‘I will miss our Madhatter’s tea parties and our talks of cabbages and kings’ – Sunderland’s Alice in Wonderland man dies

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A MAN who chronicled some of Wearside’s most fascinating stories has died.

Tributes have poured in for Michael Bute, 68, who penned books devoted to Alice in Wonderland’s links to Sunderland in A Town Like Alice’s as well as collaborating with boxing hero Tony Jeffries for the book The Olympian.

Author Bryan Talbot, who wrote best-seller Alice in Sunderland, said: “I couldn’t have done Alice in Sunderland without Michael’s book. He did all the primary research.

“I also couldn’t have done it without him himself. He was so generous with his time and knowledge. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Sunderland and Lewis Carroll.”

Michael, who lived in Sunderland city centre, died of a stroke on Saturday. He had spent years studying author Lewis Carroll’s links with Wearside and how the area inspired his fantasy tales.

His book suggests that Sunderland was the real Wonderland, that the White Rabbit came from Hylton Castle’s Bunny Hill and the origin of Carroll’s Walrus is the stuffed specimen in Sunderland Museum.

Michael was also passionate about the success story of Sunderland fighter Tony Jeffries, who went from working in a burger van outside the Stadium of Light to becoming an Olympic bronze medallist.

Speaking from his home in LA, Tony said: “I was absolutely gutted to hear the news about Michael Bute passing away. Michael was a great man. I got very close to him after the 2008 Olympics.

“His brother Bobby was like a father figure to me. He was the man that taught me how to box from day one.

“Michael wrote a brilliant book about me and his brother, The Olympian, that was number one selling in Waterstone’s over Christmas 2008.

“I will miss him a lot.”

Michael was a bachelor and was exceptionally close to his sisters Marie Fitzsimmons, Brenda Tumilty and Sheila Bute, who say he was at his happiest when with his extended family.

Sheila said: “Whenever Michael returned from his many worldwide travels he always said that when he saw Penshaw Monument and the Land of the Prince Bishops, he knew he was home.

“Michael had a unique and brilliant passion as an ambassador for his city of Sunderland. His unique zest for life knew no bounds.

“Mike, you have passed through the looking glass of time and no doubt your adventures will get ‘curioser and curioser’.

“I will miss our Madhatter’s tea parties and our talks of ‘cabbages and kings.’”

•Michael’s funeral will take place at Sunderland Minster at 9.30am next Thursday.

Twitter: @sunechokaty