Deaths of two club directors in unexplained circumstances may have been coincidence but a third surely makes it a case for Poirot or Columbo / Dave Thomas column

Writing the Bob Lord book with Mike Smith two years ago was a joy.

Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 3:45 pm
Bob Lord.... a hard nose businessman or criminal mastermind? (Photo courtesy of Burnley Civic Trust)

It was Mike who dug into the past, pre-1955, a whizz at library research and trawling old records.

He found out some fascinating stuff especially how owld Bob came to acquire all his shares and expand his trade in wartime when others were going out of business. How did Bob do this?

There were all kinds of rumours and accusations that he was dabbling in the black market. Two club directors dying in mysterious circumstances may be coincidence, but three makes one think that perhaps here is a case for Columbo.

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Add to the mix sub-plots about how the old rogue got all his meat during the war with strong suspicions as to the legality of some of his meat sources and surely, we have the makings of an epic novel here. The mystery of where he got his Christmas turkeys and poultry would have baffled Interpol.

There he was filling his shops with turkeys, ducks, and other assorted poultry at a time when they were hard, if not impossible, to find.

It was, however the mysterious deaths of three Burnley board members that set me thinking; that here was a mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie or George Simenon. Just suppose owld Bob had a hand in their demise?

Fiction, but what a plot. Three mysterious deaths, and an ambitious Bob desperate for a seat on the board. What more could a novelist want? And set in the 50s when everything was in fifties shades of grey.

Was bumping off the directors all part of Bob’s master-plan? How did they meet their baffling ends? William Thornton lived quite near to Bob’s first shop and was found by the maid half-dressed in his bath. Why would anyone be half-dressed in the bath? The coroner could not decide if it was an accident or suicide. Or was it murder? Did Bob know the maid? Were they in it together? The plot that is, not the bath.

Then there was Edward James Tate who fell 45 feet from the top of the Brunshaw Road stand to the pavement below. Turf Moor staff found a ladder propped against the wall. Did he have help with the ladder? Who helped him? Was it scheming 'Butcher Bob' up to no good? Was it suicide or was he pushed? To this day no-one knows.

He died of his injuries in hospital. Did Bob visit him and unplug the life-support machine or whatever they had in those days?

Finally, there was a third director, George Tate. He had been a director for 18 years and he was found dead in bed in Aberdeen, of all places, whilst on a fishing trip. This was just five days after the club annual general meeting when he had tried to regain his seat on the board. Was Bob after his shares as well as the others?

Was Bob in the vicinity, up in Aberdeen buying beef? Coincidence or not, I ask. Definitely fishy.

As Poirot would say with a wry smile, “Monsieur, zere eez I sink, something most fishy about zis death.”

Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba once had plans to write Bob Lord the Musical, a tale of oppression and the working classes. The rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate. Woe betides any shop manager who was a penny wrong in his end of day accounting. Woe betides any factory worker that left an ounce of meat on any bone.

The tale of how Bob sacked all his drivers one Christmas Eve because they had annoyed him by sitting in the canteen waiting to go home after they had finished all their chores, would have fitted in beautifully.

There was a happy ending, however. On Christmas Day he realised that now he had sacked all his drivers, there was no-one to do the deliveries when they re-opened. So, he sent the foreman round to tell them all they were no longer sacked.

My novel ‘Death on the Brun’ could well be coming soon, giving a whole new slant on the story of Lord Bob aka Bob the Chop.