour was amply justified. He was the first person to receive this prize in the history of the Club.
Unhappily, in 1983, his wife Edwina underwent a major operation from which she never fully recovered. Following this, very gradually, she began to have increasing bouts of depression and also agoraphobia. She, who had been vivacious, good looking, a well dressed member of society, who loved a party, became withdrawn, self-neglectful, and a virtual recluse. Throughout the long period of her decline Cecil faithfully looked after her. He became the housewife doing the cleaning, washing and shopping without complaint. When she died in 1997 they had been married for 60 years and 12 days.
In the ensuing time he was increasingly afflicted by his failing eyesight. He had to give up driving and dispose of his car. He however remained fiercely independent continuing to look after himself and living alone at No 22 Sturges Road. He had a number of loyal friends who helped, by ferrying him about to meetings and functions. They also looked after his correspondence and his financial affairs. Others looked in on him for a chat, and when he walked through the town, he stopped many times to talk with friends.
He was very lucky in his death which was quick, clean and with the minimum of fuss. In his passing, Wokingham has not only lost one of its oldest citizens, aged 99, but also one of the most respected. I consider it highly unlikely that we will ever again have the privilege of knowing such a universally popular person, or as one of his many lady friends put it to me a day or two ago, such a lovely man.