FILL YER BOOTS – It’s no mean feat for a Tyneside charity champion

The blog is read in countries around the world including USA, Brazil, Japan and Russia, along with ex pats checking in from Australia, France and Spain – the stories travel far and wide. But closer to home a number of Tyneside residents have sent in stories about working class characters they remember. Geordie Pantsman, Tinwhistler and Dan Green have contributed, and this memory from Archive the Noo is the latest.  At their request I am posting it today as it’s the same date the big man who is featured, sadly passed away.

My memory of him was when drinking in South Shields pubs in the ‘80s you would often come across this guy – believe me you couldn’t miss him. It was on a hot sweaty Friday night we piled into a packed Scotia pub and saw he was at the bar for last orders. With his big white bucket at his feet he had been collecting for the miner’s strike. I could see he was getting frustrated and angry as the barmaids refused to serve him shouting ‘Time’s up’ as they rang the bell.

He was sweating heavily, gritting his teeth and with tears in his eyes, he gripped tightly on the handrails of the bar, stamped his feet, let out an almighty roar and led his fellow drinkers to the tune of Rule Britannia… ‘Sing yer heart out, Sing yer heart out, Sing yer heart out for the lads’….Hollered out like a defiant last breath – he only wanted a pint man.

So who was he ?

Featured today is a story from Archive the Noo and his memories of one of Tyneside’s Charity Champions, Big Hec…..If you were approached by a 6 foot 8 inch 20 stone Geordie, lurching from side to side, asking you for money with that characteristic gap between his front teeth, I wager you’d most likely think about handing it over.

You might be a bit confused by the sight of him carrying a bucket and wearing gold painted boots (size 18). But in time you would realise you’d just had a close encounter with Tyneside resident Brian Dowson, known as Big Hec.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Big Hec, raised in approximation of £1million pounds in the name of charity, walking around Tyneside pubs, shops, metro trains and collecting donations in his bucket, taped over at the top with a slit.

He also made a cover version of Nancy Sinatra’s song ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’….(Recorded in 1990 at Brian Johnsons place (AC/DC) Lynx Studios in Newcastle, ex-Angelic Upstart Mond Cowie was studio manager and let Big Hec have the studio for nothing because it was for a charity record).

There are many endearing stories surrounding Hec. In the mid ‘70s he worked as a glass collector at the Kismet Club in Laygate and after a few beers would take to the dance floor producing incredible shapes and moves, a wondrous sight to behold.

I recall being a tad bit envious when he managed to meet his very own hero, the Dynasty starlet Stephanie Beacham, at a charity presentation.

Apart from the fact that Hec was for me a true character beyond criticism and a charitable legend worth a movie about (one of his favourite charities was the NSPCC), the essence of Big Hec is contained in my fondest story.

He once set out to beat the existing world pie eating record, held at the local Hintons supermarket store. Local TV were there and when the cameras began to roll he was presented with a tray of pies. He complained that they were too hot so filming stopped and restarted after a period of cooling. Commencing, he ate only a few and then gave up, blaming it on the big tea he had before coming out. He then burst into singing Elvis songs.

Brian had a short and colourful life, passing away from natural causes, some say a heart attack. He was born in 1957 and sadly died on 13th March 1996. May he, buried in his boots, rest in a well earned peace.

Brought to you by Archive the Noo.

Today if you go to the Laygate area of South Shields there is a plaque on the wall of Lloyds Bank – a memorial to Big Hec’s charity work. (pic. Kennie Chow)

 Edited by Gary Alikivi  2020.

 

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