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The people of Abingdon had a treat tonight. Another national treasure came to visit in the body of Alan Titchmarsh, gardener supreme, broadcaster, chat-show host and great favourite of ladies of a certain age. I don’t count myself as one of them yet, but he is responsible for encouraging me into gardening during his stint at the helm of the BBC’s Gardener’s World, so I was more than happy to go along and help Mostly Books on the book stall.

He took to the stage in a lilac jumper, and proceeded to charm the audience with stories from his TV career. These included encounters with Charlie Dimmock and her ‘unfettered protruberences‘ on Ground Force – the garden makeover show that made him a real TV star, (Charlie is a Rubenesque and braless specialist in water features), and Willy the mad Irishman who did a lot of the behind the scenes prep for the hard landscaping. He also told us about several encounters with the Queen: firstly at the Sandringham Women’s Institute where she is the Patron; then when he went to the palace to collect his MBE, and the Queen told him ‘You’ve made a lot of ladies very happy.’ Alan declared he’d like that quote on his gravestone. He read a couple of passages from his new volume of memoirs, Knave of Spades before answering questions from the audience.

Mark from Mostly Books asked how a Yorkshire lad that left school at the age of 15 and went to work in the Ilkley Parks department developed a love of reading, books, and became a writer? Alan put it down to his English teacher’s comments on a précis he had to write of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which he used the word ‘reciprocated’ talking about Helena and Demetrius – and how that taught him the power of words.

He was delightful company, charming and very funny. He was also chatty at the signing table with his adoring fans, and there were lots of them there. I would have cropped the photo, but I wanted to show you some of the presents they brought him – knitted clown dolls and a special Christmas cracker. I do wish he’d give up the chat shows and go back to gardening on the telly though …

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