Fred Fielder, or ‘Chunky Baby’, has had a zillion fingers in a zillion pies, from GMR Radio and Radio One presenting, to DJing at the Whisky A GoGo club at the Rialto, boating through the tunnels under Bury New Road and loads more…
“I was born at 248 Bury New Road, opposite the Grove petrol station, in 1949. I always saw Bury New Road as a long village as opposed to being a suburb of Manchester. The majority of it was in Salford but some ended up in Bury, some started at Strangeways where it was Great Ducie Street. It wasn’t just an area where you grew up, it was a way of life. The people who lived on Bury New Road…every one of them had a tale to tell.
My best pal at the time was John Cooper Clarke who lived above Freedmans Chemist at the Rialto junction.* We were at St Thomas of Canterbury school together, and we were in the school’s pipe band. Our playground at the time was The Landslide [an area that had collapsed into the Irwell]. It was Salford’s Disneyland…
Everything happened down the Landslide. You got your conkers, you got your blackberries, you got your fishing in the Irwell – if you were lucky you’d get an old boot out of it. We used to make dams and blow them up with bangers and fireworks and let all the water cascade into the Irwell. But then when I got to 13 I thought ‘Sod the conkers’ and the rest of it; it’s girls that I fancy…’
There were other people who went to our school. Giant Haystacks, or Martin Ruane, was there. He was born down south but came up here as a kid. The whole family are big lads, lived in Howe Street and spent some time in Bland Road, later moving into Prestwich Hills.
At school we used to have a wall chart where they’d put a book on your head and mark it with chalk, and, for him, it was marked at 6ft 4” with ‘Martin’s mark’ written next to it. It was there for years. He ended up being about six feet eight or nine, and when you’re that size there’s not a lot you can do as a working class fella, so he used it to his best advantage and became a wrestler.
Heaton Park was also our playground. I used to see Kevin Godley and not think anything of it. His dad had Godley and Spears on Shude Hill selling radios and tvs. Lol Creme’s dad used to sell duvets on the market.
I also used to be a Shabbos goy boy, lighting fires and such for orthodox Jewish people. My friend, Michael Holstein, used to come with and asked me not to tell his dad. One weekend he said ‘I can’t come with you as I’ve got to get ready for my bar mitzvah’. That tickled me. I used to give him threepence, or half of whatever we got. Mike told me that his dad used to say to him to wait until he had a shilling piece and to put it into the collection box under the stairs. He realised years later that the under the stairs collection box was a gas meter. I don’t know whether it was true but it made me chuckle.
I grew up with a lot of Jewish friends and I still have a great desire for lokshen soup, the chopped and fried, the latkes…we had some great times. And there was no prejudice.
Later, I was DJing in the Whisky A GoGo, at the Jimmy Saville Disco.**All the time I worked with him never once did I see any inappropriate behaviour. He used to go to our church and put tenners in the collection tin when everyone else was putting in pennies. Roger Moore was there in the flats opposite the Rialto for a short time on a rental basis, and Pat Phoenix was there too…while Annie and Tommy Kay on Lower Broughton Road had the Man United lodgings with all the players…
The cards fell lucky for me – I started off down the pit at Agecroft Colliery on the coal face; I’ve worked for Kennings Motor Group, I’ve been a panel beater, plasterer – a lot of trades but all the time I kept my hand in at the Whisky A GoGo discotheques, playing club soul, years before Northern Soul. There was also the upstairs where a very young Elkie Brooks sang.**
I started on Radio One with Dave Eager and did the Radio One Club from Barbarella Club in Eccles. Since then I’ve done Radio 2, Radio 4, and BBC GMR Radio for about twelve years with a show about nostalgia and music. I was interviewing guys like Joe Brown, Marty Wilde and Frankie Laine, who I got very friendly with. Everyone tuned in because you didn’t know from one week to the next who was going to be my interviewee. The music was 50s, 60s and sometimes 70s. It had a good following but in the end this 37 year old, John Ryan, took over and wanted me to play young music with a younger audience.
Two doors up from where I was born was Knolls House. As a kid I also admired it with its Carolingian architecture, some Tudor, Gothic…it had a bit of everything in it. In 1822, William Yates salvaged the front of a shop in Market Street and brought it all up to Knolls Hill on the back of a horse and cart. I read a notice that they were going to pull it down. I put a cheeky bid in for £18.22 – representing the date it was built – and got it. I had to pay all the legal fees and for fencing it off but when I applied for grants, even though it was listed, no-one had any money.
I offered it free to Ted Haynes, who was rebuilding Salford Quays at the time, so he could move it to the Quays. The Council said ‘How can you do that?’ and I replied that a bloke did it hundreds of years ago with a horse and cart.
From Knolls House there was a tunnel to Strangeways and beyond which was said to be tall enough for a man to ride on horseback. From my house it ran up to Singleton Road to Joy Hancox’s house. As a kid I also remember George Washington, whose dad was Reg Washington the licensee of the Grove pub showing me a tunnel bricked up in the cellar. There was an entrance there and in Knolls House, where there was also a well with crystal clear water.***
In 1984 we went all the way down under Bury New Road. We got as far as the Arena and there was this great big stainless steel pipe in front of us, which was where Boddingtons drew their well water for the beer. We tried to get into this cemetery but couldn’t get in under the Cathedral. In August that year we sailed in a flat bottomed boat from Hunt’s Bank through Scotland Tunnel and under Victoria railway station. There was a flash flood, and its speed spat us out of the River Irk into the River Irwell; the most frightening ride I’ve ever been on.
Knolls House looked fantastic – a magpie building in the middle of a semi industrial area. I sold it to a Polish guy who sold it on to Hymie Wernick who used to have Sedgley Park Motors years ago. I was in India when Salford Council pulled Knolls House down. I think it was a vendetta because I wanted to keep it. The day I returned, I heard on the radio that the front of the house was being detached and was going to the university where they were to make trinket boxes from the facade.
In 2008 I was given the MBE for services to charity, being the patron of eleven different societies, including with Sir Ben Kinglsey at Pendlebury Children’s Hospital. I was also patron of the Salford Heart Care Unit, which was just as well as I’ve had three heart attacks, plus two knee replacements and I was on a mask for six weeks in hospital with COVID. They told my partner I wasn’t coming out and asked if I’d like the services of a priest…I had to sign for this drug that wasn’t licensed for COVID but was for osteoarthritis, and within a week I could breathe again on my own; a fantastic feeling.
Basically, Bury New Road means everything to me. It’s where I was born, it’s where I spent all my childhood…it’s my life…”
* For more on John Cooper Clarke in Higher Broughton – click here
** For lots more on The Rialto, Elkie Brooks and Whisky A GoGo – click here
*** For more on the Bury New Road Tunnels – click here
What a very interesting read thanks Fred
I was born in 1946 at 304 Bury New Road in a flat above Barclays Bank, it was diagonally opposite the Rialto cinema. I think I was at school with Michael Holstein ( I remember that name) . I went to Grecian Street Primary School. I also remember a boy called William Yates in my class. Your article brought back a lot of happy memories of my childhood in Higher Broughton. Did you also play on the bomb sites otherwise known as crofts? We moved to Prestwich when I was 10 years old and so many of the places you mention were familiar. I moved away more than fifty years ago . Thank you Rosalyn Fowler
Hey Fred – I remember being at Steve Tongues 50th birthday. You surprised him by coming in dressed as Superman. You had worked down the pit together and I think there had been a fall and you saved him? It was a great night 🤗
One of the best radio shows ever ,yes ever ,was Fred Fielder’s show on Sunday morning on GME .We need him back on the radio .
Wow,Fred. Isn`t it about you did something useful before it`s too late,ha ha ? Love the article because I can relate to a lot of it,as a youngster I too lit fires/went shopping for the local Jewish people especially for a Rabbi & Family who lived at the top of Lwr.Broughton Rd; I also played down the Lanny & worked at the button manufacturers next to Knolls House.
I was in the pipe band with you also, it’s good to hear you are ok.
I worked in the clothing industry at Vincent Hoolahans Ladies costume and mantle s as apprentice cutter from 1948 until 51 when National service called, Hoolahans was on the corner of wartreloo Road.
Very informative Fred, you should be proud of your achievement s👍 I grew up on Bury New Road in the 70s and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Great days indeed, bit sad to see it down there these days.
Lived on Bury New Rd myself from the late 60s -late 70s went to Brentnall primary & North Salford Boys.
Did all the clubs in the Rialto buildings.
Freedmans chemist i used to go there fir my Mum, we lived facing in Vinca House Maisonettes.
I delivered papers to Roger Moore, Pat Phoenix/Tony Booth all lived Upton Court, also Jimmy Saville who used to come over in Summer to play Football with the lads ( nothing inappropriate) just had a laugh with us.
I also delivered papers too Ilda Ogdens husband in Corrie. Bernard Youens.
Not quite as eventful as your life, but great memories.