Next Monday I’ll be joining some old friends to say goodbye to Frank Knee. I can’t recall exactly when I first met Frank; I know where it was to within about a yard but which year it was escapes me.
It was the mid 1950’s and I was sitting by the side of the cricket pitch at Melksham House; I was putting small numbered metal squares onto a wooden board on the instruction of the scorer. Total runs scored, wickets and contribution by the last man out. It was pretty basic stuff that was required back then. Frank was keeping wicket for Avon Sports & Social Club and although I was sixty or seventy yards away and I couldn’t hear what was going on, I have no doubt he was chatting to his fellow fielders and the opposition batsman. Not the ignorant ‘sledging’ that passes for professional cricket today; just regular social banter that was common to their generation; in other words, good natured humorous conversation.
Frank was good at conversation. He wasn’t too shabby at several sports either! He played cricket until he was forty, he was a fine striker of the ball and was quite at home in the slips when better wicket keepers were available for selection. Aged forty, he decided he was a passenger in the field with his age and weight. He became an umpire; not just someone who put on a white coat and stood in the middle, but a good umpire; firm but fair. Just as with his playing days, he hung up his coat on his terms, rather than wait for someone to query whether his eyesight or hearing were starting to fade!
In the winter he played snooker and was Secretary of the local League for 20 years. This coincided with the tremendous growth in popularity of the sport with the advent of colour television. Frank was in charge as fourteen teams became forty and half a dozen member clubs grew to fifteen. As a player he never played below the top division; a strong competitor and tremendous company. You’ll recognise a familiar theme when I say that in the mid 1980’s he stopped playing snooker and stepped down as Secretary; he accepted the role of President for five years, and then retired to the list of Honorary Vice Presidents.
With his sporting days behind him, playing and officiating, Frank decided not to linger in the club bar that had been his second home for so many years. With all the sports he was interested in he was likely to be in for an hour or two most nights; team selection, matches, collecting subscriptions, league meetings etcetera. Not long after he stood down from the Snooker Presidency he moved to the King’s Arms in the Market Place for his Friday night drinks.
Several of us joined him. Week after week, year after year we would meet up for a few pints and lots of conversation. Frank would stand in front of the fire place (which was a great spot in the winters with a roaring log fire!) and the conversation would flow. Which subjects did we have on our agenda? We covered the complete range of sports of course; politics, classical music, work, family, travel and memories. Frank had loads of memories. Sometimes you heard a story or two that you had heard before, but any Friday night we spent in his company was always entertaining.
Our Friday night gang entered quizzes together and won fairly regularly, Frank’s knowledge was extensive and provided someone else had a stab at the pop music questions we were in with a shout!
Other people knew him through his work or his love of classical music; some went to Promenade concerts with him. I’m sure they would have similar memories of how enjoyable it was to be in his company. It never failed to surprise me how many people knew him. As he became a Friday night fixture in the King’s Arms then dozens of people, young and old, would drop in for a chat, then move on to another bar in town. We socialised together for almost twenty years on Friday nights until Frank found the walk from Bowerhill too much, especially if he couldn’t rely 100% on the last bus turning up to get him back home!
Frank died on Monday 6th January 2014 aged 80.
On Monday we will have the opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend. I hope that as many of those Friday nighters’ are able to be there, plus many who knew him in the parts of his life that I didn’t.
In the evening I shall raise a glass of a good red wine and make a toast to ‘Absent friends!’
I’ll be back next week with all the latest news; I hope you can join me then!