I grew up in the home of a Fleet Street journalist in Surrey, England. He didn’t mind. That’s because I was his son.
In the 1970s my dad, Dan Wooding, worked for such papers as the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People. There were perks to this. Free tickets to concerts and football matches, review copies of books and records brought home to keep, and occasional visits to the homes of celebrities of the time: such as Barbara Windsor, Diana Dors, dinner at Larry Grayson’s house, and even afternoon tea in a high rise block of flats with Mrs. Kray, the mum of the infamous gangsters Ronnie and Reggie. She had pictures of her adorable little sons in photo frames dotted around the house.
I remember visiting Cliff Richard’s house as well, with Dad and my brother. Cliff kept us waiting because he was having a bath, so me and my brother, being curious youngsters, had a rummage through some of Cliff’s drawers while no one was looking. Would you have done the same? From that day on, I was the only person in my school to be able to truthfully claim that I had handled Cliff Richard’s underwear!
One drawback to growing up in a journalist’s house was the telephone. I might have exaggerated the memory in my mind over the years, but it seems that through the seventies the phone was ringing constantly. There was no internet and no mobile phones, the fax and email hadn’t been heard of, so the only form of instant communication was the telephone. And we didn’t have an answering machine, so every call had to be answered because it might be another scoop for the newspaper.
Dad had dealings with gangsters and people on the run from the law, whose lurid stories formed the backbone of the Sunday tabloids. Because of this, I was convinced our phone was tapped for a while. Every time I picked it up there would be a click as if someone was monitoring us. This was too good an opportunity not to have fun with.
A number of times I would talk to schoolfriends on the phone as if we were international spies arranging a secret rendezvous or exchanging vital government secrets. Maybe it was because we weren’t very good actors, or maybe it was because our voices hadn’t broken yet, that MI5 didn’t come knocking on our door to lock us up as dangers to national security.
But by far the most memorable phone call – for all the wrong reasons – was when someone threatened to kill me. My voice had broken by this time, and even though I was in my early teenage years I sounded exactly like my dad on the phone. (Come to think of it, I still do!)
One quiet afternoon I was alone in the house when the phone rang. No surprise there – it rang quite a lot! I dutifully answered it, and the female voice on the other end said: ‘Is Dan Wooding there?’
I truthfully responded with: ‘No’, but this wasn’t good enough for her.
‘It’s you, isn’t it?’
I couldn’t argue with that. ‘Yes, it is me,’ I agreed. ‘I’ve always been me.’
‘You’re Dan Wooding.’
Now, this I could argue with. ‘I’m not Dan Wooding. I’m Dan Wooding’s son.’
The lady insisted: ‘You’re Dan Wooding.’ And she followed this up with: ‘I’m going to come round and kill you!’
I burst out laughing. This was hilarious. It
was obviously one of the reporters from Dad’s office playing a joke. Whoever
she was, she was almost as good an actor as me and my schoolfriends pretending
to be international spies.
For the next twenty minutes we had a bizarre conversation in which she detailed all the ways she wanted to kill me, and every time I laughed at her she got a little more angry and came back with another threatened method of torture or murder. I was enjoying every minute.
But when Mum and Dad came back later that afternoon, I found out to my horror that this wasn’t a prank. Dad had recently written a story exposing a corrupt witch, and it was that witch who had somehow got hold of our home telephone number.
I hesitated to answer any calls after that, and for once I was glad that our phone might be tapped!
Needless to say, the death threat was never followed through with and we’re all still alive and well more than 20 years on. Mum and Dad run a ministry in California, USA, and Dad still writes lots of articles. My brother, Peter, works on the news department of a national British radio station (he recently interviewed Cliff Richard!). And I am a Christian writer and editor, working with Church Army in England.
Would I change anything about growing up in the
seventies? Not a thing… except maybe telling the inventor of the answerphone
to get a move on!
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