Michael Wilton is a much loved and well-known face around Limpsfield, having lived in the village since the 1970s and before that, in Gresham Road. Following a career in communications, he turned to fiction writing in his retirement and has since penned six books, with two more on the way!
He talks to us about his journey to fiction writing, his inspiration and goings-on in Limpsfield…
You weren’t born in Limpsfield, so where do you hail from?
I was born on August 26 1929 at 9 Eastcombe Avenue, Charlton, which now no longer exists because the road eventually had to make way for a bypass. My father rushed off and named me Norman Wilton after his brother, a chemist, but I didn’t like Norman so I was known as Michael (my middle name). Owing to a number of reasons, I later changed my name by deed poll to Michael Norman Wilton (hence my nom de plume Michael N Wilton).
You were an evacuee during WW2. Is that how you ended up in Oxted?
Yes, though rather indirectly. When war broke out, I was ten years old. Both my brothers, Roy and Kenneth, went to Colfe’s Grammar School in Lewisham and I was due to follow. Roy, the eldest, went into the RAF, involved in radar work (it was only many years later he was able to reveal he’d been sent to Bletchley Park to do some work on the Enigma machine). Ken and I were evacuated to Skinners School at Tunbridge Wells, where the classes were over-crowded due to coping with evacuees and we had to make do most of the time with walks across the Common and were billeted with an elderly couple in the sedate part of the Town.
My brother, with a bit more courage, being eighteen months older, took exception to the miserly porridge portions offered at breakfast (complaining that the old boy was trying to kill us!) and our father, greatly agitated, came down next day and took us back home.
Because of the increasing threat of night time enemy bombing raids by Dorniers over our home in Begbie Road, just off Shooters Hill in Blackheath where we had been living from the 1930s, father was anxious to get us away to safety.
A neighbour of ours across the road, who had been lovingly polishing his car each weekend came out to find it gone one morning and a big hole in its place. Also, a barrage balloon crew had been killed in the field at the back of the houses opposite. Fortunately for us, an office colleague of father’s, who lived in Oxted, was about to move house, so father took over the house he had been renting at Brookfield, Gresham Road, which was later to become the site of the present day Oxted Library. You see, I was destined for books even then!
How did you end up in PR and communications?
I completed my education at Oxted County Grammar (now Oxted School) in 1946, ending up with a distinction in art and little else (!), but filled with an over-riding ambition to become a writer, encouraged partly because I’d managed to win a third prize in a play competition judged by Tibby Clark, the Ealing scriptwriter who lived locally in Granville Road.
My father perhaps wisely persuaded me to take on a safe job in a bank and carry on with my writing hobby in my spare time. I joined Westminster Bank as a junior clerk at their branch in Charing Cross Road, overlooking the north end of Trafalgar Square, in 1947 for a few months until I started my national service in the RAF aged 18.
After completing a course in Equipment Accounts at Hereford, despite having opted to serve overseas, I was instead posted to Hallam Street in London. By contrast, the rest of my classmates, who had asked for a home posting were sent to serve in Germany (naturally!).
Having worked in a Bank, I was of course put into Pay Accounts and finished my time at West Drayton in Middlesex, before being demobbed in 1949.
I reluctantly went back to banking , but after enduring the tedium of working in a Bank for a number of years, I managed to escape in 1955 and mounted the first slope of becoming a writer by landing a job in the Publicity Department of Siemens Ediswan in Charing Cross Road as Press Liaison Officer for 18 factories, also as sub-editor of the company newspaper.
After that I Joined GEC in 1960, becoming Press Officer for radio, T.V and electronics and the Company’s Hirst Research Centre, followed by a stint at Firth Cleveland Ltd, located in Cleveland Row, where I set up their press office and then I had the fortune to get a job with World Wide Helicopters in Surrey in 1962, which involved filming an impressive record of the company’s global work over a wide range of support services overseas, to promote its activities. I became so interested in this new exciting departure that I became partner in an industrial film production company making films for a number of industrial groups, combining presentation and scriptwriting.
This job also meant I was firmly back in Surrey which led me to meet my future wife, Jane.
Is that how you came to live in Limpsfield?
Yes, Jane Bateman, as she then was, joined St. Michael’s School, Limpsfield as a Music Teacher, becoming a house mistress in 1963 and I was introduced through my old school friend Edward Everest, whose wife Di worked at St. Michael’s.
By then I had left home and bought a flat in Bishop’s Court, Caterham, where I proposed and was fortunately accepted and we married in St. Peter’s Church, Limpsfield on 2nd April 1965.
Our first son Richard was born in 1967 and with the imminent arrival of Victoria, we were anxious to move to a house that would accommodate our growing family. Luckily our friend Edward Everest and his wife decided to move to Leighton Buzzard and suggested we got in touch with his aunt who owned Fir Tree Cottage (then two adjoining cottages) in Sandy Lane, Limpsfield where they were living.
At the time, it seemed a miracle after fruitless house searching and we were able to move in to our first home together in 1972, with our expanded family of Victoria (born 1971) and Robert (born 1973).
Within a week of arrival, our friend and neighbour Olga Franklin from Bishams Court, a renowned journalist and broadcaster, arrived with a welcome hamper to celebrate the occasion and we were also featured in an article by her in Woman’s Own magazine, comparing us to the current TV episodes of ‘Good Life’!
Eventually, due to an increasingly competitive market in industrial film production, I moved on to become a freelance writer and contributed regular features for a management magazine, before ending my career handling publicity for research and development at British Gas.
What led you down the path of fiction?
On retirement in 1993, I became interested in researching my family tree after my father mentioned he had no knowledge of his ancestors as his father had died when he was very young.
After finishing research on all the branches of my family (and various others), I decided to get down to pursuing my first love of fiction and creative writing and with the advent of self-publishing, published my first book, ‘Save Our Shop’ in 2012 followed by the two children’s books – ‘Happenings in Hookwood’.
Becoming such an integral part of the community in Limpsfield brought us in touch with a wealth of friends and unforgettable characters that were begging to be remembered and the fantastic scenery that unfolds as you approach down the High Street turns it all into a fairy like background that provides the perfect setting. Naturally, I had to locate the story of ‘Save Our Shop’ to somewhere on the south coast to avoid any prospect of comparisons being made, but I am sure that the characters I mentioned could be found in any local village store.
Have you been inspired by locals and local events?
Funnily enough, the opening chapter of ‘Happenings in Hookwood’ followed exactly what happened to us in real life. When we arrived to move in to Fir Tree Cottage in 1972 there was no driveway available and all our belongings and furniture had to be humped up the narrow steps from the lane by the long-suffering removal men. In no time at all, the pile of effects reached dizzying proportions as the entrance couldn’t cope with it. Then someone had a bright idea and they pounced on the youngest lad with them and hoisted him up onto the porch overhead where he did his best to feed items in through an open first floor window to shouts of encouragement. So, the opening chapter virtually wrote itself!
With ‘Save Our Shop’, Jane and I had been closely involved in making a success of turning our village shop and Post Office into a community shop and happily helped to invest in its future alongside our friends and neighbours. Jane in particular lost no time in opting to be one of the first to volunteer as one of the supervisors to get the village shop started and encourage other volunteers to join in, and persuaded me to become a supervisor and take an active part in sending out press releases to signal each phase of the operation.
Also, as an active member of the Church choir we enjoyed many blissful choir holidays organised by our highly efficient choir mistress, Ann Osborn, travelling mainly in France, courtesy of Skinners Coaches and driven by our endearing guide called Bernard, who made it so much fun.
As for the hero, William Bridge, he seemed to be the natural choice to take on the fight to help his Uncle in his hour of need in saving the shop from going downhill and to triumph over the unsavoury characters who were intent on ruining the village. The events themselves were not intended to reflect real life, but only what I thought might happen in such a situation and I just let my imagination run riot.
Whatever the situation, I am not happy until I have extracted an element of confusion, spice with humour. I suppose it might have something to do with all the Wodehouse and Bates stories I have read. I love to see the funny side of any situation and can’t wait to get it down on paper. I write to please myself but if it encourages anyone else to join in and appreciate it, so much the better. So romantic comedy seems to me an ideal way of expressing myself.
In ‘The Spy Who Couldn’t Count’. I couldn’t help poking fun of some of the characters depicted in the various government departments described– I’ve seen plenty of examples of this kind of attitude over the years and it seemed quite natural to highlight some of the absurdities.
Jane Wilton sadly died from cancer in December 2017. Michael still lives in Limpsfield and has eight grandchildren. He is currently working on his new book, The Duncans are Coming!
Michael’s books are currently for sale at Memorial Stores and also available on Amazon.co.uk under Michael N Wilton. They will shortly be in the Oxted Library (under author Michael N Wilton).
Find out more about him on his website: www.michaelwilton.co.uk
The article was published in the Limpsfield Parish News (Winter issue 2019). Read or download the full Parish News magazine HERE.