Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Father Christmas in Essex

By kind permission of Essex Newsquest

We’re not sure what this little deer thinks of Dennis Rookard (or Father Christmas on this cold December day), but his little companion seems happy and will undoubtedly remember this magic moment in South Weald Park.

Playing the role of the merry old gentleman was just another part for Dennis who has scripted, acted and produced programmes for radio and local TV and written freelance journalism since the 1960s. Dennis’ memories have recently appeared in CHRISTMAS PAST IN ESSEX. Being interviewed for the book made him reflect on his own Christmas experiences.

‘Like many other kids of the 1950s, I never realised I was deprived in any way. My family lived in a two-up-two-down cottage with gas for lighting and cooking, candles and oil lamps in the bedrooms and an outside loo at the end of the garden – didn’t everyone?

‘At Christmas, I was always so excited about the thought that Santa would be coming that I tried to stay awake to witness his arrival, but I never did and always fell asleep. Then I used to wake up before my parents on Christmas morning and race to the window to see if snow had fallen – it never did! Bu then my attention quickly went to the sack, or pillowcase that was at the bottom of my bed, as I could see there were things inside and I knew Santa had been. My sack was always full of toys, sweets and books. I remember getting an Eagle Annual which was one of my favourite books. But one year, I got a portable radio – a special treat!

‘Since we had no electricity, there was obviously no television but during the Christmas holiday we used to listen to a large battery-powered wireless. The radio was only used in the evening as we listened to Dick Barton or Journey into Space with everyone hoping the battery would last through these great programmes. When not listening to the radio, I was reading, as I’ve always had a voracious appetite for books.”

When Dennis grew up, he took a job as Santa in a large store. He said:

‘ I remember a little girl coming into my grotto with her mother, and after a little humorous repartee I asked the child, “What would your mum like for Christmas.” She looked me straight in the eyes and with a very serious look, she replied, “A man!’’

These days, Dennis is constantly busy at Christmas, either working with Brentwood District Talking Newspaper, Eastward Hospital Television, and this December, on one of his regular radio programmes for Phoenix FM.