Ian McMillan: Is it time to get back on the Darfield Bus?

I was shambling along the other day, minding my own business and contemplating whether a nice cup of tea would improve the quality of my life when I got back from my shamble, when a man shouted from a passing car, “Are tha waiting for’t Darfield Bus?” and then cackled like a stage villain in a pantomime before zooming off.

Ah, the Darfield Bus; my catchphrase for many years. It was my “nice to see you: to see you nice” my “goodnight from him”. It was, as scientists might say, the linguistic shorthand by which the brand known as Ian McMillan was recognised.

The origin of my catchphrase was the little films I used to make for a programme called Tonight on Yorkshire Television back in the 1980s and 1990s. Each week, as the programme’s “Investigative Poet” I would go in search of something odd and unusual or funny and daft and film it, and at the end I’d write a poem in my spiral-bound notebook and spout the verses to camera.

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Once, I went to Ravensthorpe near Huddersfield to investigate the fact that the songwriter Bert Lee, known for such timeless classics as Knees Up Mother Brown came from there. I can still remember the first verse of the poem I wrote: “To me/Bert Lee/Should have been a Cockernee/All that ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’/Should have come from London town” I know: genius.

We felt that we needed a good ending to the piece. The pub we were filming in was starting to fill up and we knew we couldn’t keep the thirsty denizens of West Yorkshire quiet for long as we thought of a classy yet populist finish. Then something occurred to me and I got them to film me walking towards the door saying “Well, I’d like to stay but I reckon it’s time I went for the Darfield bus” then going out of the door and closing it with a resounding click. I heard ragged cheers from the people in the pub but that might have been because somebody had just scored in the match they were watching on the silent telly.

Soon my little catchphrase began to grow in popularity. People would say “Here he is, going for the Darfield Bus!” “Darfield Bus doesn’t stop here, tha knows!”

At gatherings, people would call me “Darfield Bus”, which is a bit like calling Hylda Baker “Second Hand on that Watch”. Eventually we made a series about buses that culminated in me catching the actual Darfield bus and at that point I thought it was time to drop the catchphrase.

I felt like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did when he tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes or when Aled Jones released that death-metal/hip-hop album and all his fans wanted another chorus of Walking in the Air: the public don’t like to see you get rid of the things they like. I made that up about the death metal and hip-hop, by the way.

So the Darfield Bus trundles on and, although I never say it anymore, people like the aforementioned wayside heckler still like to remind me of it. Maybe I’ll revive it when I get my bus pass.