Draycott will be a different place now that one of its most well-known inhabitants has left us to live elsewhere. Graham Bagnall is a name that is famous in the Potteries – both in the city’s entertainment industry, and among serious runners.
He lived for some thirty years in the Tudor Lodge house in Cresswell, and got to know his neighbours well. John Clarke, one of his neighbours as well as a close friend, sent us this appreciation of Graham…
* * * * * *
Back in the 1960s, Graham made his name when he established The Place Nightclub in Hanley with the entrepreneur Kevin Donovan. The two of them built up the club to be the class joint in the Potteries, and it soon began to get a national reputation as one of the first ‘discos’ in the UK. The club attracted many of the great names in music.
Later, Graham helped found a sister club in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Maxim’s, which was also very successful.
Eventually Ansell’s Brewery bought out both night clubs – but retained Graham to run both operations.
Graham’s great other love is sport.
He was a keen local football player but, after a back injury, had to stop. However, you can’t stop Graham, and, wanting to take on another sport, he started road running to keep fit.
What’s more, he found that he had a talent for it, and progressed through the ranks to be a very quick distance runner. In my memory his fastest time for the marathon was about 2 hours 25 minutes, which is very respectable.
As a veteran runner (over 40 years of age) he competed in the World Masters Championship in San Diego and in 1991 became World Veteran Marathon Champion for his age group.
About the same time he ran the New York marathon and was extremely disappointed when, knowing he was the lead runner in his age group, he wasn’t declared the winner. This was puzzling to many of his colleagues, and it later became clear there may have been a mix-up – so it was a moral victory at least! (This and other similar incidents persuaded major marathon organisers to make runners carry transponders laced onto their running shoes to prove they had passed through all the checkpoints).
Graham also helped inspire the Potteries Marathon.
The man responsible for creating the Potteries Marathon was Don Shelley: he was working at The Place nightclub in Hanley when Kevin Donovan and Graham hit on the idea of organising a marathon here in Stoke-on-Trent.
Don, who had run marathons for Great Britain (and also organised races when he was secretary of the Michelin Sports and Social Club), took up the project. The result was The Potteries Marathon – much loved by the general public and runners from all over the country.
When Graham took retirement from Ansell’s he and his wife Valerie started seriously doing hill-walking together. In a short period of time they climbed the complete list of Lake District hills compiled in the Alfred Wainwright guides.
They also started walking the Scottish Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet). I am not sure if Graham has completed all the Munros, but I know that he decided that he had to carry on with them, even after the sad death of Val about seven years ago.
Graham was also climbing with his son Darren. Together they have climbed a number of mountains including Mount Elbrus, which is the highest in Russia, and I think Kilimanjaro was in their sights too!
Graham and Val walked the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Meanwhile, back here in Cresswell, I have fond memories of going with Graham on Sunday mornings to the Michelin Athletic Club, and going out with a group of about fifty runners for a morning training run of around twenty miles. The camaraderie of those sessions was tremendous; and the respect for Graham that came from the other runners really showed.
Those Sunday morning runs stand out as very challenging; being led by a wonderful character in Reg Fernehough, who appeared to have an Ordnance Survey map scrolling through his mind. We ran through field and wood up hill and down dale, only suddenly then to realise where we were…
Seventy at seventy
Last year, when Graham turned seventy, he gave himself a challenge – to complete seventy tasks, so many that I cannot remember all of them! He chose seven categories, one of which was to do seven Munros within a short period of time.
The category that really made me sit up was him returning to road running. At the age of seventy, he ran a local ten kilometre road race at a seven-minutes-a-mile pace!!
Graham has now decided to move house, leaving Cresswell behind, and to explore new territories and new challenges.
In this age of ‘celebrities’ all too many of them are famous for being famous and too many of today’s sportsmen have a very high opinion of themselves. However, even though what Graham has achieved already is truly remarkable, he is a modest man and he has not blown his own trumpet in any way.
And, being so modest, I think that, even though he has lived in our community for a long time, there are probably still a lot of people around here who don’t know that the guy is just a legend.
Graham is a genuine man of the people, always approachable and friendly – a gentleman.
Good luck Graham with your new life.
Related link: Memories of The Place
*To comment, just use the comments box below.
You do not have to insert your email address (which is always kept private anyway) if you do not want, but it means you might miss any feedback.