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The shining stars of Cornwall

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: January 29, 2014

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WATCHING the legendary Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper Romain Larrieu play for Camelford was a footballing experience to be savoured.

The 37-year-old Frenchman has the air of a gentleman. One could imagine Brian Glanville, doyen of football writers, working him into a short story.

His purposeful left-footed kicks upfield and thoughtful throwing of the ball to a well-positioned colleague set me thinking about other stars I have had the luck to see – and sometimes meet.

An early Guardian Country hero was Keith Scott, a doctor down on the Roseland peninsula, who played for Cornwall at cricket and rugby, captaining Cornwall on the cricket field and England at rugby. Years later, Keith gave me an interview at his lovely home overlooking Gerrans Bay. He was a Corinthian. A man who also enjoyed angling for salmon on the Tamar, shooting and gardening.

Keith Scott's lifestyle, in his playing days, was hectic. Folklore has it he sometimes played rugby wearing his stethoscope: a character out of PG Wodehouse.

There was a spirit of adventure about the way he played, harnessing his talents to attack. "I enjoy attacking," he told me. "It's more fun than defending. Cricket can be a boring game when you have unimaginative captaincy. The same's true of rugger. It's a better sport when you're running with the ball and scoring tries. Great fun for the spectators too."

He often rushed to a game, driving his sports car, straight from a call on one of his patients. A newspaper report of a Cornwall rugby match had this to say: "A minute before the start, EK Scott hurried into the ground, made a quick change into his football gear, and three minutes later ran onto the pitch ready for action. He played one of his most brilliant games scoring one try, and helping to make openings for others, while his long kicks to touch, and his clever evasion were among the features of the game."

Meeting Angharad Rees, who played Demelza in the Poldark TV series, in the 1970s has to be a precious stone experience: her luminous beauty, those brilliant blue eyes, her enunciation.

I suddenly recalled Winston Graham saying that whenever he invited her to lunch at his London club: "My popularity suddenly soared and men found all sort of excuses to come over and speak to me."

Though I had seen every Poldark episode on the small screen, nothing had prepared me for her presence, when we met at the Royal Institution of Cornwall. A woman who had you searching for adjectives. You could refer to her slight yet graceful physique, her handsome skin and something mysterious, distinctly Celtic. How Augustus John would have relished painting her. You thought back to her classic Cornish role: the miner's daughter, who had known poverty, marrying a Cornish aristocrat. Angharad and Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark making a handsome couple centre stage, television so magnetic that some Cornish vicars cancelled their services on Sunday evenings.

Whoever takes the Demelza role in the forthcoming Poldark series will have a big challenge, following such a gifted, much-loved actress. Angharad's tragic death in July 2012, at the age of 63, left a lump in many Cornish throats. Perhaps the last words about this lovely heroine should come from Winston Graham: "Sometimes a name is a great help. While the first Poldark book was in its preliminary stages I was driving across Bodmin Moor and saw a small signpost marked Demelza. Until then she had no name: after that she could have no other."

Nanette Newman, another actress, another set of circumstances. It was about 1970 when she stayed with us at Bossiney House Hotel, the leading lady in the cast for a film called A Fine And Private Place. Nanette and the other principal actors stayed for three or four weeks before the film was abandoned – filming had coincided with some bad weather. A tragedy all round, because such a film would have been powerful publicity for Cornwall.

As for Nanette, she was quite simply one of the most beautiful women I have had the luck to meet. The wife of actor, film-maker Bryan Forbes, then emperor in the British cinema, she had star quality. Like the taste of a rare vintage, it's difficult to pin to paper, almost impossible to explain.

You sensed other actresses in the group were in awe of her. While men were drawn to her, fascinated. A well-known Cornish author, who had met her in his London days, later said to me: "Nanette has personal magic."

I also enjoyed watching Nanette in the 1970s on that hugely entertaining BBC panel game What's My Line when she sparkled with her blend of intelligence and intuition.

Away from acting, she has acquired a literary reputation, producing a whole range of children's and cookery books. While her marriage to Bryan came to an end in 2013 with his death. They had been married for 58 years. A remarkable union for their profession. But then, of course, we are saluting two remarkable personalities.

Celebrities in other Guardian Country areas. Among the inn keepers Father Alan Wainwright of The Cornish Arms at Pendoggett must have been the only clergyman in the kingdom in such a role. Seeing him serving in the bar in his cassock was classic.

Alan and his wife Maggie, together with Nigel Pickstone, and Gwen Hawken's cooking all combined to make their Cornish Arms one of the finest inns in the whole of the South West, Sonia and I dining there for about a quarter of a century.

And, of course, one thinks of Dame Daphne du Maurier, an internationally famous Fowey writer but a reluctant celebrity – a recluse no less. The present-day art of Nicholas St John Rosse, oils of beautiful girls on beautiful beaches, colourful advertisements for Guardian Country. As are many of the impressionist paintings of John Brenton, a son of Nanpean, now living at Newquay.

Finally, back to sport, as president of the Cornish Crusaders for over half a century I had the pleasure of hearing some of the finest guest speakers.

Brian Johnston, the legendary cricket commentator, has to be one of the best: a natural raconteur, he spoke at Polzeath without a note and ended by singing an old musical hall song. His commentaries on Test Match Special are part of the folklore of broadcasting.

The Johnston family had a long-time holiday addiction for Bude – though tragically Brian's father, a Colonel, died there in a swimming incident in 1922.

Brian's career spanned an incredible 48 years and included programmes like Down Your Way and In Town Tonight. Yet he once said: "I wouldn't have minded being an MP." He reckoned he would have enjoyed "the club atmosphere" of Westminster. His housemaster at Eton had told him: "You won't get anywhere in life because you talk too much."

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