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Denis Manners MBE,
them on their first outing - to his village folk events to perform
the Eight Bells in Long Crendon (some, such as John Kirkpatrick
– where the landlord challenged and Roy Bailey, now internationally
Smile, you buggers!
local boys who were taking the famous). He ran the festival for
mick to have a go too, resulting in its first 12 years, originally to fund
the second side for which Denis the refurbishment of the village
was directly responsible. hall which was in danger of being
demolished. The first event took
wlswick Morris members and children Jennie and Nick, later
Apart from these, Towersey
are among hundreds, if to be joined by an adopted son,
place over half a day and included
spawned another three sides
not thousands, of people Tim. He joined the Kidlington Folk
a procession featuring local
– Owlswick, Cry Havoc (Botley,
who have reason to be grateful Dance Group at a time when men
residents carrying the tools of their
Oxford) and Lagabag (Suffolk)
to Denis for their introduction were very much in the minority at
trade. It was a huge success:
- all mixed-sex. Unlike the more
to a lifetime’s enjoyment of folk such gatherings. With his interest
crowds turned up, the village was
chauvinistic Morris men of his
and/or Morris dancing. in song as well as dance (he could
packed with cars, and the pub ran
generation, Denis was all in favour
produce a spirited rendering of
out of beer at five o’clock.
Denis, who died on January 2nd,
of women dancing Morris, so long
The Village Pump well into old
grew up in Harrow, and after
as they danced it well. He liked Once the village hall was safe,
age), he ran a folk club at the
returning from military service in
dancers to look as though they the festival committee turned its
Mason’s Arms in Headington.
WW2 (during which he fought
were enjoying themselves – hence collective mind towards raising
in Africa, was captured and His initiation into the world of
his best-known catchphrase (one money to buy a playing field for
marched round for three months Morris came through a friend in
of many): “Smile you buggers!” local children, and to the setting
as a POW), became a youth the Woodcraft Folk at Kidlington,
up of the Friends of the Festival, of
Apart from his Morris activities
officer in Watford. This was his and he was taught by Kenworthy
which Denis was a trustee. (This
(which also included seven
first opportunity to subvert the Schofield, whose disciplined
provides grants to people who
years as Squire of Oxford City),
local youth culture with traditional approach he took to heart
want to make a future in the arts.)
earning a living as an agricultural
dance, and he made the most and applied with vigour to the
consultant, and work for the In 1998 Denis received the MBE
of it. somewhat rough material (!!!)
peace movement, Denis was ‘for the promotion of Morris
awaiting him on his move to
The Oxfordshire story started in
continually busy on the wider folk dancing in Oxfordshire’ - one
Towersey in the early 1960s.
the late 1950s when Denis moved
front. He was a popular caller and of the more unusual citations
Once he’d got the Towersey lads
to Kidlington with his wife Sheila
instigated social dance sessions in that year’s Honours list.
into some sort of shape he took
before the Towersey Morris Owlswick members were proud
practices. “He used to walk us to be at Thame Town Hall to see
through the dances, guide us by him honoured and to help him
the hand if we got in a muddle, celebrate on this occasion and
and always encourage us to on his 70th and 80th birthdays.
have a go at something new” It was wonderful, on his 70th,
remembers Sue Davis (who with to have him join Owlswick to
her second husband Richard went dance ‘Dearest Dickie’, and very
on to found Lagabag). “I owe a lot poignant when, at the celebration
of my later lifestyle to Denis and of his life on January 23, 2009,
his love for dance.” Owlswick danced it again under a
new name: ‘Dearest Denis’.
Out of these dance sessions Denis
developed a demonstration team In 2006 Denis had moved with
(Towersey Flying Circus), which Sheila and Jennie to Nottingham,
included Delly Blane (a founder nearer to the rest of his growing
member of Owlswick). She recalls family. We were pleased he
what the poor man had to cope was able to get to the 2008
with: “We were all very young Towersey Festival and help us
when he took us to bookings wind up Owlswick’s year of 25th
and on holidays and he showed anniversary activities, though it
amazing patience. He put up was evident that Sheila’s death, a
with people arriving drunk on the couple of months earlier, had left
stage, lovestruck girls crying their him frailer and much saddened.
eyes out in the digs in Ireland,
even smoke bombs being planted
Delly sums up his importance
on one occasion, which almost led
to her and husband Chris
to a pier being evacuated and the
(Owlswick’s Squire), and by
fire brigade called out!”
implication to many, many others:
“I suppose without Denis our lives
Denis instigated popular ceilidhs would have been quite different
in the barn of the village’s Three because we would probably
Horseshoes and as well as setting never have met! Who knows
a very high standard of dance, what our social life would have
insisted upon courtesy during been like without the dancing? I
other artists’ performances, loudly can’t imagine it would have been
‘shushing’ anyone who dared to so fulfilling and if Denis hadn’t
speak while others were singing. introduced us to it we wouldn’t
have considered it – he was a very
Towersey Festival was his idea
special man.”
and he was able to call upon
singers he’d got to know through Julie Webb
The Living Tradition - Page 12
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