A Redruth man who was one of Britain’s last telegram boys is recording the story of his life, with fond memories of special deliveries to the rich and famous - including the day he almost met a naked pop star.
Long before emails, texting and mobile phones, and with many people still without even a land-line phone, the telegram was a much-used means of conveying urgent and important messages.
As a teenager in the 1970s, James Maloney entered the world of work on a motor scooter, delivering those telegrams and collecting experiences that were entertaining, enlightening and occasionally poignant – and sometimes very surprising.
Now those memories are being revived in the form of James’ autobiography, which is being ghost-written for him by Falmouth-based Mike Truscott, of Golden Replay Biographies, who is a former Packet chief reporter.
The book, now nearing completion, includes this recollection of the near-nude meeting with Lyn Paul, who first came to fame with The New Seekers: “Lyn lived in the village of Stratfield Saye in Hampshire. The sun was still rising and, after I had rung her doorbell, the lady herself put her head out from the bedroom window above. I was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that she was naked at that moment!
“I said: ‘Telegram, Miss Paul.’ She replied: ‘Okay, won’t be a minute.’ Anticipation levels soared. So you can imagine my deflation when the door opened and a man, wearing just his dressing gown, emerged. ‘I’ll give that to Miss Paul,’ he said.
“‘Thanks,’ I croaked. I was gutted, and trooped off once more in disconsolate fashion. But at least I’d seen her and spoken to her!”
Big names receiving telegrams from James also included legendary comedian Dave Allen, who lived at Woodcote in Berkshire, Beatle George Harrison (Henley), and Danny La Rue (singer and drag impersonator, who owned a pub at Goring-on-Thames).
James reflects: “First time round with Dave Allen, I actually delivered to the wrong house! Next time, I met him and duly apologised. He made a joke about it and immediately put me at my ease.
“In all, I must have delivered to him some 20 times over two years or so.
I suppose Dave’s comedy style was what would be classified as ‘edgy’ today, and because of that a lot of people didn’t like him, but I found him a really nice, polite guy – albeit with tell-tale signs that he was fond, as per his screen image, of a drink or two.
“We would usually have a good chat – over a cup of tea! I would just drive right up to his door – something which I guess would no longer be possible in today’s high-security age.
“When visiting George Harrison, I came a cropper one April when there had been a late snowfall. It was lying some four inches deep on the ground and I got off my moped to open the gates of Catcombe Park.
“Unfortunately, the snow was so thick that you could no longer tell exactly where the grass verges bordered the driveway. All of a sudden, I found myself separated from my machine and lying on my back in that snow! I had struck the verge and fallen off.
“I put the moped on its stand and walked the remaining 200 yards to the Beatle’s door.
“There was no bell, just a great big brass knocker. I banged on that door as loud as I could and then stood back, hoping to meet the great man and ask for his autograph.
“Instead, and after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting, the door opened and I was greeted by a maid – or it may have been the cleaner.
“I meekly announced: ‘I’ve got a telegram for Mr Harrison.’ ‘Okay, I’ll take that for him, she said. But I insisted: ‘He has to sign for it himself.’ Good try, but it didn’t work. I was so disappointed. I trudged away in the snow with an autograph – of the housemaid or cleaner.
“I returned to George’s house with telegrams many more times and I even got to meet him two or three times. He never had a lot to say; he was just courteous and politely mentioned the weather and asked how far I had come. It was only ever doorstep stuff; he never invited me in.
“And I never did get his autograph. Each time I went there, I would tell myself: ‘This is it; this time I will get it.’ But I bottled out. You know when you can ask and when you can’t. My time with George Harrison never came.”
Danny La Rue, says James, “was a lovely man, although I also recall that he never seemed to be a well man.
“He was the perfect gentleman and sometimes he would take time out to sit down and have a coffee and chat with me. If the weather was nice, we would do this on the weir outside the pub; it was a beautiful setting. We would discuss life in general and comedy in particular.”
Away from celebrities, James, now 55, also reflects: “To deliver telegrams with wedding congratulations was fantastic. Everyone was incredibly happy and I would get invited inside for a drink. That was not strictly speaking allowed, of course, but . . .
“Alas, every silver lining has a dark cloud and the part of my job that I hated most was the telegram bringing news of a death. I must have delivered hundreds of these.
“We were instructed that we should just hand them over and walk away, but I could never do that. I knew what these telegrams conveyed and I would say: ‘Would you like to sit down? I’m afraid I have some really bad news for you.’ “Nine times out of ten the recipient knew what it was, and even who it was, who had died. On other occasions, it would be a complete shock.”
On a lighter note, and notwithstanding the Lyn Paul disappointment, James’ job did provide him with his very first close encounter with a naked lady, albeit nobody famous.
He explains: “I had to deliver a telegram to a house on the main road down to Basingstoke. The door opened and, to my great shock – and delight – there she was in all her naked glory. She was in her 40s, I guess, very attractive, with a nice figure and long auburn hair . . . standing totally starkers, and expressionless, in her doorway.
“In as normal a tone as I could muster, I told her: ‘I have a telegram for you.’ Her face didn’t change. She just said ‘thank you very much’ and shut the door again. It was just as if this was the sort of thing she did every day. Maybe it was!
“I turned and went. Some images remain very vivid in your mind for the rest of your life. This was definitely one of them for me!”
In its hey day, in the 1930s, the telegram service was delivering an average of 65 million telegrams a year. By 1976, that figure had dropped to just 844 and a year later the Post Office decided to abolish the service.