By Bill Harry
‘Ricky’. Ricky Tomlinson. Time-Warner.
‘Ricky’, Ricky Tomlinson’s autobiography, is a gritty, realistic evocation of a working class Liverpool that, just like Lance Street in Everton where Ricky Tomlinson was reared, no longer exists.
It was a time when: “Everyone knew everyone in Lance Street. No doors were ever locked. You just knocked and walked in.” For working class kids growing up in the debris of Liverpool in the aftermath of the second world war, there were games to play which, in a world without toys, meant action, danger and imagination – playing Tick’ or ‘Alalio’ or jumping across the walls of alleys. Food was basic, small treats came at Christmas, gangs protected their own ‘territory’ and, in a time when money was scarce, kids could collect jam jars to obtain entrance to a cinema.
Yet it was a time when there was trust in the community and working class people supported each other.
Ricky is a Liverpudlian to his bones. When his mother Peggy was nine months pregnant she was evacuated from Liverpool in case of bombing raids. Ricky was born at Burleigh House, Bispham, Blackpool on 26 September 1939. His mother, despite the dangers, returned to Liverpool three days later.
This reminds me of the Cilla Black episode that Ricky recalls. It began when Ricky was working on ‘Brookside’, and, together with the rest of the cast, attended a function in which Cilla and her husband Bobby Willis were present. A photographer asked if he could gather the celebrities together for a photograph.
“I pulled the ‘Brookside’ crowd together and then said, ‘Cilla, could you spare us a second?’ I gently touched her arm and then she spun to face me.
“‘Get your hand off this dress. It cost a lot of money,’ she snapped.
“I responded in kind. ‘I wouldn’t have thought so, the way it looks on you.’”
During a later interview, the interviewer mentioned this incident to Cilla.
“Well, he’s not even a Scouser,’ she responded. ‘He wasn’t born in Liverpool.’
“My response was ‘I may have been away from Liverpool for the first three days of my life, but she’s been away for the last forty years.’
“The Liverpool Echo picked up on the story and went hard on the feud angle. They even offered readers the chance to vote on the person they believed to be the truest Scouser. Cilla got annihilated.’”
The Grafton in West Derby Road was one of Liverpool’s premier ballrooms. Ricky, began going there at the age of 16 and recalled “The ballroom era was ending and rock ‘n’ roll had arrived, but the Grafton was slow to embrace the change and the bouncers would drag anyone caught jiving off the dance floor.