In the first of our new Face To Face series, reporter NICK LAKIN talks to Chris Clifford, who has been the Mayor’s beadle for the past six years, and has a colourful working background behind him...
“You’re not just opening car doors”.
Chris Clifford has been the Mayor of Lancaster’s “beadle” for the past six years.
Derived from an Old English word, the term beadle means herald, but there aren’t many of them left in the UK outside London.
In the Mayor’s Parlour at Lancaster Town Hall, Chris, 70, brandishes a stout stick that the beadle once used to push dogs and rats away from underneath the Mayor’s feet.
Nowadays, like many of the relics inside the town hall, the item is purely for decoration.
Chris, who was born in Swindon and now lives in Blackpool, accompanies the Mayor to events and appointments across the district all year round.
In fact, the Mayor can’t go out with his chains on unless Chris is there for insurance purposes.
You rarely see him in photographs, but if the Mayor’s out in public on civic duties, Chris will be there too.
“People ask me whether I’m the bodyguard,” muses Chris, a former RAF engineer and one time B&B and cafe owner in Blackpool.
“And I suppose that’s one part of the job.
“I’ll go into a restaurant for example and check to see if there’s another way out for the Mayor.
“I spend a lot of time looking at people and watching what’s going on.
“You have to be conscious of traffic, you never know what it’s going to be like in Lancaster.
“I’m risk assessing all the time.
“You’re not just opening car doors, it’s quite a responsible job.
“There are things you can and can’t do.”
Currently, Chris is looking after The Mayor Coun David Whittaker, and has also worked as beadle for former Mayors and Councillors Susie Charles, Robert Redfern, Jon Barry, Roger Mace and Andrew Kay.
He works alongside Lancaster City Council’s Democratic Services Officer Jenny Kay and also carries the title Sargeant of the Mace in Preston.
Chris has a colourful working background, which has seen him travelling the world with the RAF and driving ice cream vans around Blackpool.
He left school aged 14, and went to work on his uncle’s farm, before becoming an electrician’s apprentice, and then being made redundant twice aged 15.
He became a painter and decorator before working at Garard Engineering making record players.
He met his first wife and had children, became a bus conductor in Swindon, and then joined the RAF in 1969.
He was based in Lincoln, Wales, Bristol and then Malta, working as an engineer on Nimrod and Canberra aircraft.
Posted back to UK in 1978, he spent two years at RAF Lyneham, during which time he was posted to Pakistan, Iran, Italy, South America, and the West Indies.
Then it was off to RAF Abingdon, where he worked on Chipmunk and Bulldog planes.
He retired from the RAF, but did 10 years as a reserve, and then moved to Fleetwood in 1984.
He worked at the Cala Gran entertainment complex for a while and then moved to Manchester where he took a job with Trafford Borough Council for 18 months.
A stint as a doorman in Salford led him to become a “house parent”, which he did for 23 years, eventually becoming a senior residential social worker.
Chris took early retirement and moved to Blackpool in 1998, purchasing a guest house called Hazeldene at the north end of the town.
“You definitely can’t retire if you own a guest house,” he said.
After that, with his wife, he took on The Seagull’s Nest cafe in Blackpool for a couple of years.
The next few years saw Chris taking on odd jobs in the Blackpool area, including painting and decorating, general repairs, and even as an ice cream van driver in Blackpool, Kirkham and Warton.
He said he found it impossible to just “chill out”.
“I’ve always been interested in history, as well as taking things apart and putting them back together again,” he said.
“I got a call from a friend who runs a driving agency who said ‘Do you fancy doing some chauffering? It’s Mayor stuff’.
“At the time he was looking for a driver for the Mayor in Wigan.
“I was driving Rossall School minibuses, and relief Mayor driving.
“I did a lot of the Mayors in the North West, and I thought, ‘It’s not a bad job this’.
“Mike, who was driving the Lancaster Mayor, finished, and I was asked if I wanted to fill the role.
“I was just taking on Preston and at the time I wasn’t that keen on Lancaster.
“I didn’t really know it, so I went away and thought about it. And eventually I agreed to do it.”
Chris said this was “the biggest turnaround” because now he “really, really likes Lancaster”.
“It’s a really nice place, and Morecambe is great,” he said.
“I’ve just grown to like it, and a lot of it is down to the people you meet.
“When you do this job, a lot of the things you do, you do every year.
“You go to The Dukes and The Priory Church and so many different places.
“One of the most welcoming people in this city is the Rev Chris Newlands at the Priory.
“He is the Priory.
“What it would be like without him I don’t know.
“There’s a lot of history here - but I think sometimes the people of Lancaster don’t really know what they’ve got.
“The wheel, the ice rink - that was fantastic. I couldn’t believe how great it looked over Christmas.”
Chris, who was also a tour guide at Hoghton Tower near Preston for nine years, now plans to widen the scope of the tours at Lancaster Town Hall to include more of the historic and Mayoral side of things.
He has two daughters and a son, nine grandchildren, eight step-grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
He added: “When it comes to the Mayor’s chains, you can look but you can’t touch.
“And when it comes to the Mayor, what’s interesting is you don’t know eachother beforehand, and each one only has 12 months so for the first three months I’m training them to be out in public.
“During November and December you can be out three times a day so you spend a lot of time together.
“I don’t think people fully appreciate what the Mayor does. David (Whittaker) is so proud to be the Mayor. He loves it.
“And I’ve got to say I really love this job.”