Farewell to a modest Norfolk megastar

Just Regional
May 1, 2024 4 mins read

Sid Kipper is a real favourite in these parts, but the recent death of his creator and alter-ego tinged the comedy with sadness. KEITH Skipper pays tribute to the local legend

The Last Post has sounded for The Trunch Trumpet, official organ of the Sid Kipper Fan Club.

The multi-talented but modest megastar, who transformed himself from scholarly lad Chris Sugden, from West Runton, into our county’s leading cultural ambassador of the age, died recently at 72.

He transported the Norfolk flag to parts others simply did not reach, or even contemplate, and then commanded laughter and respect.

He got both in generous measure for the  best part of 40 years, inspired no doubt by what The Singing Postman achieved in the 1960s with his homely ditty, Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?

Sid (helped by Chris) tied up singing, music-making, storytelling, broadcasting and writing with glorious threads of you’ll-get-it-in-a-minute humour, adopting a sideways stance where the majority charged ahead or peeped behind.

Claiming to hail from the distinguished parish of St Just-near-Trunch, Sid was based in the folk world but his multi-faceted act spilled over easily into other arenas including literary festivals, after-dinner presentations with a rib-tickling edge, and village halls – where wit, wisdom and musical walnut shells seemed perfectly at home.

Before launching Sid’s solo career with a Chichester gig in 1991, Chris teamed up with Dick Nudds, who took the role of his cantankerous father Henry. They made a big impact on the folk circuit for seven years as The Kipper Family.

Henry basked in his reputation for having one of the foremost voices in the country … “but we don’t know who might have the other three”.

An outstanding era for Norfolk-inspired entertainment ended when Sid called it a day just before his 60th birthday in the summer of 2012 due to mental and physical pressures. He couldn’t rule out the possibility that leading two lives for so long had taken its toll.

We kept in regular touch as he battled his way back to reasonable health and resumed a burgeoning writing career built around winners such as The Crab Wars, David Kipperfield, Three Gruff Billy Goats and his local vicar’s Letters to the Truncheons.

His captivating Prewd and Prejudice continues on its way to local classic status.

The diary follows a woman leaving polite London society for the depths of rural Norfolk in 1904 when St Just-near-Trunch was only half-civilised as plants grew unchecked, unruly birds woke her before dawn and Harrods flatly refused to deliver.

It’s a measure of the Kipper quality that people in London thought he was mocking simple county folk while people in Norfolk were convinced he was taking the rise out of simple metropolitans.

I shared a stage with Sid on numerous occasions, scoring a memorable double on a late October weekend in 2009.

We stepped out together for a sunny farewell to BBC Radio Norfolk’s comedy quiz show, Should The Team Think, at Hunstanton’s Princess Theatre, and then combined to present Norfolk Heroes in the Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier.

Billed as the night when the historical met the hysterical, I painted portraits in words of some of my favourite personalities with colourful Norfolk connections.

Sid responded on each occasion with a hero from his bulging files, usually a member of his own illustrious family.

For example, he matched my tribute to Sidney Grapes. comedian and creator of the evergreen Boy John Letters coated in Norfolk dialect, with Jimmy “Am I Boring You?” Kipper’s contribution to local showbusiness.

“He used to appear at all the music halls round our way – the Knapton Coliseum, the Pudding Norton Parthenon, the Weimar Republic and, of course, the Trunch Empire. Now that was a rough place. The audience used to give the acts a real hard time. They used to reckon that at the Trunch Empire they left no turn unstoned.”

There we are … vintage Sid Kipper pointing to a rich Norfolk legacy worth celebrating.

A cultural genius giving life a little extra balance and perspective as the 21st century gathers pace.

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