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23 September 2016

Michael Thurgood writes:

WHAT was not mentioned in your obituary of the Revd Roly Bain (Gazette, 16 September) was that he was the grandson of the Revd George Bramwell Evens, a Method­ist minister and “Romany of the BBC”. He was also related to “Gipsy Smith”, who was a great-uncle of his mother, Romany Watt.

Romany Watt had been President of the Romany Society for many years, until her death in 2014, when Roly succeeded her. Roly was a great supporter of the Romany Society; so it is sad that he occupied this position for only a short time.

We first met Roly Bain when he visited Ongar, in Essex, and then, after we moved to Somerset, in Ilminster, and then again at Glastonbury, when he performed his “act” at the 1100 years celebra­tions of the diocese of Bath & Wells.

Roly’s ministry was inspired. He captivated and amused both young and old, and yet conveyed a clear Christian message. I am sure many of your older readers, like me, will remember listening to Out with Romany on BBC radio, when Evens went on “walks” in the studio with Muriel and Doris and, of course, his cocker spaniel of the day, always named Raq.

Roly admitted to being very proud of his grandfather, and had one of the vardo wheels in his porch. In 2001, his book, Playing the Fool, was published about his life, ministry, and clowns (Canterbury Press); from the age of eight, he had wanted to be a clown, having read Coco’s autobiography. Do read the book if you can find a copy: it is a fascinating story.

The Revd Toddy Hoare adds: I shall miss the Revd Roly Bain. He “de-pomped” the Church; yet, at the same time, his clowning mirrored our own struggles with our faith and the challenge of mission and evan­­gelism. A few times I processed down the nave at the start or end of a Sunday service with the “Holy Fool” behind, mobbing me up. He came to the parishes that I served in North Yorkshire, where the parish­ioners were somewhat at odds with tomfoolery in church: church was “not a circus, was it?”.

I was Chaplain to the Great Yorkshire Show, and so suggested that Roly did his routine outside the Church Tent. The crowd could never be as big as in the main arena, but the avenue came satisfyingly to a standstill.

As a sculptor, I did two studies of Roly: one as the clown (pictured) and one as himself. They were included in an Arts Council-funded touring exhibition for the Millen­nium “Prelates, Priests and People”.

It did worry me how long Roly could continue the physical side of his act, but then I would remember Coco the Clown, who was born in 1900, handing me a road-safety badge when I was a boy, and he a clown who could still make his hair go up and down.

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