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About the Author
David Nolan is a multi award-winning journalist and television producer. He has made documentaries on The Smiths, Sex Pistols and Echo and the Bunnymen and written for publications as diverse as British Business Magazine and Penthouse. He is a multi award-winning British author, specialising in music and pop culture biographies, covering subjects from the Sex Pistols to Simon Cowell. His first novel, Black Moss, was published in 2018.
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Tony Wilson You're Entitled to an Opinion ...
The High Times and Many Lives of the Man Behind Factory Records and The Haçienda
By David Nolan
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 David Nolan
All rights reserved.
What does education do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook
– HENRY DAVID THOREAU
In an opening flourish of contrariness that would become a constant throughout his 57-and-a-half years, the man who became known as 'Mr Manchester' wasn't from Manchester at all. Anthony Howard Wilson was born in Hope Hospital, Salford on 20 February 1950. The fact that he was actually born in the city next door to the one with which he is associated was something he never tired of pointing out to those unfortunate enough to make the mistake. Leaning forward – surprisingly tall and broad – Wilson would fix you with a firm dose of eye contact across the top of the discreetly expensive glasses on the tip of his nose. 'Actually, darling ... I'm from Salford.' In 1978 he introduced viewers of his regional arts slot on Granada Television to a new band. They were called Joy Division. He explained they were from Manchester, apart from the guitarist, who was from Salford: 'Very important difference.'
Plonked directly to the west of Manchester, Salford gets very uppity if you overlook the fact that it is a city. It's been one since 1926 yet in over 80 years no one has managed to provide it with a city centre. It's never had one and there are no plans to get one. It's a contrary place is Salford and it breeds contrary people.
Salford is a multi-skiller. Its many and varied districts offer a different facet of the city depending on which area you go to. There's the streetwise, unorthodox Ordsall and Weaste, the leafily genteel Worsley and Boothstown, and the shiny, envy-inducing Quays. Just looking at one and accepting it as being representative would not do the place justice. Today, as you cross the border into the city, gaudy pink signs erected by the council inform you that you are now 'IN SALFORD'. The signs manage the difficult trick of being informative, attention-grabbing, slightly incongruous and rather camp all at the same time.
Tony Wilson's forbears were busy folk; European of stock and shopkeepers by nature. 'My grandfather was German,' Tony told Eyewitness in Manchester in 1998. 'He came here in 1901. First he went to America, then came back to Salford. We're the great immigrant city – foreigners are welcomed, it's so hospitable to outsiders, they thrive and do so well, they become part of the city.'
Tony's grandfather, Herman Maximillian Knupfer, married four times after he arrived in Britain from Freiberg. Three times he was made a widower; he was in his late seventies when he married for the final time on the Isle of Man, where he'd moved for tax reasons. He had seven children through his life: Karl, Edgar, Doris, John, Lilly, Herman and Rose. The children of Herman's first and second marriages were to form the unusual family unit that surrounded the young Tony Wilson. Karl came from the first marriage and Edgar and Doris from the second.
Herman Knupfer was apprenticed to a Salford jeweller and watchmaker called Mr Ranks, with premises at 238 Regent Road, the main drag from Manchester city centre into Salford. When Ranks died, Herman got the money together to take over the business.
Salford wasn't such a welcoming city for German immigrants after the outbreak of World War I and the windows of Herman Knupfer's jewellery store were smashed in. Karl had joined the British army and a picture of him in uniform was swiftly displayed in the repaired window. The attacks stopped as quickly as they had begun.
The mini-business empire of the Knupfers expanded. To this day, the name is a familiar one to older Salford residents who recall the entrepreneurial family and the service they provided to the people of the city. Karl took over the shop and Edgar opened another jeweller's at nearby Cadishead before shifting nearer the other Knupfers to a shop at 80 Church Street, Eccles. Both stores were upmarket and they would answer phone calls to the shops with the words: 'Knupfer Brothers ... Salford's leading jewellers ...'
Doris was more than a match for the male Knupfers and opened up a tobacconist at 448 Regent Road. She'd married a man named Tom McNulty and the shop bore his surname. McNulty died – it's believed in a motorbike crash – and Doris was left a widow. By this stage, Karl had also lost his wife. Edgar would never marry.
The three decided to buy a house together at Sorrell Bank in Pendleton, a plan scuppered by Karl's decision to remarry. Doris also decided – in haste – that she too would remarry. The man in question was Sydney Wilson, more than 20 years her junior. The family knew only that he'd lived in India and had been part of ENSA (Entertainments National Services Association, the organisation set up to put on shows for the armed services during World War II). He had been married while overseas, but it was never spoken of. Shortly after he wed Doris, she became pregnant and gave birth at 46 to Tony. Or Anthony, as she insisted on calling him. The birth was traumatic – most likely due to Doris's age – and Sydney was taken to one side and told that there should be no more children.
Later described by Tony as a 'very good-looking failed actor', Sydney Wilson would always retain a raffish, theatrical swagger with his bow ties, waistcoats and plummy tones, but he put aside his dreams of a life in show business to work in the shop. He'd bristle when customers called him Mr McNulty, not unreasonable as the name of Doris's first husband stayed over the shop window. But there was another issue that caused consternation in the life of Sydney Wilson. He was gay.
'He was very, very theatrical,' remembers Geoff Knupfer, Tony's cousin and the son of Karl Knupfer. 'Charming guy, good fun to be with, the life and soul of the party – but as camp as Christmas. He loved amateur dramatics and was very good at it. He was always well turned out. Sydney always looked the dog's balls when you walked into the shop with the dickie bow and the waistcoat. Very, very extrovert. You weren't left in any great doubt. As kids we thought he was a hoot. Half-day closing was Wednesday in Salford in those days. Sydney always disappeared into Manchester on a Wednesday afternoon. You can draw whatever conclusion you wish to draw from that.'
Geoff Knupfer also paints a vivid picture of Tony's mother, Doris. 'She was sharp, to the point of being bad news. She wanted what she wanted and stuff the rest. She was a very strong personality. Mum ruled the roost. She made sure Tony got everything. She ruined him. So did Edgar. Spoilt him. He was never short of anything. Whatever he wanted he got. He was born to parents who were that bit older and were relatively affluent. The tobacconist's shop was quite a reasonable business and the brothers were doing quite well. You got this mix in Tony of Doris – who was a very calculating, very assertive, very shrewd woman – and Sydney, who was the theatrical. I think Tony had the combination of the two.'
'The family used to say, "Sydney's theatrical",' confirms Pat Dilibero, formerly Pat Knupfer, another of Tony's cousins. 'Sydney was lovely, so nice and kind. He adored Doris: the way he used to just sit and look at her. Sydney dressed her: hat, shoes and gloves that matched. You never saw her without hat and gloves. It was Sydney who chose all her clothes for her. Doris wasn't a likeable person. You wouldn't come away from meeting her thinking, Oh, what a lovely lady. She was very kind, a lovely person but a very strong woman. She would never be swayed. She had certain views and that was it.'
Sydney and Doris, along with Tony's bachelor uncle Edgar, lived above the Regent Street shop. Tony's childhood was filled with the noise of the busy shopping street outside his window and the exotic smells from the shop; musky wafts of tobacco and snuff filled the air. He would retain vivid memories of seeing visiting seamen – some from Africa – in the shop, as the port of Manchester was nearby. He basked in the warmth of the adults' attention and like a seed serviced by three bright suns, his confidence grew. 'I am very much an only child,' he later told London's Evening Standard. 'Meaning I am self-reliant, egocentric, sociable. I had my mother, father and an uncle who lived with us, all doting on me. So I've got a lot of self-confidence. Badly placed, some might say.'
Not surprisingly, Tony's education was a priority. Monton House School was the first destination, chiefly because it was the pre-prep feeder school for Salford's premier educational establishment, De La Salle, a Catholic boys' grammar. But Doris was dissatisfied with living in the Salford flat. She wanted the best of both worlds: a fine education for her son but better surroundings to suit the family's social standing. So the Wilsons moved to Marple in Cheshire, some 17 miles away.
Marple sits southeast of Manchester. It's where the suburbs begin to spread out comfortably and rub up alongside the Peak District national park, the rolling hills of Derbyshire that have long been the favoured weekend destination for Salfordians and Mancunians. It's the sort of place that is often given the epithet 'leafy' and has become a byword for a certain brand of aspirant living – coasters and Hostess Trolleys, Jags and doilies. In fact it's a mixed community with fine town houses and pseudo-country residences as well as a fairly tasty housing estate. In 1955, the Wilsons and Edgar Knupfer moved to a brand new house on Ladythorn Avenue, a quiet cul-de-sac set back off Strines Road, the twisting route out of Marple that heads across the Derbyshire border. The house was given a German twist, named Oberlinden after Herman Knupfer's family home in the old country. Tucked into the corner, it had commanding views over the countryside that led to the villages of Marple Bridge and Mellor and on a clear day, the moorland plateau of Kinder Scout could be seen. The driveways are long on Ladythorn Avenue and have a reassuringly gravelly crunch when walked on. It's an avenue for the well-heeled, make no mistake.
The Wilsons soon settled into their new community. The fact that Edgar had moved with Sydney and Doris created an extra frisson of curiosity among the family. Flamboyant Sydney and bachelor Edgar under the same roof ... well, people will talk. But the implication, that Sydney and Edgar were involved with each other, was never proven – nor was it openly discussed. Sydney became heavily involved with the local drama society based at the Carver Theatre and the family were connected with the local church.
'Doris was very religious,' says Pat Dilibero. 'They all went to mass every week. She was never frivolous. She was quite parsimonious. Very much so. Tony always had holes in his vest and she would darn them. He always had money, though. She lavished money on him but she never lavished praise. Sydney did, though. I can never remember her cuddling him. She wasn't the most affectionate person.'
The detached home was a marked difference from the flat in Salford and Tony revelled in the sights, sounds and smells of rural Marple. To the rear of the house was the icy tumble of the River Goyt, making its way from the edge of Buxton to the centre of Stockport to join the River Tame to form the Mersey. Alongside the river, the single-line railway track heading for Sheffield and beyond that, the moss-covered ruins of a nearby mill. 'A muddy forest of wonders,' Tony would later write, describing the sorties he and other boys made from the new housing development down to a playground of rubble and remains from an earlier age. 'Beneath the ferns and trees, the remnants of old stone buildings would lie, wet, lichen-covered, mossy and inviting to a curious bunch of pre-teens.' These were the remnants of Mellor Mill, built by industrial entrepreneur Samuel Oldknow in 1793. Next to them were the Roman lakes – actually built at the turn of the 19th century to service the mill. They became a popular attraction and they're still there today.
Despite their business interests taking them from Marple to Salford every day, the Wilsons thought that growing up in the countryside would be good for young Tony. 'All my relatives said this was a dreadful mistake,' Tony told The Independent in 2003. '"You've ruined his life! You've taken him away from a school that could have got him into De La Salle."'
Instead Tony went to St Mary's Catholic primary in neighbouring Marple Bridge, a community actually slightly leafier than Marple. There had been a school on the site since 1860 and had initially provided education for the children of Irish Catholics who'd moved to the North West to work on the railways and canals. Tony was one of 300 pupils, largely drawn from Marple, Mellor and Compstall. Doris and Sydney took a keen interest in Tony's education and were regular visitors, checking on their son's progress. But Tony didn't take to the school, later saying he didn't see eye to eye with the teachers.
He dawdled at seventh or eighth in class until his parents paid for a tutor to help him with his studies and to coach him towards passing the 11-plus examination, along with an additional entrance examination for De La Salle. It gave him the place his parents had yearned for and Wilson always took great pleasure in relating how he came first out of the thousand entrants in that year. It demonstrated to him something that would become a recurring theme in his life: not only was he clever but if he put his mind to it, he could be the cleverest person in the room.
The Wilsons were loath to up sticks and move back to Salford, so in 1961, aged 11, Anthony Howard Wilson began commuting twice a day – a round trip of some 35 miles. Looking slightly higgledy-piggledy in a bold red De La Salle blazer over mend-and-make-do clothes, he would be ready and on the platform by 7.30am to get the train into Manchester. Plenty of time to devour a book and admire the magnificent views from the Marple viaduct that carries the railway more than 120 feet over the River Goyt, then on through Bredbury and Reddish towards Manchester. Then he would walk down Piccadilly Approach to Piccadilly Gardens to get a bus to De La Salle Catholic Grammar School for Boys.
'It was what you would call today a grant-maintained school,' recalls Tony's school friend Tadeusz Kasa. 'You passed your 11-plus, but then you still had to take an entrance exam before they let you in. Within our catchment area there were only three Catholic grammar schools and De La Salle was by far regarded as the most serious. And the most scary. We were sent there because it had high academic standards, but also strict discipline. It was considered a good school but it wouldn't be scary if you behaved. It had a fantastic reputation at that time – it was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers who lived on site.'
The De La Salle teaching order, founded by St John Baptist De La Salle, was initially established as a means of helping and educating the children of the poor. By the 1960s the Salford school had become a byword for high standards of education and behaviour and was a beacon for parents with aspirations for their upper -working class and lower-middle class children. The De La Salle Christian Brothers are still going strong; they're often confused with the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, though their Irish counterparts ran an even less liberal regime than the De La Salle order.
'There was a culture of discipline,' continues Tadeusz Kasa. 'The strap, the cane, the slipper. But most of the corporal punishment was carried out by the lay teachers. I don't think that excuses the order, because most of that stuff was carried out under their auspices. But it isn't right to say that the De La Salle order was made up of vicious individuals. Far from it. They were mostly decent blokes.'
Head teacher at the time was Brother Columba. His regime was a tough one with strict rules on everything down to the width of trousers and the length of pupils' hair. Brother Columba carried a cane in the sleeve of his cassock which he could produce, Derringer-like, to administer instant justice. In 1962 there was a change at the top and Brother Terrence took charge. Rules were relaxed. Slightly.
Another De La Salle pupil was Kevin Cummins, who went on to be the photographer-in-residence to the Manchester music scene. He had moved to Salford aged nine and went to the school on a scholarship. 'Nothing prepared me for it,' says Cummins. 'I didn't know we weren't allowed to play football. I didn't know we had to wear short trousers and caps until the fourth year. I didn't understand just how draconian the place was. We thought people must be stupid to pay to go to there. We had a religious knowledge teacher who was also a woodwork teacher. At the start of the woodwork lesson we had to make the sign of the cross. But we had to say "pencils, rulers, saws and squares" instead of "in the name of the Father ..." and so on. I spent four years making a stool. It was like a borstal. I know it's fashionable to knock your old school, but I was terrified. The bullying came from the top. The teachers would choose people like themselves to be prefects and the prefects would then bully us. You just had to keep your head down.
Excerpted from Tony Wilson You're Entitled to an Opinion ... by David Nolan. Copyright © 2010 David Nolan. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
TWO: The Fun Factory,
THREE: Good Cop, Bad Cop,
FOUR: The Best Thing in Manchester for About Six Months,
FIVE: I Was Pissed Off With Him ...,
SIX: A Big Dirty Hall,
SEVEN: You Can't Put a Price on Irony,
NINE: Fury of TV Wife,
TEN: You'll Never Make Money Unless You Focus,
ELEVEN: London Resisted Him,
THIRTEEN: A Provincial Academic,
FOURTEEN: This Thing,
FIFTEEN: The Christie,
SEVENTEEN: Size 40 Million Boots,
EIGHTEEN: Cast of characters,
NINETEEN: Just the FACs – the Factory Catalogue,
Obscure FACs – off-shoots and lesser known Factory related items.,
About the Author,