The Sunderland man whose face was on a billboard - remember this?

Willie Amiss  - the GrandPa who had a joke and a laugh for everyone. This could be how he looked on the billboard.
Willie Amiss - the GrandPa who had a joke and a laugh for everyone. This could be how he looked on the billboard.
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We’re hoping Sunderland Echo readers can come up trumps on this one.

David Amiss has asked us to try and trace a picture of his grandfather Willie Amiss who worked for many years at Vaux Brewery in Sunderland until he died in around 1962.

A family wedding photograph with Willie Amiss second left.

A family wedding photograph with Willie Amiss second left.

David lives in Houston, Texas, but he remembers his youth which often involved visiting his relatives on Wearside despite living in Croydon.

But the picture in question is no ordinary photograph. It is a huge poster which would have been seen by millions of people.

David explained: “Before he died his picture was put on what we call in USA a ‘Billboard’ to advertise Vaux beer as you drove along the street.

“I remember when my grandmother (his widow) came by coach from Sunderland to London she said that for at least the first 100 miles, every town they went through she saw his big smiling face on the advert.

I do not know how long he worked for Vaux but I believe it was a long time. Nana was sweet with GrandPa being the constant jokester with everyone he met young and old - one of those people that everybody loved to be around

David Amiss

“I am desperately trying to find a copy of that billboard. I have spent long periods looking on websites without luck.”

David added: “I am 95% sure he was pictured in one of those flat caps they wore at the time - with a BIG smile.”

William Henry Amiss was his full name but he “went by Willie,” said David.

He was born on September 14 in 1886, David believes. He added: “He and his wife (Margaret I think - I really only knew them as GrandPa and Nana Amiss) had two children - boys.

Willie Amiss.

Willie Amiss.

“They lived for many many years in Fern Street, Sunderland, (possibly no longer existing but it was near the top of the hill where the old tram station was located).

“It was a terraced house with no front garden and just a small outside concrete yard, where I would practice kicking small balls, and a narrow alleyway at the back.

“The only toilet was in that outside yard which also contained two large beer barrels, presumably from Vaux. The barrels were arranged to catch rain water off the toilet roof for us to wash with, as the water was so hard.”

David went further into his childhood memories and said: “The first I remember visiting was in the early 50s where their only lighting was gas, so we had to carefully light the lights in the evening.

“I always remember being woken at their house at 8am as the beeps from the radio announced the BBC 8am news. No television of course.

“I do not know how long he worked for Vaux but I believe it was a long time. Nana was sweet with GrandPa being the constant jokester with everyone he met young and old - one of those people that everybody loved to be around.

“Nana and my Mother exchanged weekly letters as I grew up. GrandPa always included a joke for me. One I always remember was “what do you get by crossing a kangaroo with a sheep - a wooly jumper!”

David’s father was born on September 13, 1913 and was also called William Henry but known as Billy. “I am an only child,” said David.

My Father met Margaret Black, youngest of 9 children from South View, Fulwell in the 1930s but decided to wait until he returned from North Africa and Middle East in the Second World War before marrying in Sunderland at Roker Presbyterian Church on August 1, 1945.

Ironically, the romance had a painful episode as they said goodbye in the war years. “As she saw him off on the train to war, he jammed her hand in the train door!,” said David.

“My father had extremely high educational status but in 1945 there were not any jobs in Sunderland so he walked all the way to London, initially getting a job selling men’s clothing at a London department shop before my mother joined him. “Although he later got an office job it was never close to what he was qualified for so they lived very frugally.

“I arrived on September 26, 1946 in Croydon where we lived in a tiny two-room flat for 12 years.”

Tragedy struck on 1962 when the grandfather he loved passed away.

“Not sure of exact dates but around 1962 we got the letter that GrandPa died. He’d gone to the doctor saying he felt unwell. Doctor assured him he was OK but he died shortly afterwards.”

David’s a big football fan but his big hope for now is that we track down a copy of that billboard picture.

Can anyone help David to enjoy the memories.

If so, email chris.cordner’jpress.co.uk