Starry-eyed children loved this Sunderland policeman with a difference

A generation of Sunderland people will remember the genial police officer who kept them entertained every Christmas when they were children.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 11:04 am

Pc Bill Ford was not only a fine policeman.

He was just as adept at putting on a comedy routine each year. He did it for the sons and daughters of Wearside’s policemen and women.

They were all ready to watch Uncle Bill in the 1950s. Can anyone recognise themselves in the shot and what was the venue?

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Chris Cordner had the privilege of meeting Bill who reflected on great times.

For 30 years, he served in the Force as an officer and then a Detective Sergeant.

But Bill Ford was much more than that to Sunderland children. For decades, wide-eyed youngsters would get to watch Uncle Bill, the man who loved to get on stage and do a comedy routine.

There was slapstick, a bit of magic and he would let the children throw all sorts at him.

That custard pie moment for Bill - but at least it was his own recipe!

It was a big part of the annual police children’s party at Christmas. There would be a singer, food, party games and the high spot would be Bill.

“I would get dressed up and let the children hit me with a mixture of flapjacks and all kinds!” said Bill whose memory is still as sharp as a tack at 92.

But as the act developed, Bill soon realised it would probably be better to be pelted with something softer.

That’s when custard pies came into his act - but not just any old pie. Bill’s had a secret recipe.

Uncle Bill in mid performance

He explained: “There was an inspector who took me round to the Sunderland Empire and he said ‘we’ll see this very fellow who will help you out’.”

Music hall comedian Fred Emney was the man in question. Bill said: “He gave me the recipe to make custard pies and I always remember one of the ingredients was glue-size.”

For the uninitiated, glue-size could be used as a binding agent. Bill added: “You would have a sprinkling of glue-size in this proper mixture with flour and all that, and it would set it.”

The great news about glue-size was, it made it easy for children to pick up a plateful of the stuff.

Former police officer and childrens entertainer Bill Ford.

The bad news was, it made it easy for children to pick up a plateful of the stuff ... with Bill as the target.

“Oh they loved it,” he remembered and laughed.

He’d be covered in it by the end of the routine.

The comedy sketches would vary each year and Bill’s act would sometimes take off The Beatles, or perhaps Laurel and Hardy, or some other famous star.

It went down an absolute storm for years and he even got his five children, George, Paul, Stephen, Lorraine and Elizabeth, involved.

Son George recalls: “A high spot for the Christmas 1963 party, in addition to his comedy routine, was when he and I and my two brothers mimed the Beatles number one, ‘She Loves You’.”

Former police officer and childrens entertainer Bill Ford.

The audience, including police officers watching the show as well as children, lapped it up.

Seaburn Hall, Weatheralls, the Roker. In fact wherever you got a big hall, it provided the venue for the huge Christmas parties.

The police force served Bill well over the years.

And for years after he left the Force, people would stop him in the street and say: “I remember you when you did that act. I loved it.”

He was a policeman from 1947 to 1976. He joined the Force two weeks after leaving the Army.

During an amazing 30 years service, he got to meet Laurel and Hardy. Son George remembered: “Dad had always been a fan of these two great comics and at home as children we remember calls of ‘fresh fish’ and renditions of ‘the

blue ridge mountains of Virginia’. As a family we even made silent movie comedies with a Laurel and Hardy theme.”

Bill was gripped by the entertainment bug from a young age but he wasn’t the first in his family to put on a show.

“My father was a good entertainer as well,” he said.

George Ford senior ran GE Ford’s butchers at Jacky White’s market for years. He was a ‘raconteur’ who used to do auctions to sell the meat. And big crowds would gather round his stall to listen to George in full flow.

Ford’s butchers even had its own motto of ‘Always Pleased To Meet You - Always Meat To Please You’.

But Bill never had any doubt about what he wanted to be and it wasn’t in the butcher’s trade.

“I never regretted joining the police force. Never,” said Bill. “I was interviewed when I retired, and I said then I would do the same again.”

Former police officer and childrens entertainer Bill Ford with son George Ford