John (E) Noakes:RIP

2 06 2017

Children of the 60s and 70s are coming to terms with the loss of one of their childhood heroes; TV daredevil John E Noakes. 

Born Seonaidh Bottomley in Shader Barvas in 1934, fledgling actor Noakes adopted his stage name after growing concerned that the Stornoway Thespians wouldn’t let him in with a parochial name like ‘Seonaidh’. 
After several months performing in the Harbour Commission-sponsored touring production of “Ships With Everything”, Noakes finally got his big TV break when Biddy Backster (editor of BBC Alba’s hit children’s show Brù Peter) spotted his potential after seeing him playing the part of Willie Mossend in a Thespians performance of “Tobson’s Choice” in the Laxdale hall. 
In 1965, Noakes joined established Brù Peter hosts; church deacon Christopher Grace and local weaver Valtossy Singlewidth onscreen for the first time. The classic Brù Peter line-up was completed the following year when Grace left to pursue a career in praying and local piping instructor Pìobaire Purves joined the crew, which remained unchanged until 1972 when Leth-bhotal Judd came on board.
Noakes, however, was seldom on-screen without his faithful collie Shep by his side. Noakes trained Shep from a puppy and he was frequently employed by the various Common Grazings committees to scare away troublesome Greylag Geese, giving rise to Noakes’ famous catchphrase, “Get down, Shep!”
Noakes’ hilarious antics and mawish accent made him a breath of fresh air in the stiflingly buttoned-up world of 60s Gaelic broadcasting; a level of popularity which even spawned a spin-off show where he teamed up with a local Stornoway character for 1976’s “Gobha With Noakes”.
His adventurous nature and fearlessness led to many memorable stunts including climbing Lady Matheson’s statue with only a stepladder and riding a fertiliser bag down the most notorious sledging hill in the Broadbay area; the Gress-ta Run. He even entered the record books when he was kicked off BEA flight 317 on a filming trip to Inverness with the army cadets after getting hammered on complimentary miniatures before the plane had so much as started its engines, and thus conducting the world’s shortest ever freefall jump by a civilian, a record he held for many years. 
He was frequently found in the Brù Peter garden (which only contained potatoes, the shell of a 1943 N-series Fordson tractor and a Vauxhall Cresta up on blocks) alongside gardener Percivalroad Thrower, who along with his skills with a hoe was famed for his two birdsong imitations; a herring gull and a gog-gàc (both indistinguishable from each other). Years later, Brù Peter viewers were outraged when vandals broke into the Brù Peter garden, planted four hydrangeas and dug a pond.
Notoriously grumpy, Noakes had an ongoing spat with editor Backster and eventually left the show after 12 years. Although he refused to appear on any special anniversary episodes of Brù Peter, he was eventually coaxed back in the year 2000 when he and his former colleagues dug up the decaying remains of a duis they had buried in the Brù Peter garden back in 1971.
After retiring from television he and his wife attempted to sail around the world in a 14 foot clinker boat but were shipwrecked in a stiff breeze passing Scalpay where they were forced to remain until the bridge was opened in 1997.
Editor’s note – We were going to say more about John E Noakes’ work reforming the 16th-century Scottish church, and the popular baker’s shop that he used to run in Bayhead, but, surprisingly, scholarly opinion is divided on whether or not that was really him.   

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