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Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley) Stanley Johnson with his wife, Jenny (Photo by Roy Riley)
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But at least there's one Johnson the family can be proud of!

THE Tory candidate for Teignbridge in Devon walked from his home to work the other day. Actually it took Stanley Johnson four days to stomp from the middle of Exmoor, where he has an ancient farmhouse in a remote part of the Exe Valley, to the village of Widecombe in the Moor, high on Dartmoor and famous for its annual fair which, as the folk song goes, was attended by 'Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all'.

Stanley, of course, is famous for being the father of Boris. Even the local mid-Devon newspaper had a page two headline saying that 'MP Boris's Dad' was doing a 60-mile walk along the Two Moors Trail.

For those of us who know Stanley, this is ridiculous. His friends take some pleasure, when told of Boris's various attributes, in saying, 'But he's not as clever as his father.' Which is almost true.

In and around Winsford, where the family have lived since 1951, it is accepted that Stanley is the gaffer and Boris is best known as one of the brothers who used to play for the village cricket team.

The walk was conducted in the company of George Strickland, a local carpenter and joiner whose father was once the vicar.

Apart from celebrating Stanley's selection to fight the Lib-Dem held seat, it was also to raise money for the churches of the two parishes which were both in need of bell-ringing equipment.

'Money for new rope,' said the candidate, chuckling, as he handed over cheques for over Pounds 1,000 to appreciative churchwardens at Winsford before he set off on a wet, misty, blustery morning.

Like his eldest son, he is given to jokes such as this, and it hasn't always done him good. Many years ago, arriving at a constituency selection meeting in Leicester on his motorcycle, he told the selection committee, presided over by a beady-eyed Duke of Rutland, that this was the first time he had been to Leicester and that the nearest he had been previously was Leicester Square.

He is still surprised that the Duke and his colleagues failed to see the funny side.

At his latest selection meeting in Dawlish he was asked a question about universities and, during an erudite answer on the merits of degrees in surfing, remarked: 'They only surf who stand and wait.' This time the response was more positive, making one suppose that wordplay and witticism is a safer bet when delivered by a 64-year-old grandfather than a thirtysomething biker.

EVEN before the outset of the Great March, Stanley's friends, who had been asked to sponsor him at 20p a mile and make cheques out to the respective Parochial Church Councils, had responded with well over 2,000.

I am asked to respect their anonymity but the generous friends are an extraordinary collection of the great, the good and the neither of these two.

There should be no shortage of celebrities to open the Conservative Fete in the local towns of Moretonhampstead or Bovey Tracey if Johnson joins his son in the House of Commons at the next election.

The fact that it has taken so long for him to arrive at this point is a matter of some surprise. At Sherborne School, his housemaster used to say that only two of the boys he ever taught were clearly destined for greatness.

One was David Sheppard, who captained the England cricket team and became Bishop of Liverpool, and the other was Stanley.

He was Head of School, a rambunctious and habitually bloodstained prop-forward in the 1st XV, a late flowering pianist (he and the headmaster performed a memorable duet of Three Blind Mice at the end of term concert), and he won a classics scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford.

His greatest achievement at university was to win the Newdigate, a prize for a long original poem on some arcane subject.

Stanley found out about it only about midnight before the 9am deadline.

He promptly sat down and knocked out 100 or so deftly rhyming- couplets before breakfast and won hands-down. Since then he has written a dozen or so thrillers which, while not perhaps great works of art, are nevertheless more accomplished than the works of betterknown political figures such as Jeffrey Archer oh all right, not difficult, but they're as good in their way as Douglas Hurd's, which is more of a compliment.

I remember one in particular called, I think, ' Channel!' which involved a train crash in the Channel Tunnel which, at that stage, had yet to be constructed.

HE HAS also penned distinguished works on the environment, served as an MEP for the Isle of Wight and Hampshire and run a department in Brussels at the European Commission.

Soon after his Two Moors Walk, he was off up the Amazon to investigate vanishing rainforests and threatened Amerindians.

He remains something of the blood- stained frontrow forward and has never been less than busy.

Now, of course, the failure, if it's not too harsh to describe it so, has been compounded by the meteoric rise of the brilliant son, who so uncannily resembles him. They both have the same shock of blond hair, shambling manner and air of self-deprecatory buffoonery which shouldn't deceive anyone but, amazingly, does. Now, at last, it seems perhaps that Stanley's time has come I walked with him and George for the first few miles of their fundraiser.

The candidate beamed cheerily as he trudged over the moor, notebook in his rucksack (he is writing up the trip for a travel magazine out later this year), newfangled walking sticks a touch incongruously clutched in each hand.

I phoned him later to see if the ageing knees had held up. Indeed they had.

His arrival at Widecombe must have been impressive for as the walkers hove in sight the village bellringers pulled on their ropes and the Tory candidate strode in to the sound of bells.

The churchwardens were as pleased with their cheque as Winsford's were with theirs.

A few days later, Johnson major was due at Teignmouth Rugby Club to tell them what forward play had been like in his day.

Then to Newton Abbot to try to prevent the local Post Office being closed. And on up the Amazon.

Forget Boris, I thought.

His old man is in a hurry.

Tim Heald is the author of Village Cricket, published by Time Warner at 16.99.

Click here to link to amazon.co.uk

 

By Tim Heald, Copyright Daily Mail 2004. Published in the Daily Mail 15th November 2004

 

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