I first met Chris 10 years ago while working at Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. He was one of our resident historians and was known for leading his very popular and oversubscribed Ghost Walks around Key Hill and Warstone Lane Cemeteries. I remember how captivating those tours were – he not only had a way with words, he was a great raconteur.
One story he told on the tour stayed with me. I won’t labour over the exact details, but I always meant to ask him more about it because it gave me goose pimples. I never got round to it. There was no excuse really as that tour was back in 2007 and I worked with Chris on numerous occasions after that. My point is, it’s easy to assume you always have time, and I think it’s the realisation that we’ve not only lost a wealth of knowledge but also a passionate advocate for West Midlands’ history, that really hits hard. On a very basic level, Chris was also a charming friend and colleague to so many, with a fine sense of humour, who always seemed to have a smile on his face. That is how I will remember him.
Chris’ Magical Literary Bus
I have many fond memories of Chris, the fondest of which involved working with him on the ‘Literary Bus’ on three separate occasions. The bus travelled around Birmingham visiting the various sites connected to the city’s literary history and its characters, some of whom included the likes of Gollum at Sarehole Mill and Sherlock Holmes at Aston Cross.
If you’re scratching your head, the link to Sarehole Mill is because it is of course Tolkien’s childhood playground, and Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, once lived in Aston. Naturally there was a bit of poetic licence, and Chris narrated the tour with personality and punch. I also think he enjoyed, as well as embraced, all that regularly went wrong. So too, did the public.
This was Chris’ brain child and one of the things I admired most about him was his ‘can do’ attitude. The idea for the bus came out of a conversation my sister and I had with him at the reopening of Aston Hall in 2009. Six months later it became a reality and that was down to Chris. He had a way of making things happen, but he also inspired confidence in such a way that meant that you always wanted to be associated with him and what he did, because you just knew it would be quality. The Literary Bus was no different – a sell-out on all three occasions.
One of my favourite memories is Chris singing ‘I Can’t Find Brummagem’ just before Ozzy Osborne boarded the bus ‘bouncing’ along to Black Sabath’s ‘Paranoid’. This really was weird and wonderful at the same time, and I loved Chris’ method of promoting it: “If you’re intrigued by the idea, or interested in seeing how it can go disastrously wrong, you might care to book a ticket.”