Phoning my mother last night, she said, “Did you hear that Jethro has died?”
“He can’t have been very old,” I said.
“No,” she said, “only seventy-three. I think he died from Covid.”
“He’ll be missed,” I said, “he made lots of people happy.”
I have never seen Jethro perform, never heard him tell one of his stories, but what I have heard is the laughter he brought to the people who saw him. When my mother said that Jethro had died, there was no need of an explanation that there was a sense of loss among people across the West Country.
Until I Googled him this evening, I was not even aware that his stage name Jethro was simply a contraction of his own name Geoff Rowe.
Jethro possessed a genius for comedy, for telling stories that people remembered years after they have heard them. He had a genius for telling stories so well that other people could tell them to me and I could remember them.
A dozen or so years ago, a Cornishman told me Jethro’s story about Denzil Penberthy and the Antiques Roadshow, it is a story that still makes me laugh. Two other stories that remain are the train that don’t stop at Camborne on Wednesdays and missing the bus to Saint Just.
A man was on board a train for Penzance and, anyway, when the guard comes round to check the tickets he sees this man has a ticket for Camborne.
“I’m sorry sir,” said the guard, “but this train don’t stop at Camborne on Wednesdays, you’ll have to get off un at Redruth.”
Anyway, the man says to the guard, “I must get off at Camborne I’ve got an important meeting to go to and if I get off at Redruth, I’ll miss it.”
“Sorry sir,” says the guard again, “this train don’t stop at Camborne on a Wednesday.”
“Can’t you do something?” says the man.
“You wait there sir, I’ll go an’ ask the driver if he can make an unscheduled stop.”
Anyway, the guard returns an’ he says, “The driver says the train is already late, all he can do for ‘e is to slow down through Camborne. So what I’ll do is this, what I’ll do is get ‘e to come up to the front carriage and I’ll hang ‘e out the door. You start running in the air and when your legs are going fast enough, I’ll lower ‘e down on the platform.”
Anyway so, the train comes into Camborne station. “Faster, faster” says the guard. When he thinks the man is running fast enough he lowers un down on the start of the platform.
Off the man shoots along the platform, trying to slow down as the end of the platform approaches. Anyway, he’s finally slowed to a gentle pace as the rear of the train passes un.
A door in the last carriage opens and a pair of hands grabs him and pulls un on the train.
“You’m lucky to catch this train mate, it don’t stop at Camborne on Wednesdays.”
Denzil Penberthy, the embodiment of much of Jethro’s humour, appears in the story of the bust to Saint Just
Jethro and Denzil went out in Penzance one night on the ale and they drank so much they missed the last bus home to Saint Just.
Anyway, Jethro says, “Lets go down to the bus depot and borrow a bus to drive us home in.”
When they get there, it’s all locked up with the buses in the yard.
“I”ll tell ‘e what, boy,” says Jethro, “You go inside and get a bus while I keep a look out.”
Anyway, Denzil Penberthy goes in and it’s ages before he comes out driving a bus.
‘”What happened to ‘e?” asks Jethro
“It was like this,” says Denzil, “I had to move the buses round because the Saint Just one was at the back of the garage.”
Frequently politically incorrect, often given to the odd expletive, Jethro had an eye for the surreal and the absurd and the comic in life, and he made people like my mother smile.
May he dwell in a land where trains stop and where buses always run.