Ian Macmillan: A flight of fancy that created Bill Beak, Barnsley Birdman

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WHEN I was a young lad growing up near Barnsley, I was obsessed with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. It didn’t matter that their lives were light years away from mine (they had an Uncle Quentin, for goodness sake, and he owned an island) because they were kids having adventures on their own, and that was good enough for me.

For a while, I believed a rumour that Enid herself actually lived in Sheffield, and I told my Uncle Jack and he said that she sat in the next seat to him at Hillsborough because she was a Wednesday fan, and I believed that as well.

Then, as I got a little older, I became equally obsessed with the Biggles books by Captain WE Johns. Again, it didn’t matter that his life circumstances were unfamiliar (he was called Captain James Bigglesworth, for goodness sake, and he had been in every war since the turn of the century) because he was a young man having adventures with his mates, and that was good enough for me.

When I got to about the age of 13, though, and there was a little pencil-line of a moustache on my upper lip, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I also decided that writing books for children would be where I made my first million, and that my children’s books would be set firmly in Yorkshire rather than some mythical Home County of the Mind.

I needed to create a character, I reckoned; somebody heroic like Biggles or Julian from the Famous Five would do nicely. But it had to be Biggles or Julian with a bit of a tyke twist, a Yorkshire angle.

I asked my mam if she could help me; I explained what I wanted and she pretended to ponder for a moment and then said “The Yorkshire Famous Five”. Thanks mam. For nowt.

I went into the garden and wandered about, because I’ve always believed that walking helps you to think, and it seemed to work because, as I gazed at a flock of homing pigeons wheeling in the air, I came up with something so perfect that I whooped and did a little jig.

I ran in the house and scribbled the title of my best-selling book in my jotter. I showed it to my mam who was by now peeling a turnip for the tea.

She leaned forward and read it aloud in a monotone: “The Adventures of Bill Beak the Barnsley Birdman.”

“What do you reckon?,” I asked.

“Very nice,”she said, turning back to the turnip as though the turnip was more interesting than my potentially best-selling children’s book. I felt hot tears begin to splash my face.

“Did you even notice the cleverness of Bill’s name?” I sobbed.

Bill Beak: get it? Some birds have bills and some birds have beaks. I can’t believe how clever that was, 40-odd years on. It didn’t matter: I stormed out of the room and chucked away the paper.

But then, as I was peeling a turnip the other day, I remembered Bill Beak, and do you know, I reckon he could be the new Postman Pat. I reckon I could still be on my way to my first million.

Remember: you heard it here first.

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