Todmorden U3A: TV presenter’s tales wow group

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How lucky we are at Todmorden U3A.

In March we were heartened and inspired by Penny Dean; this month Jane Shepherd came to give us an equally inspiriting talk about her life with polio and her career as a TV and Radio presenter.

Born in occupied Lancashire in 1953, Jane contracted polio as a baby and spent five months in hospital. Her parents were told by a gloomy ward sister, “If she survives, she’ll only be a cabbage”, and the hospital noted with pessimistic surprise that “The parents are willing to have her home”.

In spite of receiving cheerful advice such as “Take her home, but don’t feed her”, Jane’s parents, especially her mother, were determined Jane would lead a normal life. Jane’s brother had osteomyelitis, and any attempts by Jane to avoid school were met by reminders that her brother was worse off than she was.

Jane also paid tribute to her schoolfriend, Karen, who made her walk in the playground. And when Billy Jobson called Jane “pegleg”, Jane’s mother told her to call him something better back and if that failed, then “whack him on the shins with your calliper”. The calliper did the trick. Jane also paid tribute to her secondary school that went out of its way to tweak the timetable to make the school day easier for her.

When she started work, Jane was a medical secretary, but soon started training as a social worker at Manchester University. When that didn’t work out, she temped with BBC Manchester, became a researcher, did a screen test and began presenting for daytime TV. If I remember rightly, this led to a career with “Good Morning with Ann and Nick”, Radios 2, 3, 4 and 5, the World Service and Granada News.

Jane’s presentational style was very entertainingly anecdotal. She once booked Bernard Manning for a Radio 5 interview, and she secured his agreement that he would moderate his usual vocabulary. It didn’t stop him saying to her on meeting her, “Well, that diet’s not working, is it?” At least he had the courtesy to add, “Like mine”.

Peter Stringfellow walked into the studio one day and was clearly taken aback by Jane, who is generously proportioned. She set him at ease by saying “I expect you’ve seen it all before, but not in such quantities”.

When interviewing elderly Girl Guiders, Jane revealed she had been a Brownie. “Oh, we knew you were a Brownie,” said the plum-mouthed ladies, “from the way you asked the questions”.

Now Jane spends her time sitting on tribunals that deal with disability disputes in Rochdale and Stockport. Certainly there are some cunning fraudsters out there, but, Jane estimates, only about one per cent of the people she comes across. We would be surprised if any get past her.

She also enjoys role play and there can’t be many women who can say in all innocence that they’ve spent the day in a hotel bedroom with two men and a video camera.

Jane was a very engaging personality, blessed with a wonderfully rich sense of humour and glorious celebratory attitude to life. We have been very lucky to have her speak to us in Todmorden.

Other U3A items of interest this month included Sarah Penny’s appeal for support for a heritage and nature trail in Centre Vale Park, and for photographs and memories of the old farms that used to stand in the park area. And Ernie Rogan reported on the success of the Let’s Go trip to Kedleston Hall on April 12.

Our next meeting is on Thursday, May 19, in The Central Methodist Church in Todmorden. Visit www.u3atod.org.uk or call 01706 839175.