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Memories of Derek "Noddy" Crewe (1945 - 2011)

The song that you are hearing is Roy McMahon's "Lost Not Found" with Derek on piano.

Photograph by ex-Renegades drummer - Steve Lloyd

Although Derek passed away in May he is still making us laugh! Vic Tyler Jones told the following story that had me "in stitches".

    Pauline, Derek's sister,  asked Vic if he would take a box of Derek's "odds & ends". He went to Llay and picked up the box,  casually dumping it in the boot of his car. He got home and threw it in the garage. A few days later he decided to "sort it out". Going through the box he found......a HAND GRENADE! What to do? He carefully carried it as far from the house as possible and placed it in the garden. He then phoned the police who duly arrived in a couple of squad cars dressed in "riot gear". After looking at it they called the bomb squad and cordoned off the road. No one could get into,  or out of, their homes! The bomb squad arrived in full gear and examined it carefully (as you would). They then declared it safe as it had a very small hole in it through which the explosive substance had been drained. It was, in fact, a STAGE PROP!

The proof!

Amongst Derek's possessions was a copy of "The Wrexhamian" of 1964. It that publication was this poem, one of many, written by Derek William Crewe.

In addition, there were many photographs. This one I particularly like! It is of The (reformed) Renegades at the Old Wrexhamians re-union of 1996 at the Wynnstay Hotel, Wrexham. It was the first time that we had performed together for over 30 years!

L - R: Roy McMahon: Steve Lloyd: Derek Crewe: Ron Nicholson: Kevin Hughes.

What an amazing day! Never before have I associated the words "fun", "laughter", "happiness" etc with a funeral. But, of course, I am talking about the funeral of one of the best loved OWs. A character who was so full of life and who brought so much joy and happiness into our lives. I must, particularly, thank those who had travelled long distances to be there: Tony Freudmann and Toni Wieczorek travelled from London, as had many members of the theatrical profession. Kevin Hughes, and wife Rhona, had come down from Glasgow. Proof, indeed, of Derek's impact on their lives.

The service, at Pentre Bychan Crematorium, was, obviously a sad occasion. However our spirits were lifted by the contributions by three of Derek's oldest friends - friends whom he referred to as Finchett, Hughes and Jones! Their reminiscences of times spent with Derek and of his musical and theatrical careers, brought smiles all around. Then there was the hymn singing! It was magnificent. After the service Toni Wieczorek, who had travelled up from his home in Surrey remarked on the quality (and volume!) of the singing. I reminded him of what country he was in..........

From the Crematorium we went to the Church of the Nazarene, in Llay, where Pauline had laid on a magnificent spread and Vic Tyler Jones had prepared a wonderful slideshow chronicling Derek's life.

The day was rounded off with a get-together at The Griffin Inn, Gresford, Derek's favourite "watering hole". What a wonderful pub: NO television: NO pool table: NO Juke Box: NO food - just a fabulous atmosphere and great ale! The joke telling was led by Stan O'Brien: The reminiscences by Eryl Hughes and the singing by John "Fred" Tunley. All three did a magnificent job! The day could not have ended on a better note when the gathering gave a final "send off" to our dear friend, a most proud Welshman, by standing and singing, with obvious gusto "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau"

 

Derek's first taste of acting came as "Coachman" in "The Rivals" at Grove Park in late 1963.

The cast, Left to Right: E. C. H. Owen: Ann Duce Roberts: Yvonne Roberts: H. L. Edwards: V. A. T. Jones: J. P. Davies: Patricia Minshull: H. Jones: P. T.  Bagnall: Cherry Payne: D. Crewe: Susan Carter Jones: J. D. McKee.

It was September 1956 and I was in my second year at Grove Park Grammar School. The protocol of who-sat-where at our dinner table in the canteen had been fully established the previous year. As far as I was concerned, the membership of this table would remain unchanged for as long as we were at the school. One of the others had a different idea about this, and was keen for a first-year pupil to join our exclusive club. I was absolutely against this, as the proposed interloper was a cheeky young urchin named Derek Crewe; and if ever there was going to be a disruptive element in any social group, Derek was certainly it.

 
Four or five years later when I was in The Renegades group, I was horrified when Roy McMahon and Kevin Hughes wanted Derek to join as piano player and singer. Once again I was totally opposed to what I thought was a ridiculous idea: What benefit could this upstart be to us? His first public appearance with us proved that I was completely wrong in my perception that Derek was nothing more than a talent-less nuisance. His performance of "Muleskinner Blues" was exactly that: a "performance" - something that went way beyond the act of someone simply singing a song. The crowd went wild, and Derek's "Muleskinner Blues" has become the stuff of legend. A fifty year friendship was then established out of mutual respect, and my store of Derek memories is very full.
 
Always full of surprises, Derek once again shocked me when I learned that he was intent on becoming a professional actor. I was, as usual, sceptical that he would be any good at this; but, as usual, he proved me wrong, and acting became his life. (When will I ever learn?) Apart from his TV appearances in various productions and a number of commercials, I was fortunate to see Derek in four productions in the theatre: "Henry V" with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon; "Hamlet" with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican, London; "Taffy" and "Dead Funny", both at Theatr Clwyd. His acting ability was such that you never thought of him as Derek Crewe when he was on stage - he convinced you that he was the person he was playing, even with roles as diverse as: a bigoted Welsh preacher, or portraying a comedy character in a play about group of strange people who would meet to remember famous dead comedians.
 
In his career he worked alongside some very big names of the acting profession: Peter O'Toole, Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, Virginia McKenna and the gorgeous Jean Simmons, to name a few. Not bad for a boy from Llay.
 
This next memory is typical of Derek: I took my daughter, Joanne, to see him in "Henry V" at Stratford, and he insisted that we went for lunch at the house he was renting during his stint with the RSC. We arrived in good time, but could not get an answer when we knocked the door. We went for a walk and returned after an hour or so, by which time it was getting very close to the time when he should leaving for the theatre. This time the door was opened by a bleary-eyed Derek, who was obviously not long from his bed. I tried to convince him that there would not be enough time for lunch, but he insisted on us having the rabbit pie he'd made for the occasion. After a couple of minutes he disappeared into the garden where I found him digging up some potatoes he'd planted; and in spite of my continued protestations regarding the lack of time, he wasn't happy until we'd had the meal he had planned. Derek had a lifetime passion for planting potatoes.
 
It intrigued me that Derek and his friends from junior school days, always called one another by their surnames: Hughes, Finchett, Jones, Crewe... I found this very endearing, and it's remarkable how this group of school friends remained close and devoted to each other throughout their adult lives. Peter Pans, every single one of them.
 
Derek could never have become a big star in this vacuous age of celebrity, where total nonentities are famous for simply being "famous." His singular talents were much too important to be trivialised by something as unimportant as stardom. But to the privileged ones who knew him, he was a REAL celebrity, and I am grateful that I am one of those who he counted as a friend.
 
So, Derek, wherever you are now, I'm sure there is someone asking: "Who is this pain in the backside?" But I am also sure that within no time at all, they will become eternally grateful for getting to know Derek Crewe.
 
Steve Lloyd

 

Where does one start when remembering Derek? My happiest memories are of standing alongside him onstage with The Renegades. One incident always brings a smile to my face. In 1963 we were booked into The Fareway as the support band to Liverpool's "Big Three", a band who, at that time were in the charts and managed by Brian Epstein. It was agreed that we would go on first and third with them going on second and fourth. At the end of their first spot, having received a great ovation, we passed in the dressing room doorway. One of them looked at me and said, with a sneer, "follow that". We went on to perform our second spot. Those of you who'd seen us perform may remember that the highlight of any of our shows was Noddy's rendition of "Muleskinner Blues". This song was always performed early in our second spot, to get the audience going! I always led the band, onstage, and decided which songs to play and in what order. On this night, after about four songs, Nod looked at me, quizzically and asked, "Muleskinner"? No, I said. He repeated this request numerous times during the next 45 minutes. Each time I turned him down until, that is, we came to our final song. I turned to Nod and said "do Muleskinner and really give it to them". He did and, boy, did he give it to them. At the end, the audience went crazy......clapping, shouting, screaming......We left the stage and, once again in the doorway, we passed the Big Three. I grabbed their leader by the arm and forced him to look me in the eye......."Follow that"! Of course, they couldn't. The audience were chanting our name! Cheers, Nod! To be fair to The Big Three, at the end of the night all three came over and complemented us on our performance. They also gave us a crate of ale! How we disposed of it is another story.

Roy McMahon

"Noddy" was one of the funniest and most talented of all my peers at GPGS - we were in the same form for a while.  I have a number of vivid memories of him; one was waiting in the music room for the teacher to arrive, and Noddy went on the piano and belted out Nutrocker - far better than Bee Bumble and the Stingers!  Another was that he and I failed German O level and ended up in a class of three (I think we all passed with flying colours eventually) with Eric "Twigger" Hargreaves,  Do you remember Twigger?  He was a proud Yorkshireman who was very bald and red-faced; he also had a serious drink problem and came back from lunch with that distinctive smell of alcohol and peppermints!  He would always call Noddy big ears (I think he knew exactly what he was doing!) until Noddy eventually said "please sir, I'm not Big Ears, I'm Noddy!  Priceless!  I saw him on TV on occasions over the years, and he often appeared in adverts.  One was a Guinness advert with a new barmaid making a mess of pouring the drinks and being surrounded with glasses of mainly froth with a bit of Guinness at the bottom; Noddy's character said, in a wonderful South Walian accent "I'll drink them for you love." 

Wasn't he so much larger than life?  Surely one of the most universally liked - loved even - person that one feels privileged to have known; life will be all the poorer without him.

Brynmor Williams

It was Speech Day 1965. The previous year's "A" level students had returned to receive their certificates from Mr. Haddon Roberts on the stage of the new hall. The names were read out and the recipients strode onto the stage. "Derek Crewe" said the headmaster. This was followed by a spontaneous round of applause. Noddy strode onto the stage to the sound of cheering and clapping. A rather perplexed Haddon Roberts handed over the certificates. Noddy, not one to miss an opportunity like this, moved to the front of the stage and took a bow. The audience, understandably, went wild.  The headmaster turned to his colleagues and bellowed "Get this boy off the stage"!

David Parry

In the early sixties I was "going out" with Nod. We went to Liverpool for a day out and Nod bought a pair of Chelsea Boots with Cuban heels. He was chuffed 'cos he was now as tall as me!

Mary Telford Jones

About ten years ago I was in The USA and was trying to explain to my friends what "council houses" and "colliery houses" were. When they, finally, understood, I told them that it was now possible to buy your house from the council and that a friend of mine (you know who!) had done so. I then told the tale of Nod's "alter-ego", a persona he adopted, as a joke, when we were teenagers. It was the persona of: (Lord) Eugene K. Wynstanley Alexis  Noddington-Crewe of Crewe Towers. I then hit on the idea for a great practical joke. I went into a huge hardware store in Milwaukee and had a cast-iron plaque made. It, splendidly, carried the name "Crewe Towers". When I got home I bought a cordless electric drill to complete the task (I could hardly knock next door and ask if I could plug it in!). I then went to 21, First Avenue, Llay and screwed it to the wall by the front door. Knowing Derek was coming up from London for the week-end I went to the Trevor Arms, Marford on the Friday evening. Nod, Finchett, Hughes and co. were sitting there, pints in hand. As I joined them Nod said "it was you, wasn't it?"  "Me? Me what?"  "The sign" he said. "What sign? What are you talking about?" he then explained to the innocent looking me! I, of course, denied all knowledge. Nod said "It must've been you or Benny (Neil Williams). "Ah", I said, "that's just the sort of thing Benny would do" and left it at that. Nod took the sign down a few days later as he thought that the good people of Llay would think him "pretentious".

        

When Nod was in an induced coma in hospital, Pauline told me that, at visiting times, she spoke to him and was sure that he heard so I asked Pauline to pass on a message from me......."It was me". Pauline said, with the hint of a smile, "do you think that he didn't know that?" She then told me that the sign was sitting, proudly, in his bedroom.

Roy McMahon

I knew Derek Crewe long before our Grove Park days and before he became 'Noddy', and even from those earliest of days he was a 'one off', a real character.

The stories of his escapades in and out of school are legend and, no doubt, many will appear on this website.

One of my abiding memories of 'Noddy' goes back to our 6th form days and the 'piggy-back' rides.  For those with short memories, in those days I stood at 6' 2" and 'Noddy' was somewhere around 5' soaking wet!!  For some reason, known only to himself, he decided that my mode of transport from King Street to school should be by piggy-back.  The head, Mr E Haddon Roberts, was less than impressed by this boisterous arrival at the school gates and had words of advice for us on many a morning.  I remember, after one particularly noisy arrival (I seem to remember Noddy had a bicycle horn) we were taken in to the Head's study where we were the recipients of dire threats to our physical well-being and future at the great seat of learning!

Needless to say, the next morning Noddy was 'hiding' in the Mold Bus Stand as I got off the bus and insisted on providing 'the usual' transport - as irrepressible as ever!!  Great days, great memories.  Thanks, Derek, for all the fun you gave.

It is hard to believe that we will no longer see that cheeky smile - we'll miss him

Alan (Mac) McDonald

 

Derek and I were mates. His family, as you know, were Evangelist's. My parents were religious but not as strict as Derek's, so it was, in their eyes, good that we were friends, not mixing with wrong sorts if you know what I mean!   As you know Derek could play anything, as could his father Les, who had a violin, accordion, trumpet, piano, ukelele, etc. and Derek could play these, I'm talking 10, 11 years of age. He was allowed to play them as long as he played church music.  Many  times I was sent home  because he had digressed and was sent to his room. However, my parents had a piano and boy did he make it rock! He spent hours on it.  I've always remembered his rendition of the “Crewie Woogie Boogie”, my parents loved it.

I wonder how many people know what his first guitar was? It was on a Christmas morning, quite early. He came to our house with a cardboard box, opened it up, and inside was a cream plastic Elvis Presley 4 string with a clip on “chord-a-matic”, instant-play button job. He looked on the underside of the push button, saw where the strings were being pressed and “bingo” - he never used it again. I asked him why it was so scratched already. He said his dad removed the photo of Elvis from the head and removed the Elvis signature off the body! Shortly after, he bought a 6 string acoustic and I bought an Elvis guitar and, along with Vic Tyler Jones, we used to go and entertain pensioners and perform at church “do's”. I think we gave that up at about 13. Vic went to the same Church as myself but, like Derek, I “slipped through the net”.

Derek always said he wanted to be an Actor and he was a natural. Over the years we bumped into each other and caught up on what was happening with our lives. He had a large circle of friends and never forgot them. He will be missed, most of all by his sister, Pauline.

The stories I could relate about the fun we had as kids, harmless, hilarious, but crazy fun. I could go on for hours…..

Clive Ankers

Derek loved his food, both eating and cooking! He enjoyed making his own sausages (and Haggis!). His speciality was his home-made "Game Pie" prepared from game that he, himself, had shot! One day we were playing golf at Old Padeswood Golf Club. The course has a number of small streams crossing it. As we approached a bridge over one of the streams a mother duck appeared, closely followed by a trail of little ducklings. "Awww, aren't they lovely", I remarked. Derek replied. "Really nice, roasted slowly and served with a beautiful orange sauce".

On another occasion, at the same venue, we were approaching one of the narrow walkways over a drainage ditch. The walkway was barely wider than our golf trolleys. The ditch was about ten feet wide and, perhaps, six feet below the level of the walkway. Although we were laughing and joking (as always), I was paying attention, my partner, obviously, was not. Over the edge went his trolley and clubs. Now, at this point, the sensible action would be to let go of the trolley and leave it to its fate. "Derek" and "sensible" in the same sentence? When one was having fun with Derek the word "sensible" disappeared from his vocabulary. He hung on for dear life. The result was a foregone conclusion - trolley, clubs and Derek in the ditch. I don't know which of us was laughing the loudest. Did I rescue him? Of course I did eventually!

Roy McMahon

May 2009 saw the 50th Anniversary of The Renegades first "gig". We invited friends from "way back then" to a party at our home in Pant. Three Renegades attended, Roy, Kev and Nod. As ever, Nod was the star of the show even if he did have to borrow Roy's Ukelele and Gibson Les Paul!

Roy & Sue McMahon

 

Derek was my friend since childhood. Our fathers worked together in the Ambulance Room at Llay Main Colliery, our uncles worked there too.  Derek was one year ahead of me at Llay Primary school and later at Grove Park.  

His family like mine were good religious people and our early lives were dominated by activities in the local chapels. Derek, or Crewe as we always called him, learned to play guitar at around the age of eleven and  with Clive Ankers, we entertained the old folks of Llay in the various chapels whether they wanted to be sung to or not.

My first guitar was a four string 'Tommy Steele' plastic affair which has a gismo you clamped on the neck. This had buttons to press which operated little levers which hammered down on the strings to give a chord.  It was some time before I realised that this wasn't the proper way to play the thing. Crewe taught me how and we would ride our bikes around the village playing guitars and annoying the residents. “ I'll tell yer mam on yo la” was the cry. “ Who am I then? “ said Crewe – “Never yo mind'” was the answer.

When in the sixth form we used to go down to the Cross Foxes in Abbot Street at lunch time. (It's no wonder we weren't made prefects). Bill Smallwood would say to Derek “Get the coal in Nobby” and we used this phrase to greet each other on the 'phone ever after.

Vic Tyler-Jones

 

Photograph by Steve Lloyd