Memorial oration by Cllr John Crockford-Hawley

Buster, Buster Bailey

Nick names sum up complex character, for better or worse, in one simple word.

Buster implies boyish, impish, humorous. That was spot on. It was also a nick name of affection.

In local govt - professional or political - we come, we go, we’re forgotten.

Just occasionally memories linger until an entire generation has bought its one-way ticket to the terminus.

John is one of those memories. An officer I held in due regard but also one whose company I cherished

No pin-striped “Yes, Minister” Oxbridge lawyer seeking to hinder rather less than intelligent councillors with arcane and unfathomable terminology dressed in clauses, sub-clauses and references-back, but a down-to-earth advisor in law, and practitioner writ large in the language spoken by mere mortals and delivered in west country warmth, invariably with a helpful dollop of humour - even when chastising a chairman!

One got the impression Buster had never quite left school – a slightly naughty boy in the Lower Fifth looking for pranks to perform and chortling with laughter at humanity’s stupidities.

It’s nearly half-a-century since I was first elected. John had been with the old Weston Borough Council, eventually becoming Solicitor and Deputy Clerk to the oddly-named Woodspring District Council.

As I rose to dizzy heights chairing the planning committee I had regular meetings with John – planning law being one of his specialities – and got to know about two of his (and my) enduring and endearing hobbies : trains & churches

Indeed, the last time we met was just before Covid when I was giving a talk in Yatton about “Potty Parsons” (apols to our two priests here today!) and John was in the audience - full of bubbly anecdote when we chatted afterwards.

Trains and Churches: How English in a sort of Betjeman or Flanders & Swann way.

It reminded me of the time he jokingly enquired of the ticket office at Yatton Station for the next train to Freiburg – and received a correct response from a highly competent and probably much under-valued ticket office employee: all very much in far-off pre-Internet days. John delighted recounting this story in the Town Hall.

Or when he and I were sent to Scarborough for a Local Govt Assoc tourism conference. It was so boring. We endured one morning session then decided to skip the afternoon by taking a trip on the North Yorks Moors steam railway.

A fortnight later Buster phoned telling me to be prepared for a slight embarrassment. He’d sent me a photo-copy of a spoof report he’d made about our railway expedition and, unfortunately, the secretary had published it with the agenda papers for the next tourism committee meeting.

We both sat through the meeting wondering what would happen when it came to the report of the local government association conference. To our amused surprise we were both heartily congratulated for using initiative to explore potential tourism possibilities for our local area! We received thanks with due humility.

I suspect the good Lord has a sense of humour (else why would his creation have one?) so hope he won’t be too troubled by this slightly blasphemous conclusion.

During a particularly difficult planning committee one councillor, who’d really done her homework, was asking a rather difficult question. I turned to Buster for quiet legal advice asking what to say to her. Rubbing his dicky eye, as he often did, Buster whispered in my ear “If I were you Mr Chairman I’d tell her to bugger off!” I did, but chose my words more carefully.

Buster’s caught his last train with that one-way ticket we’ll all be handed. I’ll leave it to theologians, philosophers and evolutionary scientists to continue pondering at which terminus station this warm-hearted, genial, boyish and thoroughly nice man will alight.

In the meantime, I’m so pleased to have accompanied Buster along a small section of one of life’s branch lines.

Chuff, chuff – off you go Buster